In How to Inhabit Time (Brazos, Sept.), philosophy professor Smith argues that Christians must reckon with their past and consider how history informs faith.

What do you see as the relationship between Christianity and history?

Christianity is a faith that is entirely rooted in history and in the fundamental and almost fantastical reality that God entered history. The heart of Christianity, in the Incarnation and Cross and Resurrection, is this sense that God, the creator of the cosmos, is not allergic to time or evading history, but in fact descends into history with us.

You caution against succumbing to what you call “present-ism.” Can you explain what you mean by that?

I think there’s a certain cultural force that is the tyranny of the urgent. Think of the 24-hour news cycle, in which right now is the center of everything. What happens is we imagine that now is all that matters, but we also color our perception of history and the future in light of our now. We become victims to the present in ways that I think limit our imagination. So in some sense, we need a capacity to stretch our imaginations into past and future to escape the tyranny of the present.

What does that look like in practice?

I think in the case of our stretching our imagination into the past, it mostly looks like reckoning with what has been handed down to us and recognizing the legacies of past decisions, moments, and institutions that still live with us. But it doesn’t have to be negative, because I think reckoning with our past also means realizing gifts and possibilities that have been handed down to us. Practically, I think it’s finding the space to hit the pause button on our immersion in this frenetic present, and to contemplate and reckon with where we’ve come from and what we are called to do.

How do you think Christians can better understand their “sense of place in God’s story,” as you put it?

I think some of the most traditional aspects of historic Christian liturgy are part of rehearsing and inculcating into ourselves a story, a sweeping narrative of God’s activity over and over again. I think we locate ourselves in that history by listening to the testimony of many communities beyond our own. For example, one of the most incredible testimonies of hope that grapples with history is the Black church of the United States. If you think of the legacies of hymnody, worship, theology, and poetry that come down to us from the Black church, that a people can have that posture of expectation, longing, and hope while being very intimately aware of the history of injustice and evil is just a remarkable way for all Christians to apprentice themselves to God’s story.