Reflecting on “Why Study History?” Chapter 4

Hi friends,

Before Monday Night Football started, I wanted to finish another chapter of Why Study History?.  I’m glad I did.  I got to dive into the section on Providential History.  I found Fea’s argument against pursuing providential history to be an intriguing one.

As a Christian, I am always looking for God’s involvement in life.  Fea argues that this is a question for theologians.  As pursuers of the past, historians cannot look to providential history.  Providential history looks to see all that God has done in history and explain why.  You can understand why we historians do not pursue providential historians.  Fea points out that historians make no qualms about not entirely understanding why God does certain things.

For this reason, Fea is critical of an older book The Light And The Glory by Peter Marshall and David Manuel.  This book looks to early American history and sees God’s end goal to providing freedom as America defines it.  Fea points out that it is not a historian’s job to interpret God’s goal in history, because we don’t know where He is going to move.  Christian Historians know that at the end of history God wins, but that’s about it.  Fea argues that we want theologians for this part.

I enjoyed this chapter.  It was an easy read, and covered something that I remember often doing.  I can remember getting into arguments and using providential history (some time ago) to defend my points.  However, I’ve realized that history really humbles you as you try to understand a past where not all the information is there; you also realize that there is no way that you as a finite being are going to be able to completely understand the will of an infinite God.  It is a fun pursuit of knowledge, but you can’t always fall on “God wants x for specific reason y” because at the end of the day we don’t why He does every single action, and we likely won’t know on this side of His kingdom.

-Phil

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Christian, Lover of History, Aspiring Teacher

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3 comments on “Reflecting on “Why Study History?” Chapter 4
  1. Jimmy Dick says:

    Phil, I love the reflections on this book. I really enjoyed reading it and several sections had more impact than others. This particular section is one of common sense for historians, but unfortunately some people seem to want something different in their history. Theoretically everything is in accordance with God’s plan since for him time has no meaning. In a sense all history is providential, but there is no way we can point out anything in history and say with 100% authority that God did X for Y reason.

    I think those that say God did X for Y reason are pretentious in claiming to know what God does and why in history. Dr. Fea did a very good job in separating providential history from history itself. There are many different sects of Christianity that disagree over why things have happened throughout time and obviously the non-Christian faiths have their interpretations as well. It is just impossible to use providential history to explain why things happened with that in mind.

  2. Phil says:

    Very similar to my thoughts. I make no qualms about not knowing why God does everything He does. And I think there is something of value to that mystery. As a historian I am here to explore empirical evidence, as a Christian I know that behind everything God is moving — I just don’t have the final answer as to why.

  3. johnfea says:

    Well done, Phil! Well done.

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