Continuing this train of thought since this post.
One of the most important issues in
historical method to arise in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s was the question
of supernaturalism, whether a good historian could allow for the
possibility of divine intervention in history.
Of course this issue had been around in philosophy for a long time, with
the Deism of the 1700’s effectively trying to bracket the idea of God’s
involvement in the world. But with the
rise of modern historiography, the necessity to exclude God from one’s
explanations of historical events became a dogma.
Perhaps no one captured the spirit
of the age better than Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923) in his 1922 book on Historiography.
For him, no explanation of nature is allowed to resort to metaphysics (what is
supposed to stand behind or above nature), which includes God. The historian and scientist must stick to
concrete, material causes and effects.
Notions of ultimate reality have no business in historical description.
Accordingly, he formulated three
basic principles for critical history.
First, all decisions regarding history are open to revision. They are never a matter of certainty but of varying
degrees of probability. Secondly, he
assumes that historical events today happen similarly to the way they took
place in the past. This is a principle
of analogy. So if people do not come
back from the dead today, he rejected any suggestion that someone might have
come back from the dead in the past. Finally,
historical events are intertwined (they correlate) with what comes before and
after them. They must be explained in the
flow of clear historical causes and effects.
Most Christians today will question the complete
exclusion of God and the supernatural from Troeltsch’s historical method. However, it is just as clear that he well
describes the way most of us approach our daily lives. If we cannot find our keys, we do not
initially think, “What demon has hidden my keys,” especially if we are always
losing them, if we have a roommate with a mischievous bent, or if we have a
child who likes to put keys in his mouth. And as much as we believe that Jesus rose
again from the dead, few of us would go to a cemetery three days after the
death of a friend to see if she will rise.
Indeed, different Christians see the level of
God’s direct involvement in the world differently, as we saw in chapter 10 when
we discussed determinism. Some see God steering everyday events down to small details, often working in and around people and events to accomplish his hidden purposes.  Such believers spend significant amounts of time trying to guess what God is trying to teach them by causing them to catch a cold or forgetting to call someone.
Others like myself think that, while God does act in history, his purposes and interventions are much more mysterious. We might suggest that God wants us to think more for ourselves, to take responsibility for the consequences of our choices, as well as be able to accept the unpredictable ebb and flow of the world. The former approach seems hard pressed to see much of anything that happens simply as the normal flow of cause and effect that God has built into the creation (i.e., the rules that scientists and inventors have capitalized on to give us cell phones and lap tops). Rather, for them things that happen are primarily God behind the scenes, orchestrating everything. By contrast, the latter approach expects to be able to explain most things by normal causation and would only conclude a miraculous intervention when the normal paths of explanation were exhausted...
 A good example of this approach is Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth am I Here For? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003).