Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Historical-Critical Enterprise

"One way to characterize the whole historical-critical enterprise as it relates to the Bible in the modern era and continues in our own day is to see it as the embodiment of the motive behind a popular bumper sticker that reads, 'Jesus, save us from your followers.' And who cannot fail to have at least some sympathy with such a hope? Alas, the hope itself is illogical, and its pursuit destructive of its own religious object. For without his followers, it makes no sense to speak of a Jesus who saves. Christ Jesus may remain faithful while we are faithless, as Scripture claims (2 Tim. 2:13); but in that case Christ Jesus also remains unknown. Stripped of a Church whose life in history conforms to the object of its worship, this Jesus becomes wrapped in obscurities and hidden by arbitrary claims of the moment."

~ Ephraim Radner, Hope Among the Fragments: The Broken Church and Its Engagement of Scripture (2004)


Anonymous said...

Nice quote Bryan, it reminds me to first look at myself for the cause of any problem/division, then to sink deeper till I encounter Jesus, then to go forth from there in 'His will' not my own agenda.

hawk said...


Can you speak to what you think Radner is trying to say? I tend to be cautious of the whole historical-critical enterprise in regards to Sunday proclamation, but I am reluctant to disregard the implications of a judicious and reflective study of the scriptures. It is probable that there are those in the historical-critical movement that are out to kill off the Jesus of faith, but I'm not sure that I would understand what it means to have a faith in salvation through Christ Jesus without the reflections of the historical-critical movement.

The bumper sticker is a case in point: "Jesus, save us from your followers." I get Radner's point here, but I also believe the slogan is an attempt to challenge an unreflective and reactive Christianity that has little resemblance to the apostolic faith. For me the bumper sticker should cause us to pause and ask what it is we are saying or doing that would cause people to put this sticker on their car.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for the comments, hawk.

I think it's important to note that Radner prefaces this by writing "One way to characterize the whole historical-critical enterprise," not "The only way ...". I don't read Radner as rejecting historical-critical approaches to the Bible per se. Instead, I read him as critical of ways of using that approach that effectively elevate the individual as an authority above and beyond both scripture and the church in ways that render both optional if even that necessary. I think a good example of the sort of thing Radner would be critical of is Robin R. Meyers' Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus.

While the bumper sticker slogan may very well be, as you say, "an attempt to challenge an unreflective and reactive Christianity that has little resemblance to the apostolic faith," it can also be used to challenge or even outright reject the validity of the apostolic faith itself. Once again, Meyers' book is a case in point.