Finitude, contingency, transience. These three linked words signal basic elements of what it is to be a human””and especially to be a historian. David Tracy, noted theologian and next door study-neighbor, taught me this connection, and I’ve let it color my life and scholarly preoccupations. It will help us interpret the almost reflexive use of the rubric “decline” in relation to the western Christian presence. Specifically, do a search for “mainline Protestant” and “decline” and you will get the picture, millions of times over.
Everything and everyone dies, is subject to accidents and change, and all human endeavor will pass and be forgotten. What can a church historian do with this obvious insight at such a time as ours? Given my parallel calling as a peregrinating lecturer, I use the vantage acquired there to try to sense the comings and goings of topics for inquiry. One way to measure public curiosity is to listen to questions asked after a lecture.