Why I am Writing

???????????????????????????????God calls us, Frederick Buechner has observed, to a life of service at the intersection of our heart’s passion and society’s need.  “The place God calls you to,” as he put it so eloquently, “is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet.”  If Buechner’s definition is correct, then it would be accurate to say that I write out of a sense of God’s calling.  I am a Christian by faith and an academic historian by vocation, and my heart’s desire is to be in conversation with other Christians about the interrelationship between the love of God, the life of the mind, and the study of the past.

This has not always been the case.  When I began graduate study at Vanderbilt University some thirty-two years ago, I genuinely felt “called” to be a Christian historian, but my vision of what that might look like was limited and self-serving.  I intended to teach a college Sunday School class, be open about my faith, and even witness to unbelieving students occasionally.  Beyond that, I would simply strive to be the most successful historian that I could be—as the secular Academy defined success.  This meant letting the Academy define the questions that would be important to me and dictate the audience that would matter.

I’m sad to say that I accepted this direction uncritically, almost unconsciously, for I loved what I was doing and I initially reaped great satisfaction and fulfillment from it.  It might have been different had the path not been so easy, but God blessed me with a wonderful job at an outstanding university in a beautiful city.  In addition to the privilege of working with great colleagues and able students at the University of Washington, during my time there I reaped most of the tangible rewards that the secular Academy can offer: tenure, promotion, awards for teaching and scholarship, even an endowed chair.  But at the same time, God was gradually reorienting my thinking.  Over time I arrived at the conclusion that part of the calling of the Christian historian was to be a historian for other Christians, not just for the Academy.

It was because of this evolving sense of calling that I left the University of Washington after twenty-two years in order to join the faculty at Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts institution just west of Chicago.  It’s entirely possible to be a faithful Christian scholar at a secular university, but I was convinced that a school like Wheaton would open more doors for conversation with Christians outside the Academy than my current post.  The same burden and vision also redirected my scholarship and led me to try to write for the first time for a broader audience.  In 2013 I published a book aimed at non-academic readers: The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us about Loving God and Learning from History.

Finally, this same sense of calling—along with the encouragement of my technologically savvy daughters—prompted me to try my hand at a blog.  Generally, I try to post an essay about once a week that deals in some way with what it means to think Christianly about America’s past.  I hope that you will find what I have to share interesting, informative, and challenging.

God has given me a passion to be in conversation with other Christians outside the Academy, so perhaps this is one way to further that aim.  God knows, and time will tell.  Thanks for reading.

14 responses to “Why I am Writing

  1. Thank you for the insights professor! Reading your blog from Tanzania, inspired and encouraged by your faith and words. Asante!

  2. I must have been living under a rock (or a pew) during the last several years. Thank you for following God’s direction and writing such well-researched and accessible blogs about studying American history ‘Christianly’. From my own reading, thinking and life experience (my contact with the Christian Right and their earliest spokesmen began after I graduated high school in the 1975), I have gone from being uncomfortable to being outraged by the idea of ‘America was founded as a Christian nation’.

    But I have never been able to clearly articulate my opinions or back them up with facts and reasoned arguments from Scripture and history. I am delighted to find someone who has.

  3. I just heard you speak on Point of View..
    I was a history major initially ..I ALWAYS loved it.
    My parents encouraged us to read history and kept an excellent library at home.
    Your work is VERY important..I feel like the Holy Spirit led me to that program tonight.
    Thank you for this fascinating blog.. I look forward to exploring it.
    ..AND thank you for making it shareable…I have many fb friends who would love to know about it…and will also share it

    It could be “You have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.”

  4. Please Read ” The Genesis of Abraham Lincoln” by James Cathy written in 1899. Which tells of a much bigger scope of his life. I had many Questions about him that were Never answered in any book that I ever found. Why did Tom Lincoln live with Nancy and little Abe in a 3 sided cabin the first winter in Kentucky? There were 4 legged beasts and just mean people out there, besides the harsh winter. What did Nancy really die of? What was so traumatic that little Abe as a 9 year old would leave home after the death of his mother to travel down the Mississippi River to New Orleans? This book answered them all and more. His motives for his actions were grounded in his early life. By reading this book brings Hope to anyone, because Seeing how God brought Him through his troubled childhood, to holding a nation together, bringing freedom to millions. His mother’s faith taught to him come to him later in life when troubles and heartaches came. This CAN INSPIRE ANYONE!!!!!

    • Hi, Mr. Owensby: I would be very cautious about believing Cathey’s account. I know of no reputable academic historian who believes the book is reliable.

  5. As far as I know Frederick Buechner is not late, but still alive.


  7. Excellent blog, Professor Mckenzie. I am glad to discover that there is at least one “Christian” historian who is willing to look at America’s history critically and not just whitewash it to be pro-Christian. History was my favorite subject in high school, and I briefly considered studying it in college. Having attended a private Christian school throughout most of my formative years, I was fed a strong dose of “Christianized” American history. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that what I was taught was not always accurate. Thank you for critiquing what I’ve known to be the norm when it comes to a view of history in Christian circles.

  8. I recently discovered your blog here and I am enjoying it. I just realized I that you are also the author of “The First Thanksgiving” which was an excellent book, not only on Thanksgiving, but on the nature and practice of history and the intersection with Christian faith. Great job. Looking forward to more of your work. Keep it up.

  9. Really like your articles!
    I recently started a blog on the Early Church and the Roman Empire. Perhaps you’d like to see it:

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