Loss of Transcendence - Lesson 3

The Christian Historiographical Revolution

In this lesson, you will explore the Christian historiographical revolution, delving into how it emerged and how it transformed the way history was perceived and written. You will examine ancient historiography, focusing on the Greek, Roman, and Jewish approaches, and how they contrast with the Christian perspective. The lesson emphasizes the Christian understanding of history as linear and purposeful, highlighting the impact this had on historiography as a whole. You will also learn about key figures and developments, such as the contributions of Eusebius of Caesarea and Augustine of Hippo, as well as the progression of historiography through the medieval and modern periods.
James Houston
Loss of Transcendence
Lesson 3
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The Christian Historiographical Revolution

TH730-03: The Christian Historiographical Revolution

I. Introduction to the Christian Historiographical Revolution

A. Background and Context

B. Defining Historiography

II. Ancient Historiography

A. Greek and Roman Historiography

B. Jewish Historiography

III. The Christian Approach to Historiography

A. Linear and Purposeful History

B. The Impact of Christianity on Historiography

IV. Key Figures and Developments

A. Eusebius of Caesarea

B. Augustine of Hippo

C. Medieval and Modern Historiography

  • Explore the loss of transcendence in modernity, examining its historical and philosophical context, defining transcendence and immanence from biblical and historical perspectives, exploring the impact of various movements on theology, and considering responses to the loss of transcendence.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insight into the Greek world's origins of language and culture, the evolution of Greek history and thought, and the differences between Greek and Roman history. By examining the works of Luke as a Roman historian, you will better understand the cosmic and intimate nature of Christian history.
  • The Christian historiographical revolution redefined history as linear and purposeful, contrasting with ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish approaches and profoundly impacting the study and writing of history.
  • In this lesson, you gain a deep understanding of the Dark Ages, the Reformation, and the factors that led to the loss and eventual restoration of transcendence in Christianity.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into the Reformation and Enlightenment's historical contexts, key figures, and events, as well as their impact on society, religion, and the loss of transcendence, ultimately discovering ways to reclaim transcendence in the modern world.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into the loss of transcendence in modern society, its consequences, the role of Christianity in addressing the issue, and strategies for engaging with secular culture and promoting spiritual renewal.
  • This lesson teaches you about Radical Christianity, its importance, and how to cultivate it through deepening your relationship with God, prioritizing spiritual growth, and practicing radical love and social justice in a world experiencing a loss of transcendence.
  • Through this lesson, you grasp the factors contributing to the loss of biblical authority and learn strategies to reaffirm its importance in Christianity.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into contemporary biblical criticism, its methodologies, impact on theology, and learn to appreciate its contributions while recognizing its limitations.
  • By examining biblical criticism and its various forms, you gain insight into how Christians can respond thoughtfully, affirming Scripture's authority while engaging with criticisms and maintaining a commitment to truth.
  • By examining the loss of the soul, you'll understand its diminishing importance in modern life and learn to integrate science and spirituality for a holistic, transcendent perspective.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into classical interpretations of the soul and their interaction with Christian theology, while also understanding their modern theological implications.
  • This lesson equips you with a comprehensive understanding of the embodiment of faith, its historical development, theological implications, and practical applications in the Christian life.
  • By studying this lesson on embodiment in community, soul, and culture, you will learn how these concepts impact spiritual formation and shape your understanding of Christian faith and practice.
  • The lesson on embodiment and self-sacrifice offers insights into the New Testament, emphasizing Jesus' incarnation, the human body as the Holy Spirit's temple, and self-sacrifice as a key Christian virtue, while providing theological and practical applications.
  • This lesson equips you to understand the biblical concept of sin, the factors contributing to its loss, and offers practical steps to reintroduce sin in teaching and preaching for a more complete Christian faith.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into the cardinal sins and their contemporary significance, learning how to identify and combat them in modern society for personal and spiritual growth.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into C.S. Lewis's critique of the loss of transcendence in modern society, his theological perspectives, and his emphasis on imagination in Christianity.
  • This lesson offers an in-depth analysis of the theological differences between Oxford and Cambridge and their impact on the loss of transcendence in modern theology.
  • What then did Lewis write about in The Abolition of Man? The symbol is that the immediate threat is not the abolition of man, but the abolition that there are men without chests. And he means that being without a chest is living two dimensionally and not three dimensionally. It’s not that you just live in space and time, but that you live with space, time and God or, indeed, space, time and morals. And so really it’s simply to live an amoral life. And you begin to lose your emotional life when you live with amorality.

