Leaving God out of history

Posted by on Aug 2, 2010

One of the challenges of living faithfully in a predominantly secular age is imagining what difference it would make if we looked for God in history. That sounds absurd, doesn’t it? But much of history, American history at least, has been considered, explored, and recorded as if God were absent. Even for some who acknowledge God’s existence, their historical inquiry assumes he’s apathetic, uninvolved, distant, or powerless. A deistic god seems allowable since he makes no difference. But the sovereign, powerful, omnipresent, engaging God of the scriptures? Well, that’s another story – a very different story indeed.

One case in point is suggested in George Marsden’s excellent biography of Jonathan Edwards. (Jonathan Edwards: A Life, 2003, published by Yale University Press). Marsden writes:

Historians of the United States have been prone to give much more attention to Benjamin Franklin than to Edwards as a progenitor of modern America. That is understandable since Franklin seems so congenially to represent tendencies that triumph in mainstream American life and politics. Yet a good case can be made that stories of America are deficient if they do not at least temper emphasis on the Franklins of the heritage with a serious reckoning with the Edwardses. Most strikingly, the standard narratives fail to account for why levels of religious practice came to be much higher in the United States than in other modernized nations.” (p. 9).

According to Marsden, early American historian Daniel Walker Howe presses the point further and suggests that “if one is looking for the prototype of the work ethic in colonial America, it would be better to look to Edwards than Benjamin Franklin.” (p. 133).

I believe the radically reductionist vision of modern secularists may be dwindling. People are beginning to challenge the notion that God and spirituality need to remain separated from intellectual inquiry. This is good news for thoughtful Christians. How different would other disciplines (physics, biology, sociology, psychology, etc.) look if we remembered that “in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17)?

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