Non-Christian Historians and Non-Historical Christians

Historians who are not Christians and Christians who are not historians often make two critical errors. Error # 1: Historians who are not Christians believe that unearthing an inaccuracy within Christian tradition grants liberty to also attack the Biblical text. For instance, if historians can prove that the Christian holiday of Christmas does not have the origins most Christians assume it to have, then they also have warrant to doubt that the birth narratives of Jesus contained in the Bible are also suspect.  This is the glaring error of the History Channel and most books about the history of Christmas. Error # 2: Christians who are not historians may assume something traditional to be Biblical. Christian holidays are full of this type of conjecture. Ironically many of our traditional errors and biblical remixes are due to our sacred songs. The Christmas season is full of songs so familiar to us that their images have made it into our nativity scenes, but they are nowhere to be found in the Biblical text. In many respects, these two mistakes, being overly critical and/or being overly traditional, account for much of what has gone wrong with Christmas.

On one hand are a zealous group of Christian believers who propagate Christ as the "reason for the season. On the opposite hand are a zealous group of historians who investigate and find that Jesus actually had very little to do with what has become the holiday of Christmas. Between the two are a massive group of secular materialists, also known as shoppers, who are wondering what all the fuss is about. Some of them are historical. Some of them are Christian. Most of them are neither. All they know is that Christmas ushers in the bargain season. There is joy in the world because the stores are full of good deals. The truth of the matter is that in a materialistic Western culture rooted in Greco-Roman philosophy, Christmas has come from so much, and has become so much, that Jesus Christ has very little to do with what is actually going on.

Over the next six weeks we will be endeavoring to "Recover Christmas" both in blog and in sermon. As we progress, there will arise two mistaken emotions from the Non-Christian historians and from the Non-historical Christians. One will be a deep seated feeling of satisfaction in the non-Christian historians. These people feel that in unveiling the pagan roots of Christmas we are somehow undercutting the integrity of the gospel. I assure you that in the next six weeks this will not happen. Tradition is not Biblical text! The other emotion will be a mixture of fear and frustration from the non-historical Christian who just wants to believe, regardless of history. This person may become fearful that the integrity of their faith is being questioned and in the end they will be exposed as having believed a lie. I also assure you, this will not happen. Yet again, I remind you, tradition is not Biblical text!

So how are we to reconcile the two: non-Christian historians and non-historical Christians? I think there are three critical principles we need to observe:

  1. A historical analysis of tradition is not the same as a critical analysis of Scripture. The Christian church may hold so strongly to a tradition that it may masquerade it as doctrinal faith. Throughout history, many traditions have often been proven unfounded, unbiblical, and lacking integrity all together. We sort of made a mess of the whole idea that the Earth was the center of the universe. Not good! Yet, although the church had this interpretation of Scripture HORRIBLY wrong, our mistake was not God's mistake. The text of the Bible did not change. Our interpretations of the text changed. Just because the church may have something wrong does not mean that the Biblical text has it wrong. Disproving tradition is NOT the same as disproving the Bible.

  2. Historical analysis is profitable in that it can help us remove unhealthy traditions that cloud the integrity of our faith and the gospel. Non-historical Christians are prone to mistake tradition as Scripture. This has become most often true with Christmas. Christmas stands in dire need of recovery both in history and in Scripture. There are many images, plots, and symbols that are a part of the Christmas season that most Christians believe to be a part of the Biblical narrative. Secular intellects are watching us do this and they are entertained by our mistakes. It is critical for Christians to read the Biblical text and appreciate history so that we can hold to faith and enjoy tradition with accuracy and integrity.

  3. Just because a holiday has evolved into something far different than it once was, or arose much later than the event it celebrates, does not mean that 1) its meaning cannot be recovered or 2) that it has become completely sinful or historically dishonest to observe it. Just because the entire world didn't throw Jesus a birthday party when he turned 1, or even 300, doesn't mean Christmas is pagan, unchristian and wrong. The Christian church has a history of overcorrecting at times and becoming entirely unhealthy and legalistic in its reactions to truth. Historians have a history of overcorrecting and becoming nothing more than skeptics. As we investigate Christmas over the next six weeks let us become neither legalistic nor skeptical. Let us recover our focus on the gospel.

My prayer in this is simple, that we become educated historically and edified biblically. We need, Christmas or no-Christmas, to return to the essence of our faith, Christ. "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ."


Janet Conrad said…
Beautifully said. Thank you for pointing out the error on both sides. Why must it be black and white? It IS possible to meet in the middle and bring balance to both. This post is long overdue and should be proclaimed more loudly and often. There are many Christians who accept science (evolution) in cooperation with creation. Must they too be polarized?

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