Q: Why is the average person in the pew largely uninformed about church history?
A: I think there are at least a couple of reasons: 1) Particularly among American evangelicals, there has long been a tendency to seek and to value whatever is newest and trendiest, and to separate ourselves from the wisdom of the past. If there’s any reference to church history at all, it typically takes the form of decontextualized illustrations and quotations from those in the past. 2) In school, most church members have experienced history poorly taught – history that centers on isolated facts instead of focusing first on the stories that link us with people long-past. The result of poorly taught history is that people perceive history – all history, even church history – as boring, dry, irrelevant. History isn’t boring, of course, but it’s difficult to change people’s minds when they’ve experienced years of boring history in school.
Q: So you probably believe history is as exciting as a popular fiction book.
A: I think it should be, but if often isn’t presented that way.
Q: There are a lot of people who will say, “I had a history class back in high school, and it wasn’t as exciting as a fiction book.”
A: I think the reason that church history is not as exciting for many people as a good fiction book is because we don’t tell it the right way. We don’t tell it as a story; we tell it as isolated facts. And I think one of the things that we can do in teaching and telling church history is to tell the stories first and make the stories primary. Because that is where we are able to connect with earlier believers in our common humanness, in our common experiences as believers in Jesus Christ – the stories of how God works through them. And I think if we tell the stories first, we help people connect the stories to the names, the dates, the facts.
Q: How did the way you view history and how you want it taught affect how you wrote the book Christian History Made Easy?
A: It completely shaped it, because when I wrote the book, the way I structured it was I laid out the framework of all the names, dates, facts that had to be mentioned. I made that the skeleton, and then I thought, “What stories do I fit in to all of this?” So I could lead into the stories, so that the stories were primary in it.
Q: Why did you write the book, and how did you get interested in church history?
A: I thought church history was boring all the way until I was in my master’s degree, and I took some church history courses and I realized, “This really matters.” This was in the mid-1990s, and I was a pastor, and I wanted my people in the church to understand some of these really important things. I started looking for a church history textbook to use in a study, and I couldn’t find one that covered church history that wasn’t boring. And so I started writing it myself. I wrote it for my people at Green Ridge Baptist Church in Green Ridge, Mo. It started off as a course at this rural church in central Missouri. Rose Publishing, in 1999, published it as a black and white book. And even then, I envisioned a full-color version of this book, but Rose Publishing, budget-wise, couldn’t do it. And so finally, in 2009, they were able to go back to the drawing board of the book, and I was able to re-write significant portions of it and bring it up to date as a full-color book.
Q: How did it get into a DVD curriculum?
A: Rose Publishing has begun doing DVD curriculum, and I had always wanted to be able to teach this in a much broader format – in essence, do what I did back in that little church in the 1990s and do make it available to a broader audience.
Q: What’s the audience for the curriculum?
A: I and two Ph.D. students wrote the curriculum. We really wrote it with laypeople in mind, and we really tried to aim at an eighth-grade reading level. I want it to be used by high schoolers and adults, and laypeople with no theological education. Everything was written with a strong focus on: How can we make it interesting, enjoyable, spiritually deepening for people?
Q: Rose Publishing took great strides in making the curriculum more than just a lecture. They incorporated animation. It’s not just you standing at a podium talking for 30 minutes.
A: One of the things I wanted was animation. They did a great job. They went all out and did everything I wanted. The animations tell different episodes of church history in about three minutes in a really funny and fun way. Interspersed throughout the lectures are complicated subjects reduced in a fun animation that has a good sense of humor but is always historically accurate.
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