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