Historical Understanding, Finiteness, and Fallenness

17 Jul

Historian Robert Tracy McKenzie (Wheaton College) has just posted a cogent piece on his blog.  Although he is beginning a series of posts on Christianity and the U.S. Constitution in historical perspective, this first post is a prelude. In it, he concisely warns evangelical Christians about a set of temptations over which they seem especially prone to stumble:

I have written before that we always face two primary obstacles in our quest for historical understanding: our finiteness and our fallenness. The former means that we will necessarily write from a less than omniscient perspective. Thanks to the unbridgeable chasm of time, the fading of memory, and our dependence on evidence that is flawed and invariably incomplete, our understanding will necessarily be limited and imperfect. The realistic historian always echoes Paul’s realization in I Corinthians 13–for now, we see as through a glass, darkly.

If the first obstacle centers around problems with historical evidence, the second concerns problems with the historian. In our fallenness, we will always be tempted to interpret the past in ways that further our own agendas. Our agendas don’t have to be evil–they may, in fact, be quite noble–but the temptation (conscious or unconscious) to find what we are looking for in the past–whether it is really there or not–affects us all.

I stress this point because popular Christian writers often seem to forget it.

See his full post here.

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