Thursday, December 4, 2014

Should Christian Historians Make an Appeal to Providence in Their Work?

More providential history:

In Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past I argued that providence is not a helpful tool when it comes to the historian's job of interpreting the past.  

Over at the blog of the Gospel Coalition, Justin Taylor has written a post summarizing the way that five Christian historians have approached this topic. He apparently saw fit to include me on this list, along with Tom Nettles (one of my former teachers), Carl Trueman, Harry Stout, Timothy Larsen, and David Bebbington.  Thanks!

Taylor's post makes for some interesting reading. Here is how he summarized my view (which he takes from Why Study History? For whatever reason the book is not listed in the bibliography).

John Fea (Messiah College) shares this perspective. “Providence,” he writes, “is a theological idea that is directly related to the character and behavior of God. History, however, is a discipline that seeks to explain the character and behavior of humans as they lived through time.” According to Fea, “providence is an unhelpful category in the interpretation of the past.” It belongs in the toolbox of the theologian but not that of the historian.
Fea builds his case theologically. God’s providence is an inscrutable mystery, and human interpreters are finite and fallible. Therefore, “Christian historians would do better to approach their task with a sense of God’s transcendent mystery, a healthy dose of humility, and a hope that one day soon, but not now, we will all understand the Almighty’s plans for the nations.”
Fea’s plea is that writers of providential history “resist the temptation to bow to the gods of modernity—gods who want to scientifically decipher the workings of the divine and claim to know, with a degree of Enlightenment certainty, the will of a sovereign God who created the modern world and will end it when he sees fit. Until then, we see through a glass darkly.”