Towards a Biblical Creation-Based Historiography
Ranke was the father of modern historical scholarship in that he sought to make the study of history a separate, autonomous academic discipline. While his ideal was that of a universal history spanning all times, nations and men, he also taught that "(e)ach event was unique and had to be understood as a discrete phenomenon, each period 'was immediate to God,' who had fashioned it. The historian must treat each period with unswerving impartiality."2
At the university of Berlin Ranke taught two generations of historians his historical philosophy, method, and also the critical study of historical sources (QuelIenkritik). His best-known works include The History of the Popes and German History in the Time of the Reformation. significantly dealing with topics of particular historical interest to Christians.
Ranke's conception of history is still thankfully the dominant school of historiography today, despite a kind of "higher criticism" from later historians of various persuasions. Thus we have outright "party" historiographies of the Nazi and Soviet variety, which select and bend the facts found in primary sources (or even falsify the primary sources) to fit the Procrustean bed of their respective ideologies. An example is the effort by modern Soviet historians to construct a history of the development of Russian industry in line with Karl Marx's historical stages based on economic class war (which actual Russian economic history does not substantiate). Another example is that of Frederick Jackson Turner (1861-1932), author of the "frontier theory" of American history. Turner based his theory
upon the scientific "grand theory most prominent in his own day, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Where Darwin has proposed an explanation for evolution in the natural world, Turner suggested that America was an ideal laboratory for the study of cultural evolution. The American frontier, he argued, returned man to a primitive state of nature. With the trappings of civilization stripped away, the upward process of evolution was re-enacted.3
Subsequent historians challenged or modified this theory in accordance with their own personal preferences about key factors in the development of America. A historian of our own time, Michael Rogin, writes from a perspective favoring American Indians and other minorities and cross-cultural conflict between them and white settlers, a consideration largely ignored by Turner.
Many historians today seize upon this or that particular consideration or area of investigation and then attempt to elevate it to a "field theory" purportedly explaining the whole or at least a wider area than the one they begin with. One prominent branch of this type of "part-for-the-whole" fallacious historiography is psycho-history. It subjects a historical personality's private life, letters, eye-witness accounts, medical records and the like to a minute scrutiny from a psychoanalytic, Freudian perspective. The resulting portrait of the historical personality (Leonardo da Vinci, Adolf Hitler, John Brown, Martin Luther, Abraham Lincoln, and Woodrow Wilson have been thus psychoanalyzed posthumously) is implicitly or explicitly presented as the "true" or "indepth" one not accessible by other methods. Similar historiographical trends include the application of modern sociometric devices to past communities, such as the study of neighborhoods, family interrelationships, classification by wealth, and so on, with more or less plausibility.
Instead of attempts to explain the whole of a historical period by its parts, or the whole of a personality by his or her psychoanalysis, there are historiographical schools which replace historical details by their respective periodic or universal schemes of what might be called "mega-history." One example is cyclical history, prominent through the writings of, for instance, Oswald Spengler or Arnold Toynbee. It asserts plausibly that societies or nations move through cycles of birth, infancy, maturation, decline and death in a biological manner. Historical meaning is attributed to individual persons or events .insofar as they indicate the stage at which a particular society or nation is supposed to nave arrived. This kind of historiography is so plausible because examples seem abundant; examples might include the history of the Roman Republic, of Kievan or Tsarist Russia, of the British empire, of the rise and fall of the Hapsburg dynasty, and so on. Cyclical historians believe that they have found a universal explanatory principle for history. However, problems arise because (1) the definition of the historical "unit" undergoing the cyclical stages varies (hence the differences among cyclical historians); )2) where does the cyclical historian fit a nation or society which seems to have "died" but then arises again, such as Greece, Egypt, or modern Israel? (3) now does cyclical history account for successor states, nations and societies emerging from a "dead" one? To accommodate such problems, "units" may be defined as very small or very large; cyclical sociologist-historian Pitirim Sorokin, for example, inclined towards very large ones.
