The PostBarthian

Albert Schweitzer epitomizes D.F. Strauss’ Life of Jesus


Albert Schweitzer [source: wikipedia]

Albert Schweitzer loved David Friedrich Strauss, and that's no understatement! In Schweitzer's infamous book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede [online text], there are three whole chapters dedicated to introducting D.F. Strauss (Ch. 7), summarizing his Life of Jesus and works (Ch. 8) and discussing the critical and appreciative academic responses to Strauss (Ch. 9). I've been reading Strauss' Life of Jesus, Critically Examined and reviewing responses to Strauss by theologians I respect (and maybe adore, to be honest!) such as Karl Barth, George Hunsinger, N.T. Wright and now Albert Schweitzer. D.F. Strauss is Schweitzer's beloved, and accepts him but not without criticism.

Schweitzer believes that Strauss laid the foundation for the Quest of the Historical Jesus, which Schweitzer famously championed, and believed Strauss formalized the demythologization as a theological disciplined that had not be clearly grasped by his predecessors. Schweitzer may be seeing too much of himself in Strauss at the bottom of a dimly lit well, but Schweitzer's positive appraisal of Strauss' work and moving introduction to the hardships of Strauss' life cannot be ignored. Schweitzer does not receive Strauss without criticism, and he is quick to point out that Strauss has not seen the benefit of eschatology (which Schweitzer is well known for his infamous contributions to apocalyptic aspects of Jesus) and to note that Strauss did not comprehend the Marcan priority of the Gospels.

In Chapter 8: "Strauss's First Life of Jesus", Schweitzer provides and excellent summary of the most notable parts of D.F. Strauss' massive tome (my copy of the Life of Jesus is consolidated to 800 pages, but the first edition was over 1,400 pages). Many theologians are willing to allow the category of myth to bible before Jesus' baptism and after his ascension, but Strauss made no such exemption, compromise or concession. The Life of Jesus directly address the inner bounded set that was off limit to his contemporaries and predecessors. In the following extended quotation from The Quest of the Historical Jesus [amazon], a summary of this massive tome is eloquently abridged to a few pages in the eloquence that few like Schweitzer posses. This is an excellent taste of Schweitzer that represents my experience after plowing through the super-majority of Strauss' Life of Jesus.

Gaudenzio Ferrari, Life of Jesus

Gaudenzio Ferrari, Life of Jesus [source: wikipedia]

David Friedrich Strauss [source: wikipedia]

David Friedrich Strauss
[source: wikipedia]

The final statement in this quotation is key, because though its been 180 years since Strauss first published The Life of Jesus it is still a current book in theological discussion to this day, even if only as a historical marker in the development of academic studies, it is the one 'Life of Jesus' that surpasses all the so-called 'Lives of Jesus' genre of publications.

In the stories prior to the baptism, everything is myth. The narratives are woven on the pattern of Old Testament prototypes, with modifications due to Messianic or messianically interpreted passages. Since Jesus and the Baptist came into contact with one another later, it is felt necessary to represent their parents as having been connected. The attempts to construct Davidic genealogies for Jesus, show us that there was a period in the formation of the Gospel History during which the Lord was simply regarded as the son of Joseph and Mary, otherwise genealogical studies of this kind would not have been undertaken. Even in the story of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple, there is scarcely more than a trace of historical material.

In the narrative of the baptism we may take it as certainly unhistorical that the Baptist received a revelation of the Messianic dignity of Jesus, otherwise he could not later have come to doubt this. Whether his message to Jesus is historical must be left an open question; its possibility depends on whether the nature of his confinement admitted of such communication with the outer world. Might not a natural reluctance to allow the Baptist to depart this life without at least a dawning recognition of the Messiahship of Jesus have here led to the insertion of a legendary trait into the tradition? If so, the historical residuum would be that Jesus was for a time one of the adherents of the Baptist, and was baptized by him, and that He soon afterwards appeared in Galilee with the same message which John had proclaimed, and even when He had outgrown his influence, never ceased to hold John in high esteem, as is shown by the eulogy which He pronounced upon him. But if the baptism of John was a baptism of repentance with a view to "him who was to come," Jesus cannot have held Himself to be sinless when He submitted to it. Otherwise we should have to suppose that He did it merely for appearance' sake. Whether it was in the moment of the baptism that the consciousness of His Messiahship dawned upon Him, we cannot tell. This only is certain, that the conception of Jesus as having been endowed with the Spirit at His baptism, was independent of, and earlier than, that other conception which held Him to have been supernaturally born of the Spirit. We have, therefore, in the Synoptists several different strata of legend and narrative, which in some cases intersect and in some are superimposed one upon the other.

The story of the temptation is equally unsatisfactory, whether it be interpreted as supernatural, or as symbolical either of an inward struggle or of external events (as for example in Venturini's interpretation of it, where the part of the Tempter is played by a Pharisee) ; it is simply primitive Christian legend, woven together out of Old Testament suggestions.

The call of the first disciples cannot have happened as it is narrated, without their having known anything of Jesus beforehand; the manner of the call is modelled upon the call of Elisha by Elijah. The further legend attached to it—Peter's miraculous draught of fishes—has arisen out of the saying about "fishers of men," and the same idea is reflected, at a different angle of refraction, in John xxi. The mission of the seventy is unhistorical.

Whether the cleansing of the temple is historical, or whether it arose out of a Messianic application of the text, "My house shall be called a house of prayer," cannot be determined. The difficulty of forming a clear idea of the circumstances is not easily to be removed. How freely the historical material has been worked up, is seen in the groups of stories which have grown out of a single incident; as, for example, the anointing of Jesus at Bethany by an unknown woman, out of which Luke has made an anointing by a penitent sinner, and John an anointing by Mary of Bethany.

As regards the healings, some of them are certainly historical, but not in the form in which tradition has preserved them. The recognition of Jesus as Messiah by the demons immediately arouses suspicion. It is doubtless rather to be ascribed to the tendency which grew up later to represent Him as receiving, in His Messianic character, homage even from the world of evil spirits, than to any advantage in respect of clearness of insight which distinguished the mentally deranged, in comparison with their contemporaries. The cure of the demoniac in the synagogue at Capernaum may well be historical, but, in other cases, the procedure is so often raised into the region of the miraculous that a psychical influence of Jesus upon the sufferer no longer suffices to explain it; the creative activity of legend must have come in to confuse the account of what really happened.

One cure has sometimes given rise to three or four narratives. Sometimes we can still recognise the influences which have contributed to mould a story. When, for example, the disciples are unable to heal the lunatic boy during Jesus' absence on the Mount of Transfiguration, we are reminded of 2 Kings iv., where Elisha's servant Gehazi tries in vain to bring the dead boy to life by using the staff of the prophet. The immediate healing of leprosy has its prototype in the story of Naaman the Syrian. The story of the ten lepers shows so clearly a didactic tendency that its historic value is thereby rendered doubtful.

The cures of blindness all go back to the case of the blind man at Jericho. But who can say how far this is itself historical? The cures of paralytics, too, belong rather to the equipment of the Messiah than to history. The cures through touching clothes, and the healings at a distance, have myth written on their foreheads. The fact is, the Messiah must equal, nay, surpass, the deeds of the prophets. That is why raising from the dead figure among His miracles.

The nature miracles, over a collection of which Strauss puts the heading "Sea-Stories and Fish-Stories," have a much larger admixture of the mythical. His opponents took him severely to task for this irreverent superscription.

The repetition of the story of the feeding of the multitude arouses suspicion regarding the credibility of what is narrated, and at once invalidates the hypothesis of the apostolic authorship of the Gospel of Matthew. Moreover, the incident was so naturally suggested by Old Testament examples that it would have been a miracle if such a story had not found its way into the Life of Jesus. An explanation on the analogy of an expedited process of nature, is here, as in the case of the miracle at Cana also, to be absolutely rejected. Strauss allows it to be laughed out of court. The cursing of the fig-tree and its fulfilment go back in some way or other to a parable of Jesus, which was afterwards made into history.

More important than the miracles heretofore mentioned are those which have to do with Jesus Himself and mark the crises of His history. The transfiguration had to find a place in the life of Jesus, because of the shining of Moses' countenance. In dealing with the narratives of the resurrection it is evident that we must distinguish two different strata of legend, an older one, represented by Matthew, which knew only of appearances in Galilee, and a later, in which the Galilaean appearances are excluded in favour of appearances in Jerusalem. In both cases, however, the narratives are mythical. In any attempt to explain them we are forced on one horn of the dilemma or the other—if the resurrection was real, the death was not real, and vice versa. That the ascension is a myth is self-evident.

