Here's what I mean...some Christians view church history as mere tradition and irrelevant to the truth. Others put an extreme amount of emphasis on historical Christianity, rejecting any bible interpretations that conflict with the traditional view solely because they have historically been rejected.
These are the extreme ends of the spectrum in my opinion. And I think they are both fallacious and lead to a sub-optimal understanding of biblical theology.
Church History Extremism:
First, let's consider the pro-history extreme which I dub the "Church History Extremist" view. This is where the historical views are (in my opinion) greatly overemphasized.
I recall an instance where a theologian rejected the view of the Pre-Existence of the soul (the view that God already created human souls, but places them in the body at conception) on the sole basis that the majority of Christians have rejected the view throughout church history, and without giving *any* biblical or philosophical argument against the view. I personally found this highly disturbing. Don't get me wrong, I strongly disagree with this view, I am actually a Traducianist with respect to the creation of the human soul (a blog post for another time). But I was still disturbed by his logic in arriving at that conclusion.
I have also seen "Church History Extremists" give credence to certain views simply because they have historically been embraced by the church, again without any biblical, logical, or philosophical merit.
I also feel that many "Church History Extremists" overemphasize creeds. (I know, controversial right?) I often see them put creeds on the same level as the bible, and are very hostile to criticisms of certain creeds. Of course, if you point out that they put creeds on the same level as the bible, they will deny it. But practically, that's what they are doing. Which I find quite silly considering many creeds contradict themselves on doctrine. (See Dr. Michael Heisers study on baptism for a good example of this)
Just to give another example: many Christians take the extreme view that animals totally lack *any* soul. Essentially reducing them to highly complex machines with no mind of their own. I feel this is responsible for potential mistreatment and abuse of animals, and failure to protect endangered species. This view is disturbingly common despite having no biblical basis whatsoever. In fact, the Hebrew "nephesh" often translated "soul" is used many times in conjunction with animals.
I have found that this view is derived from the "historical" view. Which does not come from the bible, but simply was a common belief in ancient times. This is an example of where "Church History Extremism" can be quite harmful.
A good thing to keep in mind when looking at the writings of "ancient" Christians, is just because they wrote about a view they had, does not mean they derived that view from the bible. It could come from their culture/upbringing, it could come from their contemporaries, it could even just come from their own flawed philosophy.
Remember, ancient Christians are just Christians, some of the most famous historical Christians are further from the context in which the bible was written then they are from us. While they can offer valuable insights on both the text, and on philosophy, they are no more "Christian" than living Christians are today. They are no less prone to wacky and blatantly wrong interpretations of the text than many Christians are today.
Why don't you try listening to more modern Christian speakers/writers, you'll likely find they are no less Godly, intelligent, or humble than famous ancient Christians you've heard of.
Here are some living Christians who have greatly effected and influenced me: William Lane Craig, Chris White, Rich Deem, Hugh Ross, John Lennox, Kenneth Samples, Fazale Rana, Jeff Zweerink, Michael Heiser
There are some not insignificant issues that I disagree with every single one of the above names on. And guess what? That's okay. If you agree with someone (Christian or Non-Christian, Alive or Dead) totally on every issue, that probably reflects a severe problem you need to deal with. Idolizing human beings is something the bible explicitly forbids, and though this is a mild version of it, it is still a problem that needs handling. In fact, a couple people on this list are actually in the extreme categories I'm listing here.
This is the other end of the spectrum...those who reject all church history, and dogmatically ignore the historical views on a topic. This reminds me of the phrase "those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it".
Church history is relevant. For one, different cultures (such as those now extinct) will have different perspectives on the text that are very helpful in interpretation.
Because I often see Christians (particularly young-earthers) commit what I call "The Face-Value Fallacy" where they refuse to consider views other than their face-value reading of the text. They claim their view is "literal" whereas other views are "liberal" or "allegorical".
Reading from other cultures can help dispel this, because you quickly learn that the "face-value" reading of the text varies from culture to culture. Although I do agree the bible is meant to be taken literally for the most part, one must consider that there are multiple "literal" interpretations. You have to be careful with cultural bias, and church history can help greatly with that.
People at the Anti-Traditionalist end of the spectrum tend to also ignore to influence of living Christians, isolating themselves from other perspectives. This promotes dogmatism, and slows the growth of biblical understanding. As such, this is just as harmful as "Church History Extremism".
I particularly have looked to the earliest church writings to demonstrate that many of the so-called "modern-inventions" of biblical interpretation were well present in the early church (such as dispensationalism, day-age creationism, a local interpretation of Noah's Flood, etc.) to debunk flawed notions of certain "Historic Christians" who think that any view that wasn't in the early church must be wrong.
Ironically, I think many of the inter-testamental texts (such as Enoch, Jubilees, etc.) have valuable insights on the text (though I do not recognize them as divinely inspired bible books). Yet, even the "Church History Extremists" typically do not pay much attention to these books. I highly recommend you read them if you get the time. They help in understanding the early Jewish interpretations of the old testament. Enoch is even quoted in the new testament.
In conclusion, both of these extremes are highly flawed, and have potentially disastrous consequences. They need to be avoided. We should gain insights from both present and past Christians. We should not idolize them and we certainly should not make the historic view the "make or break" point on a particular biblical interpretation.
Thanks for reading!