AN EDUCATIONAL COMMENTARY ON THE BIBLE (3)

By Rodney N. Kirby

#17 “Concrete Methods”

And He (God) brought him (Abram) forth abroad and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and He said unto him, So shall thy seed be (Gen. 15:5).

Before we look at our text for this month, let’s look briefly at Gen. 14:22ff. Here, Abram refuses gifts from the wicked king of Sodom, saying that he will take nothing, lest the king should say, “I have made Abram rich.” Abram recognized that the king could later make ungodly demands on Abram, saying, “I scratched your back, you scratch mine.”

In verse 22, Abram swears to Jehovah, El Elyon, possessor of heaven and earth. Abram recognized that God alone was Lord, and that his allegiance was to be totally to God. Abram did not want to be in a position in which this allegiance would be compromised.

We have the same situation today. Many otherwise fine Christian schools are accepting gifts of one sort or another which place them in a compromising position. Most often, these gifts are from the state—in the form of loans, grants, free lunch money, textbooks, or accreditation. The state thus claims, “I have made these Christian schools wealthy,” and makes ungodly demands on the schools. Christian schools must avoid entangling alliances, even as did Abram.

We might also include the matter of tax exemption. While, Biblically speaking, Christian schools should be tax exempt, yet the state is increasingly looking on tax exempt status as a gift to the school—a subsidy. As a result, the state is making demands on tax-exempt schools. Perhaps it would be wisest, at this time, for schools to avoid tax exempt status, in order to give the state less excuse to intervene.

Now, let’s look at our text. Here, as well as in Gen. 13:16, God is teaching Abram an abstract, non-concrete truth—that he would have an innumerable number of descendants. In order to teach this abstract idea, God used concrete objects—the dust of the earth and the stars in the sky. God thus endorses, by His own use of it, the teaching method of using concrete objects to teach abstract truths. Let’s look at this in more detail.

One of the key questions in philosophy is the relation between the one and the many. Which one is ultimate? Is it the one—universals, general laws, abstractions (as in Plato)—or is it the many—particulars, individual items, concrete objects (as in Aristotle)? Historically, philosophers have alternated between these two. One may assume that universal truths are ultimate, and that individual items are derived from these. On the other hand, one may take the individual items to be primary, with universal laws and properties being derived from these.

Take a common example. We see many different, individual, concrete items called “chairs.” Philosophically, we may say that all these items partake of qualities they derive from some universal “chairness.” Or, on the other hand, we may say that we observe many different chairs, and thus derive the quality of “chairness” from our observations of these individuals. We either move from the universal, the “one,” to the particular, the “many,” or vice-versa.

What is a Christian understanding of this problem? A proper understanding of the Trinity shows the answer. God is both one and many at the same time. The Bible clearly teaches that God is one—there are not many gods. Also, the Bible clearly teaches a plurality (three) of persons in the Godhead. Neither God’s unity nor His plurality is more ultimate—more basic—than the other. We do not say that God is really just one, and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are just manifestations of the one God (modalism). Neither would we say that there are really three Gods. No, unity and plurality are equally ultimate in God.

Now, since the creation reflects the nature of God, we may say that unity and plurality are equally ultimate in creation as well. What this means for our present topic is that neither abstract thought nor concrete objects are more basic than the other. Both are important in education. And neither must necessarily come before the other temporally. We may present an abstract concept, and then illustrate it with concrete examples. Or we may present many concrete facts, and then derive an abstract principle from them. Both methods are legitimate.

Here, in our text, God presents a concrete object—the dust of the earth, the stars of the sky—and teaches an abstract concept—the innumerability of the sons of Abraham.

Some Christians, however, have objected to such a teaching (at least, they have to me personally). They say that we do not base our learning on experience (on the particulars, the “many”). They say that God is not learned about through the items of experience. We do not work our way up from our experience to a concept of God. And so our teaching must not be from concrete to universal, but the other way around.

While it is true that we do not formulate our concept of God entirely from experience, yet our experience does give us insight into the nature of God. God is not merely an abstract ideal somewhere “out there,” but he is the Lord and governor of all the concrete items in our experience. Thus, our experience does reveal truths about God—His provisions for our every need, His chastisement, etc. And, in a more general sense, we may progress in our learning about any subject from the concrete to the abstract.

Lee J. Cronbach’s Educational Psychology (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963) has some useful material:

The teacher cannot expect to communicate if he talks about things that have no connection with the pupil’s experience. A sea chantey is “a rhythmic song, sung in chorus by a ship’s crew”—but this is a pallid image to the pupil who has never heard one. He still wouldn’t recognize a chantey. A rainbow, a banana, or a baby defies description; only experience with the real thing acquaints a person with its characteristics. Many concepts deal with relations or abstractions (heredity, kilowatt, a billion dollars) and the teacher cannot point directly to an example. Even these, however, can be connected to familiar experience (“a kilowatt would run ten light bulbs like this”).

Images of concrete objects and events are a necessary background for comprehending an abstract relation. Whenever an activity puts the pupil into intimate contact with real objects, he amasses experiences that can clarify theoretical concepts and principles. The boys who make radios acquire images of objects and operations associated with electricity. They know what an added resistor does; they have seen lights dim and have felt wires grow warm. Consequently, they find physics easier to grasp. The class that sets out to persuade the city council to change its bicycle ordinance gains a picture of realities of which the formal chart of government structure is only a reminder . . .

We have said that experience with the concrete situation is the base for understanding. This should not be misunderstood to imply that concrete instruction is invariably better than abstract verbal instruction. The advantages of abstract instruction are probably best illustrated in a series of studies…. In these studies, some subjects were trained in a situation where they could use concrete cues, while others were required to learn and apply an abstract pattern. So long as the subjects had enough familiarity with the real situation to understand the abstract scheme, the abstract instruction led to more transfer. (pp. 368-369).

The point here is that concrete instruction and abstract instruction must go hand-in-hand. Neither is more important than the other, and neither can be omitted. Abstract instruction alone is often contentless. Concrete instruction alone does not lend itself to transfer. We must teach students concrete facts, as well as the principles governing those facts. The so-called “new math” has as its emphasis an understanding of how mathematics works (abstract). However, it has often been a failure, due to a lack of drill in the basic facts of arithmetic (concrete). This is just one example of how concrete and abstract learning must go together.

WHAT MOST PEOPLE DON’T UNDERSTAND ABOUT CHRISTIAN EDUCATION

By Terrill I. Elniff

The secular mind, confronting the Christian school, tends to evaluate what it sees in terms that it can understand. Thus the prevailing view of Christian education is that Christian parents put their children in Christian schools because they are fed up with the problems of the public schools: sex, drugs, immorality, lowered standards, incompetent teachers, secularism, disorder, and violence. But to reason in this way is to overlook a very important aspect of the Christian school movement.

When I began teaching in a Christian school some eighteen years ago, I remember our headmaster emphasizing from time to time that the Christian education movement is not an “antipublic-school movement.” Why not? I always asked. I thought public schools should be sold to the highest bidder at public auction. His point was that Christian education must exist for its own reasons not as an escape from something else. To enter a Christian school as an escape from the modern, secular, world was essentially to betray the unique reason for Christian education, which was to study the world from a biblical point of view.

Now, eighteen years later, I appreciate the wisdom of his insight. I still think that public schools should be sold at public auction (that’s a little more direct than tuition vouchers, but it accomplishes the same thing by putting education into the private marketplace), but making education private rather than public has nothing to do with Christian education. Private education is not necessarily Christian education. Religious education is not necessarily Christian education either. These categories are all wrong. The real alternatives are man-centered education over against God-centered education.

If education is humanistic in its perspective, all the trappings of religion won’t make it Christian. Baptized humanism is still humanism. Education may be moral, religious, conservative, and competent, and still be humanistic. Schools may have values, standards, rules, and even prayers, and still teach a man-centered curriculum. The one distinguishing mark of a Christian school relates to that one unique reason for Christian education: to gain a knowledge of the world from God’s point of view (rather than man’s) through the application of biblical presuppositions in every area of the curriculum and school activity.

That is the kernel of Christian education. Everything else is peripheral. Everything else can be duplicated or imitated. Christian education will not cease to be needed just because the public schools clean up their act, as some commentators seem to believe. Scott Thompson, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, has been quoted (WSJ, 6-30-81, p. 30) as saying that “What the Christian schools movement is saying …is that public schools have two to three years to do a better job. If public school teachers are moral… and don’t hide behind one or another legal curtain in dealing with values, then most Christian parents will be happy and they’ll go back to teaching Christianity elsewhere as they have done in the past.”

Now, I don’t know how to measure “most” Christian parents, but I’m pretty sure there are a lot of Christian parents in the Christian schools movement who are simply refugees from the public schools. They are the ones Thompson can expect to receive back into the public schools once the public schools come to grips with their problems. Such Christian parents will go back to public schools because their commitment to Christian education is not positive, but negative, an escape from the modern, secular, world.

But there is also an immense number of Christian parents in the movement who don’t intend to go back to the public schools even if they get squeaky clean. They are the ones with a positive commitment to the purposes of Christian education. Their children are in Christian schools because they believe that life must be related to God and learning must be related to truth. For them, secular and humanistic education is not an option.

The future of Christian education, then, does not depend on the reforms made in the public school systems. It depends, rather, on the relative number of Christian parents who understand the purpose of Christian education. The determination to apply biblical presuppositions to every area of life and learning is what most people don’t understand about Christian education. The failure of the secular mind to comprehend this determination indicates that it also does not understand the revolutionary nature of the Christian school movement and the impact it will have on the future of education in this country.


PLAY IN CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

By James B. Jordan

In the October 1979 issue of The Biblical Educator (vol. 1, no. 11, 1 had an essay entitled “Some Observations on Physical Education.” The gist of that essay was that the physical education programs in the Christian school should concentrate on the development of useful skills in the areas of work and self-defense. I came down rather hard on school sports, because of the tremendous over-emphasis on them in modern American schooling.

Upon further reflection, prompted by a reading of Johan Huizinga’s classic Homo Ludens (Beacon Press paperback), I’d like to make a few more positive statements on play. (Huizinga’s perspective is pagan; I do not recommend the book to anyone not thoroughly grounded in Van Tillian pre-suppositionalism.)

Modern man, paradoxically finds it difficult either to get serious or to play. Apart from God, he can find no real meaning in life, and so he cannot really get serious. He cannot face the reality of death and judgment, so he avoids the really serious issues of life. On the other hand, apart from God, he can find no true joy. Play, which is natural to the child of God, becomes work for him, and he frantically seeks new and more exotic forms of play.

Perversely, modern pagan man becomes most serious about his games. He cannot play at games at all. That is because the pagan does not play for fun; he plays for glory and honour. Periodically people are injured by mobs at sporting events. In recent years, two nations in Central America put their armed forces on stand-by after a particularly intense soccer match; fortunately, war was averted. Fistfights break out in bars during football games and boxing matches. International politics is inextricably tied to the sport of the Olympics. Famous athletes command incredible salaries.

Glory and honour are peculiar things, or perhaps it would be better to say they are a peculiar thing. Glory is social in character. People who have never even held a football share in the glory when their team wins. Glory is like clothing, and a person feels naked and embarrassed when his glory is removed. He feels shame, the opposite of glory.

When they lost their covering of glory in the Garden, Adam and Eve laboured hard to recover themselves. (Note that word: recover.) When God exposed their nakedness, they turned to a form of violence, passing blame (abuse) to those around them. This is the lifestyle of all pagans. They labour hard to achieve glory and honour in the eyes of others. They become upset and even violent when their honour is shattered and their nakedness exposed. We cannot understand the place of sports in the modern world apart from this.

For the Christian, on the other hand, both play and seriousness arise from the sovereignty of God. God’s sovereignty in Law means that all will be called to account, so that in His presence is fear. But God’s sovereignty in control means that we can relax and enjoy life; in His presence is sabbath rest, joy, and play. These two things are put together expressly in Eccl. 11:9,10.

Moreover, Christians get their glory and honour from Christ; thus their engagement in play is never for the purpose of acquiring glory. Christians play for fun, not for blood. Because they are clothed in Christ’s glory, Christians are free in both their work and their play. They both play more and are more serious than the pagans. One of the most noticeable things about a Christian community is the amount of playing and horsing around those goes on; non-Christians almost always remark on this.

The Bible gives its philosophy of play in Proverbs 8:30, 31, which literally reads, “Then I was beside Him, a master workman; and I was daily His delight, playing always before Him, playing in the world, His earth, and having my delight in the sons of men.” This is Wisdom, the pre-incarnate Christ, speaking. Notice how work and play are placed together before the throne of God. The same word for play is used of Samson’s sporting in Judges 16:25 and of David’s dance before the Ark in 2 Sam. 6:21. It is used of the play of Leviathan in the sea in Ps. 104:26, and of the play of children in Zech. 8:5. Thus, the play of Christians is an analogical replica of the play of the Son of God. It is sheer fun and delight in the creation.

Indeed, at the annual Feast of Tabernacles, each family was directed to bring branches and build a shelter in which to live for seven days (Lev. 23:40-43). Try doing that with your children without having fun! God intended His people to relax and play in His presence.

Play was removed from the church after the Christian Middle Ages came to an end. Because the Church of Rome was using art as propaganda, the Protestants came to fear art and play. The influence of stoicism and Neoplatonism worked further to destroy true play among the Protestant churches, though the Puritans were generally a joyous people. Luther’s Table Talk is one of the last good examples of down-to-earth Christian fun and play.

Just as the subject of art in general needs to be rethought in our day, so does the subject of play. Christian schools should not encourage play in an agonistic or competitive spirit, for glory and honour. On the other hand, intramural play for fun probably needs to be rehabilitated in our circles.


AN EDUCATIONAL COMMENTARY ON THE BIBLE

By Rodney N. Kirby

No. 18: “Covenant and Education” (Genesis 15:1-21)

Christian schools are covenant schools. The children we educate are covenant children. This emphasis is very strong, especially in Reformed circles, in Christian education today. What does it mean? What are the implications? All too often, these terms are tossed about with little understanding, as if merely calling education covenant education somehow sanctified it.

This passage tells us a good deal about the nature of a covenant in the Bible. God made a promise to Abram concerning his descendants (vs. 5), and concerning the possession of the land of Canaan (vs. 7). We know that God cannot lie, and that He most certainly will perform whatever He has said. However, to impress upon Abram’s mind the certainty of His promise, God told Abram to cut some animals in half and lay them on the ground, with space between the two halves (vs. 9-10). Then, God Himself walked between the two halves of the slain animals and repeated His promise (vs. 13-21).

This section would have been well understood by Abram and by readers in the time of Moses. It followed the pattern of most ancient Near Eastern covenant ratifications. The parties to the covenant walked between the two halves of slain animals, symbolically saying, “May I be slain and cut in pieces just like these animals, if I do not uphold the terms of this covenant.” This is what God is telling Abram. As if God’s Word were not sure enough, God swears, in effect, “May I be slain if I do not give your descendants all this land.”

We gain insight into the true nature of a covenant here. There are basically three elements to a covenant. First are the stipulations, terms, or laws. This is seen here in verses 13-16 and 18-21. God says, “Here is what I am bound to do by this covenant.” Second are promised blessings for obedience. This element is not explicit here although we will see it elsewhere. Third are promised curses for disobedience. This is shown symbolically here by the slain animals. If God were to violate this covenant, He would be slain as these animals were.

We can see these three elements elsewhere in Scripture. In Exodus 20 (which has many parallels with the ancient Near Eastern covenants) we have a listing of the stipulations— the 10 commandments. Also included are promised blessings for obedience (vs. 6,12), and promised curses for disobedience (vs. 5,7). In Deuteronomy 28, the stipulations are referred to (vs. 1), the blessings are listed (vs. 1-14), and then follow the curses (vs. 15-68). In the New Testament, we see Jesus (as He re-establishes the one covenant) listing blessings and curses, based upon obedience to certain stipulations (Luke 6:20-26).

The essential nature of a covenant (Biblically speaking) is responsibility. Those who are members of the Covenant have a greater responsibility than do others. God has spelled out very clearly what is required of them and has even given incentives (blessings and curses) to encourage obedience. Covenant membership does not imply blessing, but responsibility. A covenant member may come under either the blessings or the curse, and still be a member of the covenant.

Unfortunately, many Christian schools do not see this. They act as if covenant membership meant blessing. In doing so, they fall into the same trap as did the Jews throughout Scripture. They felt that, since they were in covenant with God, they were automatically heirs of the blessing. The prophets and apostles continually had to fight this attitude (see Rom. 2:13).

For example, some of the Bible material published by Christian Schools International (their “Revelation-Response” series) falls into this trap. (This basically good series has other problems as well. In one of the volumes, in a study of some post-Biblical saints, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King are included “for their attempts to bring the renewal effects of Jesus upon society.”) Several times in their lower elementary curriculum, workbook exercises are done which have the child write his name in the blank __”.

___________ loves God. ____________is God’s child. Jesus died for ___________ ” Underlying this kind of work is the notion that, since we have a covenant school, with covenant children, then we assume all the children are saved. This is a misunderstanding of the nature of the covenant, and so we must not assure all the children indiscriminately that they are God’s children.

Many administrators of Christian schools feel that, since they have a covenant school for covenant children, they should restrict enrolment to children from Christian homes, or at least severely limit the number of children from unbelieving homes. However, based on the above understanding of “covenant,” we may say that covenant children may be just as ungodly (if not more so) as non-covenant children. What we must see is that for a school to be a covenant school means it is under God’s covenant requirements. It then seeks to impose God’s covenant requirements on the student body. Anybody who is willing to obey these requirements may be admitted. Notice Ex. 12:48-49, and Numbers 9:14; the alien could place himself under the terms of the covenant.

In our school, all parents are required to sign a statement saying they will allow their children to be educated according to a statement of Faith we send out (and that they will allow us to spank their child). We do not ask that the parents agree with the Statement personally—just that they agree for their child to be taught that way. We have some parents (from the Apostolic church—one of our most enthusiastic supporters) who disagree with our Trinitarian view of God (they are Modalists). However, they agree for us to teach their children the Trinitarian faith.

Content

What are the implications of this for our curriculum? First, we must teach the Bible as covenant book. It is not an inspiring collection of stories (the way it is often presented in the lower grades). It is God’s covenant book—giving (by explicit precept, by historical example, by parable, etc.) God’s stipulations, blessing, and curses. Thus, as we read the historical books of the Bible, we do so keeping in mind, first, what are God’s commands in this situation? second, what did the men do? and third, how did God respond to their actions?

Also, we must see all nations as being under the terms of the covenant. God made the covenant with Adam (as representative of all men), and reiterated it to Noah. All men are thus responsible to fulfill the covenant. This was true in the Old Testament as well as in the New. David, in Ps. 2, calls for the kings to worship and serve the Son. Since he was the king of Israel, David could only be calling on all nations of the earth to serve God. Paul in Rom. 13:4 and 6 calls the magistrate (outside of Israel) a minister (literally, a deacon) of God. As such, he is responsible to carry out God’s covenant commands.

Thus, if any nation obeys God’s law, it will be blessed. Conversely, God’s curses will surely fall on any nation disobeying the covenant. America has been blessed by God in the past, and will surely be cursed in the future. All nations of the world show evidence of being the recipients of either God’s blessings or His curses. This must be brought out in our classes.

Methods

When God makes a covenant with man, He makes everything clear ahead of time. God spells out what the requirements are, what the rewards will be, and what the punishments for disobedience will be. God does not operate ex post facto.

In the same way, the teacher must spell out her requirements and expectations. She must let the students know ahead of time what is expected of them —quality of work, quantity of work, etc. She also must let them know what will happen if they do or do not meet these requirements. “Poor handwriting or spelling will drop your grade a letter.” “Extra credit for a good Christian analysis of this poem.” The students must know what is expected of them.

