CONTENT WARNING: This post contains material which some readers may find disturbing. If you do not wish to see this material, please stop reading now.

“Mum! Why do I have to study all this boring history stuff? I’ll never use it!”

“I just want practical training. I don’t want to go to a university where they make you do all those extra classes like history and stuff.”

“Bible college students need to be learning soul winning, not wasting their time studying a bunch of Catholics and heretics in history class. After all, the Bible is our final rule for faith and practice.”

“I’d like to read history and biography, but I just can’t justify the time investment.”

Why learn history?

Several years ago, I jumped in the car to grab some quick takeaway on my lunch break. Our car park was right next to the highway, so as I was leaving, I pulled up behind a coworker who was waiting for a break in the traffic. But my coworker had to be extra careful about pulling out. You see, he only had one eye.

Having two eyes is helpful. It gives us a broader field of vision. It also gives us depth perception.

Depth perception

History gives depth perception to life. It allows us to see angles and perspectives to which others are blind. It allows us to foresee and avert disaster. It allows us to understand in deeper, more nuanced ways. It allows us to know what will happen before it happens.

That’s why you can’t afford not to know history.

The image above shows a plaque citing the oft quoted saying: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The statement is true. Very true.

Condemned to repeat it

It was 1976 and the Governor of California1 had gathered with other dignitaries at a dinner to honour a local leader, Pastor Jones. Pastor Jones led a large church with various satellite groups and as well as at least one mission post.

The following year, Pastor Jones led hundreds of his church members to relocate to their mission post in the small South American country of Guyana. Here he set up a communal society which increasingly resembled a cult. As public scrutiny and media pressure mounted, Jones became more and more paranoid and controlling.

On 14 November, 1978, United States Congressman Leo Ryan landed in Guyana to personally investigate claims of abuse at “Jonestown.” After a brief visit to Jonestown, the Congressman was assassinated on an airstrip on Jones’ orders. That evening, Rev. Jones made up a large vat of flavoured drink2 laced with poison and led the community in a mass suicide.

Over 900 people died at Jonestown that day.

The horrible irony of the image on your right is that this wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. And it won’t be the last.

Though Jonestown may seem like a far and distant story, Jonestown is still in the heart of every man. If we forget about Jonestown, we forget about a part of ourselves that we cannot afford to forget.

History is worth learning. It’s worth knowing. It’s worth rehearsing.

Grace to you.

1His name was Jerry Brown. Brown was elected to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governor in 2010 and currently serves in that position.

2Americans call this drink “Kool Aid.” To “drink the Kool Aid” has become a commonly used metaphor for buying into dangerous thinking.

share this article

About Jason Harris

Dr Jason Harris is a writer, pastor, and academic. He has authored multiple books, articles, and papers including his book Theological Meditations on the Gospel. Jason has a PhD from James Cook University as well as degrees in theology, music, accounting, and research. Jason has lived in Cairns, Australia since 2007 and serves as pastor at CrossPoint Church. You can contact Jason at


  1. PJ 26 April, 2011 at 8:20 am - Reply

    “History gives depth perception to life. It allows us to see angles and perspectives to which others are blind.”

    Very well said. This is why a solid grounding in church history is a must for church leaders.

    (Though it is amazing how history ‘repeats itself’…unregenerate men never seem to learn from it.)

  2. Kez 27 April, 2011 at 2:18 pm - Reply

    Is this the beginning of a series? I love history… =)

  3. Jason Harris 28 April, 2011 at 1:03 am - Reply

    @PJ, Amen.

    @Kez, Me too. Probably not though.

Leave A Comment