Thursday 4 August 2005

Number One: the greatest achievement of modern theology

The countdown is complete. Here it is, folks—the greatest achievement of modern theology. As you can see, it was a clear winner all along, with no serious competitors:

The historical-critical method. Here is our winner—the historical-critical interpretation of the Bible. What else can compete with the historical-critical method, in terms of radical, pervasive, irrevocable importance? What else has more radically revolutionised the theological task? What else has more fundamentally transformed the way we approach every theological question? What else has more powerfully propelled theological thinking forward into new insights and new directions? If every other achievement of modern theology has crumbled away within a few hundred years, then this one will still stand as a monument—hopefully a living monument—to the genius of nineteenth-century thought.

In recent years much has been said about the inherent limitations of the historical-critical method. And it’s true that we cannot allow our reading of Scripture to be limited solely to historical-critical interpretation. It’s true that we must place due emphasis on other things as well—on content (Sache), and narrative, and canon. But it would nevertheless be an unforgivable retrogression if we ever moved away from the historical-critical method itself. Rather than moving away from it, we must instead move through historical-critical interpretation into new understandings and new articulations of the Bible’s subject-matter.

As long as we are aware of the historicity of human existence, the historicity of God’s self-revelation, and the historicity of the Bible itself, it should be impossible—yes, unthinkable—for us ever to abandon historical-critical interpretation. We should sooner abandon our homes to live in caves.

1 Comment:

Looney said...

As I look at the historical-critical method and the 19th century books that I have on my bookshelf, they had pretty much proven that the Old Testament was a corruption of Zoroastrianism, Ishtar and a just about all of the other ancient temple prostitution cults. This corruption took place around the 2nd or 3rd century BC, due to the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes!

Fortunately, modern progressive theologians have retreated from much of this, thanks to the Dead Sea Scrolls among other things. But I must also agree with you: the historical-critical method is here to stay and it will have a major impact on belief - along with the Da Vinci Code.

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