"Where are the Historians of Theology?"
I remember on one occasion David telling me that a friend of his, when asked if he was a historical theologian, replied no. If I recall correctly, this response came as a surprise to the people interviewing him for the position of a historical theologian at a prestigious evangelical institution. The candidate responded instead that he was a theological historian. He subsequently went on to demonstrate that he was a capable person for this post.
The previous story highlights what I see as a negative trend, particularly among evangelicals: there seem to be few theological historians in the academy. In my estimation, there are countless historians and theologians, but relatively few historians of theology. Alister McGrath and Tony Lane have written excellent books on historical theology, but they are writing primarily as theologians and tend to downplay the rich cultural and social contexts in which theological ideas were birthed. What I want to suggest is that theology is influenced by its social and culture context. Thus greater attention needs to be given to these contexts in order for us to gain a better understanding of theology.
The opposite problem is apparent among many historians. At the history conferences that I have attended, the dominant topics there relate to politics, social and cultural issues, even if they are religious in nature. I remember attending the Eighteenth-Century Scottish Studies Society conference at
My thesis therefore is that we need more historians of theology. I submit that there is a need for systematic theologians and social and political historians. However, surely there is also a need for historians to examine theology. We need able historians to describe lucidly the context of theological ideas. We need more David Bebbingtons, Mark Nolls, Bruce Hindmarshs, John Stackhouses (perhaps he would not want to be known as a historian), Timothy Larsens, Jaroslav Pelikans, and Roger Olsons. In my historical theology class that I teach at
Name the controversial early Church Father known for his allegorical interpretations of scripture who castrated himself in order to become a “eunuch for the kingdom of heaven”
- Justin Martyr
- Julius Caesar
Perhaps it is time for institutions of higher learning to consider advertizing for theological historian faculty positions.