by Rev. Michael J. G. Pahls

(Click here for a downloadable PDF.)

“Christianity appeals to history, and to history it must go.” This aphorism, attributed to the late Oxford biblical scholar, George Caird, aptly summarizes the inescapable duty of the Christian theologian to engage the chronicles of public and personal memory.[1] One might, of course, write-off Caird’s sentiments as the quaint protestations of a man caught-up in the enthusiasms of modernist historiography. This assessment would be premature, however, for Caird’s statement represents as much a theological claim as an historical claim. In the creedal faith of catholic Christianity, it is not simply that Jesus Christ was crucified, but that he was “Crucified under Pontius Pilate.” The insertion of the Roman Procurator’s name into the Apostolic Symbol commits Christianity to a public-historical specificity that cannot be sacrificed without a simultaneous forfeiture of Christian baptismal identity.[2]

Once the theological stakes for history are made clear, the question must still be answered as to precisely what one means by “history” and what one may predicate of history after the postmodern turn. Is there yet hope for the establishment of a common memory that is not a mere expression of local knowledge or of the will to power? If so, how might one commence with such a project in an appropriately chastened manner, adopting a style that is selfconsciously humbled by the hermeneutic of suspicion while yet remaining aloof to the cynicism and despair of an insistent nihilism. In what remains, I will explore the implications of post-critical history, drawn principally from the reflections of the French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur. I will then turn to consider Ricoeur’s particular value to the task of historical theology, perhaps raising the stakes of his purely philosophical wager in a consideration Christian theological doctrines of the resurrection and of Pentecost.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements