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asserts that, "Since the time of Christ the geographical or national center of gravity [for universal history] has been replaced by a spiritual center, the church.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.

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