Criticism and the Death of Scripture
The most dramatic theological event of a century prone to religious controversy occurred in 1835, when a junior lecturer at the Protestant seminary of Tübingen University in southern Germany published a book which shook the European Churches. The Life of Jesus by David Friedrich Strauss was seen as a massive assault upon the central tenets of Christianity. The time had passed when a theological work could unleash the political and social consequences of Luther's ninety-five theses. The Church was no longer locked into the institutions of society to the extent that it had been in the religious culture of Europe before the eighteenth century. But the Christian faith still commanded sufficient respect for an attack upon its title-deeds to be considered an outrage. Protestantism had neither the machinery nor the stomach for excommunicating heretics, but Strauss lost his post in Tübingen, and when in 1839 a liberal government in Zurich offered him a professorship the people rebelled, the government fell, and the young offender was pensioned off before he arrived.
Strauss might have guessed that his Life of Jesus would cause offence, and that few of his readers would remain cool long enough to appreciate his concluding dissertation, a tour de force in which a new version of Christianity rose like a phoenix from the ashes of his critical bonfire. This dissertation, appended to 1,400 pages of devastating analysis of the Gospel history, begins:
The results of the inquiry which we have now brought to a close have apparently annihilated the greatest and most valuable part of that which the Christian has been wont to believe concerning his Saviour