The Task Of Church History: Answering The Threat Of Historicism -- By: D. Clair Davis

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 41:2 (Spring 1979)
Article: The Task Of Church History: Answering The Threat Of Historicism
Author: D. Clair Davis


The Task Of Church History:
Answering The Threat Of Historicism*

D. Clair Davis

Members of the Board, President Clowney, Vice-President Strimple, Dean Fuller, Mr. Woolley, members of the Faculty, students and friends. May I express my deep gratitude for the great privilege of being a teacher at the Seminary, and for this opportunity of recommitting myself to that task in your presence. May I tell you of some particular blessings that have come to me here: from my own teacher, and friend, Paul Woolley, who in his great attention for precision and accuracy, his concern for the church of Jesus Christ everywhere and in every situation, and his zeal for relating Biblical principle to the history of the church, has been and remains the dean of Westminster church historians; from the Westminster faculty for the emphasis on the Biblical-theological/ historical character of Scripture, which points to the mind of the Lord in writing his revelation to lost mankind in the form of a church history book; to the professors in apologetics, who have made so clear the antithetical character of the church’s stance against the world; and to Jay Adams, who has illumined in practice what we have longingly confessed—the power of the proper understanding of the word of God to transform the church. All of my colleagues have sharpened the focus of the task of church history at Westminster, of being the footbridge between the twin peaks of Biblical studies and practical theology. I assure all of you of my personal recognition and appreciation of the work of the whole faculty—arid how that has shaped my own work and my understanding of it.

An inaugural address may have two forms: it may either demonstrate how, the discipline is done, or it may suggest what it should do. The latter may seem more appropriate when the discipline purports to be new, and hence more in need of defi-

*An address given at Westminster Theological Seminary on April 24, 1979 at the inauguration of Dr. Davis as Professor of Church History.

nition. But could such an inaugural address be utilized when such an ancient discipline as church history is in prospect, whose roots are so deep as to defy unearthing? Why church history, indeed! one might just as well ask, why neckties?

Nevertheless, such a definition of church history is what I intend to provide today, simply because the ongoing history of Christ’s church demands a newer understanding. As C. T. McIntire has observed, today church history is all that is left of the noble heritage of Christian history, universal history.1 If there is no meaning any more to the history of man, then chur...

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