MHT: Integration of History and Theology

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting on the appropriate approach to and method for historical theology.

types-of-theology1A final—and supremely important—methodological point for the study of historical theology engages the relationship of history and theology. Existing scholarship often takes a historical or contextual approach to the study of history. And while there is nothing wrong with this approach, it lacks something, especially in situations where assumptions of philosophical naturalism critique how history cannot transcend a single person or perspective. As was indicated above, historical consciousness first arose within the context of Christian theology and history. After the Enlightenment, however, this influence of theology on the study of the past waned. The idea that history and theology are distinct and irreconcilable fields of study is challenged by a historical theological approach that takes seriously the methods of history and the invigorating influence of a God involved in human history. In this perspective, history comprises a cooperative agent in Christian theological study, and events and changes in the course of history must be examined and accounted for by both history and theology. History and theology are co-dependent in Christian historical theology, for Christian knowledge cannot distain history, nor can history reject Christian knowledge, but must acquire the “collective experience of Christ verified and realized in us.”[55]

Historical theology, then, must be both good history and good theology. Jaroslav Pelikan writes that, “Although the method of historical theology and the criteria for judging its results are fundamentally historical, its usual locus is within the theological enterprise.”[56] Historical theology stands in the gap between Church and academy and learns from and informs both. The applications of this type of enterprise are many. Historical theology may show how traditions gradually made clear what was unclear in the Biblical text and also critically examine the traditional foundations for exegesis. Historical theology also offers a broader foundation than traditional Church history, for historical theology remains concerned with broad context, not only what happens in the Church, but how the Church and the whole world have interacted in the past. The impact of historical theology may not only be one of problematizing existing conceptions through the notation of diversity and difference, but may also serve a positive theological role as well, helping to demonstrate the insights of the past and problems with historicism, immanentism, and relativism. Historical theology may thus simultaneously liberate from the “dead hand of the past” and the concerns of the immediate present.[57]


[55] Maurice Blondel, “History and Dogma” [1904], in The Letter of Apologetics and History and Dogma (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 287.

[56] Pelikan, 129-30.

[57] Ibid., 149-50.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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