Historical-Criticism Critiqued - Part 7

by Etta Linneman

(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.

Capturing Young Minds

The course of studies has the character of a secondary socialization. The student is profoundly affected. He takes up formal study as a rank novice, as one who knows nothing and can do nothing and is ignorant of the practices and rules of the game. In order to be accepted, he must own these practices and rules and attain the expertise and knowledge that count.

The student is inundated by a veritable flood of information which no pedagogical device is able to hold back. The professor disseminates in lectures and seminars the results of a life's work, which is based on the work of prior generations of researchers. For their part the students have trouble just comprehending the methods by which the professor's results are obtained. In view of this deluge of information it is difficult to hold onto the insights into God's Word one had at the beginning of formal study, especially when such insights are disqualified as "unscientific." The student who is a believer often encounters opposition from instructors in these forms:

Condescension: "I'm sure you'll catch on eventually!"

Temptation: "For crying out loud, accept this viewpoint at least theoretically and see how it works!"

Seduction: "Is you're faith then so weak, and do you trust God so little, that you refuse to accept this idea?"

Thus is the student led personally to accept ideas that conflict with what previously was learned in God's Word. At the same time, the student faces powerful peer pressure. To the extent that the student is increasingly initiated into the historical-critical mode of thinking, he becomes alienated from those with whom he once shared close fellowship in the faith. They no longer "speak the same language," and the student has a hard time listening to them. He no longer understands them, and vice versa. Isolated, the person stands in danger of thinking himself superior and so becomes all the more susceptible to the peer pressure exerted by instructors and fellow students.

The student also must present papers which demonstrate that the approach of historical-critical theology has been sufficiently appropriated. He is compelled to think, to talk, and to write historically-critically. Apart from overt intervention of God's grace this leads to a weighty shift in thinking and in faith. The person is no longer the same, for this handling of God's Word is fundamentally transformed, even in reading for personal edification. What was learned in studies interposes itself between the Christian and the Word and bars access.

Shifting the Meaning of Words

In the practical handling of the Christian tradition common to historical-critical theology, something takes place which, in the study of gnosticism, has come to be called pseudomorphosis.

Pseudomorphosis occurs when concepts are emptied of their original meaning and then filled with a new content which has no more in common with the original meaning than the name itself. This confusion of meanings is encountered at every turn in theological science. Biblical concepts such as justification by faith, substitution, grace, redemption, freedom, original sin, faith, prayer, and Jesus' divine sonship continue to be used, but in such a way that they are given new and different meanings.

That Jesus is God's Son, for example, is often not taken to mean that he is "God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God." It is understood as just a cipher which expresses that there was something special about the "historical Jesus" which sets him apart from other great figures in history, and that in him we are-somehow-in contact with God. In this connection one hears the expression that every age has its own fate and must work out its own Christology. I have heard this formula for the last thirty years. I used to propagate it myself and with great fervor waited for such a Christology-in vain. It turned out that this formula was just a charter that allowed what God's Word tells us about our Lord and Savior Jesus to be set aside as nonbinding, as the Christology of the past.

It is common to hear scholars assert that Messiah is just an honorable title, as are "Son of God"and "Savior." Such titles, it is said, were attached to Jesus by various segments of early Christianity. They did this to express His "relevance" to those who associated their religious hopes with such titles. Today many do not hesitate to say that through such titles Jesus "was hyped by His followers"-He was claimed to be something He actually never was.

Anyone who adopts this manner of thinking forsakes plain faith in God's Word and brings havoc on personal experience with God as a result. "If you believe, you will receive," Luther stated rightly. If I disbelieve, or believe only part of what God's Word says about Jesus, then He will be correspondingly less to me personally. I will experience Jesus only to the level my faith allows, and by my attitude I will lack in His blessings and His fellowship. Let us not be dissuaded from the position that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior, even if we are accused of using an obsolete and unsatisfactory philosophy because we, in the view of some, accept mere words as facts.

There is just one concept dealing with salvation from the Holy Scripture which has not been included in the above-mentioned confusion of terms: the blood of Jesus. This has not been redefined but simply rejected. It is pushed aside with the claim that talk of blood is a dubious leftover from an era in which, for both Jews and non-Jews, blood sacrifice was the order of the day.

Only the Holy Spirit can give us the light we need to see through this confusion of terms. We can ask God for the wisdom to do this. We are dealing here with a web of deception that is so finely spun and woven that we can get by it only with the help of the Holy Spirit. Let us not deceive ourselves: the theology professors believe what they say. They themselves are caught in the web, until God by grace takes them out of the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of his dear Son (Col. 1:13-14).

(to be concluded)