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C. Stephen Evans

HISTORY WARS I: The History of History

Theology was once queen of the sciences. From her royal perch she imperiously appropriated what she wanted or needed from philosophy. Already in the early nineteenth century, Soren Kierkegaard presents a different image of theology's relation to philosophy: "Theology sits all rouged and powdered in the window … and offers its charms to philosophy. It is supposed to be difficult to understand Hegel but to understand Abraham is a small matter."1

Kierkegaard sees theology as a prostitute because of her lack of confidence in her own inherent value. Abraham is to be left for Sunday school classes; to gain respect in the academy one must hitch one's wagon to the latest trendy philosopher.

The new edition of Van A. Harvey's The Historian and the Believer offers yet another chapter in this unedifying saga of theology riding piggyback on philosophy. Harvey's book is a reissue of a work published in 1966. In the original edition, Harvey drew on a strange brew of philosophical ideas: the philosophy of history offered by idealist philosopher F. H. Bradley, and some reflections on biblical scholarship and history from German theologian Ernst Troeltsch, as well as a mix of empiricist views of knowledge and neo-Kantian claims about the relation of God to the natural world. All of this was offered to argue that orthodox Christian belief is undermined by rigorous historical scholarship. What Harvey called the "morality of knowledge" demands that the theologian fearlessly face the results of unhampered historical learning.

As Harvey described historical scholarship, it requires a commitment to the autonomy of the historian, which is in turn understood as demanding an attitude of suspicion toward all historical sources, particularly testimony. Quoting R. G. Collingwood with approval, Harvey affirmed that "insofar as an historian accepts the testimony of an authority and treats it as historical truth, he obviously forfeits the name of historian." The true historian gives tentative ...

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