Interesting time at the Conference on Faith and History at Gordon College last weekend. Interesting for a number of reasons, the first of which is that this is an organization for Christian historians, and I am an unbeliever. I confess that I had been unaware of the sense of alienation that many Conference members have because they work at a secular university—my environment. Tables, turned, I guess.
Tracy McKenzie offered a presidential address that meditated on the life of a Christian historian, and while advocating a new relationship between Christian academics and church members, gave the best critique of the dysfunctional relationship between academy and public I’ve heard in a long time. To be honest, not much new, but he eloquently and powerfully struck at the heart of the problem of language, communication, stance, and audience. (He cited Rosenzweig and Thelen, so you know I thought highly of it.) And here’s what I think…why can’t his critique, based on the platform* of Christianity, be the keynote at the Southern Historical Association meeting?
*I don’t mean to condescend with this word. I know Christianity is not a “platform.”
Well, I attended to give a paper, and I don’t have to explain what a Methodist class meeting is to this crowd, so that’s nice. All kidding aside, I think the paper went well, and the commentator gave good advice during his comments and after. Sadly, no time for audience Q&A, but that might be just as well, because none other than Mark Noll was in the session. You know I had a stroke when he walked into the room.
A couple of observations from a first-timer. Church history is a separate field of history, like, say, Southern history, or Civil War history, or “social” history—it has its own historiography, its own questions, its own discourses, its own methods—and I am as unfamiliar with all of them as I am with the Aztec history I taught in class today. Basically, I don’t think I’ll ever even reach adequate status on knowing the Protestant Reformation. And church history is extremely intellectual. This conference gave me a mental workout like I haven’t had in a while. Those intellectuals make us social historians feel like dilettantes.
Anyhow, the best part was catching up with some acquaintances, including Baby Professor, and making new friends, like George Greg Jones, both of whom gave great papers.