MODELS OF CHRISTIAN HISTORIOGRAPHY

 

This is a paper prepared by Dr John Newby
aimed a providing direction for the CWN Cape Town history subgroup.

 

INTRODUCTION

According to the New Collins English Dictionary, a historiographer is a historian concerned with historical method, i.e., how history is, has been, or should be studied. Christian historiography is, accordingly, history studied from a Christian perspective. That means: history studied from a presuppositional perspective that believes in the God who is there, and has spoken fully and finally in His word, and supremely in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. At first glance, one would expect that such historiographers would adopt a similar method of approaching their subject, and of course there is a great deal of common ground in all such historiography. However, there are also differences of approach, and so it is necessary to speak of “models” rather than a “model” when looking at Christian Historiography. In this paper, we shall seek to delineate the major thrusts of the various schools of thought, look at areas of common ground, and then suggest a way forward for Christian historians today. One presents this paper in the deep awareness of one’s personal inadequacy, and with the knowledge that others have already made much more progress in these studies. However, given our situation, and knowing that the CWN is in its infancy, we trust that we are at least making a beginning.

 

1.   APPROACHES TO CHRISTIAN HISTORIOGRAPHY

(This paper restricts the historiography to ‘evangelical’ Christians)

 

1.1     The “Evidentialist” Approach
(J.W.Montgomery)

 

The basic principle underlying the “evidentialist” approach to Christian historiography is that there is common ground between Christian and non—Christian historians. This common ground consists of the “facts” of history that carry their own interpretation. While the interpretations of historians differ, these are to be subject to “objective, empirical criteria for their validity” (Feinberg. in Montgomery. 1975.p379). Although the rebellious will of the unbeliever may be impervious to the truth, the truth is intellectually valid on the basis of “necessary and sufficient ground for belief” (Feinberg,op.cit.), and leaves the unbelieving historian “without excuse”.

 

1.2     The “Presuppositional” Approach
(C.vanTil; C.G.Singer et al)

 

This approach denies the idea of a “common ground” in facts because, emphasising the noetic effects of the Fall, it claims that there is no such thing as a “brute fact” - all so-called facts are interpreted in terms of the beholder’s own lenses. This is not to admit the secular idea of relativistic pluralism, but to deny neutrality in historiography. The historian’s viewpoint is either under girded by his Christian presuppositions, or by non-Christian presuppositions, and these ultimately determine the interpretation of history. Furthermore: only God the Creator can give meaning to history. Other interpretations are invalid because distorted by the fallen mind of man. “The natural man does have an aptitude for cultural achievement because, although he is… in rebellion against God, he still bears the image of God metaphysically… But as a sinner, he can no longer think God’s thoughts after Him. He can no longer discover the meaning of… history in terms of those presuppositions that he, in his rebellion, substitutes for those revealed to him in the Scriptures.” (C.G.Singer)

 

Believers, on the other hand, “begin to recover to some degree their spiritual insight derived from the Scriptures by the power of the Holy Spirit into that meaning which God assigned to both nature and human history.” (C.G.Singer) This contrast must not be minimised. What the unbeliever needs is not evidence or persuasion, but regeneration. The presuppositional position tends to minimise, therefore, contributions in historiography from unbelievers. Indeed, Gregg Singer quotes van Til with approval when he speaks of there being no philosophy or history, but only a theology of history.

       

1.3     The “Dooyeweerdian” Approach
(C.T.MacIntyre)

 

Here, while there are affinities with “presuppositionalism” The emphasis is more philosophical in that history is regarded as a creational structure, and the Christian world—view perspective is applied to understanding history. Interaction with “secular” historians is encouraged, but the distinctive a priori position of the Christian is seen as determinative for ultimate evaluation.

 

1.4     The Approach of David Bebbington
(Patterns of History)

 

Here there is a descriptive analysis of various models and a suggested Christian model. Bebbington suggests that because the teaching of History involves a certain “rhetorical” element which takes account of the hearer (or reader, or viewer!), the presentation of history by a Christian to, say, unbelieving historians, might omit all reference to the transcendental element, and still be an interpretation of history that is arrived at by Christian means. The present writer does not approve of this, but merely mentions it.

 

2.        COMMON GROUND IN CHRISTIAN HISTORIOGRAPHY

 

2.1

Foundations

 

 

 

2.1.1

The Determinative Character of Divine Revelation

 

2.1.2

The Significance of Providence

 

 

2.2

Directions

 

 

 

2.2.1

Serious Analysis of Alternative Non-Christian Historiographies

 

2.2.2

Suggested Areas of Study (examples):

 

 

 

 

2.2.2.1

The Influence of Greek Thought on the Medieval Church

 

 

2.2.2.2

The Renaissance

 

 

2.2.2.3

The Role of “Religion” in the Making of Culture

 

 

2.2.2.4

The Significance of the Individual in History

 

 

2.2.2.5

Moral Evaluation of Historical Personages (Lord Acton)

   

   

3.   CONCLUSION: A WAY FORWARD?

 

3.1

The First Step

Serious Reading

3.2

The Second Step

Contextualising our CWN

3.3

The Third Step

Reaching Christian History Teachers & Students

3.4

The Fourth Step

Writing

 

Many to Many Issue 3 February 1993

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