“The roots of the Liberal Protestant attitude towards the Gospels may be traced back to the Renaissance and the Reformation. The student who is interested may study this historical background in the first volume of Carelton J. Hayes’ splendid work, Political and Cultural History of Modern Europe. Without doubt, the Renaissance brought about a change in man’s point of view. In the Middle Ages, men were conscious of this all-important truth that material creation is subordinate to man and man is subordinate to God. The Renaissance dimmed this consciousness by centering man’s attention upon himself through the art forms of pagan culture. The beauty of the art and the fine literary forms made men unaware of the errors which they clothed. Without directly opposing the faith, the Renaissance promoted a growing spirit of pride and individualism. In the sixteenth century, the Protestant revolt from the Church fostered this spirit. After Luther rejected the authority of the Church, subsequent reformers denied the authority of Luther and ultimately all authority.
In the eighteenth century, the Deists presumed as true the hypothesis that any supernatural intervention of God is impossible. They spoke as if they knew exactly what God can and cannot do; as if God were unable to change in any way the world he had created. Eventually, innumerable attempts were made to bring the traditional faith in Christ into harmony with this false hypothesis. In other words, the first attacks on the Gospels, after seventeen hundred years of universal acceptance, did not spring from a scientific and historical examination of them but from philosophical prejudices. These futile attacks agreed only in so far as they denied the supernatural character of Christ. Often they were contradictory and cancelled out one another. This is evident if you glance at a few of them.
Hermann Reimarus and Gotthold Lessius, for example, proposed a ‘deception theory.’ According to them, Christ was merely a man. The Gospels were deliberate fabrications written by Christians in the second century. Some years later David Strauss changed this theory. According to him, the authors of the Gospels actually believed what they wrote for the followers of Christ had unconsciously accepted more and more myths about him. Because it would take a long time for these myths to grow and be accepted as true, Strauss concluded the Gospels were written in the second or third century. He admitted, however, that his hypothesis would collapse if any Gospel was proved to belong to the first century. Today all scholars agree that at least the first three Gospels were written in the first century.
Some moderns who follow in the footsteps of Strauss make Christ the product of Oriental, Babylonian, Egyptian, Syrian, or Greek myths. Needless to say, no two of them agree. Another group of ‘critics’ attempted to find a natural explanation for everything supernatural in the life of Christ. The miracle at Cana, for example, was described as a wedding prank. When Jesus seemed to be walking on the water, he was really walking on a rock just beneath the surface. Countless cures were due to fortunate coincidences following mistaken medical analysis. When Christ fed five thousand men, he merely hypnotized them into believing they ate and were filled. Even when men permitted them to alter the Gospel text, it required unlimited faith to accept their far-fetched suppositions.
Even in recent years, many Liberal Protestants have tried to explain away everything supernatural about Christ by distinguishing between the Christ of faith and the Christ of history. The latter was merely a man who did not rise from the dead. In the beginning, he did not even claim to be divine. The Christ of faith is the product of the imaginations of the early Christians who clothed the human Christ with supernatural qualities. Though the Christ of faith never existed, he is the dynamic source of the Christian life.
The so-called Critical School aimed to prove by means of literary and historical criticism that all miracles and mysteries recorded in the Gospels were not genuine or were interpolations. Most of its members judged the origin, integrity, and trustworthiness of the Gospels from internal evidence alone. But like their predecessors, they endeavored to make the Gospel picture of Christ fit into their preconceived notions. In the beginning their show of scholarship confused and almost routed the conservative Protestants.
All the critics believed the hypothesis that nothing exists outside of the natural order. This dogma of their ‘faith’ compelled them to deny the possibility of miracles and the divinity of Christ. Since the New Testament contains miracles, many critics decided it was genuine. Others declared the miracles and mysteries were interpolations. No two critics agreed on the authors and dates of the Gospels.”
-Joseph H. Cavanaugh, Evidence For Our Faith