Historical judgments are unavoidable. Whether they rest upon personal biases,
or ideology, or faith, everyone makes evaluations of history, historical
figures and the direction of nations
by Dr. Schultz
"History is just a way of separating the good guys from the bad guys:"
That's what I sometimes tell my students, and they like this practical
approach to the discipline. Professional historians, however, often scorn
attempts to make moral judgments in history, considering it dualistic
"Manichaean:' Moral judgments in history are inescapable, and the
establishes both precedent and paradigm for such judgments.
Historical judgments are unavoidable. Whether they rest upon personal
biases, or ideology, or faith, everyone makes evaluations of history,
historical figures and the direction of nations. The academics I have
known, for instance, usually judge history from a worldview that is liberal
or politically correct. The annual meetings of the American Historical
Association, have been nicknamed the 'race, class, and gender meetings;'
because those are the themes and questions that matter most to liberal
historians. People may employ different standards to judge the past, but
is clear that judgments are inevitable.
The Bible gives good illustrations of how to make historical judgments.
David was a good king. He was sinful, to be sure, and the Bible discusses
his failings, but ultimately he was a man after God's heart. Ahab was
wicked king, although the Bible notes a moment of humility. In short,
gives us brief, straight-forward judgments - about kings, and individuals,
Historical judgments also have great pedagogical value. I am surprised
how often my young children ask if a certain president was good or bad.
"History is not quite that simple and individual leaders are very
I usually try to explain, wearing my historian's hat. But I am never
successful. They want a simple and comprehensive explanation: something
like "President X was a dirt-bag," or "President Y is our
hero." Then they
want me to give a rationale for that judgment: why the leader is a bum
great guy. In other words, they want the criteria we should use in judging
history and its leaders. As Christians, we should be eager and able to
our Biblical criteria for moral judgments of the past.
BIBLICAL PARAMETERS FOR HISTORICAL JUDGMENTS
Our historical judgments are true and fair in so far as they follow
Word. God is the perfect judge, able to assess the depths of the human
heart. Though we are unable to judge perfectly and exhaustively, we can
make judgments with confidence as we depend upon the standards or measuring
stick given in God's Word.
First, Scripture gives an evangelical measuring stick. Hebrews 11 says
without faith it is impossible to please God and then provides a list
the heroes of the Faith. There are two kinds of people in the world: those
living in faithful submission to God, and those in rebellion against Him.
Any creditable history will take seriously the question of faith.
Second, Scripture gives a measuring stick of orthodoxy. The New Testament
emphasizes a proper, orthodox Christ-centered faith, and it is clear that
what a person believes about Christ is critically important. In 'The
Foundations of Social Order', Rousas Rushdoony shows the cultural and
political significance of creedal statements. One's theological commitments
will influence the direction of his life and is a valid area of historical
Third, Scripture offers a behavioral measuring stick. Jesus warned that
good trees do not produce bad fruit. He predicted that some would even
approach Him on the last day saying, "Lord, Lord" - thus professing
Jesus with some intimacy. Yet Jesus repudiates them, says that He never
knew them, and points to their lawless deeds (Mt. 7:23). Faithfulness,
personal morality, and public virtue are fair items for historical review
and assessment. For Christian history, "character counts, and morality
As a corollary to this, it is absolutely imperative that Christians
the moral law of God and use it as an instrument for judging the past.
Jesus said, after all, that He did not come to abolish the Law and the
Prophets (ML 5:21). As the great Baptist Confession of 1689 puts it, "The
moral law doth for ever bind all ... to the obedience thereof; neither
Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this
obligation." God's law, then, is a measuring standard for the lives
Fourth, Scripture gives idolatry and false religion as a measuring stick
for historical judgments. The first chapter of Romans gives an overview
human rebellion and shows how people and cultures have repudiated the
knowledge of God within them and corrupted the true worship of God. All
false religions are rooted in rebellion against God. In Idols for
Destruction, Herbert Schlossberg offers a compelling contemporary critique
of the idolatries of our own age.
