Two quick comments. I do realize there are some who would claim revelatory or redemptive insight into the meaning history (with an academic specialty on trans-Atlantic revivalism, I face the revival v. revivalism thing often); I only wish to claim that this doesn’t exhaust the options. There is another approach that can be fairly described as a distinctive Christian perspective on history that does not rely on these formulations, but is rather a biblically and theologically-informed interpretation of creation and the cultural development of creation by human beings as image-bearers fallen into sin. I’d say that most prominent Christian historians who claim a distinctive (or even “outrageous”) Christian perspective would fall into this camp in varying degrees.
Second, on natural law, while I don’t take natural to mean neutral, I do think many Christians do. Most evangelicals I have encountered who reject the idea of a distinctive Christian perspective on non-theological subjects do so on the basis of a supposed neutrality (“being a Christian economist just means being the best economist I can be”). Rejecting this, I do heartily affirm that what is creational (preferable to “natural” in my opinion) is universal, common to all people as created beings. Through creation God teaches everything from his existence to proper sexual relations to how to farm. However, the obstacle to rightly understanding creation is not merely sloth in the application of reason (though this is often a factor) as it is rebellion in the pursuit of sin. The problem being idolatry rather than ignorance, the real problem of an ideology like economic materialism is not that it fails to account for all the facts, but that it fails to account for the facts because it is an idolatrous notion of reality. On abortion, a natural law claim that all human beings know abortion is wrong needs is fine, but it’s rare to hear a follow up from the natural law theorist on why in fact many human societies, even societies that were home to some of the great ancient jurists, have acted as if they did not believe abortion, even infanticide, was wrong. That historical fact demands some kind of explanation, and I think special revelation helps us form a distinctively Christian one.
Clark responds briefly:
I agree, in substance, with much of what Russ says above (e.g. creational = natural) though I continue to wonder what is distinctively Christian about the Christian’s explanation of the proximate causes of history? Even if I grant that Russ’ account is distinctively theistic, what is Trinitarian, or “resurrectional” about it?
Russ’ account above seems, in principle, to come close to denying the existence of commonality between Christians and non-Christians. Even the staunchest Kuyperians affirm “common grace” AND antithesis, even if the latter gets all the ink.
Russ’ response still seems to be more about apologetics than history. As a historian, when I respond to an ideologically driven account of history my main obligation is point out the fact that such and such an account seems to be more ideological than historical. My job, at that point, is not prosecute his unbelief but to give a better historical account.
Regarding natural law ethics, my job (were I an ethicist — on this please see VanDrunen’s work) would be to show how such and such an account doesn’t really accord with creation. I don’t say that this is easy, but it is being done by folk such as VanDrunen and others.