Providential History

There’s a buzz going around the homeschool curriculum community about providential history. I wrote an article for Biblical Classical Community about the Biblical worldview of Providence, however I think it’s pertinent to address it here as well.


Largely, this is a response to Susan Wise Bauer’s criticism on providential history, The Pilgrim Story course, and The Principle Approach®(1).

Take a listen . . .

Quick Backdrop on Educating with Providential History

Firstly, if you’re new to Principled Academy and our family’s homeschooling journey you need to know that I’ve been homeschooling with the Biblical Classical form of education—specifically with The Principle Approach®—for almost two decades now. With that background, you can be sure that I know the ins and outs of the providential view and The Principle Approach®.

Susan Wise Bauer’s Criticism of Providential History

I’d like to preface the rest of the article with this: It’s important to leave room for growth. Currently, Susan Wise Bower does not have the Biblical worldview of history, but that may change for her somewhere down the road.

However, it’s important for Christian parents to make note that a curriculum is written with an author’s worldview integrated with what’s being taught—there isn’t a separation of it. The product reveals the producer. There is no neutrality in education with any subject.

Susan Wise Bauer’s Criticism of a Pilgrim Course

The following is Susan Wise Bauer’s criticism of The Pilgrim Story (<<< not an affiliate link) which is taught by a teacher in a Principle Approach® school. She posted her criticism on her Facebook account.

I will address her points in the following manner, some with relevant sub-categories:

  • The Claim Regarding Politics and Providential History
  • History Moves Linear on the Timeline
  • The Pilgrims and Providential History

The Claim Regarding Politics and Providential History

Did a political party start the idea of providential history? No, it did not! Providential history is seen through general revelation (I touch on that in my Biblical Classical Homeschool Summit™ session: Art as Discipleship). Additionally, we learn of it in the Scriptures and in other primary sources throughout history.

Are there Christians who participate in political offices who believe in and know providential History—God’s hand in history? Yes, there are and that fact doesn’t erase providential history.

Christians and Politics

Should Christians be involved in politics? More pointedly, should Christians with a providential view of history and life be involved in politics?

Those aren’t rabbit trail questions; it pertains to the topic-at-hand because Susan Wise Bauer is attempting to link the two ideas and simultaneously cast a negative light on Christians who are involved in politics. You have to understand that someone’s morals and worldview will be legislated—either the pagan (today, we refer to that as the secular-humanist) worldview or the Christian worldview.

Context Matters

If we learn Matthew 16:18 in its proper context, then we can decide for ourselves as to whether or not Christians have that responsibility.

Pastor Rob McCoy did an outstanding interview where he explained:

“Aristotle said, “Politics is the highest form of community.” It combines morality with sociability. How do we get along? Any pastor who operates a church knows politics. We contend for the welfare of our city. Pray for the peace of the city for in its peace you’ll have peace.

“And I’ll leave you this last part: Matthew 16:18, Jesus brings His disciples up from Galilee—the Orthodox Jewish boys. They travel to the headwaters of the Jordan in Caesarea Philippi . . . and every culture that’s occupied that region has set up a temple to their god or goddess. So the cliffs are inundated with all these temples to these pagan deities.

“And, as they get up there, all these Orthodox Jewish boys surrounding Jesus—their Rabbi—and they hear this cacophony of pagan worship (Romans are up their occupying it).

“And, Jesus turns to His disciples in the midst of it and they’re just captivated because they’d never been that far north. And He says, “Who do men say that I am? Some say you’re Jeremiah, John the Baptist, but who do you say that I am?” And Peter says, “You’re the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus says, “Blessed are you Simon Barjona for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in Heaven and upon this rock I will build mine. . .”—and everyone says church. That’s not the word. . . Jesus didn’t use a religious term. He didn’t say synagogue. He didn’t say temple. He used a secular term that had been in usage in the Greek world for hundreds of years. It’s called: ekklesia.

“Actually Tyndale translated it correctly in the first English-speaking Bible and because he did he was hung and his remains were burned. It’s translated as assembly. But, better than that in Greek culture—studying Greek culture—even looking at Aristotle, the ekklesia was the city hall. That’s where people gathered for the welfare of their city and the decisions to be made (trade, finance) all there.

“So now read the passage: Upon this rock I’ll build my city hall or my public square and the gates of hell shall not prevail.” Gates enslave. Christ has come to set the captives free. How does He do that? Make disciples. Not converts? No. Disciples. Disciples of nations. What are nations? Boundaries, borders, constitutions, ideologies. One seeks to set free, the other seeks to enslave.

“In the six thousand years of history, America is a nation designed—understanding the nature of man: sinful. Checks and balances—three-part government: executive, legislative, judicial—holding man accountable. And, giving a Constitution with seven articles to protect the sovereign—The People—from the government itself because power seeks to enslave. And to do that men need to know the truth—the First Amendment.”

Peace isn’t the Absence of Conflict | Rob McCoy | Hold the Line Podcast

That all said, providential history doesn’t have anything to do with a particular political party initiating the idea of it. I have no idea how or why Susan Wise Bauer is trying to link the two together. However, God providentially gives us principles of government to apply for the cause of Liberty. Always remember: Liberty is God’s idea!

