Thursday, April 9, 2009

Why history does (and does not) matter?

In the preface to the first edition of Der Romerbrief (1918) [which has been described as a hand grenade lobbed into the world of academic theology!], Karl Barth began:
Paul, as a child of his age, addressed his contemporaries. It is, however, far more important that, as Prophet and Apostle of the Kingdom of God, her veritably speaks to all men of very age. The differences between then and now, there and here, no doubt require careful investigation and consideration. But the purpose of such investigation can only be to demonstrate that these differences are, in fact, purely trivial.
The historical-critical method of Biblical investigation has its rightful place…. But, were I driven to choose between it and the venerable doctrine of Inspiration, I should without hesitation adopt the latter, which has a broader, deeper, more important justification. The doctrine of Inspiration is concerned with the labour of apprehending, without which no technical equipment, however complete, is of any use whatever. Fortunately, I am not compelled to choose between the two. Nevertheless, my whole energy of interpreting has been expended in an endeavour to see through and beyond history into the spirit of the Bible, which is the Eternal Spirit.

Some things are very different today than two thousand years ago and even twenty years ago. Whether, it is the internet, medicine, the end of the cold war, postmodernism, global warming, crime, divorce, ..... we live in an era of rapid change. But, we should not lose sight of the fact that who we are (our humanity, our sinfulness, our creativity, our sexuality, our desire for relationships and community,...) has not changed in two thousand years. And who God is has not changed either. These are the issues that the Bible speaks to in a timeless manner.

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