Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian's Vocation

By Olsen, Glenn W. | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2012 | Go to article overview
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Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian's Vocation


Olsen, Glenn W., The Catholic Historical Review


Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian's Vocation. Edited by John Fea, Jay Green, and Eric Miller. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. 2010. Pp. xviii, 354. $35.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-268-02903-6.)

This book is composed of a preface, an introduction, fourteen essays, and an afterword by Wilfred M. McClay, which introduces, almost for the only time in this book, the thought of Christopher Dawson (not particularly well treated). The authors are affiliated with a broad spectrum of mostly Christian academic institutions, with a special presence of Reformed Christians. The topics addressed and tone taken range from the homiletic to the nicely delimited, but all speak to the vocation of the Christian historian. Space allows for individual mention of only a few of the articles, but there is much that is useful in the essays of Mark R. Schwelm, Una M. Cadegan, Thomas Albert Howard, William Katerberg, Michael Kugler, Bradley J. Gundlach, John Fea, Jay Green, Robert Tracy McKenzie, and Douglas A. Sweeny. Most of the authors undertook their PhD work in the 1990s, and this book evidences a sea change in the profession in the matter of religion, which, according to a recent American Historical Association survey, has become the most-named field of study by historians asked to identify their specialties. The editors of the present book are associated with the Conference on Faith and History and the journal Fides et Historia.

The introduction declares: "this book . . . joins a long tradition of writings in which Christian scholars have . . . sought to probe and articulate the ways in which life on earth might be playing out beneath the eye and at the hand of the God of Christian faith" (p. 2). This central project of the book seems to be unclearly treated at times; essays like that of Gundlach need to pay further attention to their exposition of "providentialist history" (p. 163), but James B. LaGrand, in siding with St. Augustine, seems to have it exactly right. The wise comments of George Marsden, disavowing any claim to chart the particular ways of God, are invoked, though not all agree.

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