Twenty years ago, I sat in a Wheaton College classroom with a half-dozen other students, awaiting my first real history seminar. For a recent Bible School graduate, the book-a-week workload seemed daunting, but I was excited to be working with Mark Noll and committed to learning the craft. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
The seminar subject was Pentecostalism, a religious tradition of which I knew little. Yet I was eager to impress and dove headfirst into a conversation that turned almost immediately to doctrine. As the theological weeds grew deeper, we pressed forward, constructing intricate taxonomies of spirit baptism and genealogies of faith healing.
After about twenty minutes of this, Noll finally cut in with a simple question. “When did the Pentecostal movement begin?”
Silence enveloped the room, interrupted only by the sound of frantically flipping pages. Finally, someone offered a tentative response: “Around 1900?”
“Alright, that sounds fine. Now, someone tell me what else was going on.”
“Cultural trends? Social movements?”
“Can someone tell me who was president?”
Uncomfortable fidgeting. Embarrassingly, this basic sort of historical contextualization hadn’t occurred to me (or, apparently, to anyone else at the table). Raised a conservative evangelical, these things just didn’t matter. Sure, theology may have developed, but it was directed by God, right?
I slouched lower in my seat.
“Come on, you’ve got to know this. We’re doing history, not theology. The question we need to answer is why 1900? Why not 1870 or 1930? What changed and what caused that change?”
Read the rest of the piece here, including Gloege’s take on how to move evangelical historiography forward.