Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Albert Schweitzer

I am currently reading for my comprehensive exams (the comps, as they are know around here), and I just finished Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus. Overall, I thought that it was a very interesting book that helped me get a global perspective on a century of German historical higher critical thought (with the inclusion of a few French authors), starting with Hess and Reinhard in the early 1800s.

While reading it, I think I found confirmation of a thought I had about the "liberals" of the time. It seems to me that while we might quickly dismiss them as having played a pivotal role in the crumbling of Christianity, they themselves did not think that they were doing so. Their Christian identity was strong enough that they did not see how their attacks on the text of Scripture would damage Christianity. Listen to what Schweitzer writes:

"God-manhood, the highest idea conceived by human thought, is actually in the historic personality of Jesus. But while conventional thinking supposes that this phenomenal realisation must be perfect, true thought which has attained by genuine critical reasoning to a higher freedom, knows that no idea can realise itself perfectly on the historic plane, and that its truth does not depend on the proof of its having received perfect external representation, but that its perfection comes about through that which the idea carries into history, or through the way in which history is sublimated into idea.
. . . However far criticism may go in providing the reaction of the idea upon the presentment of the historical course of the life of Jesus, the fact that Jesus represented that idea and called it to life among mankind is something real, something that no criticism can annul. It is alive thenceforward—to this day, and forever more.

It is in this emancipation of spirit, and in the consciousness that Jesus as the creator of the religion of humanity is beyond the reach of criticism, that Strauss goes to work, and batters down the rubble, assured that his pick can make no impression on the stone" (78-79).

And again, as he concludes his book:

"Jesus means something to our world because a mighty Spiritual force streams forth from Him and flows through our time also. This fact can neither be shaken nor confirmed by any historical discovery. It IS the solid foundation of Christianity.
. . . further we must be prepared to find that the historical knowledge of the personality and life of Jesus will not be a help, but perhaps even an offence to religion.

But the truth is, it is not Jesus as historically known, but Jesus as spiritually arisen within men. who is significant for our time and can help it. Not the historical Jesus, but the spirit which goes forth from Him and in the spirits of men strives for new inuence and rule, is that which overcomes the world" (393-95).

It sure does sound like he thought that their work could not and would not crumble their Christian faith (their stone). Unfortunately, what Schweitzer did not realize is that their arbitrary and subjective rationalistic assault on the veracity of the text of the Bible did not just leave an impression on the next generation's stone, for some, it shattered it. This is a good warning for our generation of Christian thinkers.

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