Gary North – November 20, 2021
And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh (Ecclesiastes 12:12).
A. The War Over Historiography
There is an old political slogan: “You can’t beat something with nothing.” It applies to everything. It is not limited to politics.
In this book, I have shown that there has been a continual war between humanism and biblical religion that stretches back before the birth of Christ. It stretches back to the humanism of classical Greece and Rome. This war has involved every area of life. It is a war between two kingdoms. The word “kingdom” is best understood as “civilization.”
Conflict between Christianity and imperial Rome was a life-and-death matter. While there was relative peace for Christians through most of the years from Nero until Constantine, there were occasional decades in which the persecution was fierce. This strengthened the church. It strengthened the testimony of Christians. It was because of the inconsistency and lethargy of most Roman emperors that they did not constantly persecute the church in an attempt to stamp it out.
When Constantine came to power in A.D. 312, the persecutions stopped. Christianity became legally protected religion. Within half a century, it became the only legal religion. Only during the brief reign of Julian, known as Julian the apostate in Christian circles, was this reversed. That reversal lasted for less than two years: 361–63. From the second century forward, Christian scholars began to challenge classical culture, although in a somewhat compromised way. Van Til discussed these compromises in his syllabus: Christianity in Conflict (1962) and in Chapter 4 of his book, A Christian Theory of Knowledge (1969). By the fourth century, Christian scholars were becoming more consistent in their rejection of classical culture.
This had repercussions in every area of scholarship. This included historiography. Collingwood discussed this in his book, The Idea of History (1946). Collingwood wrote:
Eusebius was only one of a large number of men who were struggling to work out in detail the consequences of the Christian conception of man; and when we find many of the Fathers like Jerome, Ambrose, and even Augustine speaking of pagan learning and literature with contempt and hostility it is necessary to remind ourselves that this contempt arises not from lack of education or a barbarous indifference towards knowledge as such, but from the vigor with which these men were pursuing a new ideal of knowledge, working in the teeth of opposition for a reorientation of the entire structure of human thought. In the case of history, the only thing with which we are here concerned, the reorientation not only succeeded at the time, but left its heritage as a permanent enrichment of historical thought (p. 51).
He then went on to make a very important observation. It had to do with their view of history. For the first time, Christians began to view the past as part of a grand narrative. Historical events are aspects of the providence of God. They are not random. They are not limited to a particular society. They are part of a universal history of mankind. At the center of this history was Jesus Christ.
The conception of history is in principle the history of the world, or struggles like that between Greece and Persia or between Rome and Carthage are looked at impartially with an eye not to success of one combatant but to the upshot of the struggle from the standpoint of posterity, became a commonplace. The symbol of this universalism is the adoption of a single chronological framework for all historical events. The single universal chronology, invented by Isidore of Seville in the seventh century and popularized by the venerable bead in the eighth, dating everything forward and backward from the birth of Christ, still shows where the idea came from (p. 51).
Collingwood said that there was a self-conscious reversal of this historiography during the Renaissance. Renaissance humanists did not accept Christian historiography. They did not accept the Christian view of divine providence.
At the close of the Middle Ages one of the main tasks of European thought was to bring about a fresh reorientation of historical studies. The great theological and philosophical systems which had provided a basis for determining the general plan of history a priori had ceased to command assent, and with the Renaissance a return was made to a humanistic view of history based on that of the ancients. Accurate scholarship became important, because human actions were no longer felt to be dwarfed into insignificance in comparison with a divine plan (p. 57).
From the Renaissance until today, Christian historiography has been in retreat. Ever since 1750, it has barely existed. Yet the universalism of historiography, which has centered on the concept of world history, still exists. This idea is not consistent with humanistic presuppositions regarding the interpretation of the past: the cacophony of the epistemological principle of “every man his own historian.” (See Chapters 8 and 9.) Nevertheless, some humanists still cling to the idea that there is a universal history of mankind. Those humanists who favor the creation of an international new world order are echoing Christian historians of the fourth century.
