Seventeenth century England was a time of profound Protestant faith. It was also the heyday of the Scientific Revolution and the early Enlightenment. The Scottish Anglican minister, Gilbert Burnet, was deeply committed to the scientific advances he was learning in mathematics and chemistry. He was just as deeply committed to promoting Protestantism against what he saw as a growing tide of Catholic power in England, Scotland, and, indeed, all of Europe. As part of his pastoral role, he wrote The History of the Reformation in England to remind his fellow Protestants, both Anglican and Nonconformists of all kinds, of how God had led them in the previous 200 years. He did so from a Providentialist perspective but also using some of the new practices that were developing in the academic profession of history writing—citing sources, explaining human motivations, and looking at context for activity.

This paper assesses Burnet as an example of a devout Christian attempting to study history in a way that honored God while also using increasingly professional tools. These are the same skills devout Adventist professional historians can use today, both in our scholarship with our peers and in the classroom with our students. Historical knowledge can shape our classrooms by teaching our students about people who are very different from them. As they learn about historical trajectories outside their own time and geography, and the cause and effect of human actions, students can use biblical principles to evaluate the activities of the past. They will also, hopefully, develop understanding about them and perhaps practice the same skills that will teach them in the present to “love their neighbor as themselves” (Mark 12:31). They can draw lessons from the past to inform their choices as they follow God in their day to day lives. Historians can then become part of the ministry of reconciliation by teaching people how to understand those who are far off in time and space (2 Cor. 5:18).