Bags of Bran

Fallacious History and How to Not
May 11, 2014, 8:14 pm
Filed under: Bible, Bibliophilia, Biography

I recently finished Carl Trueman’s Histories and Fallacies, which, as a bike mechanic who wants to be a pastor, was fascinating. Trueman is a historian of ideas, which means that he traces the outworking of philosophy over time. This book sealed in my mind that Trueman is a clever man: if that is in doubt for you, reader, this volume will convince you of it.

Being not a historian myself, I don’t think I’m the guy to enter into a detailed critique of the book. I am in the uncomfortable position of having to follow Trueman’s arguments on their own merits, and not being able to critique them from a position of knowledge, whether pro or contra. He argues for a certain historical methodology using two foils: Holocaust denial and Marxist theology. While not really blasting either, he shows how both groups’ presuppositions bleed over into their methodology, drastically coloring their findings. Further, to take issue with the findings of either group means that you are duped by a grand conspiracy. The element of paranoia is very real in these alternate realities, as historians from both groups are willing to deny certain facts that do not align with their agenda.


As a guy who wants to be a pastor, I will be handling a historical text, and I will be charged with the task of handling that historical text as a historical text. Not only as a historical text, but you know what I mean. Much as I would like to have my own preconceptions materialize before my eyes in the pages of the Bible, I run the risk of seriously distorting the text by pretending to see my own thoughts there. Whether I anachronistically read Uncle Tom’s Cabin into Paul’s discussions of slavery, or commit the fallacy of reification with respect to the legalism of the Pharisees, I corrupt the text and becloud the understanding of my hearers. If I oversimplify the relationship of the NT believer and the Ten Commandments, or if I start sifting the Bible for a single knock-out verse that forbids the use of Washburn guitars in church services, I am simply doing wrong to the text and to my hearers.

Corrupt the text and becloud the understanding of my hearers? Sign me up!

Trueman’s challenge comes at a timely juncture in my personal career. I just finished ten years of education, and I’m looking at entering a life of bringing the truths of the Bible to bear on the lives of real people, starting with myself. Not only must my character be above reproach, I now feel the burden more keenly to get the historical aspects of the Bible right.



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