Controversy Practical Notes

Grumbling about Historical Ignorance

This grumble is not about other people’s historical ignorance (or my own).  No, it’s about a tendency to grumble about historical ignorance and not do anything about it.  We are silly creatures: and part of our silliness is that we sometimes feel that if we have grumbled about something we have done something about it.  It is as though we equated grumbling with action, complaining with reformation, querulousness with effort.  It is an easy mistake to make, I think; but in plain terms what this silliness results in is hypocrisy.  Because I may lament my ignorance quite movingly; but the proof that I am ashamed of it is that I take steps to remedy it.

Of course, here too there are pitfalls.  One such pitfall is that we read in the categories of our time.  What would Calvin have said to Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til?  That is not to say that Calvin doesn’t have an epistemology: but it is the wrong way to discover it to try to find out where he comes down on that particular divide.

And a still worse fault is people grumbling about other people’s historical ignorance, while being wildly ignorant themselves. It’s handy in a debate: moan about people’s ignorance of history, find a quote or two online, and you’ve triumphed.  (Here I would like to record that I was once hailed as “quite the source for historical theology” because I read through Calvin’s letters from the council of Ratisbon in order to be able to give an opinion in the discussion about it.  And yet those letters and a lecture I once heard about it were my only sources.  This is no reflection on the gentleman who was so kind as to make this statement: it is a comment on what is perceived as good research.)  Blaming other people for ignorance of topics we are ignorant of is a deeper hypocrisy than indulging in some well-meaning but ineffective lamentation.

So here is a suggestion: before again complaining about historical ignorance, take your best shot at answering a research question from the Matthew Poole project.  Here is a sample, but there are plenty more.

“Hence God is said to have set the beams of the chambers (namely, the upper chambers, as the Saxon rightly translates it) in the waters, Psalm 104:3, and (what is the same) above many waters, Psalm 29:3 (Gregorie’s Notes and Observations 23).” To which Saxon rendering is he referring?

2 replies on “Grumbling about Historical Ignorance”

I hold no pretense that my grumbling is effectual. It is a mental isometric, changing nothing but the dent patterns on my head. Does that exonerate me from hypocrisy?

Lauren, you would be exonerated in any case, for your charming habit of assuming that the insanely abstruse and recondite information you effortlessly possess is common knowledge.

But yes, I think grumbling as aerobics should get a pass: or if learning makes your stomach hurt.

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