Paul Johnson’s A History of Christianity and Myself
Between raising kids, studying for finals, working, and losing at chess tournaments, I am currently reading Paul Johnson’s A History of Christianity. Near the end of his preface, he writes: “Christianity, by identifying truth with faith, must teach—and, properly understood, does teach—that any interference with the truth is immoral. A Christian with faith has nothing to fear from the facts; a Christian historian who draws the line limiting the field of enquiry at any point whatsoever, is admitting the limits of his faith. And of course he is also destroying the nature of his religion, which is a progressive revelation of truth. So the Christian, according to my understanding, should not be inhibited in the smallest degree from following the line of truth; indeed, he is positively bound to follow it. He should be, in fact, freer than the non-Christian, who is precommitted by his own rejections. At all events, I have sought to present the facts of Christian history as truthfully and nakedly as I am able, and to leave the rest to the reader.” Johnson’s words jumped off the page and slapped me in the mouth. Why? Well, I’m glad you asked. Setting aside his non-inclusive language for a moment, I’m humbled by both Johnson’s honesty and searching desire. Why? Again, thank you for asking. Because history stripped of dogmatism may not leave his belief system intact. After all, presenting history in the nude may not facilitate ones arrival at their preferred destination. It might lead down a frightfully challenging path. Viewing Christianity as a progressing revelation of truth is essential to this task, as it both breathes life into research and allows for unfettered creativity. Approaching unearthed truth, however, with orthodoxical baggage results in stale air stripped of both life and vigor—a vomiting up of manipulated data. Within Johnson’s framework we find that truth facilitates a complete and creative freedom, as it allows us to participate in God’s ongoing work. We are no longer stationary beings, but rather volitional beings creatively and continually both experiencing and embodying God’s kingdom. The question arises, however: what happens when one (and I’m just talking about a friend here) finds him or herself on that frightfully challenging path?