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Douglas A. Sweeney
HISTORY WARS I: Taking A Shot At Redemption
The recent publication of History and the Christian Historian, edited by Ronald A. Wells, and Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, edited by James D. Bratt, provides Christian scholars of all sorts with an ideal opportunity for an expression of gratitude to the history department at Calvin College.1 Appearing hard on the heels of George Marsden's The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (Oxford, 1997)—an outstanding work that has already received due coverage in this publication—these more recent books testify further to Calvin College's unparalleled leadership in the field of Christian historiography. More than anyone else, the historians at Calvin (along with their Dutch Reformed publishers at Eerdmans) have led the way in first-rate thinking about the relationship between faith and history. One does not need to be a Calvinist, or a historian for that matter, to appreciate this thinking and its influence on a wide variety of intellectuals.
I say this as a Lutheran who must confess in all honesty that his own American Lutheran tradition cannot hold a candle to the Calvinists in Grand Rapids—at least when it comes to careful reflection on the role of faith within the academy. A few historians in my tradition have written essays addressing—though not always maintaining—the relationship between faith and the historian's craft.2 One quasi-Lutheran quasi-historian with a Lutheran awareness of human sinfulness has left a lasting historiographical impression with his work on the irony of American history.3 And a greater number of full-fledged Lutherans have written more broadly on faith and learning.4 But the Lutheran tradition has failed to produce anything like the Calvin school's sustained analysis of Christian faith and its importance for the practice of history.
My embarrassment over this failure grew rather acute last year when I at tended a Lilly-funded conference on Christian models of higher education. Held in the Lutheran chapel of ...