Protestant higher education has never presented a detailed history of Christendom. Protestant scholars in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries generally accepted the medieval Catholic criteria for education: the trivium and the quadrivium. These topics were based on Greek categories. Pre-college students were compelled to learn Latin in order to get into college. In college, they studied the documents of classical paganism. This tradition was dominant in higher education until the late nineteenth century in England and the United States. Then Darwinism replaced classical education. After Christians began to surrender control over higher education at the end of the nineteenth century, they surrendered to the interpretation of the past by Enlightenment humanists. Christian parents have been content with humanist textbook histories of their nations and of Western civilization. The general thrust of these textbooks’ message is retained by the public: progress is based on the innovations and discoveries of autonomous men who live in religiously pluralistic nations. By accepting this narrative, Christians have forgotten Moses’ warning:
Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end; And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day (Deuteronomy 8:14–18).
More to the point, they have forgotten that Christ’s resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God replaced the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. At that point, the world entered God’s new world order. In his book, The Biblical Philosophy of History (1967), Rushdoony spelled out some implications of the bodily resurrection of Christ.
The purpose of Biblical history is to trace the victory of Jesus Christ. That victory is not merely spiritual; it is also historical. Creation, man, and man’s body, all move in terms of a glorious destiny for which all creation groans and travails as it awaits the fullness of that glorious liberty of the sons of God (Rom. 8:18–23). The victory is historical an eschatological and it is not the rejection of creation but it is fulfillment.
This victory was set forth in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who destroyed the power of sin and death and emerged victorious from the grave. As St. Paul emphasized in I Corinthians 15, this victory is the victory of all believers. Christ is the firstfruit, the beginning, the alpha and omega of the life of the saints. Had Christ merely arisen as a spirit from the grave, it would have signified his lordship over the world of spirit but His surrender of matter in history. But by His physical resurrection, by His rising again in the same body with which he was crucified, he set forth His lordship over creation and history. The world history will see Christ’s triumph and the triumph of His saints, his church, and his kingdom. History will not end in tribulation and disaster: it will see the triumph of the people of God in the manifestation of Christian order from pole to pole before Christ comes again. The doctrine of the resurrection is thus a cornerstone of the Biblical dimension of victory (p. 25).
This is why I am calling for a reconstruction of historiography along biblical lines. This reconstruction is mandatory because history is structured in terms of the biblical covenant. To be faithful to this structure of history, Christians must rethink history in terms of a different system of interpretation. They must reject humanism’s historiography.
When Christians read history books, they should have in the back of their minds a Christian principle of historical interpretation. This interpretation is based on the revelation of God in the Bible. This revelation proclaims this in Genesis 1: the sovereignty of God. He created the world out of nothing. He sustains the world. He will judge the world.
Christians should not be so naïve as to expect to be able to beat something with nothing. They have to beat something with something better. Yet they are starting today with almost nothing, academically speaking. They will get little or no help from Christian history professors in Christian colleges, let alone Christians teaching in secular universities. They should begin here: a grand narrative of the universal history of man from the creation to the final judgment of all mankind. This is what humanism denies.
B. The Bible’s Narratives
The Bible is mostly a series of historical narratives. In the Old Testament, there are a few books that are not narratives: Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, and Job. The minor prophets wrote during specific time periods, but these are not major historical narratives. The major prophets did offer historical narratives. In the New Testament, the four Gospels and the Book of Acts are historical narratives. The other books are epistles.
The New Testament offers Christian theology. Some of this theology was announced by Jesus, and the Gospels record these presentations. The epistles focus on theology. These provide the main integrating principles of theological interpretation. They enable people to understand the meaning of the historical narratives of the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Book of Acts. They also enable Christians to understand the principles that undergirded the narratives of the Old Testament. Put differently, the New Testament is a commentary on the Old Testament. The New Testament was the product of about 1500 years of written revelation. Theologians call the integrating theology of the New Testament systematic theology. They call the development of this theology from Moses until the Book of Revelation biblical theology. Both are necessary for understanding God’s revelation to man. Both are necessary for understanding the principles that undergird history and historiography.
The Bible does not offer a system of logic. It offers the foundations of a system of theology. Christian logic is an extension of theology. It is not autonomous. The Greeks were the first society to produce specialists in forms of logic that were self-consciously independent of supernatural religion. Greek logic asserted of the autonomy of man’s mind. It was impersonal. It offered principles of interpretation, but these principles were in opposition to each other. All humanistic philosophy is a combination of rationalism and irrationalism. In one of his dozens of analogies, Van Til described the condition of the non-Christian philosopher.
