Results of the Quest of the Historical Jesus

Schweitzer concludes his review of the German theological quest for the historical Jesus with the chapter, “Results.” He begins that chapter with the summary of his results:

Those who are fond of talking about negative theology can find their account here.  There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus.  The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, and died to give His work its final consecration, never had any existence.  He is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism, and clothed in modern theology in an historical garb. . . .

. . .

The historical Jesus will be to our time a stranger and an enigma.  . . .

. . .

The historical foundation of Christianity as built up by rationalistic, by liberal, and by modern theology no longer exists; but that does not mean that Christianity has lost its historical foundation. . . .

The mistake was to suppose that Jesus could come to mean more to our time by entering into it as a man like ourselves.  That is not possible.  First because such a Jesus never existed.  Secondly because, although historical knowledge can no doubt introduce greater clearness into an existing spiritual life, it cannot call spiritual life into existence.

Nonetheless, Schweitzer finds that the German quest for the life of Jesus had been invaluable: “one of the most significant events in the whole mental and spiritual life of humanity.” However, he notes,

We modern theologians are too proud of our historical method, too proud of our historical Jesus, too confident in our belief in the spiritual gains which our historical theology can bring to the world. . . .  History will force it to find a way to transcend history, and to fight for the lordship and rule of Jesus over this world with weapons tempered in a different forge.

. . .

. . .  The names in which men expressed their recognition of Him as such, Messiah, the Son of Man, Son of God, have become for us historical parables.  We can find no designation which expresses what He is for us.

He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside.  He came to those men who knew Him not.  He speaks to us the same word[s]: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which he has to fulfill for our time.  He commands.  And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.

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