Sunday, August 09, 2009

History - Competing Views

I'm reflecting a bit on notions of history. I find that the prevailing evangelical view is that history is really salvation history, or the story of God's saving work throughout time. The big problem with this view is that it was torpedoed by the Enlightenment, our capacity, as a species, to change the course of history (transforming nature and society) has led to a view of history that is very anthropocentric. This is the notion of history behind old school liberal social gospel thinking that says we are the ones who create/build the Kingdom of God. Ironically that language is also pervasive in evangelical circles, but then again we are known for our incapacity for self-reflection, no matter. These two views of history obviously have little in common - except that they are both true! Yeah, that's the twist. I have a sense that the working understanding of truth (function and form) is partly to blame, but also the existential questions that prevail in North American thinking also contributes to our polarization of the notions of history. Certainly there is a fear of the follies of the Social Gospel, but perhaps the answer is not to write it off but take it seriously as part of the truth, just not the whole truth.

This allows us to come up with a different understanding of history - one of participation and trust. We can trust that God has the last word in history, but that at the same time history is open to our significant participation. And yes, we can screw it up (just as much as we can work on making it better). History becomes our story and God's story, one we are writing together. Not just the story we find ourselves in, but the one we are actively writing through our free choices. And the important part is that this is the story that is important! That is the nuance that is missed in telling it as God's story (that is God's alone). When we polarize the stories, we can acknowledge our stories, but we diminish their value and their worth. This sort of fatalism has no real answer to the tough questions of our day.

So let me invite you into a new story. One that says both you and God are significant (and indispensable) partners. One where life has meaning and we are called on to work with God towards Kingdom ideals like justice, equity and love. Anyone else want in on this?


Andrew said...

Yes! I'm In!

kns said...

As a historian I have a hard time accepting a synthesis of two thumbnail visions of history as particularly persuasive. Isn't this classic straw-man stuff Frank?

One of Freedom said...

Hey Kenny, I wasn't trying to reduce history to these two visions, I'm trying to get at the operative paradigms of history amongst Christian groups. There is a good critique of the anthropocentrist view of history in political theology. The insight I'm trying to get at is that history is not one or the other, but rather it is something more that encompasses both (salvation history and human history).

Personally I'd opt for a more cosmological approach, such as a universe history (of which we are a small blip), but the post was more of a reflection on how history is working amongst the theologians I'm reading.