Such, and so radical, are the results at which Strauss's criticism of the supernaturalistic and the rationalistic explanations of the life of Jesus ultimately arrives.

In reading Strauss's discussions one is not so much struck with their radical character, because of the admirable dialectic skill with which he shows the total impossibility of any explanation which does not take account of myth. On the whole, the supernaturalistic explanation, which at least represents the plain sense of the narratives, comes off much better than the rationalistic, the artificiality of which is everywhere remorselessly exposed.

The sections which we have summarized are far from having lost their significance at the present day. They marked out the ground which is now occupied by modern critical study. And they filled in the death-certificates of a whole series of explanations which, at first sight, have all the air of being alive, but are not really so. If these continue to haunt present-day theology, it is only as ghosts, which can be put to flight by simply pronouncing the name of David Friedrich Strauss, and which would long ago have ceased to "walk," if the theologians who regard Strauss's book as obsolete would only take the trouble to read it.

Schweitzer, Albert. Ed. James M. Robinson. The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. Trans. W. Montgomery. New York: Macmillan, 1968. 81-84. Print.

Print Friendly


G. C. Berkouwer explains Karl Barth’s Eschatology

Gerrit Cornelis Berkouwer (1903-1996),(source: librarything)

Gerrit Cornelis Berkouwer  (1903-1996)
[source: librarything]

G.C. Berkouwer was a Dutch Reformed Theologian in the Amsterdam tradition along with theological greats including Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck and H. Berkof. Berkouwer wrote an excellent introduction to Karl Barth's theology titled, The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth: An Introduciton and Critical Appraisal in 1956. The first half of Berkouwer's book on Barth contains a clear and concise summary of Barth's Doctrines of Election and Reconciliation in the Church Dogmatics. The second half of the book contains Berkouwer's critical yet appreciative appraisal of the themes that appeared in the first half of the book. Overall, it is an excellent book that I highly recommend, with the primarily mistake being that it was published during Karl Barth's lifetime and before Barth concluded The Church Dogmatics, allowing Barth to respond critically in the later volumes of the Church Dogmatics.

Berkouwer's Chapter VI. The Eschatological Triumph stands out in as a particularly helpful introduction to Karl Barth's enigmatic Doctrine of Redemption. Barth's Church Dogmatics is an unfinished summa, and the last volume he intended to write, "The Doctrine of Redemption", was to be on eschatology with an emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Berkouwer concedes early in The Triumph of Grace in The Theology of Karl Barth, that Barth often surprises (frustrates?) our anticipations when he finally sets in ink his opinions, and Barth's rejection of Infant Baptism is a classic example and remember Barth's modifications in his rejection of Natural Revelation from CD II/1 to CD IV/3. In retrospect, these doctrines are discernible in retrospect, but not until they are incarnated in the KD. So Berkouwer's chapter on Barth's eschatology must be understood with a grain of salt, especially as there are inconsistencies in what Barth says (in particular regarding Barth's statements on the continuation of human life after the final trumpet). Nevertheless, I've selected some quotations from this excellent Chapter VI. The Eschatological Triumph to help us imagine what Barth's eschatology might have come to be!

 G.C. Berkouwer on Karl Barth's Eschatology:

Again, generally a bad idea to write a book on Barth's Church Dogmatics while Barth is still alive, but c'est l'vive. Berkouwer is right that Barth's eschatology may be reconstructed by his published volumes of the Church Dogmatics. Barth often lamented that people were excited about the forthcoming volumes that hadn't read the already published volumes. Berkouwer relies almost entirely upon the Church Dogmatics Vol. III/2 §47 as his source of Barth's eschatology, with a few quotations from the Church Dogmatics II/1 §39 as well.

Berkouwer's introduction to Barth's eschatology:

"Although that part of the Kirchliche Dogmatik which will deal specifically with eschatology (the doctrine of redemption) has not yet been published, it is fully possible to include this aspect of Barth's theology in our discussion. From the beginning of Barth's theological development eschatology has played an important role in his thinking. Even in the earliest phase of his thinking he emphasized that eschatology should not merely be a concluding chapter in works on dogmatics, but that it should permeate the whole of our reflection on the gospel."

Berkouwer, G. C. The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth. Trans. Harry R. Boer. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1956. 161. Print.

Berkouwer's next section explains Barth's paradigm of eschatology in frame of "beginning time" to "ending time", where man's finite is bounded by these two terminals, and how man lives under the constant threat of disappearing to the abyss of non-being from which he emerged as embodied by our constant fear of death. The novelty of Barth's eschatology isn't that resurrection provides us an extension of "ending time" into the infinite future, but instead the natural death that man intended to experience as part of the created order; this natural death is unlike the empirical and unnatural death of which the curse of sin produced that we are constantly living in in fear under, but a death in the sense of fulfillment of life in a way that will never be forgotten in the eternity of God.

The work of God reveals Jesus Christ as the Lord of time. In connection with this theme Barth speaks extensively about our time and then discusses successively the "given time," the "limited time," the "beginning time," and the "ending time." Especially his views about time as ending time claim our attention here. it does not lie in Barth's intention to present a phenomenological analysis of time, of the limitations of human life, and of death, in his discussion of the ending time. All that he wishes to say in this connection he says from the viewpoint of the miracle of Christ's appearance: the "God with us" of reconciliation. What consequences does this conception have for the eschatological triumph?

In order to gain a right understanding of this "ending time" it is desirable to note first what Barth means by the "beginning of time." There was a time in which we were not yet, as also there shall be a time in which we shall not be any more. Human life lies between the poles of this two-fold not-being, the "being-not-yet" and the "being-no-longer." We are, it is true, more concerned with out "being-no-longer" than with our earlier "being-not-yet," but there is, for all that, every reason to give attention to this later form of our being. We are not eternal. We have a beginning time. We come out of non-being. That is to say -- note the peculiar sequence of thought -- "since my very origin I am threatened by nothingness; I stand designated, in a certain sense, as a being which is also able to move towards nothingness." (KD III/2, p. 698)

Ibid. 152-3

In the next quotation, Berkouwer explains Barth's distinction between the curse of Empirical Death to the goal of Natural Death. Berkouwer in this chapter notices that Barth admits that this doctrine has no precedent in Church History and that it stands on a hair string of Scripture. Unfortunately, Berkouwer waited for the explanation in CD V, but the "being-not-yet" of the CD V never came to a "has been".

Man's death is no longer the suffering of deserved judgment, "but it is only its sign" (KD III/2, p.730). The death of Christ sheds a wholly new light over our ending time. Empirical death did constitute a continual threat of all life, but He has undergone this threat (KD III/2, p733). Man was deserving of this death and in the Old Testament we see it portrayed in all its seriousness. But light has dawned in the midst of this darkness because the judgment has been executed. Jesus Christ has borne it. "No other man stands in this center and therefore no other stands really in the judgement of God" (KD III/2 p.736). The others -- the Christian knowingly, the non-Christian as yet unknowingly -- now stand only under the sign of the judgement (KD III/2 p.737). Through Golgotha man has been spared the suffering of this deserved judgment. The one judgement over Christ has become an irrevocable and unalterable fact.

Ibid. 156

The following quotation is the best paragraph in the entire book. The strength of Berkouwer's interoperation of Barth's Eschatology that it not only allows for the resurrection of men that lived, but of all beauty that has ever existed in Creation, such that nothing is lost.

God permits nothing to be lost -- no hue in deepest ocean depths, no wingbeat of an insect that lives but a day, nor the earliest time in earth's history, and certainly nothing in our life. God will not be alone in His eternity, but He will be together with His creature, His creature in its limited duration. "Present before God" -- in this way the creature will be and will remain." This is the way in which it will be enfolded in the great rest of God. This is its preservation in time. This is the mystery of the preservation which must be understood in the light of the expression repeated twenty-six times in Psalm 136, "For His mercy endureth forever." (KD III/2, pg102-3).

Ibid. 164

Another quotation that expands Barth's (inconsistent?) concept of ending continuation as the resurrection of the dead and his concept of "having been" as eternal fulfillment of life in natural death.

