DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

History: His Story

Written by: on October 10, 2019

Reading this new historical tome by Peter Frankopan, The Silk Roads reminded me of my favorite quote which sums up the atrocities in the Middle Ages: “Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”1 It’s a gruesome picture but in many ways accurate.

Frankopan’s project in this book was to attempt to write world history, not necessarily from the point of view of the winners, the “accepted and lazy history of civilization” but from alternative sources. He does have a point. I admit, my own knowledge of world history came from the “lazy” perspective where 

“Ancient Greece begat Rome, Rome begat Christian Europe, Christian Europe begat  the Renaissance, the Renaissance the Enlightenment, the Enlightenment political  democracy and the industrial revolution. Industry crossed with democracy in turn yielded the United States, embodying the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”2

I suspect I’m not the only one and many of my friends, from the learned to the simple minded, especially those who grew up in the West, subscribe to this incomplete view of world history. I was intrigued and a part of me couldn’t wait to get to the end. I was patient and managed to read through the conclusion. Did Frankopan succeed in his goal to “rewrite” world history? Was he fair and objective, writing about events as it actually happened? 

I am no history buff, and so anything he wrote I took at face value. To my surprise and delight I thoroughly enjoyed it. Did I agree with everything he wrote? Not necessarily, but that’s neither here nor there. No one agrees 100% with everything anyone says. We all get some things right and some things wrong—no is perfect. The following are some of the highlights I gleaned from the book which I found helpful.

  1. I learned a lot. This is perhaps the thing I am most grateful for. For instance I didn’t realize that Christianity in the 3rd century was being compared to other religions in Persia to see which religion was “superior.”3 Nor did I know that “the barbarians were at the gates” more than once in history. I learned about the “steppes” and the beginnings of the Low Lands. I learned about the etymology of “slaves” and a closely related word in Italian “Ciao.” I leaned about the two shots fired in the summer of 1914 that changed history and divided nations that really did not want to go to war. Much of this has given me a renewed desire to visit these historical sites and actually have something to say about what happened at these places.
  2. Need to be careful about bias. It should not be a shock to anyone to learn that history is written by the winners. That’s obvious. But if what is meant by “history is written by the winners” is that there is a pervading bias, a triumphalist tone in the reporting of history, then that is entirely something else. The important thing to ask is: Is it true? Are the facts being reported comport to the actual events? We all have bias. It’s unavoidable. The important question is: can we admit and set aside our partiality enough so that we can look at things objectively?
  3. God is in charge. Frankopan’s view of world history is more depressing than I think it actually is. He hardly mentions the great Christian movements during the Middle Ages (Dark Ages for the pessimists). There’s almost nothing mentioned about the centrality of Israel in world history, which I find curious. I don’t deny that many horrible things were done in the name of Christianity throughout history. But I don’t find that troubling because we see the same kinds of things reported in Scripture. Humanity, created in God’s image, rebelled against God in the beginning. We’ve needed a savior ever since. God has a strange way of superintending human events. For example, God used Cyrus II, a pagan king to restore Israel in 6th century BC. Or how about God allowing the Israelites to “plunder the Egyptians” centuries before as they escaped their captors. 
  4. Abject humility. Since we don’t have God’s perspective we have to admit our ignorance about how world events shape history. Sure, we have some knowledge about it but we can’t authoritatively claim we know for certain how certain events will turn out. A practical application of this was already pointed out by Frankopan’s work. For example, throughout history, believers were sure the apocalypse was near, but it never happened. Extending this a bit further, it now becomes pointless to argue for a particular view of eschatology. When folks ask me if I’m “pre-trib, premillennial” or “post-trib,” “amill”, etc., I just shake my head and say “I’m optimistic.” Then I get a chuckle. All I know for sure is that Jesus is coming back again. Until then, I’m going to remain curious and humble about world history.

          1 attributed to French philosopher Denis Diderot.
          2 Peter Frankopan quoting E. Wolf, Europe and the People without History (Berkeley, 1982), p.5.
          3 Peter Frankopan, The Silk Roads: a New History of the World (New York: Vintage Books, 2017). 38.

About the Author

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Harry Edwards

Harry is married to Minerva and has the privilege of raising two young men. He is the founder and director of Apologetics.com, Inc., an organization dedicated to defending the truth claims of Christianity on the internet, radio and other related activities. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian Education and a Masters of Arts degree in Christian Apologetics from Biola University where he currently works full time as the Associate Director of the graduate programs in Christian Apologetics and Science & Religion. Harry is currently pursuing a DMin (Leadership & Global Perspectives) from George Fox University. He is an active member at Ocean View Baptist Church where he leads an adult Bible study and plays the drums for the praise and worship band. In his spare time, Harry enjoys doing things with his family, i.e., tennis, camping/backpacking, flying RC planes and mentoring others to realize their full potential in the service of our Lord.

11 responses to “History: His Story”

  1. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Love it, Harry! Great summary of what you learned and took away. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it as well. Never heard your stance on eschatology and I may adopt your official position if you don’t mind!

