Only Professionals Have Licenses to Conduct Historical Science

Michael Haykin seems to deny the doctrine of vocation when he argues that every believer needs to be a good historian:

history is obviously important to God, since it is the realm where God ultimately brings about the salvation of his people by entering into the very fabric of time and taking on our humanity, sin excepted, in the person of Jesus Christ. This divine activity in the realm of history should not be restricted to the Bible. Though it is impossible to trace out his footsteps across the sands of time in detail, it is blasphemous to deny that God is at work. His work may often be hidden, but it is biblical to confess that he is providentially guiding history for the glory of his Name and the good of his people. As such, to quote the seventeenth-century Puritan Richard Baxter, “The writing of Church-history is the duty of all ages, because God’s works are to be known, as well as his Word.” Reading Church history should lead therefore to the praise of God and his adoration.

This is a tad sloppy and betrays that evangelical earnestness so often eager to find in every-square-inch Neo-Calvinism that magic wand to integrate everything. Everyone, thanks to the Holy Spirit, can now see historical significance, perform algebra equations, and tie boating knots. Well, not really. All good believers, even the most gullible, won’t come to my door in hopes of finding a cure for that nagging pain in the sciatica. Maybe to be a good historian it helps to go to graduate school and obtain a license.

But, when Haykin writes this:

Without the past our lives have little or no meaning. When a community forgets its past, it is like a person suffering from dementia: they really cannot function in the world. So we must study history, and as Christians, this means Church history.

He has a point.

Imagine the pain Tim Keller might have avoided if he had known better the struggles between Machen and Old Princeton, between Old School and New School Presbyterians, or between New York and Philadelphia presbyteries. For that matter, why doesn’t the Gospel Industrial Complex have a better memory of Carl Henry, Billy Graham, the National Association of Evangelicals, and Fuller Seminary?

Selective skepticism? Heck, selective memory.

9 thoughts on “Only Professionals Have Licenses to Conduct Historical Science

  1. But doesn’t every truly Reformed person also have the high calling to vote and otherwise participate in law enforcement, just so long as those laws are not the (private) commands of Christ?

    Yes, maybe there was a day when we were not called to be Caesar but now in modernity we are Caesar or at least have some say in what Caesar says so we can and should try to make the world function better.. Therefore we must not give to God what still belongs to us (as Caesar) . That would be cynical and also over-realized eschatology. Why should we love the Muslim enemies of our neighbors? Not loving enemies does not tell us that we need the gospel. Not loving enemies in this present age just make sense as long as we have enemies.


  2. “…that evangelical earnestness so often eager to find in every-square-inch Neo-Calvinism that magic wand to integrate everything.” Bingo.


  3. It seems like there are a lot more bad historians out there with that grad school “license” than there are good ones. Maybe being a good historian has more to do with the individual historian’s methodology than it does with an actual license. Non-licensed people can study empirically if they decide to, even if they don’t go to grad school. Let’s be honest, though – most eeeeeeevangelicals aren’t going to study history in that way (or at all).

    I think Dr. Haykin’s fundamental point that Christians should study history is ultimately valid. The vast majority of Christians I’ve encountered don’t know the first thing about history. I’ve even encountered people in Protestant evangelical churches who have never heard of the Reformation. Some history reading would do wonders for those folks. Just because someone studies history on the side does not mean they are making history their vocation.


  4. Bryan, as long as evangelicals are willing to be depressed, then they may study history. But if you want it to be edifying and uplifting, you will be sorely disappointed.


  5. Dr. Hart – It could still be edifying while being depressing. Like any kind of study, studying history requires effort. But that effort might interrupt the hipster doofus experiential epicurean lifestyle. Oh no – we can’t have that!

    The sad thing is evangelicals, and most contemporary Christians, have completely given up on attempting to be well informed on anything. They won’t even read Schaeffer anymore, who is essentially cursory introductory material for folks wanting to study culture from a Christian perspective. You wouldn’t believe some of the drivel that modern “small group” Bible studies read (hint: they aren’t reading the Bible).

    My curmudgeon is showing.


  6. Sometimes historians even say that they have changed their minds, but sometimes they don’t.

    Scott Clark—Hodge is perfectly right to say that God made a temporary, national covenant with Moses. That temporary national covenant, which expired with the death of Christ, was the outworking of the land promises and the promise of a national people made to ABRAHAM… Is it not the case that we should distinguish the land/inheritance promise from the spiritual promise (“I will be your God and your children’s God?”). If we can make that distinction then we can connect that aspect of the promise to ABRAHAM to the national covenant in Moses.

    David AllEn—“The problem, however, “is that Haykin reads the sufficiency terminology as a bare sufficiency, or simply as a statement of infinite intrinsic value, whereas Andrew Fuller had come to believe that Christ substituted himself for all mankind, and so it was actually sufficient for all in that sense.”

    Tom Nettles- “Two streams of thought emerge from the writings of those who have defended limited atonement. One stream affirms both the sufficiency of the atonement in its nature to save all and the limitation of the atonement to the elect only in its intent. This probably represents a majority view among Calvinists. The second stream, represented by Abraham Booth in England and John Dagg in the United States, affirms that it is the nature of the atonement to save all for whom it is sufficient, and therefore its limitation in intent is necessarily a limitation of its sufficiency.”


  7. ‘They won’t even read Schaeffer anymore, who is essentially cursory introductory material for folks wanting to study culture from a Christian perspective.’

    Maybe because he was wrong about basically everything he said about history and philosophy?


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