There isn't more history in the last five centuries than all the previous millennia, we just have more plentiful records of it. In all honesty, sometimes the plethora of detail isn't only overwhelming, it obscures the whole point of the story. As humans, we're all too susceptible to the lure of obscurity, to the desire for darkness where there ought to be light.
In many ways, this is the chief characteristic of modern history. Mankind seems to have accepted Enlightenment ideals en masse, and the result is the non-stop acquisition of knowledge, as though information could shut us off from the eye of a just and jealous God. Evolutionary theory, psychology, existentialism and postmodernism, public education, Communism—all these ideas are intended to put man at a further remove from God.
During the Renaissance, thinkers and artists decided that if man was going to make himself great, he'd have to replicate the glory of the Classical Era, with its enduring artifacts and intellectual produce. Enlightenment thinkers took this one step further, insisting that man could only know what he could deduce using reason alone, and consequently amassing knowledge in order to have a more thorough basis for such reasonable inquiry.
Since then, philosophers and scientists have devoted themselves to interpreting the facts from a purely human perspective, creating a picture of the universe that is mechanistic and godless. Meaning is dead, God is dead, and hope is dead, but the Enlightenment ideal of human progress (repackaged as Darwinian naturalism) is alive and well, the phantom idol of countless millions.
Even a brief survey of the last century would seem to demolish the possibility of any such idea, but it continues to inform nearly every element of our culture, from pop music to public policy debates. Atrocities like the Holocaust, racism in America, abortion, and totalitarian rule in Asian countries are reinterpreted or explained away to fit the overarching rubrik of sustained forward progress.
Christians understand things a bit differently. We aren't pessimists by any means, but we aren't blind optimists, either. God's plan entails one thing: His ultimate glory, and for those who believe His promises and trust Him for salvation, that's the most hopeful doctrine conceivable. At the same time, we also understand that man's efforts cannot be responsible for whatever good befalls us, that "progress" is only a gift of the Most High, and that only through the Holy Spirit is evil overcome by good.
The modern world is increasingly secular. Even in the Church, men and women stray from biblical truth in favor of appealing arguments on behalf of man, substituting a Christ-centered Gospel with one that is primarily focused on mankind and our individual salvation. We must counter these attitudes with God's truth, but we can only do so with an understanding of where those ideas come from and why they've taken root. A thorough study of modern history can and will provide those answers, and teach us how to stand firm in the truth we hold dear.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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