Cyclical history is complemented by unilinear, universal historiography, such as H.G. Wells's Outline of History. This type of historiography must of necessity limit attention to details. It is also prone to what has been called "historicism" belief in historical "evolution" from tribal, primitive multiplicity to universal unity at the apex of mankind's development, directed by a "force" or "forces" inherent in the historical process itself, and/or proceeding by a dialectical "thesis-antithesis-synthesis" way to the ultimate "synthesis." This school is typified by Hegel and Marx. Both the cyclical and the historicist approach to writing history evaluate human action according to its place within or promotion of preconceived stages of advancement in the historical process. Sometimes the historical process itself is seen as endowed with latent goals and purposes of its own and as ultimately determinative of reality (a view explicitly held by Marxism). The biblical creation-based historian begins with the personal Triune God of the Bible as Creator and thus the absolute and ultimate sovereign over history; he must hence reject process historiography as apostasy. Note that biblical creation-based historiography establishes absolute historical meaning for individual human beings who are responsible to God their Creator for their historical acts. Ranke's concept of history as "discrete phenomena immediate to God" is compatible with the biblical creation-based view. St Augustine proclaimed a unilinear, universal view of world history in his City of God However, he attributed ultimate purpose and determination of history not to the process of history itself, but rather to God, Whose sovereign separation of the citizens of the City of God from the denizens of the earthly city (civitas terrena) is unfolded or revealed in history.
Geographical environment, natural resources, and relative location have a place as determining facts of history. The Rankean school would perhaps take note of such factors but without speculating as to their relative importance, restricting itself to reporting simply and only "that which happened," that is the human action of the past. Here we note a fuller method in the biblical creation account, where we are given a rather extensive description of the location and the natural resources of the garden of Eden, man's first habitat. From the biblical creation account it follows that Christians endeavoring to write history from the biblical creation perspective should carefully consider and report geographical details, even as the creation account tells us at length about "the gold of that land (which) is good: the bdellium and the onyx stone: the river Pison, the whole land of Havilab, the river Gihon which compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia; the river Hiddekel which goeth toward the east of Assyria; and the river Euphrates" (Genesis 2:10-14). From this wealth of detail we may infer that the physical environment, natural resources, and the relative locations of a historical person, land, or period are set by God and to be kept in mind and evaluated as important to historiography because they are co-determiners of the created identity of God's creatures and God-directed history. On the other hand, these factors are not all-determining and thus must be seen as part and not the whole.
Let us briefly consider the old historiographical "person-versus-historical period" controversy. Here again, as in cyclical or unilinear universal history we are prone to enter into speculation as we wonder "whether so-and-so was ahead of his time" or "misjudged his time," as though time in itself had determinative powers. It is not a historical person's "time" or "spirit of his time" which the historian must try to discern and evaluate, but rather, the historical person's God-given fellow-men and circumstances.
Should we then as biblical creationist historians follow Ranke strictly and merely report historical events without any evaluation whatever, "impartially"? Is it not of the essence of the biblical creation position that we must be "partial" partial by taking that very position itself, as opposed to the partiality of the historian omitting God from his writings (as Ranke did not)? Must we then, since so much historical research has already been done, restrict ourselves to researching minor, obscure historical dead-end particulars if we would cover new ground? If we do evaluate a historical personality's success or failure, can we do so in a manner which does not strainedly or mechanically superimpose God's law upon the behavior of the person we are evaluating? Is there for us a manner true to God and also organically growing as it were from the historical facts?
I believe that the biblical creation perspective can answer these questions if we accept the biblical creation record as historically accurate. According to this record, God and man historically meet, both at the point of creation, and also throughout man's earthly life where God is continually present with him, as shown in Genesis 1 through 3 (and throughout the Bible). Thus we can evaluate each human being by the standard of his or her created identity, that is, inborn gifts and talents augmented by outward environment prepared by God and by stewardship over one's created identity before God as shown by the historical record. On this basis we would evaluate Adam and Eve, gifted above all the rest of mankind and surrounded by a newly created, perfect environment, as failures. The complexity of circumstances has greatly increases since the Fall, but we nevertheless nave some idea of our created identities and our surroundings. We also have some idea of God's law yes, the unbelievers among us also, as Romans 1 and 2 testify, and in accordance with the words of Jesus Christ to His gainsayers, "Why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?" (Luke 12:57),
