Early Christian Origins: Studies in Honor of Harold R. Willoughby

By Allen Wikgren | Go to book overview

VII
SOCIAL FACTORS IN EARLY CHRISTIAN ESCHATOLOGY

Amos N. Wilder HARVARD DIVINITY SCHOOL

In his introduction to The Study of the Bible Today and Tomorrow, Harold R. Willoughby stressed an approach to biblical study which had been fostered by his own teachers and colleagues. He writes as follows:

In the midwestern area, specifically centered in Chicago, there developed the most coherent social-history group to emerge among the biblical researchers of America. Their applications of social historical methodology to the investigation of the environments, the literature, and the history of the early Christians have been quite extensive.1

This approach to the history of religions had its favoring circumstance in the vigor of the social sciences in America in the twentieth century and in the relating of sociology to history and historiography.2 For what we have in mind is not merely the usual attention to backgrounds and life situation but a specifically sociological approach. We must limit ourselves in what follows in this paper to a redefinition of this approach in the light of earlier work and to questions of method.

It is understandable that students of the higher forms of religion have not been as disposed to recognize the sociological involvement of their material as students of primitive religion. In more developed religions doctrine, literature or piety become of interest for their own sake and are studied genetically or comparatively in abstrac-

____________________
1
( Chicago, 1947), pp. xiv-xv.
2
See "Biblical Hermeneutics and American Scholarship" in Neutestamentliche Studien für Rudolf Bultmann ( Berlin, 1954), pp. 29-30.

-67-

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