What can be learned
Dr. J. Calvin
Holsinger received his undergraduate and master’s degrees
in history from the University of Pittsburgh and his doctorate
in history from Temple University in Philadelphia. He has
served on the history faculties of state and private universities,
including Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, Evangel University,
Vanguard University and Central Bible College. He has been
honored for his classroom achievements with the [Missouri]
Governor’s Award for Excellence in University Teaching,
the Sears Foundation Teaching Excellence Award and the Assemblies
of God Educator’s Award. Holsinger is active in state
and local historical agencies. In addition to his teaching,
Holsinger was instrumental in the development of the national
Chi Alpha program. He resides in Springfield, Mo. He recently
shared some of his thoughts on America’s history with
Scott Harrup, associate editor.
PE: What lessons
can this generation learn from history?
A number of years ago, on a TV series called Roots, one of
the characters said, “If you don’t know from where
you’ve come, you can’t know where you are going.”
That is one of the most profound statements I ever heard concerning
history. History doesn’t just tell us where we have
been; it also alerts us to where we are headed.
Americans of this
generation, especially, need to know the history of the events,
ideas and people that developed the kind of life and freedom
we enjoy today — levels of privilege almost unheard
of in human history. Most nations have been formed around
a common ethnic heritage and religion. America does not have
a common ethnic and religious inheritance. Instead, what we
have as a country is a common history of people, events and
challenges that formed this nation of political, economic
and cultural opportunity.
also needs to know the history of our Christian faith through
the centuries, and not just how that faith has been expressed
in America, but how God has preserved the faith through thousands
History can teach
humility by showing the sacrifices of other generations that
have made our lives better and our institutions stronger.
Reading historical accounts and visits to historical monuments
and parks and towns and homes make one consider what others
have done on our behalf. Historical symbols teach lessons
about our human and national history.
PE: To what
extent and in what context would you describe America as a
Christian nation? Or would you?
That is a complicated question because people have different
definitions. A few years ago I was in Europe during
a period when our media was full of the public debate over
an American political leader who had lied to the public. A
British university professor friend of mine said, “You
Americans don’t have a country; you have a church!”
A recent Pew survey recorded that only 11 percent of the French
value religion; around 90 percent of Americans do. So, in
one sense, America is a very religious and Christian nation
as compared to the rest of the world.
Our cultural elites
— the media, the universities, and the legal system
— insist that we are a secular society; which means
that religion no longer instructs our institutions. These
cultural elites thought that they had won the argument with
the Scopes evolution trial in 1925. However, the majority
in America just went on their way, and today it is evangelical
Christianity that has the membership — not liberal or
I am in agreement
with Michael Novak’s view in his book, On Two Wings:
Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding,
in which he posits that American life and institutions are
carried on the wings of Christian teachings and the commonsense
principles of reason.
While the elites
of education and entertainment and of the media and the courts
have triumphantly proclaimed America a “secular society,”
most Americans continue to be profoundly religious. In the
voting booth, one of the few places where ordinary Americans
are listened to, Americans continue to affirm quite regularly
that they really do value the religious Christian heritage
of America — even if they are “wayward”
children of the faith.
PE: In light
of the growing religious diversity in America, what can Christians
do to positively influence our culture?
First, from recent history we must learn that we cannot rely
on the political arena to solve all the problems faced in
society. But we do need to use this wonderful tool given to
us by our ancestors. Believers should support good causes,
pray daily for our leaders as the Bible enjoins, and run for
Second, we need
to establish and support institutions that are trying to meet
human needs — such as the Salvation Army, Teen Challenge
or Convoy of Hope — just as American Christians did
before the government took over so many of the tasks of assisting
the needy. There must continue to be a Christian answer to
human needs, not just a governmental and political one.
Third, we need
to influence our society in the educational arena. One of
the unfortunate results of the last century’s modernist-orthodox
struggles has been the loss of most of the institutions of
learning and culture that had been established by believers
during the previous 300 years of dominant evangelical Christian
faith in America. In the ’60s these lost institutions
were further radicalized and today are often violently opposed
to Christian values and faith. Since the 1930s, however, evangelicals
have been rebuilding their lost institutions. But if we are
to truly and positively influence our culture, pastors and
parents will need to be certain that our schools have the
necessary talented youth and the needed resources to do their
task — otherwise history teaches we will lose them again.
have the greatest influence on their culture when they refuse
to be pressed into the world’s mold but rather obey
carefully the injunctions of Scripture about behavior, spending
of time and money and lifestyle choices.
PE: Any other
When I was a graduate history student, I had a renowned professor
who was not known as a believer. One day he was lecturing
on the famed Battle of Dunkirk. As he waxed eloquent about
the battle’s events, he remarked, “You know, ladies
and gentlemen, sometimes you just have to believe there must
be a God.”
A young man quickly
asked, “Professor, do you think that God had something
to do with Dunkirk?” Quiet and thoughtful for a moment,
the professor replied, “Sir, I guess that if there is
a God, He must have something to say about everything.”
And the professor then went on with his lecture.
I would urge readers
to enlarge their understanding of the sovereignty of God in
history and to daily pray, “Oh Lord, Thy kingdom come,
and Thy will be done today on earth as it is in heaven!”
— and believe it will happen!
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