Church History -- By: John Warwick Montgomery

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 09:2 (Spring 1966)
Article: Church History
Author: John Warwick Montgomery

Church History

John Warwick Montgomery

In checking the October, 1965, number of The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, I encountered the following articles: “Unions and Confraternity with Cluny”, “A View of Archbishop Lanfranc”, “Piety and Charity in Late Medieval London”, “Social and Economic Theories and Pastoral Concerns of a Victorian Archbishop”, and “The Reactions of Church and Dissent towards the Crimean War.” It would be possible for me to point out that as far as I know there has been no article published recently either by evangelical or non-evangelical dealing with piety and charity in late medieval Prague, or with the reactions of church and dissent towards the Boer War. Here we still have open subjects for investigation! But it seems to me that if we are concerned with the current issues in church history we’ve got to strike a good deal deeper than this. We’ve got to strike to the level of philosophical presuppositions that operate when one confronts the problems of church history. Specifically I want to discuss four such presuppositional questions.

The first has to do with the nature of history. How do church historians today look at the nature of history? Do they consider historical events as having an objective existence apart from themselves? Do they hold that the events of history have meaning independent of themselves as interpreters? Secondly, I want to ask the question: How does the church historian’s approach to the meaning of history in general influence his attitude when he deals with the events of sacred history? What is the bearing of the church historian’s philosophical presuppositions on the treatment of the saving events upon which church history presumably centers? Thirdly (and this of course grows out of the first two questions): Is it possible for a Christtian philosophy of history to be written? And lastly: What does the church historian have to say to the current confessional issues—particularly those relating to biblical authority—that are troubling many denominations in America today?

There is an article of considerable interest by Will Herberg in the Winter, 1964, issue of The Christian Scholar. It is titled, “Five Meanings of the Word ‘Historical’.” Herberg points out that people operating in the area of church history today frequently do not analyze the way in which they are using the word “history.” The word can be used in at least five different ways, and Herberg regards these as a continuum, extending from a subjective existential view of history all the way across to an objective view of history. On the one hand, we have those church historians who look at the past as basically a reflection of the existential stance of the church historian himself. On the other, we find ...

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