D.M. Baillie – The Need to Study the Historical Jesus

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Recently, I found Baillie’s monumental book on Christology and while flipping through it, I’ve found several interesting quotes that I thought I would share.

With all its emphasis on the incursion of the Divine into human life once for all in Jesus Christ, has no interest in studying the resultant life as an historical phenomenon; and this is not because it would put back the hands of the clock by rejecting modern historical criticism (far from it!) but because ‘the Jesus of history is not the same as the Christ of faith’ (Brunner). I do not believe that this can be a stable position for theology. It would ultimately stultify the whole doctrine of the Incarnation. ‘If righteousness is by the Law,’ said St. Paul to the first Christian generation, ‘then Christ died for nothing’; and we might now say, in this twentieth century: If revelation is by the Word alone, then Christ lived for nothing, and the Word was made flesh in vain. That is the ultimate answer to our question as to whether we can dispense with the Jesus of history. (pp. 53-4)

Thus, the reason for the study of the historical Jesus is equally important to Christology as the study of theology.

One of the disagreeable points that I have with Dr. McGrath’s book, The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context, is his inclusion and allowance of development of doctrinal thought which may or may not be contrary to the study and realization of the Historical Jesus. (I guess you’ll have to read his book to find out what I mean). But if Baillie is correct that all Christology/Theology must begin with the Historical Jesus an indispensable part, what then if we find out that our doctrine is either too simplistic, and thus lacking, or too complicated, and thus over-developed? What if studies such as those done by McGrath, Dunn, Hurtado and the like which begin with the historical Jesus serves as call for us back to a better theology? Baillie, in this book published in 1948, was a contemporary of Barth, Brunner, and Bultmann, and thus theological-scholasticism, or the such. I try to keep that in mind as I read Baillie’s theological legacy.

I waiver on the study of the Historical Jesus myself. ]] wishes us to dispense with it, but the ]] and his ilk demand that we pay attention to the Palestinian Jew 2000 years removed from us. Only those with an agenda either way (i.e., the Creationists, er Mythicists, and the Creationists, er, ‘Fundamentalists who believe that History and Current Thought must not be questioned because thus it is now and thus it has always been’) generally seek to do away with the Historical reality of Jesus Christ.

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