Theology in History

I wanted to make the title, “God is History” but that doesn’t work practically as well as “Theology is History”. Of course, “Theology is History” doesn’t have quite the same provocative effect. So instead, I went with something that actually describes the content of this post. I’ve been thinking recently about the relationship between history and theology. This, particularly with reference to Old Testament narrative; how we are to regard the literary nature of narrative arguing theology to actual history. I’ve come up with three points because Bible college has had an effect on the structure of my thinking. This is my thinking thus far:

1. The Authorial Attestation

Supposing we reject the historicity of old testament narrative. The authors of the stories we find are simply fable and lore, told to argue for a certain type of god. The Exodus, for example, becomes a tale of a god who redeems his people. At first glance, it seems that not much is lost: we may still highly value the literary character of the Old Testament narrative and the narrators’ arguments remain within our grasp.
The problem with this view is that we are left with a Bible of stories. The examples to which the authors point in order to prove their affirmations about the character of God have no place in history. What we know of God’s character resides in the mind of the authors of fiction. The Exodus does not prove God’s love for His people and demonstrate the truth that God redeems His people, it can only claim that this is God’s character.
Theology embedded in history means that history is an argument for God and His character, it is the place to which we can look for evidence and examples of the way God deals with His people and ultimately, the way He deals with sin.

2. The Authorial Activity

We must realise, further, that if theology is not rooted in history, we are left with a god who does not act in history. It is a different god who does not exist immanently, in time, who does not act to bring about his purposes and whose activity we cannot perceive.
Theology being rooted in history means that we can look at history and see a God who acts. We can discern His sovereignty over events in time: we can see His command of nature as creation comes into being and is ordered, as the sea parts and as His purposes come to be.

3. The Authorial Insertion

Ultimately though, a theology that is not founded on history loses the cornerstone of the Christian faith. An enormous claim, made because theology and history intersect in a spectacular way when the subject of theology becomes an object of history. The Incarnation is the final and ultimate reason that theology and history cannot be torn apart. C. S. Lewis reflects on the fact that a character in Shakespeare’s plays could never meet Shakespeare himself: that is, Lewis muses, unless Shakespeare were to write himself into the script and interact with a character. Of course, the character could never know Shakespeare fully but it would be a revelation of the author to players in the story. This is what inspired the third point’s title. Ultimately without the author of the stage of history divinely writing himself in, we are left with a hidden god unlike anything in Christianity and, I would argue (though not here), not worth believing.

Theology and history cannot be torn apart without losing Christianity. What does that mean?
It means that we must affirm the historicity of what we find in Scripture.

James Cuénod
Student at Wheaton College
I love Jesus, preach his Gospel, disciple his children, study his word and I am incurably passionate about the glory of God.
Inching my way towards teaching pastors in South Africa. Student at Wheaton College. Excited by Hermeneutics, Old Testament and Biblical Theology.