Rejecting the Idea of History
In our fight with the regime, we must grapple with the ideology of Progressivism. To do that we must ultimately reject the idea of Progress. But for that we must first reject the idea of History.
“The overwhelming attraction of revolution is the panic of Christians confronted by the curtailment of their role in history. History has assumed such importance that everything relates to it. One is lost if not a part of history’s course. The answer, therefore, is to plunge into revolutionary action because it alone is certain to make history.” Jacques Ellul. Autopsy of Revolution.
Jacques Ellul is not being complimentary in the above quote. Dripping with sarcasm, he muses about the reasons why Christians sell out their faith to embrace every new cause. He asks why they join every new political movement, subordinating their faith to “the current thing?” Many Christians want to be seen as being on the “right side of history.” This creates, as we will see, a tremendous pressure upon Christians to conform their faith to the move of history, to be on the side of human progress.
So what is this thing called “history?” First off, lets set aside the notion that when we use the word “history” here we are not talking about a discussion of events that take place in the past. When we use the word “history” we are not talking about creating as accurate as possible picture of past events. It is not about telling the stories of ages past. It is not about learning lessons from the past. In fact, when we use the term “history” in this context—the way Ellul uses it in the above quote—it is an idea that generally tries to attack the past in favor of the present and the future. It is because of the move of “history” that we must challenge the past.
So what is “history” if it isn’t all about the past? What it involves is a shift away from Christian understandings of time and the meaning of events, towards a humanist understanding of events. Prior to the Renaissance, there were a number of ways in which events and the passage of time were understood. One was that time was cyclical. Events repeat themselves in regular patterns and cycles over and over again. The idea of Karma is rooted in this type of understanding. Another is archetypal. Time here does not repeat itself over and over in cycles, but does not at the same time have a linear progression from beginning to end. There is a kind of stasis in which familiar patterns manifest themselves over and over again. The same archetypes keep showing up but they don’t necessarily do so in repeatable cycles.
The Biblical idea of time is on the one hand archetypal, in that patterns keep emerging over and over again, but they happen within a larger superstructure of God’s action. Human beings are there and are integral to the story, but in the larger framework, God is the primary actor. God creates. God sets about the order of creation. When human beings transgress the boundaries set up by God, it is about the judgement of God. It is also about the promise of God. The bulk of the story is about God and his promise of salvation, to send a Savior. He chooses a people for himself, through whom he will work out the promises of his saving work. Those promises are fulfilled in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The whole saving work of God centers around the person of Jesus. The whole story of God and humanity finds its meaning in Jesus.
Here is where things begin to get interesting. While Jesus is the focal point of God’s action in the world, his time on earth is not the end of the story. The common expectation was that when the Messiah came, he would bring the Day of Judgement and the full restoration of God’s people, the Israelites. But that was not what happened. While God’s saving work was completed “in Christ” we live in a time in which this saving work is not yet fully revealed. Why not? This gives an opportunity for as many as possible to repent and believe and be included in God’s saving work in Jesus. Jesus will come again in a final Day of Judgement to fully reveal the glory of God’s salvation work. The whole structure is, in a sense, a static architecture that overlays all other events. All events should be understood as they relate to Christ. In Christ, not only are all of God’s promises fulfilled; so too are all the archetypes of salvation taken up and fulfilled within him. Jesus is Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah and more. He is Savior, King, Priest, Prophet, Lawgiver and more.
We live in this intermediate time where salvation is complete in Christ, but not fully revealed. At first there was an expectation that Jesus was going to come back very soon, so soon that Paul was telling the churches that it may be best not to get married at all. As time went by, the belief in the second coming of Christ remained quite strong until about the year 1000. There was a great expectation among many that he would return then. But he didn’t. The power of the idea of the second coming began to wane. While it remained, and still remains, a big part of orthodox Christian teaching, many began to live and act and think as if Christ was not actually going to come back. Or, if he was, fewer and fewer people expected it to happen any time soon.
This shift opened up a new possibility, one that put humanity at the center of events. It was ushered in with fine sounding language, with much emphasis on man’s divine image bearing, but the shift was clear. Increasingly, in the European context, mankind was becoming the center of all that was happening. Humanism was upon us. This coincided with a great explosion of learning and culture. People did great things. They explored new ideas. They circumvented the globe. They expanded the arts. Human skill was on display everywhere. They built great buildings. Yes, the Christian faith still informed much of the language, images and ideas. It set the framework and parameters. People built great churches and decorated them with exceptional art. Increasingly, though, there were new avenues of research. The mysticism of Plato was set aside for the practical, “scientific,” rigor of Aristotle. Scholarship was pursued for its own sake. Increasingly the subjects of art and culture shifted from the stories of Bible and mythology, to that of everyday people. As we moved into the period of the Enlightenment, humanity was firmly at the center of all things.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Seeking the Hidden Thing to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.