The best part of Super Bowl 53 wasn’t the on-field performance of the Rams, or even the Patriots. The game was relatively boring for a casual watcher of football, as most viewers of Sunday night’s game surely were. If you like defense, and tough, gritty, undersized wide-receivers then maybe you disagree with my analysis, but I think most people who watched would agree that compared to other recent Super Bowls, Super Bowl 53 was a bit meh. I give credit to the Patriots’ defensive line, and to McCourty, and Edelman, but beyond those guys I didn’t see a lot which stood out to me outside of a deer in the headlights Goff, and an outcoached Mcvay. Don’t even get me started on the halftime show; it left me uhhh… confused? No, the best part of Super Bowl 53 came in the form of a commercial celebrating 100 years of the NFL, and that same commercial packed a helpful message along with it.
In a day and age when millennials have taken on an attitude to unshackle ourselves from our histories we need to listen to messages, like the one from the NFL 100 commercial, which help us to see how and why history does actually matter. We are living in a time when we are quick to embrace “Out with the old and in with the new” mentalities. We often hear and say things like, “Well, it’s the 21st century so let’s not worry ourselves with those ‘old’ ways of thinking. When we think and act in this way we develop a cultural attitude of superiority; we begin to believe we in 21st century America are somehow more advanced than more “primitive” eras, or we are more moral, or more sophisticated, when in reality we are no less or more sinners who are flawed in our abilities to reach infinity, or to know truth infallibly, or to act holy, than any of the other eras before ours. We need reminders constantly that we are not actually any better than the generations before us, but we are actually products of what has already been. We don’t need to unshackle ourselves from our histories, but we need to know our histories, and at times embrace them while at other times rejecting them, but rather than diminishing the importance of our histories we should actually highlight them.
Many young people will have watched the NFL 100 commercial and been excited to see Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., Von Miller, Todd Gurley, Patrick Mahomes, and some of the other wildly popular stars of today’s game, but the exciting part is seeing those stars in the proper historical context after the line of others who appeared in the commercial, like Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Eddie George, Deion Sanders, Dick Butkus, Peyton manning, Brian Urlacher, Mike Singletary, Paul Warfield, Terry Bradshaw, and even Jim Brown. What this commercial teaches us to see is that we may be living in a day and age when football is a bit flashier, and there is certainly more notoriety and money involved for stars of the game today than there was fifty years ago, but we can’t detach the significance of today’s stars from that of the stars of yester-year. Simply put, without the history of football in the 60’s, 80’s, 00’s, you will not be able to fully appreciate the game in 2019.
History matters not only in the game of football, but in every facet of life: politics, religion, music, education, entertainment, etc. When a generation detaches itself from learning to examine and think critically about the generations before them then that generation will no longer see world history along the timeline which helps them properly frame reality. So, instead of seeing the world as a long line of imperfect societies offering both bad and good for human flourishing in future generations, beginning with the earliest humans (I take this to be Adam and Eve), and leading up until today, our detached-from reality generation will see the timeline of human history with the pinnacle being themselves. This is dangerous, because how will a generation combat narcissism without knowing the history of Rome and learning from its mistakes? How will a generation combat oppression and censorship without learning from the history of Russia, Lenin, and Stalin. How will a generation properly think about exclusivity and racism if they can’t understand and properly place Christopher Columbus or Adolph Hitler on the timeline of world history? Political movements will become problematic if they aren’t learning from the shoulders they are standing on. Education will become indoctrination if a generation follows the cycle of many authoritarian generations from before. Religious institutions will become self-serving if they don’t learn from the mistakes of the past.
This is where the conversation becomes so relevant and helpful for today’s Evangelical Christians. If we as Millennial Evangelical Christians don’t learn to understand our current church context in light of the timeline of human history as explained in the Bible then we will never see ourselves for who we truly are—a generation of redeemed sinners who are “Not of this world, but sent into it,” just as the church has always meant to be. We need to seek to learn about the church in the past to learn from how they carried out their mission well, but also some of their shortcomings in carrying out their purpose to “Go and make disciples of all nations.” If we act like our generation is somehow better than the ones before us then we will end up throwing out our history completely, and this will cause us to become pragmatic, political, and we will fight for relevance for years to come. On the other hand, if we humble ourselves and see ourselves as standing on the shoulders of the saints who have gone before us then we will begin to be able to serve God with a respect for the history of the church from Acts 28 onward, but not being bogged down by what is merely historical rather than biblical.
So, I end with a charge for millennial Christians to use the NFL 100 commercial as a call for us to seek to understand who we are as Christ’s church today in light of the history of Christ’s Church in past eras. Let’s seek to learn from Justin Martyr, and Origen, and St. Ignatius of the very early church period after the Apostolic era of Paul, and John, and Peter. Let’s seek to understand how the Holy Roman Empire changed Christianity, and how Athanasius and Augustine helped shape orthodoxy. Let’s seek to find out what we can learn from the mistakes made during the middle ages, and the nastiness of focusing too much on history over and against the Bible. Let’s yearn to appreciate the significance of the Reformation and the champions of that era, like Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin. We should want to know why the Puritans came to America in the first place, and what was going on in the First Great Awakening and what was different about the Second Great Awakening when compared to the first. We should challenge ourselves to see what was going on in American Revivalism from the time of Moody up and until the time of Graham, and into today. We can’t understand ourselves today without seeking understanding about our past and using critical thinking to learn what we can take away from, and what we should seek to change as we move into the future. Just as Pat Mahomes can’t be fully understood detached from Bart Starr, Christians shouldn’t seek to understand John Piper detached from Thomas Aquinas, or Theresa of Avila, or most importantly from Jesus himself. We should take care not to try and act in the present detached from an understanding of who we are in the present, because of what has happened in the past, once and for all at the cross, and how that Gospel message has been handed down throughout the generations, and is being entrusted to us now until we hand it over to our children.