Biblical Interpretation

By Robert Morgan; John Barton | Go to book overview

5
Theology and the Social Sciences

Faith and Reason

The preceding chapters have surveyed some of the most influential biblical study of the past 150 years. During this period the critical study of the Bible, which in the previous century had transformed a few European intellectuals' understanding of religion, was gradually assimilated by a larger constituency within Christianity and Judaism. Most of the pioneering historical work of this later period was done in the Protestant theological faculties of the research- oriented universities of Germany. The tense relationship between critical historical scholarship and the religious orthodoxies dependent on the Bible was therefore always a sensitive issue.

Contrary to the charges and countercharges of undermining the faith or perverting the course of historical reason, both liberal and conservative theologians were engaged in modifying inherited positions and reformulating Christian belief to take account of the new knowledge. The liberals were more consistent in applying the new methods, and less cautious in their treatment of the tradition. But they could refuse to compromise their historical integrity only because they saw no ultimate contradiction between the claims of reason and those of true religion and morality. Like the more enlightened of their conservative contemporaries, they sought an accommodation between them.

Nineteenth-century theology thus learned to combine the rational methods of modern scholarship with a religious belief based on the Bible. But these methods can be pursued without reference to contemporary religious belief, without interest in either sustaining or discrediting it. Historical research on the Bible may be motivated quite simply by an interest in the past. This particular past is still

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