Worlds Colliding: A Theological Critique of the Historical Method


Seth Heringer

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For too long, Christians have relied primarily on the historical method to make historical claims. In doing so, we have been using a pattern of thinking opposed to a Christian understanding of the world. The origin of the historical method, moreover, stems from a misreading of German historicism that focuses only on its scientific and naturalistic aspects, to the detriment of its idealism and aesthetic concerns. In other words, the historical method as practiced today has taken up only one aspect of German historicism, the aspect that makes it incompatible with Christian faith. Moving from German historicism to modern Christian attempts to define the relation of history and theology, this thesis argues that Martin Kähler, Wolfhart Pannenberg, and N. T. Wright have been unsuccessful in their attempts to unify history and theology. They did not succeed because they had not yet rejected the historical method as the primary way to think about past events. Unsatisfied with the various mixtures of history and theology, this thesis looks to the contemporary philosophy of history for new approaches. Arthur C. Danto aids the critique of the historical method by showing that even the perfect recitation of facts is not enough for a work to be history. Roland Barthes furthers the critique by unmasking the “reality effect” of the historical method and undermining its claim to be speaking directly about reality. Hayden White continues this challenge by looking at the tropes historians use to construct history. The precognitive understandings we use to figure the world, he argues, are more important than historical events. Frank Ankersmit changes White’s discussion of narratives to one of representations. By doing so, he tries to awaken historians to the importance of experience in historical theory. After having examined these philosophical critiques of current historical method, this thesis proposes that an intentionally Christian method of history is needed. Setting out five cairns that mark out the path forward for such a method, it argues that narratives must be taken seriously; objectivity and neutrality do not exist in historical accounts; historians must find ways to unite the past, present, and future; aesthetics should be used to judge historical narratives; and Christians should write boldly Christian history.

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PHD in Theology

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Green, Joel B.

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Bible, Historiography, Methodology, History, Protestant churches, Study and teaching


Missions and World Christianity


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