It is not easy to come to a clear insight with respect to Barth's solution of the problem of the ending time in its relation to eternal life. We must, in the first place, notice that Barth sharply opposes the idea of an extension of human life after death. When Christ through His victory ushers in the last day, and God shall in the end be all in all, there comes into being a "present without an afterward" (KD III/2, p.759). There is no continuation, no further happening, after the sounding of the last trump. "The hope of the New Testament concerning the beyond of human death is not some sort of changed life which is continued in some sort of unending future. Not this, but the 'eternalizing' of our ending life is the content of the New Testament hope." The hope that we have does not involve an extension of our life; its point of reference is our life as it has been. The life that has been, life in the limitations we have known, is "eternalized," and this action upon the life that has been takes place in such a manner that it does not include a continuation of our finite existence in the future.

This is the resurrection of the dead.

Barth's conception of the "eternalizing" of our ending life has so far as I know, no antecedents in the history of the Christian doctrine.

Ibid. 158

In the following quotation, if there is any doubt regarding Barth's doctrine of resurrection, this will clarify the orthodoxy of Barth's position and is helpful to understand's argument for natural death as part of God's good Creation.

Christology is decisive for Barth's anthropology as well as for his eschatology. In view of the mortality of Jesus Christ, Barth rejects, because of Christological-Soteriological considerations, the identity of end and judgment as self-evident (KD III/2. p. 769). We must distinguish between end and curse, dying and punishment, death and the judgment of death (Ibid.). Man's end and man's mortality belong to God's good creation. Barth makes this very clear: "It belongs to the nature of man, it is God's creation which determined, and to that extent made it good and right, that the existence of man in time should have an end, that man should be mortal. That we shall one day only have-been answers to a law by which we are not necessarily bound, imprisoned and condemned to destruction. Death is not in itself the judgment, nor is it in itself the sign of judgment. Factually, however, it is that" (KD III/2. p. 770).

This factual, this empirical death, has also a hidden aspect in which the boundary as such does not contain a threatening element, and this hidden aspect belongs to the good creation. Here death as boundary becomes the transition from being to not-being, it is the parallel to man's beginning time from not-being to being.

"It is therefore not unnatural but natural for human life to move on to this terminus ad quem. It is natural to ring life out as it was once rung in and therefore it is limited not only as its beginning, but also with respect to its future" (KD III/2, p.770).

Therefore man does not as such have a "beyond," nor does he need one, "for God is his beyond [Jenseits]." There is no extension of his earthly temporariness. This thesis, Barth emphasizes, may under no circumstances be understood to mean that death means finis [dead is dead] and that there is no reason or room for life for hope and expectation. Also in his quality as having-been man is not nothing but "participates in the eternal life of God" (KD III/2, p.770). It is precisely his life on this side of death, his ending and dying life, that is glorified (KD III/2, p.771).

Ibid. 159-60.

Any further quotations would mean I might as well quote the entire chapter at length! Whether Berkouwer has accurately described Barth's eschatology is left as an exercise for the reader!

Print Friendly


D. F. Strauss’ Life of Jesus, Critically Examined

David Friedrich Strauss (1808 – 1874)  [source:wikpedia]

David Friedrich Strauss (1808 – 1874)
[source: wikpedia]

The post-Enlightenment period exhausted printing presses with volumes titled, "The Life of Jesus", which used the historical-critical method to uncover the historical Jesus from the exalted Jesus proclaimed by the Church. The landmark and most famous Life of Jesus was David Friedrich Strauss's Das Leben Jesu, Kritisch Bearbeitet. (The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined, ET).  The first edition was printed in 1835, and a substantial revision appeared in the the fourth edition of 1840. As the Dodransbicentennial Anniversary [175 years] approaches, Strauss's Life of Jesus, although a dated book, remains as a historical marker in the "Quest for the Historical Jesus" that continues to this day!

Strauss's Life of Jesus has been demonized until this day, and the responses to it are as polarized today as they were in Strauss's own life time. The publication of The Life of Jesus, received such a strong negative reaction that he disqualified from employment by all the Universities and the Church. If he lived today, Strauss may have been a bishop in the Episcopal Church, so it may have been better for him, but it may have been worse if he lived in Calvin's Geneva! (I love Calvin, don't worry!)

D.F. Strauss is a disciple of Friedrich Schleiermacher, and the Life of Jesus, Critically Examined is dependent on Schleiermacher's A Critical Essay on the Gospel of St. Luke and on Dr. Heinrich Paulus (1761 – 1851) with almost every page containing a citation from Schleiermacher or Dr. Paulus. Schleiermacher wrote his own Life of Jesus and believed that the Gospel of John had priority over the other gospels, and that the Gospel of Luke was the preferred synoptic gospel (I've previously reviewed Schleiermacher's Life of Jesus) and this presupposition is assumed by Strauss. Today, the priority of the Gospel of Mark is assumed by the academic community, contra Schleiermacher, and this isn't seen as undermining Strauss' critical work, but ricocheting Strauss's criticism of the synoptics to Strauss's favored Fourth Gospel.

Soon, two hundred years will have passed since the first printing of Strauss' Life of Jesus, so there are other more important and recent works on the Quest for the Historical Jesus. My personal favorites are Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus and N.T. Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God. In retrospect, the pendulum swung to far toward rationalism in Strauss's Life of Jesus and has swung back towards, as Anselm might say, fides quaerens intellectum ("faith seeking understanding"). Strauss has fallen into the very chasm he wished to free himself, because he exchanged the historical Jesus for the enlightened, exulted Jesus of Rationalism. Then again, I am falling into the hyper critical response to Strauss without appreciating the help he has provided us in knowing Christ. I believe in the resurrection, as the creed says, so the rational program that dismisses supernatural has an a priori presupposition against the object of my faith. Even if Strauss has been rendered a Judas, Judas' betrayal facilitated the death and resurrection of Jesus! (pace. the Gospel of Judas).

D.F. Strauss  (source:wikipedia)

D.F. Strauss

I was traveling from Indian side of the Himalayas to Seattle today, and I sat next to a girl from Germany, and asked her if she was familiar with Friedrich Schleiermacher or D.F. Strauss, and she said everyone in Germany knows Schleiermacher and Strauss (but not Barth!). I explained to her that the Bible is polarized today between the Inerrantists and Rationalists. It's like a soldier who has an infected wound on his arm, where the Inerrantist (Biblicist) denies that the infected exists and the Rationalists (Strauss) chooses to amputate the arm!

Today, John Dominic Crossan's The Historical Jesus and Robert Funk's (of the Jesus Seminar) The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus may be my contemporary equivalents of D.F. Strauss on the extreme skeptical-rational side, and one of my favorite Roman Catholic theologians Raymond E. Brown on the 'orthodox' Catholic side in his books The Birth of the Messiah and The Death of the Messiah. Crossan once compared himself to Brown by saying that he believed that the Bible represented 20% historicity and Brown 80%. Although Raymond E. Brown and N.T. Wright may be more relevant today, it was Strauss's method that initiated the historical-critical method that has been so productive until this day.

Strauss's Life of Jesus is an 800 page behemoth that is reminiscent of Tatian's Diatessaron in that Strauss has combined and reduced the four Gospels into a single biography of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. It's helpful to remember that as Tatian's Diatessaron came to the pinnacle of its popularity the Church rejected it in order to retain the four witnesses.  My point is that we should never allow a compendium or assimilation of the kerygmatic witnesses to replace the Gospels themselves. Strauss' thorough combing over of the four Gospels demonstrate all the problems that exist in the text, but a warning should always follow that the problems uncovered are due to reading the Scriptures in a way that they were not intended, no matter how productive it may be.

In the following long quotation from the Introduction of The Life of Jesus, Strauss explains his historical-critical method. It provides several examples, that I will quote at length instead of providing selections from the book. It's a better explanation in Strauss' own words than I planned to summarize:

§16 Criteria By Which To Distinguish The Unhistorical In The Gospel Narrative

Having shown the possible existence of the mythical and the legendary in the Gospels, bob on extrinsic and intrinsic grounds, and defined their distinctive characteristics, it remains in conclusion to inquire how their actual presence may be recognized in individual cases?

The mythus presents two phases: in the first place it is not history; in the second it is fiction, the product of the particular mental tendency of a certain community. These two phases afford the one a negative, the other a positive criterion, by which the mythus is to be recognized.

