History and Theology

Continuing with the ‘eyes of faith’ theme I’ve got going, let’s take a look at Bonhoeffers thought on seeing Christ in history:

‘The historical approach to the Jesus of history is not binding for the believer. Historical certainty is not a union with Jesus; that is no more than encounter with any other person from the past. We can have ‘Moments with Christ’ as we can with Goethe. It is not a mystical union either with some person in history, but rather a person who bears witness to himself…But it is the risen one who himself creates faith and thus knows the way to himself ‘in hitory’. When we have Christ witnessing to himself in the present, any historical confirmation is irrelevant. In faith, history is known, not from within nor from itself, but in the light of eternity. This is the direct approach of faith to history.’ (Bonhoeffer, ‘Christ the Center’, p. 72-73)

Lots going on here. My thought is that we can’t come to a true knowledge and union with Christ through the methods of historical inquiry alone – we must approach the living Word with an in faith, which is given to us by the word. Our faith is not in historical method – we don’t come to a true knowledge of Christ through really close study of history textbooks. Our faith is given to us *by* Christ – it is only through this faith that we can know Christ through history. Again, we won’t come to a knowledge of the Living God through good historical methodology but rather by faith.


2 thoughts on “History and Theology

  1. Chris Falter September 25, 2013 / 1:39 pm

    Against the backdrop of 20th century German academia, Bonhoeffer’s statement is cogent and useful. However, I don’t think we need to accept a fundamental schism between history and present experience. Scripture presents the life of Christ as continuing to this day through His Spirit and through the life of His body, the church. The Orthodox theologians would say that we recapitulate His life in ours as we are united to Him through faith, and Romans 6:10-11 seems to confirm this perspective:

    “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. [Note the present tense–‘he lives’] In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

    The Scripture presents the marriage relationship as an analogy to our relationship with God, so let’s see what it shows us. I don’t want to just know about my wife’s family history; I want to be with her, hold her, love her. Without that encounter, there is no marriage. So Bonhoeffer was right: an encounter with the living Christ is the fundamental thing.

    That said, it is important for me to understand my wife’s family history, if I want to understand her. In the same way, studying the life of Christ is very important to the life and faith of the church: we want to understand our Savior’s ministry and passions!


    • whitefrozen September 25, 2013 / 8:40 pm

      I definitely agree about the importance of historical study and think Barth went too far in declaring the ‘christ-event’ basically off limits to historical inquiry.


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