Noll Wisely Risks the Un-sensible

In his new book, Mark Noll says that “a sensible historian would now end with a summary as follows...” (176). Then he coolly summarizes, in a single paragraph, the historical observations.

I am thankful that Noll was “promoted to move beyond historical interpretation” in the conclusion of his book. He calls it a “Theological Conclusion”—un-sensible, I suppose, for a historian. But wise and helpful as a human being willing to help the rest of us get our bearings.

He sets up the conclusion with the tragic “And yet...and yet” of American history. It goes like this:

Among the strongest elements in the ideology of American democratic republicanism is the fear of overweening excesses of unchecked central government authority. In my judgment, this fear is well grounded.

Concentrations of centralized government power have—time and again, at home and abroad—infringed liberties, violated principles of subsidiarity, encouraged tyranny by unrepresentative and unelected experts, and needlessly sabotaged vibrant local traditions.

Moreover, the American practice of republican democracy has, in fact, worked out for the betterment of great numbers for more than 200 years. It is, on balance, a humane, enlightened, and good system; comparatively speaking, it is among the best political systems ever witnessed in human history.

In addition, the Christian faith that has been so prominent in so many ways throughout American history has, again on balance, been a beneficent force at home and abroad. Christian altruism, Christian philanthropy, Christian consolation, and Christian responsibility are not the only forces for good in American history, but they loom very large and have had very positive effects.

And yet… and yet…. The American political system and the American practice of Christianity which has provided so much good for so many people for so many years, has never been able to overcome race. (177-178, paragraph breaks added)

Tomorrow I will give his very painful quotation from Walker Percy to show the “And yet...” of our history.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.