There are probably as many opinions about history as there are people. "History. … is a nightmare," says Stephen in James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. According to Oscar Wilde, "Anybody can make history" but only "a great man can write it." Depending on whom you consult, history could be "the biography of great men" (Thomas Carlyle) or an "excitable and lying old lady" (Guy de Maupassant). Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that history is "the belief in falsehood." T. S. Eliot called it "a pattern of timeless moments." French philosopher Ernest Renan concluded that "the whole of history is incomprehensible without [Jesus]." A new claim about the nature of history isn'tneeded, and I am not interested in formulating a Christian philosophy of historiography. But as a Christian and a historian, I am concerned about history consciously written or taught from any particular perspective—"feminist," "Marxist," "conservative," or "liberal."

I'm just as concerned about history written from a "Christian" perspective.

Eager to uncover the depths of America's Christian roots, some Christian writers have embraced the Founding Fathers' references to God without acknowledging that the god of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams is one most orthodox Christians would not recognize. Similarly, Christian writers of history have sometimes failed to distinguish between civil religion and casual Christianity, on the one hand, and biblical Christianity on the other. Thus some of the same people who resist casual Christianity in contemporary America endorse it in historic America.

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Issue: