Friday, December 03, 2010

The Meaning of History

First, a full confession:
(I haven't confessed publically much since this previous shocker, so I am overdue(:...)

I like to be ironic about irony.
I am dualistic/Hellenistic about my reaction to dualism/Hellenism.

Having said that, and seeing no further need to qualify my qualifier (except to St. Steve, who actually said something like "Dave, you are the most Hellenistic thinker I have ever met!," seemingly unaware of the irony of the statement, even if he was right!), I launch into a book review (of sorts) of  Ronald Nash's "The Meaning of History."  He makes the case that a linear view of history is the correct model, so my review will inevitably be nonlinear.

I have an aversion to verse-itis.
I hate the seduction of reductionism
I am apologetic about any use of apologetics.

But I unapologetically love the book...even though I didn't want to.
I don't necessarily see Nash selling out to any of those paths.
Mostly, he is limited by the very medium (which becomes, and here becomes {see dictionary definition #2}, the message)
             a short introduction (!) to the meaning of history.
Facing an impossible job, he has done wonderfully well.

The basic idea is to introduce us to the speculative history of speculative history, via a comparison of the cyclical view with a linear view (specifically, a Christian view and worldview), and  then through a succinct summary of representative figures of  the philosophy of history: Augustine, Vico, Kant, Herder, Marx and Spengler/Toynbee..
and all with an apologetic edge; offering the Christian worldview, which Nash defines as linear as opposed to cyclical.


1)For all the risk of reductionism, it may be the best place for the general (Christian) reader to start on the topic. Nash also offers that it also "a good place...for slightly advanced students of the subject to check their previously acquired opinions" (p. x).   I also appreciated his ability to avoid a cheesy "we must train our young people to recapture a Christian worldview" as he discusses how important worldview ("conceptual system") is; and reminds us that everyone inevitably operates from one, and that worldviews are inherently religious.  It was somewhat surprising (and refreshing) to read  an evangelical saying in print that "Paul Tillich was right."  Though Nash  is quick to nuance:
"Paul Tillich is right when he defined religion as a matter of 'ultimate concern'...Religion is more than this, but it cannot be less."  (27).  His chapter on worldview reminded me of VanderLaan's quote that "every story has a pricetag."

2)The chapter on Hegel is hugely helpful. Nash makes the case that Hegel is widely misunderstood
as the thesis>antithesis>synthesis triad.  Nash notes that Hegel himself never directly used those three words together, and when he  did encounter what would today be popularly considered the basic Hegelian view of the triad, he explicitly rejects it (see Hegel's preface to  Phenomenology of Mind)!
Hegel is not very Hegelian at some points!  (and don't blame Calvin for all things branded Calvinism...ditto for
SK et al). The issues raised in the process  of deconstructing and reconstructing Hegel are also key in grasping
a) what Hegel intends to connote by  aufhebehn (synthesis) and Geist  (Spirit/World Spirit/Mind/God)
b)the centrality of self-consciousness and freedom to Hegelian thought.

3)I'm half-kidding (and reductionistic again) to say that Hegel comes off sounding Calvinist and EmergentPentecostal in Nash's reading:

In Nash's description, Hegel's God (even though Nash makes clear that Hegel does not believe in the classic Christian God, or see God as a person/personal, or even consider himself a theist...all points I would love to hear Larry Wood challenge Nash on)  sounds almost like the extreme Calvinist, determinist version, where there is no need for theodicy, as anything that happens is justified, as it somehow leads to the ultimate  Sovereign Synthesis  (Romans 8:28ish)

Where does he sound Emergent-Pentecostal?  "Humans  can particpate in Spirit..and when  they act freely, they advance self-consciousness in their nation.. (112)  Even tough  Nash charges Hegel with "disdain for individual persons"  (114), Hegel's crucial role for "heroes" ("World Heroes") sounds parallel to what Pentecostals would call prophetic or apostolic people.
World heroes seem to be called to catalyze and kickstart synthesis and shift.

But we're back to hyperCalvinism again (must have been predestined!) as such heroes, though using their freedom to tap into how Spirit is leading, are "pawns."  (:

4)Since I am a fan of (literally, on facebook of the "holy helix" view of life/history (and trips up the Andes which seem sickeningly cyclical but have profoundly "elevated" goals)...I would love to hang out with Nash, and ask him, "Does history have to be strictly linear to have a meaning and  goal?"  Then we can bring in George Eldon Ladd and John Wimber (dreaming, as all three: Nash, Ladd, Wimber have died) and talk about the arrow of time, and nonlinear linearity  in the Kingdom (see "THE KINGDOM’S RETROACTIVE RETROFUTURE: SEND ME MORE ARROWS")..
I'll have to stick (for now) to scribbled notes on page 6, where Nash seems (?)  to suggest that we must adopt a reductionist view of linearity as the key to understanding history Christianly (see also p, 159_.

4)I certainly was not expect a proposed solution to the authorship mystery of The Book of Hebrews to show up in the book at all, let alone to be so pivotal to the flow that a whole chapter  (4) is dedicated to the suggested writer...Apollos..being "the first Christian philosopher).  Nash makes the case that the argument of Hebrews assumes an author familiar with (from experience), and arguing against, a Philo -tainted, and Alexandrian-infected  (read circular/cyclical) view of history.  Check it out  in Chapter 4 (though, maddeningly, a huge teaser for "the first Christian philosopher" in the book's introduction [page 4] mistakenly suggests this unveiling happens in Chapter 5....... the only typo/editing mistake I found in the whole book, pretty rare)

5) A format criticism:  The book has no concluding chapter.  It ends with a chapter on the New Marxism.
That seems bizarre, even impossible for an apologetics kind of book...until you realize there indeed is a brief concluding section, but it will never be found by the causal reader, as it is part of the final chapter on the New Marxism.

Oh, I becoming far too modern, RRWI and linear that I would complain about that (:
What would S.  Steve say about me.
(Please don't answer that, Steve.  I've already confessed.....Just read "The Meaning of History at St. Arbuck' 3 Easy Strands").

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Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!