Category Archives: Religion

The Epistemological Foundations of History: Bloch and Carr’s Philosophy of History Compared

Today we begin a mini-series on the philosophy of doing history. In the next few days we will take a look at all sorts of views regarding how to do history. These views range from critical realist accounts all the way to post-structuralist accounts and even some feminist accounts.

The Epistemological Foundations of History:

Bloch and Carr’s Philosophy of History Compared

When reading evangelical theologians, one is almost bound to discover that there exists a passionate debate concerning the nature of knowledge and truth. Such debates typically revolve around the concepts of foundationalism and coherentism. Regarding foundationalism some evangelical theologians and philosophers have gone as far to say that “on all fronts foundationalism is in bad shape. It seems to me that there is nothing to do but give it up for mortally ill and learn to live in its absence.”[1] However there are others who offer a more temperate opinion. For instance Alvin Plantinga has argued that classical foundationalism[2] is self-referentially incoherent, yet he advocates for a different sort of foundationalism.[3] Besides being a significant debate among theologians, the subject is also debated among scientists and likely has its roots in the philosophy of science.[4] Given that these epistemological debates likely have their source in philosophy of science, or at the very least find significant contemplation in philosophy of science, it is not surprising that this debate has made its way into the realm of history which some have considered a science. How does the debate between foundationalism and coherentism play out in the philosophy of history? It does so in several areas: (1) the nature of history and historical enquiry, (2) human nature and social change, (3) causation, (4) objectivity, and (5) the meaning of history. How foundationalist and coherentist epistemologies of history play out in theory is exemplified by both Marc Bloch’s The Historian’s Craft and E.H. Carr’s What is History? respectively. In what follows I briefly examine some of the differences between Bloch and Carr’s approach to history with an eye towards evaluating their approaches from a theological perspective.

What is history? Is it a science or is something else? Bloch believes that it is a science. Specifically, it is the ‘science of men in time.’ (27) This phrase might be read in various ways. For example, history is a science performed by “men” (read human beings) in time. Or, one might read this phrase as saying that history is the science which studies human beings who exist in time, including those who are dead and living. This is Bloch’s approach. As the science of humanity, Bloch is interested in drawing from all sources and disciplines in order to develop “universal history.” (48) Thus Bloch’s view of history is a Histoire Totale.[5] Carr, however, is insistent that history is not a science (at least in the way that science is typically conceived). Carr objects to the idea that history be called a science because it “justifies and perpetuates the rift between the so-called ‘two cultures.’”(110) What does this rift consist of? It consists mainly of the notion that the “sciences” are after universal laws and principles. This notion has been applied by some historians, including Buckle, who states that the course of human affairs is “permeated by one glorious principle of universal and undeviating regularity.” (Carr, 73). If this is what is meant by history as a “science” then Carr will have no part in it. Science however, is no longer practiced with the confidence that we can discover, let alone have access to, such universal principles. Instead, as Carr explains, “Nowadays both scientists and historian entertain the more modest hope of advancing progressively from one fragmentary hypothesis to another, isolating their facts through the medium of their interpretations and testing their interpretations by the facts.” (Carr, 77) Is this much different from Bloch’s view which also holds that various conceptual tools shade how we interpret historical data? Remember, Bloch holds that language, periodization, and characterization all affect how historical analysis proceeds. (Bloch, 156-189) Despite the apparent similarity between Bloch and Carr on this subject, the difference is radical.

At its core the difference between Bloch and Carr’s view is to be found in how they understand the process of deriving truth from the data of history. Bloch takes a tempered foundationalist approach.  As a foundationalist Bloch believes that some beliefs, i.e. our belief that the historical event X is to be explained as Y, is grounded on other beliefs that are justified. The initial or basic belief that justifies Y is the belief that X can be accessed adequately. Bloch is not naïve about how we access X. He acknowledges that the “tracks” or documents need to be carefully examined because they can be forged, tainted, skewed, or just plain wrong. Similarly, he recognizes that the scholar who examines the historical data is in danger of imposing her personal inclinations into reading the data. (Bloch, 139) This is especially true when examining historical causes because in examining causes the historian is likely to make value judgements. Carr on the other hand also believes that we can be justified in saying that X can be explained as Y. However, Carr does not understand this justification process in a foundationalist matter. There is no “basic” belief that justifies saying that X is true. Rather, the belief that “X” is true exists within a system of other beliefs. These other beliefs which make up the historian’s system of beliefs are rooted in the historian’s individual, social, and historical background. As Carr explains, “The historian, before he begins to write history, is the product of history.” (48) In a sense, the historian is stuck within this system of beliefs, and cannot transcend this system to get at what “actually” happens. Thus, the historian cannot actually explain or provide the causes for Y as they exist mind-independently. She can however, provide the logic of the events given her other beliefs.