Negative. That an account is not historical – that the matter related could not have taken place in the manner described is evident,

First. When the narration is irreconcilable with the known and universal laws which govern the course of events. Now according to these laws, agreeing with all just philosophical conceptions and all credible experience, the absolute cause never disturbs the chain of secondary causes by single arbitrary acts of interposition, but rather manifests itself in the production of the aggregate of finite causalities, and of their reciprocal action. When therefore we meet with an account of certain phenomena of events of which it is either expressly stated or implied that they were produced immediately by God himself (divine apparitions – voices from heaven and the like), or by human beings possessed of supernatural powers (miracles, prophecies), such an account is in so far to be considered as not historical. And inasmuch as, in general, the intermingling of the spiritual world with the human is found only in unauthentic records, and is irreconcilable with all just conceptions; so narratives of angels and of devils, of their appearing in human shape and interfering with human concerns, cannot possibly be received as historical.

Another law which controls the course of events is the law of succession, in accordance with which all occurrences, not excepting the most violent convulsions and the most rapid changes, follow in a certain order of sequence of increase and decrease. If therefore we are told of a celebrated individual that he attracted already at his birth and during his childhood that attention which he excited in his manhood; that his followers at a single glance recognized him as being all that he actually was; if the transition from the deepest despondency to the most ardent enthusiasm after his death is represented as the world of a single hour; we must feel more than doubtful whether it is a real history which lies before us. Lastly, all those psychological laws, which render it improbable that a human being should feel, think and act in a manner directly opposed to his own habitual mode and that of men in general, must be taken into consideration. As for example, when the Jewish Sanhedrim are represented as believing the declaration of the watch at the grave that Jesus was risen, and instead of accusing them of having suffered the body to be stolen away whilst they were asleep, bribing them to give currency to such a report. By the same rule it is contrary to all the laws belong to the human faculty of memory, that long discourses, such those of Jesus given in the fourth Gospel, could have been faithfully recollected and reproduced.

It is however true that effects are often far more rapidly produced, particularly in men of genius and by their agency, than might be expected; and that human beings frequently act inconsequently, and in opposition to their general modes and habits; the two last mentioned tests of the mythical character must therefore be cautiously applied, and in conjunction only with the tests.

Secondly. An account which shall be regarded as historically valid, must neither be inconsistent with itself, not in contradiction with other accounts.

The most decided case falling under this rule, amounting to a positive contradiction, is when one account affirms what the other denies. Thus, one gospel represents the first appearance of Jesus in Galilee as subsequent to the imprisonment of John the Baptist, whilst another Gospel remarks, long after Jesus had preached both in Galilee and in Judea, that “John was not yet cast into prison.”

When on the contrary, the second account, without absolutely contradicting the first, differs from it, the disagreement may be merely between the incidental particulars of the narrative; such as time, (the clearing of the Temple,) place, (the original residence of the parents of Jesus;) number, (the Gadarenes, the angels at the sepulchre;) names, (Matthew and Levi;) or it may concern the essential substance of the history. In the latter cases, sometimes the character and circumstance in one account differs altogether from those in another. Thus, according to one narrator, the Baptist recognizes Jesus as the Messiah destined to suffer; according to the other, John takes offence at his suffering condition. Sometimes an occurrence is represented in two or more ways, of which one only can be consistent with the reality; as when one account Jesus calls his first disciples from their nets whilst fishing on the sea of Galilee, and in the other meets them in Judea on his way to Galilee. We may class under the same head instances where events or discourses are represented as having occurred on two distinct occasions, whilst they are so similar that is impossible to resist the conclusion that both the narratives refer to the same event or discourse.

It may be here asked: is it to be regarded as a contradiction if one account is wholly silent respecting a circumstance mentioned by another? In itself, apart from all other considerations, the argumentum ex silentio is of no weight; but it is certainly to be accounted of moment when, at the same time, it may be shown that had the author known the circumstance he could not have failed to mention it, and also that he must haven known it had actually occurred.

Positive. The positive character of legend and fiction are to be recognized sometimes in the form, sometimes in the substance of the narrative.

If the form be poetical, if the actors converse in hymns, and in a more diffuse and elevated strain than might be expected from their training and situations, such discourses, at all events, are not to be regarded as historical. The absence of these marks of the unhistorical do not however prove the historical validity of the narration, since the mythus often wears the most simple and apparently historical form: in which case the proof lies in the substance.

If the contents of a narrative strikingly accords with certain ideas existing and prevailing within the circle from which the narrative proceeded, which ideas themselves seem to be the product of preconceived opinions rather than of practical experience, it is more or less probable, according to circumstances, that such a narrative is of mythical origin. The knowledge of the fact, that the Jews were fond of representing their great men as the children of parents who had long been childless, cannot but make us doubtful of the historical truth of the statement that this was the case with John the Baptist; knowing also that the Jews saw predictions everywhere in the writings of their prophets and poets, and discovered types of the Messiah in all the lives of holy men recorded in Scriptures; when we find details in the life of Jesus evidently sketched after the pattern of these prophecies and prototypes, we cannot but suspect that they are rather mythical than historical.

The more simple characteristics of the legend, and of additions by the author, after the observations of the former section, need no further elucidation.

Yet each of these texts, on the one hand, and each narrative on the other, considered apart, will rarely prove more than the possible or probable unhistorical character of the record. The concurrence of several such indications is necessary to bring about a more definite result. The accounts of the visit of the Magi, and of the murder of the innocents at Bethlehem, harmonize remarkably with the Jewish Messianic notion, built upon the prophecy of Balaam, respecting the star which should come out of Jacob; and with the history of the sanguinary command of Pharaoh. Still this would not alone suffice to stamp the narratives as mythical. But we have also the corroborative facts that the described appearance of the star is contrary to the physical, the alleged conduct of Herod to the psychological laws; that Josephus, who given in other respects so circumstantial an account of Herod, agrees with all other historical authorities in being silent concerning the Bethlehem massacre; and that the visit of the Magi together with the flight into Egypt related in the one Gospel, and the presentation in the temple related in another Gospel, mutually exclude one another. Wherever, as in this instance, the several criteria of the mythical character concur, the result is certain, and certain in proportion to the accumulation of such grounds of evidence.

It may be that a narrative, standing alone, would discover but slight indications, or perhaps, might present no one distinct feature of the mythus; but it is connected with others, or proceeds from the author of other narratives which exhibit unquestionable marks of a mythical or legendary character is restricted to those features of the narrative, upon which such character is actually stamped; and whether a contradiction between two accounts invalidate one account only, or both? That is to say, what is the precise boundary line between the historical and the unhistorical? – the most difficult question in the whole province of criticism.

In the first place, when two narratives mutually exclude one another, one only is thereby proved to be unhistorical. If one be true the other must be false, but though the one be false the other may be true. Thus, in reference to the original residence of the parents of Jesus, we are justified in adopting the account of Luke which places it at Nazareth, to the exclusion of that of Matthew, which plainly supposes it to have been at Bethlehem; and, generally speaking, when we have to choose between two irreconcilable accounts, in selecting as historical that which is the least opposed to the laws of nature, and has the least correspondence with certain national or party opinions. But upon a more particular consideration it will appear that, since one account is false, it is possible that the other may be so likewise: the existence of a mythus respecting some certain point, shows that the imagination has been active in reference to that particular subject; (we need only refer to the genealogies;) and the historical accuracy of either of two such accounts cannot be relied upon, unless substantiated by its agreement with some other well authenticated testimony.

Concerning the different parts of one and the same narrative: it might be thought for example, that though the appearance of an angel, and his announcement to Mary that she should be the Mother of the Messiah, must certainly be regarded as unhistorical, still, that Mary should have indulged this hope before the birth of the child, is not in itself incredible. But what should be excited this hope in Mary’s mind? It is at once apparent that that which is credible in itself is nevertheless unhistorical when it is so intimately connected with what is incredible that, if you discard the latter, you at the same time remove the basis on which the former rests. Again, any action of Jesus represented as a miracle, when divested of the marvelous, might be thought to exhibit a perfectly naturally occurrence; with respect to some of the miraculous histories, the expulsion of devils for instance, this might with some limitation, be possible. But for this reason alone: in these instances, a cure, so instantaneous, and effected by a few words merely, as it is described in the Gospels, is not psychologically incredible; so that, the essential in these narratives remain untouched. It is different in the case of the healing of a man born blind. A natural cure could not have been effected otherwise than by a gradual process; the narrative states the cure to have been immediate; if therefore the history be understood to record a natural occurrence, the most essential particular is incorrectly represented, and consequently all security for the truth of the otherwise natural remainder is gone, and the real fact cannot bet discovered without the aid of arbitrary conjecture.

