“RIGHTS, RECOGNITION, AND THE BODY OF CHRIST: Responses” – ROWAN WILLIAMS – THE 2018 PAYTON LECTURES

This year’s Payton Lectures are being given by the Right Reverend Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury – what follows are my notes from the responses given to the second lecture.


Payton Lectures
Theology and Human Rights: Tension or Convergence
“Rights, Recognition, and the Body of Christ” (Responses)
The Right Reverend Rowan Williams

 

Response #1: Sebastian Kim

Williams treatment of this subject leaves us much enriched with a sense of complexity of this topic. Thank you. What I appreciate most is twofold: 1) Having established his idea  of the connection b/w secular and theological context, he touched on the biblical concepts. Atonement plays a big role. 2) Justice is a divine gift and not a human achievement. The worshipping church is a community of justice because it worships what alone deserves to be worshiped. Giving to God what is God’s right is accomplished in the life and death of Christ – all receive their rights because of God’s giving.

While I appreciate the theological insights I would like to raise some questions:

  1. Williams mentioned that the worshipping community is a community of justice. The doctrines of justice and rights should be discussed side by side, but as we learn from Scripture, the people of worship do not always act justly. It is too much to assume that the church is a divine community of justice. Knowing and doing justice do not often go hand in hand.
  2. Discussion of justice and rights should also include the difficulty of how to apply J&R between different groups. The concept of justice in the Hebrew bible is different from the philosophical aspect because it is not an abstract concept. In the bible it is taking care of the victims of unjust systems: minorities, the weak, the oppressed.
  3. Christian theology provides resources for the global discussion of human rights, however, I wonder whether his comments are to cautious and whether Xians should say that Xian theology embodies the notion of rights, not just b/c of the imago dei, but b/c it is grounded in being in Christ.
  4. Lastly, Christians played a significant role in the UDHR. Towards the end of WW2 Christian leaders raised concerns about HR. There was a consensus for a universal bill of rights. Christians in the west were actively involved in drafting this bill. By ensuring religious freedom, Christians provided an anchorage of HR discussion in the human dignity in the image of God.

The challenge before us is how do we repent of not giving God his due of justice. How do we boldly demonstrate and practice human rights from a Christian standpoint.

 

Response #2: Erin Dufault-Hunter

The eloquently articulated, Christian account he offers, provides ground for questioning the discussion of rights language. We must remember what brought about the UDHR – the horror of sin and darkness in the wake of WW2.

The problem w/ Williams defense of rights, is that such language cannot produce the kind of people who battle the demonic. How do I know? The history of my own country in the 40’s and 50’s. We saw ourselves as the civilized who fought the good fight in the war, yet our practices of justice were absent at home. The UDHR of human rights flounders, not just because the UN is a weak organization. It is not merely because the US flaunts the rights of others through enhanced interrogation techniques. HR falters because law cannot make the culture we need – it cannot inculcate virtues. Untethered from a robust story, it fails to shape us.

Williams lectures are an example of why Christians should receive the bodies of others, even enemies, as a gift.

The Civil Rights Movement resisted evil, not by making claims, instead it drew on our moral intuitions by shaming us into reform.

The CRM, was always first about poetry, about capturing our imaginations, about dreaming of a beloved community. It allowed us to dream of alternatives to violence. But the demonic recognized that imagination is stronger than law to enforce its end. Thus, the CRM failed because “law” does not provide us with the weapons to actively resist evil. We have used “rights” as a shield from having to do justice.

What then are we to do? We must take up Williams’ vision to our churches, foster an imagination, we must bathe ourselves in the beautiful trinitarian theology of gift.

Use human rights language – but do not forget the story of those rights – rights enfleshed in a community by God’s grace and gifts. We must not abandon our Trinitarian framing of them.

Rowan Williams’ Response

Both respondents have picked up the fact that words are not what we should be focused on. Its easy to use “rights” as a shield to make the discourse of human rights as something which is self-congratulatory, self-protective.

I hold to the use of rights discourse in the face of this, I don’t think however that rights language itself is formative. There are those contexts in the world where such vocabulary is necessary for resisting dehumanization. But what actually motivates us to become persons who enact these rights? That is indeed an issue about the kind of communities we are seeking to create. This is indeed an issue of imagination.

The law is good and holy and right, but it doesn’t actually do anything. That is what Paul seems to say.