Does this view of history reduce to an examination of our own interpretation of events? Does this mean, for example, that the historical study of the American revolution just is the study of how our current historical and social situation affects the way we understand the events of this war? Perhaps. This however, doesn’t mean that one’s historical and socially created interpretive lenses will be provincial and narrow; i.e. that does not mean one can only approach the American revolution as a 21st century pro-American because one was born in the 21st century in a patriotic setting. The historian has a “capacity to rise above his social and historical situation” but the capacity to rise above a provincial and narrow set of interpretive lenses is “conditioned by the sensitivity with which he recognizes the extent of his involvement in it.” (Carr, 54) By recognizing that he functions within an interpretive framework, and that his historical analyses are justified by other beliefs within that framework, and not something external to that framework, the historian can begin the process of expanding the framework in order to develop a more “objective” account of historical events.  This process can best be described as a hermeneutical spiral. I quote Carr at length,

The historian starts with a provisional interpretation of facts and a provisional interpretation in light of which that selection has been made – by others as well as by himself. As he works, both the interpretation and selection and ordering of facts undergo subtle and perhaps partly unconscious changes through the reciprocal action of one another. And this reciprocal action also involves reciprocity between present and past, since the historian is part of the present and the facts belonging to the past. (Carr, 35)

This hermeneutical spiral, or “unending dialogue between the present and the past,” just is the discipline of history. (Carr, 35)

Thus far we have examined some differences between Bloch and Carr’s approach to history. As an aspiring theologian engaged in the discipline church history I can’t help but ask what the theological implications of these views might be. I agree with Bloch when he says that Christianity is essentially a historical religion, that is, “a religion that is, whose prime dogmas are based on events.” (Bloch, 31) If we were to take Carr’s approach to history, then our theological reflection which is based on historical events, would result in theology which looks a lot like post-liberal theology. Postliberals, like Carr, emphasize how much language and tradition do to shape our understanding of reality. Post-liberals believe that Scripture is “world-creating,” thus the biblical narrative forms the cultural-linguistic “world” for the church. According to post-liberals we attend to the world primarily through whatever cultural-linguistic framework we possess. Thus, our experience of the world is not neutral, it is concept laden, it is experienced in light of our “language” or grammar of faith. Postliberalism’s emphasis on intra-systemic coherence and intertextuality calls into question whether Postliberals are making “real-world” claims in their theology or whether they are simply making claims about their own language/grammar. One concern with post-liberal theology is that “dispenses with external referents and reduces truth claims to simply intra-systemic consistency.”[6] Agreeing with Bloch that our dogmas are based on events, I am concerned that a full-scale adoption of Carr’s method would result in a form of history which undercut’s theology’s ability do derive dogma from historical events. For this reason, I believe that Bloch’s tempered foundationalist approach to history is preferable to Bloch’s coherentist approach.

[1] Grenz and Franke quote Nicholas Wolterstorff in: Stanley Grenz and John Franke, Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville: WJK, 2001), 38.

[2] That is: A proposition p is properly basic for a person S if and only if p is either self-evident to S or incorrigible for S or evident to the senses of S.

[3] Plantinga’s proposal for Reformed Epistemology is clearly laid out in “Reason and Belief in God” which can be found in the book Faith and Rationality (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), 16-93.

[4] Cat, Jordi, “The Unity of Science”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <;.

[5] This is a riff on Sarah Coakley’s idea of Theologie Totale in God, Sexuality, and the Self (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

[6] Timothy Phillips and Dennis Okholm,“The Nature of Confession: Evangelicals and Postliberals,” in The Nature of Confession, eds. Timothy Phillips and Dennis Okholm, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1996), 16.


Edwards and an Argument for the Eternity of Hell (Miscellany 279)

Assuming you believe in the eternity of hell, how would you go about arguing for this position? Would you go to Scripture? Would you look back at what some historical theologians have said about the matter? Would you try to make some argument based upon your intuitions about justice and the heinousness of sin before God? The 18th century Puritan theologian, Jonathan Edwards, doesn’t take any of these routes. He makes a move that many people today would find quite shocking….

Jonathan Edwards Preaching or Jonathan Edwards walking like a Zombie? Take your pick.

