Date of Award

Spring 1992

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Mason, Robert

Second Advisor

Metz, Donald L.

Third Advisor

Maquire, Daniel


What does it mean to say that 'God acts in history?" Is not the very idea of "God acting in history" an outdated notion of a pre-scientific era? How can we meaningfully talk of God guiding history in an age acutely aware not only of its own power to profoundly shape history but also of its power to end history? Is not talk of God's involvement with history an attempt to avoid accepting our own, frightening responsibility for the world? Underlying these questions looms the larger issue of what is the relationship between God, history and, the world? Tied intimately with the question of God's involvement with the world is the issue of the meaning of both individual and collective historical existence. Traditionally the Christian view of these issues--the God-world relationship and the meaning of historical existence--have been partly articulated in and through the doctrine of divine providence. Langdon Gilkey in his book, Reaping the Whirlwind: A Christian Interpretation of History, notes the intimate connection within traditional theology between one's doctrine of providence and one's interpretation of earthly existence. Gilkey writes, "if there has been in traditional theology a Christian interpretation of social change and of the course of history's events, of God's relation to the natural order and to the freedom of men and women-and so the continuities and changes in historic process-it has been expressed centrally through the symbol of providence as that symbol is related to creation and the fall on the one hand and revelation, incarnation and eschatology, on the other. Traditionally for believers, the doctrine of providence has explicated the meaning of historical events in terms of God's guidance of history and activity in the world. I Yet the very meaningfulness of the doctrine, at least as traditionally conceived, is being challenged today. This challenge is threefold: (1) The doctrine of providence in the past too often gave the impression of providing a suprahistorical, eternal viewpoint of history, a viewpoint which was able to move beyond the vicissitudes of history. (2) Classical conceptualizations of providence, which often speak in "static terms of God's plan" and the unfolding of history," do not take seriously enough the radical nature of human freedom and the autonomy of the world. (3) The notion, often implied in past views of providence, that "history works out for the best" is found to be incongruous with the contemporary experience of the immensity and intensity of seemingly senseless suffering. Underlying all three objections is the central contention that the classical doctrine of providence is unable to acknowledge the importance of history. The affirmation of the importance of history, which is a central tenet of modern historical consciousness, he's important epistemological and ontological consequences. Epistemologically, it entails a recognition of the sociohistorical embeddedness of all knowledge. Ontologically, it asserts the radically creative, and consequently potentially destructive, capacity of freedom, that is, that history is genuinely open. It is a basic presupposition of this study that a credible articulation of providence must take into account these central epistemological and ontological assertions...



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