Category Archives: Historiography

ROMAN HISTORY…THE ANCIENT VARIETY

I’ve begun reading Mary Beard’s terrific book on Roman History.  If you know anything about her (perhaps via BBC specials) you know this Cambridge professor is as feisty as she is brilliant.  Her writing is magnificent.  She knows how to tell the stories of ancient Rome in a way that are accessible and entertaining.

Did you know that ancient Rome had one million inhabitants and that no city would have that many people until the nineteenth century?

 

LITTLE THINGS MATTER

Adapted from my reading of After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory by Alasdair MacIntyre:

In the Pensées, Pascal remarks “Cleopatra’s nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed” (180). Ironically, what he means is that, had her nose been smaller, she would have lacked the dominance and strength of character which, in the physiognomy of the seventeenth century (or, indeed, the nineteenth), a large nose symbolized. It is a salutary reminder that the aesthetics of beauty change over time and place. 

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/miscellanea/cleopatra/bust.html

William died at Kensington Palace where he had moved the royal household to escape swampy Westminster, which was bad for his asthma. His demise was the direct result of a fall from his horse which stumbled on a molehill, throwing its royal rider.

“…to the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat.”

OUR SECULAR AGE…

Image result for OUR SECULAR AGE BY HANSEN

Collin Hansen is the author and editor of several books, the most noteworthy being Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists. Hansen is editorial director for The Gospel Coalition.

Hansen’s latest book is Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor.

Moore: For those who are not familiar, tell us why an entire book is devoted to the work of Charles Taylor?

Hansen: Charles Taylor’s 2007 book A Secular Age might be the most ambitious work published in the last 10 years. He aims to account for nothing less than the decline of religion and rise of secularism in the industrialized West. The way he pulls together philosophy, history, sociology, and theology in order to tell the story makes him a fruitful conversation partner, even when we disagree about the conclusions. Nobody has been more helpful to me personally as I look behind and beyond the headlines to understand larger trends and factors that make evangelism and discipleship so exciting but also difficult today.

Moore: The philosopher, James K.A. Smith, has also written a book on Taylor. How is yours different than Smith’s?

Hansen: I’m thankful for Smith, who has helped me and many other of this book’s contributors understand the significance of Taylor’s project. Smith does a lot to translate Taylor, who’s not the easiest writer to understand. It can feel like you’re joining a conversation already in progress, and you don’t know if you’re welcome. Several of the contributors to our book, most notably Michael Horton, engage Taylor in more critical ways, especially as it relates to the legacy of the Protestant Reformation. And throughout the book we give more attention to applying Taylor’s work to a wide array of ministry scenarios, from preaching to discipling millennials to forming worship liturgies and more.

Moore: In your introduction you wrote, “We don’t yet know, then, whether the children of the “young, restless, Reformed” will imbibe more of the restless or the Reformed. (Emphasis yours) Would you unpack that a bit for us?

Hansen: I talked with a friend in ministry who instinctively understood one of my motivations for this book. He described his undergraduate years in a Reformed college. Everyone there had grown up Baptist but as a teenager shifted more Reformed in contrast to their parents and home churches. But then they got to this school, and they no longer stood out. Everyone else had the same story! So they searched for new ways to express their individualism: they dropped John Piper for N. T. Wright or converted to Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism. Taylor would recognize elements of the secular “subtraction story” in this narrative. In an age of “expressive individualism,” just about anything can be co-opted for stylistic projection, even if for a time it looks like settled conviction. If the Reformed don’t dig into and catechize the riches of this biblical theology, then they’ll set up their children for another reaction in some unknown new direction.

Moore: Several of the contributors have important points of criticism with Taylor’s work. In that regard, I am thinking of Carl Trueman’s observation that the automobile may have more impact than Taylor appreciates: “Perhaps it is not so much Luther who created religious choice at a practical level but Henry Ford.” Carl says he is exaggerating there, but his general point remains. What do you think about Carl’s comment about the car?

