Monday, June 24, 2013

History & Historiography

Gordon Clark's, Historiography Secular and Religious, is not a typical historiography, insofar as it does not provide a comprehensive analysis of approaches to history. Rather, it treats of several kinds of secular historiography, showing their deficiencies--not historical in nature, but rather philosophical. For instance, any sort of ethical judgment requires the establishment of an epistemology that forms the basis of ethical norms. Clark shows the inability of secular historians to provide such an epistemological basis.

On the positive side, Clark provides a brief exposition of Augustine's view of history as the representative Christian historiography. Borrowing from Collingwood, Clark addresses four aspects of the Christian concept of history: 1) it is universal, 2) it is providential, 3) it is apocalyptic, and 4) it is periodized.

The first aspect of universal history is easily granted, Clark says, as a necessary consequence of basic theism: "If God is the creator of the universe and exercises omniscient providential control, the theory must embrace all nations in some way or other, no matter how little we may know of them" (221). Augustine, according to Clark, asserts that, "Since the time of Christ the geographical or national center of gravity [for universal history] has been replaced by a spiritual center, the church. The City of God and the worldly city no doubt produce history by conflict, but the whole process is for the good of the City of God" (222). Whereas Collingwood argues that any center of gravity is destroyed by the universal aspect of Christian history, Clark shows that the opposite is the case: it is not that the center of gravity is destroyed, but it is transformed from the geographically localized, to the geographically dispersed; and from the spiritually diverse and changing to the spiritually unified and constant.

The second aspect of divine providence also follows from Christian theism, and the entirety of Jewish history up to the time of Christ is an exposition of God's providential ordering of history for the arrival of His Messiah from among the Jews. Clark quotes Daniel 4:35 as a representative OT acknowledgement of Providence: "All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing, and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand or say, What doest Thou?" (222). It is not the agency of men, or of sociological forces, or dialectical materialism, or any other combination that history is assuredly accomplished, but rather by preordained Providence working through any and all immediate and intermediate powers. Whether by the wisdom or by the folly of men God works all according to His purpose. Collingwood's attribution of providence eschewing the wisdom of men is therefore misleading, and deficient, though not entirely incorrect. Providence uses all means, and no means are free from God's power and purpose.

As for the apocalyptic aspect, Clark agrees that Collingwood rightly identifies the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the central events of divinely ordained history, but Collingwood leaves out significant future details. That all history looks back to the death and resurrection should not obscure the also forward-looking hope of the culmination of history in the return of the Lord at the end of the age (a hint toward periodization). Thus, while Collingwood is deficient on the future orientation of the apocalypic aspect, he still scores well on the point itself, as well as the consequence of periodization, which in the most general of levels would include those times before the event of Christ's death and resurrection, and those following.

To Collingwood's four aspects Clark adds a fifth, borrowing from Herbert Butterfield; it is the methodological significance of revelation (224). The Scriptures are continually on the mouth of Augustine as he unfolds the history of the two cities, and Augustine is not implicit in his use of them, saying, "We must lay down holy scriptures first as the foundation of our following structure (XX, 1)" (224). Butterfield makes the important distinction, according to Clark, "that historical research might prove that Jesus Christ actually lived at a certain date; and such a conclusion of research, like any other properly obtained, would have to be accepted by Christian, Marxist, or Mohammedan. But the divinity of Christ or the rightness of the Reformation is not susceptible of historical proof" (224). Such claim are theological in nature, but indispensable for understanding the course of history within the Christian concept. Clark concludes on this matter, "To cast the results of historical research into the framework of a providential view, one must come to history with Christian ideas already in mind, and this requires revelation as a methodological principle" (225). If Clark is right, and I think he is, the most important knowledge the Christian historian must possess is a knowledge of Scripture, and its own self-revelatory philosophy of history. Without it, the Christian cannot provide a Christian account of history, no matter how comprehensive and erudite his historical research.

Clark concludes the chapter on Augustine by examining some of Karl Popper's claims about Christianity, first by quoting Popper's acknowledgment that one must come to history with a point of view already in mind, and second by an extended refutation of Popper's criticisms of Christian historicism.