History Moves Linear on the Timeline

The following addresses Susan Wise Bauer’s statement of about “progressive history”:

History is not cyclical. Many people think that because history “may repeat itself” that it’s cyclical and not linear. History may “repeat itself” based on cause to effect. If you keep making these choices here, then this kind of outcome will always follow. The “if this” and “then that” pattern is either positive or negative. Gary North explains those as sanctions in his book The Biblical Structure of History and you can read that for free here. Humanity is rather slow to learn, isn’t it?

However, there is a Genesis of human history and we’re moving forward (progressing) toward Christ’s return and the eternal kingdom. Furthermore, God is involved in the lives of individuals and nations as time marches forward on the Liberty History Timeline. Liberty is the result of the Gospel, first internal (salvation through Christ alone) and then external (an outworking of faith). I’m unashamed to say that’s the Big Picture of providential history. I’m unashamed of the Gospel!

Providential History and the Pilgrims

In my article Understanding Providence at Biblical Classical Community, I address the Biblical worldview of providence. That’s an important read and I hope you take time to read it. Here, I will give some insights about how to address the points from the course that Susan Wise Bauer uses.

The Pilgrims as individuals had their individual relationship with God. Like you and me, their personal journeys varied on the understanding and acceptance of and belief in God’s sovereignty. So, of course we’re going to read of some accounts where some individuals have given into sin and have struggled with their faith in God. But, we also read of accounts where some have chosen not to sin—instead they chose to govern themselves under God.

Through the positives and what we view as negatives, Holy God is working in the individual. Additionally, the individual has a response to give Holy God.

We can consider and ponder thoughts and questions like:

The Screw

  • Did God give the Pilgrims wisdom to bring the screw?
  • Have you ever had a “last minute thought” that ended up being a blessing? How did it build your faith and trust in God? Did you give Him credit for it?
  • Did God design mankind with the ability to plan, do, and judge? Let’s take a look at the second definition of providence in Webster’s 1828 dictionary: “2. Foresight; timely care; particularly, active foresight, or foresight accompanied with the procurement of what is necessary for future use, or with suitable preparation. How many of the troubles and perplexities of life proceed from want of providence!” We can say that God wisely provided for man to think in terms of providence and apply wisdom. We can correctly access that the fact that the screw was taken aboard the ship with the Pilgrims was providential.

Life and Death

  • All individuals end up dying because of The Fall (of course, some will be alive when Jesus Christ returns). The servant boy, profane sailor, and eventually each Pilgrim died. “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” (Hebrews 9:27, 28). Ultimately, when we take our last breath, it’s up to God.
  • We can’t pretend to know why the servant boy and the profane sailor died when and how they did. However, we can trust that God was working in them individually and that they gave their individual responses to Him one way or another. We don’t know what took place internally between the servant boy and God or the profane sailor and God before their last breaths. If they didn’t surrender to Christ, we are saddened for their souls. But, that is not to say that God didn’t provide an extended life for THE Pilgrims. He purposed for them to arrive safely in North America together. Who are we to take issue with God’s decision?
  • Oceanus was born. By God’s providence, He deemed for Oceanus to born at that particular time in history and setting. Many prayers went up, I’m certain, for the safety of the mother and the baby during labor and delivery (as many of us do for mothers and babies who aren’t on a tiny ship sailing rough seas). It is NO sin to praise God for prayers being answered in that way. But, even if the mother and/or Oceanus had died God would still be Good!

“If anyone is lost it will not be because God does not love him; it will be because he has resisted the love of God.

-D.L. Moody

Providential History Keeps Us in Our Place

Like it or not, understand it fully or not, God is the One who is ultimately in control. We can trust Him to be working all things together for good because He loves us. That doesn’t mean we will be free of trials and tribulations. It does mean that on a spiritual level, He knows what we need and how to grow us so that we conform more into the character of Christ (of course, He gives us a choice in how to respond to Him).

The Principle Approach®

As outsiders to The Principle Approach®, Susan Wise Bauer and her followers criticize providential history and they lack understanding about how we study history. For instance, we look at the internal and external qualities of individuals and their response to Holy God. Furthermore, we look at the cause to effect and discuss that in light of when God’s Principles of Liberty are either honored or dishonored.

Also, keep in mind that taking the Pilgrims’ character into consideration isn’t claiming that they were perfect. They were human and had their struggles (consider William Bradford’s wife taking her own life). However, we can be encouraged by their example, as well as learn from their mistakes.

I’d like to wrap up this portion of this podcast with this: Susan Wise Bauer currently doesn’t have the Biblical worldview of history—the providential worldview. But, I think it’s important to give her room to grow. We don’t know how God is at work in her life and what her response to Him may be later on about His hand in history. Let’s pray for her and others who don’t see His hand.

Biblical Worldview Courses

Biblical Classical Community offers Biblical self-paced, online worldview classes to help Christian homeschool families learn to think and reason Biblically.

The Biblical Classical Homeschool Experience™ Membership and Community

Get equipped to disciple your family with the Biblical worldview to life and learning.


Footnote: (1) The Principle Approach® is a registered trademark of the Foundation for American Christian Education.

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