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Providentialist History

Thanks for Mark Noll's review of Gordon Wood's Empire of Liberty ["Jefferson's America?", January/February]. Noll gave due credit to Wood's brilliance at analyzing republicanism while questioning how this political ideology could drive all features of life, even religious ones, in the early Republic, and how Wood can call Jefferson "the supreme spokesman for the nation's noblest ideas."

Noll is modest in not saying right out loud that Wood's view downplays the many contributions made in the past 30 years by historians of American religion, especially evangelical ones, notably Noll himself. In fact, Empire of Liberty reveals that evangelical historians need to write grand interpretations of American history as well as writing monographs. We can't be content just to make bricks if the architects and builders misuse them.

Empire of Liberty has pushed me over the edge, toward writing a providentialist history of the United States (the colonial period, too) to continue my earlier work for InterVarsity Press, This Rebellious House and God's Judgments. At least I've begun the project. Who knows if anyone can finish it.

Wood's casting of Jefferson and Madison as our Romulus and Remus, originating our national life, is a bit idolatrous by implication. Wood points to their imperfections and indiscretions, but the Romans and Greeks allowed their gods some faults. The key issue is, who did the originating?

After the debunking of the Founders in the 1960s, we now see a bidding war between the political Right and Left to see who can be more patriotic in praising them. The result borders on filiopietistic history—and Wood's book comes close. If we're going to be pietistic, why not pick the right Person and outline how Providence acted skillfully in the Founding, using the "Founders" as his tools? (More emphasis on the colonial period helps to show that Jefferson was no Romulus.)

A thoughtful providentialist approach can help citizens question Obama-articulated liberal utopianism, so like Jefferson's utopianism in its zeal to hold out a democratic, peace-pursuing America as a beacon to the world. People are not in charge of events to achieve such visions.

If "God" is just a word in our religious discourse, then people will use their own hermeneutics to spin it however they wish. Providentialism holds God to be a real Actor in our history, who has blessed this "Capernaum nation" and holds it accountable for what it does with those blessings.

Steven J. Keillor
Adjunct Assistant Professor of History
Bethel University
St. Paul, Minn.

Should Christians Be Physicalists?

C. Stephen Evans thinks it strange that I don't represent and engage more knowledgeably philosophers and philosophical theologians and so put dualism in a better light ["Should Christians Be Physicalists?", March/April]. This is because Evans has fundamentally misrepresented the content and aim of my book, Body, Soul, and Human Life. He apparently reads it as a monograph-length attack on dualism—a strange characterization of a book that includes two (of five) chapters where the word "dualism" does not even occur. At its most basic, Evans' review comprises a demand for a different sort of book than the one he has reviewed. This was not a philosophical treatise or systematic theology but, as the subtitle indicates, a study of The Nature of Humanity in the Bible. Accordingly, I am not surprised (for example) that Evans finds that my discussion of "what happens when we die" provides no single, coherent view; after all, my aim was not to resolve into a single portrait the various views on eschatological details we find in the New Testament.

Less polemical readers will find—indeed, have already found—that the book is simply what it claims to be. This is an examination of biblical materials related to the nature of the human person in the context of claims from the natural sciences, and particularly the neurosciences. I am concerned about longstanding misreadings of the "imago Dei" language in Genesis 1 and of the language of the "soul" in Scripture. And I concern myself with the coherence of our understanding of the human person in relation to how we think about human freedom and responsibility, conversion, and the afterlife. My basic claim, then, is that a genuinely biblical faith ought not be surprised by 350 years of evidence, from the birth of neuroscience to recent innovations in the field, pointing to the indivisibility of embodied human life.

In the end, the basic chasm that separates Evans' interests in this review from the content of my book is that I am writing here as a biblical scholar engaged in work at the interface of biblical studies and the neurosciences, and not as an analytical philosopher. Evans might reply that my claims have ramifications that ought to be considered philosophically. Were he to have said so, I would only agree, while pointing out that this would be project of a different sort than the one I have undertaken here. I am disappointed, then, that my book was not reviewed on its own terms.

Joel B. Green
Professor of New Testament Interpretation &
Associate Dean for the Center for Advanced Theological Studies
Fuller Theological Seminary
Pasadena, Calif.

C. Stephen Evans replies:

I did not expect Joel Green, a respected biblical scholar, to write as "an analytical philosopher." However, his book certainly does contain an extended polemic against a view he calls "dualism." Green's book contains a lot more, including discussions of such philosophical issues as freedom and responsibility, but not everything can be discussed in a brief review. It seems highly disingenuous for Green to claim he is only providing an "examination of biblical materials related to the human person" and not doing systematic theology or philosophy, when the nature of the human person is one of the standard topics of systematic theology and cannot be discussed without touching on many philosophical issues. Rather than retreat into a disciplinary enclave, I invite him to be part of a conversation about these matters with Christian philosophers and theologians, as well as other biblical scholars. Surely what we both want is to know is how Christians should think about such matters as these: Am I identical to my body? What happens after I die? These are not "eschatological details." We need answers we could provide to our children or at a funeral, and I am convinced that some of the answers Green provides are highly problematic. I commended Green for his willingness to engage with contemporary science and take the risk of discussing questions that cross disciplinary boundaries. However, when important questions are raised about his philosophical and theological claims, it will not do to claim that he is just doing biblical scholarship.

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