The irony is that careful attention to the sufficiency of Scripture and the explicit teaching of the Protestant confessions does not lead to an ability to explain the Christian meaning of everything. Those starting points — Bible and confessions — actually limit what a Christian scholar can meaningfully claim. Which means a Christian historian has more in common with unbelieving historians than many promoters of Christian-world-and-life-view admit.
A common refrain in evangelical higher education for the last thirty years has been that Christians pursue academic work from the perspective of faith or belief and that by virtue of that insight they produce scholarship that is different from a secular or unbelieving scholar. Whether the insights that Christian scholars possess stem from regeneration, theological training, or biblical knowledge is seldom addressed by those who champion the cause of faith-informed scholarship.
One way of illustrating this point is to consider the post that Tim Challies recently wrote about history:
As a Christian, my interpretive grid is to look for the hand of God in guiding nations. All of the Christian histories I’ve read promote the understanding that God is behind the rise and fall of the nations. Historians, seeking to talk about the exceptional qualities of a nation and its people, emphasize the providence of God in that nation’s history. In this way, history truly is his-story. It is seeking to tell the story of what God means to accomplish in the world that he has made (A great example of this is Nick Needham’s tremendous four volume history titled appropriately 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power).
But as I read the works of non-Christians, I have seen that their interpretive grid is completely different. Because they will not acknowledge the existence of God, they cannot acknowledge the purpose of God. Because they will not acknowledge God as creator, they will not acknowledge God as storyteller—the one who is telling the story of his glory in the world. Instead, they tell what is essentially a history of nothing, no one, and nowhere.
The Bible recounts primordial history and wastes absolutely no time in introducing us to a person and his purpose: “In the beginning God created…” In just the first few words we learn history has a beginning, and history has a beginner. Behind the very first molecules in existence was the creative power and deliberate providence of an almighty God. Over six days we see him creating, shaping, and sustaining all that he has made. We see him forming the crown of his creation, his pride and joy, a human being, to whom he assigned a noble purpose. Christian historians follow this pattern in seeing the deliberate act of God behind every person, every nation, and every action.
On some of the meta-points a Christian agnostic historian could not disagree. God is in control of history, non-Christian historians do not acknowledge God’s existence, and the Bible does reveal God’s power in creating everything.
The problem, though, is that even if God is in control of all of history, which he is, a Christian does not know what purpose God has for historical events that transpire outside the scope of Scripture. The Bible does reveal God’s plan for using Assyria to conquer the Israelites, or Roman authorities to carry out what led to the atonement, the crucifixion of Jesus. But Scripture says nothing about the U.S. war for independence, the rise of Saddam Hussein, or the fall of the Berlin Wall. All a Christian historian can say is, “God is in control.” But what the divine purpose is, beyond the truth that nothing that happens can separate a believer from his savior, is unknown.