The Public School and Why Your Kid is “Bored” with World History
What are they taught about world history at the local church?
Why care about world history at all if history is “not your thing?”
One world history textbook says that “the basic reason to study world history involves access to the historical context for the globalized society we live in today.” (Peter N. Stearns, World History: The Basics, Routledge, 2010). Another workbook, designed to assist the school teacher in teaching world history, says: “The student needs to understand that world history is the student’s own. World history is not an abstract philosophy about other people; it is the heritage of the student’s own family, culture, language, and values. Students share universals with other students and with the instructor, as well as people around the world past, present, and future.” (David Hertzel, The World History Workbook: The Ancient World to 1500, Rowman and Littlefield, 2009). Doubtless other textbooks would say much the same thing, and at the public schools, this is what your child will be told is the purpose of studying world history. It will have no reference to God and His purposes. Thus, these statements about the purposes of studying history are woefully inadequate. At most, the public school teaching of history will encourage your child to emphasize his own overblown sense of his self-important place in world history, or to simply to think about “how we got here” and how we’re all interrelated. The study of history will be a curiosity, and for many, a drudgery, rather than an compelling invitation to further exploration and understanding.
One thing is certain, at no public school, at only some Christian schools, and likely at even fewer churches, will your child be taught to think of world history under the banner of Matthew 24:14, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come.” Yet this is what world history is about. As Ralph Winter says in his brilliant piece, The Kingdom Strikes Back: Ten Epochs of Redemptive History, there are “four different ‘mission mechanisms’ at work to bless other peoples: 1) going voluntarily, 2) involuntarily going without missionary intent, 3) coming voluntarily, and 4) coming involuntarily (as with Gentiles forcibly settled in Israel – 2 Kings 17).” In other words, world history is centrally about God’s purpose of having people “seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:27). The only ultimate purpose to the history of the universe, and to humankind within it, is to glorify God and bring about His enjoyment of His own creative and redemptive acts within the universe. Inextricably bound with this is our enjoyment of those same creative and redemptive acts. Nothing less will do.
I was not taught to think this way about world history until I was well into adulthood, and even then, only because I took a class called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” at my local church. I was not taught to think about what God was doing in the history of the world, and how He was working out history for His own glorious ends among the nations. I was not taught about the ways that God has been at work to advance His kingdom through the workings of the peoples and nations of the earth. This is a profound deficiency, and it points up the need for Christian children to be given an explicit and robust Christian education. Pieces like Ralph Winter’s should be central to the curriculum, and should be taught far and wide in homes and churches and schools.
Winter writes: “From Genesis 12 to the end of the Bible, and indeed until the end of time, there unfolds the single, coherent drama of ‘the Kingdom strikes back.’” Winter develops this theme, in broad strokes, by considering ten epochs in world history, wherein “the grace of God [is] intervening in a ‘world which lies in the power of the Evil One (1 Jn 5:19), contesting an enemy who temporarily is ‘the god of this world’ (2 Cor 4:4) so that the nations will praise God’s name.” Winter admits that “in the space available…it is only possible to outline the Western part of the story of the kingdom striking back – and only outline. It will be very helpful to recognize the various cultural basins in which that invasion has taken place. Kenneth Scott Latourette’s History of Christianity gives the fascinating details, a book extending the story beyond the Bible. (A book more valuable than any other, apart from the Bible!).” I would heartily recommend Latourette’s two volumes myself.
In the first five Epochs in world history, which Winter only summarizes, we have God at work through the period of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph), through the Captivity in Egypt, through the Judges in Israel, through the Kings in Israel, and through the Exile to Babylon. After this, Jesus comes, in a kind of “incriminating ‘visitation.’” The “chosen nation – chosen to receive and to mediate the blessing [of God's good news] – has grossly fallen short.” Thus Jesus ushers in the second five Epochs in world history. In Epoch 6, Winter argues that “Rome was won but did not reach out with the gospel to the barbaric Celts and Goths. Almost as a penalty, the Goths invaded Rome and the whole western (Latin) part of the empire caved in.” In Epoch 7, “the Goths were added in, and they and others briefly achieved a new ‘Holy’ Roman Empire. But this new sphere did not effectively reach further north with the gospel.” In Epoch 8, “again almost as a penalty, the Vikings invaded these Christianized Celtic and Gothic barbarians. In the resulting agony, the Vikings, too, became Christians.” In Epoch 9, “Europe now united for the first time by Christian faith, reached out in a sort of pseudo-mission to the Saracens in the great abortion known as the Crusades.” In Epoch 10, “Europe now reached out to the very ends of the earth, but still done with highly mixed motives; intermingled commercial and spiritual interests was both a blight and a blessing. Yet, during this period, the entire non-Western world was suddenly stirred into development as the colonial powers greatly reduced war and disease. Never before had so few affected so many, even though never before had so great a gap existed between two halves of the world.” We are still in this final phase of reaching all of the world for Christ, with the two-thirds world now truly taking the lead over the West.
Winter ultimately asks some important questions: “Will the immeasurably strengthened non-Western world invade Europe and America just as the Goths invaded Rome and the Vikings overran Europe? Will the ‘Third World’ turn on us in a new series of ‘Barbarian’ invasions? Will the OPEC nations gradually buy us out and take us over? [I would ask: Will China?] Clearly we face the reaction of an awakened non-Western world that is suddenly beyond our control. What will be the role of the gospel? Can we gain any insight from these previous cycles of outreach?” Pertinent questions indeed, and ones that Christian students should be wrestling with, but largely aren’t. Who will train them up to consider these things, and to live their lives in accord with God’s purposes in world history?
I highly commend to you Winter’s piece, which I’ve linked to above. Let us teach it to our children, and enlarge their vision of their own lives, and how they might live in line with God’s plan and purpose to bless all the nations with the gospel.