By Dustin Bruce
Finn, Nathan. History: A Student’s Guide. Wheaton: Crossway, 2016. 111 pp. $11.99.
Nathan Finn, dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Union University and Fellow of the Andrew Fuller Center, has written an excellent primer on the discipline of history and the nature of the historian’s task. This volume forms part of the “Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition” series, published by Crossway under the editorial guidance of David Dockery. In keeping with the aim of the series, Finn examines history from the perspective of a Christian worldview, drawing insights from the Dutch Kuyperian tradition and the Lutheran tradition. Years of experience teaching history, completing an undergraduate and Ph.D. in history, and a thorough analysis of historiographical literature, provides Finn with insights and anecdotes that make for an enjoyable and informative read.
Finn’s audience is primarily the undergraduate student interested in history as a major or minor. As such, it is written to serve as something of a supplementary text that introduces readers “to the discipline of history from the perspective of a Christian worldview that is shaped by the great tradition and is in dialog with other key voices in the field” (18). Not meant as a comprehensive introduction, the volume contains an introduction and four chapters. Though short, at roughly 90 pages of text, the writing is characterized by a “lucid brevity” that leaves the reader feeling satisfied and not underserved. Quality footnotes allow eager students access to further resources.
In the Introduction, Finn begins a discussion of how a Christian worldview affects history and the historian’s task. “Christians,” he argues, “should be keenly interested in studying the past since the very truth of the Judeo-Christian tradition is dependent upon certain historical events” (19). Furthermore, the great commandments of Matthew 22:34–49 serve as parameters for historical inquiry.
In chapter one, “Understanding History,” Finn lays out basic information, including the different between the “past” and “history.” He defines history as “the task of reconstructing and interpreting the past” (26). Other fundamentals are described, such as the difference between primary and secondary sources. Chapter two includes an overview of different “schools of history,” including an analysis of each school from a Christian perspective. The concept of “historiography” is also covered.
Chapter three, “Faith and the Historian,” picks up the controversial question of how one’s faith should influence one’s work as a historian. Finn rejects both a providentialist and naturalistic approach, arguing for an approach that recognizes the historian’s evidence comes from general revelation, where one cannot know the mind of God with certainty, and yet, must be tempered by the truths revealed in the Biblical storyline (73). Finn draws further insight from the Lutheran concept of vocation, before proposing Christian historians adopt a “bilingual” approach by developing the ability to serve academic and religious audiences. Chapter four, “History: An Invitation,” largely serves as an encouragement for students to pursue the study of history from a Christian perspective. Finn offers examples of how history and history degrees can be used both vocationally and in service to the church.
History: A Student’s Guide will undoubtedly serve students well as an introduction to the field of history and the task of the historian. It is small enough to be assigned as a supplementary text to a course without overburdening students, but comprehensive and compelling enough to warrant a close reading. Finn’s work may very well be used of God to inspire the next generation of Evangelical historians.