God, being the absolute, sovereign Lord, does not bargain or negotiate with man over the terms of the covenant. Since the teacher is placed in authority by God over the students, she need not do so either. However, since she also is a fallible human being, she may use what is known as the “contract method” of arriving at course requirements. As modern educators use this, it has been corrupted. The students are given a free hand at drawing up their requirements, and the teacher goes along with anything. After all, if the students are naturally good, they will impose fair requirements on themselves. However, the Biblical teaching of depravity results in students getting by with doing next to nothing.

In a Christian school, the teacher must be the final arbiter as to course requirements. However, she could, say, draw up a list of options for the class to choose from. In a history class, the students could either read and report on several books, or do a research paper. They could do a research paper, incorporating in the content of the class lectures, or take the final exam. This would allow students with differing abilities to do that in which they excelled. One student may be able to read and digest several books, but not be too good at doing original research, while another may be just the opposite. Let them do what they do best, under the teacher’s supervision. All too often, because it is easier on the teacher, we try to squeeze all students into the same mould, rather than encouraging them to branch out and grow. We must challenge and motivate them to be creative in the use of their God-given abilities.

Discipline

Remember what was said above (under “Methods”). Make sure rules and punishments are spelled out clearly ahead of time. Do not punish the students for something they did not know was wrong. (However, they will often know when they are doing wrong, even if it has not been spelled out ahead of time.)

Remember, too, that covenant children are still sinners, and in need of punishment. The fact that they are covenant children gives added leverage in carrying out punishment. “Johnny, you have not only disobeyed me, but you have disobeyed your Lord. God has chosen you to be in His covenant; how can you act this way toward Him?” I have had two children in Kindergarten who were hyperactive, and thus tended to get in trouble frequently. One came from a non-Christian home. She would get as many as two spankings a day, and still not change. The other came from a Christian (Pentecostal) home. She responded to such verbal admonition as mentioned above, and the one spanking she has gotten has made a world of difference in her behaviour. Covenant children do have an advantage.

Also keep in mind that not all covenant children are saved children. They will need evangelism just like any other children. This is one of the most fundamental stipulations of the Covenant—”Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.” We must not neglect to bring this home to our students, any more than we may neglect any other of God’s commands. We want our covenant children to be covenant-keeping children. Let us constantly work and pray toward that end.

The Biblical Structure of History (20): Appendix, Christian Historical Reconstruction

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.)

Conclusion

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.

The Biblical Structure of History (19):

                              Conclusion to Part 3

Gary North – November 18, 2021

A. Historical Structure and Facts

Christian historiography must begin with presuppositions about the nature of history. This means these issues: creation and God’s providence, the image of God in man, biblical law, sanctions in history, and eschatology. A Christian historian should have clear ideas about how the Bible addresses each of these five issues. He should also have decided how to integrate all five points into a coherent theory of history.

He must assume that God has imputed meaning to all of history in terms of the five points. God’s memory has flawlessly connected the historical dots retroactively because He connected the dots originally. His decree is sovereign. He makes no mistakes. He is omniscient. Nothing that has ever happened in history has been a surprise to Him. First, this is the biblical solution to the problem of the source of coherence in history. Second, this confession is the solution to the problem of identifying the source of meaning in history. Third, it is the solution to the problem of historiography.

Because God is omniscient, and because His providence holds the universe together, a Christian historian does not need to know everything exhaustively in order to know anything accurately. His goal is to think God’s thoughts after Him. He can do this because he has the mind of Christ. He also has access to the Holy Spirit, who guides Christians into all truth. That was what Jesus specifically said that the Holy Spirit would do. “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit has this task: to bring all things to our remembrance.

Trust in the covenantal structure of history, trust in God’s biblical revelation of this structure, and trust in the reliability of the connection between God’s mind and covenant-keepers’ minds are just the beginning. Then the hard work begins. The Christian historian must research an existing historical narrative in terms of this question: “Does this narrative reflect the five points of the structure of history?” Historical narratives must be structured in terms of the five points. Historiography must faithfully reflect history. In his quest for a topic to write about or teach, he should look for accepted narratives that are not consistent with the five points. These are candidates for Christian revisionism. The correct goal of Christian historical revisionism is to revise humanism’s narratives so that they reflect the coherence between the biblical structure of history and the interpretations of the past. A Christian historian should demonstrate the biblical structure history by means of the historical facts. Historical facts are not autonomous. His theory of history is not autonomous. It is covenantal.

The Holy Spirit can and does intervene in order to assist Christian historians to do their work more effectively. God does not expect Christian historians to be omniscient. He understands that they need assistance in order to do their work faithfully. The humanist historian has no faith in such a personalized source of truth. This has always been true of humanist historians. Classical Greeks believed in minor divinities known as the muses. One of the muses was memory. But the muses confined themselves to poetry. They were of no assistance to would-be historians. That is why there were so few historians in classical Greece. Basically, there were only two of note: Herodotus and Thucydides. Humanistic historians have long regarded them as the originators of historiography. That is because they do not take Moses and the prophets seriously. Moses and the prophets appealed to God as the source of memory. Herodotus and Thucydides did not.

B. Humanism Is Flying Blind

What I am saying here may seem difficult to believe for someone who has not received graduate-level training in historiography. I am saying that courses in epistemology have always been nonexistent. There have been no courses on foundations of historical knowledge, beginning with Kantian philosophy as applied to historical understanding. There have been courses on methodology: research and writing skills. There have been books on competing philosophies of history. These are usually written by philosophers. Such courses are not taught in history departments. They should be taught in every history department in every Christian college. Such a course could use this book as a textbook: Historiography Secular and Religious, by Gordon Clark. It was published in 1971. Clark was a Christian philosopher. But there is a major problem with his book. He never wrote a history book, other than a history of philosophy. He had no experience in applying a biblical philosophy of history to specific historical questions. He never presented a biblical philosophy of history. The book is devoted to surveying previous historians and their philosophies of history.

This is the same problem that R. G. Collingwood had. He was a sophisticated philosopher. He wrote to impress philosophers. He did not write for the benefit of historians. He never wrote a history book. When I first read the book over half a century ago, it was clear to me that he had no idea of the relationship between the actual methodologies of history and the philosophical issues he was raising. Most of his book is incomprehensible to historians. I am a competent historian. I find page after page of his book irrelevant to the question at hand. What is the question? “How should the historian actually do his day-to-day work in terms of Collingwood’s philosophy of history?” You cannot find the answer to this question by reading Collingwood.

Historians have long been silent with respect to their personal philosophies of history. David Hume wrote a detailed history of England. He also wrote a great deal on philosophy. But he never wrote a book on how his philosophy governed his historiography. He never wrote a book on the philosophy of history. It was as if his work as an historian and his work as a philosopher were in hermetically sealed-off partitions of his brain.

This astounding naïveté of practicing historians regarding the structure of history, which most of them deny — the connection between the historian’s methodology and this structure of history, and the principles governing the production of historical narratives — is remarkable. These issues are not publicly discussed because most historians are unaware of these interconnected problems, and those few who are aware of them have not been able offer coherent explanations of how these three aspects of the historian’s task can and should be integrated.

There is an old phrase: “He made it up as he went along.” This is exactly what humanist historians have been doing ever since Herodotus. They have some vague sense of what they are doing, and some of them are quite good at it. But they cannot explain to anyone else’s satisfaction how they do it. They also seem incapable of explaining to non-historians why they do it. Some historians do it out of curiosity. Some of them do it out of a desire to change the world, although not that many of them are this dedicated. Marxists were. Some of them do it because they get paid to do it. Some of them do it because they are good entertainers. They like to tell stories. But when asked why teaching history is their calling, meaning the most important thing they can do in which they would be most difficult to replace, they flounder. They offer no clear answers. They have devoted their lives to work that they have trouble justifying to themselves or to others. We are back to the statements that leading historians made in the presence of Prof. Singer in 1970. I quoted these statements in the Preface. Historians really do not think that history has any identifiable meaning.

Conclusion

If you have doubts about your ability to perform as a Christian historian, either as a reader or a teacher, keep this fact in mind. You are now better prepared theologically, philosophically, and methodologically in the field of historiography than any humanist historian is. He may be a better writer. He is familiar with far more documents than you are. He may have a knack for connecting historical dots that you do not possess. But he cannot explain why his dot-connecting procedure is correct in terms of an overall philosophy of history. He has no overall philosophy of history. He does not accept the biblical philosophy of history. He does not believe there is a biblical structure to history. But, in arguing against the Bible’s view of history, he is in the unenviable position of someone who is trying to beat something with nothing.

Van Til made this point regarding humanism in every area of scholarship. He argued that epistemological blindness is the universal condition of humanist scholars. Rejecting the God of the Bible, and rejecting the Bible as a reliable testimony to this God, humanists have no coherent alternative to offer to explain the coherence of the world and to explain their ability to perceive this coherence. Van Til devoted six pages in a course syllabus to refuting Collingwood. What I have done in this book is to confirm in the field of history and historiography what Van Til recognized no later than 1962. It has taken me almost six decades to catch up with where Van Til was in 1962. I apologize for the delay. But better late than never.

The Biblical Structure of History (18): Chapter 15, Progress

Gary North – November 16, 2021

For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody (Isaiah 51:3).

For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).

A. Covenant Model, Part 5

Part 5 of the biblical covenant model is succession. The system of covenantal sanctions in part 4 benefits covenant-keepers and hampers covenant-breakers. This creates the conditions favorable to increased dominion by covenant-keepers. This dominion produces positive effects over time.

Part 5 of biblical social theory is inheritance. Covenant-keepers progressively inherit the earth. Covenant-breakers are steadily disinherited. “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just” (Proverbs 13:22).

Part 5 of Christian historiography is progress.

B. Progress Described Biblically

Isaiah 51:3 describes a future society. This society is described in terms of restoration. God restores society to be like the garden of Eden. This is the imagery of the world before the fall of man. As part of God’s curse on mankind, the world outside of the garden was turned into wilderness. It became difficult for man to cultivate. The curse imposed a major economic loss on mankind. Man would have to work by the sweat of his brow to grow food. The curse increased the costs of production. It encouraged cooperation, economic specialization, and increased output.

Isaiah understood that the people of Judah would recognize the story of the fall of man in Eden. Their parents had told them this story. So had the Levites. They understood that the world they lived in was under a curse. They also understood that it is the task of covenant-keepers to work to restore a world comparable to the garden of Eden. This takes time and effort. It takes capital, especially accurate knowledge. It takes all of the benefits of civilization. It is a long-term task.

Habakkuk reminded them that this dominion process applies to the whole world. Dominion was not a geographically limited assignment given to Israelites to restore only the tiny nation of Israel to fruitfulness. The whole world had to be restored. But how? The heart of the dominion covenant is adherence to God’s law: point 3. This is the way in which people gain the blessings of God: point 4. These are not limited to spiritual blessings. They are comprehensive blessings that apply to every area of life. Man’s sin in the garden was a comprehensive rebellion. Therefore, God’s redemption of mankind in history also is comprehensive.

Habakkuk told the Israelites that the whole world will see the glory of God. This glory will be comprehensive. He reminded them that their task in life was to extend this knowledge of God to those outside of Israel. This was an evangelical function. The nation of Israel served as a kind of cultural boot camp. It was to become something like a re-creation of the garden of Eden. It was a to be a training ground for covenant-keepers. Their work will be successful, he assured them. This was a vision of worldwide redemption. The prophet said that this vision will be fulfilled in history. Biblical progress means the redemption of the world. This will be comprehensive. It will apply to every area of life that is presently under the dominion of sin. There will be no safe zones for sin.

C. God’s Visible Kingdom

Evidence of God’s comprehensive redemption will be widespread knowledge of the word of God. Dominion is not merely technological. It is covenantal. At the heart of the covenant is God’s law-order: point 3. Adherence to this law-order is the basis of positive sanctions in history: point 4. This is the message of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. The Israelites understood this. Moses had told the generation of the conquest that this was the case. Each successive generation was told what the conquest generation had been told. Jeremiah reminded Judah of this message. The nations outside of Israel will see this redemption of Israel. “Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock. For the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he. Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the LORD, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all” (Jeremiah 31:10–12). This message gave Israelites hope that the whole world would understand that God is in charge of history, and He directs history to favor His people.

Later in this passage, we read a prophecy regarding the law of God.

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jeremiah 31:31–34).

The Epistle to the Hebrews cites this prophecy as being fulfilled by what takes place in the hearts of Christians. This is the promised New Covenant.

For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: (Hebrews 8:7–10).

Then it announces this regarding Jesus: His footstool victory through His law in covenant-keepers’ hearts.

But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more (Hebrews 10:12–17).

Jeremiah’s prophecy to Judah regarding the law in men’s hearts has been definitively fulfilled by the church of Jesus Christ. All of the prophecies associated with the rebuilding of Zion now apply to the church. The task of the dominion covenant still applies to all mankind, but God expects His New Covenant people to use His law-order as their tool of dominion. It was a tool of dominion for Old Covenant Israel, but the Israelites continued to violate these laws. God divorced Israel in A.D. 70: the fall of Jerusalem to Rome’s legions. Jesus had warned the Pharisees of this divorce. God will create a new nation, He said. “Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof” (Matthew 12:43). That nation is the church. This is why Paul called the church “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). We know what the fruits will be: worldwide dominion. These will be the same fruits that had been promised to Israel. The kingdom of God will be visible to the whole world. Until it is, Christians’ task of dominion is not over.


D. Kingdoms in Conflict

There are two kingdoms: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. The kingdom of man was established by a covenantal agent of Satan: the serpent. Such an oath was implied, but it was not formal. This was implicit: the right of man to everything in the garden, including the forbidden tree. Adam through his actions passed judgment on the word of God. He decided that he would test the word of God. Perhaps the word of God was not autonomous. Perhaps it was not authoritative. It was merely one opinion among two. The serpent had offered one interpretation. God had offered the other. Adam decided that he would run a test to see whose word was accurate. He was the arbiter. He did not act in the name of the serpent or Satan. He acted on his own authority in his own name.

God has established His kingdom. He has established a law-order governing this kingdom. He presented this law-order to the Israelites at the time that they covenanted with him by oath at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19–23). Moses read those laws to the generation of the conquest four decades later. The Israelites were required by God to adhere to the laws that God had given them. God promised positive sanctions for obedience. He promised negative sanctions for disobedience.

Paul compiled two lists of laws whose violation identifies covenant-breakers. He said specifically that covenant-breakers are headed for destruction because they violate these laws. That is to say, there are negative sanctions associated with violating these laws, and God imposes those sanctions in history.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them (Romans 1:28–32).

Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine (1 Timothy 1:9–10).

The Bible teaches that there are rival kingdoms that compete for dominion in history. They do so in terms of rival systems of ethics. The conflict between the two kingdoms is not primarily based on power. It is based on ethics. The kingdom of man does have a tendency to manifest itself as a power religion. But the Bible makes it clear that this strategy of dominion eventually fails. “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God. They are brought down and fallen: but we are risen, and stand upright” (Psalm 20:7–8). “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors” (Psalm 73:18–19). The biblical basis of long-term dominion is obedience to God’s laws.

E. Covenantal Success

A Christian historian should begin with this premise: there has been no change in the concepts of covenantal success and failure with the coming of the New Covenant. There is ethical conflict in every area of life between the two kingdoms. A Christian historian should understand that there has been an escalation of conflict because of the New Covenant. The conflict has spread outside the borders of Israel ever since the days of Augustus Caesar. There has been an increasing self-consciousness on the part of both covenant-keepers and covenant-breakers about the nature of the conflict. Each side becomes more self-conscious about implementing its worldview at the expense of the other. Renaissance humanists were far more self-conscious than their predecessors. Enlightenment humanists were more self-conscious than Renaissance humanists.

Humanists in the nineteenth century became more self-conscious than humanists in the eighteenth century. Humanists in the twentieth century continued this increase in awareness regarding the threat of Christianity to the extension of the kingdom of man. But, with each escalation of self-awareness, humanists have become more irrational. The confidence of Renaissance humanism is no longer widespread among humanists in the twenty-first century. The epistemological and moral acids of deconstructionism and postmodernism have undermined humanism. These acids have barely touched Christians. Among those Christians who did not go to graduate school, these acids have had almost no effect at all.

There is a familiar saying among humanists: “Man’s technological knowledge has outpaced his moral knowledge.” This is surely an accurate assessment. It has been accurate for as long as civilization has existed. There is a reason for this. The division of labour increases specialization in production. Men then trade with each other. The benefits from the division of labor and trade have combined to persuade men to cooperate. They sell their ideas. They cooperate with each other because this increases their output and therefore their wealth. Technological knowledge has therefore advanced far more rapidly than ethical knowledge has.

Men are ready to fight at the drop of the proverbial hat. James was correct: “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:1–3). War comes from sin. Men are not equally ready to cooperate with each other in areas outside of market exchange. God understood this when He cursed the ground (Genesis 3:17–19). This curse forced men to cooperate with each other in order to increase their wealth. So, there has been steady technological development throughout the ages.

This is why men’s technological knowledge always outpaces their ethical knowledge. Covenant-breakers’ ethical knowledge is based on theft. Self-proclaimed autonomous man possesses no knowledge that he has not stolen from God. He is a thief in every area of life. From the day that Adam and Eve stole fruit from God’s tree, man has been a thief. There has always been extensive technological development in the area of warfare. In this area of life, men have progressed technologically from the beginning. They want to be able to fight more efficiently. The military victors take the wealth of the losers. But the price of this victory is destruction. War is destructive.

There are two major economic processes at work in history. One process favours cooperation through voluntary trade. The other process is warfare, which rejects cooperation. It is destructive. Trade is not destructive. Members on both sides of a voluntary transaction hope to improve their wealth. If they do improve their wealth as a result of a transaction, they seek to make another transaction. Cooperation increases wealth in the camp of the covenant-keepers as well as the camp of the covenant-breakers. Both kingdoms prosper economically.

A Christian historian who looks at the history of technology will find that covenant-breakers seem to be the pioneers in technological innovation. There is an economic reason for this. There are more of them to become pioneers. There is a greater division of labour within the camp of covenant-breakers. But both sides win when either side gets richer. Productive technological techniques are difficult to monopolize. Good ideas spread rapidly. Success is imitated in the realm of economics.

In contrast is the realm of evangelism and conversion. This is competition for souls. This form of competition is what economists call a zero-some game. One kingdom wins when an evangelist persuades someone in the other kingdom to defect. Thus, in matters of confession of faith, the warfare is more obvious than in matters of economic trade and technological advancement. Christian evangelism invites covenant-breakers to bring their talents and wealth under God’s authority. It invites them to become God’s servants. Converts move from death to life. John the Baptist announced: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). So, Christ’s kingdom expands through evangelism. This is non-violent warfare.

Jesus made it clear that covenant-breakers who sin against God knowingly come under greater negative sanctions than those who sin against God less knowingly.

But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more (Luke 12:45–48).

With greater wealth and greater knowledge comes greater responsibility. This is a fundamental principle of life. Most societies understand this. People teach this to their children. But covenant-breakers do not recognize this truth in their own lives when they prosper. Their success leads them into disasters. This is what Psalm 73 teaches. Success for covenant-breakers is a slippery slope. It confirms their covenant. They are deceived by this confirmation.

A Christian historian should look at the past in terms of the success and failure of individuals and especially societies. He will find that periods of great success for a covenant-breaking society are followed by society-wide disaster. This is the message of Daniel regarding the four beasts, which were kings. “These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever” (Daniel 7:17–18). There will be ten successive kingdoms. They will all fail. “And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him” (Daniel 7:27). This is the pattern of history. “Thus saith the Lord God; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him” (Ezekiel 21:26–27). This speaks of Jesus Christ.

