[Hat-Tip to Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub]
I am working steadily to get my classes up to speed for the start of the new year. The course description for my survey course in American history is going through the most substantial revision since I’ve discarded the traditional textbook approach for multiple secondary texts. As I was browsing a few of the blogs this morning I came across this post that includes a number of course descriptions from Castle Hills Baptist School in San Antonio, Texas. You can read the descriptions if you dare, but here is their course description for American history:
Students will evaluate the past and learn from its lessons (I Corinthians 10:11), and become effectual Christians who understand “the times” (I Chronicles 12:32). Students will study the history of our country beginning with the Civil War with a biblically integrated filter as they examine the political, social, and economic perspectives. An emphasis will be placed on the major wars, the industrial revolution, and the settlement of the frontier, requiring students to critically analyze the cause and effect relationships of events in history.
Here is (I Corinthians 10:11): Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
…and here is (I Chronicles 12:32): And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment.
I am curious as to whether it is possible to follow this course description and do analytical history. According to the description the students will focus on the political, social, and economic perspectives of American history. I take it for granted that all three categories are open to serious interpretation. Take for example the social history of the United States. Are we to understand American history as a society based on sharp class lines or as a relatively classless society? It’s even more difficult if we ask the question over time. From what perspective should we view the political structure and the central concepts contained within? Is ‘freedom’ to be understood as wealthy capitalists understood it during the latter half of the nineteenth century or should we consider those pushing the agenda of the welfare state during the Great Depression? How do we define all three categories if we look at antebellum America through the eyes of a slave as opposed to people heading west to start a new life?
So, the first problem any serious student of history must come to grips with is that the past is always open to interpretation with much of it hinging on whose perspective you take. As teachers, however, we still ask our students to draw conclusions about historical change and the characteristics of society at particular points in time. The best students take great care in structuring their responses in a way that acknowledges the limits of their explanation.
My question is how do you get from there to any conclusions about how all of this fits into a "biblically integrated filter." In other words how is a student (or anyone) to know that their particular historical interpretation mirrors God’s plan or any kind of divine intervention over time? Don’t we run the risk of turning God into an advocate for a certain version of American history: God as social conservative, laissez-faire capitalist, labor advocate, welfare state proponent, etc. In the context of the Civil War is God a Revisionist, Lost Cause, or Progressive kind of guy?
Unless I am mistaken it seems to me that something has to give. Either an analytical/interpretive approach is taken where the working assumption is that historical inquiry is carried out along secular lines [notice that this approach as in the case of the theory of evolution does not necessarily deny the existence of God] or we discard interpretation for theology. Attempting to understand the past in all of its complexity is difficult enough, but adding God into the mix seems to add an entirely new challenge to the process.
I will continue to work in the archives and worry about the mind of God later.