I recently finished Historians of the Christian Tradition: Their Methodology and Influence on Western Thought, edited by Michael Bauman and Martin Klauber. When I first saw this book, I was intrigued by the title. Lately I’ve had a number of questions about the development of the modern consciousness of history and how various Christian historians and theologians have construed history. This book, despite the title, has very little to do with that.
Historians of the Christian Tradition is an odd sort of encyclopedia. All of the chapters feature a particular church historian or a historically-minded theologian. Each chapter is written by a different contributor and contains roughly the same information: a short biography, an analysis of the subject’s method, work, and influence; and a bibliography for further reference. The two opening chapters,which discuss historiography in the Old and New Testaments, are exceptions. Chapter run 10-20 pages, and I believe there are about 30 historians featured. The bizarre lack of a table of contents (in a 600-page book!) makes it difficult to know for sure.
The individual chapters are for the most part well done. One aspect of historiography, the relationship between a historian’s personal religious convictions and his work, receives attention in almost every chapter. The introduction and epilogue also foster thoughts and answers on this point. However, it seems like a stretch in most cases to say that the chapters demonstrate their subjects’ “influence on Western thought.” It’s doubtful whether more than a bare few would be featured in an encyclopedia of Western civilization. The chronological movement in the volume lets the reader peak at some of the major shifts in historical consciousness and the historical discipline, but the fragmentary nature of the book leaves the reader to piece together (unsuccessfully) the story as a whole. The introduction and epilogue offer almost no help in understanding how secular and Christian conceptions of history have shaped each other. The reader notices that the historians in the volume approach their task differently, sometimes radically so, but there is little indication as to why.
Historians of the Christian Tradition struck me as a mediocre book useful for exposing students (who other than a student would pick up this book?) to historians with whom they may not be familiar and for providing solid bibliographies for those historians.