God-in-History: Revelation as History, Historian as Prophet


In his deeply impactful, and somewhat controversial book, Revelation as History, Wolfhart Pannenberg insists that a "true" revelation of God, as distinguished from a specific theophany or even a "word" - verbal or visionary - is most deeply grasped in an indirect manner through an interaction with and analysis of history. As one trained in the craft of history, this is an exciting and captiviating trajectory of thought.  Moreso though, I think this thesis finds an abiding endurance in the post-modern milieu, particularly because Pannenberg did not limit the self-revelation of God to the history of Israel, a stance not that far from the apostle Paul, who can be seen supporting this idea in the initial chapters of Romans - if God is the one, true God then He is God of all. Thus, in Pannenberg we see that all of history becomes theotokos - God-bearer.  Even though there are issues with Pannenberg's thesis, in reflecting on it, I find find it thought-provoking...so let me provoke you wit some thoughts.

If indeed history bears God in this deeper, perhaps we might say more immanent or emerging kind of way, then the person and task of the historian takes on new responsibility and complexity as well.  But perhaps, just perhaps, the historian is ready for this, in that there are "disciplines" that have "formed" the historian, and if we can understand Revelation as History, then possibly from that perspective we can understand the Historian as Prophet.

I don't want to get into the complexities of historiography and historical method here, I merely want to point out that in so many ways history is an holistic endeavour - conceivably related to what Pannenberg might call Heilsgeschichte or salvation history- it seeks (and hopes!) to understand the deeper currents and a greater whole after sustained attention to other aspects: anthropology and sociology, economics and geography, religion and politics to name a few.  For the historian, the disciplines of reflection and contemplation are integrative exercises in order to see the forest, after giving attention to the trees; this is one of the primary tasks in which the historian is trained and - in light of Pannenberg's thesis - makes me ponder the historian as a "seer" as a "prophet" and as a "witness".  The historian gives voice to facts and figures within history, using narrative and context to bring about this more holistic perspective.  Yet in a classical sense, the historian does not merely repeat or narrate the past, but also seeks via narrative to "tell forth" its significance.  Now the post-modern hermeneutic of suspicion is raised at this point, although if the historian has really done the work well and with integrity, it is welcomed. Thus if indeed - as Pannenberg posits - History is revelatory vis-à-vis God, then the Historian can be observed as God's revealer: the seer envisioning the deeper aspects of the action of God-in-History, the prophet giving voice to God-in-History, and the witness pointing to the significance thereof, including theodic questions that wrestle with the felt absence of God in history. 

I'm going to leave it there today, because I want to pivot in the second part of my ramblings on History and Revelation at the crucial point of the incarnation of Christ; next week, I want to explore all of this a bit further, particularly adding the surprising appearance of the future within the past - The Reign of God in Christ Jesus - and how this impacts History and the Historian and also our missional-incarnational impulse.