History and Stories

A Christian historian’s most important task is to help God’s people recognize and then trust the sovereignty of God in history. This sovereignty is manifested in His deliverance of His people, individually and corporately, out of the pretended sovereignty of Satan. Satan’s sovereignty is manifested in history by means of the authority of the kingdom of man. Covenantal warfare is primarily an ethical struggle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. Bible stories are tools to help God’s people understand the nature of this struggle. The Bible is mostly a series of stories about struggles between representatives of God’s kingdom and the rival kingdoms. God’s covenant people learn about His sovereignty in history through Bible stories.

The Biblical Structure of History: Chapter 11, Stories
Gary North

Actual Bible stories are best, as they are based on objective historical fact.

And obviously so.

There are reasons why the Bible puts serious effort into cross-referencing itself with the Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian, and Roman rulers. Daniel, for one, explicitly pegs itself with the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II; the names of the Israelite and Judean kings have been cross-verified with archeological discoveries; and the New Testament is careful to date itself with the rule of Roman emperors (and the occasional governor).

In contrast, all other foundational religious books are tied with doctrine and metaphysics. Not empirically datable stories. Not history.

And the, there is today’s Secularist world… where modern historians don’t even believe that objective history is possible!

Relativism, the modern corollary to skepticism, is the belief that truth is relative to the position of the person making a statement. It has generated a pervasive lack of confidence in the ability to find truth or even to establish that there is such a thing as the truth. Relativism leads directly to a questioning of the ideal of objectivity, because it undermines the belief that people can get outside of themselves in order to get at the truth. If truth depends on the observer standpoint, how can there be any transcendent, universal, or absolute truth, or at least truths that hold for all groups for many generations? – Appleby, Hunt, and Jacob, 1994.

The Biblical Structure of History: Chapter 8, Relativism
Gary North

The sophisticated (read: sophist) modernist is eaten alive by the even more sophisticated postmodernist.

Two blind men, falling into the ditch.

And, as an aside, it’s hardly surprising that the field of history is dying, as fewer and fewer people are interested in studying meaningless, relativistic babble.

Do you care about a list of disconnected “brute facts” that have nothing to teach us today?
Because I’m not.

But, if you are a Christian, and therefore believe that

  • there is such a thing as objective, actually true history, and
  • history has lessons God – as the truth-loving, justice-upholding objective observer – expects us to learn,

then there’s a place for you to advance, even as the Secularists disintegrate and fall apart, shredded by their own delusions.

Or, put another way:

“God does not determine what is true. Men do!”

“But… which men?”

“Why, the accredited money men with media control and machine guns who direct the government academies and research grants, of course!”

“You mean the Ruling Elite? But the elite changes their faces and words, depending on which nation you are in. Surely actual historical truth isn’t defined by your location, or the exact membership and ideological preferences of the national Ruling Class at a given point of time!”

“But it does! It does! The Right Sort of Powerful Men gets to define what is historical (and scientific! and medical!) truth! They have Power, and Power Justifies All Things!

Good enough reason for all Christians, everywhere, to dismiss the secularists with a flick of the wrist.

Back to storytelling:

Stories are easier to remember than long chains of reasoning. The Bible offers no long chains of reasoning. It offers epistles: theological commentaries on the Bible’s stories and also on the Bible’s revealed laws. These commentaries have been used by theologians to produce books filled with long chains of reasoning, but most Christians do not read these books. Before there were printed books, most Christians did not know about the discipline of theology. That intellectual discipline was the responsibility of bishops and literate bureaucrats under their authority, plus—after 1100—university professors. Even today, when Christians read a book on theology, a month later (or less), they do not remember the book’s long chains of reasoning. At best, they remember a few points, but they cannot explain how they are connected.

In contrast is the Bible. The Bible offers long lists of laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. It offers this message: the centrality of ethics in history. Ethics is built on the authority of these laws, which in turn are enforced by God’s sanctions, positive and negative, in response to people’s obedience or disobedience to these laws (Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28). Biblical history is structured in terms of this pattern: the transition from grace to wrath, followed by the transition from wrath to grace. My book offers this thesis: the transition from wrath to grace applies to all history, not just Bible history.

The Biblical Structure of History: Chapter 11, Stories
Gary North

And that’s how we get out of this self-destructive, increasingly irrational postmodern nut-house Our Betters have created to escape God’s authority… while exalting their own.

(No surprise there!)

D. Constructing the Story

1. Theme

Every story needs a theme. The theme provides a message. This message requires a chronological structure. The story has a beginning and an end. The end is consistent with the system of causation that undergirds the theme. This system of causation is the essence of the theme. Without it, there can be no theme.