The upshot of Clark's exposition and defense of the Augustinian view of history, which is, perhaps, as close as we've yet come to the Biblical view of history, is of enormous importance to the task of educating Christians in matters historical. If the Christian teacher of history does not provide his students with the Scriptural methodology; if he does not continually use the ideas of universality, providence, and the two-fold culminations of death and resurrection and consummation at the end of the age along with its basic periodization, then the Christian teacher does not provide a Christian view of history. At worst he will adopt a secular structure and methodology for viewing history, and at best he will provide a skeptical view of all structures and methodologies, which leaves the Christian without foundation for positive historical claims. Certainly the necessary skepticism toward secular history is without fruit unless the roots of Scriptural history have travelled deeply into the soil of students' minds. Let us hope that more rather than less Christian teachers and scholars of history are making good use of the Scriptures so that this indispensable aspect of Christian doctrine and its applications isn't lost upon future generations.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Book Review: From Eden to the New Jerusalem

T. Desmond Alexander’s book, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, is a concise introduction to Biblical Theology. It reads more like a series of topical articles, which have been pieced together than a self-contained book, but that doesn’t hinder the flow of the book in my opinion. In ways similar to what David Chilton does in his book, Paradise Regained, Alexander provides typological elements from the Old Testament that are continually revisited, grown, and brought into brightest clarity in the New Testament. Another similarity that Alexander’s book bears is to the book of Michael Williams, Far as the Curse is Found. Both books begin with something later in order to talk about beginnings. Williams begins with the resurrection in order to discuss redemptive history, and Alexander begins with Revelation 20-22, the vision of New Jerusalem in the New Heavens and New Earth, in order to discuss the various typologies that comprise his introduction to Biblical Theology. His aim is to paint in, “broad brush strokes designed to show the general shape of the meta-story” (11). How well does he do?
The opening chapter talks about the Garden of Eden and the Holy City of Revelation as places God established for the purpose of communing with Man—they are dwelling places shared by God and Man. After the Fall, there is no longer a garden, but God does commune through the tabernacle and the temple. Eventually God “tabernacles” in Man himself by way of the Incarnation, and by His Spirit in every one of His people, but manifestly in the people as a whole; the Church. Alexander points to many details that correspond to one another in each of these places of communion, showing how they are related and developed across the redemptive history portrayed in the Scriptures. Much of the material is of great supplementary value for a class that is covering redemptive history.
Chapter two examines the authority of God and Man as revealed in the ideas of Kingship, Kingdom, and (the typological element of) the throne. The prominent focus of Alexander is the vicegerency of Man in God’s economy; how it was given, lost, managed in the loss, and regained in Christ. Chapter three handles the enemy, Satan (the serpent, the devil) across the redemptive history of Scripture. Chapter four examines the slaughter of the lamb as accomplishing redemption. Chapter five discusses the tree of life and the redemption of people from every nation. Chapter seven summarizes the whole under the discussion of the two opposing cities; that of God, and that of Babylon.

Alexander’s book is riveting for all of its interesting connections and possibilities, but it is of best value in the classroom as a supplemental text to use in portions of a course on Redemptive History or Biblical Theology where the teacher wants to highlight some of the same things that Alexander discusses. It is a bit more technical and scholarly than the typical high school student would be prepared for, but not out of bounds for the limited use indicated above.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Book Review: Far as the Curse is Found

Far as the Curse is Found, by Michael Williams, is, as its subtitle indicates, an introduction to the "covenant story of redemption." One of the best features of the book is how it begins with the most important aspect of the story, the Resurrection. There are two reasons why I like this approach. First, as Williams argues, the whole story is about the triumph of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, and therefore to introduce Him at the beginning seems a fitting way to highlight His prominence in the story. Second, I am glad that Williams chooses the Resurrection rather than the Crucifixion as his starting point, for that is both the emphasis of the New Testament writers, and it is the point at which Jesus' triumph is made manifest to the onlooking Creation--God's raising Christ from the dead was a vindication of His Covenantal status and favor; His righteousness before God and man.

There is another curious feature about Williams' organization of the book. After beginning with the high point of the story, he does not retreat back to the beginning of the Bible, but rather to the beginning of what he calls the "pattern of redemption," which is found in the Exodus of Israel out of Egypt. Again, this makes good sense insofar as Williams is telling the story of redemption. We have the principle actor, Jesus, in the opening chapter following by the principle pattern of the story in chapter two. He argues that we need to know God as redeemer prior to knowing Him as Creator, and that this is evident in the original context of the Scriptures themselves, since the first audience of Moses' accounts in the Pentateuch was a freshly delivered-from-bondage Israel. The remaining chapters follow redemptive history from the Fall through the Eschaton, or renewal of all things.

There are many things that are familiar in Williams' account, such as the federal headship of Adam and Christ, the covenantal community (Church) as the principle object of salvation (i.e. securing a Bride for the Christ), the cosmological import of salvation, promise-fulfillment, and so on.