The following examples will serve to illustrate the mode of deciding win such cases. According to the narrative, as Mary entered the house and saluted her cousin Elizabeth, who was then pregnant, the babe leaped in her womb, she was filled with the Holy Ghost, and she immediately addressed Mary as the mother of the Messiah. This account bears indubitable marks of an unhistorical character. Yet, it is not, in itself, impossible that Mary should have paid a visit to her cousin, during which everything went on quite naturally. The fact is however that there are psychological difficulties connected with this journey of the betrothed; and that the visit, and even the relationship of the two women, seem to have originated entirely in the wish to exhibit a connexion between the mother of John the Baptist, and the mother of the Messiah. Or when in the history of the transfiguration it is stated, that the men who appeared with Jesus on the Mount were Moses and Elias: and that the brilliancy which illuminated Jesus was supernatural; it might seem here also that, after deducting the marvelous, the presence of two men and a bright morning beam might be retained as the historical facts. But the legend was predisposed, by virtue of the current idea concerning the relation of the Messiah to these two prophets, not merely to make any two men (whose person, object and conduct, if they were not what the narrative represents them, remain in the highest degree mysterious) into Moses and Elias, but to create the whole occurrence; and in like manner not merely to conceive of some certain illumination as a supernatural effulgence (which, if a natural one, is much exaggerated and misrepresented), but to create it at once after the pattern of the brightness which illuminated Moses on Mount Sinai.

Hence is derived the following rule. Where not merely the particular nature and manner of an occurrence is critically suspicious, its external circumstances represented as miraculous and the like; but where likewise the essential substance and groundwork is either inconceivable in itself, or is in striking harmony with some Messianic idea of the Jews of that age, then not the particular alleged course and mode of the transaction only, but the entire occurrence must be regarded as unhistorical. Where on the contrary, the form only, and not the general contents of the narration, exhibits the characteristics of the unhistorical, it is at least possible to suppose a kernel of fact actually exists, or in what it consists; unless, indeed, it be discoverable from other sources. In legendary narratives, or narratives embellished by the writer, it is less difficult, – by divesting them of all that betrays itself as fictitious imagery, exaggeration, etc. – by endeavoring to abstract from theme every extraneous adjunct and to fill up every hiatus – to succeed, proximately at least, in separating the historical groundwork.

The boundary line, however, between the historical and the unhistorical, in records, in which as in our Gospels this latter element is incorporated, will every remain fluctuating and unsusceptible of precise attainment. Least of all can it be expected that the first comprehensive attempt to treat these records from a critical point of view should be successful in drawing a sharply defined line of demarcation. In the obscurity which criticism has produced, by the extinction of all lights hitherto held historical, the eye must accustom itself by degrees to discriminate objects with precision; and at all events the author of this work, wishes especially to guard himself in those places where he declares he knows not what happened, from the imputation of asserting that he knows that nothing happened.

Strauss, David Friedrich, tr. George Eliot. The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined. Cambridge: CUP, 2010. 87-92. Print.

Print Friendly


Helmut Gollwitzner on the Tower of Babel: How to Preach the Old Testament by Example

Tower of Babel (source: wikipedia)

Tower of Babel (source: wikipedia)

In Helmut Gollwitzner's collection of sermons, The Way to Life: Sermons in a Time of World Crisis, contains a sermon that is an excellent treatment of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). I've provided a quotation from it because it exemplifies how to preach the Tower of Babel. Stanley Hauerwas lectures and writings on the Tower of Babel have a similar interpretation where the story explains how the pride of man resulted for acquiring the technology of brick building, however the advantage of Gollwitnzer's approach is that he improves upon Hauerwas's hermeneutic and does so in preaching.

The following quotation is from Helmut Gollwitzner's sermon, "Work that is worthwhile", preached on May 2nd, 1976 on Genesis 11:1-9. This example may be used as a template for preaching the rest of the Pre-History in Genesis 1-11 (not only the Tower of Babel). This approach is incredibly more helpful and illuminating than the common anachronistic reading of Genesis 11 as modern history and as something that is undone by Pentecost.

The building of the Tower of Babel is the history of the great Empires, from century to century the great Empires and their great Caesars. They unite many lands and people under their rule, one ruling language, one administration, one culture. All this happens in the name of union and peace, all, it is claimed, for the blessing of mankind—Pax Romana, Pax Germanica, Pax Britannica, Pax Americana. But when the unification reaches its culminating point, the decay has always already set in. There must be some kind of canker in these attempts at unification. And yet today we really need unification. Do you remember how, after 1945, after the end of the attempt to unite Europe under German domination, everybody spoke of world government, whose time had now come—and today mankind is as fragmented as ever it was, particularly today when really a common effort of will among all nations is necessary to end the madness of armaments, for a new world economic order, and for the saving of our biosphere if we do not wish to perish. Instead of that we hear today the despairing talk of the "ungovernable character of the world". In great matters as in small, in large-scale politics as in small groups, in town-councils and in Presbyteries, our work remains fruitless because we cannot understand languages, because what continually happens is like what is said here, that "no one any longer understood another man's language".

Thus the ancient narrator three thousand years ago described what he saw round about him when he looked at the great Empires of that time, Egypt and Babylon, and at the same time he predicted the history of mankind up to the present day. For this purpose he used a story which he did not himself invent, but which people were telling each other everywhere in the oriental world at that time, and by which they used to explain the origin of two quite different phenomena, the origin of tower-like mounds, or rather high towers and ruins of towers, which people gazed at with wonder in the Mesopotamia of that day—and the phenomenon of the many kinds of language, which are so troublesome because they make it hard for one man to understand another. The gods must have interfered here—hence these enigmatic mounds and ruined towers, and hence the confusion of the nations and languages.

The biblical narrator, who adopted this aetiological saga (that is what scholars call such stories about origins), has no concern for the gods, he does not believe that there live above us gods who feel jealous and anxious because of the great powers of man, and for that reason intervene in defense of themselves. He knows, as an Israelite, the one living God, the Creator, who loves his creatures, who has equipped his human beings with many gifts and great powers, who wills to bless their work and make it prosper, who rejoices in the powers of his creatures. And yet he sees a truth in this saga, and for that reason he places it at the end of his account of the beginnings of the history of mankind, which is now contained in the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis. Thus a good beginning—the man and the woman in the garden of this earth, they have food and work, they live in peace and fellowship, the work is profitable, it is a healthy world. Then this one special, specially endowed creature of God—man, destroys more and more the Creation and himself, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the men of the story of the Flood, and lastly this tower-building—these are the stages of an accelerating disorder, destruction growing like an avalanche which starts with men and turns bad on themselves. The narrator merely tells the story; he does not comment on it. But his narrative forces this question upon us, what has gone wrong here, that man is so destructive, and that God does not bless men, but confronts them with his judgment?

Gollwitzer, Helmut The Way To Life: Sermons in a Time of Crisis. England: T&T Clark, 1981. Trans. David Cairns. 2-3. Print.

Print Friendly


Helmut Gollwitzer on How to Preach the Word

Helmut Gollwitzer died 21 years ago today (source:wikipedia)

Helmut Gollwitzer died 21 years ago today
(source: wikipedia)

Helmut Gollwitzer (1908-1993) died 21 years ago today. I was first introduced to this amazing theologian by Dr. W. Travis McMaken, in his recommendation of Gollwitzer's The Way To Life: Sermons in a Time of World Crisis. In the forward, Gollwitzer's amazing life is introduced by the English translator David Cairns, which contains not only amazing names of teachers (such as Karl Barth) and teaching posts Gollwitzer entertained, but also the censorship he received by the Gestapo and his imprisonment in the asbestos mines of Siberia.

Gollwitzer provides an introduction to this collection of sermons that includes the following charge to preachers everywhere on how to preach the Word of God. It's a remarkable introduction to an impressive compilation of sermons that all preachers of the Word are a poverty to live without!