The Bible’s theme is simple: the transition from grace to wrath, followed by the transition from wrath to grace. This theme is conveyed by a series of personal stories. At the heart of the theme is a series of trials: God’s trial of Adam and Eve, His trial of Cain, the Sanhedrin’s trial of Jesus, Pilate’s trial of Jesus, the Sanhedrin’s trial of the apostles, the Sanhedrin’s trial of Stephen, the Roman court’s trial of Paul, and God’s trial of humanity at the last judgment. We should also add covenant-keepers’ trial of fallen angels, but there are no details.

Time is scarce. Do not waste the listeners’ time. Therefore, a story should be memorable. Its theme should be memorable, and several of the theme’s illustrating characters and incidents should be memorable.

A Christian historian should not waste his time investigating any events that are unlikely to lend themselves to the narration of a story with at least one major theme. Some trends are general, and can be used to establish context. There may be causation, but if this causation is not visibly covenantal, then the Christian historian should select a different topic. Life is short, and the number of stories revealing covenantal causation is huge.

The Biblical Structure of History: Chapter 11, Stories
Gary North

Amusingly, you can even set up such stories in atheistic Darwinian fictional sci-fi universes.

The more interesting and logically set-up such universes are, the easier it is to build a Christian theme out of the material.

Note that Traveller is grounded in Greco-Roman history, not Biblical history. (You would expect that with the Imperial/Great Man theme, no?) Even so, it is a brief, but coherent and logically/rationally put together history and universe, interesting enough for me to play in for ~30 years.

And the Law of Consequences are in full effect in Traveller, which makes it even easier for a Christian to work with. You can even make the universe sing, if you put some muscle and thought into your world-building!

Try doing THAT with Warhammer: 40,000!
“Baby, you ain’t ever getting out of THOSE slave chains!”

2. Questions

I have described these six questions in terms of God’s trial of Adam, Eve, and the serpent. They are questions regarding personal responsibility. I have summarized these six questions: what, where, when, who, why, and how? Any historian who provides plausible answers to all six has done yeoman service. If he can tell this story accurately, clearly, and persuasively in the time that an audience will grant him to tell the story, he has done well

Same for adventure designers.

*cough*

Now, things are different from a Traveller role-playing perspective: the PCs require agency. And it’s fine to give it to the PCs: let then write the story as they please. Make the dice rules as random as you can: I have no problem with that.

But in the Traveller universe, Actions Have Consequences.

Often, Predictable Consequences.

And as long as that is true, the Referee can hang his tale: no railroading required.

Only (likely) rewards for smart roleplaying, a (customary) fairly neutral outcome for ho-hum, uninspired gaming, and (usually) distasteful results for incompetence.

I tend to lean to the forgiving side, but others are stricter than I.

Note that Real Life tends to be rather unforgiving. Especially when it comes to ignorance and wilful incompetence.

The secret joy is seeing just how far reasonably competent and creative PCs can go, with a bit of daring and risk-taking.

(Yes, some Referees are secretly rooting for the PCs… and are looking for an interesting surprise. Something unexpected-but-cool that he can think about at 11 pm, when he should be sleeping.)

3. Structure

Telling a story requires structure: words put together in a specialized way. The words must hold the attention of a listener or a reader. To do this, the narrator must provide markers that convey to the reader that the story is progressing in a coherent way. A disjointed structure produces confusion. Listeners’ attention will drift. The narrator faces boundaries. The main one is the boundary of time that the targeted listener or reader is willing to donate to the narrator. The second is the boundary of memory. People have weak memories. Most of what they hear in a lecture is forgotten within 48 hours. About 95% is forgotten in a week. So, the story’s markers must serve the purpose of providing hooks onto which the listener can “hang” his memory. This is a variation of what Yates described as the art of memory: a mental room wherein memory-triggering items are placed sequentially. The narrative must substitute for the room.

The Biblical Structure of History: Chapter 11, Stories
Gary North

If a reader or player remembers two main points from my tales and stories after a week, I have done well, indeed.

4. Lesson

A Christian storyteller’s goal should be to convey an ethical lesson. This lesson should serve as a model for judging people and events. The standards of judgment are mainly ethical. There are other standards, such as aesthetic standards. But there is no formula for aesthetic standards. There is no known biblical formula. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This does not mean that beholders cannot accurately judge beauty. There are beauty contests in many nations. The finalists in any nation would find widespread agreement from men in other nations. Men know which women are beautiful, and women also know. But they cannot explain this in agreed-upon ways, other than a few characteristics, such as weight. Stories in the Bible are structured ethically. They provide lessons regarding right and wrong. They have a judicial function. They were designed by God to train covenant-keepers in the principles of justice, climaxing in their judging of fallen angels after the final judgment of humanity.

The Biblical Structure of History: Chapter 11, Stories
Gary North

Secularists don’t believe that there are any lessons to be learnt in history.