Hansen: That’s one of the standout observations from the book. And as an appreciative reader of Wendell Berry, I couldn’t help but agree with Trueman. How can you practice church discipline if anyone can just leave your church and join another one down the road? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to technology. What’s so special about your pastor’s preaching when you can watch someone better on television or listen to someone who tickles your earbuds via podcast? Why worry about sexual ethics if the pill and abortion separate intercourse from childbirth? Taylor has an unparalleled grasp on the philosophical factors, but he undersells the technological dimension to cultural change.

Moore: Let me ask this next question by invoking Yuval Levin’s masterful book, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Left and Right. Levin makes the point that radicals like Paine are not going to be moved to reconsider why tradition is worth keeping unless they see its beauty. I would give us “Evangelicals” high marks on defending the Bible’s truthfulness, but very low marks on showcasing its beauty. Do you think Taylor has much to offer in this regard?

Hansen: Taylor doesn’t so much show us how to do it, but he at least reminds us of the opportunity before us, to showcase the beauty of Jesus Christ and his gospel. Let’s keep preaching and writing books like this one. But let’s also take up the challenge issued by Alan Noble in his chapter on the “disruptive witness of art,” and let’s appreciate what Mike Cosper captures about the longing for transcendence despite the “immanent frame.” We do not live in a secular age in the sense that our neighbors reject anything extra-sensory. We’re secular in the sense that we look to the self, not to outside authorities, for meaning. When we can stir the self to appreciate the beauty of the gospel, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for sinners drawn from every tribe and tongue for everlasting praise, we see that our secular age still longs for hope and eternity.

Moore: What are a few things you would like your readers to gain from your book?

Hansen: First, I want them to see that secularism isn’t just a problem outside the church but our primary challenge for discipleship inside every Christian home. If we don’t catechize ourselves and our children in the ancient gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in God’s Word, the culture will catechize us in ways that undermine our faith. Second, I want them to know they can learn from Taylor without agreeing with him on everything. Certainly I would disagree strongly with his relatively positive assessment of Roman Catholicism before the Protestant Reformation. And third, I want them to see there is hope in our secular age. Even if we could turn back the clock, we wouldn’t want to. There are challenges to faith at the dawn of the information age, no doubt. But God is at work, if we will only look for him.

YOU ARE NOT AN EXPERT ON EVERYTHING!

An occupational danger for anyone who regularly speaks in public is to overreach and say something (with presumed authority) about a subject one has not adequately studied.  General Kelly is the latest example of this, but he will be followed by many making the same mistake.

For a correction to General Kelly’s comments see Professor Caleb McDaniel:

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/11/states-rights/544541/

HT: John Fea

 

ARE YOU WILLING TO LEARN?

From historian, Eric Foner:

My own saying, I don’t know if I invented this—perhaps I did—which I tell students is that “nothing is easier than finding what you are looking for.” In other words, that’s my plea to be open-minded. When you go to an archive, you have certain presuppositions but it’s very easy to find what you’re looking for and to ignore those things which don’t fit your assumptions, and you can’t do that. You have to, as they say, be open-minded enough to be willing to change your mind when you encounter countervailing evidence.

Dave Moore’s Reflection:

Many, and yes I said many Christians, are rather poor at this kind of godly, but nimble type of thinking.  We pretty much mimic the culture at large.  Most of us Americans hunker down in our own cultural, social, and intellectual silos.  We regularly choose ignorance, group pressure, and fear to determine our cherished beliefs. 

HT: John Fea

The rest is here: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/166481

WHY STUDY HISTORY?

In no particular order, here are four things (there are more) which I appreciate about Fea’s book:

Fea uses great illustrations to drive his points home.

Accessible, but based on solid scholarship. This is not easy to do, but Fea accomplishes it wonderfully.

There is a gracious tone, but Fea still puts the spotlight on much foolishness.

Makes clear by way of many examples that the study of history is undeniably important.