Humans have always had a curiosity to discover the unknown. For this reason, the rise of the enlightenment offered the historical-critical method of interpreting scripture. The age of reason promoted by Kant and Descartes crept into the hermeneutics of biblical study. Descartes promoted that “doubt, not faith, was to be the path to knowledge…every claim to truth was to go through critical analysis.” This belief led to an obsession with nihilism and questioned whether certainty could be discovered. Regrettably, with the rise of liberal theology, the search for the historical Jesus created a divide between the authentic Jesus and the Jesus of faith.
A prime example of enlightenment and the historical-critical practice was the advancement of Rudolph Bultmann’s writings. He detailed in his book Kerygma and Myth that “the New Testament is essentially mythical in character.” Because the enlightenment did not accept the supernatural breakthrough of God, Bultmann “demythologized” the Bible. Larry Helyer wrote, “the intent of demythologizing is to recover the kerygma’s existential message.” Thus, Bultmann proposed that basic Christian doctrines such as the virgin birth, miracles and resurrection were part of the pre-scientific worldview. At best, such ideas were fanciful to the contemporary mind. Bultmann continued,
Now that the focus and laws of nature have been discovered, we can no longer believe in spirits, whether good or evil. The miracles of the New Testament have ceased to be miraculous. He found it difficult to obtain a satisfactory solution to our postmodern theological questions. As a child of the historical-critical school, he challenged the authority of the Bible as the Word of God in the existential world. Helyer commented, “one unintended consequence of the Bultmannian agenda was the ‘death of God’ fad during the 1960s made popular by such figures as Bishop A.T. Robinson, Paul Altizer and Paul Van Buren.” His publications influenced many contemporary theologians to not accept Christianity as a historical faith.
Liberal scholars contend that Paul was “an innovator in his Christology.” However, evangelical scholarship has confronted these deadly opinions. Commentators in the vein of Anthony Thieselton have clearly examined the unity of the scriptures. In The Living Paul, Thieselton noticed numerous similarities with Jesus the man and Paul’s teachings on the key topics of grace, love, and women. The growth of evangelical scholarship has revealed the faulty presuppositions of enlightenment thinking. Helyer asserted that not only did “an evangelical approach presuppose the inspiration and authority of Scripture,” but also it was an indispensable premise for Christian belief.
Evangelical biblical theology approached scripture as a consistent unity in its diversity. The Bible communicated God’s purpose in history and life through people. The unity of scripture was discerned in one Person, Jesus Christ who stood at the center of God’s redemptive history. Helyer disputed the “contention that Paul never actually affirmed that the exalted Lord Jesus personally preexisted and had an active role in creation is simply unconvincing.” Others believed that Paul created a divine Christ from the simple man who taught high ideals. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth when Jesus explicitly proclaimed that he and his Father were one. For “in Paul’s mind Christ was equated with the wisdom of God and the Word of God.” Thus, “biblical theology is the culmination of an intensive, systematic study of the Christian canon, Holy Scripture. It summarizes the message of the Bible and articulates it leading themes and ideas in a coherent, organized manner.” The suspicion inherent with the historical-critical method must be critiqued by the overarching theme of God’s kingdom authority in scripture.
As a pastor-scholar, I recognize that sermons and doctrine stand under the authority and influence of scripture. Biblical theology “is the lifeblood of the church. There is unquestionably a correlation between the pastor’s grasp of biblical theology and the spiritual vitality of the parishioners.” My passion remains to vibrantly guide the church and academy to embrace a historical faith that changes lives for Christ. Indeed, a thinking faith led by the Spirit can produce sanctified people. John Webster affirms that “Christian theology of holiness is an exercise of holy reason.” There is no greater joy for a pastor than to mentor a congregation in this vital direction of faith. I remain, therefore, a pastor-scholar in search of the certainty found in Holy Scripture and Jesus, the Messiah.
, Lesslie. Newbigin. Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt & Certainty in Christian Discipleship. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 21.
Rudolph Bultmann. ed. H. W. Bartsch, trans. R. H. Fuller, Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate. (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), 1.
Larry R. Helyer. The Witness of Jesus, Paul and John: An Exploration in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 64.
James D. G. Dunn. (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 197.
Anthony C. Thiselton. The Living Paul. An Introduction to the Apostle’s Life and Thought. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2009), 4-9.
John Webster. Holiness. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 10.
Bultmann, Rudolph. Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate, ed. H. W. Bartsch, trans. R. H. Fuller, New York: Harper & Row, 1961.
Dunn, James D. G. (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Helyer, Larry R. The Witness of Jesus, Paul and John: An Exploration in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008.
Newbigin, Lesslie. Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt & Certainty in Christian Discipleship. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.
Thiselton, Anthony C. The Living Paul. An Introduction to the Apostle’s Life and Thought. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2009.
Webster, John. Holiness. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.