The fulcrum for both the modern and the Greek dialectical see-saw, between pure rationalism and pure irrationalism, is, as earlier, noted, the would-be autonomous man. If man refuses to see himself as a creature of God, or, more pertinently, as a sinner rescued by Christ, then he will quite naturally continue to go up and down, up and down, on this see-saw. When the rationalist is up, he proposes to have defeated the irrationalist. When the irrationalist is up, it is the reverse. But, if this spectacle were not enough to frighten you, then think of the fact that “the rationalist” and “the irrationalist” are really not separately existing entities at all, but rather, opposite, co-existing aspects of the one and indivisible would-be self-sufficient homo sapiens. (Van Til, Who Do You Say That I Am?, p. 24)
To this irreconcilable dualism in the principles of interpretation is added historical flux. The timeless logic of man is incapable of making sense out of the constant flux of history. This was Van Til’s position. It is my position.
C. The Grand Narrative
In Chapter 1, I discussed the doctrine of the Trinity. It solves the philosophical problem of the one and the many. The Godhead is one, but it is also made up of three Persons. It is unified, but it is plural. The creation reflects this combination of unity and plurality. The species do: male and female. The family does: parents and children. God holds collectives responsible for what they do. This was the message of the Old Testament prophets. God also holds individuals responsible for what they do. This culminates in the day of judgment (Matthew 25).
This is why every historical narrative is part of a larger historical narrative. Got imputes meaning to all narratives. God evaluates people’s words and actions in terms of standards that apply to individuals and collectives. He brings judgment in history and in eternity in terms of men’s performance in relation to these permanent standards. Because individuals are made in God’s image, they can understand how their own performance compares with permanent standards. They can do the same with collectives. When Isaiah came before the people of Judah, he listed their individual and corporate sins. He knew they would understand his message. He told him God would hold them responsible for obeying his message. He appealed to their memory of Israel’s past: “And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city” (v. 26). The Israelites memories of the distant past. These memories condemned them.
In defending himself against the illegal Jewish court, the deacon Stephen presented a synopsis of the history of Israel (Acts 7). He did so primarily to condemn them, not to gain a verdict of “Not guilty.” His presentation was confrontational. Israel’s narrative culminated in the ministry of Jesus Christ: “Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen. Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David” (vv. 44–45). He ended his covenant lawsuit against them with this: “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it” (vv. 51–53). Despite the fact that they did not have the authority to execute anyone, they stoned him to death.
The grand narrative of Israel ended in A.D. 70, when the Roman legions captured the city and burned the temple. That ended the sacrifices. That fundamentally changed the religion of Israel. The Sadducees had been in charge of the temple. The temple was no more. Their rivals, the Pharisees, took over the leadership of Israel, and they maintained it until about the middle of the nineteenth century. The fall of Jerusalem was the origin of what we call today Judaism. Herbert Danby’s Introduction to his book, The Mishna (1933), correctly described the victory of the Pharisees. “Until the destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70 they had counted as one only among the schools of thought which played a part in Jewish national and religious life; after the Destruction they took the position, naturally and almost immediately, of sole and undisputed leaders of such Jewish life as survived. Judaism as it has continued since is, if not their creation, at least a faith and a religious institution largely of their fashioning; and the Mishnah is the authoritative record of their labour.
Thus it comes about that while Judaism and Christianity alike venerate the Old Testament as canonical Scripture, the Mishnah marks the passage to Judaism as definitely as the New Testament marks the passage to Christianity” (p. xiii). Jacob Neusner, the incomparably prolific Jewish author (1,000 books), described what followed. The Pharisees rewrote the narrative. He added that “the rabbis of late antiquity rewrote in their own image and likeness the entire Scripture and history of Israel, dropping whole eras as though they had never been, ignoring vast bodies of old Jewish writing, inventing whole new books for the canon of Judaism. . .” (“Two Faiths Talking about Different Things,” World & I [Nov. 1987], p. 690).
