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Brad S. Gregory

The Lord Shall Judge

Providence reconsidered.

A common narrative of the history of Western historical writing runs something like this: pre-modern chroniclers interpreted events through a biblical lens in which a providential God acted in history. They saw the world as God's creation, events as his judgments on nations and individuals prior to an eventual Last Judgment, when the risen Christ would return to separate sheep from goats forever (Matt. 25:31-46). Then in the Enlightenment, chastened by religious wars and cosmopolitanized by discoveries of new continents and new peoples, progressive Westerners embraced reason and science. They rejected the traditional Christian view of history as culturally conditioned, superstitious mythology. The modern, scholarly discipline of history that emerged in the 19th century presupposes this rejection. Claims of divine providence and divine judgment are at a minimum empirically unverifiable, if not also naive, irresponsible, and dangerous. Therefore modern historians who are also Christians must work according to critical, disciplinary canons that include writing as if they were deists or atheists, even if they believe that God acts in history. This expectation dovetails with the American constitutional separation of church and state, the idea that religion is a personal, private, subjective affair, and the de facto secularism of the academy. After all, how could the claim that God acts in history be argued seriously among professional historians?

It is Steven Keillor's objective to do just that. His book will not convince everyone, but only a closed-minded dogmatist could dismiss it tout court. Gauging his likely audience as evangelicals, Keillor writes that "[s]ecularists of the left, center and right are very unlikely to read this book." This might well be true; if so, it would be a pity. Keillor's book is so original, so radically subversive of widespread and mostly unquestioned intellectual assumptions in the secular academy, and yet so carefully written and trenchantly ...

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