Except, perhaps, all things will die meaningless in the end.

(Hey: in the thinking of certain men, it’s a fair trade if you get to escape hell in return.)

Christians know full well that’s not how things will turn out.1

In return, you get meaningful history… and a particularly unpleasant destiny for the enemies of God.

♩♬ “Ya can’t have one without the ooo-ther!” ♪♫

Maybe Sinatra’s “Love and Marriage” isn’t quite the right selection here.
(But see The Marriage Supper of the Lamb, Revelations 19:6-10.)

Feel free to sing along with the Magnificant (Luke 1:46-55) or Deborah and Barak (Judges 5) instead.

I admit, I’m partial to Psalm 149 myself…

5. Vision

The listeners should gain a renewed vision of victory after hearing a story. The story should supplement stories of successes by Christians in extending the kingdom of God. The models for such stories are stories about foreign missionaries. These stories contain sub-themes of the organizations they set up, or their successors set up. These stories include discussions of life-and-death decisions, cultural conflicts, worldview conflicts, educational programs, fund-raising, getting out the story of the missions to supporters, past successes, new challenges, and plausible prospects for further success. 

The Biblical Structure of History: Chapter 11, Stories
Gary North

Well… this is less violent, and more interesting, than the Boy’s Own Adventure Stories some of us rely on.

*cough*

Histories of foreign missions are not taken seriously by most academic historians, who see them as recruiting and fund-raising tools. I take them seriously because they are recruiting and fund-raising tools.

The Biblical Structure of History: Chapter 11, Stories
Gary North

Heh.

A history presentation whose ultimate goal is not successful evangelism is a waste of time. The goal should be to persuade covenant-breakers to switch confessions. To do this, an army of evangelists who believe in comprehensive redemption must be recruited and trained. The Bible proclaims such a vision. (See Kenneth L. Gentry, The Greatness of the Great Commission, 1992.) So should Christian histories.

The Biblical Structure of History: Chapter 11, Stories
Gary North

So should Christian science fiction.

(Did I say that out loud?)

Conclusion

If Christian historians follow these procedures, they will produce stories that replace the prevailing humanistic stories. Humanists have no self-conscious theory of history. It is not taught in humanist institutions. They have no theory of the structure of Christian historiography. They are not good at persuading the general public. The sanctions within history departments militate against persuading the public. The sanctions favor persuading editors of peer-reviewed journals, meaning committees.

The Biblical Structure of History: Chapter 11, Stories
Gary North

Isn’t it nice when God pre-crippled His enemies, even before the fight begins?

I kinda like that kind of thing.

I like it very, very much.

Until Christian historians regard their callings as God-given, they will not be successful in competing against an army of humanists in tax-funded schools. They will not persuade Christians in churches. Academic Christian historians are not ready for covenantal warfare. They have been in retreat since 1500.

The Biblical Structure of History: Chapter 11, Stories
Gary North

Too bad that Christian intellectual leadership has been composed of insta-surrender failures since, oh, 1500 or so.

You know, about the time Calvin and Luther bent the knee to Powerful Princes, looking with huge hopeful eyes up to the men with gold and swords and glorious titles, swiftly dumping the very Law of God to gain the political favour of European Princes, giving them the free hand they needed to crush the weak?

You know, the uprisings that started up because some peasants actually took Calvin and Luther seriously, when they claimed that all were equal before God, and that all could rely on His impartial justice?

Yep. That’s about the time when the pious religious types started bowing and scraping before the rulers of the earth. You know: the Lords they truly fear.

“Here’s your pot of pottage nice government stipend. Now, start preaching about Romans 13, and how the rulers of the world are bound only to some mystical, undefined, unenforcable Natural Law2 *chuckle*, and certainly not to the spelled-out, crystal-clear Law of Moses.”

“Sir Yes Sir! And may I add a word about the Two Kingdoms theology, about the (ever-expanding) Kingdom of the State, and the (ever-shrinking) Kingdom of God?”

“Yes, my obedient servant, you may. And you can be certain that you will get your full and fitting reward in time. In the meantime, make sure I am undisturbed by the rabble, when Kant and Voltaire arrive for their appointment with me for dinner.”

“Absolutely! Can I join you for dinner as well?”

“I’m sorry: there is only room for serious intellectual leaders this evening. But I will be sure to send you the leftovers after we are done. And a few gold silver coins as well, for my little faithful servant, so handy and useful when I need to keep the masses in line. Saves wear and tear on the soldiers, you know.”

“I am so deeply honoured by your patronage, sire!”

“You have no idea of the deep, passionate pleasure I get when I patronize you.”