Who’s not here and who’s not speaking? This should be a natural reflex in believing community.

Lord Acton: The foundation of all political liberty is religious liberty. – There is a territory where power just cannot go, that is the seed of recognition that political power is not final, not all controlling.

 

Discussion

RW: If we are activists because we want to be effective we are discouraged. If we are activists because we want to witness we can carry on. If its just about bringing results, cynicism is around the culture. The opposite danger is utopianism.

EDH: One of my concerns about this generation’s activism, the danger, make sure you can say “come and see.” If you can’t sit at a table where people live in this reality, our activism belies a vacuous which is utterly dangerous to our souls.

RW: The focus on the sacredness of property, is a slightly modern one. We need a stronger sense of how states work with the grain of natural communities, with the grain of cooperative venture, so that we don’t simply see the characteristic modern standoff between individual and state.

EDH: The OT has some strong things to say about private property. This is quite applicable, especially when it deals when taking land. How do we reckon this with the OT’s concern that about giving land back. OT – God’s justice isn’t equality, but what happens when greed and consumption runs amok.

RH: On this Jubilee principle, as an Anglican, the Book of Common Prayer, in the earlier drafts, the exhortation to Holy Communion included an exhortation to unlawful withholding of the lands and good of others.

Q: What is our role as Christians against police brutality.

RH: As a foreigner, I see extraordinary tolerance of race-based violence by law enforcement. I find myself baffled by apparent non-concern by certain circles in this country. Law-enforcement is a public good which should not be franchised to interest groups.

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“Rights, Recognition, and the Body of Christ” – Rowan Williams – The 2018 Payton Lectures

This year’s Payton Lectures are being given by the Right Reverend Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury – what follows are my notes from the second lecture.


Payton Lectures
Theology and Human Rights: Tension or Convergence
“Rights, Recognition, and the Body of Christ” (Lecture)
The Right Reverend Rowan Williams

 

What is owed to human beings in light of their humanity?

  • Humanity’s existence is a free gift
  • “Healing” is a matter of gratuitous generosity
  • The matter of indebtedness works only one way, God owes us nothing, one might say
  • God’s creation may be gratuitous, yet it arises out of God’s eternal wisdom.

When God shows love and mercy to human beings, it is for God’s sake, not merely theirs. God honors his own fidelity and consistency in showing them compassion. God acts to uphold the divine pledge. God we might say, honors God, gives himself what is owed to God by forgiving humans. Christianity recognizes this gift – Christ alone gives God what is God’s due.

God is bound to the human creation because God is bound to God. This is the basis for the entire scriptural doctrine of justice.

The flow of life from God to creation, is in full harmony with the flow of life in divinity itself.

A theological approach to rights may begin with what creation itself entails. It will be filled out further with our understanding of Christ.

Rights language in a religious language is part of the “sacred.” The recognition of the other as a creature, that is the primitive generator of any theologically generated notion of “ius.” Recognition is a cultural skill/habit. Mere legal understanding will deliver less than a cultural recognition of some other’s rights. Twofold relation: X to the creator, and X to the other creatures in a network of relations.

The ground of rights is the presence of the body itself – as an irreducible inalienable place by which we make sense. It is a unique point of orientation which shapes our construction of meaning. The body is a place of orientation, the place from which we start making sense.

If the capacity for self-presentation is present, then respecting a human agent is respecting that capacity.

AQ: Why care about fairness? B/c distribution of goods is how we help others be who they were created to be.

Worthiness, is not a finite quality of a finite achievement.

Worthiness rests of the raw fact of being a bodily presence in a system of activity depending on the integrity and cooperation of all other finite presences.

Christ’s gift to the Father is the only finite gift given to God which matches what God actually deserves.

The justice of Christ’s self-offering is in its effect of renewing humanity in God.

The worshiping church is a community of justice because it worships what alone deserves to be worshipped. This act of just worship secures justice in the community, because all are giving God, God’s right.

When we are restored to God in worship we are able to serve one another rather than ourselves. This is our ultimate right. This is the liberty to be what we were made to be.

Our right is to freely honor the right of our neighbor.

A just social order doesn’t prescribe in advance what each agent gets to exercise. This is discovered in the living out of life in a community.

Justice is anchored in God acting for God’s sake.

