Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Dangerous Devotions: Reflections on the Bifurcation of Faith and History - Part 1

It’s hard to read very long under the heading of Jesus/Gospel Studies without confronting the division (okay, I just thought bifurcation was a cool sounding word and wanted to use it) between faith and history, or more specifically the “Jesus of History” and the “Christ of Faith” also commonly expressed as the “Quest for the Historical Jesus.” The attempt to apply historical critical methods to the Gospels as an outgrowth and application of Enlightenment epistemology led to this division in New Testament studies, especially those in Germany during the last few centuries. This bifurcation has continued into the present in academic NT studies via Bultmann and his successors on the continent and the Jesus Seminar here in the states. Recent fascinations with the historical Jesus have only become more popular due to best sellers like the Gospel of Judas and the Da Vinci Code not to mention the works of Ehrman and others. The ultimate application that comes from many writing from such a vantage point is typically one of two extremes: 1) Reject the Christian faith as historically groundless OR 2) Leave historical inquiry for the academy (the historical Jesus) and cling blindy to the teaching of the “church” (the Christ of faith).

What I’ve enjoyed so much about reading Wright in Jesus and the Victory of God is that he exposes such thinking for exactly what it is…a false dilemma. Christianity has NOTHING to fear from history and historical inquiry. While some “historians” may be overcome by their supposed objectivity that is actually saturated with ignored or suppressed presuppositions, the fact remains, Christianity ultimately rests on historical fact. Faith is not ultimately blind, but instead in historical evidence…namely the revelation of God in the Bible. It is neither contra history nor ahistorical. What does this have to do with the title? Glad you asked. While fundamentalism and conservative evangelicals have always avoided and confronted such liberal assumptions, my concern (and experience) is that they have frequently been guilty of the very same bifurcation via false dilemma…albeit for different reasons and with nothing but the best of intentions. But this post is already long enough, so I'll save that charge in it's specificity and unpacking for Part 2.


jrgordon13 said...

To be honest, I have tended to shy away from Wright simply because of my lack of knowledge. I know little about him except for some of his thoughts on the new perspective of Paul and justification. I guess I should take a look at him. What do you think about his take on the new perspective, and is he pretty much on target in his other areas? I would appreciate the insight. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hey Nate, Dr. Klem here. No comment on the discussion, although I think it is interesting, but I was wondering if you could give my Nota Bene to Greg Dietrich or drop it off at the school. Thanks

NWMihelis said...

Dr. Klem,

Welcome to the blogosphere! I haven't forgoten, I promise.


Based on what I've read, Wright's work on Jesus/Gospel Studies is far less controversial (for conservatives) than his work on Paul. Though liberals probably hate his work on Paul more than his work on the Gospels. A link you may find helpful for setting the context in which he's writing is http://sacradoctrina.blogspot.com/2006/07/tom-wright-and-reactions.html

I think it may help clear up a lot of confusion about who Wright is engaging in his books and why he has a broad appeal. This essay deserves a wide reading and has already appeared (the link) in my comments section before, one of these days, I'm going to put it in an actual post.