The Problem of Historicism and Apocalyptic as its Answer

The following is pretty academic, but it is important to grasp this, and how it impacts, for one thing, the current state of Biblical Studies; and for another thing, how political theories (like North America’s and any other) in the modern marxand so called post modern periods function with a kind of materialistic and biased slant toward making its force—the historical progression itself—an insular and closed reality that thinks of the cross of Christ as foolish and weak. Here is what Nathan Kerr has written:

. . . as Pierre Manent has shown, the belief that ‘all is historical’ and ‘history is irreversible’ achieves with modernity for the first time the status of a political authority. Particularly since Hegel, but even as far back as Montesquieu, it has been assumed that genuine political sovereignty — the freedom of Absolute Spirit — must engender itself, and must itself be engendered, by and through the processes of historical and institutional development. True freedom — ‘liberty’ — can be achieved only as the result of these processes. The ‘authority of history’ thus assumes a politically ideological function: history becomes the artifice which produces, and thus protects and encourages, the endurance of that institution which alone guarantees the attainment of freedom: the nation state. ‘History’ has itself come to be recognized as ‘sovereign’. Humanity’s very freedom assumes the sovereignty of the historical process, a sovereignty which itself requires, and includes, nothing from beyond or outside its own immanent circulation.

Given these assumptions, the status of Christian apocalyptic, which stresses that, in a singular historical event, God has acted to inaugurate the reign of God by making real and present an eschatologically perfect love in the middle of history, has — to say the least — been something of a contended issue in modern theological thought. For apocalyptic calls into question the very presuppositions of modern philosophical historicism: it challenges the many explanations of history as an immanental, self-contained sphere of contingent yet analogous happenings, which are nonetheless related in the intrahistorical development towards a single unified telos; its unabashed insistence upon singularity troubles the universalist aspirations of modern religious thought. Where history is seen as a universal nexus of distinct yet analogously related events which are relativized in their absoluteness by way of reference to a shared telos, then to portray Jesus of Nazareth as a unique, unsubstitutable event of the inbreaking of God’s eschatological kingdom within history becomes incomprehensible. It thereby becomes necessary to relativize claims to Christ’s absoluteness by submitting to Jesus of Nazareth to the rigorous canons of modern historical reason and by assessing his significance as it arises from within the rational structures of historical development itself. So it is that we have learned to ‘translate’ apocalyptic into categories comprehensible to the modern mind. We have learned to historicize apocalyptic itself, to circumscribe it within the thought-world of a distant day, to demythologize and then to reconceptualize it as a way of fitting it into our own historical, intellectual, and political categories. [Nathan Kerr, Christ, History and Apocaclyptic, 3-4.]

This is rather profound, even in its generalized expression. I wonder, if this is true; I wonder if our thinking does not develop in a vacuum; if the above reality about the modern understanding of history doesn’t then impinge upon the way that we reconstruct biblical history and apply it towards our interpretation of the text of Scripture? Maybe we uncritically just accept ‘history’, even biblical history, and we do so in the mode just described by Kerr. Maybe this is why it is hard for people to accept something like Thomas Torrance’s approach to theology, which presses on the idea that God’s Self-revelation in Christ is a novum, not circumscribable by the contingent forces of history. This from Torrance:

Our task in christology is to yield the obedience of our mind to what is given, which is God’s self-revelation in its objective reality, Jesus Christ. A primary and basic fact which we discover here is this: that the object of our knowledge gives itself to us to be apprehended. It does that within our mundane existence, within our worldly history and all its contingency, but it does that also beyond the limits of previous experience and ordinary thought, beyond the range of what is regarded by human standards as emperically possible. Thus when we encounter God in Jesus Christ, the truth comes to us in its own authority and self-sufficiency. It comes into our experience and into the midst of our knowledge as a novum, a new reality which we cannot incorporate into the series of other objects, or simply assimilate to what we already know. [Thomas F. Torrance, ed. Robert T. Walker, “Incarnation,” 1]

Anyway, just something to ponder.

Advertisements