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MARK NOLL


HISTORY WARS II: Intellectual Fallout

Necessity of a particularly military sort has been the great mother of twentieth-century invention. The list of modern "improvements" that owe their existence, or at least accelerated development, to the stimulus of warfare is a long one. Plastic, computers, transport by jet airplane, radio, an integrated civil service, prepackaged foods, and radiation harnessed for treating the sick are only some of the items belonging on such a list.

Whether the cultural wars of the twentieth century will imitate the shooting wars by accelerating the development of useful intellectual spinoffs is an open question. Current debates over the meaning and uses of history, which are antagonistic enough to justify being called at least guerrilla war, are an excellent case in point. Publishers' lists now bulge with books on the subject, titled both provocatively—for example, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History—and prosaically—for example, In Face of Facts: Moral Inquiry in American Scholarship. Extensive disputes over what it means to study the past have engaged and en raged historians, philosophers, cultural critics, literary scholars, and the occasional learned amateur.

The Christian stake in the modern history wars is immense. Every aspect of lived Christianity—worship, daily godliness, private devotion, religiously inspired benevolence—and every major theme of Christian theology—the nature of God in relation to the world, the meaning of Christ, the character of salvation—directly or indirectly involve questions about how the present relates to the past. Thick books arising from long and prayerful thought, not rapid surveys like this one that reflect reading on the run, are required for adequate Christian assessment of the History and Christianity Question as it stands at the end of the millennium. What a quick survey of a dozen or so recent books can do, however, is explore some of the backgrounds to battle, sort out some of ...

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