F. Optimism and Commitment

Someone who believes that his efforts are doomed to failure in his own lifetime may be willing to sacrifice a great deal for the sake of the long-term results of his efforts. This was certainly true of Communists in the first half of the twentieth century. But if someone believes that the long-term results of his efforts are as doomed as the short-term results of his efforts, he is unlikely to make a major commitment, which involves a major sacrifice. He is far more likely to seek ways to conserve whatever he possesses. He does not want to place all of his assets on the line for the sake of a cause that is doomed to failure. A popular American phrase says not to throw good money after bad. Another phrase says not to throw money down a rat hole. Entrepreneurs are optimistic about the future. They are convinced that their next venture is going to be successful, and maybe stupendously successful. They are willing to face the burdens of uncertainty about the future because they expect to profit mightily from the success of their present sacrifices.

This outlook applies to Christian historians. Someone who thinks that no one will pay any attention to his publications is unlikely to sacrifice time and money in order to master the documents required to present a coherent narrative of the past to the public. If he also believes that Christianity will be unable to extend its influence around the world in every area of life, he has little incentive to study the past in search of evidence that earlier Christians firmly believed that Christianity will extend its influence around the world in every area of life. A Christian historian who is pessimistic about the efforts of Christians to build a Christian civilization has to regard the optimism of earlier generations of Christians as misplaced. They did not understand what he firmly believes, namely, that covenant-breakers will be victorious in history. If he also believes that covenant-breakers will systematically persecute Christians, he is even less interested in sacrificing in the present in order to develop narratives about Christianity’s past. The best that he will be able to say about the optimists of the past is that they had the right attitude, but bad eschatology. They were consistent with what they believed about the future, but they misunderstood the future. They expected Christian victories, not defeats. Poor, misguided souls.

One reason why I hope that readers of this book will take seriously Chapter 5 on inheritance is to persuade them that the New Testament clearly teaches that Christianity will be successful in the future. The inheritance left by Christians to successors will not be transferred to covenant-breakers. On the contrary, the inheritance left by covenant-breakers will be transferred to Christians and to Christian civilization. The Christian historian who believes the message in Chapter 5 will be more willing to sacrifice time, money, and emotional commitment to investigating the history of Christianity’s influence in developing Western civilization. He will be more ready to confront the humanist interpretation of Western civilization, which de-emphasizes the contribution of Christianity and emphasizes the legacy left by classical civilization to the West.

Humanists are losing faith in the future. They are also losing faith in Western civilization. The top American universities ceased requiring a course in Western civilization in the 1990’s. Postmodernist historiography has called into question the historiography of the modernists, the Enlightenment, and the Renaissance. This creates a tremendous opportunity for Christian historians to re-interpret the history of Western civilization in terms of the contributions of Christendom, which is what Renaissance historians dedicated themselves to refuting.

G. Christian Revisionist Historiography

The necessary initial task is to reinterpret the history of Western civilization. This is because humanists have begun to abandon the battlefield on which they fought a successful series of campaigns, beginning with the Renaissance. The humanist version of Western history was that the classical heritage was foundational to the creation of Western civilization. Therefore, the Christian version of Western history must make the case that Christianity, not classical culture, is the primary inheritance of the West.

This revisionist program has two components: offensive and defensive. The offensive program is to show that the Bible is the basis of Christendom. Christianity has imported technologies from other societies. There is always sharing of technologies across borders and cultures. The offensive campaign must show how Christians developed a civilization that we call Christendom. It was primarily biblical, but not entirely. Christian historians must show that the crucial elements of Christendom came from the Bible, not from Greece and Rome. They should show how Christianity applied biblical principles in order to build a unique civilization in the West.

There are very few books on this. This has not been the way that Western civilization has been taught since the Renaissance. There should be detailed studies of monastic technological development. These have been produced by humanists. We need more of these studies. There must also be studies on how biblical principles affected the development of both civil law and canon law. There are few studies on this. There should be studies on how biblical laws establishing private property led to increased trade and increased technological development. This kind of research is going to take generations.

Then there is the defensive component. Yet, even here, it is mostly offensive: a frontal assault against classical culture and classical civilization. The operational model is the book by Charles Norris Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture: A Study of Thought and Action from Augustus to Augustine. It was published by Oxford University Press in 1940. It has been reprinted by Liberty Press. It is a detailed study of the moral and intellectual collapse of classical culture at the beginning of the Roman Empire. This book must not simply be read; it must be mastered. A serious historian will follow the footnotes. Another useful book is Ethelbert Stauffer’s Christ and the Caesars (1955). It shows that the conflict between church and state was at bottom a conflict over rival views of salvation. This battle is reflected in the history of Roman currency.

To understand the failure of classical culture, Christian historians must read accurate accounts about classical Greece. The first thing they have to understand that its creative period lasted for only about a century: 450 B.C to 350 B.C. Greek culture was committed to constant warfare, and this warfare ultimately weakened Sparta and Athens, so that the Macedonian army was able to conquer Greece without a great deal of trouble in the mid-fourth century B.C. The place to start is Greek religion. Religion is the place to start every history of society. The historian must read Fustel de Coulanges’ masterpiece, The Ancient City: A Study in the Religion, Laws, and Institutions of Greece and Rome (1864). That will dispel the notion that Greece and Rome took seriously the Olympian gods.

What they took seriously were demonic beings that surrounded them on their own property. These were the gods of the underworld. For confirmation of this thesis, historians must read the works of the remarkable and generally forgotten historian, Jane Ellen Harrison. She wrote in the early 1900s. She was a master of Greek poetry and Greek pottery. She also emphasized the centrality of what she called the chthonic gods of Greece. Also crucial is the book by Jacob Burckhardt, The Greeks and Greek Civilization. He gave these lectures from 1872, and again in 1874, 1878, and 1885. They were edited and published in 1998. A Christian historian should read Plato. But, before he reads Plato, he should read the 1945 book by Karl Popper: The Open Society and Its Enemies, Volume 1. It is a devastating critique of Plato as a defender of tyranny.

The Christian historian should ask the following questions:

What were the legacies of Greece and Rome that shaped the early church? What is the evidence? What were the legacies of Greece and Rome that shaped the medieval church up to about 1100? What is the evidence? Were these legacies positive when compared with the Old Testament and the New Testament? Or were they mostly negative?

Next, a Christian historian must study the Renaissance. This should begin with a detailed examination of books written by Francis Yates. Yates showed that it was not just Greek and Roman culture and philosophy that the Renaissance humanists revived. It was also Greek and Roman occultism. Begin with her book, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (1964). That book created a paradigm shift among historians regarding the rationalism and commitment to science of Renaissance humanists. She was a careful historian. She worked with documents that humanist historians had ignored or had not known about. She extended her studies into the Enlightenment. Also important is the short book by Stephen McKnight: Sacralizing the Secular: The Renaissance Origins of Modernity (1989). Then read his book, The Modern Age and the Recovery of Ancient Wisdom: A Reconsideration of Historical Consciousness, 1450-1650 (1991).

Two crucial books on the world from the French Revolution to the present are these: James Billington’s Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith (1980) and Paul Johnson, Modern Times (1983). Billington begins with the French Revolution and traces the revolutionaries to Lenin in 1917. Johnson begins in 1916.

If you do not feel competent yet, do not worry about it. With sufficient study, you can become competent. You may be regarded as an amateur, but this should not bother you.

H. Publishing Agenda

You do not need to be a professor in a college to teach history. If you limit yourself to a few dozen students in a college classroom, you are limiting yourself far too much. Your audience will be much too small. Think big. Think YouTube. The first step in any publishing agenda should be to identify your audience or audiences. Each book, article, online video, or podcast should target a specific audience.

YouTube has proven that a man who is willing to study the details of specific historical topics can gain an enormous audience. A good example is The History Guy. Some of his videos have been watched by 500,000 viewers. They are usually about 15 minutes long. He just sits in front of a camera and talks. He then edits in public domain photographs or maps. The narration carries the presentation, but the support materials add credibility. Another example is Simon Whistler, who has 3.3 million subscribers.

There are dozens of extremely lively videos on American history by John Green. Green is a gifted novelist for teenagers. He is a multimillionaire, as is his brother, who co-produces the videos. There are multiple series of courses. In 2020, his 49 videos in American history had been watched by 47 million people. His targeted audience is high school students who are studying for the AP or Advanced Placement exam. These videos are nothing like any course you ever had in high school.

These teachers have reached more people than any other teachers in history, with one exception: Salman Khan. The Khan Academy in 2020 had almost 2 million full-time students taking video-based courses around the world. He has revolutionized education.

We need 12-part Sunday school courses on church history. They can be talking-head videos. They can be screencasts. Screencast technologies are inexpensive, and they are effective for teaching. You simply narrate what is on the screen.

It is relatively inexpensive to have books typeset. They can be published on Amazon as Kindle books. They can be published as print-on-demand books, which can then be sold through Amazon. If you can write a book, you can get it published.

There is plenty of demand for free courses that target homeschooled children.

Each YouTube video should have a link at the end that leads the viewers to your free WordPress.com website.

I. Christian Discipleship

Do not go to the trouble of producing a video until you know what you want the person who watches the video to do at the end of the video. Obviously, you want him to watch your next video in the series. I am speaking about what you want the person to do after he has watched all of the videos in the series.

You are making these people responsible for implementing changes in their lives as a result of having watched your videos. There is no escape from this law of human action: with greater knowledge comes greater responsibility. You should have a specific action agenda for members of each audience. Maybe they should read another book. But that only postpones the day of reckoning. At some point, people have to put the knowledge that they possess to productive use for building the kingdom of God. Christians should not be content to be consumers of anything, including information. They should put this information to productive use. Viewers should be encouraged to recommend your videos to other people. They should become evangelists. We need Christians who understand the history of the church’s impact in building Western civilization. We need Christians to gain confidence in the long-term potential for their own efforts. They need to understand the growth of the kingdom of God in the past so that they can commit personally to the growth of the kingdom of God in the future.

Your goal should be to train leaders. They must discipline themselves in a program of self-improvement. Their goal should be recruiting and training disciples. Christian discipleship involves far more than a program to share the gospel of personal salvation. Christian discipleship must train leaders to serve as agents of the kingdom of God. There is a division of labor in this kingdom. Different people have different gifts. They have different opportunities. You should train them to recognize what their skills are and how they can put these skills to effective use in their circumstances.

Basic to Christian leadership is an understanding of the history of the church as an institution, but also understanding the history of Christian civilization. Christians should understand Christendom. This has not been taught in the churches over the last four centuries. It surely has not been taught in public schools. It has not been taught in Christian schools. Your presentations on history should be part of a much broader program of Christian discipleship and leadership training. I wrote a book about this: The Five Pillars of Biblical Leadership (2021).

Conclusion

Humanism is now in defensive mode. It dominates the institutions of higher learning and public education. It dominates what are called the mainstream media. But their audiences are shrinking. A kind of disintegration is taking place. This disintegration became visible in 2011: the so-called Arab Spring. It was an unorganized revolt against Middle Eastern governments. It began to spread. This has been chronicled in a 2014 book by Martin Gurri: The Revolt of the Public. Social media available on smartphones have begun to fragment the establishment’s near-monopoly of control over the flow of information. It took less than a decade from the development of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to overturn governments in the Middle East and around the world. It happened without warning.

The Internet has created opportunities for evangelism and education on a scale unparalleled in human history. It is time for Christian historians and Christian storytellers to take advantage of this opportunity.

The Biblical Structure of History (17): Chapter 12, Representation

Gary North – November 13, 2021

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen (Matthew 28:18–20).

A. Covenant Model, Point 2

Point 2 of the biblical covenant model is hierarchy: God over man over the creation. Adam represented God to the creation. He represented the creation to God.

Point 2 of biblical social theory is authority, which is delegated to man by God.

Point 2 of Christian historiography is representation. This has to do with a judicial office: trusteeship. It has to do with speaking God’s word authoritatively in His name.

B. Christian Historiography as Prophetic

Jesus’ command to the disciples is known in Christian circles as the Great Commission. These are marching orders for the church. Jesus announced them, and Christians are supposed to obey them.

The first command is to go and teach all nations. This means all peoples. This means every group across the face of the earth. Second, this is a command to teach the whole world about the church covenant, since it involves baptism, the New Covenant’s mark of covenantal membership in the church. Baptism is an oath sign of the New Covenant, as Meredith Kline demonstrated in Chapter 5 of his book, By Oath Consigned (1972). Third, this is a command to teach the whole world about the God of the Bible, who is a Trinity. Fourth, this is a command to teach about ethics: whatever Jesus commanded the disciples.

It is not possible to teach people about who Jesus was, what He commanded, what His church is, and what baptism means unless you teach the history of Jesus as found in the four Gospels. You must also teach what is found in the Book of Acts and the epistles. When you bring the message of salvation to someone, you are bringing the story of the history of Jesus’ ministry. You also bring the history of Israel prior to A.D. 70. You also bring the story of the creation of the world and the developments of history up until the calling of Abram. In short, it is not possible to bring the gospel of salvation without simultaneously bringing the history of that gospel. The gospel developed over time. The gospel developed as part of the general development of history: the transition from wrath to grace.

This means that the evangelist is inescapably an historian. I argue that the reverse is also true. A Christian historian is inherently and inescapably an evangelist. He brings the message of the transition from wrath to grace. This is the history of the gospel. It is not possible to understand the gospel without understanding its history. It is also not possible to understand the gospel without the commentaries found in the epistles. There is an inescapable and unbreakable link between the facts of New Testament history and the interpretation of these facts by the epistles.

A Christian historian does not select, research, interpret, and teach history correctly if he ignores the general framework of biblical history: creation, image, law, imputation, and inheritance. There is a structure of history, and a Christian historian is supposed to use this structure as a template for interpreting the past. He is supposed to do this self-consciously. Historical facts are not brute facts, meaning uninterpreted facts. They are God-interpreted facts. The meaning of these facts is imputed by God. Every Christian interpretation of history should be based on the fact that a Christian historian can think God’s thoughts after Him. He is supposed to present history in terms analogous to the absolute and authoritative imputation of meaning by God. He cannot do this perfectly, but he can do it accurately. If he could not, history would be inherently incoherent and beyond man’s ability to understand. This is the conclusion of the most radical of the postmodernist historians.

If what I have said is true, then a Christian historian has a prophetic function. A prophet in the Old Testament came before the people and also before rulers and warned them that their violations of God’s law would bring God’s negative historical sanctions on them. He appealed to history, including the law of God and the past warnings of God, in order to validate his warning of what was going to happen in the future. That office was abolished after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Jesus is today the only covenantal prophet. He is prophet, priest, and king. So, when I say that a Christian historian has a prophetic function, I do not mean that he has the authority of an Old Covenant prophet. I mean that his task is analogous to the task of an Old Covenant prophet. A Christian historian is required by God to evaluate history in terms of men’s ethics-based decisions. Men’s decisions are either in obedience to God’s laws or in violation of God’s laws. A Christian historian is supposed to explain historical sanctions—positive and negative, individual and corporate—in terms of conformity to God’s law or a revolt against God’s law.

The prophet in the Old Testament evaluated the current decisions of the people of Israel in terms of God’s revelation of His laws. The prophet also warned that God in the past had brought negative sanctions against Israel when Israel revolted against His law. So, there was a strong historical component in the prophet’s message. Finally, he predicted future negative sanctions if there was no repentance. A Christian historian does not have equal access to the mind of God that a prophet had under the Old Covenant. He cannot see into the future as clearly as an Old Covenant prophet could. But he can make covenant-based judgments about the likely results for individuals and societies if they continue to violate specific biblical laws. There will be coherence between the nature of the laws violated and the kinds of negative sanctions imposed.

C. Four-Way Representation

All covenantal representation is four-way representation. It is representation upward toward God, outward toward other people, downward toward those under authority, and inward, meaning conscience above all. For example, a father must serve God. If he has a job, he has to serve his employer. He serves his wife and his children. He serves himself. How? He has his own self-image. He evaluates his own work. He has standards that he thinks he should meet. Some of these standards are ethical. Others are professional/technical. There is supposed to be coherence among all four kinds of representation.

Consider the work of a Christian historian. First, he is supposed to select a topic that is pleasing to God. God has some purpose for him in selecting this topic. He selects one topic, and he rejects all the others. Second, he has to meet standards regarding the quality of his work. Other historians may read his work and find errors. He will come under criticism. He wants to avoid this if this is possible by doing better research. Third, there are people under his authority: students, readers, and viewers of online lessons. He is acting on their behalf. They trust him. They are willing to re-think their view of a particular historical incident or trend. They may even change their behavior because of what they hear. Fifth, he must satisfy his own standards regarding the quality of his work. He does not want to feel guilty about his performance.

Covenantal representation is not easy. A Christian historian is not in a covenantal relationship with other historians or with students, but he is in a covenantal relationship with God. He is also in a covenantal relationship with himself. He is acting in the name of God and also on behalf of God. He is acting as a trustee of God. If he does poor work, this brings God’s name into disrepute. Nathan the prophet told David that this is what he had done by committing adultery with Bathsheba. The enemies of God blasphemed God (2 Samuel 12:14). A Christian historian wants to avoid anything remotely like that kind of performance. Therefore, he must count the cost: “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish” (Luke 14:28–30).

D. Representation and Topic Selection

A Christian historian understands that his work is highly specific. It is specialized. He cannot research everything. He must work hard to produce something of value to God. So, he has to exercise judgment in selecting what he is going to study and how he is going to do this. There is a familiar statement in English: “Do the right thing, and do the thing right.” These are different requirements. You must do the right thing, which has an element of morality about it. You must do something that you think is a good thing to do. But, once you have decided to do it, you now face all of the difficulties associated with doing it. You must do it right. Your work must be technically precise. It must meet standards associated with professional performance. If you build a bridge, the bridge should not collapse.

A Christian historian also must think very carefully about the people under his authority. How can he serve them well? How can he make his presentation meaningful to them? Before he begins his work, he must identify his audience. This raises several questions:

1. What do they know already about the topic?

2. What else do they need to know in order to understand the past?

3. What do they need to know about the past in order to make good decisions?

4. What motivation will persuade them to make good specific decisions?

The answers to these questions will determine how the historian should present the results of his investigations. Should he write a book? Should he write an article? Should he produce an online video? Should he produce a Sunday school course?

Then there is the question of the level of sophistication of the presentation. A 500-page book filled with footnotes is suitable for instructing a student who is taking an upper-division college course in history, or maybe a graduate student. It is not suitable for people who have never taken a college-level history course. Self-taught experts will have no problem, but they are not normally the target audience of someone who is about to devote three or four years to writing a book. A publisher will reject the manuscript if he does not think there will be enough buyers to justify its publication. The publisher’s editor will also get involved in the selection process. The Christian historian must take all this into account.

Then he must assess his own capabilities. Is he sufficiently skilled to write a book? If not, what must he do to get the needed skills? Next, how will he have to budget his time in order to write it? There is always great competition for his time. Time is the only irreplaceable resource in history. He must budget it carefully. If he is plans to produce online videos, what equipment is required, and how long will it take him to master its use? The same applies to typesetting if he is going to typeset the book. All of these issues involve limits. Put differently, they involve boundaries. Boundaries are associated with point 3 of the biblical covenant.

E. Representation and Selection of Facts

1. Relevant Facts

This is the issue of the content of historiography. The number of facts that God has interpreted approaches infinity from the point of view of the Christian historian. The number of documents that deal with any particular incident or trend is also enormous. The cost in terms of time to get access to documents in archival collections is high. There are travel costs and lodging costs. This cost will decline as the posting of documents on the Internet continues. The cost will be much lower in half a century than it is today. It will be much lower in a century than it will be in half a century. We can be confident that there will be superior historiography because of the reduced cost of getting access to relevant documentation.

When we speak of relevant information, we raise the issue of standards of evidence. How do we determine what is relevant? Humanistic historians do not agree on this. They do not agree on a theory of relevant evidence, and they do not agree in terms of actual practice. They have no fixed standards that determine the correct answers.

The issue of relevance is the issue of imputation of meaning. This is associated with point 4 of the biblical covenant. In covenant theology, point 2 is always closely related to point 4. Point 2 is about the person who brings sanctions. Point 4 is about the sanctions. Assessing relevance is the task of casuistry: applying fixed principles (point 3) to specific situations. In the case of historiography, the historian must decide which facts to consider, but he also has to decide how the standards of interpretation should be applied to the available documents.