The language of rights was learned and refined over a long period. It took time to learn how to talk about rights. Even when that language is dominated by rationalism (i.e. Locke), even w/ the myth of the self as a consumer, it has the ability to be a critique of power.

God honors God by honoring what is not God. What is not God carries the meaning and words of God, especially in the Word made Flesh. Our alignment with honoring God involves a challenge to our own conception of power, and calls us to reimagine power in the divine image.

Rethinking power as the ability to share/restore – allows us to situate rights language in a framework which is not fundamentally oppositional.

Law alone doesn’t prompt urgency when human rights are violated. But violation is a very strong word. If Millbank is right, then it relates to the sacredness of others.

The frustration of someone else’s right is a loss to the entire social ecology, and thus a loss for me.

Get your prisons wrong and you are probably getting everything wrong.

Rights are relational. Damage to one part is a damage to the entire system.

We shouldn’t conclude that modern discourse is completely disconnected from medieval discourse. The problematic elements arrives in stages: atomization, implicitly conditionality, and the property language that comes with it. But the idea of incommunicable or inalienable rights isn’t a byproduct of “property” type rights. It goes back to the middle ages.

God gives God what is due to God in creation and supremely in the life and death of Jesus Christ. To be in Christ is to be a sharer in this iustitia. To bear the image of God and to have it resorted in Christ is to be a sharer of God honoring God in and through creation.

 

“HUMAN RIGHTS AND HUMAN IDENTITY: Response” – ROWAN WILLIAMS – THE 2018 PAYTON LECTURES

This year’s Payton Lectures are being given by the Right Reverend Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury – what follows are my notes from the discussion after the first lecture.


Payton Lectures
Theology and Human Rights: Tension or Convergence
“Human Rights and Human Identity” (Response)
The Right Reverend Rowan Williams

Respondent #1: Matt Kaemingk

  • Two Camps: Those who see conflict between theology and those who see convergence
  • Those who see conflict now see there is a common ancestry and numerous ways that contemporary rights talk is still haunted by these origins
  • Those who see convergence now see there are some deep conceptual chasms between rights rooted in the sovereign will of an individual and the sovereign will of a loving God
  • Three points to press:
    • At multiple points stressed the need to thicken up our concept of rights in the common good. Why not go the minimalist route? Why not salvage rights discourse by making it more limited?
    • What is the relationship between the intellectual concept of rights and the spiritual longing to see those rights upheld? You can explain X has rights, and the people will intellectually agree, however, the problem is that citizens “no longer long or hope” for societies where X’s rights are upheld at all cost. What we need is not just an intellectual articulation but a longing for these rights to be made manifest.
    • At a couple of points you mention smaller communities – and an individual’s needs for small communities and spaces where we can practice mutuality/sharing. Speak more to the need of associational and communal life for being able to carry out this articulation of human rights.

 

Respondent #2: Clifton Clarke

  • The dominant question is how can we hold the language of human rights and keep our discourse about theological traditions. The concept of human rights is most prevalent articulation of a moral ideal.
  • Movement from rights to goals? Are these a demonstration that powerful nations are no longer interested in rights.
  • Needed to address the link between white privilege and rights being used to bolster its agenda. Similarly, between powerful nations and their failure to uphold justice simply because they are in power.
  • While human rights negates colonialism (at least in thought), it simultaneously is used to justify it.

 

Rowan Williams’ Reponse

  • One can’t address this topic w/o addressing the cultural involvements would be that would take us forward.
  • The question about desire: Do we actually want our citizenship to be genuinely shared with the stranger? We have such little desire for the wellbeing of others…
  • The question about the implication of rights discourse in a Eurocentric/western thought… Yes it needs to be recognized. Its already in the thought of John Locke. However, see as a counterexample: Bartolome de las Casas.
  • We have been reminded of the uncomfortable gap between right’s discourse and practices of power.
  • Rights discourse will only work in small particulars, i.e. communities.

 

Questions & Discussion

  • If there isn’t something metaphysical grounding why human beings are equal, then all we have is a “liberal consensus,” and that won’t be enough.
  • Freedom = ability to exercise your humanity to contribute to human flourishing. Freedom is not maximizing the individual’s consumer choice.
  • The neighbor I confront is never at my disposal because they are already claimed by Christ.
  • No I don’t think I have a right to be offended, what I do think is that I do have a right to exercise the gift God has given me in the community I have been placed. Some kinds of speech have the effect of negating that.
  • As so often the old chap gets it right brilliantly. (Speaking of John Calvin)

“Human Rights and Human Identity” – Rowan Williams – The 2018 Payton Lectures

This year’s Payton Lectures are being given by the Right Reverend Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury – what follows are my notes from this first talk.