As a way to secure the freedom required if preaching is to be taken seriously, my friends and teachers - here I have especially to name Karl Barth, Eduard Thurneysen and Hermann Diem - recommended in the Reformed tradition text-sermons, that is, the attachment of the sermon to the biblical text. They taught that the Bible text should not be merely a motto placed at the head of the sermon, not merely the occasion for all sorts of associations, not merely a peg on which to hang a theme chosen by the preacher, but should be in concrete control of the preacher. The sermon should make this text more perspicuous to the hearer than it was before. At the same time it should give pleasure, so that one is thankful for it, and be a source of guidance for life today. The preacher's subordination to this text frees him from all other authorities, from ecclesiastical authorities - that was the liberating experience of the Reformation - and from political authorities - that was the liberating experience at the time of Hitler's dictatorship.

For this reason my sermons to this day have always been sermons from a text, and perhaps this makes them sound rather old-fashioned to younger theologians. I wonder at their preference for handling themes, in the service of which the biblical text is then exploited, and do not know whether I ought to admire the courage that is needed to believe that one's own ideas have so much truth-content in them that people should use Divine Worship to expound them. For it is, after all, that same gathering of the congregation, which should equip it, by the handing down of the great story of hope, to be a living cell in the world of men that is being shaken by deadly convulsions. But there can be no law ordaining that sermons should have a text, everyone must see what authorizes him to open his mouth in the name of the living God, and we can only tell each other what helps us to face up to the moment of truth which is the hour of public worship.

In my experience, subordination to the biblical text has a liberating effect also because in this moment of truth which challenges our responsibility to an unusual degree, it sets us free from responsibility for what is to be said here and now. The text takes over the responsibility, and through it, he in whose name these first witnesses spoke, to whom we owe our biblical texts. If I had to preach my convictions, my knowledge, and my experiences, what fills my heart at the present moment, and what stirs my mind, my Christianity and the certainty of my faith, then the responsibility would wholly lie with me, and the question whether I am at this precise moment a believer, and am certain of all these astonishing assertions of the Christian faith, might rightly hinder me from putting my foot on the first step of the pulpit stairs. What makes me go on, and open my mouth, can only be the knowledge that I have not to speak out of the wealth of my religiosity, but rather that I, a poor doubting man, am the first hearer of what the ancient text proclaims and promises to me and to all who sit before me. What is said to me, and what I have to pass on to others, is always much more than what I could say on my own authority, much more than I have already experienced, know and believe. It is always something unbelievable, incomprehensible, inconceivable, that is now to be proclaimed, and something through which in our company, including the preacher as well as the hearers, new beginnings of hope, new hope for beginners, and consequently discipleship of beginners must come into being.

Gollwitzer, Helmut The Way To Life: Sermons in a Time of Crisis. England: T&T Clark, 1981. Trans. David Cairns. xii-xiii. Print.

Print Friendly


Jürgen Moltmann: God without Future begets a Future without God

(source: wikipedia)

(source: wikipedia)

Jürgen Moltmann's Religion, Revolution and the Future contains the two following quotations on Earth Ethics. An eschatology with a God without Future—a hope without the Earthbegets an Atheism that hopes for a Future without God. The Cosmic Christ, The Pantocrator, is The Lord over all Creation, not just a group of men or subset of their souls. As Karl Barth said, the exterior basis of Creation is the Covenant and the interior basis of Creation is the Covenant. A faith without Creation is Marcionism. Any eschatology of hope that excludes a hope for the Earth, only creates Atheism as a hope for the Earth. (For further assessment of Moltmann's Ethic of Hope, see my post on Moltmann's Ethic of Hope for the Earth.)

Since Christians, the churches, and theology believed in a 'God without future' the earth has joined itself to an atheism which sought a future without God. The messianic hope emigrated from the church and became invested, evolution, and revolution." Jürgen Moltmann, Religion, Revolution and the Future

Moltmann, Jürgen Religion, Revolution and the Future. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969. Trans. M. Douglas Meeks. 200-1. Print.


"If one hopes for the sake of Christ in the future of God and the ultimate liberation of the world, he cannot passively wait for this future and, like the apocalyptic believers, withdraw from the world. Rather, he must seek this future, strive for it, and already here be in correspondence to it in the active renewal of life and of the conditions of life and therefore realize it already here according to the measure of possibilities. Because this future is the future of one God, it is a unique and unifying future. Because it brings eschatological liberation, it is the salvation of the whole enslaved creation. The messianic future for which Christianity arouses hope is no special future for the church or for the soul alone. It is an all-encompassing future. As all-encompassing future, its power of hope is able to mediate faith to earthly needs and to lead it into real life."

Moltmann, Jürgen Religion, Revolution and the Future. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969. Trans. M. Douglas Meeks. 218. Print.

Print Friendly


Jürgen Moltmann on Humane Revolution: The goal of Christian universalism can be realized precisely through the dialectic of siding with the humiliated.

Humane Revolution

Humane Revolution (source:wikipedia)

Jürgen Moltmann's lecture "God in Revolution" in Religion, Revolution and the Future was the 'opening lecture of the World Student Christian Federation Conference, July 23, 1968, Turku, Finland.' The lecture contained seven theses. I enjoyed the way in which Moltmann introduced them:

I do not want to begin this student conference with a well-polished theological discourse. Rather, I would like to open the discussion of the coming days with a series of theses. I do not intend to set a before you a masterful theological soup which you should consume with relish. These theses are meant as an aperitif to whet the appetite. For theology is not only a matter of eating something, but also the shared task of first preparing.

Moltmann, Jürgen Religion, Revolution and the Future. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969. Trans. M. Douglas Meeks. 129. Print.

The entire lecture is excellent, and as an example, the following is a quotation from Thesis 5, in which Moltmann introduces his idea of a 'humane revolution' that abolishes the master-slave paradigm, and how siding with the humiliated is the way we achieve the universal love of all men (not just the abused, but the abusers as well). The examples from Martin Luther King Jr., Karl Marx and Albert Camus are excellent. (I've added the bold text for emphasis, the italics is original.)

THESIS 5: The church is not a heavenly arbiter in the world's strifes. In the present struggles for freedom and justice, Christians must side with the humanity of the oppressed.

The Church is for all men, say some. Therefore, it should remain strictly separated from political struggle. Since there are no unequivocal Christian judgments in politics, the church should religiously be in the service of all sides. This is the old ecclesiastical triumphalism in modern dress as offered by the representatives of organized churches to the contending parties. Here the church is always "the third power," a "neutral platform" for peace and reconciliation, a "place for meeting" and negotiating. Sub specie aeternitatis all worldly conflicts become relative and insignificant. There was a time when this mediating role of the church was occasionally in demand and was instrumental in promoting tranquility. But today all ambiguous and abstract appeals for peace fall on deaf ears, as was demonstrated in the speech of Pope Paul VI to the United Nations. Struggling factions have become tired of appeals to their conscience and of verbose sermons on morality. They do not expect from the church any transcendent wisdom to aid the resolution of their conflicts.

Yet, if Christians take sides in the political struggle, will they not lose sight of God's love for all men? This is the question from the other point of view. I do not think that they need to lose it. The goal of Christian universalism can be realized precisely through the dialectic of siding with the humiliated. Let me amplify this. It is, in fact, the goal of the church to represent that "new people of God" of whom one can say: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither Greek nor barbarian, neither master nor slave, neither man nor woman [and if we may proceed with modern relevance: neither black nor white, neither Communist nor anti-Communist] for all are one in Christ Jesus." The barriers which men erect between each other to assert themselves and humiliate others are demolished in the community of Christ, since men are there affirmed in a new way: they are "children of freedom." By undermining and demolishing all barriers--whether of religion, race, education, or class--the community of Christians proves that it is composed, not of equal and like-minded men, but of dissimilar men, indeed even of former enemies. This would mean, on the other hand, that national churches, class churches, and race churches are false churches of Christ and already heretical as a result of their concrete structure.

The way toward this goal of a new humane comment involving all nations and languages is, however, a revolutionary way. In this connection we quote the apostle Paul once again: "For consider your call brethren, not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many of you were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord" (1 Cor 1:26-31). Accordingly, the community of the obscure and weak is given the power of judgement over the high and mighty. So in the community of the crucified, according to the old prophetic images of the mountain being laid low and the valleys exalted, those who hunger after righteousness are blessed and those who justify themselves are condemned. Thus the way of the kingdom of humanity into the world is prepared and only thus will all flesh see the glory of the Lord. Or to put it without images: The love of God and the humanity of Christ are partial to the laboring and heavily laden, to the humiliated and offended. But how can this be a way to the new community without barriers?

