Review: History and Christian Faith by Edward W.H. Vick

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This small, unassuming book should weigh heavily with those engaged in a variety of fields; include the philosophy of religion and the studies of the historical aspects of the Scriptures. The author, Dr. Edward Vick, is a long-time professor in Canada and the United Kingdom teaching on philosophy and religious studies. His concern with this book is, as the title states, the use of history and the Christian faith.

For readers looking for a book which allows the believer to simply justify Christianity by ‘history’, they will be sorely disappointed. Vick takes the philosopher’s razor to the view that history is just another way to prove God, and instead, asks his readers to be objective about history. For the author, it seems, History is a substance all to its own, and a substance which while we may objectively identify, we should not mold into Christian theology. He is not against Believers taking history and saying that God acted in this way or the that way, but he wants the historians – and to him, we are all historians – to understand that history is something which is supported only by evidence, whereas there is no evidence of God acting in it (p36). Not only will this book deflate opinions of some believers, but it will play havoc with the mythicists.

In exploring this dense topic, Vick presents six chapters/arguments. As with any teacher, he begins with questions (chapter 1), such as “How are we to think about God’s presence in history?” His goal, he claims, is to ‘show that our Christian faith is bound up with our personal history.’ He correct, and but asking the questions, and placing history as something to be evidenced, he calls the believer to acknowledge that while our Christian faith may not always be rational, it is always reasonable. In chapter 2, Vick speaks in regard to the Christian faith and the relation to the belief in God. By the third chapter, the author is ready to define history, separating faith in and facts about Christ. Some may have a difficult time in separating the two, but Vick’s goal is to help them understand the role of faith in facts. This plays into the fourth chapter in which Vick attempts to show that our Faith often times is made up of our own personal experiences. That is not as subjective as it sounds, because our experience deals not with facts – anyone can believe that Jesus existed – but with revelation at the start – which deals with that Christ is the Son of God in Christian theology. The second to last chapter looks for an overall meaning in history while the sixth tackles the New Testament and our ‘origin of those principles of interpretation.’

History, or rather, the view of history as a scientific endeavor is relatively new. Further, using historical facts in biblical interpretation is even newer. Again, this may present a problem to some of the readers, but the fact remains that some things are historical identifiable and thus ‘known’ while others are not. Vick gives several examples of this. It may be that historically, Jesus was born and crucified. That can be identified using the historian’s professional tools. What cannot be identified and thus must remain unknown is whether or not Jesus was the Son of God, the Jewish Messiah, who was crucified, dead and buried, rose on the third day, and ascended to heaven where he sits on God’s right hand where he will judge the quick and the dead.

We have to understand then the identifiable parts of the Gospel, while historical, do not mean that the entirety of the New Testament is historical. Vick writes, “The New Testament is thus a series of interpretations of the meaning of Jesus Christ representing what was being passed on and being accepted in the churches in the first decades of Christianity. (p72)” This is Vick’s goal, to separate for the believer what real history is and what real faith is. As I said, this little, unassuming book, is densely populated and should roundly be considered for those struggling with the idea that not everything in Scripture is historical factual as we understand history, but that everything in Scripture can be verified by faith as we understand faith.

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