The well-known maxim of G. E. Lessing, that the “accidental truths of history can never be the proof of the necessary truths of reason,” had a clearly negative bearing upon the total question of revelation. The obvious fact that Christianity rests upon events which occurred in time and space served to put it into sharp antithesis to any form of religion which claimed to rest upon, and to confine itself to, truths independent of historical facts. The rationalism of Lessing’s day has, of course, fallen into discredit; but the central fallacy of his argument has been retained by forms of thought which are not directly related to rationalism.
Forms of “Christian” thought which disallow the validity of the Christian revelation-claim are finding themselves involved in fresh ways with the question of the relevance of historical fact for their systems. These forms share with the rationalism of the eighteenth century a quest for integrity, no less than a desire for some form of “universality.” Total creedlessness has proved to be unsatisfactory, while reason itself has been subjected to the most rigid criticism. History itself has been treated with increasing caution, particularly at the point of the alleged possibility of completely objective history.
Movements in biblical criticism have sought, in varying degrees, to reduce the narratives of the biblical record to terms of a purely natural form of historical events. The success of these attempts has proved to be less spectacular than critics of fifty years ago would have dreamed. So long as the narratives were accorded historical integrity at all, they had a remarkable vitality, a remarkable ability to reassert themselves in the midst of ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more