After the fanciful reconstructions of the life of Jesus by Strauss, Renan, and other nineteenth-century writers, Martin Kähler proposed a new theory of history and faith. This theory has been adopted in the main by Barth, Bultmann, and many contemporaries, and therefore demands attention.
The motivation of this new theory of history was the preservation of the Christian faith despite the inescapable conclusion that the Bible was untrustworthy. Kähler first showed that reconstructing a Life of Jesus is impossible because the Synoptics recount neither his boyhood nor more than a fraction of his ministry. Conceded. But Kähler went further and also denied that the gospel accounts or any part of them could furnish, as one writer has put it, even “a minimum of historically certified facts … to support Christian faith, to give it authority, and to provide faith with its invulnerable basis and content” (Carl E. Braaten, The Historical Jesus and the Kerygmatic Christ).
Kähler’s defense of this radical exclusion of history from faith is that historical verification of any account of Jesus automatically substitutes positivistic historicism for dogmatics.
Although Kähler, Barth, Bultmann, and all other members of this school of theology place great emphasis on the notion of “scientific” history, we cannot here go into the immense subject of historiography. Let it be noted, however, that their argument is fallacious because it assumes that positivistic historicism is the only acceptable form of historiography. No note is taken of those professional historiographers, such as Croce and Collingwood, who defend the autonomy of history against its positivistic reduction to natural science. This is not to say that R. G. Collingwood has satisfactorily ...1
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