George Marsden, in the second edition of his magisterial work on Fundamentalism and American Culture (Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 259-260, comments on a Christian view of history:

The awareness that God acts in history in ways that we can only know in the context of our culturally determined experience should be central to a Christian understanding of history. Yet the Christian must not lose sight of the premise that, just as in the Incarnation Christ’s humanity does not compromise his divinity, so the reality of God’s other work in history, going well beyond what we might explain as natural phenomena, is not compromised by the fact that it is culturally defined.

The history of Christianity reveals a perplexing mixture of divine and human factors. As Richard Lovelace has said, this history, when viewed without a proper awareness of the spiritual factors involved, “is as confusing as a football game in which half the players are invisible.” The present work, an analysis of cultural influences on religious belief, is a study of things visible. As such it must necessarily reflect more than a little sympathy with the modern mode of explanation in terms of natural historical causation. Yet it would be a mistake to assume that such sympathy is incompatible with, or even antagonistic to, a view of history in which God as revealed in Scripture is the dominant force, and in which other unseen spiritual forces are contending.

I find that a Christian view of history is clarified if one considers reality as more or less like the world portrayed in the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. We live in the midst of contests between great and mysterious spiritual forces, which we understand only imperfectly and whose true dimensions we only occasionally glimpse. Yet, frail as we are, we do play a role in this history, on the side either of the powers of light or of the powers of darkness. It is crucially important then, that, by God’s grace, we keep our wits about us and discern the vast difference between the real forces of good and the powers of darkness disguised as angels of light.

The entire Afteword, “History and Fundamentalism,” is worth reading for Marsden’s understanding of the Christian historian’s role as chronicler and interpreter of “observable cultural forces” which complements the theologian’s task of interpreting God’s ways in the world.

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4 thoughts on “How the Lord of the Rings Helps George Marsden Explain a Christian View of History”

  1. So, this is excellent.

  2. Roger Ball says:

    Our ability to reason, or fulfill the cultural mandate, or engage in spiritual warfare, would be seriously limited without these categories.

  3. todd says:

    great day
    “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7) makes you think is Satan really the other side of the Lord
    my rant i have is how sheep like everyone is and they blindly follow a lord that they dont really know they were told to love him they r told to fear him yet no one really see that the bible is just a big lie.
    Firstly, I wanted to share with people that the Bible does not represent only “high morality” or a means to better one’s life; that most of the Bible, in fact, concerns itself with conquest, war, killings, and curses, many times coming from directly from Yahweh (God). By today’s standards, many of these Biblical stories describe despicable atrocities.

    Secondly, there exists a minority of faithful fundamentalists who take the Bible literally and act out or condone the atrocities in the Bible. Religion and governments, for centuries, have instigated wars, pogroms, racism, hatred, anti-Semitism, terrorism, and the teaching of the “inferiority” of women based on their religious beliefs. I want to point out some of the Biblical verses that people of faith have used as justification for their atrocities and also to help people become aware, and beware of the dangers that can result from belief in the Bible.

    Thirdly, to make this knowledge easily available, I edited out the admirable phrases of the Bible in order to get to the point. Most people know about these “good” verses, and I should not have to point them out (there exists a plethora of books about the admirable works). I also left out most of the dark phrases of the Bible for if I had included them all, it would literally involve more information, along with the comments, than the Bible itself. I tried to keep this relatively compact. As a result, the Dark Bible represents a small sampling. I encourage the reader to investigate the history of the Bible and why it contains the stories that it does.
    Christian Gnostics (knowers) who believed that the church itself derived from the Devil to keep man from God and from realizing his true nature. In those first centuries of Christianity orthodoxy did not exist and when an organized orthodox church finally came, it got defined, almost inadvertently, in argument against many of the Gnostic sects
    IN SHORT WAKE UP DO WHAT THE CHURCH DONT WANT YOU TO DO ASK QUESTION’S
    WHY DOES THE CHURCH NEED ANY MONEY LET THE LORD PROVIDE FOR THE LORD HOUSE AND YOU WILL SEE THAT THE LORD WILL IS NOT THE CHURCH ITS UR HEALTH HE MADE US STRONG HE MADE US ABLE TO HANDLE EVERYTHING ON OUR OWN HE GAVE US FREE WILL I WRITE THIS HOPING I WOKE UP ONE PERSON. I PRAY TO THE LORD THAT I WAS ABLE TO SHED LIGHT ON JUST ONE PERSON.
    THE TEMPLE IS WHAT YOU BUILT IN URSELF FOR UR LORD NOT MADE OUR OF GLASS,STONE, THE GREATEST TEMPLE IS UR OWN FLESH.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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