The facts do not speak for themselves. Van Til said there is no such thing as brute factuality. All factual reality is interpreted factuality. Most modern historians have concluded the same thing. (See Chapter 9.) Therefore, a Christian historian must interpret the facts. He must attempt to think God’s thoughts after Him. The heart of the week of creation was this: God spoke repeatedly. He spoke the world into existence, He spoke when He gave his assessment of the quality of His work at the end of days and the end of the week. Speaking is an inescapable aspect of the historian’s craft.

It is always possible to make an error when interpreting a fact. This is why it is imperative that historians should seek out confirming facts. The Bible says that in a multitude of counsellors there is safety (Proverbs 11:14). In a multitude of confirming verifiable documents there is safety. The historian may not be able to find verifiable documents that confirm the testimony of a document. In such cases, he must look for other documents that indirectly verify the document that he thinks is crucial to his argument. If he cannot find them, he is supposed to reconsider his thesis if it rests heavily on a single document that stands alone without verification. He does not want that document to become the cornerstone of his argument. It might collapse, bringing down the whole structure.

2. Relevant Selection

Some facts will support a thesis effectively. We do not have to search for all of the facts. We will never find all of the facts. We must find those facts which faithfully represent the broader event that we deal with in our presentation. Here are two biblical examples of this selection process.

And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name (John 20:31–32). And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen (John 21:25).

John was a disciple of Jesus. He was recruited at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He was at Jesus’ crucifixion. He wrote the Gospel of John. He wrote three epistles. He wrote the Book of Revelation. No one had more personal experience in Jesus’ ministry than he did. When he wrote the Gospel of John, he excluded huge quantities of information. He was being rhetorical when he said that the world could not contain the books that would be written about everything that Jesus did. He was conveying a message. His Gospel is a short summary of what Jesus did in His ministry. He selected specific facts by means of a criterion: “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” He was open about this. He selected a small number of facts about Jesus’ ministry because he knew that nobody was going to read a multi-volume book on everything that Jesus did.

John selected relevant incidents from Jesus’ ministry that would convey the same truth that he could convey if he had written multiple volumes. He adopted an economy of writing. He wanted the readers to read all of his Gospel. It was better that they read all of a short presentation than read only a small portion of a very long one. He did not select these incidents in order to deceive his readers. On the contrary, he selected them in order to persuade readers of the truth. He was not compromising the accuracy of the message that he could have conveyed in a longer Gospel. He selected facts that would convey accurate information in a more effective way. This was a matter of persuasion as well as a matter of accuracy. This raises the issue of persuasion.

3. Relevant Rhetorically

A Christian historian is like an attorney presenting a case to a jury. He has to pick those facts that confirm the arguments that he thinks will persuade the jury. But, unlike a lawyer, a Christian historian must seek the truth, a considerable part of the truth, and most of the truth. He cannot legitimately seek the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That would require omniscience. That is an incommunicable attribute of God. But he can present a case that will lead the jury to bring a verdict that is, in the language of American jurisprudence, beyond reasonable doubt. In doing this work, a Christian historian must recognize that he faces critics who are his intellectual peers. Other historians will examine his documentation if his thesis becomes popular. He is like an attorney facing another attorney. If he is facing a small army of attorneys who are critically inclined, he must go the extra mile in advance in order to make his thesis, if not airtight, then at least watertight. He does not want it to be sunk in full public view.

Once he is convinced that he is correct, he must become an advocate. He must become a promoter. He must become a persuader. The element of persuasion is always present, but in Christian historiography, it must be a major component of a presentation, whether the presentation is a book, an article, or an online video.

In all forms of nonfiction writing, there are three crucial elements: accuracy, clarity, and persuasiveness. Writing that does not have all three elements is unlikely to gain long-term influence. If it is erroneous, the book or article will be demolished by critics early in the debate. If it is not clear, it will not gain widespread acceptance by members of his targeted audience. If it is not persuasive, it will not change the thinking of most of the members of his target audience. He has wasted his time. His goal is not simply to change their thinking; his goal is to change their behaviour. It is to persuade them to act in new ways. He had better be persuasive.

Persuasion is the art of rhetoric. Rhetoric involves several components. The most familiar component is emotion. Another is the use of familiar symbols that evoke emotion. Another is the use of adjectives and adverbs that persuade people to draw conclusions that they would not have drawn had the adjectives and adverbs been missing. There can be an appeal to pride. There can be an appeal to someone who is responsible for protecting someone else. There can be an appeal to self-esteem.

I have spent almost half a century as a direct-response marketer. I have marketed my books and web materials. As is the case in every profession, direct-response marketing has many rules. As is the case in every profession, it requires creativity, which cannot be taught by a formula. The direct-response marketer understands this: you must appeal to emotion. But an even more powerful technique is this: sell a product that the shopper has already decided to purchase. We cannot always do this in non-fiction writing, but sometimes it is a good way to begin. A Christian historian who is attempting to confirm the beliefs of his audience will find this task easier than if he is trying to persuade them to abandon a strongly held belief. I speak from experience. My book on the conspiratorial origins of the United States Constitution was a failure, not because of its inaccuracy, and not because of its lack of clarity. It is accurate, and it is clear. But its thesis is offensive to almost all Americans, and especially those Christian Americans who believe that the Constitution is inherently Christian.

A Christian historian is wise to begin his presentation with a benefit. He must persuade the reader or viewer to read his book or watch his video because there will be one or more benefits associated with having completed the task. Here is the rule of the direct-response marketer: “Lead with the benefit. Follow with the proof.” The benefit should be presented early in the presentation. In the case of this book, I presented the benefits in the Preface, Part A: Benefits of Reading This Book. The remainder of this book is the proof. As a reader, you have not finished the book. But, if you have read this far, you probably have begun to receive at least some of the benefits. I reveal this technique here because I do not want you to waste time in producing materials that almost nobody in your targeted audience will read. List the benefits early.

Here is another crucial rule for persuasive writing. Do not write to persuade a committee. Write to persuade an imaginary reader. This reader is a representative of the targeted audience that you are attempting to persuade. This individual is a composite. He is an intellectual construct. You are trying to persuade this representative person to change his mind, change his behaviour, and buy another of your books.

It is the curse of academic historiography that apprentice historians are trained to write articles throughout their education. These articles are read by professors who are using standards of evaluation that are associated with peer-reviewed journal articles. In order to advance your career in academia, you have to publish in peer-reviewed academic journals. These articles are screened by committees. Academic writing is boring. Everyone in academia knows this, and everyone has known this for generations. Yet this never changes. That is because the academic sanctions never change. The sanctions do not have to do with persuading laymen to change their minds. They have to do with gaining guaranteed employment security (tenure) or a promotion through publication in peer-reviewed journals. One of the reasons why most academic historians are incapable of gaining widespread acceptance of anything they write is that they do not write for the general public. They write for each other. They use their own jargon. They use their own criteria of persuasion. They do not care what the public thinks. Then they complain that the public accepts what they refer to as conspiracy theories of history. Conspiracy theorists try to persuade large numbers of readers and viewers. They do not write for committees. Their writing is not boring.

F. Answering Two Questions in Advance

I learned about this strategy after years of copywriting. Years later, an idea hit me: this copywriting strategy applies to every form of persuasion. This includes the writing of history. Every sales presentation should overcome two almost automatic responses by listeners or readers. Over a lifetime of television viewing, they have read or watched tens of thousands of advertisements. They have learned to tune out these ads. Even among those few ads that they consider briefly, consumers remain sceptical. They do not want to hand money over to somebody for a product or service that will turn out to be a dud. They may not ask these two questions with exactly these four words, but they respond to new ads with these two questions:

So what?

Who says?

Try to get these questions answered early in the presentation. If you do not successfully do this, the listener at any time may decide to stop listening. This is especially true of the first question. “So what?” This is the sceptic’s first line of defense. He wants to know what the benefits are if he continues to listen to the sales pitch.

The second question has to do with evidence. The listener does not readily accept the sales copy unless he already trusts the salesman, and this trust is based on either the salesman’s good reputation or else past personal experience of the buyer. When dealing with strangers, readers ask this question: “Who says?” The reader wants verification from somebody he trusts. In matters historical, verification requires footnotes. There are also potential critics who are not part of the targeted audience. They are also ready to ask the question: “Who says?” They probably have made up their minds not to accept the thesis. Historians want to see evidence. Critical historians want to see a lot of evidence. Historians who are gifted hatchet reviewers, such as the legendary British historian A. J. P. Taylor, are nearly impossible to persuade, irrespective of the evidence. A Christian historian should ignore such reviewers, except as sources of minor corrections for future editions or a follow-up book. If the critics are inherently unteachable because of their ideological or religious commitment, it is not necessary to persuade them. A Christian historian’s readers will never read these negative reviews. The critics’ influence is getting less and less as time goes on. The number of students majoring in history is shrinking.

With respect to members of the targeted audience, the sooner in the presentation that a Christian historian offers validating testimony that supports his thesis, the better off he is. The more controversial his thesis, the earlier he should present evidence that indicates that he is not the only person ever to reach this conclusion. If a Christian historian can supply testimonies from people who lived in the era surveyed in his presentation, this may be able to persuade readers that the thesis is worth considering. The testimonies do not have to come from experts who are alive today. It is worthwhile for a Christian historian to search for this kind of confirming testimony in the piles of records that he must go through in order to construct the thesis.

G. Self-Taught Historiography

No one taught me what I have presented in this chapter. I developed these approaches and skills, beginning in 1965. I am putting them into something like final form here. As with so many of my books, I am writing this only because I think these things need to be said, but nobody else has bothered to say them. If I do not say them, nobody else will.

My first exercise in Christian historiography began in 1965 when I began researching Marx’s Religion of Revolution, which was published in 1968 by Craig Press, a spinoff of Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing. I had just read Rushdoony’s 1965 pamphlet, The Religion of Revolution. He argued that Marx had adopted an ancient theology of social regeneration: revolution through chaos. It occurred to me that Marx’s social theory rested far more on his non-scientific concept of social transformation than it did on dialectical materialism, the mode of production, or his theory of surplus value. I decided to investigate this. Over the next three years, I put together a manuscript. I was in graduate school. I began the project in my second semester of graduate school at the University of California, Riverside. I finished it a year after I received my master’s degree. I began the project at age 23. I finished at age 26.

The book was self-consciously a work in Christian historiography. I began with Rushdoony’s suggestion that the religion of revolution stretches back half a millennium before Christ. He identified Marxists as modern believers in this ancient pagan worldview. I decided to compare this theory of social regeneration with the social theory presented in the Bible. I announced this on page 15: “The chief motivation behind the writing of this study, however, was my desire to subject Marx to an evaluation based upon the perspective of that contemporary Calvinist system known as ‘presuppositionalism.’ The major exponents of this viewpoint are Professor Cornelius Van Til of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and Herman Dooyeweerd of the Free University of Amsterdam. So far as I know, no one writing in English has made this kind of analysis of Marx’s thought. I trust that this book will fill the gap.” At the end of chapter 2, “The Cosmology of Chaos,” which was the book’s major theoretical chapter, I wrote this:

The Bible affirms a wholly divergent cosmology. Man is not his own creator; he did not create himself “ex nihilo”—out of nothing. Man is a creature who must operate under law, and he lives in a universe which also operates under law. Because he is under God’s law, man can stand over creation as God’s vicegerent. Marx, however, could not admit that man’s authority is derivative; like the self-proclaimed autonomous men at the Tower of Babel, he announced the creative power of man apart from God: “And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name [i.e., define ourselves without reference to God], lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth” (Gen. 11:4) . “Ye shall be as gods,” the Tempter promised, and Marx believed the promise. In affirming the powers of man for total creation, he launched the forces of absolute destruction. Man’s capacity for self-delusion seems boundless, but man has been warned of the results of such self-deception, and the Marxists shall be the recipients of their proper reward: “Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel (Prov. 20:17).

As you can see, I came to the readers as an explicitly Christian historian. I evaluated Marx’s theories in terms of biblical law. I condemned his work as anti-Christian and also inaccurate in terms of economic theory. I then pronounced a judgment, predicting the eventual failure of the Marxist movement. On December 25, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev literally shut down the Soviet Union. This was the nicest Christmas present the West ever received. I did not write the book to impress my professors. I did some of the research in graduate seminars, but I did not expect them to read the book, nor did I expect either praise or criticism for it. I was operating outside the normal chain of authority within the university system. I have done the same through the remainder of my academic career. I was not looking for positive sanctions from humanists. This is why I have had to self-fund my academic work throughout my career. My donors and paying subscribers provided the funds. Accredited academia did not.

My major historical work is Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church. I had my Institute for Christian Economics publish it in 1996. Basically, it was self-published. I would not have expected any other publisher to publish it. It was 1100 pages long. I began that book in the fall of 1962. The first version of it was 120 double-spaced typewritten pages. This was my bachelor’s thesis (spring 1963). The University of California, Riverside required every student in every department to write a bachelor’s thesis for graduation. That requirement was dropped in 1964, the year after I graduated. I researched the topic on and off until 1996. The manuscript kept growing. I typed the rough draft of the thesis on a Hermes 3000 portable typewriter. I finished it on WordPerfect for DOS, version 5.0.

My book was a detailed history of the Presbyterian Church in the United States—the northern Presbyterian Church—from about 1730 until 1936. It was mainly the story of how the Old-School Calvinists steadily lost control of the church from 1870 until 1936. I explained the long-term strategy of the theological liberals. I also described their tactics, decade by decade. I identified them as wolves in sheep’s clothing. There was nothing neutral about my book.

On page xi, which was part of “Note to the Reader,” I identified my audience: “I wrote this book for Christians who are tired of being milked, bilked, and forced to ride silently in the back of humanism’s bus. If this is you, keep reading.” I made it plain what the benefit of the book was: not being led by humanists. The final paragraph of the Conclusion announced this:

The question facing Christians today is this: Will there be a resurrection of Christendom? Few of [J. Gresham] Machen’s heirs believe in the possibility of such a resurrection; few believed in 1937. Some of them believe not only that it will not be resurrected; it should not be resurrected. I believe that Christendom can, will, and ought to be resurrected, though next time without kings, and also without a U.S. Department of Education. This is my confession. It was also Machen’s.

I followed a similar strategy in my book, Conspiracy in Philadelphia: The Origins of the United States Constitution (2013). I began the Foreword as follows:

This book is the history of a deception. I regard this deception as the greatest deception in American history. So successful was this deception that, as far as I know, this book is the first stand-alone volume to discuss it. The first version of this book appeared as Part 3 of Political Polytheism (1989), 201 years after the deception was ratified by representatives of the states, who created a new covenant and a new nation by their collective act of ratification-incorporation.

This new covenant meant a new god. The ratification of the United States Constitution in 1787–88 was not an act of covenant renewal. It was an act of covenant-breaking: the substitution of a new covenant in the name of a new god. This was not understood at the time, but it has been understood by the humanists who have written the story of the Constitution. Nevertheless, they have not presented the history of the Constitutional Convention as a deception that was produced by a conspiracy. The spiritual heirs of the original victims of this deception remain unaware of the deception’s origins.

There is no trace of either theological or ethical neutrality in my history books.

Conclusion

A Christian historian is supposed to serve a prophetic function. He is supposed to review documents of the past, and then evaluate them in terms of their faithfulness in revealing that past. Then he must impute judgment for and against the participants. There were good guys, and there were bad guys. He is supposed to identify the good guys, and then show the ways in which they were good guys. He is to identify the bad guys, and then show the ways in which they were bad guys.

A Christian historian is not to come in the name of some neutral concept of the structure of history. Therefore, he is also not to come in the name of some neutral structure of historiography. The principles of his historical investigation, evaluation, and publication should self-consciously parallel the biblical structure of history itself. What I have written here has not been believed by the vast majority of historians who have identified themselves as Christians. For over two centuries, they have adopted humanistic presuppositions about the structure of history and the structure of historical writing. They have compromised their faith by compromising their work. They have not served as covenantally faithful representatives of the God of providence. He expects better from those who research and then write about history in His name.

The Biblical Structure of History (16): Chapter 11, Stories

Gary North – November 12, 2021

And ye shall observe this thing for an ordinance to thee and to thy sons for ever. And it shall come to pass, when ye be come to the land which the Lord will give you, according as he hath promised, that ye shall keep this service. And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service? That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses. And the people bowed the head and worshipped (Exodus 12:24–27).

A. Covenantal Model, Part 1

Point 1 of the biblical covenant model is God’s transcendence, which also includes His presence. Point 1 of biblical social theory is sovereignty.

Point 1 of biblical historiography is the telling of stories about the past that manifest God’s sovereignty in history.B. The Limits of Memory

Memory is basic to success in life. For most people, it is a weak link. Most people have poor memories. They recall bits and pieces of the past. Neither they nor psychologists understand how memory works. Specialists can train their memories to accomplish prodigious feats, but these feats are more in the nature of competitive games than aids to help the performers perform their jobs and callings more efficiently. The main mental technique tool of these specialists for millennia has been to imagine a room in which the performer has placed mental images of a series of items that he then links to a series of facts he is trying to recall—facts that are normally unrelated to the images. He places these items is in a particular order. (Frances Yates wrote a 1966 book on the history of this ancient technique: The Art of Memory.) This is not how most people recall the past.

A Christian historian’s most important task is to help God’s people recognize and then trust the sovereignty of God in history. This sovereignty is manifested in His deliverance of His people, individually and corporately, out of the pretended sovereignty of Satan. Satan’s sovereignty is manifested in history by means of the authority of the kingdom of man. Covenantal warfare is primarily an ethical struggle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. Bible stories are tools to help God’s people understand the nature of this struggle. The Bible is mostly a series of stories about struggles between representatives of God’s kingdom and the rival kingdoms. God’s covenant people learn about His sovereignty in history through Bible stories.

Stories are easier to remember than long chains of reasoning. The Bible offers no long chains of reasoning. It offers epistles: theological commentaries on the Bible’s stories and also on the Bible’s revealed laws. These commentaries have been used by theologians to produce books filled with long chains of reasoning, but most Christians do not read these books. Before there were printed books, most Christians did not know about the discipline of theology. That intellectual discipline was the responsibility of bishops and literate bureaucrats under their authority, plus—after 1100—university professors. Even today, when Christians read a book on theology, a month later (or less), they do not remember the book’s long chains of reasoning. At best, they remember a few points, but they cannot explain how they are connected.

In contrast is the Bible. The Bible offers long lists of laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. It offers this message: the centrality of ethics in history. Ethics is built on the authority of these laws, which in turn are enforced by God’s sanctions, positive and negative, in response to people’s obedience or disobedience to these laws (Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28). Biblical history is structured in terms of this pattern: the transition from grace to wrath, followed by the transition from wrath to grace. My book offers this thesis: the transition from wrath to grace applies to all history, not just Bible history.

If my thesis is correct, then a Christian historian has this three-part task. First, he reads other historians’ publications in search of stories that reveal this pattern in a specific narrative. Because most historians have been humanists, they did not see this pattern, but their narratives may reveal traces of it. Second, he does detailed research to identify or disprove the pattern. He examines primary source documents for evidence of the pattern. He also examines additional historians’ accounts. Third, he rewrites the humanists’ narratives to make clear what the covenantal issues were, and how they affected the outcome of the story.C. The Five-Point Structure of History’s Pattern: Genesis 1–3

1. Capital

Genesis 1:1–25 is the story of God’s creation of the world prior to mankind. Because God is personal, the world reflects this. God was purposeful. He had a plan. The plan had standards. God repeatedly announced that His work had been good. The story of this creation day sequence affirms cosmic personalism. This is the context of God’s creation of man.

God provided enormous capital for mankind. This was evidence of His grace. What is grace? It is a gift undeserved by the recipient. This gift included laws governing nature. These laws were tools of dominion for anyone who understood them. They provided cosmic regularity, which was part of a system of cause and effect.

