Types In History -- By: Gerald R. McDermott

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 175:700 (Oct 2018)
Article: Types In History
Author: Gerald R. McDermott


Types In History*

Gerald R. McDermott

* This is the fourth article in the four-part series “A Typological View of Reality,” delivered as the W. H. Griffith Thomas lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, February 7–10, 2017. The ideas presented in these lectures have been adapted and expanded in Everyday Glory: The Revelation of God in All of Reality (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018).

Gerald R. McDermott is the Anglican Chair of Divinity, Samford University, Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, Alabama.

When Paul was in Athens talking to Greek philosophers, he said that one of their poets got it right when he wrote, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). In other words, not only is God in history, as every Christian can and indeed must say. But history is in God! Nothing therefore is outside God, as if anything could happen without his holding it in existence nanosecond by nanosecond. After all, Paul wrote elsewhere that “in [Messiah] all things hold together [συνέστηκεν]” (Col 1:18). Therefore not only is popular deism—the idea that history proceeds without God’s intervention—absurd for a biblical Christian, but even the common Christian conception that God moves major actors in history with everything else thereby pulled along—falls far short of Paul’s claim. Types in history, then, are the patterns we can recognize amidst the mostly unrecognizable ways in which everything is in God and mysteriously directed by him—if not directly by impulse then indirectly by permission.

That’s the first thing that has to be said about types in history. They are recognizable patterns in human affairs that point toward their Trinitarian author, and they are thereby divine direction for that purpose, among others. Scripture tells us that God made known his acts to his people Israel, but his ways to Moses (Ps 103:7). Moses apparently learned God’s ways through the patterns or types revealed in his acts, informed by his words.

The second thing that should be added about history in general before we consider types in history is that it is at once directed and fragile. By fragile I mean that nothing in history per se determines inexorably its future direction. It could go in any one of a variety of ways, with long-term consequences for the whole world. The great Cambridge University historian Herbert Butterfield wrote in his magisterial Christianity and History (1949) of the...

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