History and Theology: 5 Variations

The following is an attempt at a typology of the various ways in which history and theology may cross pollinate and inter implicate one another’s domains of study.

  • History of Theology. This is a branch of history. Its object of study happens to be theological discourse, but it deploys broadly critical-historical tools of analysis in order to generate a narrative of the past. For an example consider Jaroslav Pelikan’s magisterial 5 vol. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Univ. of Chicago Pr. (1975-1991).
  • Theological History. This is not a branch of history but an approach to historical narration in general. Its object of study is not limited to the output of theologians, but can survey any domain of life amenable to historical modes of representation. What’s distinctive here is its willingness to deploy theological categories of description, such as admitting of God as an agent in its causal plot lines . Think the New Testament’s Luke-Acts, Eusebius’ Church History, or Augustine’s City of God.
  • Historical Theology. This is an approach to theological inquiry. It attempts to offer constructive theological proposals on the basis in part of its accounts of the past. Can be contrasted with an approach to theology such as Analytic Theology which tries instead to establish constructive theological proposals primarily on the basis of the acuity and rigor of its conceptual analyses and demonstrations of logical cogency. Think Ephraim Radner’s A Brutal Unity: The Spiritual Politics of the Christian Church, Baylor Univ. Pr. (2012).
  • Theology of History. This is not an approach but a branch of theology, a limited subset of its sphere of inquiry. It endeavors to offer a theological description of specific matters like the nature of time, the legibility of the past, the place of history within God’s scheme of revelation and the outworking of his purposes. May partially overlap with another branch of theology, i.e., Eschatology. Think Irenaeus’ doctrine of recapitulation as a soteriology of history. Or think Hans Urs von Balthasar’s A Theology of History or Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Revelation as History.
  • Theological Historiography. This is the interface of theology and the philosophy of history. Theological categories will be deployed to evaluate historiographical categories, procedural axioms, and criteria of legitimation. Think Joel B. Green’s “Rethinking ‘History’ for Theological Interpretation,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 5.2 (2011), 159-174.
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