Christians and Orthodox Jews do not invoke the same narrative. They share many of the books. They sometimes share certain ethical teachings found in the Old Testament. They share the stories in the Old Testament. But the narratives are different. The New Testament interprets the Old Testament for Christians. The gigantic rabbinic oral tradition in the Talmud interprets the Old Testament for Orthodox Jews. The narratives after the fall of Jerusalem deviate decisively. So, the grand narrative of Christianity is fundamentally different from the grand narrative of Judaism. There are also divisions within Christianity regarding the grand narrative. There are also divisions within Judaism regarding the grand narrative.
The grand narrative of Christianity ends in the final judgment. The doctrine of the final judgment declares that God looks back at the performance of everyone in history, and He makes judgments regarding their performance. That is to say, He imputes (declares) success or failure in history in terms of two general judicial categories: saved and lost. Then, within these categories, He imputes performance, and He punishes and rewards accordingly. Covenant-keepers will receive rewards in terms of their performance. This is based on the grace that God showed to them by redeeming them because of their faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8–9). This also includes their works (Ephesians 2:10). There will be winners and losers on the day of final judgment. This will determine each man’s inheritance when he enters the new heaven and the new earth.
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire (1 Corinthians 3:11–15).
Everyone will go through this judgment. This is why there will be a grand the narrative. The grand narrative is a result of the decree of God. God will pass judgment on His own work, by way of covenant-keepers, retroactively at the final judgment. He did the same at the end of day six in the creation week. The doctrine of the decree of God, when coupled with the doctrine of the final judgment, is the foundation of the concept of the grand narrative. Any denial of the existence of this grand narrative is an attempt by covenant-breakers to escape the implications of the final judgment. They do not want to accept that doctrine, and therefore they reject the doctrine of the grand narrative.
D. Rival Narratives
There are as many narratives as there are historians, and just about everyone is an historian. Everyone has some concept of the past. Everyone has received stories of the past. Public school systems inculcate stories about the national past. Politics has governed national stories for as long as there have been national stories. But there has never been unanimity among the storytellers. There have always been rival stories. Some of these rival stories reflect separate worldviews.
This is why Christians who begin to study history as a way to fulfill their obligations as covenant-keepers have to be aware of the existence of these rival stories and rival worldviews. They have to evaluate the rival narratives in terms of what the Bible reveals about God, man, law, sanctions, and time. They must also assess the reliability of the documentation for these rival stories. They must investigate the coherence between the documentation and the interpretations given to the documentation by rival storytellers.
This is hard work. This is not work for intellectual sissies. This will lead to confrontation at some point. In the case of narratives that are widely believed by the intelligentsia of a nation, who have an interest in making certain that rival interpretations do not gain a wide following, the confrontation can be expensive in terms of lost reputations, lost jobs, and videos removed from social media sites. But it is not like the Soviet Union under Stalin in the 1930’s. There are outlets for rival views, and people who espouse rival views do not get sent to the Gulag.
To develop a narrative within the framework of the Bible’s grand narrative, Christian historians must develop good judgment. They must develop Bible-informed wisdom. They must develop the ability to interpret historical documentation of events in terms of biblical revelation, church history, and the many challenges to Christianity from covenant-breakers through history. I discuss this exercise of judgment in Chapter 14. The discipline of historiography is like all other disciplines. It requires years of study. It requires years of on-the-job training. It requires above-average intelligence. It requires people to have what is sometimes called a feel or knack for the discipline. It requires the ability to compare evidence and to compare rival historians’ handling of the evidence. Above all, it requires a Christian historian to go public with his narrative. There is an old political slogan: you cannot beat something with nothing. It is not sufficient to poke holes in a rival narrative if you do not have an alternative.
There is a tremendous advantage for being the first person to issue a narrative of a recent event. This usually is a government agency whenever the interests of the government are involved in the narrative. The government will use the media to get the official story to the public. This story will have a tremendous advantage. Anyone who challenges this story will have to have a powerful case. Also, there will be more than one challenge. The various rival stories the challenge the official story will tend to cancel each other out. The official story will still remain the dominant story in the thinking of most voters.