  2. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Three cheers for the “optimistic” Harry. Also, great Denis Diderot quote!

    One thing I have always found fascinating about scripture is that the history of Israel is about a nation that was constantly being conquered. They rarely “won” . . . and yet we still have their writings and shape our lives by their teachings. Powerful stuff.

    • The existence of Israel is itself a powerful miracle and testament to the fact that God exists. When you look at the map today, they represent a tiny state compared to all her neighbors. All of them also want to destroy Israel and yet there she is. Israel is the only democracy in the region. Every other nation beside them is run either by a tyrant or an oligarchy that cares very little of the governed. The people living in these countries don’t flourish.

      It’s curious that not many experts, especially in the media, talk about these stark differences that elevate Israel from the rest of her neighbors.

  3. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Excellent, Harry. I mentioned to Mario that it reminded me of the American History class he and I took in our MAML program. I heard historical stories I had never heard and it was quite disconcerting to discover more of the dark side of our American foundations that aren’t talked about by the winners.

    • Hi Tammy. Good stuff. Apparently, today is “Indigenous Peoples Day.” Instead of using my words to respond here, I’m going to quote my friend’s Facebook post. He himself has thought deeply what it means to be a Black Evangelical living in the U.S. today. Here’s what he said:

      “Recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day, for me, is a meditation on what it means to be a people from a place, and a repudiation of conquest and colonization as a good.

      No one was brought out of the earth but Adam. And the idea that a people was “there first” appears quite beyond any moral claim about sovereignty. Yet the colonial package of cultural supremacy, military supremacy, and a religious (read: Christian, in the loosest possible sense) mandate, don’t do better. Whoever was here first, we’re here now. It’s a mercy, and a burden.

      A truly Christian view of the human person recognizes that God made humans in his image, and gave his life for all peoples. So we should rightly feel shame for colonialism, yet do not wallow. We are here now, so now what? How do I love precious indigenous peoples now that I’m here, my ancestors stolen from Africa, or enticed to come from Europe?

      Nations rise and fall, but the word of God is forever, and King Jesus is sovereign. My king says I am to be known by my love, and that as a nation, we are to put first things first. Humans first, and Law as the moral expression of who we are as God’s Image; governments reward good and punish evil. Nations are not about their own perpetuity, but the good of those in their jurisdiction. Therefore we are not the axe exalting itself over the one who chops with it.

      Recognizing our ignominious beginnings, then, we pray and act according to what we are to become.”

  4. Thank you Harry for pointing out to the great omission of the influence of Christianity in World history. Its the one very important factor that will determine the future of the world and that very tiny Nation Israel. As Christian leaders, is there reason to be optimistic about the opportunity to influence the future of the world through spreading Christianity?

  5. mm Mary Mims says:

    Great post Harry, you got a lot out of this book, although I agree it was very interesting. I think as Christians we all agree that we have to believe God has a hand in how the future shapes out. Of that, we can all be thankful.

  6. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Harry,
    You are such an inspiring learner! Your mind is always at work and your summary takeaways are beneficial to all. Your juxtaposition of bias and objectivity provides an insightful construct. Perhaps one cannot approach objectivity until one acknowledges their bias. I love your final statement about being curious, humble, and optimistic! As I strive to be a global Christian leader, I want to always keep these as my processing grid. Thanks so much!

  7. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Harry, there is a movie in there. Let’s knock it up at the next advance. We can call it, “The Entrails of Destiny”. I wonder which of us could play the starring roles of King and Priest?
    Great post. Like you, I was very aware that we were reading a version of history. After reading the book I emailed a historian friend of mine who specialises in indigenous claims against the Crown with the question, Does history actually exist? She replied that it doesn’t. We have artifacts remaining from the past that each points to certain activities, but each of those activities was a multilayered story of the time. When try to understand those many stories, we also lay across them our own stories from the present so we can make sense of our own circumstances. In the end, history is indeed perception of the past, not the past itself, which is why politicians, activists and even the religious reframe the stories of history to suit their needs. The facts or artefacts rmay remain static as relics, but what we do with them is never straight forward. What do you reckon? I like your eschatology “I remain optimistic”. Th best words spoken in a century.

    • Thanks for the kind words there Digby. Studying anything is hard. We have unavoidable blindspots, prejudices, and not to mention, sin. Scripture tells us ourselves that we are unaware of this (Jer. 17:9). Our worldview lens is tainted (1 Cor. 13:12). We don’t see clearly no matter how hard we try.

      But I hope your historian friend does not descend into historical revisionism that says we can’t know anything about history or that there a “fluidity” in it that we just make things up. I doubt she’s saying that. But some experts do and I “reckon” that this line of thinking goes too far the other way. It for this reason that I mentioned in #4 in my post that we must remain fiercely humble and engage in constant civil dialog about these issues. I like what my friend said. I posted it to my reply to Tammy. I think he has enough there to lay a strong foundation for a good conversation around this powder keg of a topic.

      Like a famous saying goes, “one’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.” God will be the judge here.

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