This grant of capital would soon serve mankind as an inheritance from God. It was inheritance to mankind. Inheritance is always twofold: inheritance from and inheritance to. Inheritance from begins with life: life itself. Inheritance to extends after death. The Bible’s phrase for this process is this: the death of the testator. “For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth” (Hebrews 9:16–17).

How is this a model for Christian historiography? A Christian historian should begin his narrative with background information that provides the context of the covenantal conflict of his narrative. This is the historical context. It is the context for individuals and institutions.

2. Assignment

God had a plan: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” (v. 26). The plan was two-fold. First, He would grant mankind life. Second, He would give mankind an assignment: exercise dominion. The whole world would be men’s realm of authority. It would be their inheritance.

Next, God implemented His plan. He provided the next gift to mankind: life. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (v. 27). Covenantally, this was given to both Adam and Eve. Chronologically, it was given first to Adam, but before the day was over, God had given him Eve.

Next, they had to develop the capital. “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (v. 28). This defined mankind: exercising dominion. This required labor. Labor was not cursed.

Next, God gave them the right to the fruits of their labor. “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so” (vv. 29–30). This provided economic motivation for them to exercise dominion. This was a positive sanction. Conclusion: Capital/inheritance must be developed. God expects humanity to increase its dominion. The value of the capital/inheritance is supposed to increase over time. Men are stewards for God.

How is this a model for Christian historiography? It offers a theory of progress. (See Chapter 5) It is mandatory for mankind to increase the value of God’s domain. Mankind has the ability to do this. A Christian historian should identify those areas of life in any historical era and geographical region that experienced advancement. Then he should look for explanations for this advancement. Advancement is normative morally. History is not cyclical. It is linear. It is also progressive. The mark of history’s progressive structure is the increased value of the inheritance over time: point 1 (grace) to point 5 (inheritance).

3. Boundaries

God announced a boundary in Genesis 2: “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (vv. 15–17). Adam and Eve had almost the whole world as their inheritance. Only one small portion of the garden was not theirs. They were obligated to respect this boundary.

This was a matter of property rights. They were not to steal (commandment 8). In the Decalogue, this was the third law in the second, kingly, series of five. (The first five commandments are priestly.) This indicates that this tree was marked off by God’s name, which was sacred (commandment 3). This was the third law in the first, priestly, series of five. The priestly status of the tree indicated that it had a special legal status. It was the place for a covenantal meal. Access was closed to all humans who did not have the mark of saving grace: immunity from death. Immunity from death was available to mankind only through a communion meal at the tree of life.

This boundary was the first covenantal law governing mankind. To it was attached a negative sanction: death. This is why the dominion covenant was a covenant. It had positive sanctions associated with one boundary: almost the whole earth. It had a negative sanction associated with the other boundary: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree was sacred: separated by God by law. This boundary was holy space: separated by God for covenantal purposes. To violate this space was to commit sacrilege — a profane act.

How is this a model for Christian historiography? A Christian historian should look for major ethical issues that are associated with sacred space or sacred office. Who violated them? What were the consequences? Who honored them? What were the consequences? In this sense, Christian history is covenantal.

In a broader sense, all of man’s history is covenantal because of ethics. Most laws in the Bible are not associated with holy space. The same is true of all history. But all biblical laws are covenantal. They impose boundaries. To them are attached sanctions. If covenantal authorities—individuals, family heads, church officers, and civil magistrates—do not impose negative sanctions on individuals who break the laws, then God will impose negative sanctiolns on individuals and the derelict institutions. A Christian historian should look for this pattern of covenantal sanctions.

Genesis 1 (capital) and 2:15–17 (law) are the theological foundation for this theological principle: grace precedes law. The first story in the Bible provides information regarding this theological principle. This story is not part of a long chain of reasoning. This is why you may remember it.

4. Performance

Genesis 2 is the story of Adam’s apprenticeship in the garden. God guided him in naming the animals. Adam performed well. God gave Eve to him. This established the family, as Adam announced on his authority: “And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (vv. 23–24). Adam had begun to speak as a law-giver. He did not violate God’s authority in making this announcement. He was learning how to do applied theology.

Genesis 3 is the story of Adam’s journeyman status as a guardian of Eve and the garden. It was also the story of Eve’s obedience as a wife and as a guardian of the garden. (If Eve was alone with the serpent, she was acting as a journeyman. If Adam was present, she was an apprentice.) They both had greater authority than they had in Genesis 2. God was physically absent.

They violated God’s law by eating from the forbidden tree. Then their eyes were opened regarding their nakedness. This was their first experience of knowing good and evil. They sewed together fig leaves to make aprons to cover their nakedness. This was their first response to sin: self-salvation. They did not eat from the tree of life, although it was available to them. They were still not afraid of God’s promised negative sanction: death.

God returned. He first observed the setting: missing journeymen. He then conducted an investigation. He conducted a trial. He interrogated them in order to learn the truth. He asked: what, where, when, who, why, and how? Then He promised further negative sanctions: for Eve (childbearing), for Adam (thorns), and for both of them: death (dust to dust).

How is this a model for Christian historiography? A Christian historian should look for anomalies in the accepted historiography. As with Adam’s absence, something will be missing. He must then conduct an investigation. He must ask questions: what, where, when, who, why, and how? He must seek answers from the primary source documents, but also from other historians’ narratives. What are their explanations?

5. Inheritance

God did not execute them that day. Instead, he showed grace to them. First, He promised them descendants: Eve’s childbearing. Second, He promised them meaningful work: Adam’s work in the fields. Adam would have to subdue thorns. Third, He began to fulfill these promises by providing animal skins to protect them (v. 21). This was grace: gifts unmerited by the recipients. Because of the negative sanctions, they would have to work harder to pass on a greater inheritance to their descendants. As an economist would say, there would be less output per unit of resource input. (Economists use strange phrases to describe simple relationships.) Dominion would be more difficult. This would be a feature of the transition from wrath to grace. To put it theologically, it would take common grace (life and productivity) to provide the context of special grace (eternal life). But this was also true in Genesis 1. What was different after Genesis 3 was that eternal life required special grace. Prior to Genesis 3, eternal life required only a covenant meal at the tree of life.

How is this a model for Christian historiography? A Christian historian should investigate any increase of capital in a society during one historical period. He should ask these questions. To what extent was this increase the result of covenant-breakers applying their main ethical principles? What were these principles? To what extent was this increase the result of covenant-keepers applying their main ethical principles? What were these principles? To what extent did covenant-breakers and covenant-keepers share the same ethical principles? Here are underlying questions. First, to what extent did common grace preserve a society or even allow it to increase its influence? Second, to what extent was this common grace the result of either covenant-breakers or covenant-keepers? Third, did the society maintain its commitment to the shared ethical principles that maintained common grace? If so, why? If not, why not? If it abandoned these common ethical principles, what happened in the next chronological period?D. Constructing the Story

1. Theme

Every story needs a theme. The theme provides a message. This message requires a chronological structure. The story has a beginning and an end. The end is consistent with the system of causation that undergirds the theme. This system of causation is the essence of the theme. Without it, there can be no theme.

The Bible’s theme is simple: the transition from grace to wrath, followed by the transition from wrath to grace. This theme is conveyed by a series of personal stories. At the heart of the theme is a series of trials: God’s trial of Adam and Eve, His trial of Cain, the Sanhedrin’s trial of Jesus, Pilate’s trial of Jesus, the Sanhedrin’s trial of the apostles, the Sanhedrin’s trial of Stephen, the Roman court’s trial of Paul, and God’s trial of humanity at the last judgment. We should also add covenant-keepers’ trial of fallen angels, but there are no details.

Time is scarce. Do not waste the listeners’ time. Therefore, a story should be memorable. Its theme should be memorable, and several of the theme’s illustrating characters and incidents should be memorable.

A Christian historian should not waste his time investigating any events that are unlikely to lend themselves to the narration of a story with at least one major theme. Some trends are general, and can be used to establish context. There may be causation, but if this causation is not visibly covenantal, then the Christian historian should select a different topic. Life is short, and the number of stories revealing covenantal causation is huge.

2. Questions

I have described these six questions in terms of God’s trial of Adam, Eve, and the serpent. They are questions regarding personal responsibility. I have summarized these six questions: what, where, when, who, why, and how? Any historian who provides plausible answers to all six has done yeoman service. If he can tell this story accurately, clearly, and persuasively in the time that an audience will grant him to tell the story, he has done well. It is far easier to answer questions about deceased historical figures than it is to answer questions about seemingly impersonal trends. I regard the most important historical question over the last two millennia is this: “What produced the Industrial Revolution, with its per capita economic growth of 2% per annum for over two centuries?” The Industrial Revolution changed the world more than anything else in recorded history, and it did so in just three generations—if you pick the right family. That family is the family of John Tyler, who became President of the United States in 1841. He was born in 1790, the first full year of President George Washington’s first term as the first President. His grandson Lyon Tyler died in October 2020. His other grandson, Harrison Tyler (b. 1928), is still alive as I write this (October 2021). There are at least three dozen explanations that economic historians have offered to explain this. Each of them is refuted by Prof. Dierdre McCloskey in Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World (2010).

3. Structure

Telling a story requires structure: words put together in a specialized way. The words must hold the attention of a listener or a reader. To do this, the narrator must provide markers that convey to the reader that the story is progressing in a coherent way. A disjointed structure produces confusion. Listeners’ attention will drift. The narrator faces boundaries. The main one is the boundary of time that the targeted listener or reader is willing to donate to the narrator. The second is the boundary of memory. People have weak memories. Most of what they hear in a lecture is forgotten within 48 hours. About 95% is forgotten in a week. So, the story’s markers must serve the purpose of providing hooks onto which the listener can “hang” his memory. This is a variation of what Yates described as the art of memory: a mental room wherein memory-triggering items are placed sequentially. The narrative must substitute for the room.

4. Lesson

A Christian storyteller’s goal should be to convey an ethical lesson. This lesson should serve as a model for judging people and events. The standards of judgment are mainly ethical. There are other standards, such as aesthetic standards. But there is no formula for aesthetic standards. There is no known biblical formula. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This does not mean that beholders cannot accurately judge beauty. There are beauty contests in many nations. The finalists in any nation would find widespread agreement from men in other nations. Men know which women are beautiful, and women also know. But they cannot explain this in agreed-upon ways, other than a few characteristics, such as weight. Stories in the Bible are structured ethically. They provide lessons regarding right and wrong. They have a judicial function. They were designed by God to train covenant-keepers in the principles of justice, climaxing in their judging of fallen angels after the final judgment of humanity.

5. Vision

The listeners should gain a renewed vision of victory after hearing a story. The story should supplement stories of successes by Christians in extending the kingdom of God. The models for such stories are stories about foreign missionaries. These stories contain sub-themes of the organizations they set up, or their successors set up. These stories include discussions of life-and-death decisions, cultural conflicts, worldview conflicts, educational programs, fund-raising, getting out the story of the missions to supporters, past successes, new challenges, and plausible prospects for further success. Histories of foreign missions are not taken seriously by most academic historians, who see them as recruiting and fund-raising tools. I take them seriously because they are recruiting and fund-raising tools. A history presentation whose ultimate goal is not successful evangelism is a waste of time. The goal should be to persuade covenant-breakers to switch confessions. To do this, an army of evangelists who believe in comprehensive redemption must be recruited and trained. The Bible proclaims such a vision. (See Kenneth L. Gentry, The Greatness of the Great Commission, 1992.) So should Christian histories.E. Historiography and Discipleship

1. Mission

This is a common feature of leadership in all areas of Christian dominion. Every Christian has been given a commission by Christ: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:19–20).

In my book, The Five Pillars of Biblical Leadership (2021), I identify point 1 as mission. The four other points are these: service, teamwork, mastery, and inheritance. All of these apply to the Christian historian.

A Christian historian’s mission is to explain the details of the biblical framework of history: the transition from wrath to grace. Christian historiography must reflect and represent the five points of the biblical structure of history: the providence of God, the image of God in men, biblical ethics, God’s imputation of meaning to all facts, and progressive cultural inheritance. Progressive cultural inheritance is the parallel development of the two kingdoms, God’s and man’s (Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43).

I have argued that people remember stories better than they remember long chains of reasoning. Therefore, a Christian historian serves as a practical theologian. He has a prophetic function. (See Chapter 12B). He brings his theology to his research. His historiography should reflect this theology. There is no theological neutrality. There is therefore no historiographical neutrality.

His initial mission is to teach Christians what Christ told the disciples. This must include the Old Testament, as interpreted by the New Testament’s epistles. The Old Testament is mainly stories. This is how he should teach. He should recognize that historians are in a better position to teach Christians how to apply Christ’s principles than any other profession, except for pastors. They teach this by showing how Christians in the past applied them, or failed to apply them, with what results.

2. Audiences

A Christian historian must first decide who his audiences will be. He should tailor his presentations in terms of specific audiences. He represents God to these audiences. This is an aspect of point 2 of biblical leadership: service. He should research each topic comprehensively. He should over-research the topic in terms of the needs of multiple audiences. His goal should be to present his findings to more than one audience. Not to do this is to waste research time. The most difficult part of the historian’s task is to identify the applications of the five principles of biblical history to a specific society or person. This takes creativity. Then he must do the research necessary to draw conclusions. This takes time. The product of this mixture of asking questions and getting answers is a body of conclusions. He must then package these conclusions for separate audiences.

He must recognize the limits of knowledge in each group. Overcoming these limits in most groups is challenging. This is the context of his task. This is the capital he must work with. His God-given task is to increase the value of this capital for use in the kingdom of God. This is human capital. He must make covenant-keepers more productive. Above all, he must help them become better judges. (See Chapter 14.)

He must decide how he will get his lessons to members of each audience. This is the question of media. He must estimate how much time they will give him for each lesson. This varies in terms of media: viewing time vs. reading time. Then he must estimate the size of his budget for marketing. He has to have a marketing plan. On this point, I quote Mac Ross, a marketing genius in the late twentieth century. “If you build a better mousetrap, but you do not set aside money for marketing, you will die alone and broke with a garage full of mousetraps.” If you have no money for marketing, then invest more time in marketing strategies that do not require up-front money: YouTube, Kindle Direct books, social media, and a blog.

3. Message

For a Christian historian, the message of each lesson must be this: the effects of covenant-keeping in history, compared to the effects of covenant-breaking. He identifies a historical story as an example of this message. This story illustrates and reinforces the message. The story is designed to help Christians understand God’s providence in history: the transition from wrath to grace. His story has boundaries. It has chronological boundaries. It has boundaries of responsibility: individual and institutional. Specific individuals and organizations represent movements. (See Chapter 12.) A handful of movements shape history. A handful of trends shape history. A Christian historian should identify the importance of various trends by means of the covenantal structure of history. The key issue is ethics: point 3 of the biblical covenant.

4. Commitment

A Christian historian, because he is an evangelist with a prophetic function, must design his presentation to persuade listeners of the truth regarding the providential nature of past. He uses stories to persuade people.

Accurate knowledge is necessary but not sufficient in the Christian life. Accurate knowledge must shape action. “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (James 1:22–25). This rule applies to the results of historiography. It is not sufficient to teach people about God’s providential control in the past. They must also believe that God’s providence applies to their circumstances.

This narration requires persuasion. This is not just persuasion that God’s providence shapes history by means of Christians’ faithfulness to His laws. It is persuasion regarding the requirement of each hearer of the historical stories to obey God in order to exercise dominion.

5. Hope

The stories should persuade listeners of the reliability of God’s covenant in providing the basis of progress in history. (See Chapter 15.) They should offer hope. “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). So, this should be the motivation of a Christian historian: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” (Isaiah 61:1). Jesus announced that He was the fulfilment of this verse. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18–19).

If a story ends in defeat for covenant-keepers, a Christian historian’s work is not complete. He should continue to write until the defeat is visible as a victory. Some stories in the Old Testament reveal defeats for covenant-keepers. The story of Joseph is such a story. Joseph announced the biblical principle of interpretation: a hermeneutic. “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20). The story of Job also reflects this. “So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses” (Job 42:12).

There is also another consideration. In a war, there are necessary casualties. “And they returned to Joshua, and said unto him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people to labour thither; for they are but few. So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men: and they fled before the men of Ai. And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men: for they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and smote them in the going down: wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water” (Joshua 7:3–5). The New Testament model for this is the crucifixion of Jesus. Then came the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7). The theme of temporary defeat is basic to the story of the transition from wrath to grace.Conclusion

If Christian historians follow these procedures, they will produce stories that replace the prevailing humanistic stories. Humanists have no self-conscious theory of history. It is not taught in humanist institutions. They have no theory of the structure of Christian historiography. They are not good at persuading the general public. The sanctions within history departments militate against persuading the public. The sanctions favor persuading editors of peer-reviewed journals, meaning committees.

Until Christian historians regard their callings as God-given, they will not be successful in competing against an army of humanists in tax-funded schools. They will not persuade Christians in churches. Academic Christian historians are not ready for covenantal warfare. They have been in retreat since 1500.

The five-point model for historiography provides the structure for writing historical stories: capital, assignment, boundaries, performance, and inheritance. It offers a theory of telling a story: theme, questions, structure, lesson, and vision. It is a tool of discipleship: mission, audiences, message, commitment, and hope. None of this is taught in Christian schools. Christian historians are unaware of it. They also have no Bible-based theory of the structure of history to rival the assumed but unspoken structure that govern humanists. I surveyed the correct theory in Part 1. So, they lose by default.

Meanwhile, the competing historical narratives presented by humanists are increasingly divided. They have no agreed-on theory of world history. They have no agreed-on theory of how to interpret documents. They have no theory of how the autonomous historian can make sense of the past. There is no agreement on the existence of an objective past.

The humanists are vulnerable. The problem is this: Christian historians are not ready to replace the humanists. They are not self-confident. They do not have an alternative agenda. They cannot beat something with nothing. In the next four chapters, I hope to provide them with four more stones. David picked up five stones to do battle with Goliath (1 Samuel 17:40). I think the first stone, which you have just read, would be sufficient. But historians must know how to use a sling to make the stone deadly to the enemy. That sling is Christian education.

The Biblical Structure of History (16): Introduction to Part 3

Gary North – November 11, 2021

A. The Myth of Neutrality

So far, I have presented a great deal of information regarding history and its interpretation. I have attempted to persuade you of two facts. First, history is not neutral, theologically speaking. I mean its actual structure. I covered this in Part 1. Second, humanistic historians are not neutral toward history and its structure. I covered this in Part 2.

Humanists ever since the fifth century B.C. have adopted some version of the myth of neutrality in order to promote their vision of God, man, law, sanctions, and time. Christian theologians and intellectuals have repeatedly been deceived by this myth. This has compromised their testimony regarding the God of the Bible and His impact in history. This has compromised their testimony in every field of thought and practice in which they have imported the myth of neutrality. This means virtually every field.

In Part 1, I discussed why history itself is not neutral. It is structured in terms of God’s covenant with mankind in Genesis 1:26–28. Now it is time to discuss why historiography cannot be neutral. It cannot be neutral because history is not neutral. God expects men’s historiography to be consistent with the covenantal structure of the processes of history. Men’s historiography must reflect this fundamental underlying structure, which philosophers call metaphysical. Because of the presuppositions of humanism regarding the autonomy of history and the autonomy of man, humanist historiography is always in revolt against God. I discussed this in Part 2.

B. Creeds and Historiography

I recommend a strategy for Christians to begin to reconstruct historiography: study the creeds of Christendom, especially the creed known as the Apostles Creed. It was not a creed written down by the apostles. It grew out of the church’s Council of Nicaea in 325. There are numerous versions of it stretching over centuries. This is called the received form.

I believe in God the Father Almighty; Maker of Heaven and Earth; and in Jesus Christ His only (begotten) Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven; and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the Holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen. (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, Author: James Orr)

In recommending that we begin with the creeds of the church in our attempt to understand the structure of history, I rely heavily on R. J. Rushdoony’s pioneering book: The Foundations of Social Order: Studies in the Creeds and Councils of the Early Church (1968). I regard this book as indispensable for understanding early church history. It has been ignored by the academic community, the Christian intellectual community, and virtually all pastors. It helped structure my thinking when I read it in 1969, when I was beginning to research my doctoral dissertation on the economic thought of Puritan New England.

