Jay Green is Professor of History at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. This interview is based on his new book Christian Historiography: Five Rival Versions (Baylor University Press, 2015)
JF: What led you to write Christian Historiography: Five Rival Versions?
JG: The book is in many ways a culmination of more than twenty years of thinking about and wrestling through the relationship between faith and history in my own life and work. I’ve been teaching our survey of Historiography (required course for junior-level majors) for about a decade, and working within a Christian institution means dealing squarely with the implications of faith for historical study as a necessary component of the class. Over the years I began to develop the five-part typology I explore in the book as a template to get my students to think about the fact that different people have meant a variety of different things when they aspire to do history “Christianly.” It occurred to me that laying this out in a more formal way might make for a useful book.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Christian Historiography?
JG: There is no such thing as a single “Christian interpretation of history.” Instead, a series of sometimes conflicting, sometime complementary “versions” of Christian historiography have developed among contemporary scholars and writers during the past few generations, some of which are more worthy of emulation than others.
JF: Why do we need to read Christian Historiography?
JG: I hope that the book finds an audience among Christian laity, students, history teachers, or working historians striving at some level to reconcile their identities as both believers and interpreters of the past. To the extent that historiography is species of intellectual history, I think a good many non-Christian observers might also have an interested in becoming better acquainted with the contours of this rich and varied conversation on faith and history. It’s my hope that the book will serve as a kind of primer that offers a “lay of the land” for how contemporary Christian historians have worked through the challenges of their dual identities.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
JG: I was obsessed with American history since the day my grandmother gave me a picture book of American history when I was five years old. It was always my favorite subject in school, and I never really seriously considered majoring in anything else when I got to college. I studiously avoided the path of teacher certification in college, making graduate school almost inevitable. Meanwhile, I began to note the lifestyle of my Taylor University professors who seemed to fill their days with reading books, talking with one another and with their students about books, and writing books. It wasn’t until then that the “historian’s vocation” really became clear in my mind. While I never once took it for granted that I would ever become gainfully employed doing this sort of work, I became convinced that it was a path that I wanted—even needed—to follow.
JF: What is your next project?
JG: I am working on a new book that looks at Christian dimensions of public history. It explores the centrality of memory in Christian experience, theology, and practice, the transcendent features of public commemoration, the religious significance we impose on material artifacts, and our moral and religious obligations to preserve, interpret, and recount collective memories in publicly accessible ways.
JF: Thanks, Jay!