Theology for Life (Ep. 15): Christianity in American History: Why Accuracy Matters
In this episode of Theology for Life, Ed, Lynn, and guest Tracy McKenzie look at American history and the role of Christianity in the founding of the country. Who were the founders, and where were they at with their beliefs in God? And does America have a special covenant with God?
What was the story behind the first Thanksgiving? McKenzie explains that often as we celebrate Thanksgiving, we recreate it in our own image instead of in historical accuracy. He discusses how the pilgrims came to America because of economic hardship, concerns for their children, and fear of war. When we meet the pilgrims on their ground, it makes them more relevant to us.
For what were the pilgrims giving thanks? McKenzie shares that thanksgiving days were very solemn, holy days that would have included extensive prayer and worship. Thanksgiving days happened when something occurred that warranted great praise and adoration for God.
Our default tendency, McKenzie says, is to invent a past that is very comfortable to us and rarely challenges us, reaffirming how we see the world. When we try to recover the past accurately, it can make us feel very uncomfortable and change the way we see the world.
Abraham Lincoln presents many opportunities to look at history through a Christian lens and see what we can learn. McKenzie shares how Lincoln was a good example of cultural changes that occurred in America. He uses the example of the Gettysburg Address as a place where Christians can really reflect on what was happening at the time. What do some of the words mean? What can they teach us today? When we begin to ask these questions, we are forced to develop a critical awareness.
Because of the way we’ve seen history, we have developed a misunderstanding of the divide between the Church and country. As we relate to those around the world, we must be able to separate the gospel from other cultural elements that too often get wrongly attached to what is true and real faith.
Lynn Cohick is Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.