Payton Lectures
Theology and Human Rights: Tension or Convergence
“Human Rights and Human Identity” (Lecture)
The Right Reverend Rowan Williams

Are “human rights” – a part of the Christian tradition?

  • Or are they simply a western concept? Cf. John Millbank and McIntyre

Is there a fit between “rights” language and the theological tradition?

  • Traditional religious texts don’t use the language of rights

Oliver O’Donovan – critiques this concept of unindividuated “rights”

  • Unrelated and unconditional demands – ownership/property model
  • But this isn’t actually the way HR works in jurisprudence

Universal Declaration of Human rights – 70 years ago

  • Developed partly by those who had a commitment to Christian personalism
  • The assumption which underlies this is that the dignity of the human person is under threat from totalitarian and liberal ideologies – the affirmation of inalienable rights is a statement about the limit if political authority – so they are not so much about individual claims but an attempt to secure against an “all powerful” state

The difficulty arises when you merge this “negative role” (limiting the state) with two other themes: it becomes a defense against the community

If you claim that all human beings have certain fundamental interests simply in version of being human – that is to say that no political authority can legitimately frustrate those interests w/o losing its moral authority.

Justice is primary among the virtues because it is not simply about me.

UDHR – Social and political order is to safeguard every citizen in the same way – Its not a commitment to subjects in the abstract – it is a recognition of interlocking interests. It falls somewhat short of what a Christian would want to say theologically. It assumes a crucial point: the state is legitimate only when it guarantees not to infringe upon basic securities – especially associations (church, cooperative working units) and families.

The UDHRs theologically ancestry is not to far below the surface.

Does pre-modern Christian thought have any analogy to contemporary rights talk?

  • Medieval discussions treat the word “ius” as an objectively appropriate share in material or social goods – so it concerned the right to perform certain acts.
    • It is my freedom to act it is also a proper expectation that will sustain my life/community
  • AQ [Aquinas] – the superabundance of the rich is owed to the poor for their support.
  • They see this whole issue in light of cosmic harmony – every element in the universe is in a reciprocal relationship with every other. Justice is essentially relational.

Appeal to a universal reciprocity for the good of others is very different than a list of individual entitlements.

AQ – Human law cannot overturn divine. There is a potential tension between a law of a society and the laws of the universe.

The classical theologically framed view of my “right/ius” is a freedom to give what I am meant to give and receive what I am meant to receive depends on a model of mutuality/reciprocity. This latter element has dropped out of modern discussion of human rights.

A contemporary version of AQ’s version of ius would need to address some of the problems in AQ’s views.

We need a strong doctrine of what humans owe one another and why they owe such things.

“Is the prisoner still a member of society – if the answer is no – you have some moral and political problems at hand.”

Dignity – or the value of the agent – is not something earned or conditional.

Definition of Person: One unrepeatable way in which God’s gift to creation becomes actual.

Any challenge to the state all depend on the belief that an individual stands as a point in a nexus of God’s creative activities.

A fuller understanding of language about rights – urges us to attend to the duties that rights entail but also that IUS is about the ability to exercise certain powers, and in a religious universe – maximizing the ability of others to exercise their God given powers. Part of what people is due is the ability to serve the good of their neighbor and community. To argue for a right that is abstracted from this ability is way off the mark.

Example: Freedom of Speech

  • Yes exercise rights – but this does not mean one has the freedom to use one’s speech in such a way that violates another individual’s ius.
  • FOS is not a clash of two rights (i.e. I have a right to free speech and you have a right not to be offended). This is a misunderstanding of rights language.
  • There is NO SUCH THING as a clash between two individual rights. Rights exist in a network of reciprocal relations.

Example: “Right” to Physician Assisted Suicide

  • Why have these debates stalemated? Perhaps we have some residue of communal ius – and we are worried about labeling some lives as not worth living, the relationship of trust between physician and patient – it threatens particular groups of citizens and also particular relationships
  • In this example, we are still operating with a communal understanding of things.

