Philosophy of History

The question isn't What is history? but What is history about? Is history teleological? is it cyclical or linear? is there a "right" and "wrong" way to study history? what does teleological mean, anyway? For Christians, there is a right way to study history, history is teleological, it is linear, and all of these have important implications for the truth-claims of our faith.

To start at the beginning: a teleological view of history is simply one that affirms there is a common destiny or goal toward which all things are working, a pre-established end to history. We believe that end to be the return of Christ, the Last Judgment, and our initiation into the eternal state. Because the Christian view is necessarily teleological, it's also consequently linear.

Cyclical views of history suggest that mankind simply repeats the same series of events periodically, and that history is no more than a kind of infinite samsara (the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation) on a vast scale. By contrast, the linear view is that history began somewhere and will end somewhere, like a huge plot unraveling. The plot is Christ's redemption of all things overcoming man's inveterate rebellion.

Since the Enlightenment, secular intellectuals have been in tension over both these concepts. The Enlightenment ideal of constant progress until mankind reached its evolutionary apotheosis was certainly teleological; the German philosopher Hegel best expressed it through his idea of thesis-antithesis-synthesis, that each event led to a counter event which then resolved in a forward advance.

Postmodern thinkers, however, though no less children of the Enlightenment than modernists and Darwinists and in many ways more so, reject the teleological, linear, and cyclical views of history. For them, history is just a big happenstance, nothing is innately purposeful, there can be no certainty about the past, and there's nothing exciting to look forward to in the future.

It's a bleak outlook, but what else is there when the truth of Christ's salvation is dismissed and derided? If man is the center of the universe, there's not much an honest person can do except expect the worst and hope vaguely that it won't turn out as bad as all that. Christians, on the other hand, have higher hopes, unshakably founded on God's promises and revelation.

History, then, is more than a bunch of facts. It's the story of God's work in the world, His guidance of the course of events and the actions of men and women, His unfailing Providence and perfect judgement. Our selection of titles reflects this understanding, though we also encourage you to check out our eschatology section for the long view. In the end, we study history because it belongs to God, and we rest in Him for the outcome of all things.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
Did you find this review helpful?
Parent Categories
7 Items found Print
Biblical Philosophy of History
by R. J. Rushdoony
from Ross House Books
Philosophy for Adult
in Philosophy (Location: XWV-PHI)
Desire of the Everlasting Hills
by Thomas Cahill
from Anchor Books
for 9th-Adult
in Art & Culture (Location: XCU-ART)
$6.50 (2 in stock)
Desire of the Everlasting Hills
by Thomas Cahill
from Anchor Books
for 9th-Adult
in Art & Culture (Location: XCU-ART)
$8.00 (1 in stock)
History Through the Eyes of Faith
Through the Eyes of Faith series
by Ronald A. Wells
from HarperCollins
Non-Fiction for Adult
in Philosophy (Location: XWV-PHI)
$13.00 $8.00 (1 in stock)
Killing of History
from Free Press
in Philosophy (Location: XWV-PHI)
Lessons of History
by Ariel Durant, Will Durant
from MJF Books
for Adult
in Philosophy (Location: XWV-PHI)
$4.00 (1 in stock)
Student's Guide to the Study of History
by John Lukacs
from Intercollegiate Studies Institute
for 9th-12th grade