What is true of specific events is also true of the narratives in the public high school textbooks. These grand narratives change over time. It is difficult to trace these changes. One reason why it is so difficult is that research libraries do not store old public school textbooks. Only a handful of specialized research libraries in the field of public education have collections of old textbooks. Next, the historian would like to find out which were the dominant three textbooks. This is not easy to discover. Sales records are not available, at least not in today’s research world. Thus, any historian who attempts to trace the interpretations of public school history textbooks has a formidable task. Aware of only one such survey on the textbooks in the United States, and it was published in 1979: Francis FitzGerald’s America Revised.
FitzGerald made a curious discovery. A single author dominated the teaching of American history in American high schools from 1911 until the mid-1960’s: David Saville Muzzey. He was a theologically liberal Presbyterian who was a political Progressive. He believed in the modern welfare state. He was also a strong nationalist. There were some years in which his textbook outsold all the other textbooks combined. No one could explain the popularity of this textbook. There is a Wikipedia entry on him in 2021. It has not changed in several years; I keep checking. It has a total of four sentences. Yet he probably taught 100 million Americans what little they knew about American history. The government was not in charge of this narrative. No one was in charge of it, other than the author. Because of the enormous sales of the books, no publishing committee told him what to write. In terms of the number of people he influenced, he is probably most important historian in American history. I have collected several editions of his textbooks. I plan to put them online free of charge just for the historical record.
Today, one individual is more responsible than anyone in the world for delivering historical narratives and narratives in other fields to millions of students: Salman Khan. The Khan Academy teaches more students than any organization ever has. The videos are online for free. They are used all over the world. This project began in 2006 as an afterthought. The creator did not set out to start an online school. No government controls what he says. He was not trained as an historian. He was trained as an engineer at MIT and as an entrepreneur in the field of finance at the Harvard Business School.
E. The Structure of the Narrative
I have said the general narrative is this: the transition from grace to wrath the transition from wrath to grace. What is the structure? It is based on God’s five-point covenant model: transcendence, hierarchy, ethics, oath, succession. The acronym is THEOS. These are best understood by five questions:
1. Who is in charge here?
2. To whom do I report?
3. What are the rules?
4. What do I get if I obey? Disobey?
5. Does this outfit have a future?
In terms of social theory, these are the five points: sovereignty, authority, law, sanctions, succession. Western social theories deal with each of these five points in some way. I taught two years of Western literature to high school students using this five-point structure.
If you are studying the history of a society, find out what members of the society believed about the society’s origins. Then you must discover the general attitude toward the future. How did people view the final judgment? Did they have a concept of the final judgment? How did this attitude affect the way they live their lives? To discover this, you must find out what their concept of law was. Then you have to find out if they believed that obedience to the law will result in personal and corporate blessings. Who imposes these sanctions? In other words, to whom did they report? Until you know the answers to these questions, you are not ready to write the narrative. There are many other questions you can ask that ought to be answered, but these five are crucial. In 1988, I was discussing the history of Western civilization with a student intern working for my Institute for Christian Economics, Ruben Alvarado. He knew of the covenants five-point structure. He mentioned in an offhand comment that the chronological history of Western civilization is structured in terms of the five points, in the same order. It took me about 60 seconds to recognize the truth of what he said.
1. The Nicene Creed (325): God
2. The Papal revolution of 1076: dual hierarchies (state, church)
3. Scholasticism/Aristotelianism (c. 1100–): dual law-orders (civil, canon)
4. The Protestant Reformation (1520–) rival oaths/sanctions
5. Darwinism (1859–): time/eschatology
F. Entrepreneurial Alertness
Beginning in 1973, the free-market economist Israel Kirzner began to write extensively on entrepreneurship. He became one of the premier economists in this specialized niche of economic theory. He stressed that entrepreneurship is based on alertness. An entrepreneur sees an opportunity that other people do not see. He takes advantage of it by purchasing tools of production, raw materials, and labor services in order to produce consumer goods and services. His competitors did not see the opportunity, so they did not enter into the marketplace to compete against him in the purchase of economic inputs. He was therefore able to buy them less expensively than otherwise would have been the case. Entrepreneurial profits come from sales revenue that is above the total costs of production resources. I believe that something similar applies in every field. It may not be governed by the pursuit of money, but success in a field is usually dependent upon the ability of an innovator to spot an opportunity that his competitors do not perceive. He then pursues it with time, money, and courage.