First let me give you the context. I am currently writing two essays for a book on Edwards’s miscellanies. The book will hopefully come out early in 2019. I will be writing an essay on the Trinity in Misc. 96 and Hell in Misc. 279. In Miscellany 279 Edwards makes an argument for the eternity of hell based on happiness/love/thankfulness. Basically its this:

  1. The happiness of the blessed in heaven is eternal.
  2. Knowing that God has chosen to make them vessels of mercy instead of making them vessels of wrath would make them happy at time X.
  3. Without a “lively sense” of the opposite misery they would have faced had God not saved them the saints would not know that God has chosen to make them vessels of mercy instead of vessels of wrath.
  4. In order for the saints to be happy eternally they need to know God has chosen to make them vessels of mercy at time X1, X2, X3,….X∞.
  5. Therefore the lively sense of opposite misery needs to occur t time X1, X2, X3,….X∞.
  6. Therefore the damned must eternally exist in hell.

Mind you this is just one of Edwards’s arguments for the eternity of hell. Personally, I think it’s a bad one. If the point of this argument is that the happiness of those in heaven is eternal and this is secured by knowing that God has chosen to make them vessels of mercy instead of wrath then there are certainly other ways in which God could have accomplished giving them a “lively sense” of the opposite misery they would have faced. For example, and this is absurd, God could have a daily showing on a really big screen TV viewable everywhere in the New Creation that shows the moment God judged the reprobate. That scenario is a bit absurd, but it would accomplish the “lively sense” Edwards is after. This absurd scenario would be compatible with annihilationism. Or perhaps if one takes a more Barthian stance on things maybe God could constantly present the saints with a vision of the cross, by seeing Christ crucified they would see the misery they would have faced had not Christ died for them. This again would be compatible with annihilationism.

Please don’t take me to be arguing for annihilationism here – I have elsewhere written defending the traditional doctrine of hell (Themelios). I’m just pointing out – this is a pretty bad argument for the eternity of hell.

LATC 2018 – Hans Madueme: “Man’s Heart is the Seat of All Evils:” A Theological Argument for Dualism

Rough notes on Hans Madueme’s plenary talk:


  • Philosophers and Theologians question the usefulness of dualism – in some circles physicalism is the standard position
  • According to some – physicalism makes most sense of the world, especially in light of the work of some neuroscientists – Both the OT and NT teach monism
  • Substantivalist accounts of the Imago Dei – lend themselves toward physicalism
  • In spite of these developments – traditional dualism has been and should continue to be the position of the global church20180119_113910


“Most laypeople assume our capacity to sin requires dualism – and I agree”

  1. Three accounts of physicalism that provide an attempt to say how moral responsibility is possible
  2. Look at biblical material of sin
  3. Argue that the biblical material requires dualism
    • Respond to one objection


Part 1

  • The hard problem of Consciousness
  • The “hard problem” on Sin
  • Three accounts: Green, Murphy, and Clayton


Part 2

  • Does Scripture have anything to say about human composition and sin?
  • Matthew 5:27-30 – The inner thought not the external act is the real location of the sin – there is an implicit anthropology here.
  • Romans 2:28-29 – Being outwardly Jewish is not sufficient – a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly – circumcision of the heart. This inward outward contrast is best understood with some form of dualism
  • Ezekiel 36 & Jeremiah 31 – The heart is understood metaphorically as talking about the inner person
  • Demons are immaterial creatures – and they are quintessential sinners – therefore one should think a body isn’t necessary for sin
  • Because we are embodied – sin has an embodied character but embodiment is not necessary for our sin



  • Physcialism can’t provide moral responsibility
  • Biblical data assumes doctrine of sin
  • One Objection – if one things theological determinism is true and still hold to moral responsibility, why not think physical determinism is true and hold to moral responsibility
    • First, theological determinism does not entail physical determinism
    • For the sake of argument lets conceded Calvinism entails physical determinism, this would be a problem if physical was all there is



  • Is this account too dogmatic? Is the problem that we have differing intuitions? But there are two main questions:
    • Does my Anthropology fit with current scientific findings?
    • Does my Anthropology fit with the dogmatic deliverances of the faith?
  • Most Christian physicalists acknowledge science cannot adjudicate the debate.
  • Not only is dualism more plausible given the reality of sin but also other doctrines: The intermediate state (Rev 6).
  • Does our theorizing actually preach, comfort the disturbed?
  • Our thoughts on this topic must also fit with our Christology

LATC 2018 – Adam and Christ: Human Solidarity Before God

The following are notes from Frances Young’s plenary talk.

Slime Mold

  • Japanese Scientist “trained” them to make their way through a maze
  • A self-organizing organism that is greater than the sum of its parts
  • Emergence & feedback mechanisms – do we need to reimagine ourselves as constituting an organism that is greater than the sum of its parts?


