A Christian World View of History


Cotton Mather

A Christian Worldview of History is as defined a much by what it is not than by what it is. From that starting point we are have our depiction above of Cotton Mather, a noted early American Providentialist historian. His view that the discovery of the Americas and the colonization of it by Puritans and Pilgrims was the discernible will of God to create a country founded by divine principles is an example of Providential History. He was not an outlier in his historical approach. Eusebius , the first true church historian wrote his "Ecclesiastical History"[1] in the fourth century as a vindication of all the persecution that early Christian survived and the faith in God's divine will that brought from the persecution they suffered under Roman Emperor Diocletian to their role as the dominant religion after the conversion Emperor of Constantine. Cotton Mather's " Magnalia Christi Americana in 1702 which details the development of the early New England colonies [2} only continued Eusebius's tying of historical events to the linear purpose of bringing the Kingdom of God here to earth. While there are many other examples of this approach the bead that strings these ideologies together is the conviction that it is not only possible to discern God's will in past events but also to trace that will over time. [3]


Leopold Van Ranke


The Christian belief in both general providence: God is sovereign over all the world and is intimately involved in what he created and special providence: God is intimately involved in our individual lives is a distinction that has confounded Christian historians of the modern era. Leopold Van Ranke, considered to be the father of the modern Historiography believed that God was at work in human history and that historians had the responsibility to find the purposes of God in the past [4]. Ranke's methods of using primary sources and a narrative approach to contextualizing those sources has been used by modern historians blend the earlier purely theological approach with modern Rankean Historicism.

So what is a Christian World View of History. First, it's foundation is in scripture. 1 Corinthians 13:12 tells us Christians that "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." This brings us back to what it is to be a Christian historian. The humility that while we know that God is sovereign over all the world; our thoughts are not God's thoughts. Ephesians 1: 11 "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will" This scriptural based approached helps the Christian Historian to avoid the biased approaches of economic determinism, geographical determinism or Whig interpretations of History. [5] It guides us to the best objectivity that fallen humans can pursue. The knowledge we have in Christ that we are all created in God's image and that as his fallen creations every person no matter how "small" or "unimportant" has value in the eyes of the Creator Father God. The role of the Christian historian allows us to acknowledge that until we are in the presence of the Lord we are to use the tools he has given us of intellect, curiosity, humility and honesty in our approach to the study of History.

Notes

1. Mather, Cotton. Magnalia Christi Americana: or, The Ecclesiastical History of New-England, from Its First Planting in the Year 1620, Unto the Year of Our Lord, 1698. In Seven Books. Hartford: Published by Silas Andrus; Roberts & Burr, printers, 1820.

2. Eusebius, and Paul L. Maier. The Church History. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007.

3. John Fea, Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past, Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, Mich., 2013:; pg. 29

4. John Fea, Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past, Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, Mich., 2013; pg 29

5. Sidewell, Mark. "Providentialism" and the Teaching of History, Bob Jones University Press. Greenville, SC., 1997



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