It is of course possible to arrive at a "mixed" evaluation of a historical personality. For example, I believe that the Roman writer and statesman Cicero was an excellent writer but a poor statesman, an evaluation with which other biblical creation-based historians might disagree. Contrary to non-Christian misconceptions, Christians, thank God, can rejoice in diversity in their academic research and conclusions! We can also afford to be quite open-minded about new methods of historical investigation. For instance, we can make room for psychological and psychiatric research, not to raise up psychohistory, but to find out whether a historical person's psychological or psychiatric problems diminished his or her exercise of stewardship before God. Biblical creation-based historiography would not call anything in history "chance" because the God of the Bible is sovereign over all things. He knows the number of hairs on our heads, not a sparrow can fall from a roof without His knowledge and will; to Him, the Creator of all things out of nothing, and the ever-present Sustainer of all things, all things, that is, all His works, are known in His eternal present from the beginning of the world (Acts 15:18). It is only the unbelieving historian who must postulate chance in historical events when they cannot be accounted for by plausibly arising from preceding events or circumstances (that is, by process history) but "just happen." Sometimes a historian of this kind in ancient or modern pagan fashion sees history as a combination of man's will and "fate," as does the historical actor himself who does not know the God of the Bible. One of the best descriptions and situations of this kind in world history is Julius Caesar's preparation to seize dictatorial power in Rome by crossing the Rubicon, written by Plutarch:
When he came to the river (it is called the Rubicon) which forms the frontier between Cisalpine Gaul and the rest of Italy he became full of thought: for now he was drawing nearer and nearer to the dreadful step, and his mind wavered as he considered what a tremendous venture it was upon which he was engaged. He began to go more slowly and then ordered a halt. For a long time he weighed matters up silently in his own mind, irresolute between the two alternatives. In these moments his purpose was constantly changing Finally, in a sort of passion, as though he were casting calculation aside and abandoning himself to whatever lay in store for him, making use too of the expression which is frequently used by those who are on the point of committing themselves to desperate and unpredictable changes, "Let the die be cast," he said, and with these words hurried to cross the river.5
Biblical creation-based historians would ascribe the ordering of subsequent events, and of the crossing of the Rubicon itself, to God, Who disposes of all things whatsoever, including the way the die is cast (Proverbs 16:33). The casting of die at the foot of Christ's cross for Christ's seamless robe was not chance or accident; on the contrary, it was known and preordained by God from the foundation of the world, and predicted centuries before it happened (Psalm 22:18).
When we describe events and courses of events rather than personalities from the biblical creation perspective, we must zealously guard against the related evils of attributing determinative power to the events themselves or to chance. On the other hand, we must give due recognition to the fact, acknowledged by anyone who has studied history for any length of time, that the making of history is not exclusively in the hands of men, but rather often depends on the imponderable and unforeseeable not "chance" or "fate" but, yes, God's own sovereign hand at the helm of historical development. Yet man is genuinely responsible, and genuinely able to alter history, as is shown plainly in the biblical record of creation and the fall. Nothing was "just there" in the garden of Eden God had placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil there, as well as the serpent. But God did not cause Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden tree; on the contrary, He did all He could to stop them from doing so, short of making them programmed automata or robots unable to disobey Him. Even so Caesar was not forced or "fated" to crossthe Rubicon but did so by his own free will. Yet God used Caesar for His own purpose, foreseeing the Caesar Augustus, Julius Caesar's heir and successor, under whom Jesus Christ would be born on earth 49 years later and you and me. What an awesome, inspiring thing world history is when you see it from the perspective of our Creator God!
Some questions, of course, are due to arise within biblical creation-based historical research and historiography. For instance, is an ideology, a political movement or party, a social class or social position part of one's created identity, the result of one's exercise of stewardship over it, or both? The question arises also as to whether natloils should be considered and evaluated as "persons~" Do nations, too, have created identities under God?" For instance, we in modern America enjoy freedoms, social mobility and possibilities of material advancement not possessed by most of mankind throughout history. Should then evaluation of us be stricter, individually and as a nation, because we have been given so much more than others? How do we evaluate government and other social institutions properly by the standard of how much they contribute, or howthey do harm, to the actual fruitfulness of their citizens' and subjects' created identities under God?
Finally, to the biblical creation-based historian recoroed history itself is part of our heritage and hence part of our created identity over which we must exercise stewardship From this fact the biblical creation-based historian can deduce the rightful demand that history should be studied as diligently as possible. For to neglect the study of history is not to be a good steward under God. It is a justification for the study of historynot available to the worldly historian who rejects biblical creation and wno must tnen justify the study of history on strictly utilitarian terms.
1 Fritz Stern, ed., The Varieties of History (New York: Random House Vintage House Books Edition, September 1973), p. 54.
2 Ibid, p. 55.
3 James West Davidson and Mark Hamilton Lytle, After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1982), p. 87.
4 Ibid., p. 103.
5 Plutarch, Fall of the Roman Republic.Six Lives by Plutarch, translated by Rex Warner, with Introduction and Notes by Robin Seager (New York: Penguin Books, 1958, 1972), p. 276.
6 Cf. "Repentance and Self-Limitation in the Life of Nations" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and especially the excellent "Personality and National Awareness" by Vadim Borisov, in Alexander Solzhenitsyn, editor, From Under the Rubble (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1975).