Arnold Toynbee: An Evangelical Evaluation -- By: Kenneth O. Gangel

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 134:534 (Apr 1977)
Article: Arnold Toynbee: An Evangelical Evaluation
Author: Kenneth O. Gangel


Arnold Toynbee: An Evangelical Evaluation

Kenneth O. Gangel

[Kenneth O. Gangel, President, Miami Christian College, Miami, Florida.]

It is reported that he dreamed in Greek and Latin, this nestorian scholar of the classics who began his magnificent career by scribbling notes on the Orient Express while traveling through the Thracian countryside. In October, 1975 “The Last Olympian” died peacefully in a Yorkshire Nursing Home at the age of eighty-six. But not before those original notes penned in 1921 grew into more than three million words explaining the rise and fall of world civilizations.

The preceding article in this two-part series discussed Toynbee’s historiographical style focusing on his philosophy of history, and the pattern of his work in the magnum opus of his life, A Study of History.

The twelfth and final volume of Toynbee’s study was penned in 1961 and entitled “Reconsiderations.” According to Arthur W. Munk, volume 12 contains three major revisions of Toynbee’s previous scheme: (1) a more humanistic emphasis on religion as “man’s masteractivity,” (2) a revised list of civilizations, and (3) a substitution of Hellenic-Chinese for Hellenic culture as the “standard for civilizations.”1

In reference to Mr. Munk’s second point, Toynbee’s list of civilizations has increased from twenty-six to thirty-two when “arrested” and “abortive” civilizations are included.

A most apposite feature of Toynbee’s volume 12 is his painstaking attention to his critics. He frankly acknowledges that many

of his deviations in pattern and interpretation are the result of his perusal of their works. In a section entitled “Ad Hominem,” Toynbee shows that in the final analysis he is his own most severe critic.

Perhaps this would be the place to raise a question regarding Toynbee’s overall philosophy of history: Is he an exponent of a mechanical cyclical view, or does he indeed adopt a providential motif in his outlook? A most interesting discussion of this question is given by Toynbee himself in “My View of History.”

To our western minds the cyclic view of history, if taken seriously, would reduce history to a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. But mere repugnance does not in itself account for effortless unbelief. The traditional Christian beliefs in hell fire and in the last trump were also repugnant, yet they continued to be believed for generations…. In the vision seen by the Prophets of Israel, Judah, and Iran, history is not a cyclic and not a mechanical process. It is t...

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