  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into Jacques Ellul's critique of technological society, its consequences, theological implications, and the need for a countercultural response in the face of modern challenges.
  • This lesson guides you in understanding the loss of transcendence, seeking understanding, and retaining hope amidst the challenges of modern society.
  • You gain insight into Jacques Ellul's life, his views on the loss of transcendence, and the influence of his work on theology and society.
  • You will learn about the concept of technique in the modern world, its characteristics, societal effects, and the spiritual implications it holds for faith and transcendence.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into the implications of technique on society, its challenges, and ways to respond from a biblical perspective, ultimately aiming to strengthen human connections and reclaim transcendence.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into the Psalms' structure, types, role in ancient worship, and their significance in modern Christian life, prayer, and spiritual growth.
  • In this lesson, you will explore the role of domestic involvement in the Psalter, its significance in Ancient Israel's worship, and the impact of the Psalms on the community, values, and beliefs.
  • Gain insights into the connection between biblical eschatology and secularity, understanding key aspects and themes while learning to reclaim the transcendent in eschatology.
  • This lesson offers insight into the theological tensions between immanence and transcendence, their impact on modern theology and worship, and the practical steps for reintegrating them into the Christian life.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into the concepts of immanence and transcendence, their effects on theology and culture, and the importance of integrating both for a balanced Christian worldview.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into time and eternity, God's relationship with them, and their impact on human experience and theological concepts such as soteriology, eschatology, and Christian living.
  • Gain insight into Old Testament concepts of time, the role of numbers and patterns, the significance of time in biblical prophecy, and the theological implications concerning God's sovereignty and human responsibility.
  • This lesson provides insight into the New Testament's complex understanding of time, addressing concepts such as the Kingdom of God, the present age, and eternal life, and offering guidance for Christian living.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into the loss of transcendence in modern society and learn how to recover and foster a transcendent view within your personal faith and church life.

This course on the loss and recovery of transcendence in our contemporary culture is, of course, appropriate for all Christians, but, I think, especially for us here in North America, for the political prominence of a Christian religious culture that we’ve had in North America that makes us all the more exposed to the secularisation of contemporary Christianity. 

So now we come to the Christian historiographical revolution. And that’s a big mouthful. What it means is the now Christian interpretation of history. At first, Christians baffled adherents of the Roman tradition. They were just nonplussed. This was totally out of their ken: for God to enter into history, for God to become a human being and then to be resurrected from the dead, what stuff is this? The Romans began with the founding of Rome. Christians began with the reality of God. After a short period when they didn’t know how to deal with the situation, the Roman intellectuals really got mad after the year 247. Because it’s in the year 247 AD that there was celebrated historically the symbolism of 1,000 years of the founding of Rome. Rome’s first millennium. And what did the Christians do in that year of 247? They were totally indifferent to it. The world of Rome as past, present and future as Roma Eterna was not their citizenship at all. And so they now really got angry.

We’re not talking about emperors getting angry with persecutions that have been there before; we’re talking about the classical scholars and how they were facing the Christian Church. It’s the debate of people like an intelligent man like Celsus debating with Origen. Now we begin to find that Christian history is both cosmic history and, as we’ve already seen, personal history. It’s both transcendent and it’s immanent. It’s the I AM in His cosmic transcendence who is the one who has appeared to Moses at the burning bush, or indeed appeared to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, or as a witness that the Early Fathers themselves had personally experienced of Jesus. In other words, Christian history written by Christian historians begins with Christian conversion. There has to be a metanoia, a total change of mind. It’s like Pascal is to recognise later that He’s the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not the God of the philosophers, the God of eternal ideas. He’s the God who’s appeared to me. He’s spoken to me and He’s changed my life. And so when then we see their appreciation of the Old Testament, it’s the appreciation that the God of creation is the God of the patriarchs. He’s our God too. He’s the God of Israel that delivers them.

But one of the consequences of the persecution that follows the Christians is that there’s no hope for you now, so all you can hope for is an eternal hope. You’re going to get killed tomorrow in the arena, so what do you do? You think about Heaven. And so what followed the intense persecutions of the Church was that Christian history now became chiliastic, that is to say it became millenarian. It began to speculate now of the 1,000 years of bliss that lies ahead, in contrast to the 1,000 years of Roman history that is past. Long before the Scofield Bible, we find that Justin Martyr is already, in the 2nd century, speaking about this dispensational kind of way. We find that Tertullian and Hippolytus of Rome all expect that Christ is going to rule the Earth for 1,000 years. They are perhaps like Hal Lindsell and Tim LaHaye in our generation, or, rather, a past generation for some of you. But of course they’ve got better cause for it because they’re living with a profound discontinuity between the present and the future. And yet, the hope of a Christian is continuity: that through death that eternal prospect will be with them forever.


In my old age, one of the things that I now enjoy so much is realising that, to me, resurrection is both immanent and it’s transcendent. Every day I die unto the Lord Jesus that the life force of Jesus will be seen in me. Every day I live knowing that my death may come next week, but the continuity between the present and the future is just a thin veil that makes no difference whether one’s living in this life or living in the life to come. And perhaps as an aside from our course, but to illustrate the significance of what this means for the Christian, let me explain something that happened to me last year pastorally that is a source of great delight. A young couple came to me and they said our marriage is dead. Oh, I said, praise the Lord. And they said what? I said yes, if we bared our body to the dying of the Lord Jesus and you’ve been acting in a fleshy way with each other, thank God it’s dead. Oh, well, this is a new way of looking at it. So we don’t need to have a divorce? No, you don’t need to have a divorce. So what do you do? Well, you take a sabbatical from each other for six months. Oh. And so the lady said whoopee, I’m off to Paris. And I said no, you’re not. You’re going to see your family and you’re going to tell them that your marriage is dead and how in the world is it that their marriage is not dead long ago. Well, of course, the father broke down and he said yes, our marriage was dead long ago, but we’re still hanging together like corpses. And so she then began to understand all the pain and the suffering that her father had gone through and how violent he was in his temper with his wife and what a rotten guy he was. And so it all came out. And so the result of her simple experience of her having death in her marriage was now a transformation for her parents. They were looking at it again with fresh eyes.


His situation as an [MK 00:07:41] coming from a missionary family was much worse. His mother broke down and she said I have had a burden all my life that I’ve never shared with anyone, not even my husband. Oh, well, what is that, mother? Well, she said, your grandfather was the founder of a big mission in Latin America and I, as a rebellious teenager at 17, had a pregnancy and it was a great shock to the mission. So without telling anybody except the head of the mission and your grandfather, they sent me off to Arizona, 1,000 miles away, to have my pregnancy. And she said it was a terrible year to be totally isolated, but the story that was told to the mission was that I was having higher education. She said it was higher education, but not what they thought. And so she gave up her child for adoption and she said I’ve carried that burden all my life.

So what was the result? A marvellous transformation in their parents’ marriage and now a marvellous transformation for the young couple because after coming to a retreat near Vancouver where I live, they then came and we had a celebration. We had a French restaurant celebration like the renewal of their wedding, that their wedding was alive again. Well, that’s how we live as Christians. We live with the interconnectedness between dying unto the Lord Jesus every day of our life—and I live and die in the prospect of the next few years of being with the Lord—and that really there’s no difference. There is no difference. So that’s Christian understanding of immanence and transcendence. That’s an understanding of what we’re talking about. There’s no discontinuity in God dealing in history or indeed with our history.

