Stephen Nichols: We are talking today with Dr. Sinclair Ferguson about matters of significance in church history. Dr. Ferguson, you have just written a wonderful new book titled In the Year of Our Lord: Reflections on Twenty Centuries of Church History. In this book, you walk through the church’s story by looking at each of the successive centuries, devoting a chapter to each century. In the introduction, you talk about how history is important for Christians. You write, “Christians, by definition, have an interest in history, for a particular view of history.” And you end this wonderful paragraph, writing, “History is important to us.” That’s why you wrote this book. History is important to us. In your own life, how has church history been important to you?
Sinclair Ferguson: In many different ways, Steve. I think one fairly obvious way is that I have learned so much from Christians I’ve never known. Obviously, in our Christian lives, we learn a great deal just by watching our fellow Christians, but there’s another twenty centuries of Christians who have gone before us, people who belong to our family from whom we have so much to learn. Also, I think the truth is that we can always learn from people’s mistakes, as well as from the examples they set for us that we want to follow. All of that is embedded in the story of the Christian church. We’ve often learned from the occasions in which we stumbled, and on a larger scale, that should be true of what we can learn from church history. In a sense, people often say quite glibly, if we don’t learn anything about the history of the church, we’ll probably just go on repeating the same mistakes. That is actually true, because you do see the same kind of mistakes coming up again and again.
SN: In this book, you walk us through the twenty centuries of church history. You’ve taken a great approach. With each chapter, you start off with a primary source, a text from each particular century, and the chapter itself is a narrative of that century, hitting the highlights, the key people, and the key ideas. Then, you end each chapter with a hymn from that century. Why did you do that?
SF: It’s partly because of the origin of the book. It began in the second half of 1999, when I began to feel that many people in the church in which I was ministering didn’t know much about the bigger story of the Christian family. Since everyone was excited about the turn of the millennium, I thought, “I’m going to take seven minutes in the last twenty-some days of the year in the evening service, and I’ll give a little talk on each of the centuries, and then we’ll sing a hymn from that century.” So, when it came to actually writing the book, I thought that the hymns would be quite a good thing to keep in the book, because it not only means that we are thinking about the church as history, but we’re also thinking about the church as liturgy, the church’s praise from which we have been and continue to be so much enriched.
SN: Again, this is a delightful book. As we go through these twenty centuries, I want to go back in and visit one century in particular. So, we’re going to meet up with you again next week, and we are going to travel back in time to the sixth century and talk about your beloved Scotland.