Freedom from the tyranny of the present can be found in our heritage.

By a triple birthright, American evangelicals bring a healthy skepticism to the past—even to our own history. As children of the Reformation, we cling to Scripture rather than tradition as authoritative. As Americans, citizens of “the first new nation,” we dislike granting one generation authority over another, and we cherish commitments that we make ourselves rather than those handed down to us. We are prone to dismiss conventional wisdom and hidebound systems. As heirs of fundamentalism, finally, we bristle at the suggestion that the natural historical process, rather than the supernatural, governs the course of events. Such a legacy has made it difficult for evangelicals to bring the past into focus, and difficult as well to use the past to gain a truer image of ourselves. Whatever our strengths in seizing the moment in God’s name, we evangelicals are inexperienced in practicing fellowship with Christians across the centuries. But since we do not practice this kind of fellowship, we lose a great privilege—nothing less than discovering where we ourselves, and our ideas and prejudices, stand in the stream of the centuries. To use an image of C. S. Lewis, we need practice in opening windows to “the clean sea-breeze of the centuries.”

The Value Of The Past

What is to be gained by availing ourselves of the experience of Christians in the past? Can we spell it out clearly here? The first thing to say is that throughout redemptive history, God himself has appealed to his people on the basis of his history with them. This is true in the Old Testament, most noticeably in the mighty dct of the Exodus, the “Magna Charta” of the children of Israel (Deut. 6:20–23; ...

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