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As I say in my introduction to this interview, in her superb book, These Truths: A History of the United States, historian Jill Lepore holds a particular understanding of history. She says that history is, ‘…not merely a form of memory but also a form of investigation, to be disputed, like philosophy, its premises questioned, its evidence examined, its arguments countered (p. xvi).’ She argues that such an understanding of history-as-inquiry was central to the nation’s founding and that to study the past is to unlock the prison of the present (pp. xvi-xvii).
In my mind, such an understanding of history-as-inquiry and as a key for unlocking the prison of the present is also central to a church that needs to be continuously reforming. What we call the Reformation was a first occasion of significant Church reform. During that time the Church was in crisis because of the mutually reinforcing interplay between certain Christian doctrines and clerical/ecclesial corruption. While it is true that since the Reformation, the church has been in the process of continuously reforming, it seems to me that we may be in the process of a second significant reformation. The Church is in significant crisis again, and for similar reasons as before. We are in what is broadly being called a time that is post-modern, post-colonial, and post-Christendom.
For a lot of us, especially those of us who have been his students, a person whom we believe to be one of the most astute interpreters of the Church is Dr. Bill Leonard. It is to him that we turn for insight into how the Church has come to be in its present crisis and for wisdom about what Christians and the Church should do moving forward.
Dr. Leonard is the founding dean and now Professor of Divinity Emeritus at Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity. Dr. Leonard’s research focuses on Church History with particular attention to American religion, Baptist studies, and Appalachian religion. He is the author or editor of some 25 books. His most recent works include A Sense of the Heart: Christian Religious Experience in the U.S., and The Homebrewed Christianity Guide to Church History: Flaming Heretics and Heavy Drinkers.
An essential resource to broaden and deepen your understanding of the insights and wisdom Dr. Leonard shares in this interview is the archives for his regular contributions to Baptist News Global.
The music for this episode is from a clip of a song called ‘Father Let Your Kingdom Come’ which is found on The Porter’s Gate Worship Project Work Songs album and is used by permission by The Porter’s Gate Worship Project. You can learn more about the album and the Worship Project at theportersgate.com.