A higher collective authority does not override an individual’s “rights” – however, we need to understand the purpose of human beings to exercise their power towards a God given good – and this ability is always set in the context of entire communities.

Pro-life and pro-choice: stuck in “individual” rights discourse. What if we talked about this in terms of ius (cf. James Mumford), communities, and flourishing of relationships?

We need two things:

  • A thicker experience of shared discernment about what is good for communities.
  • The audible presence of communities who have a fixed commitment to the non-negotiable value of every human being. These communities are an indispensable tool for preventing modernity from seeing itself as infallible.

 

In tomorrow’s lecture: how the divine image can thicken up this account & how the human body grounds our understanding of the inviolable dignity of humans

The “New” Historicism

Today we continue 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.


What happens when E.H. Carr’s claim that “The historian, before he begins to write history, is the product of history” is applied to the historical study of literary texts? (Carr, 48) [See the previous blog post] What happens when “the norm of disembodied objectivity to which humanists have increasingly aspired” is perceived as an illusion, and not just an illusion but an illusion which is capable of producing harm? (Veeser, ix) The result is what is called, “The New Historicism.”

Although the term escapes a clear definition (Veeser, x) or an “agreed upon intellectual and institutional program,” or a “systematic or authoritative paradigm” for practicing the New Historicism,” (Montrose, 18) there are several key assumptions which tend to mark New Historicist thought. Veeser lists five of these assumptions. (Veeser, xi) What binds these assumptions together is the idea that all “texts” both literary and non-literary do not stand apart from cultural-linguistic frameworks. Because no text ever exists a se the literary critic ought to discard modes of analysis which content themselves in analyzing the purely literary features of written texts. There is no purely literary text. As Montrose explains, “the social is understood to be discursively constructed”  and “language use is… socially and materially determined and constrained.” (Montrose, 15) Because language is socially and materially determined and constrained, literary texts like those of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Orson Wells or any number of authors of “great books” are products of history, culture, society, politics, institutions, class and gender. (Montrose, 15) Recognizing that all texts are socially constructed (even determined) the New Historicist also recognizes that her own writing of “texts” will be socially constructed. She will realize that she is also “incapable of offering any description or explanation that is located at some Archimedean point” outside of history. (Montrose, 30) She will recognize that issues of politics, gender, ethnicity, class, age color her choice of which literary texts to read, how she reads these texts, and how she writes about them. In other words the New Historicist is a “product of history.”

Recognizing that she is a project of history, the New Historicist cannot help but be invested in her “product.” She has a task, namely to, “disabuse students of the notion that history is what’s over and done with.” (Montrose, 25) This task, is by no means neutral, it is a task of “oppositional social and political praxis.” By showing students that “they live history” the New Historicist takes part in the task of exposing hidden assumptions in our own cultural-linguistic frameworks. In doing so she takes part in confronting “harmful” ideologies.

Analysis

There is something attractive to me about this approach to the study of historical texts. The New Historicism as represented in these two texts correctly, in my mind, draws our attention to the fact that historical texts do not exist in a vacuum but that when they were first created they were placed within a particular cultural-linguistic framework. That is historical texts are based on the assumptions of their day. Second, the New Historicism draws our attention to the idea that even the historian is socially and linguistically located, and that such a location affects both the texts we select as worthy of study and how we study those texts. To ignore the role our own history plays in doing history would be foolish. These two points are points that are very similar to E.H. Carr’s in What is History? However, these two points differ a bit from Carr’s points in that they emphasize not just that cultural-linguistic location affects the texts that are read and our reading of these texts, but that the cultural-linguistic location determine and constrain texts and reading of texts. Carr advocated for the possibility of “objectivity” through a dialectical process of moving between the past and present. However, it is not clear to me that the New Historicist believes that such a dialectical process is even possible. Without the possibility of “objectivity” even in the sense that Carr calls for it seems to me that the possibility of doing history is severely undercut – historical analysis ends up being the critical practice of analyzing  how our own ideological commitments color older ideologically colored texts.


For references see:

  • H. Aram Veeser, “Introduction” in The New Historicism (New York: Routledge, 1989), ix-xvi.
  • Louis A. Montrose, “Professing the Renaissance: The Poetics and Politics of Culture,” in The New Historicism, 15-36.

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 = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2017/entries/scientific-unity/&gt;.

[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.