Carl Trueman holds a PhD, is professor of historical theology and church history at Westminster Theological Seminary, and also happens to be a fellow expat Brit living in the United States. As such he carries a certain dry wit which is wielded against prime targets and, as allows, himself. He also happens to have written two books this year, both of which have served to expand my knowledge in fields I know pitifully little about from my own remembrance and study. Back in September, he unleashed Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative (P & R Publishing) which gave more than adequate voice to my own feelings of disassociation within the American political landscape. The second book is from Crossway Books, and deals not with the content of a field of study so much, but more with the processes by which that arena is worked within.
Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History comes across as a condensed course on the art of history. Drawing from his deep knowledge of the field, Trueman explores four major problems faced in the writing and studying of history and for each of these finds captivating case studies to prove his point. At once technical and compelling, I found myself actually interested in history for once (distant memories of dusty schoolrooms, monotone schoolmasters and drooping eyelids were long gone) and understanding the complexities of the retelling of past events from a contemporary perspective.
The opening case study deals with the peculiar and repugnant issue of Holocaust Denial. It is in this opening chapter that Trueman comes out strong against the modern fad of relativizing everything. As he points out here, “unbiased” and “objective” are not the same thing. No worthwhile history can be truly unbiased. It will always have certain things chosen in the telling and others left out, and the painting of characters will be swayed by the story to be told, but that does not mean that all history is equally true, or that there can be no objectivity in the study and writing of history. The scientific aspect of history allows for the verification of fact that then lends to the theories of history that make up the more artistic end of the endeavor.
Other case studies include the time Martin Luther went all anti-Semitic (yes, he did, but it turns out it wasn’t all that uncommon a perspective in his own time frame – no less wrong, but not as shocking as it seems from today’s vantage), the comprehension of Calvin amongst his peers and how his ideas were received and grown after him, and also a good long look at both the positive and negative aspects of Marxist theory in evaluating history.
Though I wouldn’t recommend this book to all, I do wish they’d all read it anyway! Trueman has done us all a great service by pointing out our own faults and foibles when it comes to the telling of history (and it is something we all do in our own lives), and steers those of us who could be so easily fooled into more critical thinking about the subject as it applies to all areas of life. This is not a book exclusively for Christians, though Trueman certainly shares from his own love of church history. Instead, it is a book of warning and guidance for the would-be historian, the History Channel aficionado, and the young man in class who never realized how good history could be!
A review copy was provided to me at no charge by the publisher. No attempt was made to gain a favorable review, and all opinions and recommendations expressed are the author’s own.