Martin Luther King, Jr., sided with the blacks and the poor. He organized protest movements and strikes. These actions were directed against the white racism and the capitalistic society in his country. But at the same time he was constantly concerned about the white people, unredeemed and enslaved by their pride and anxiety. He mobilized the marches of the blacks and the poor, not for revenge against the whites but for the redemption of the black and white alike from their mutual estrangement.

The young Karl Marx also spoke not only of the alienation of the exploited proletariat but also of that of the capitalist exploiter. By withholding or robbing from another his true humanity, the robber deprives himself of his own humanity.

Albert Camus described the humane principle of revolution this way: The slave revolts against his master. He denies him as a master, but not as a man. For his protest is directed against the master's refusal to treat him as a man. As master and slave, neither is a true man and neither can relate to the other in a humane way. If the denial of the master were total, the slave's revolt would bring nothing new into the world but would only exchange the roles of inhumanity. The humane revolution, however, is not out to turn the slaves into masters but to subvert an abolish the whole master-slave relationship so that in the future men will be able to treat one another as men. If the revolution loses sight of this goal, it becomes nihilistic and forfeits its fascination.

In this sense, Christianity's taking sides with the "damned of the earth" is a way to the redemption and reconciliation of the damned and the dammers. Only through the dialectic of taking sides can the universalism of salvation make its entrance into the world. Any ecclesiastical triumphalism is, therefore, an immature anticipation of the Kingdom of God.

Moltmann, Jürgen Religion, Revolution and the Future. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969. Trans. M. Douglas Meeks. 141-3. Print.

Print Friendly


Jürgen Moltmann on The Abundant Man (Religion, Revolution and Future)

Jürgen Moltmann - Religion, Revolution and the Future

Jürgen Moltmann - Religion, Revolution and the Future

Jürgen Moltmann visited the United States following the infamous success of his infamous book Theology of Hope. He traveled throughout the U.S.A. and these lectures were compiled and published in Moltmann's book: Religion, Revolution and the Future (RRF). RFF discuses Marxism, Society and Hope. Douglas Meeks' translation of this book contains a helpful introduction:

From September, 1967, to April, 1968, Jürgen Moltmann, Professor of Theology at Tübingen University in Germany, sojourned in the United States. While he was pivotally located as Visiting Professor of Systematic Theology at Duke University, he traveled widely to almost every major region of the nation and visited many of the large academic and urban centers. This book is compromised of a portion of the lectures and essays with which Professor Moltmann introduced himself and his thought to the American continent.

Moltmann, Jürgen Religion, Revolution and the Future. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969. Trans. M. Douglas Meeks. N. pag. Print.

I've chosen a selection from Religion, Revolution and the Future in the section 'The Abundant Man' to demonstrate the excellence of this book, and in particular in Moltmann's charge even today for the Church and Christians in liberating the captives because no one is free in the land of the free, until all are free:

The promised future of God's reign is directed not only to man's internal happiness, but toward that full humanity which is denied by poverty, hunger, illness, and suffering. Through industrialization it is now more possible than ever to achieve success in the struggle against hunger. Therefore, Christianity should participate in those social programs which strive for conditions in which hunger and poverty and illness cease for as many people as possible. In such participation, there are, in particular, two viewpoints that it can develop.

First, with respect to the distribution of the social product and the politics of capital investment, Christianity can become the advocate of those groups that have insufficient or no public representation in a particular society. It can further urge concern for a balance between consumption and capital investment. A society which limits itself to investing, sacrifices the present to the future. But a society which avoids the category "future" forfeits the power for farsighted investment. It sacrifices the future for the enjoyment of the present.

Second, it can become the advocate of those groups of hungry and destitute men who live outside the industrially developed society. For no man will be abundant unless all are abundant; no man will be satisfied if some lack satisfaction; no man will be happy until all are happy. The struggle against hunger and poverty through the forces of industrialization must be either universal and without distinction or it has not even begun.

Moltmann, Jürgen Religion, Revolution and the Future. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969. Trans. M. Douglas Meeks. 122-3. Print.

Print Friendly


Hans Kung says Catholic Justification is not Synergistic

Hans Kung Universidad de Educación a Distancia (2011) (source: wikipedia)

Hans Kung Universidad de Educación a Distancia (2011)
(source: wikipedia)

Hans Küng's Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection proposes a solution to the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae that has captivated me, and I've been writing a series on this excellent work.

In the following quotations, Küng addresses the question of whether the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification (and Trent too) is synergistic, or as Küng calls it: Partly-Partly. And his answer is No! The difference between Catholics and Protestants is a matter of emphasis. Protestants focus on the work of God in justifying the man, and Catholics focus on the outcome of the justification of a man. Both are entirely the work of God. The Protestants do not deny that the justification of man by God is without results in the sinner, and that the Catholics do not deny that the works of a man are entirely given to the man who works. Protestants and Catholics emphasize the different sides of the same coin of the Doctrine of Justification.

There remains a further discussion to be had over what Protestants and Catholics mean by grace (habitus) that is needed to answer all the questions, but the following quotations explains how Protestants and Catholics are arguing about two sides of the same coin.

The first quotation contains the assertion that the differences between Protestants and Catholics are only imaginary difference:

Trent’s teaching on justification can be correctly understood only in the context of history of dogma. In this context, however, it can and must be understood correctly. This, for the time being, is our preliminary answer to Karl Barth’s polemic against Trent. Protestants speak of a declaration of justice and Catholics of a making just. But Protestants speak of a declaring just which includes a making just; and Catholics of a making just which supposes a declaring just. Is it not time to stop arguing about imaginary differences?

Küng, Hans Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004. 221. Print.

This next quotation rejects the Protestant criticism that the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification is partly-partly, such that man works in part and God works in party, in a "synergism in which God and man pull on the same rope." Küng demonstrates that no such synergism belongs to the Roman Catholicism.

Kirchgaessner: “‘Be reconciled with God!’ This means man must respond to the redemptive will of God so as to have his mind changed in regard to God. Faith and conversion is thus the second step, made necessary as soon as God has taken the first. At first man is passive. God acts on him as an object, but it is precisely through this activity of God that he is made active” (Erlösung p. 105)

Therefore, Trent’s cooperari implies no synergism in which God and man pull on the same rope. It is never as though justification came partly from God and partly from man. It has been sufficiently emphasized that the sinner can do nothing without the grace of Jesus Christ. “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor 4:7). “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor 3:5).

Everything comes from God, even what man does. A “supplementation” of divine justification is out of the question, God’s glory is not belittled. God wants man’s highest activity, but this can grow only from a complete passivity, from a receptivity brought about by God. The vital point is that God accomplishes everything. But it does not follow from this that He accomplishes it alone. On the contrary the greatest marvel of God’s accomplishing everything is that man accomplishes along with Him as a result of God’s accomplishment. Sacred Scripture makes both points, as does Trent (D 797): “Restore us to thyself, O LORD, that we may be restored!” (Lam 5:21), and “Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you” (Zech 1:3)

Ibid. 265

And an additional response explaining the same thing in response to Karl Barth:

We have seen once again how unfounded was [Karl] Barth’s polemic against the Council of Trent. It may have become clear now that, according to Catholic and Tridentine teaching on justification too, there is no other recourse for the sinner than to place his whole trust in the Lord.

In the problem of the certainty of faith, Barth’s misunderstanding of the strictly “subjective” character of the Tridentine concept of justification shows up once again. Obviously, Trent did not intend to question the certainty of, and absolute confidence in, that (“objective”) justification which took place for everything in the death and resurrection of Christ. But in the question of certainty as to the (“subjective”) realization of justification, and in the matter of trust in this having happened, the Council intended to make sure that its approach was tempered by an awareness of human frailty and sinful unreliability.

But this discovery is not enough for an answer to our questions. We need further clarification. What about human co-operation, sanctification, and merit?

Ibid. 263-4

Much of the differences between Protestants and Catholics is how to understand the word "grace" or habitus. 

