An Evangelical Historiography

Evangelicals have responded to logical positivist historiography in various ways. Thus, an exploration of these several different evangelical approaches to historiography needs to be done. Considering these positions, it will be argued that an evangelical historiography for use inside the church should look different from an evangelical historiography for use outside the church. That is, there should be one method for use with Christians and one method for use with non-Christians. The reason for this divergence of methodology is the varying set of metaphysical presuppositions that affect scholarship in each interpretive community. In this process, the three broad categories of Paul de Vries’s methodological naturalism, Roy Bhaskar’s critical realism in the form of critical theism, and Karl Barth’s postmodern fideism will be surveyed.

Donald R. Kelly identifies the object of history to be “pastness.” Yet, there is the recognition that, despite the protests of Leopold von Ranke, we do not have access to history “wie es eigentlich gewesen ist” (“as it actually happened”). Indeed, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing has shown us that there is “der garstige breite Graben” (“the ugly broad ditch”) which hinders our access to history. Mircea Eliade tells us that “More than anywhere else, [mythical thought] survives in historiography” and that this is good because it “has served both as a shield against the excesses of historical Pyrrhonism and as an aid to interpretation where evidence is lacking.” Regardless of whether one takes a methodological naturalist or critical theistic view, historians all follow Hans-Georg Gadamer’s fusion of horizons model, which functions as a hermeneutical circle. That is, evidence is gathered, and a hypothesis is formed and more evidence is gathered, and the hypothesis is modified, on and on. To a lesser extent, the same can be said for the postmodern fideist view. That is, even though core faith statements remain constant, subsidiary doctrinal developments could operate according to Gadamer’s hermeneutical circle.

When one considers all the varying options, it would seem that an approach that maximizes the benefit to the church would be one in which there is an evangelical historiography for use inside the church and an evangelical historiography for use outside the church. Inside the church, one has faith and sees no profit in the historical-critical method. Thus, a historical method as proposed by Grant Osborne or by Craig Blomberg seems perfectly appropriate for the edification of the church, while cautiously appropriating insights from critical scholarship when useful to the church. Conversely, when doing evangelism and apologetics to those outside the church, it would seem best to adopt Andrew Loke’s suggestion of a progression from methodological naturalism to an argument to the best explanation for critical theism. This paper makes a contribution to the field by addressing the concern of secularization in a methodological naturalist historiography by providing an alternate approach that evangelical scholars of history may conduct historical research in the evangelical interpretive community, in which certain metaphysical presuppositions are shared and do not need to be proven before historical work can begin.

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