Fifth, at the conclusion of Romans 1, Scripture gives a measuring standard
of cultural and moral declension. Rebellious and idolatrous cultures are
finally given over to grotesque forms of depravity. The Christian can
easily "grade" a culture by applying the standard of Romans.
example of the temporal judgments falling upon rebellious nations, read
Leviticus 18. These wretched nations of Canaan had behaved so abominably,
God says, that the land itself "spewed" them out.)
Sixth, Scripture gives a measuring stick of humanism. Referenced in
1, this problem is clearly illustrated in Genesis 10 at the construction
the Tower of Babel. Unified by a common language, a common confession
common rebellion against God, the people of Babel sought to erect an
indestructible tower, to reach to heaven and make a name for themselves.
One of Rushdoony's great contributions was to show the essentially
religious and pseudo-salvific nature of humanistic Systems. Of the United
Nations, for instance, he argues that its first premise is "salvation
law...the hope and salvation of man and of society is through world law."
That stands in stark contrast to the orthodox Christian faith: "For
orthodox Christian, the law cannot save; it can only condemn. The law
cannot create true peace and order; it cannot save man and society from
consequences of their sin. Christ alone is the prince and principle of
peace and of order, man's only Savior and mediator"
Seventh, Scripture gives a measuring stick of power. It is instructive
see how individuals and leaders use power and authority. This includes
authority in the family (1 Tim. 3:4), the church (1 Peter 5:2-3), and
politics (Lk. 22:25). Do leaders seek to be servants, or are they concerned
about capturing power? Do they model the characteristics of leadership
given in the Bible?
Deuteronomy 17 has an excellent catalog of requirements for kings and
prescriptions for how they should govern. The Bible requires that the
will be a "brother,' coming from the people and not feeling elevated
them. The Bible prohibits kings from doing certain things (amassing wealth,
collecting war horses, multiplying wives). Most importantly, God
establishes a covenantal or contractual foundation for the monarchy. God
required that the king read the law of God, write it out in his own hand
(in the presence of the priests), and meditate upon it for all his days.
The Word of God was to be foundational for good government.
The warnings about statist government in 1 Samuel 8 also give standards
evaluating nations. The people of Israel sought a king who would judge
and fight for them "like the nations." (The nations surrounding
pagan and humanistic, governed by deified leaders.) In this request, God
proclaims that the children of Israel repudiated His kingship and acted
consistently with their Exodus idolatry.
God tells Samuel to warn the Israelites of the nature of the humanistic
statism they admired. The king would conscript young men for his armies.
would coerce young people into his national service. He would enforce
eminent domain, taking the best of their land. And he would tax them at
obscene and ungodly rates (l0%). We might well expect God's displeasure
any other nation pursuing statist government.
ESCHATOLOGICAL SURETY OF HISTORICAL JUDGMENTS
Matthew 25 records that one day Jesus will separate the nations. He
divide the good guys from the bad, the sheep from the goats, the righteous
from the dirt-bags. He will review the deeds and faithfulness of the
children of earth. One day, a final and perfect historical judgment will
rendered. The task of the Christian historian is to render judgments on
history and its actors consonant with the judgments of God's Word.
Psalm 2 describes the great rebellion against the Lord's Anointed. This
conspiracy is not restricted to the insider-elite; it involves the
governors and leaders, peoples and nations of earth. The rebellion is
against Christ and His law. Scripture says that this was fulfilled at
Calvary (Acts 2), when the leaders and peoples of earth conspired to kill
Christ. Arising from the Psalm are two questions that can be applied to
every person and nation of earth and may be used as tools of historical
judgment. First, how do they deal with Christ? Do they honor and submit
the King of Kings? Second, how do they deal with His law? Are they obedient
to His Word? The conclusion of Psalm 2 is both forceful and evangelistic:
"Do homage to the Son, lest He become angry and you perish in the
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!"
Dr. Schultz is Chairman of the History Department at Liberty University
Lynchburg, Virginia, USA. This article appeared in the Chalcedon Report
February 2003. PO Box 158 Vallecito, CA 95251, USA.