Chapter 1 is “The Apostles Creed and Creedalism.” In this chapter, he set forth principles of Christian historiography. He started with this principle: creeds govern the way we think in every area of life. Everyone has a creed, either implicit or explicit. There is no neutrality in creeds. Creeds are inescapable concepts. There is no such thing as a creedless society. There is no such thing as a creedless individual. Most people are not self-conscious about their creeds, but they do have opinions regarding God, man, law, sanctions, and time. They have opinions about the way the world works.

Rushdoony made a crucial observation about the uniqueness of the Apostles Creed. I regard his comment as fundamental for a correct understanding Christianity and its impact on the world. The creed makes affirmations concerning history.

The Apostles Creed is unlike all other creeds of other religions, whether humanist, Buddhist, Modern, Hindu, or otherwise. The face of all the religions is in a body of ideas or claims concerning reality. It may be a belief in the ultimacy of man, or the ultimacy of nothingness, in the office of a man (Mohammed as profit), or an ultimate dualism or monism, but, in any event, it demands a belief in certain ideas or claims. The Apostles Creed is radically different: it offers a synopsis of history, created by God the Father Almighty, requiring salvation by Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, who entered, lived, died, and was resurrected in history, and is now the Lord and Judge of history. His holy congregation is operative in history, which culminates in the general resurrection and everlasting life. The whole creed therefore is a declaration concerning history (p. 4).

Rushdoony was not aware of the biblical covenant model in 1968. Ray Sutton’s book was published in 1987. Yet, in 1968, he wrote clearly of the five principles undergirding the covenantal structure of history and historiography. He did not present them in the order found in the covenant model for history, but he did present them.

Point 1: Creation

Implicit in this declaration that God the Father Almighty is maker of heaven and earth is the claim of God to be the law-giver, determiner, and sustainer of heaven and earth and of all of history. He is its maker, and it is totally subject therefore to Him. An assertion of the doctrine of creation is also an assertion of the doctrines of sovereignty and of the eternal decree, of predestination (p. 5).

Point 2: Image

If God is the true source [of law], then the Word of God must be hearkened to by church, state, school, and every sphere of life as the one authoritative source of morality and law. As institutions and orders declare law, they must do it ministerially, as administrators under God. The Word of God therefore speaks to every sphere including church and state, and the Word of God is over the church and corrects and disciplines the church (p. 5).

Point 3: Law

The Creed thus has vast implications concerning history because of its declaration that God is the creator of all things. This declaration immediately makes God the source of all ethics, of all morality, and of all law. In all non-Christian systems, the source of ethics and of law is the state; it is the polis, the empire, or the kingdom. There is no understanding the gulf between Aristotle and Plato, for example, and Christianity, apart from this fact, and the gulf cannot be legitimately bridged. Either God is the true source of morality and law, or the state is (p. 5).

Point 4: Imputation

History is a succession of judgments, wherein God comes in clouds of judgment, and all these crises and judgments are for the shaking of the nations, to destroy the reprobate realms of man and to establish by sifting Christ’s faithful in His realm. As God declared through Ezekiel, “I will overturn, overturn, overturn it; and it shall be no more, until he, whose right it is; and I will give it to him” (Ezek. 31:27). The purpose of this overturning, according to St. Paul, is “the removing of the things that are shaken as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain” (Heb. 12:27). The successive judgments have as their purpose the removal of destruction “of all things that are made,” i.e., of the humanistic and apostate orders of history, so that Christ’s kingdom which cannot be shaken may remain.” These are all partial judgments, forerunners to the final judgment (p. 172).

Point 5: Inheritance

Not only a theology, but an eschatology, or doctrine of last things, which renounces history or sees it as defeat, is faithless to Christianity. God is maker of heaven and earth, not Satan. History culminates in God’s plan and triumph, not in Satan’s victory. To the extent that any eschatology involves the victory of evil in history, to that extent it surrenders and retreats from history (p. 5).

C. Church and State

There is a war going on between church and state. The church claims to represent God in history, although not as the sole interpreter of God’s word and law. Christianity has always acknowledged the separation of church and state. But the state has not acknowledged the legitimacy of such a separation except when pressured to do so by a strong church. The war between church and state extends back to the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh. (I cover this in my commentary on Exodus, Volume 1: Representation and Dominion, [2012].)

Christian historiography must recognize the existence of this continual confrontation between Christianity and the humanist state. The absence of a clear-cut exposition of this conflict in history is characteristic of humanist historiography. Unfortunately, it is also characteristic of most Christian historiography. Christian historians do not return again and again to the confrontations between church and state throughout history. They do not regard this confrontation as inherent to history because of the war of the two views of history. Rushdoony made clear the nature of this confrontation. He did so in the chapter on the church.

The more faithful the Church, the greater its visibility, i.e., the more clearly its witness to the word and power of Christ in this world. But the true church is not alone in claiming visibility, and claiming to be the visible representative of Christ’s invisible order. The state claims its own kind of visibility; the state sees itself as the visible expression of the true order of man, and, sometimes also, of whatever gods may be. It then becomes a contest, first, as to who represents God’s true order, and, second, what is the order which is to be represented.

The humanistic order strives for visibility, first, as the dominant force in man’s society, as the omnipresent fact on the human scene, and, second, as the new order of salvation. Accordingly, man’s dominant concern in the era of humanism is political, since politics is the area where the hidden deity becomes visible. The 19th century was thus the era of political visibility; the religion of most men tended increasingly to become political. “Democracy” as the hope of the world found its culminating messianic expression in Woodrow Wilson’s dream of making the world safe for democracy by war and diplomacy (p. 181).

Church and state have separate legal jurisdictions. They also have separate systems of law. There is civil law, but there is also canon law, which governs the church. Canon law has a long tradition in the West, yet Christian historiography has generally ignored it. There are no detailed treatises of the historical development of canon law, and especially there are no discussions of the impact of canon law on the church in its development of the principles of Christian civilization. We do not have detailed studies of the interaction between civil law and canon law in confrontations between church and state for domination in society in the West. We need such studies.

In his chapter on canon law, Rushdoony set forth a coherent framework for any discussion of canon law in relationship to civil law. With respect to canon law, he wrote:

The independence of the church required it. Political absolutism, however, then as now, has been hostile to canon law. Instead of the multiple law orders, and multiple variety of courts, which characterized the era of Christian feudalism, absolutism in the state has worked steadily to reduce all human society to one law-order, the state. Every other realm must be subjected to the state rather than to God: the church, economics, science, education, agriculture, the arts, all things are made aspects of the life of the state (rather than of man under God) and therefore under the government of the state (p. 133).

There is a logic behind this. Rushdoony described it: “The supposition of the state in its absolutism is twofold. First, by asserting overall sovereignty and jurisdiction, the state is usurping the power and prerogative of God. The state makes itself the ultimate creator and lawgiver rather than God. Second, the state declares itself to be the true man as well as the true god. Every God-given aspect of the life of man, the state declares both to be its creation and also an aspect of its life” (p. 133).

D. Western Liberty

Rushdoony’s chapter on the Council of Chalcedon (451) is titled: “The Foundation of Western Liberty.” The Council of Chalcedon’s focus of concern was the question of the unique divinity of Christ. It produced this declaration:

Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all unanimously teach that our Lord Jesus Christ is to us One and the same Son, the Self-same Perfect in Godhead, the Self-same Perfect in Manhood; truly God and truly Man; the Self-same of a rational soul and body; co-essential with the Father according to the Godhead, the Self-same co-essential with us according to the Manhood; like us in all things, sin apart; before the ages begotten of the Father as to the Godhead, but in the last days, the Self-same, for us and for our salvation (born) of Mary the Virgin Theotokos as to the Manhood; One and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten; acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He was parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ; even as from the beginning the prophets have taught concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself hath taught us, and as the Symbol of the Fathers hath handed down to us.

Most Christians have never heard of the Council of Chalcedon. They have certainly never read what you have just read. When they read it, they do not ask this question: “What has this to do with Western liberty?” Rushdoony made it clear exactly what this had to do with Western liberty. This declaration was a denial of the possibility of the divinity of man or of any agency of man. This declaration is as important today as it was in 451. He wrote:

The problem centered on the definition of the two natures of Christ and their union. Behind the problem stood the resurgence of Hellenic philosophy in Christian guise and the claims of the state to be the divine order on earth, to be the incarnation of divinity in history. The Hellenic faith held to a radically different concept of being than did biblical faith. The Christian distinction between the uncreated being of God and the created being of man and the universe placed an infinite gulf between the two, a gulf unbridgeable by nature and bridged only by grace, by grace of the salvation and by grace permitting a union or community of life, not of substance.

For the Greeks, as for non-Christian religions generally, all being is one undivided being; the differences in being are of degree, not of kind. In this great chain of being, it is a question of place on the scale or ladder of being, whereas for Christian faith the difference is one of divine and uncreated being as against created and mortal being.

In terms of this Greek perspective, salvation is not an act of grace but rather of self-deification. Moreover, the central institution in history becomes the state, because the state as the highest point in power in history maintains the nascent or incarnate divinity of being either in the body politic, the rulers, or in their offices. In various forms, this faith was the substructure of all pagan statism. Thus, the issue very literally was one between Christ and Caesar (pp. 63–64).

I am aware of no textbook on the history of Western civilization that is written self-consciously in terms of the theological conflict between humanism and Christianity. There is no textbook that describes the creeds and councils of the early church as setting forth the principles of Western liberty. Obviously, we cannot find textbooks written by humanists that explain this. The problem is that we cannot find textbooks written by Christians that explain this.

Chalcedon challenged more than humanistic political theory. It challenged non-Christian views of the structure of history. “Statist theology however demands that time govern eternity, and man govern whatever god exists, or, better, be his own god. Any theology which weakens the Definition of Chalcedon weakens the primacy of the triune God over history, and any theology which denies Chalcedon must of necessity to affirm history as the primary area of determination. Time then alone is the source of the historical, and the supernatural is denied” (p. 75).

Any denial of Chalcedon’s declaration goes beyond weakening the primacy of the triune God. It is a denial of the divinity of Christ. “God the Son not only does not determine time in history, He is denied historicity because He demands reference to the ontological Trinity, to eternity, to be understood. The only Christ permitted is a totally human Christ, one totally immersed in time and exclusively and totally a product of history. This is ‘the historical Jesus’ of higher criticism. ‘Demythologizing’ criticism has a similar goal: to reduce Jesus to history, to a total meaning from within history” (p. 75).

Few Christians understand the nature of the comprehensive challenge to Christ’s divinity by humanism. Is also a challenge to biblical ethics. Here is the issue: “A God who is not the creator is an alien to the universe: it is its own evolving law. A God who is truly the savior of the world is of necessity its creator: He has made it, and its only possible health is in the restoration to communion with Him. His law therefore as the only truly regulative principle for the world” (p. 77). “Sovereignty, duty, and law are inseparably united. The source of law in any system is not only the locale of sovereignty but also the god of that system. God only is the true sovereign and the true source of law” (p. 77).

Chalcedon’s declaration made it clear that Jesus Christ has two natures: divine and human. As the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ was God, but His perfect human nature was not divine. Man did not become God. This declaration was crucial for the maintenance of liberty. “To have permitted belief in the confusion of the natures would have meant that man could become an aspect of his own God, aspire to be, in his union with Christ, his own lawmaker and co-creator. Humanity would have been introduced into deity, not in a community of life but in a community of substance” (p. 78).

Thus, he concluded, “In the Christian view, man’s life is not comprehended by the state; it is comprehended only by the triune God. Man’s unity is only truly realizable in God and His Kingdom; man’s individuality is again only realizable in and through God. This means that man’s eternal destiny is a predestined one and bound to the grace of the ultimate One and Many, the Trinity. But it also means that man’s present life is freed from the predestination of the state. Man’s self-realization is not in the state but in God” (p. 79).

Conclusion

With this as background, I now discuss Christian historiography. Christians must be self-conscious in their understanding of the comprehensive warfare between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. This understanding must govern what Christians think about every area of life. They should be alert to the invasion by humanism and the categories of humanism into their thinking in every area of life. Christian historiography must be comprehensive. It must reconstruct the history of man in terms of the battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. Who is Lord? Who is sovereign? Christians must be clear in their answer. This means that they must also be clear in their discussion of history.

They must understand history in terms of this covenantal warfare. Sadly, they have not been given guidance in this battle by Christian leaders. Self-conscious Christians who understand the nature of this warfare are rare. Therefore, most Christians have been guided by Christian leaders who have been confused about the comprehensive nature of the confrontation between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. Christian historians have rewritten history in ways that make it more humanistic in tone and content than Christian. Christian historians in their writing ignore God. They do not mention the providence of God. They ignore the laws of God. They ignore the structure of historical sanctions that God announced to the generation of the conquest.

When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; 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 8:10–18).

Christians today have eaten and are full. In every area of life, they have begun to forget the God whose sanctions have blessed them. They have offered thanks to modern science, modern politics, and modern economics for their blessings. It is time for Christians to rethink sovereignty, authority, law, sanctions, and time in terms of the biblical covenant. It is time for them to become highly suspicious of history as interpreted by covenant-breakers. It is time for them to adopt biblical historiography.

The Biblical Structure of History (13): Chapter 9, Nominalism

Gary North – November 08, 2021

The bits and pieces of records left from the past can be arranged into different and contending pictures. To be more direct, since human society is composed of relationships, many of them carrying implications of power and elements of concealment, one’s point of entry into a past moment will always affect one’s findings. No workable definition of objectivity can hide the likelihood that students of the human past will always have to deal with more than one version of what has happened. – Appleby, Hunt, and Jacobs (1994).

A. Covenant Model, Part 4

Part 4 of the biblical covenant model is oath. A covenantal oath invokes God’s sanctions in history, positive and negative.

Part 4 of biblical social theory is sanctions, positive and negative. It implies judgment, which is based on God’s imputation: good and evil, right and wrong.

Part 4 of humanist scholarship is nominalism: competing interpretations. These are judgments. There is no known way to reconcile them, for that would imply a uniform standard for settling disputes. Nominalism denies the existence of any such objective standard.

B. Realism vs. Nominalism

On what basis can men impute value to anything? Humanism has been searching for an answer to this question from the days of the pre-Socratics. Humanism has never found an answer that is consistent with its presuppositions about God, man, law, sanctions, and time.

I began this chapter with a quotation from their 1994 book, Telling the Truth About History (p. 262). The three authors made it clear that there is more than one version of what has happened. There are, in fact, so many versions of what has happened that nobody has a good enough memory to recall all of the competing versions of major events. Anyone who doubts this should try to compile a list of books on the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. The three authors then asserted that this in no way undermines the coherence and accuracy of historiography. They wrote the following: “The fact that there can be a multiplicity of accurate histories does not turn accuracy into a fugitive from a more confident age; it only points to the expanded necessity of men and women to read the many messages packed into a past event and to follow their different trajectories as that events consequences contact and eight through time” (p. 262). The authors assumed that there are accurate histories out there, somewhere. On what basis philosophically could they legitimately assume this? In the mid-19th century, a few German historians did believe that there can be accurate historiography of objective past events. That faith was almost gone by 1920. It was publicly abandoned in the 1930s. The concept of objective historical accuracy did indeed become “a fugitive from a more confident age.” The last defense attorney of that elusive fugitive was Arnold Toynbee. He is forgotten by the general public and most practicing historians.

Men search for objective knowledge. Objective knowledge, by definition, is based on objective facts. Christianity teaches says that objectivity is based on God’s imputation, which is comprehensive. God created the facts, and He judges them in terms of His permanent standards. He is sovereign over history. His interpretation of history is objective because He has comprehensive knowledge of what has happened in the past, and He is in control of historical causation. He also has a perfect memory.

The humanist denies the existence of such a God. He thereby makes himself responsible for identifying objective facts in every area of life. The humanist historian must identify objective facts in the past. But he does not have comprehensive documentation of the past. How can he make accurate judgments about the objective past? How can he prove that his imputations of historical relevance are correct? What are the objective standards of imputation? There is no agreement among humanist historians regarding this issue, except to deny all objective standards.

I come now to realism vs. nominalism. First, realism. The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines philosophical realism: “Realism: in philosophy, the viewpoint which accords to things which are known or perceived an existence or nature which is independent of whether anyone is thinking about or perceiving them.” This definition excludes God, who perceives everything. All facts are interpreted by God. This is the basis of objectivity in every area of life. Deny this, and objectivity disappears—a fugitive in hiding.

In the history of Western philosophy, some humanists have sought objectivity outside of history. Plato sought objectivity in trans-historical conceptual forms. Behind every table in history is a conceptual form of a table that is outside of history. But Plato could not explain how the trans-historical forms are connected to the material realm of history. Aristotle also believed in forms, but he argued that they are embedded in the realm of matter. Both positions are called realism. The forms governing history are either transcendent to history or embedded in history. That is to say, they are either transcendent or immanent. Humanists have been unable to show how changeless transcendent forms are connected with the ceaseless change of history. How do people perceive these forms? This is the problem whose answers divided Parmenides and Heraclitus. Our minds are subject to change. How do we use our supposedly unchanging reason to identify that which is permanent—objectively permanent? There has never been any agreement on the answer.

Second, nominalism. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines nominalism: “Nominalism: in philosophy, position taken in the dispute over universals—words that can be applied to individual things having something in common—that flourished especially in late medieval times. Nominalism denied the real being of universals on the ground that the use of a general word (e.g., ‘humanity’) does not imply the existence of a general thing named by it.” This view insists that observers impute meaning to the world around them. There is no inherent meaning in the world. There is no inherent objectivity. Objectivity is a myth. There is no underlying reality. The only thing that matters is what individuals think matters. The problem here is that there are a lot of individuals who have opposing opinions about what really matters. There is no way to reconcile these competing opinions.

The humanist does invoke the God of the Bible to solve this problem. But God is the solution—the only solution. He interprets reality: objective. He speaks a word of judgment: subjective. He will impose final judgment at the end of time: objective. The humanist invokes mankind. But mankind is not unified. Individual imputations conflict. There is no agreed-upon way among humanists to determine which imputations are correct, and which are incorrect. As humanists have become more consistent with their philosophical presuppositions regarding human autonomy, there has been less agreement regarding objective reality and its interpretation. This applies to the study of history.

A major defender of nominalism in the writing of history is the French historian Paul Veyne. His primary work in this field is Writing History: Essay on Epistemology (1984). His main critic is Marcel Gauche, who defends realism. The debate is perpetual. This is because humanism is dualistic. Humanism is also dialectical: the attempt to hold two contradictory positions at one time. Neither Veyne nor Gauche defends a pure version of either nominalism or realism. Again, I quote Van Til, who said that scholars on each side of some irreconcilable humanistic dualism are like two washerwomen who make a living by taking in each other’s laundry.

In his important book, The One and the Many ([1971] 2007), Rushdoony made this comment on nominalism:

If God has truly causally created all things and is himself sovereign, self-contained, and triune, then no fact is a fact apart from Him, nor can any fact have a valid interpretation in and of itself. God-created factuality means God-interpreted factuality. Apart from God, there is only the concept of brute factuality, facts in and of themselves and without any relationship or meaning in terms of one another, a sea of meaningless and unrelated particulars, or else the absorption of all facts into the ocean of being and their loss of both identity and particular meaning. The first means a world of anarchistic atoms or particulars, and the second means a totalitarian and obliterating unity (p. 16).

With this in mind, consider the 1933 presentation of a dedicated nominalist historian, Charles Beard.

C. Charles Beard on Imputed Meaning

1. Beard’s Influence

Two years after Carl Becker delivered his 1931 speech to the American Historical Association, “Everyman His Own Historian,” Charles A. Beard delivered what was essentially a confirmation of Becker’s thesis: “Written History as an Act of Faith.” It was published in the January 1934 issue of The American Historical Review, pages 219–32.