There are two refreshing aspects in Williams' book that have not always been emphasized in the modern Reformed tradition. The first is the emphasis upon the graciousness of God's covenant with Adam in the Garden of Eden--the so-called covenant of works. Williams comes out strongly in his emphasis upon Adam total reliance upon God's grace, though he is given a command that promises a reward for obedience. The second is Williams' emphasis upon the graciousness of the Law at Sinai, or Calvin's famous third use of the Law as a guide to believers. He provides a robust and positive treatment of the relevance of the Law for contemporary Christians, which is welcome.

Overall this book is a great resource for a brief, bite-sized introduction to redemptive history and to biblical theology. I'm enthusiastic about the opportunity to use the book as our primary text in the eighth grade theology class for next year.

Book Review: On Secular Education

On Secular Education, by R.L. Dabney has been a staple text within the Classical and Christian Education movement since its resurgence during the early eighties. Dabney wrote his essay in the 19th century, but much of what he foresaw and forewarned against has since come to pass.

He begins with two questions: who should control education and what is a proper education. Historically, the first question has been answered as either the State or the Church (specifically, the Roman Catholic Church), but Dabney sees each of these institutions as largely unsuccessful. Dabney blames Roman Catholicism for confusing Church education with Christian education, the latter being found only in the Scriptures adjudicated by the rule of truth, guided by (rather than lorded over by) ordained ministers. Ultimately, then, Dabney answers the first question by acknowledging parents as those who should control education, under the guidance of the Church, according to the authority of the Scriptures.

On the State side of the question, Dabney is skeptical of the altruism posed by humanism because it denies the Biblical doctrine of human depravity. Clergymen and secular humanists alike are capable and often tempted to usurp power for selfish ends, and to abandon truth for irrational coercive power. In a State led education, Dabney recognizes that there can be no place for religious authority or instruction, for to give one religion or several sway would pose a power struggle for the others. The State is supreme in its authority and is therefore the institution that must determine all matters of philosophy and theology, to whatever extent it pleases. Moreover, the State cannot function atheistically, and therefore theology cannot be avoided entirely, but will be grounded in the natural theology of the current regime. Dabney gives four possible solutions to the struggle for religious representation, none of which favor Christianity in any Biblically sound fashion.

As for what is a proper education, Dabney recognizes the general requirement that the whole person must be in view and some end or purpose toward which the education drives, as well. The State does not simply claim to provide a skill, but to educate, which touches upon the souls of men, resulting in what Dabney claims is "a general revolt from the Christian faith, even though the country is full of churches, preachers, and a redundant Christian literature" (13). Those words are far reaching and can be confirmed by the most recent Barna polling data to the effect of a majority of children abandoning their faith in college and ceasing church attendance. Because education teaches the soul, it is fundamentally moral. Since God is the only Lord of the conscience, argues Dabney, it is the Lord's obligations that the soul must be taught to know and obey--theology is inseparable from education. Whatever education that denies God and His commands must replace Him with an alternative authority and alternative moral requirements. A contemporary example would be the exaltation of man as the final authority, and the moral requirement to accept every man as autonomous--a law unto himself--free to be whatever he pleases, while being answerable to no other standard. Blasphemy is no longer speaking against God's name, but speaking against those things God abominates, like the murder of infants or the porneia of fornication both heterosexual and homosexual (and perhaps soon to be added, pedophilial and bestial).

Dabney is unwilling to accept that there can be content in education that is taught neither for nor against Christianity. He asks, "Why can't a teacher just present secular subject matter, without maiming either his subject or Christianity?" and answers, "If his teaching is more than dabbling in some corner of education, it will be found to be tacitly anti-Christian. Overt assaults are not made [though many assaults are, in our own day, overt], but there is a studied avoidance which is in effect hostile. There can be no neutral position between these two extremes, which have a 'great gulf fixed' between them." Nor is the supposedly positive moral instruction given in secular education innocuous. Moral obligation requires some justification for the authority by which it is commanded, and the sole justification for moral obligations is the will of God. Any other appeal is teaching the student to ground his motives in some other source, be it his own self-interest, or fear of governmental power, or something else.

Dabney goes on to address several objections to his thesis, but concludes that the present spirit of the age is such that the complete removal of prayers, catechisms, and Bible from schools is but a logical implication of secularized education. Dabney concludes his essay by defending parental authority as that primary earthly authority over the education of children and does his best to distinguish how the powers of Church and State honor the power of the family to accomplish their God-given responsibility.

On the whole Dabney's essay is a trenchant defense of the historic Protestant position and provides a good deal of intellectual fodder for contemporary families who find themselves having to defend their decision to home school or seek our Christian schools rather than choose the cheaper and more socially accepted path of public education. It is also a great book for those who are largely ignorant of the problems of public education in principle, and are willing to have a look.