Anyone who expects to produce something of value in the field of historiography should be familiar enough with a specific area of historical investigation to enable him to see anomalies in the textbook narrative. I have said that breakthroughs usually begin with this observation: “That’s strange.” Something does not seem right. In the field of history, something took place that previous historians’ narratives ignored or de-emphasized. The documentary evidence and explanations they provided for a particular event do not seem sufficient to explain the event. How did the event take place? What is missing from the previous explanations?
The proper procedure in searching for revisionist history projects is to read the major books and monographs on the topic. This gives you a sense of the prevailing interpretation of the topic. I recommend that you mark up the books. If you find ideas that you want to save, store them in some electronic format, such as Evernote. The goal is to become familiar with the arguments and the sources of documentation for the prevailing narrative. Next, read an equal number of books and articles that challenge this narrative. This will give you a sense of the existing narrative’s vulnerability. Be familiar with the logic of the critics and the kinds of documents they rely on. Almost no one goes through this procedure unless he is writing a master’s thesis. I adopted this procedure when I wrote Marx’s Religion of Revolution (1968) in my spare time in graduate school.
If, after going through the critical literature, you think you can improve on the existing narrative by taking another approach, you should consider moving ahead with the project. If you see something that all sides have ignored, something that may be crucial for a better understanding of the historical topic, you should begin a search to see if someone else has offered a similar insight. If so, go to the book or article, and follow the footnotes. If no one has offered something unique, you should seriously consider devoting sufficient time to write several articles, a monograph, and produce several online video introductions to your thesis. Expect to spend at least two years and maybe longer on researching and writing your monograph.
Your monograph should answer the critics of the original narrative. It should also improve or even dramatically modify the existing narrative. Then self-publish the book if you cannot find a book publisher. Get your thesis in front of the public. It would be wise to set up a website devoted to the topic. Cover the basic themes in a series of entries. Respond to any critics of the thesis. Be prepared to be ignored. There may not be any critics of the thesis. Potential critics may never hear of the book, let alone read it.
Be prepared to write a second edition if someone raises legitimate concerns about the accuracy of your presentation. Be prepared to abandon your thesis. But almost nobody ever does that. They prefer to defend what they have put in print.
Be sure that your book, online videos, and website do not deviate from the overall theme of the great narrative: the transition from wrath to grace. Also, be sure you have done justice to explaining and defending how the five points of the biblical covenant apply to the topic you selected for historical revision: God’s transcendence, covenantal hierarchy, biblical ethics, God sanctions, and succession in history.
In making the presentation, you must pursue three goals, in this order: accuracy, clarity, and persuasiveness. If the book fails, let it fail because you were not a good enough marketer or because people are just not interested in the topic. My book on Marx failed, except for winning me a Weaver Fellowship from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. I doubt that members of the committee read the book, but the fact that it was published persuaded them to give me the fellowship. I have almost never seen it footnoted except by Rushdoony, who helped get it published. It did not receive a lot of book reviews. As far as I know, there were no reviews in academic historical journals. For me, it was an important academic exercise. I had been thinking about Marx and Marxism ever since 1956. I wanted to be clear regarding what I had rejected.
I offered a unique thesis: Marx’s worldview was an extension of the chaos cults of the ancient world. I learned about this from Rushdoony. I have never seen anybody else present that thesis and then document it in detail. Today, nobody cares. Marxism is a dead philosophy. My book did nothing to bring Marxism to its well-deserved end. But at least it demonstrated that it is possible to write a serious academic critique of a prominent worldview by means of an appeal to the Bible and the Christian worldview. It also demonstrated to me that I was capable of doing serious academic research. That gave me confidence five years later when I began working on my economic commentary on the Bible.