David Kelsey

  • Shares some common themes – but today we take up a feature that lies outside of Kelsey’s definition
    • Personal living body with an unsubistitutable identity
    • Rules out participation in Christ
      • “It is human kind that is some sort of corporate whole that exhibits the image of God. However just what this means is unclear.”


Corporate Personality (Whole of Humanity Represented both in Adam and in Christ)

  • Central to early Christian understanding



  • He took humanity that we might share divinity
  • Does he think of Christ’s humanity as that of a particular human man or humanity in general?
  • To grasp the sweep of his story we need to take account of his apologetic concerns
    • There is an oscillation in Athanasius’ work between Humanity and Soul
  • The Death of all was fulfilled in the Lord’s body – he somehow dies the death of the whole human race – its impossible to do justice to patristic thought without taking into account the corporate whole of humanity


Athanasius and the Corporate Whole

  • Passages reflect Platonist intellectual background – particular cases acquire a certain property by participating in its absolute form.
  • Because he is the TRUE Son – particulars can participate in this form
  • The body of Christ – passing through death and resurrection – is absolute humanity – renewed and recreated – the humanity of Christ is some kind of coproprate whole and Athanasius’ theological schema will fall apart without it.
  • Two-fold scheme – Solidarity in Sin and Solidarity in Christ


Charles Taylor and The Modern Sources of the Self

  • Contrast “modern” anthropology & this participation model
  • We no longer think of ourselves collectively
  • The term community has crept in but it is a way of talking about individuals who feel they are in the same boat – they think relationships are ultimately about themselves and their own personal commitment
  • “The Hunger Angel”


However necessary it is to counter individualism with the emphasis on our communal nature does not actually reclaim the human corporations that we find in the patristic sources.

See the book “Think like an anthropologist” – we are all interconnected – scientific study upholds a view of a universal human nature – the intertwining of narratives is a way in which the particular and universal interact

Back to Slime Mold

  • Through feedback mechanism individuals become part of a larger whole
  • By emergence we have the capacity to reappropriate something like the corporate personality of the patristics

LATC 2018 – Imago Dei: Theological Anthropology in a Hall of Mirrors

The following are notes from Megan DeFranza’s plenary talk.
*Disclosure: The following views are not my own but I believe faithfully represent the views of the speaker as best I could catch them in my notes.*

Imago Dei: Theological Anthropology in a Hall of Mirrors

Current context makes TA interesting because our current knowledge of our self is constantly changing.

Imago Dei

  • Substantival View: Rationality = soul
  • Functional View: “Let them rule” à “Let him rule”
  • Relational View: “Male and Female”


Relational Imago

  • Strengths: Women are fully included in the image // Men cannot image God without women // Recovering value of sexual/spousal love as an image of divine love
  • Weaknesses: Paradigmatic “other”/”Mother” = no room for real women, feminine diversity, female humanity beyond womanhood // Privileges “Spousal love” as paradigmatic of divine love, Devalues singleness // Spousal love become sexual love, sexualizes the Trinity, Devalues celibacy, asexuals, sexual dysfunction


Nashville Statement

  • Article 3 – Okay, an improvement on old views
  • We see the phrase “divinely ordained differences throughout the statement”, e.g. Article 5 – “anomalies” – “We should not sweep them or their differences under the rug”

Stories of Intersex and Faith

  • Showed a video of Megan Brukiewa and Jennifer Brukiewa
    • Megan had Androgen Sensitivity Syndrome // Intersex
    • Joshua Gallardo (Youth Pastor)
    • 5-2% born intersex (same as % with red hair)
    • David Burkiewa – we looked for answers, the right answers, in the Bible – Wants to be able to talk about these things.
    • Reassignment surgeries often happen in infancy – sometimes with emotional, physical, psychological, spiritual effects
    • Jennifer – God has a very specific purpose for Megan, she was not a mistake


Nashville Statement 6

  • They acknowledge some people w/multiple sex markers
  • Tell us JC recognized this
  • Remind us – they can live a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ
  • The authors draw a sharp line between those who are intersex and gay – but nowhere in the document are those who identify as transgender or experience gender dysphoria that they too are made in the image of God and can life a fruitful life pleasing to God – See Article 13 which calls “transgender self-conceptions” sinful.
  • Failure to acknowledge the fellow humanity/dignity of all is a weighty matter


Why it Matters

  • 57% have family who choose not to speak to them
  • 50-54% Harassment at School
  • 60% doctor refused health care
  • 69% homeless
  • Those who attempt suicide 41% vs. general population 4.6%


