Learning Humility through Church History, Introduction

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on “Learning Humility through Church History” by Jason Duesing, vice president for strategic initiatives and assistant professor of historical theology at Southwestern Seminary. To read other articles in this series, click here.

At the start of this academic year on our seminary and college campuses many students will engage in the study of the history of Christianity for the first time. Certainly, the history of Christianity has its academic and factual purposes, and students acquire those through reading and writing assignments. However, the far greater purpose, for those called to serve as our future pastors and missionaries, is the growth in humility that comes from the study of church history.

A Warning and a Promise

In Daniel 4 it is Nebuchadnezzar who says of God that, “those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Dan. 4:37). This is a telling statement coming from a man who only recently traversed the behavioral line between man and beast. This statement is also remarkable as it contains, in the words of my pastor while I was a student in seminary, both a warning and a promise of hope.

pride is something “everyone loathes when he sees it in someone else,” but few “ever imagine they are guilty of themselves.”

For this Babylonian king to say that God is able to humble those who follow the path carved by pride is a warning to all those who will follow in his steps. God is, indeed, capable of humbling the proudest person even if it requires a transformation of the natural created order to bring about His desired response.

But this statement also contains a promise of hope. As C.S. Lewis once noted, pride is something “everyone loathes when he sees it in someone else,” but few “ever imagine they are guilty of themselves.” So, for those of us who have been surprised by pride and the depths of it in our own lives, the words of Nebuchadnezzar can bring relief. Even if it requires me to “dwell with the beasts of the field” (Dan. 4:32) in order to shake the tumults of pride, at least there is a way of escape, for God is able to humble even those of us who marvel too often at our own “mighty power” (Dan. 4:30).

Outside of the Bible, I personally know of few instruments other than the study of church history more useful for humbling those of us who walk in pride. This is because the lessons learned in church history class, like the experience of Nebuchadnezzar, serve as both warnings and promises of hope. In the following posts, I will provide a brief description of only seven of those many lessons.