August 24, 1456. On or near this day, the great Bible from Johann Gutenberg's press emerged complete from the bindery in Mainz, Germany. Few events merit the breathless statement, "and the world would never be the same!" But the creation of the first book printed with movable type is one of them. Thinking about this event and how it has contributed to the spread of the Gospel around the globe, I muse, "God surely worked through Gutenberg!"
But then I hesitate. Historians, even Christian ones, don't like to say too much about where the finger of God descended to do this or that on earth. Historical rules of evidence, the precious tools that keep history from straying over into fiction or propaganda, simply can't be applied to the actions of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent Spirit. Writing history from a Christian perspective is, to use the apt image of that most evangelical of evangelical historians, Richard Lovelace, like watching a football game in which half the players are invisible.
But the historian can occasionally lay down his manuscripts and ascend to the pulpit to say a few words in the role of theologian or exhorter.
A historian may be overawed, for example, by the fingerprints of God he sees all over the historical fact that Christ lived, died, and rose just in time for the pax romana. What else are we to make of this? The relative peace, the network of roads, and the far-flung ethnic diversity of the Roman empire so clearly set the stage for "the Way" to explode within a single century from a small Jewish sect to a creed for all nations. This was no surprise to God, who sees the end from the beginning!
Or we may marvel at the surpassing greatness of the power of a God who could build the persecuted, underground ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more