Today’s Church history minute is about Martin Kähler, someone who was wildly influential, yet who is not very well known outside of Academia. I say it’s like history inception, because Kähler talked about history, in terms of history and this is a “Church history minute” so…wait I’m confused.
Who was he?
Kähler was a 19th century (and very early 20th century) German theologian. His primary claim to fame was the publication of his book The So-Called Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Historic, Biblical Christ. In essence, as can be surmised from the title, the work was a critique of the Quest for the Historical Jesus, specifically the first one (I talked about the Quest for the Historical Jesus last week). Although it’s not translatable in the title, he actually uses two different (German) words for “history.” The first, related to the Quest for the Historical Jesus, was a cognate of the German Historie. The second, in the Historic, Biblical Christ, is a cognate of the German Geschichte. [To the readers out there with a basis of New Testament Greek, it may be similar to the distinction between (transliterated) Kairos and Chronos, though the two are not similar enough to call them parallel]. Kähler’s point was that the “Quest” had become so focused on the historical study of the figure of Jesus that they had neglected the genuine historical impact of Jesus, which is Jesus in the bible and Jesus as he is preached. For Kähler, the historical facts about Jesus’ life outside the bible were secondary (if even that). Famously he noted that the genuine Christ was the “Christ preached.” This, while initially positive, led to some, what I would consider, negative consequences that we’ll have to get to in a later piece.
Why was he important?
He influenced a variety of theologians and philosophers, though mostly German ones. He may also be credited with starting something called “kerygmatic theology.” One of those he influence, Rudolf Bultmann, became the poster-child for “kerygmatic theology” which emphasized the kerygma or message about Jesus over the actual historical figure Jesus. Other people he influenced include Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as well as (possibly) Wilhelm Dilthey (a German Philosopher).
Martin Heidegger (20th century German Existentialist Philosopher), is often credited with the distinction between two types of history, even though he notes that his distinction is based in Wilhelm Dilthey. However, as has been recently been noted by people who study this thing, Kähler published the work with this distinction before Dilthey. As such, he is the first to talk about history in different senses in the modern world, something that, in a way, may have been a precursor to Einstein’s discussion of relative time.
Where might I have heard of him?
You probably haven’t unless you are a serious academic or just really interested in 19th century German theology (in which case, kudos to you), but he was really influential. Trust me.