G. Models of Christian Historiography
If we are speaking of books, there are not many. I did my best to write self-conscious Christian historiography in my history of the Northern Presbyterian Church: Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church (1996). I also attempted to do this in my introduction to Christian historiography: Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (1989). Chapter 5, “Halfway Covenant Historiography,” is a critique of three major Protestant evangelical historians: Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, and George Marsden. I was responding to their book: The Search for Christian America (1983), in which they concluded their search by saying that there is no such a thing as Christian America, and has not been since 1788. Why not? Because of the Constitution. They placed too much emphasis on this political document. In Part 3, I discussed in detail the origins of the United States Constitution, which is unquestionably a humanist document. I later turned that section of the book into a separate volume: Conspiracy in Philadelphia: The Origins of the United States Constitution (2013). My response to Noll, Hatch, and Masden was this: the general society of America was Christian in that era, and remained Christian until the second half of the twentieth century. The Constitution was judicially humanistic, but it was limited to only one covenant: the state.
Earlier examples of self-conscious Christian historiography are two books by R. J. Rushdoony. By far his most important book in the Christian community was this: The Messianic Character of American Education (1963). In that book, he discussed in detail with full documentation the humanistic religious motivation of two dozen of the major founders and developers of progressive education. There had never been any book like it, and there has never been any book like it since 1963. Also important is this book: The One and the Many: Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy (1971). Part I discusses the problem of the one and the many in eight chapters. Part II, “The Ground of Liberty,” contains seven chapters. Then comes the most important sections of the book. Part III, “The Continuity of Being”: chapters on Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, the chain of being, the Bible and the concept of being, and being in society. Part IV: “The unity of the Polis,” is a detailed study of the history of classical Greece. Part V, “Rome: The City of Man,” contains 11 chapters on the final days of the Roman Republican and the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. Part VI, “Christ: The World De-Divinized,” is a study of the conflict between the church in the Roman Empire. It covers mysticism, Gnosticism, family, abortion, Emperor worship, and other issues. It has 21 chapters. The later sections of the book continue the narrative up to the 1960’s. These chapters are not as impressive as the chapters on Greece, Rome, and the early church, but they show consistency between his idea of history as providential and the development of history in terms of that theme.
It is worth noting that Rushdoony did not have a degree in history. As an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, he majored in English. He received his master’s degree in education. Nevertheless, for a graduate history seminar taught by the famed medievalist, Ernst Kantorowicz, he wrote a 600-page term paper on church-state relations in Great Britain from 1500 to modern times. He knew how to do basic research.
Some of the most impressive Christian history books were written by a sociologist, Rodney Stark. They have sold well. They include these titles: One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism (2001). The fact that was published by Princeton University press is remarkable. Princeton University Press also published his 2003 book: For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-hunts, and the end of Slavery. In 2005, Random House published The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. In 2006, HarperOne published Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome. In 2014, ISI Books published How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity. In 2015, ISI Books published The Triumph of Faith: Why the World is More Religious than Ever. He writes well, and he writes fast. I first discovered him in 1996, after I had finished Crossed Fingers. I came across a jointly authored book by Stark and Roger Finke: The Churching of America (Rutgers University Press, 1992). I added Appendix E to discuss the book. From the moment I read it, I regarded it as the best history of American Christianity I had read. Neither of them was an historian. They were both sociologists. Even more astounding, they were sociologists who wrote clearly.
All of the books that I have listed here were published after 1960. Rushdoony’s books were published by an obscure Calvinistic publisher. No other publisher would have published his books. Prior to 1960, examples of self-conscious Protestant Christian historiography are not simply few and far between; they do not exist. You cannot find a Protestant evangelical historian who put into print what his philosophy of history was, and what relation this philosophy of history had with the Bible. You cannot find books written by Protestant evangelical historians who present their histories in terms of an explicitly biblical philosophy of history.
There were Catholic historians before 1960 who did attempt to study history in terms of their understanding of Christianity. One of the most famous of these was Lord Acton. He wrote in the late nineteenth century. He had a comprehensive understanding of the past. But he never wrote a narrative of Western history. He talked about writing a history of freedom, but he never got around to it. Another major historian in the next generation was Christopher Dawson. He was self-consciously writing as a Catholic historian. He shared faith in the synthesis of Christian theology and Aristotelian philosophy produced by Thomas Aquinas. Acton and Dawson both believed in Aristotelian logic. They both believed that a combination of biblical truth, church pronouncements, and Aristotelian logic could be used to make sense of historical documents. They had no successors who became full-time historians. When he died in 1970, Dawson was regarded by younger Catholic historians as a relic. He had been a dedicated Catholic traditionalist, a defender of the medieval synthesis known as scholasticism. The intellectual effects of Vatican II (1962–65) by 1970 had eliminated scholasticism’s influence in Catholic scholarship. This had taken less than a decade. (An excellent study on the speed of this transformation is Malachi Martin’s 1987 book, The Jesuits. Another is Gary Wills’ 1972 book, Bare Ruined Choirs.)
