History & Strange Reversals by Phillip E. Johnson

History & Strange Reversals

The April issue of Christianity Today features an article by Tim Stafford on some Evangelical Christian history professors who have gained scholarly prominence. Mark Noll of Wheaton, Harry Stout of Yale, and George Marsden of Notre Dame are major players in the academic mainstream. Some critics say their books are good but not distinctively Christian. Academic history, like natural science, imposes a requirement of methodological naturalism that disallows reference to the “God hypothesis.” If you want to speak to the academic culture, you have to obey the rules of its language game. In that case, how does the work of Christian historians differ from that of secular historians of comparable ability?

The problem arises because the scholars rightly want to make the kind of nuanced judgments that earn the respect of other historians, rather than be perceived as cheerleaders for some Christian cause. For example, Mark Noll has an understandable aversion to “providential history,” stemming from his reading of American Revolutionary War sermons of the “God is on our side” variety. But enlisting God on America’s side, or anybody’s side, is propaganda in a Christian vocabulary, not a genuinely Christian viewpoint about history.

Here is where I would start. A great deal of history has been written from the perspective of the Enlightenment rationalist story of progress. To put it crudely, the underlying story is that in Greece and Rome people made a start towards knowledge, but then the world was set back in the Middle Ages, when people threw their brains out the window. Just in time, modern science galloped to the rescue, preparing the way for a triumph of reason that is still unfortunately retarded by the lingering vestiges of superstition. That’s another form of providential history, as simple-minded in its way as the claim that God is an Englishman. The Enlightenment story is countered these days mainly by its equally crude postmodernist rival. This recasts Western patriarchal civilization as the villain of the story, with aboriginal peoples, proletarians, women, and homosexuals emerging as the heroes.

THIS ARTICLE ONLY AVAILABLE TO SUBSCRIBERS.
FOR QUICK ACCESS:


Phillip E. Johnson is Professor of Law (emeritus) at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Darwin on Trial, The Wedge of Truth, The Right Questions (InterVarsity Press), and other books challenging the naturalistic assumptions that dominate modern culture. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!


personal subscriptions

Purchase
Online Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives including pdf downloads for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!


RENEW your online subscription

Purchase Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!


RENEW your print/online
subscription

gift subscriptions

GIVE Print &
Online Subscription

Give six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for the reduced rate of $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!


RENEW your gift subscription

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

kindle subscription

OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)

Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.


more from the online archives

32.6—November/December 2019

Reformation Redux?

on Taking Heed of the Parallels Between the Crises of Yesterday & Today by Korey D. Maas

31.6—November/December 2018

Alias Santa Claus

on Childhood Encounters with a Christmas Icon by Rebecca Sicree

24.1—January/February 2011

Secular Grendel

Ruminations on the Monstrous Envy of the Soul-Devouring State by Anthony Esolen