Historical-Criticism Critiqued Part 3

by Etta Linnemann

(Editor's preface: How have conservatives and liberals come to be so far apart? Etta Linnemann has seen both sides, for she was first a student of Rudolph Bultmann and Ernst Fuchs and later a professor of theology at Braunschweig Technical University-until the Lord showed her the falsity of the historical-critical system. ("My ‘no' to historical-critical theology stems from my ‘yes!' to my wonderful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ….") This series is taken from Chapter Six of her now-out-print book, Historical Criticism of the Bible-Methodology or Ideology? [Baker Books, c. 1990].) In it Ms. Linnemann reveals not only the false assumptions of historical criticism but also how students are caught up in the system and turned into reproductions of their liberal professors.

Critical Reason and Reality

For historical-critical theology, critical reason decides what in the Bible is reality and what cannot be reality; and this decision is made on the basis of the everyday experience accessible to every person. Nothing is accepted as fact unless it is generally held to be possible. That which is spiritual is judged using fleshly criteria. Experiences of God's children are totally disregarded.

Due to the presuppositions that are adopted, critical reason loses sight of the fact that the Lord, our God, the Almighty, reigns. One is obviously not in the position to take account of modern-day miracles, even if they are plausibly attested and medically proven. A major reason for this is that the books which glorify the Lord by reporting such incidents will only be handled by certain publishers. These are publishers whose publications are disparaged by historical-critical theologians. As a matter of principle and without personally examining the evidence, the theologians write them off as popular religious drivel.

In its own eyes, historical-critical theology wants to lend assistance to the proclamation of the gospel through an interpretation of the Bible that is scientifically reliable and objective. There is, however, a monstrous contradiction between what it says it wants to do, on the one hand, and what it actually does, on the other. In light of all I have already said, it should be patently obvious that the manner in which historical-critical theology handles the Bible does not further the proclamation of the gospel, but rather hinders it-in fact, even prevents it.

But worse yet, it is simply not true that historical-critical theology has replaced subjective impressions with a well-grounded discovery of the truth through careful weighing of arguments.

The contradiction between theory and practice, between ideal and reality, shows itself already when one becomes familiar with the pertinent literature. In theory, all relevant historical-critical publications on a given theme would be taken into account. In practice this turns out to be impossible due to the constantly-growing flood of publications.

How far back one's investigation goes must be given an arbitrary cut-off point. The limit is usually either 1900 or perhaps 1945. In the period 1900-1945, only selected classics of historical-critical theology receive mention. Very, very few works written before 1900 are considered. And who undertakes the linguistic preparation required to study books penned by colleagues in modern Greek, Spanish, or Japanese-just to name a few examples? Historical-critical theology's search for truth already stumbles at the point of so much linguistically-inaccessible literature which it must neglect.

In addition, it is often difficult even to procure literature that is known and accessible. Explicitly or implicitly, the scope of research is restricted to "the literature accessible to me." Many have resorted to a new means of dealing with the flood of literature. Linguists especially favor this method, in which literature that does not employ the same particular methods which a given scholar favors is excluded as a matter of principle.

More and more one observes the use of still another questionable tactic to get around dealing with literature which, given its theme, obviously ought to be worked through intensively: A relevant book is cited, and after a distorted summary a few lines in length it is so negatively assessed that there appears to be no need to pay further attention to it. This way a scholar can spare himself labor which might delay the publication of his own work by years.

We conclude that we need look no further than how literature is employed to call into serious question the much-vaunted objectivity of historical-critical theology.

Academic Self-Deception

The claim that truth is discovered on the basis of critical argumentation is another self-deception. Mutually opposing hypotheses can usually be supported by arguments of somewhat equal weight, sometimes even by the same researcher. Depending on how one regards the established authorities or evidences in a given area, one will be impressed mainly by that which confirms one's own assumptions. If opposing arguments are scrutinized in the investigation, they inevitably turn out to be unconvincing. Such scrutiny, therefore, tends only to corroborate and stabilize one's own thesis.

In the isolated instance where a viewpoint is altered-which occurs especially seldom with scholars of rank-new arguments, just as persuasive as the old ones but supporting the new position, are adduced. Reason in academics, one could conclude, is susceptible to prostitution.2

In scholars' dealings with each other, apart from publications, the overwhelming tendency is to maintain positions already adopted. When one sends a publication to an established scholar for review, a normal response is, "Your remarks are very interesting, but I cannot go along with them." No reasons for this are given. That is not a character flaw but a reaction growing naturally out of the way things are. The professor in his teaching must cover a relatively wide area. He can, however, at any given time only pursue in depth such questions as pertain to the small specialized area on which he happens to be working. Even there his deliberations are largely determined by his previous investigations, so that any acceptance of new ideas would demand an excessive amount of revision of formerly held views. Such revision is not to be expected when so many other professorial duties beckon.

For these reasons, the acceptance of results from more recent research by scholars who have already formed an opinion in a broad area is inevitably arbitrary. The name of the author of a publication and the school to which he belongs often determine how a publication is received. Under these presuppositions, the vaunted objectivity of historical-critical interpretation of the Bible is doomed to failure from the outset.

2 [Linnemann's point is how arbitrary the defense of theological positions can be. An "objective" and "scientific" theologian argues confidently, even vehemently, for one position this week, and just as confidently and vehemently for an opposing view the next. When the subject is the eternal truth of God's Word, and when the theologian's rationality "serves as a whore" (ist nun einmal eine Hure in Linnemann's words) to legitimize each new position taken, then some skepticism toward -"new" arguments and positions may be justified-translator's note.]

(to be continued)