When I was an undergrad studying intellectual history my whole focus was on understanding the dominant ideas of a given age, how those ideas were possibly related to one another, and how earlier ideas contributed to the development of later ideas. As I am preparing to enter into a doctorate program in history (at some unspecified future time), there has been a development in my interests. Currently, I am also interested in what might be called the material culture of a given age, and what I want to understand is the various factors and influences, both materially and ideologically, that shaped how people of a given time were actually situated in the world. I see this development in my interest as emerging from two factors. First, it is an expression of basic maturity. In the almost fifteen years from my undergrad days to now, I have become less idealistic and more realistic, more concrete, and more aware of the complexities of just being human. I think, and hope that I have been tempered by my years living in the world, holding various jobs, having a family, and meeting various challenges. Second, as I have grown in my faith, the incarnation has become more central to my thinking and practice as a Xian.
For those who don’t know, the incarnation is the event of the eternal Son of God becoming human, truly and fully human. Stated simply, the significance of this event is that God meets us where we are at, and I mean this on multiple levels. God meets us where we live in time and space, and in all the promises and limitations of the cultures we inhabit. On a more personal level, God meets us in the uniqueness or our individual being, which is seen in the ways we are strong and the ways we are weak; it is also seen in our temperaments, habits, and basic outlook. In saying this, it is important to understand the incarnation in the context of the Gospel, which the apostle Paul defines as “the power of God unto salvation.” Regarding the incarnation, this would imply that God meets us where we are at, not to just hang out with us, or to leave us there, but to lift us into a higher level of being, so that we can engage him more fully and enter into deeper communion with him.
All that I have shared here has implications for how I will critically approach the study of history, particularly regarding how I interpret the significance of past events, and the evidence I use to make conclusions. This approach is something I am in the midst of developing, but it is something for which I have some basic ideas that I can begin to share. However, I will save this for a later post. In the mean time, let me just say that the incarnation is typically understood as a mystery, and it is this concept that I would apply in my approach to history.