Faith and Scholarship Integration Essays
Henry Bleattler, Assistant Professor of History and the Humanities
History at the Crossroads
The study of history, up through the mid-twentieth century, had been understood as the discipline of collecting data, analyzing it and then giving it some sense of meaning or narrative. Traditionally, there were two different approaches to the research and writing of history: scientific history, or the understanding of the past predicated on reliable evidence, and speculative history, or the attempt to find meaning or significance in the assemblage of facts. Historians, as a general rule, practiced one or the other of these two approaches.
Today such traditional approaches, for the most part, are no longer employed. The approach to historiography defined above, has, like much of present day academia, come under the spell of postmodern relativism. Historians today reject attempts to invest history with meaning arguing that to do so is to impose a value system on the facts. Accordingly, the idea of history being cast with meaning, and thereby telling a story with significance to humanity, is fruitless. Such use of story, or meta-narrative, is trivialized and rejected. The post-modern rejection of meta-narrative as a social construct along with its dismissal of “objective reality” precludes moral objectivity. Christianity is jettisoned as yet one more example of a power grab championed by those who would control society for their own benefit and enrichment. Fortunately, Christianity is not a system, it is a person: Jesus Christ who is “before all things” and in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
Christians should and must combine the practices of scientific and speculative history writing that once dominated the profession. Christianity is reliant on scientific history as it is rooted in historical events. Indeed, Paul reminds us in Corinthians 15:14 that “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, as is your faith.” Christians, however, need more than just the scientific or fact checking aspect of history. They also need a story, one that gives meaning to the data collected. That story is the one that describes the creation, fall, and redemption of humanity. Creation asserts that the universe, time, and man and all things are the handiwork of a sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient and triune god. It also asserts that time and history are created by God and are therefore determined and governed by Him. The Fall teaches that every human being is born with a natural inclination toward sin. This explains the horrors of history. Indeed, rebellion is arguably the major theme of history. We can see that Western civilization, like ancient Israel, has been in a love/hate relationship with God historically playing out both redemptive and rebellious moments. Furthermore, this rebellion is common to man and is displayed by all humans in their rebellion against God, even among those who claim to be his followers. Redemption restores man to his pre-fall condition and gives history its direction. Thus, there is confidence in the future, not because of what man can do but because of what God has done.
Change can only be explained by reference to the unchanging. Accordingly, historical change can only be understood in reference to the center that holds all things together, the living word of God, Jesus Christ who has, in the words of St. Hippolytus, “gotten into everything.” Christian comprehension of history is to see Jesus Christ as its beginning, center and end.