Beard was a far more prominent historian than Becker was. He was the most famous and the most prestigious historian within the Progressive movement. In 1913, his book, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, created a sensation. He argued that the Framers in Philadelphia in 1787 promoted a specific kind of ownership, which was not primarily land-based. They were part of the commercial class. They wrote the Constitution to benefit this class. He followed with this book: An Economic Interpretation of Jeffersonian Democracy (1915). In 1927, he and his wife wrote what immediately became the most prominent American history textbook in American colleges: The Rise of American Civilization. This book and its two sequels remained the dominant American history textbooks for the next two decades. In 1926, he was elected president of the American Political Science Association. This was unheard of: president of both societies. His academic influence was unique.

2. The Centrality of Man in History

I take seriously the title of the speech, “Written History as an Act of Faith.” This was religious language. Perhaps Beard was trying to be clever. If so, what was he trying to conceal by means of this cleverness? The content of the article indicates that he was struggling to provide answers to a series of epistemological problems that are the inescapable products of humanism’s rejection of Christianity.

The first issue that he dealt with was omniscience. He used the word. He understood its centrality in both history and historiography. Without omniscience, the world becomes incomprehensible: chaotic. He wanted to avoid this result. “The hypothesis of chaos admits of no ordering at all; hence those who operate under it cannot write history, although they may comment on history” (p. 226). He did not explain how people can even comment on history. He rejected the Christian God. He said that all historians had done this. “Contemporary historical thought is, accordingly, returning upon itself and its subject matter. The historian is casting off his servitude to physics and biology, as he formerly cast off the shackles of theology and its metaphysics” (p. 225). What did Beard substitute for an omniscient God? History itself. “What, then, is this manifestation of omniscience called history? It is, as Croce says, contemporary thought about the past.” This laid the epistemological foundation of his speech, namely, the authority of human thought. He invoked the name of Benedetto Croce. Someone else who did this was Collingwood, beginning in 1935. Beard spelled out the implication of Croce’s theory of history: it is created by autonomous individual thought.

History as past actuality includes, to be sure, all that has been done, said, felt, and thought by human beings on this planet since humanity began its long career. History as record embraces the monuments, documents, and symbols which provide such knowledge as we have or can find respecting past actuality. But it is history as thought, not as actuality, record, or specific knowledge, that is really meant when the term history is used in its widest and most general significance. It is thought about past actuality, instructed and delimited by history as record and knowledge—record and knowledge authenticated by criticism and ordered with the help of the scientific method. This is the final, positive, inescapable definition (p. 219).

First, he limited his definition of history to human beings: their thoughts and actions. This limitation points to man as a sovereign. Nothing outside of man was an element of Beard’s definition of history. This idea was widely shared in his day. It was also Collingwood’s view. Second, thought is central to his definition of history, as it was for Collingwood. “But it is history as thought, not as actuality, record, or specific knowledge, that is really meant when the term history is used in its widest and most general significance.” Men think. This was the starting point for Descartes: “I think; therefore, I am.” This is humanism’s substitute for God, who thought before He created the world. This raised a serious problem: nominalism. Without God, there is no authoritative thinker. Men disagree. This leads to epistemological chaos: pure subjectivism.

3. The Need for Imputation

History is everything that men have ever done. This is beyond human calculation. How can historians provide a coherent narrative? How can they make sense of the immensity of the past? By a careful selection of facts. “Every student of history knows that his colleagues have been influenced in their selection and ordering of materials by their biases, prejudices, beliefs, affections, general upbringing, and experience, particularly social and economic; and if he has any sense of propriety, to say nothing of humor, he applies the canon to himself, leaving no exceptions to the rule.” This evaded the problem: the historians’ colleagues do not agree with him or each other.

What he called the omniscience of history in all of its complexity becomes selected facts by historians. God was once thought to be omniscient, and omnipotent as well. Christians believed that He has provided coherence to history, both objectively and imputationally. He has directed everything. He has imputed meaning to everything. But He is gone in modern humanists’ thinking. This puts history in charge. But history is not in charge. It is blind. It is silent. It does not impute meaning. Then what will replace history? Historians. Lots and lots of historians. They will select what they think is important for their peers to remember. They will impute meaning to whatever they have selected. To do this, they must also impute meaning to everything they decided not to select.

This introduced subjectivism into the discussion. Beard embraced subjectivism wholeheartedly. “Contemporary thought about history, therefore, repudiates the conception dominant among the schoolmen during the latter part of the nineteenth century and the opening years of the twentieth century—the conception that it is possible to describe the past as it actually was, somewhat as the engineer describes a single machine” (pp. 220–21). This repudiation of realism has created a crisis for historiography. “As Croce and Heussi have demonstrated, so-called neutral or scientific history reached a crisis in its thought before the twentieth century had advanced far on the way” (p. 221). The crisis is spreading. “This crisis in historical thought sprang from internal criticism—from conflicts of thought within historiography itself—and from the movement of history as actuality; for historians are always engaged, more or less, in thinking about their own work and are disturbed, like their fellow citizens, by crises and revolutions occurring in the world about them” (p. 221). Subjectivism is now dominant. “Once more, historians recognize formally the obvious, long known informally, namely, that any written history inevitably reflects the thought of the author in his time and cultural setting” (p. 221).

Beard called history omniscient. This language was deceptive. Historians create history, he argued. He knew that historians are not omniscient. He had a word for them: guessers. “That this crisis in thought presents a distressing dilemma to many historians is beyond question. It is almost a confession of inexpiable sin to admit in academic circles that one is not a man of science working in a scientific manner with things open to deterministic and inexorable treatment, to admit that one is more or less a guesser in this vale of tears. But the only escape from the dust and storm of the present conflict, and from the hazards of taking thought, now before the historian, is silence or refuge in some minute particularity of history as actuality” (pp. 221–22). When omniscience becomes guessers, there is a crisis in men’s theory of knowledge.

4. The Desire for Meaning

He understood the psychological problem facing him and his peers: “. . . the historian would be a strange creature if he never asked himself why he regarded these matters as worthy of his labor and love, or why society provides a living for him during his excursions and explorations” (p. 222). I regard Beard as a salesmen of an idea: the nominalist view of history. A good salesman knows that one way to sell something is to remind the potential buyer early in the sales pitch that he has a problem. The salesman then offers a solution. Beard was doing his best to bring a message of hope to his fellow-guessers. But what was this hope?

He offered nothing. Not yet. Instead, he kept piling up the problems.

He insisted that there are no laws of history. This was his denial of realism. “Undiscouraged by their inability to bring all history within a single law, such as the law of gravitation, they have gone on working in the belief that the Newtonian trick will be turned some time, if the scientific method is applied long and rigorously enough and facts are heaped up high enough, as the succeeding grists of doctors of philosophy are ground out by the universities, turned loose on ‘research projects’, and amply supplied by funds” (p. 223). But without laws of history, there is no science of history, he said. This is a good thing, he said. This protects our liberty from the tyranny of historical laws. He was a junior Heraclitus warning his peers about Parmenides. “If a science of history were achieved, it would, like the science of celestial mechanics, make possible the calculable prediction of the future in history. It would bring the totality of historical occurrences within a single field and reveal the unfolding future to its last end, including all the apparent choices made and to be made. It would be omniscience. The creator of it would possess the attributes ascribed by the theologians to God. The future once revealed, humanity would have nothing to do except to await its doom” (p. 224).

What did he offer as a substitute? Something that sounded suspiciously like historical relativism. That had also been Becker’s substitute two years earlier. “Having broken the tyranny of physics and biology, contemporary thought in historiography turns its engines of verification upon the formula of historical relativity—the formula that makes all written history merely relative to time and circumstance, a passing shadow, an illusion.” But he immediately dismissed this suggestion. On what basis? Relativism. Relativism will fail—absolutely.

Contemporary criticism shows that the apostle of relativity is destined to be destroyed by the child of his own brain. If all historical conceptions are merely relative to passing events, to transitory phases of ideas and interests, then the conception of relativity is itself relative. When absolutes in history are rejected the absolutism of relativity is also rejected. So we must inquire: To what spirit of the times, to the ideas and interests of what class, group, nation, race, or region does the conception of relativity correspond? As the actuality of history moves forward into the future, the conception of relativity will also pass, as previous conceptions and interpretations of events have passed. Hence, according to the very doctrine of relativity, the skeptic of relativity will disappear in due course, beneath the ever-tossing waves of changing relativities (p. 225).

So, he invoked social evolution to forecast a world somewhere in the distant future that will abandon relativism, at least for a while. Then an absolute will appear, replacing relativism. And what will that absolute be? History!

Contemporary historical thought is, accordingly, returning upon itself and its subject matter. The historian is casting off his servitude to physics and biology, as he formerly cast off the shackles of theology and its metaphysics. He likewise sees the doctrine of relativity crumble in the cold light of historical knowledge. When he accepts none of the assumptions made by theology, physics, and biology, as applied to history, when he passes out from under the fleeting shadow of relativity, he confronts the absolute in his field—the absolute totality of all historical occurrences past, present, and becoming to the end of all things (p. 235).

When relativism is replaced by its successor, there will be three rival views of history to choose from: (1) history as chaotic; (2) history as cyclical; (3) history “on an upward gradient toward a more ideal order—as imagined by Condorcet, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, or Herbert Spencer” (p. 226). Beard rejected all three (p. 226). He then faced this challenge: you can’t beat something with nothing. What is the missing fourth option? This: the scientific method.

5. Deliverance: The Scientific Method

He had denied that history is a science, yet he was an apostle for the scientific method, which he did not define or even describe.

But members of the passing generation will ask: Has our work done in the scientific spirit been useless? Must we abandon the scientific method? The answer is an emphatic negative. During the past fifty years historical scholarship, carried on with judicial calm, has wrought achievements of value beyond calculation. Particular phases of history once dark and confused have been illuminated by research, authentication, scrutiny, and the ordering of immediate relevancies. Nor is the empirical or scientific method to be abandoned. It is the only method that can be employed in obtaining accurate knowledge of historical facts, personalities, situations, and movements (p. 226).

The scientific method preserves democracy and liberty. “It has a value in itself—a value high in the hierarchy of values indispensable to the life of a democracy. The inquiring spirit of science, using the scientific method, is the chief safeguard against the tyranny of authority, bureaucracy, and brute power” (p. 227). The scientific method is the barrier separating civilization from barbarism. “The scientific method is, therefore, a precious and indispensable instrument of the human mind; without it society would sink down into primitive animism and barbarism” (p. 227). Nevertheless, it has limitations. “So the historian is bound by his craft to recognize the nature and limitations of the scientific method and to dispel the illusion that it can produce a science of history embracing the fullness of history, or of any large phase, as past actuality” (p. 227).

Scientific history is the realm of realism. He had abandoned it. Scientific method presumably is in the realm of nominalism: agreement among historians. Yet he spoke of it as something real, something objective. Somehow, these supposedly antithetical concepts—scientific history and scientific method—can and must cooperate. This dualism must somehow become dialectical. First, there must be realism. There must be objective truth. There must be causation, even in the realm of ideas. There really are objective realities to investigate after all. “This means no abandonment of the tireless inquiry into objective realities, especially economic realities and relations; not enough emphasis has been laid upon the conditioning and determining influences of biological and economic necessities or upon researches designed to disclose them in their deepest and widest ramifications. This means no abandonment of the inquiry into the forms and development of ideas as conditioning and determining influences; not enough emphasis has been laid on this phase of history by American scholars” (p. 227). Second, there must also be nominalism: competing interpretations of history. Becker had announced two years earlier: every man an historian. Beard accepted this.

It is that any selection and arrangement of facts pertaining to any large area of history, either local or world, race or class, is controlled inexorably by the frame of reference in the mind of the selector and arranger. This frame of reference includes things deemed necessary, things deemed possible, and things deemed desirable. It may be large, informed by deep knowledge, and illuminated by wide experience; or it may be small, uninformed, and unilluminated (p. 227).

To sum up contemporary thought in historiography, any written history involves the selection of a topic and an arbitrary delimitation of its borders—cutting off connections with the universal. Within the borders arbitrarily established, there is a selection and organization of facts by the processes of thought. This selection and organization—a single act—will be controlled by the historian’s frame of reference composed of things deemed necessary and of things deemed desirable. The frame may be a narrow class, sectional, national, or group conception of history, clear and frank or confused and half conscious, or it may be a large, generous conception, clarified by association with the great spirits of all ages. Whatever its nature the frame is inexorably there, in the mind (p. 228).

This speech was a conceptual mess. He invoked epistemological salvation by an undefined scientific method, yet he warned against scientific history—the historiography of objective truth, of realism.

D. Multiple Imputers of Meaning

Collingwood insisted on the autonomy of the individual historian. The historian has to impute meaning to the past. He has to select from the vast array of historical documents those that are relevant to his narrative. Becker held the same view of imputation. The historian imputes meaning to the past. But he introduced the crucial fact of historiography: there are lots of interpreters. Becker multiplied them like locusts. Every man is his own historian. Beard also sided with subjective imputation as the substitute for objective history. Here was their problem. Mankind is not united. Humanism declares that mankind is autonomous. But this doctrine of autonomy does not stay bottled up in the concept of collective mankind. It spreads into every area of life. The many interpreters of the past disagree with each other about what was significant in the past. This is the curse of nominalism. The Bible describes it. There was initial agreement at the Tower of Babel, but God divided the people. There was a common confession, but God divided it. There was a common society, but God scattered it. This is nominalism’s problem. There is no way to reconcile philosophically the divided declarations of men regarding the past.

There are certain methodological agreements that enable professional historians to evaluate each other’s work. But footnotes do not unify historians. Footnotes are not in agreement with each other. Documents are not in agreement. There is no scientific methodology that enables historians to find objective truth. Their nominalist philosophy denies the existence of objective truth. This denial leads to relativism. Historians do not want to admit that their competing theories of history promote relativism. They protest are in vain. Their protests are denied by their subjectivist philosophy of history. They deny the legitimacy of nineteenth-century scientific historiography: realism. They invoke nominalism. But, with nominalism, it is every man for himself. It is every historian’s interpretation at war with every other.

Whatever unanimity exists among historians is a matter of convention, not historical truth, according to nominalistic philosophies of history. Historians within the guild band together to outlaw certain historical interpretations. In United States history, the most obvious of all the guild-banned narratives is this one: President Franklin Roosevelt lured the Japanese into the war in December 1941. The premier historian who promoted this view was Beard. In 1948, his final book appeared, President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War. It was published by Yale University Press. In it, he argued that President Roosevelt had adopted measures that deliberately provoked the Japanese government to attack the United States, thereby enabling Roosevelt to take the nation into the war. Instantly, he lost his reputation. He died in September of that year. He became a retroactive pariah after 1948. Had he not died shortly after the book was released, and before the savage reviews of it appeared in professional historical journals, he would have learned that scientific methodology could not save his reputation.

E. Postmodernism

Postmodernism is an intellectual movement that has extended nominalism far beyond anything envisioned by historians in the 1970s. It is a view dominated by the idea that there is no objective truth. It is dominated by the idea that texts, including historical texts, must be interpreted entirely on the basis of their autonomous internal coherence, not social meaning imputed by self-interested outsiders. This view leads to radical skepticism. It is anti-establishment. The Wikipedia entry on postmodernism is accurate.

Postmodern thinkers frequently describe knowledge claims and value systems as contingent or socially-conditioned, framing them as products of political, historical, or cultural discourses and hierarchies. These thinkers often view personal and spiritual needs as being best fulfilled by improving social conditions and adopting more fluid discourses, in contrast to modernism, which places a higher degree of emphasis on maximizing progress and which generally regards the promotion of objective truths as an ideal form of discourse. . . .

Postmodernism is generally defined by an attitude of skepticism, irony, or rejection toward what it describes as the grand narratives and ideologies associated with modernism, often criticizing Enlightenment rationality and focusing on the role of ideology in maintaining political or economic power. Common targets of postmodern criticism include universalist ideas of objective reality, morality, truth, human nature, reason, science, language, and social progress. Accordingly, postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to self-consciousness, self-referentiality, epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, and irreverence.

Within the guild of academic historians, there were few practicing postmodernists until the twenty-first century. They have since multiplied in the humanities. Defenders of the academic establishments were disarmed after 1820 by the prevailing nominalism that today dominates the humanities. Postmodernists are anti-realists, but so are virtually all of the other members on a faculty. Realism went out of fashion along with high-button shoes.

Appleby, Hunt, and Jacob identified the problem in Telling the Truth About History. They dated in four decades late. “Since the 1960s, all the regnant absolutisms of the nineteenth century been dethroned. A many-pronged attack coming from a variety of perspectives has zeroed in on the goals of objectivity and truth-seeking. A fluid scepticism now covers the intellectual landscape, encroaching upon one body of thought after another. The study of history has been questioned and its potential for truth-finding categorically denied” (pp. 243–44). Fluid scepticism is not a solid foundation for epistemology.

Postmodernist historians deny that historical writing is based on truth-seeking. They see it as defending existing politics and existing social structures. The three historians rejected this interpretation. But on what philosophical basis did they reject it? By something they called “practical realism.” They did not define this. They did not even explain it. They were trying to create a new theory of history. They called for “a different, more nuanced, less absolutist kind of realism than that championed by an older—we would say naïve—realism. The newer version—what is called practical realism—presumes that the meanings of words are never simply in our head, nor do they lock on two objects of the external world and fixed reality for all time” (p. 247). There was never any historiographical movement that described itself as holding to practical realism. Modernists denied realism. The philosophers also denied it. It is true that all groups attempted to import realism when they got into the bind of complete relativism. Nominalists for centuries have adopted this unofficial strategy. But there was never any developed, self-conscious philosophical defense of a middle ground between the two positions. There was dialecticism: back-and-forth invocations of each view. There was also informal borrowing from each other’s position. But there was never a self-conscious effort to develop a philosophy of historical interpretation that was a functional hybrid between the two systems. Realism and nominalism are mutually exclusive philosophies.

The chief problem for nominalist historians is to find ways to reconcile competing historical interpretations. This is the problem of the imputation of meaning. If God is not there to do this, then man has to do it on his own authority. But man does not have the capability of doing it on his own authority. So, the three authors wanted a middle position. But they did not want to take a stand against imputed meaning. They wrote this: “The realist never denies that the very act of representing the past makes the historian (values, warts, and all) an agent who actively moulds how the past is to be seen. Most even delight in the task” (p. 249). Yes, realists do delight in the nominalist task. That is because they are really nominalists.

The three historians wanted human autonomy. They wanted historians to exercise the power to shape the past. “Practical realists are stuck in a contingent world, using language to point to objects outside themselves about which they can be knowledgeable because they use language. This slightly circular situation in which the practical-minded find themselves may not make for heroes, but it does help locate truths about the past. More important, practical realism thwarts the relativists by reminding them that some words and conventions, however socially constructed, reach out to the world and give a reasonably true description of its contents” (p. 250). They called this a “slightly circular situation.” It is 100% circular.

The three then invoked the objective reality of language. (This is also what a Christian historian should do, on this basis: God spoke the world into existence. Next, God spoke to Adam. Adam and Eve spoke with each other.) These three historians also invoked a common language. But they had no metaphysical foundation for this invocation. They had no epistemological foundation for it. The best they could come up with is this: “reasonably true description.” By what standard? By whose imputation? Revealed by what methodology?

They offered what they called a new theory of objectivity. “We think that a case can be made for a qualified objectivity after this refurbished objectivity has been disentangled from the scientific model of objectivity” (p. 254). But they never offered any philosophical justification for their hybrid system. All they did was offer hope in some future technical reconciliation of the ancient dualism. They told us what scholars must do. They did not tell us how these scholars are going to do it. They did not tell us why they are going to do it. They also did not tell us why no historian has done in the past four centuries. As you read the following passage, listen for a faint sound of Judy Garland singing “somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high.”