Telling the Truth About Sex and Gender

  • I am troubled about how Christians treat the “least of these” – vulnerability, those in danger physically spiritually emotionally, numerically
  • Binary (Male vs. Female) is typical – Reality (Male female – an area of overlap between) both in biological and Behavioral Gender Differences
  • Intersex and transgender represent the “least of these” as the minority group but also in terms of the vulnerable and harassed
  • What I do know is that the Good shepherd cares – this (Jesus) is the one whose image that we are called to be in

LATC 2018 – Nature, Grace, and the Christological Ground of Humanity

Rought notes on Marc Cortez’s LATC 2018 Plenary Talk

Christology as basis for establishing anthropology20180118_113512

  • Hedgie the Hedgehog
    • Why should Hedgie be seen as paradigmatic?
  • Establishing that JC is perfect human – how can we make the jump to making claims about true humanity….

Irenaeus as a conversation partner for thinking why JC should be the basis for our theological anthropology

  • Humans are made in the image of God
  • Jesus is the True image of God

How does Irenaeus unpack this? What are the implications? Four Claims

  1. TA must be rooted in the embodied humanity of Christ
  2. TA must be rooted in the eternal identity of the son
  3. TA must recognize the ontological and epistemological priority of Christ over Adam
  4. TA must be studied in such a way that does not completely bifurcate nature and grace (I did not fully catch this 4th point)


Claim 1

  • The very idea of an image requires an embodied form – the son must have a visible and determinate form
  • The body is intrinsic to the Imago Dei – Man not a part was made in the likeness of God. The perfect man consists of the comingling of soul and flesh
  • The fashioning of the human flesh is intimately connected to Christ – Humanity is patterned according to the pattern of the incarnate Christ
  • The imago is Christological in the sense that we see the reality that all persons are directed towards the Triune God
  • No biblical passages prove this but there is biblical warrant


Claim 2

  • What does it mean for I to claim that human nature in the manger is logically prior to the humanity in Genesis 1?
    • Means archetype of humanity exists eternally even though it has not been instantiated
    • Maybe it’s a divine idea – maybe Christ is the historical idealization of that idea
    • I never posits an eternal idea…. The archetype of humanity is always the person of JC himself (Does a Gnostic background inform why he never did this?)
  • Schleiermacher & James Dunn
    • Jesus just is the idea of humanity – the driving person behind the act of creation
    • This however may overshadow the son’s existence in eternity
  • The Son’s identity has been shaped eternally in virtue of the incarnation


Claim 3

  • Adam does not simply prefigure Christ – Adam was consequent on Christ – his humanity has been shaped by the archetype which is Christ
  • There is at least one sense in which Christ is ontologically dependent upon Adam
  • For JC to be fully Human he had to receive his humanity from Adam – to claim J could have received a different kind of humanity – would be problematic for our salvation – he would be instantiating a new kind of humanity rather than recapitulating the humanity which started with Adam
  • How come – looking at the ontologically secondary being (Adam) wouldn’t be a good way to figure out what humanity is all about?
  • I thinks we need to maintain C’s epistemological priority?
    • I says because Adam wasn’t perfect…. They are not yet complete and hadn’t fully grown yet
    • Even though Humanity was created in the image in the beginning we don’t truly see what humanity is until the advent of Christ
    • “Adam and Even give only a dim impression of what it means to be in the image of God.” – Boersma
  • Does this approach do justice to the canonical form of the biblical message about Humanity?
    • Don’t we already know what it means to be human when JC is born? The logic of cannon and creed seems to indicate we already know what it means to be human prior to the incarnation
  • We can know other things about humans….
    • Studying humanity in general can and should provide some insight into humanity (learn about the Mona lisa by studying a replica) – move is complicated by falleness of humanity (someone wrote all over the mona lisa)
    • The developmental account does not denigrate the fact that we can know something about humanity from stages prior to the incarnation. (Studying Marc Cortez as a 7th grader can give you some info about Marc Cortez today). This means we shouldn’t neglect the study of Humanity in its history prior to Christ


Claim 4

  • Doesn’t lead us to distinguish between Nature and Grace
  • This developmental model provides some basis for interdisciplinary studies of human nature
  • In addition to understanding humanity through the lens of the natural – we are required to study humanity in the state of Grace too



Although Hedgie might be the cutest hedgehog to ever walk the earth – it seems reasonable to claim that not hedgehog forms the epistemological or ontological basis for all other hedgehogs.


On I’s view of the Imago Dei we have something very different with the embodied humanity of JC. We have the actualization in history – the archetype – of humanity. For I that is the only adequate ground upon which to base a theological conception of the human person.