So how do Christians engage in the discipline of history? In a recent book, Covenant College professor Jay Green suggests “five rival versions” of Christian historiography.
Two you’ve encountered already: Historical Study as Search for God is Green’s version of what John Fea means by “providential history,” and Fea’s discussion of integrating Christian belief in incarnation, Imago Dei, and sin is an example of Green’s Historical Study through the Lens of Christian Faith Commitments.
But Green suggests three other models:
Historical Study that Takes Religion Seriously doesn’t require or preclude Christian belief among its practitioners: an atheist can write a serious history of, say, the Puritans (he mentions Perry Miller and Edmund Morgan), just as much as a Christian could write a history of Buddhism, even if they didn’t consciously try to see that religion’s history through the lens of her own faith commitments. (Talk to Prof. Poppinga about how she studies the history of Islam.) But it does view religion as a significant category of the human experience that can be studied via historical questions, research, evidence, and analysis. One open question here: do historians who are themselves religious have any personal insight into the religion they are studying (or religion in general) that might elude their non-religious counterparts? Or does their own religiosity produce blind spots?
Historical Study as Applied Christian Ethics sees “the past through the lens of value-laden commitments informed by Christian faith” and suggests that Christian historians can and should render “specifically Christian moral judgments on the past.” While this was and is frowned on by other historians who view “moralistic” as a negative term, it shows up in a wide array of histories written by Christians, from both the left (Dick Pierard, Randall Balmer, Richard Hughes) and right (Roger Schultz, David Barton, Larry Schweikart) of the political spectrum. Others argue that the study of the past is at least a means of moral reflection and moral formation.
Finally, Historical Study as Christian Apologetic attempts to use disciplined study of the past to make the case for Christianity: e.g., defending the historicity of biblical accounts or crediting Christianity with the flourishing of civilizations and nations (e.g., Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success).
Do any of these other models seem more promising to you than providential history, or the “integration of faith and learning” modeled in Fea’s fifth chapter? What problems do you see with them?