But one of the first heresies of the Early Fathers in the 2nd century is the heresy of Marcion. And Marcion is speaking about two God: the God of the Old Testament and God of the New Testament. And that this split between the old and the new covenants is irrevocable. And so it’s a heresy that has haunted the Church for centuries, even today. You read the Old Testament and you say well, the morals of the Old Testament are not like the morals of the New Testament. So is it the bad God, the evil God, who’s written the Old Testament and the good God that gives us the New Testament? That was what Marcion was thinking. Well, the irony is that it’s the God of the Old Testament that has created the cosmos. And Marcion was a wealthy trader between Alexandria and Rome selling grain to the city of Rome and how did he navigate? Well, by the stars. And who created the stars? Well, the bad God. So how can the bad God be the God that he depends upon for all his wealth? You see the irony of this dualism of not understanding the continuity that the God of the Old Testament was adapting to the circumstances of the Old Testament, as he’s adapted to the circumstances of the New Testament, as he’s adapting to us today. He’s the same God. He is Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever.


And so it was this understanding of the divine character of God in history that is continuous, that is unchanging, that now means that we are always viewing things in terms of the end. That the end will be no different from the present and the present is no different from the past. And that He’s the same yesterday and today and forever. And so prophecy and typology become the ways in which you and I may see things. They’re both evidence of divine sovereign rule over time. And so the Christians have far more largesse to the Classical historians than the Classical historians have ever given any freedom of expression to the Christian. The Christian can say oh yes, Christ was known in the past, even through Socrates. Socrates was appointed towards Christ even though Socrates didn’t know it himself. So the Christian can argue that yes, we can accept that your anticipations of your own future were things that now we can understand have been realised. But of course, the privilege is Christ. There’s no privilege in pagan history.


And so we find that this is what Justin Martyr says, that Christ was known in part even by Socrates. And Clement of Alexandria can speak of seeds being planted even by Plato and Aristotle. They’re not completely wrong. And so we find that this is what Justin Martyr says, that Christ was known in part even by Socrates. Clement of Alexandria can speak of seeds being planted by Plato and Aristotle. They were anticipating something that was true, that was good. Oh yes, Tertullian, you’re going too far. What has Jerusalem got to do with Rome or Athens, for that matter? Well, it’s true. It’s different. But in another sense, there’s no difference. That Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, that was searched for by the emperors was anticipation of a peace that passeth all understanding. So when we have a cosmic view of God’s sovereignty, we see things from a different perspective. But it’s the proclamation of Christ that is to bring peace to the empire; that the Roman roads that were used by the Apostle Paul and the other missionaries [was 00:15:16], of course, for a greater peace than that which the Roman military could ever give to the empire.


And so what follows late in the 3rd century with Sextus Africanus, who is now giving us another chronography, he’s trying to tie all things up together. He’s trying to see now the view of history from the birth of Adam to the birth of Christ. And it’s on this new basis that Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History is the first to give a chronology for the whole of the Christian Church. And so we find right up to the 6th century the sequence of the details of different people, different events, that are added with this deadline. Now of course, these writers, like later in the authorised version when we have this number of years that were supposed to be from the birth of Adam to the present time, a wrong kind of chronology in terms of dates, in terms of actual figures, but in terms of the flow of it no, they were right, all of them, in doing this.

So this attempt to make a kind of secular temporality grafted to a divine temporality is, of course, a feature that has confused us during the history of the Church. It’s Augustine who, in his City of God, is seeing it differently. What now he’s seeing in the 4th century, or the beginning really of the 5th century, is that this sequence of a heavenly city and an earthly city are in disjunction, that you can’t redefine the relations between the sacred and the profane through time. You’re dealing with conflict. You’re dealing with a gulf between them, that there are two great forces that are operated in the cosmos and you either stand for human time or you accept divine chronology. And this is what Augustine is dealing with in this duality. Or again, in his De Trinitate on the Trinity, he makes it tripartite and it becomes a way that was then used in later periods of history.