MHT: Assessing Historical Metanarratives (Part II)

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

Church-HistoryThe metanarrative that seems most appropriate as the general approach to the history of Christianity is that of development. An approach seeking authentic developments—those which retain the first principles of a tradition throughout their entire development—appears to find that delicate balance between the errors of the changeless and the ever-changing. The willingness to locate the movements of history through the dialectic of opposites, the alternations back and forth between extremes in order to locate the truth of the middle ground, also seems sagacious given the example of the past. The developmental possibility for the assimilation of new ideas and contexts is also of great importance, especially given the advances of technology and geography in recent centuries. The principle that developments should build upon and not replace earlier doctrines especially illuminates the possibilities for both continuity and improvement, that the present is neither supremely dictated by the past nor lived in isolation from its effects. As Newman rightly indicated, true growth is that which “illustrates, not obscures, corroborates, not corrects, the body of thought from which it proceeds.”[35] Continue reading

MHT: Historiography and Christian History

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

SLUAt this juncture, I must reiterate that the application of categories such as pre-Modern, Modern, Postmodern, and developmental are neither strictly chronological nor are they entirely encompassing. There are contemporary examples of historiographical perspective representing each of these viewpoints, just as there are works which embody different insights from each of these movements. While the “history of history” has broadly developed along the lines summarized above,[32] a sometimes more useful way to delineate perspectives on the use of history are the metanarrative perspectives outlined by Kenneth Parker. In “Re-Visioning the Past and Re-Sourcing the Future: The Unresolved Historiographical Struggle in Roman Catholic Scholarship and Authoritative Teaching,” Parker outlines four ways in which the history of Christianity has been understood, terming these views Successionism, Supercessionism, Developmentalism, and Appercessionism. Continue reading

MHT: Developmental Perspectives on History

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

John Henry Cardinal Newman

John Henry Cardinal Newman

Postmodernism has not been the only reaction to the rise of Modern historiography: well documented is the rise of various “fundamental” forms of religion, which often retreat into pre-Modern conceptions of history and reality without taking seriously the insights or methods of Modern (or Postmodern) thought. Generally less discussed, however, are “developmental” perspectives on history, such as those of John Henry Newman and Philip Schaff. Such a viewpoint takes seriously the apparent variations between past and present, especially with regard to Church teaching. The developmental position argues that truth claims can function like “seeds” or “kernels” of veracity, existing early within a tradition as immature (yet still true) and growing over time into a mature understanding of reality. Whereas the pre-Modern and Modern conceptions of history posit that changes in Christian teaching would appear to be corruptions of the truth, the developmental option indicates that change is not always the decay of the truth into falsehood. For example, in Newman’s application of this theory, he was simultaneously able to admit changes in the teachings of the Christian Church throughout history and still argue from his historical sources and the scriptures that “Christian doctrine admits of formal, legitimate, and true developments” conceived by the Divine Author.[28] Continue reading