Christians should become revisionist historians. Of course, the vast majority of Christians will not do this. The vast majority of Christians do not read extensively, especially in the field of history. I am speaking of Christians who are serious about understanding history and serious about their faith. They should train themselves to become revisionists when they read history books and materials. They should think through the implications of what they have read in terms of the biblical structure of history. They must be aware of the inescapable fact that there is no neutrality anywhere in the world, including interpretations of the past. They should read book reviews of the materials—book reviews written by self-conscious Christian historians. They must re-think what they have read in terms of an explicitly Christian worldview.
Let me provide an example of the non-neutrality of historiography. Humanists suppress information about Christianity’s contribution to Western civilization. The career of the great physicist and great historian of medieval technology, Pierre Duhem (1861–1916), is representative of this attitude. He wrote 10 volumes on the development of science in the late medieval era: Le système du monde. He said the Catholic Church was behind much of this work after 1250. The first five volumes were published between 1914 and 1917. Then opinion turned against him within the French academic establishment. His publisher refused to publish the next five volumes. That blackout lasted for almost four decades. Only the threat of a lawsuit by his daughter finally forced the company to publish them from 1954–59. Had it not been for the efforts of physicist-priest Stanley Jaki (1924–2009), this story would have remained unknown. The Wikipedia entry on Duhem in September 2021 does not mention this suppression. You can read the story of this censorship here: http://bit.ly/DuhemSuppression. Jaki’s books are fine examples of historical revisionism, especially The Road of Science and the Ways of God (1978) and Science and Creation: From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe (1974). He stressed the importance of the linear view of time in the development of science. This uniquely Western view of time came through the Bible by way of Christianity. His books on this topic have not been reprinted, and used copies sell for hundreds of dollars on Amazon.
A small number of Christians should become amateur historiographers. They should write book reviews and post them on their blogs. They should teach Sunday school courses on aspects of Christian history. They should write short articles about historical matters of interest to them. They should publish these articles on their blogs. In other words, they must share what they have learned.
A tiny number of Christians should become full-time historians. Maybe they should teach high school. Maybe they can teach in a Christian college. They have an obligation to write books that revise the prevailing humanist accounts of the past. They may have to self-publish these books, but they must publish them. They must rethink and re-examine the narratives that they had been presented in the public school systems, from the early grades through graduate school.
We have seen this kind of revisionism since 1960 in the field of six-day creationism. Christians have begun to re-think a century of compromise (1860–1960) with the timeline of evolutionism. This has been vital work. But it is not sufficient to begin to rethink the principles of historical geology and evolutionary biology in terms of the Bible’s revelation concerning creation. That task is necessary, but it is not sufficient. The reconstruction must be applied to every academic discipline. This includes the study of history.
I made this case in my 1988 book, Is the World Running Down? Crisis in the Christian Worldview. I challenged believers in the six-day creation to begin to extend their work beyond historical geology and biology. There was virtual silence in response to that book. So, I am now calling on Christians once again to rethink the basics of academic disciplines in terms of the concept of creation and providence. It took me six decades to produce a Christian reconstruction of economic theory. It can be done in other academic disciplines. It must be done.
This reconstruction begins with you. You must be aware of the conflict between humanists and Christians with respect to the structure of history and the discipline of writing history. You must recognize that there is a war going on. You must understand the nature of this war. You must understand the rival views of God, man, law, sanctions, and time. You must understand the rival views of sovereignty, authority, law, sanctions, and the future. Then, as you read history, and as you teach history to your children or in Sunday schools, you must discipline yourself to present a biblical view rather than a humanist view. Baptized humanism will no longer suffice to lead Christians out of the wilderness and into the promised land. We need a new generation of the conquest.