No longer able to ignore the subjectivity of the author, scholars must construct standards of objectivity that recognize at the outset that all histories start with the curiosity of a particular individual and take shape under the guidance of her or his personal and cultural attributes. Since all knowledge originates inside human minds and is conveyed through representations of reality, all knowledge is subject-centered and artificial, the very qualities brought into disrespect by an earlier exultation of that which was objective and natural. Our version of objectivity concedes the impossibility of any research being neutral (that goes for scientists as well) and accepts the fact that knowledge-seeking involves a lively, contentious struggle among diverse groups of truth-seekers (p. 254).

Their book describes many of the problems that humanist historians created for themselves when they abandoned faith in the Bible and faith in the providential God who created all things out of nothing by the power of His word. What the book does not describe is any philosophy that is half realism and half nominalism. It also does not describe the outline of a philosophically grounded methodology that will enable historians to bring forth objective reality out of the cacophony of competing autonomous interpretations by their peers.

Conclusion

There is a popular phrase: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but everyone is not entitled to his own facts.” In terms of humanist epistemology, everyone really is entitled to his own facts. This is the implication for every philosophy of autonomy. By the mid-1930’s, leaders of American historiography went public with respect to the impossibility of neutral historiography. This included the impossibility of neutral facts. All facts are interpreted, they admitted. But the inescapable implication of this admission is this: there can be as many historical facts as there are historians. Modern humanist historiography does not have a theory of objective historical events in the past, objective historical documentation, and objective interpretation of this documentation.

Rushdoony in 1968 contrasted the Christian view of history and the humanist view.

For the Orthodox Christian, who grounds his philosophy of history of the doctrine of creation, the mainspring of history is God. Time rests on the foundation of eternity, on the eternal decree of God. Time and history therefore have meaning because they were created in terms of God’s perfect and totally comprehensive plan. Every blade of grass, every sparrow’s fall, the very hairs of our head, all are comprehended and governed by God’s eternal decree, and all have meaning in terms of it. The humanist faces a meaningless world in which he must strive to create an established meaning. The Christian accepts the world which is totally meaningful in which every event moves in terms of God’s predestined purpose, and, when man accepts God as his Lord and Christ as his Savior, every event works together for good to him because he is now in harmony with that meaning and destiny (Rom. 8:28). Man therefore does not create meaning; instead, having rebelled against God’s meaning, having striven to be as God and himself as a source of meaning and definition (Gen. 3:5), man now submits to God’s meaning and finds his life therein. For the humanist, the dynamics of history are in titanic man, as he imposes his will and idea on the world. For the Orthodox Christian, the dynamics of history are in God the Creator, and man accepts those dynamics and rejoices in the blessings thereof when man accepts Christ as Savior and then follows the leadings of the sanctifying Holy Spirit (Foundations of Social Order, p. 8).

Consider this: “For the humanist, the dynamics of history are in titanic man, as he imposes his will and idea on the world.” But dynamic man, being dynamic, is always changing. He must impose his will on the world in order to keep rival dynamic men from imposing their will on him. In his 1945 novel, That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis has a power-seeking villain say this. “It does really look as if we now had the power to dig ourselves in as a species for a pretty staggering period, to take control of our own destiny. If Science is really given a free hand it can now take over the human race and re-condition it: make man a really efficient animal. . . . Man has got to take charge of Man. That means, remember, that some men have got to take charge of the rest—which is another reason for cashing in on it as soon as one can. You and I want to be the people who do the taking charge, not the ones who are taken charge of.”

Humanists find that they cannot exercise such control. They are not omniscient. The world is highly complex. This law of change confronts them: “You cannot change just one thing.” This is accompanied by the law of unintended consequences. This in turn is accompanied by Murphy’s law: “If something can go wrong, it will.”

What applies to planning for the future applies to our understanding of the past. The past was complex. Documentation is incomplete. It is often contradictory. Interpretations compete for public acceptance. Public agreement declines as the cost of producing and accessing rival interpretations decreases. Cacophony increases. Put differently, intellectual entropy increases. It increases when humanists become more consistent with their theory of the future: cosmic entropy. I cover this in the next chapter.

Christian Education: An Objective Theology of the Covenant

The Biblical Educator – January 15, 2022

By David Chilton (circa 1980)

Many of you will assume that the following article is just another article on infant baptism. But it isn’t. Many more will think it is not relevant to Christian school issues. But it is. So, on second thought, perhaps you’d better sit down and read it.

The Bible teaches us to think of salvation, the family, the church, and all of life in terms of the Covenant. From the beginning in the Garden, man’s relationship to God — which covered every aspect of his existence — was covenantal: that is, salvation was not individualistic (concerned only with the individual believer), but instead involved his entire household. This does not mean, of course, that all members of a believer’s household were regenerate: but we’ll get to that in a few moments.

Consider some examples of covenantal relationships in biblical history: Adam was the Head of the Covenant between God and all mankind; when he rebelled, he and all his descendants were damned (Rom. 5:12, 18). The godly line of Seth is contrasted with the ungodly line of Cain, the high point in each covenantal line being the seventh generation from Adam (Gen. 4:1 – 5:24). Then came Noah, with whom God established the Covenant by which his whole household was saved (Gen. 7:18; 9:9). The Covenant with Abraham also involved his household — not merely his children, but his slaves as well (Gen. 17:9-13). As Meredith Kline has conclusively demonstrated in By Oath Consigned (Eerdmans, 1968), the biblical idea of Covenant is an authority structure: the Covenant is imposed upon a man and includes all those under his authority — wife, children, slaves, and so on. This aspect of the Covenant is inseparable from the Covenant itself. Thus, when Paul told the Galatians that their conversion placed them in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gal. 3:7, 29), he was telling them that their situation was exactly the same as that of any non-Israelite in Old Testament times who had become a believer: his initiation into the Covenant brought in his household (authority structure) as well (see Ex. 12:48). If you are in the Covenant, all those under your authority are to be placed into the Covenant structure as well.

Now, some of you are already disagreeing — and I haven’t even gotten to the main point of the article yet. But in order to keep you reading, let me ask you a question: Do you believe in the Ten Commandments? Forget the “theonomy” thesis for a moment; just concentrate on the original Ten. Do you believe they’re still valid? If so, you are required to believe everything I’ve said up to now., For if you believe in the Ten Commandments, sou must believe the Second Commandment, including the part which is rarely quoted: “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments” (Ex. 20:5-6). This passage teaches that curse and blessing are covenantally passed from generation to generation. If you believe the Ten Commandments, Covenant theology is inescapable. (And, by the way, if you believe that much, then you must also believe what Deut. 28 says about blessings and curses passing through generations, ultimately affecting whole cultures. And that makes you, in principle, a theonomist. Welcome to the club) Now you know why those who reject theonomy are finding it necessary to dump the Decalogue. There’s no middle ground.)

All this is not just a bit of high-flown theologizing. It has a very definite bearing on our daily conduct. Our attitudes and actions toward one another must be in terms of the Covenant. This means much more than infant baptism alone: our whole life must be lived under Covenant law — and that holds implications which few of us have ever considered. In order to understand them, we must examine what Covenant membership involves.

Covenant Membership

The visible sign of admission into the Covenant is baptism (which has taken the place of circumcision, Col. 2:11-12). In the Old Testament, all those under covenantal authority were members of the Covenant. Period. This is not to say all Covenant members were regenerate — far from it. In the line of Seth, both Methuselah and Lamech were alive when God announced His Covenant to Noah — yet they seem to have been included in the ungodly world. Lamech died before the flood came, but Methuselah died in the year of the flood, and perhaps in the flood itself. Another example is Ham, who was certainly in the Covenant, but who inherited a curse instead of blessing. Ishmael and Esau were children of the Covenant, but to all appearances unregenerate. And many Covenant members throughout Israel’s history were unregenerate as well. I’m not saying any of this is ideal. We would like it to be otherwise. We would like all men to be saved. But I am saying this: Regeneration is not, and never was, the condition of Covenant membership.

If not, what is the condition? Covenantal obedience. Look at it like this. Let’s say an alien desired to join the Covenant in Old Testament times. He and all under his authority would receive the sign of circumcision, and from then on all would be ruled by Covenant law. All would have the right and responsibility to partake of the Old Testament version of communion (Passover and the other feasts). Can we assume that all members of the household were, subjectively speaking, “converted”? Not at all. Yet all were in the Covenant, with all the responsibilities and privileges that membership entailed.

Take a more extreme example. When Israel captured their enemies in battle, they took them as slaves. According to biblical law, these heathen slaves were immediately circumcised and included in the Covenant, with the right to eat at the feasts. Their defeat in battle and consequent status as slaves under a covenantal authority structure automatically rendered them members of the Covenant. They were required to put away their false gods and heathen practices, and to worship and obey the true God. Regardless of their personal attitudes, they were —objectively speaking — no longer heathen. They were members of Israel, the people of God. It has always been true, of course, that “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom, 9:6); Covenant membership does not guarantee saving faith. But all Covenant members were objectively on the same footing. All partook of communion. All were blessed or cursed by Covenant standards. All were addressed throughout the Old Testament as “my people” — until the time came when Israel’s disobedience resulted in the excommunication of the nation as a whole, and the Covenant line began to be filled by the Gentiles, who were grafted into the covenantal tree of life (Rom. 11:17-24).

The essential point to grasp here is that one’s covenantal status — one’s membership in the church, the people of God —is based on objective, not subjective, criteria. There is no rite of “confirmation” in the Bible for admission to the covenantal meals. If you are in the authority structure, you are (or should be) in the church. Membership is not voluntaristic. In the Bible, if oaths had been sworn over you by your lord husband, parent, or owner), you were a member of the people of God whether you liked it or not. Ultimately, if you didn’t like it — if you rebelled against the Covenant — there was only one way out: being “cut off” from Israel (which, at the very least, meant excommunication).

Perhaps the best way to see what happens when we apply objective theology to practical issues would be to contrast it with the practice of two conflicting schools of thought — Realism and Nominalism.

Realism vs. Nominalism — vs. the Bible

Which is more important — unity or diversity? Should society’s needs come first, or should those of the individual? What is most basic to reality — collectivity or individuality? This issue is known in philosophy as the problem of The One and the Many (see R.J. Rushdoony’s book by that title). Historically, the question has been answered from three different perspectives. Realism (it’s called that in philosophy, for reasons that will become apparent; but Realism is not realistic, really) sees oneness and unity as being basic to all reality. It is the view that names, symbols and rituals are real things, which completely determine the particular things that they define. Nominalism, on the other hand, holds that symbols are just names, not realities. Nominalists see diversity and individuality as being most basic:

But the biblical answer is to be found in Trinitarianism. God is triune, and all reality is structured in terms of Him. A brief definition of the Trinity might be this: One God without division in a plurality of Persons, and three Persons without confusion in a unity of essence. God is not “basically” One, with the individual Persons being derived from the oneness; nor is God “basically” Three, with the unity of the Persons being secondary. God is One, and God is Three. There are not three Gods; there is only one God. Yet each of the Persons is Himself God — and They are distinct, individual Persons. But there is only one God. To put it in more philosophical language, God’s unity (oneness) and diversity (threeness, individuality) are equally ultimate. God is “basically” One and “basically” Three at the same time. And the same goes for all of creation. Both unity and diversity are important — equally important. Neither aspect of reality has priority over the other.

Let’s say a Realist and a Nominalist happen to see my wife kiss me. The Realist will say, “Aha! A kiss is symbolic of love. That kiss proves Darlene loves him!” But the Nominalist will retort, “Whaddya mean? A kiss is just a kiss, like the song says. Sure, it’s a symbol of love. But it doesn’t mean she really loves him. The question is, what’s the attitude of her heart?” I, however, am a Trinitarian; and when my wife kisses me, I recognize it as a symbol of her love, but I also enjoy it because it’s not a “mere” symbol. It is an act of love, and the two go together. I’m sure you’d like to read more of this hot stuff, but let’s go on to some less romantic issues of the Covenant, and consider how each of these views approaches them.

  1. Government. The Realist school, holding that unity is fundamental, maintains an episcopal form of church government —power from the top. The Nominalist, believing that diversity is ultimate, and that each person’s individuality is sacred, favors a congregational pattern in which power is exercised democratically, from below. Realism tends toward totalitarianism; Nominalism tends toward anarchy. The biblical form of government is presbyterian, in which there is a balance of power within a structure of authority.
  2. Baptism. Realists believe that ritual washing with water really removes original sin. Nominalists see baptism as “a visible sign of an invisible grace,” in which the important thing is whether the individual has already made a decision. They do not see baptism as a means of grace. To them, it is ultimately a “mere” symbol, and cannot be efficacious. The Bible, in contrast to Realism, does not teach that baptism regenerates; nor does it teach, in contrast to Nominalism, that one must give evidence of regeneration before being baptized. Baptism is a means of grace, and signifies not the subjective experience of the recipient, but the objective imposition of covenantal authority over him.
  3. Communion. For the Realist, the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper are really transformed into the body and blood of Christ. The Nominalist believes communion to be, again, a “mere” symbol of an inward attitude in the individual — and it’s the attitude that’s important. This is why most Nominalists practice open communion, in which anyone can walk in off the street and partake of the sacrament. The radical Nominalists (e.g. the Quakers) dispense with the sacraments altogether. The biblical teaching is that the bread and wine are always only bread and wine; and yet that in the Supper we are having dinner with Jesus, who feeds us with Himself as we eat and drink together.
  4. Excommunication. When a Realist church excommunicates you, you’re damned. The decree of those in power effectively consigns you to eternal perdition. Of course, if you’re a Nominalist, you’ll regard the decree as just so many words, and you’ll start attending a Nominalist church down the street. Nominalist churches hardly ever excommunicate anybody — and if they do, the judgment has all the awesome significance implied in not receiving the church newsletter anymore; and the excommunicated person gets his name listed on the rolls of another church. The biblical doctrine is that a lawful sentence of excommunication places a person outside the visible body of Christ, and denies him the opportunity to meet the Lord at His Table. But excommunication does not necessarily mean damnation. It is, in fact, a last-ditch effort to bring the offender back to the faith. The judgment is efficacious (one way or the other); but it does not make a determination of the condemned person’s eternal state. Excommunication has to do with the visible church.
  5. Church membership. For a Realist, eternal salvation is guaranteed by membership in the visible church — baptized children are unquestionably regarded as regenerate. For a Nominalist, eternal salvation has little, if anything, to do with church affiliation: everything depends on the individual’s decision to accept Christ — and if he has “decided for Christ,” he is considered a Christian. Church membership is nice, but purely voluntary. Children are unquestionably regarded as unregenerate (except for the Nominalist’s “safety net” — the wholly mythical, unbiblical notion of an “age of accountability,” before which children are not accountable to God for their actions, and are “saved” without being regenerated). The biblical view of church membership is objective and covenantal: All baptized persons (church members) who have not been excommunicated are to be regarded as in the household of God. They must be addressed as members of the Body of Christ, and even “little ones to Him belong.” Communion is to be served to all church members unless they are under discipline. But communion is to be withheld from those who are not members of a church, regardless of their claims that they have accepted Christ. Unless they belong to Christ visibly, through membership in a real authority structure, there is no objective basis on which to regard them as Christians. Note: I am not saying a non-member is necessarily unregenerate; just that there is no objective evidence he is. Nor am I saying that communion may be served only to members of my own congregation or denomination; but that communicants must belong to a visible structure somewhere. Communion is thus neither “open” nor “closed,” but restricted.

Theology: Objective and Subjective

All those who are united to a visible church — by which I mean any orthodox, creedally-defined church — are to be regarded as fellow members of the Covenant. Their theological understanding may be woefully limited or defective; nevertheless, by their baptism into the triune Name, they are under the covenantal authority of Christ, and belong to Him. They are to be served communion. They should be required to tithe. In short, all the rights and responsibilities of Covenant membership belong to them. Voting and office-holding, however, are not automatic rights of the Covenant, and may legitimately be restricted to those heads of households who have received sufficient instruction in the faith, and who demonstrate in their lives those characteristics appropriate to the exercise of such responsibilities. Our ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) must be objective. Yet this is not to discount the necessity of regeneration and personal faith. Regeneration cannot be visibly perceived (John 3:8), but it is no less real. Preachers must exhort their flocks continually to believe, repent, and obey the demands of the Covenant to which they were sworn. But they must not address their people as “presumptively unregenerate,” for Covenant members are the people of God, the church of Jesus Christ. Read the writings of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles — do you ever find them speaking to the church as heathen? Never; not even in I Corinthians, and the congregation in Corinth was really a mess. Church members, even erring ones, are addressed as called saints (the same expression as holy convocation in the Old Testament). They are commanded to live in terms of their covenantal calling, and exhorted to refrain from living after the manner of the heathen (who were always differentiated from them). There is no rite of “confirmation” in the Bible, because there is no need for it: Baptism is the confirmation into the Covenant. You will never find a distinction in the Bible between “communicant” and “non-communicant” membership, because all Covenant members took communion (except for those who were excommunicated). One obvious objection to all this is that it can result in multitudes of disobedient, rebellious, apparently unconverted people taking communion. And such an objection is completely correct. That will be the result, until the day comes when church officers repent of their lily-livered pussyfooting and get serious about church discipline. The Table can be protected. But it does not need to be protected from children.

One of the chief reasons for the downfall of the Puritan theocracy was its confusion between subjective and objective theology. The Puritans rightly understood that eternal salvation is inseparable from regeneration and faith; but they confused that with requirements for church membership and communion. Thus they devised “tests of saving faith” which members had to pass successfully before being admitted to communion. These soon degenerated into demands for a subjective, datable experience of conversion — and such an experience had to conform to specific canons produced by the scholars of New England. If your experience didn’t match the order contrived by the theologians — if you had no memorable “experience” at all— in short, if all you had was a love for God and a desire to serve Him in covenantal union with His people: Sorry, try again next time the session meets.

The result was that thousands of church members became “non-communicants,” thousands more never attempted to join the Covenant, and the Puritan Hope of a Christianized culture went down the drain. Solomon Stoddard’s misguided attempt to salvage the situation was demolished by his grandson, Jonathan Edwards: and for all the good that was done by Edwards, White-field and the Tennent family in the Great Awakening, that event marked the end of a hope for a covenantal theocracy in America. Joining the Covenant became entirely relegated to a subjective, “spiritual” (i.e., neoplatonic) realm, completely unconnected to objective Covenant union in a visible church. Authority and discipline went out the window, and so did the possibility of Christian reconstruction. Now, almost 250 years later, true evangelicalism is synonymous with philosophical Nominalism. Subjective theology is the order of the day, and any attempt to return to a biblical worldview looks to most people like heresy. The first time I read Norm Shepherd’s article on “The Covenant Context for Evangelism,” I thought he had abandoned Calvinism. The trouble was that / hadn’t been reading Calvin. I’d been reading Arthur Pink, Gardiner Spring, and the Banner of Truth.

There are many applications we could make of Covenant theology, and I’ve hinted at a few already. But I’m running out of space, so I’ll suggest one more, with specific relevance to Christian schools. If the children in your school belong to Covenant homes, do not treat them as if they need a- conversion experience. Instead, speak to them on the basis of the oaths to which they are already bound. They are in the Covenant, they are members of Israel, the Body and Bride of Christ. They are not little angels, but they’re not little pagans either. They have been sworn to Jesus Christ as His own. Objectively, they are His children; subjectively, they must live as His children.

(For further reading on the issues raised here, see Shepherd’s article, mentioned above, in The New Testament Student and Theology, ed. by John H. Skilton [Presbyterian and Reformed, 19761; Jim Jordan’s “God’s Hospitality and Holistic Evangelism” [Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. VII, No. 21; Jordan’s “Theses on Paedo-Communion,” available from Geneva Divinity School; Edmund Morgan’s Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea [Cornell University Press, 19631; and Terrill Elniff’s The Guise of Every Graceless Heart [Ross House, 19811.)