Barth's fears that God's grace might become, perniciously, 'my' grace are unfounded if we keep in view the fact that grace is mine only as the grace of God; I never "have" it; it is never simply at my disposal. The term habitus is not meant in the sense of "having" grace, but, as Bonaventure explains "to hold is to be held" [..]. Grace is given to me each day as something completely new. It becomes "my" grace--as a consequence of the incarnation--but always as a grace alien to me, according to the paradoxical formulation of Trent: [..] ("Thus, it is not personal effort that makes justice our own."--D809). The 'Index of Celestine' states in Chap. 2: "Unless he who alone is good grants a participation in his being, no one has goodness within himself. This truth is proclaimed by that prontiff (Innocent I) in the following sentence: 'For the future, can we expect anything good from those who mentality is such that they think they are the cause of their goodness and do not take into account him whose grace they obtain each day, and who hope to accomplish so much without him?" And in Chap. 6: "The same teacher Zosimus instructed us to acknowledge this truth when, speaking to the bishops of the world about the assistance of divine grace, he said: 'Is there ever a time when we do not need his help? Therefore, in every action and situation, in every thought and movement, we must pray to him as our helper and protector'" (D 131 and 135)

Ibid. 205


Print Friendly


The Rogers/McKim Proposal: Inerrancy vs Calvin and Westminster Confession of Faith

Gerard Dou (source:wikipedia)

Gerard Dou (source:wikipedia)

Jack Rogers and Donald McKim's historical analysis of the Doctrine of the Inspiration of Scriptures, The Authority and Inspiration of the Bible (AIB), created a firestorm in the late 1970's due its conclusion that the Reformers' Doctrine of Inspiration (exemplified by John Calvin and the Westminster Confession of Faith) was abandoned by Protestant Scholasticism (exemplified by Francis Turretin and John Owen) and Old Princeton (exemplified by Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield and A.A. Hodge) who replaced it with a mechanical view of inspiration that was foreign to the Reformers. This departure by Turretin and Old Princeton became firmly established in Evangelicalism until today, a grievous example is the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. [See my previous articles on Calvin's use of Accommodation and Calvin's allowance for errors in the autographs for examples of how Luther and Calvin would not affirm Inerrancy.]

The Reformers emphasized faith seeking understanding as they approached the Bible, and expected to learn from it how to become wise unto salvation, and that they believed that the bible used accommodation to reveal truth that didn't require absolute precision in every factual detail, such that we possessed the Inspired Word of God in the manuscripts that we now possess, and not in the lost and non-existing original autographs! Turretin and Old Princeton inverted this approach to scripture and elevated reason over faith in their hermeneutic and stretched the meaning of the inspiration of the Scriptures to extreme ends, such that the very words were mechanically inspired and that the very words (ipsissima verba) were absolutely precise in every scientific detail of all areas of knowledge, and at the climax of mechanical inspiration's development, this precision was extended to even the Hebrew vowel pointers of the Masoretic Text and included an assertion that the inerrant original autographs were still extent in the 17th century despite some variants in various known copies before these claims became scientifically indefensible, such that a subsequent retreat to the non-existing original autographs entailed to defend their novel and unassailable tautology.

The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible is a survey of the history of the Doctrine of Inspiration from birth of Christianity until today. It contains an excellent assessment of Plato and Aristotle and their influence on the Christian tradition of this loci of scripture, and it contains an overview of the principle contributors to the development of the Doctrine of Inspiration. The book is particularly valuable to Presbyterians who cherish the reformed tradition, John Calvin, and the Westminister Confession of Faith. AIB is not a 'turn back the clock' book because it includes an excellent appendix on G.C. Berkouwer and Karl Barth as examples of better approaches of solutions to understanding scripture that have developed in the Reformed Church tradition.

The publication of Authority and Inspiration of the Bible caused a firestorm of criticism during the Battle for the Bible, and generated endless books and articles "refuting" the Rogers/McKim Proposal. Rather than responding to any of them, I will share some quotations from the "Rogers/McKim Proposal" to encourage Evangelicals to read this excellent book!

This first quote summarizes the problem that Francis Turretin introduced:

A century after Calvin's death, the chair of theology in Geneva was occupied by Francis Turretin (1632-1687). In that interval of one hundred years Reformed Protestants had reacted to Catholic criticism and the new science, and the reigning theological method was closer to that of a Counter-Reformation interpretation of Thomas Aquinas than to that of Calvin. A doctrine of Scripture that made the Bible a formal principal rather than a living witness had been gradually developed. Turretin further solidified this shift of emphasis from the content to the form of words of Scripture as the source of its authority. He treated the forms of words of Scripture as supernatural and increasingly divorced the text of the Bible from the attention of scholarship and an application to life.

In the generation immediately following Francis Turretin in Geneva, his son, Jean-Alphonse Turretin (1648-1737) led a revolt against scholastic theology that opened the doors to liberalism. Francis Turretin's theology was to be revived, however, and have its greatest influence in America during the era of the old Princeton theology in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At Princeton, further refinements were made in the scholastic doctrine of Scripture, but the foundation had been solidly laid by Turretin.

Rogers, Jack Bartlett., and Donald K. McKim. The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979. 172. Print.

The following quotation explains John Calvin's Concept of Error in the Inspired Scriptures:

For Calvin, technical errors in the Bible that were the result of human slips of memory, limited knowledge, or the use of texts for different purposes than the original were all part of the normal human means of communication. They did not call into question the divine character of Scripture's message. Nor did they hinder the completely adequate communication of God's Word. In fact, they enhanced the telling of the Good News because they were part of God's gracious accommodation of himself to human means and thus made the message more persuasive to human beings. Scholars could and should deal openly and honestly with technical problems according to Calvin's theory and his own practice. Calvin would not allow, however, that a biblical writer had ever deliberately lied, or knowingly told an untruth. Error in the moral and ethical realm was far removed from the biblical writers.

Ibid. 111

Just as Calvin did not expect the Bible to be a repository of technically accurate information on language or history, neither did he expect that the biblical data should be used to question the findings of science. Calvin did not feel that the Bible's teaching had to be harmonized with science. The purpose of Scripture was to bring persons into a right relationship with God and their fellow creatures. Science was in another sphere and was to be judged by its own criteria. In his commentary on Genesis 1:14-16, Calvin faced the issue of the relationship of the Bible to the science of his day. The problem to some people was that the moon was spoken of in the Bible being one of the two great lights, with the starts being mentioned only incidentally. Astronomers of Calvin's day had proved that Saturn, because of its great distance from earth appeared to be a lesser light than the moon, but was really a greater light.

Ibid. 111-2

AIB provides a powerful argument that the appeal to the original autographs became a primary tenant to Inerrancy because it was no longer possible to state the science supported Inerrancy. Charles Hodge believed that science supported mechanical inspiration, but A.A. Hodge lead the retreat to the inerrant original autograph tautology:

Despite the intended uniformity of thought among the Princeton theologians, significant changes were made in successive generations. Archibald Alexander began with religious experience and used reason and evidence to confirm it. Charles Hodge continued to honor religious experience as a valid basis for personal religion. He preferred the internal evidence the Bible presented to the reader over external evidences of its authority. But in the classroom and in writing Hodge asserted that theology was a science and stressed objective proofs of the Bible's divinity. By the time of his son, A. A. Hodge, the sciences were no longer supporting Princeton theories of biblical inerrancy. A. A. Hodge rested his case on external evidences, but shifted the object of inerrancy to the original (lost) autographs of the biblical text.

Ibid. 310

I learned that the Dutch Calvinists were not consumed by the Turretin/old-Princeton aberration, and had remained far more faithful to Calvin and the Reformers of accommodation. I've explored Herman Bavinck's analysis of Inspiration in his Reformed Dogmatics and his personal view of organic inspiration.

Together, [Abraham] Kuyper and [Herman] Bavinck perpetuated a theological method which, particularly with regard to Scripture, followed the line of Augustine and the Reformers rather than that of the post-Reformation scholasticism preferred by the Princeton theology. The Dutch Reformed tradition held to the Augustinian method that faith leads to understanding rather than the medieval scholastic view that reasons were necessary prior to faith. Thus, the primary issue for the Dutch Reformed tradition was the functional one of how God related to humankind rather than the philosophical issue of whether God's existence could be proved. In relation to the Bible, that meant the Holy Spirit moved persons to accept Scripture as authoritative because of the saving message it expressed rather than that human reason compelled persons to believe the Bible because of evidential or logical proofs of its divine character.

Ibid. 389


Print Friendly