The 1500s is also the time the Christian Religious Elite began to forever run away from actual intellectual conflict. Willing to surrender everything and anything, if they can only be left to their mystery cult temples and their tiny, culturally irrelevant church-kingdoms.

Ever wonder why Christ repeatedly placed special emphasis on the punishment of worthless servants?

Best not to follow their example.

With additional knowledge, comes additional responsibility… and accountability.

That means me, and that means you too.

The five-point model for historiography provides the structure for writing historical stories: capital, assignment, boundaries, performance, and inheritance. It offers a theory of telling a story: theme, questions, structure, lesson, and vision. It is a tool of discipleship: mission, audiences, message, commitment, and hope. None of this is taught in Christian schools. Christian historians are unaware of it. They also have no Bible-based theory of the structure of history to rival the assumed but unspoken structure that govern humanists. I surveyed the correct theory in Part 1. So, they lose by default.

The Biblical Structure of History: Chapter 11, Stories
Gary North

The Christian clergy and intelligentsia are perfectly satisfied with losing by default. After all, they have been losing by default since 1500 or so.

But that’s their road.

Not yours. Not mine.

And certainly not God’s!

Meanwhile, the competing historical narratives presented by humanists are increasingly divided. They have no agreed-on theory of world history. They have no agreed-on theory of how to interpret documents. They have no theory of how the autonomous historian can make sense of the past. There is no agreement on the existence of an objective past.

The Biblical Structure of History: Chapter 11, Stories
Gary North

Meanwhile, God just keeps on grinding His enemies into a busted kingdom, hopelessly divided against itself.

Without His anointed chosen servants, cowering in the prayer closet (when not partying with His enemies at the very best functions), raising a finger to help.

The humanists are vulnerable. The problem is this: Christian historians are not ready to replace the humanists. They are not self-confident. They do not have an alternative agenda. They cannot beat something with nothing. In the next four chapters, I hope to provide them with four more stones. David picked up five stones to do battle with Goliath (1 Samuel 17:40). I think the first stone, which you have just read, would be sufficient. But historians must know how to use a sling to make the stone deadly to the enemy. That sling is Christian education.

Prediction: The Credentialed Christians are going to be as worthless has they have been for the last 500 years. It would be awesome to be proven wrong here… but we know the likelihood of that happening.3

But I believe that with the spread of the internet and the fall of the gatekeepers —

sorry, YouTube, Google and Twitter,
it’s way too late for some slap-dash emergency censorship to do the job —

uncredentialed, but hardworking and dedicated Christians with a high level of integrity, can finish the job Christ started.

Good thing too: it’s been two thousand years already.

God expects better than this, and rightfully so.

Time to get real about “The priesthood of all believers”.


1Secularists know this too… which is why they fight God with such total dedication.

The problem is, the labour theory of value doesn’t cut it. Dedicating your entire life to fighting God — every thought, every word, every deed — simply isn’t enough to gain the victory over Him and His Law-Word.

All you get is a broken, bankrupt, and discredited God-State, with a pile of dead men on the Eastern Front… or in the mass graves… or in the biowaste bins behind the hospitals… and the Kingdom of God just keeps on a’growing.

Regardless of what the Secularists want.

Even regardless of what the insta-surrender Western Christian religious leadership wants!

2A vague, undefined, and unenforcible Natural Law, originating from pagan Imperial Romans trying to rule the rambunctious subjects in a sorta-kinda predictable manner, that Charles Darwin et. al. found FAR too restraining and uncomfortable for their liking.

But that’s how it goes: the Master Class (or was that the Master Race?) always see themselves as having the whip hand, and can’t possibly imagine themselves in any other position.

Christians — of all races, and all classes — had better have a more lively imagination than that. Or, for those with thick skulls, at least more empathy and compassion than that.

(Yes, if you listen really carefully, you can spiritually hear a soft, quiet

or else

arise from the very fabric of the cosmos. But you need a Bible to get a details: Natural Law, even at its very best, can’t save a single soul from what’s behind those two little words.)

3Yes, I know: miracles can happen.

But here’s the problem with that line of thinking:

“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”

Mark 2:21-22, English Standard Version

It’s not that God can’t turn old, rigid wineskins into new, flexible ones.

It’s that God specifically choses not to.

  • Not in the case of the submissive-to-power Eastern Orthodox Church.
  • Not in the case of the hopelessly corrupt and unreformable Roman Catholic Church.
  • Not in the case of the laughable European State Churches.
  • Not in the case of the aging and dying Mainstream Protestant Churches.
  • Not in the case of the feeble and utterly compromised Conservative Protestant Churches.

Rule of thumb?

“If it has a seminary to process (and break) potential new preachers, write it off.”

About Alvin Plummer

I'm working to build a better world, a world that blesses Christ and is blessed by Him. I hope that you're doing the same!
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