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IN the summer of 1900 I delivered lectures on New Testament Theology in the University of Basel. These I have now expanded into a book, which, however, is by no means intended to rival any handbook to New Testament Theology. My only aim in preparing my lectures was to present my pupils with a clear idea of that which I conceived to be the real meaning of the Gospel, and to trace the great changes it underwent up to the rise of Catholicism. I purposely excluded from the scope of my work all that appeared to be unimportant for the aim that I had in view. Theological ideas came under consideration only in their relation to the Gospel of Jesus. I have striven to be true to my original purpose in compiling this book from my lectures.
In publishing my lectures my aim is a practical one, and there is no reason to conceal it. An age of transition such as ours needs above all else a constant recurrence to the Gospel of Jesus for guidance. But it is well known that the Gospel does not lie everywhere xon the surface, even of the New Testament, in its primitive simplicity, but has in many instances been covered up or transformed.
Now, though it is perfectly true that “Cowper’s pious peasant woman” can understand Jesus in all that He was and all that He wanted, yet theological enquiry should surely never abrogate its great calling, which is to give all possible help to the simple comprehension of Jesus.
This, of course, theology can only do by self-suppression—i.e. by helping to liberate the Gospel from theology. If Jesus was, above all else, our Saviour from the theologians, then we theologians are truly His disciples only by the constant renewal of this saving work of His.
To do this, two conditions are pre-eminently necessary, the existence of which, alas, cannot be assumed as a matter of course amongst Christian theologians. They are, firstly, true reverence for that which alone deserves reverence; and secondly, fidelity to the Christian conscience. I reckon as an essential part of true reverence, the frankest and fullest renunciation of that false reverence for formulae, symbols, rites and institutions in which the free word of God is imprisoned and fossilized. He who does not completely reject the false can never find room in his heart for the true. And in like manner fidelity to the Christian conscience implies the clearest and most unflinching criticism of all that xicontradicts it, even though it be received upon the authority of a St Paul or a St John—i.e. the Gospel is to be employed practically as the canon and standard for all its later historical accretions. He who cannot see eye to eye with me in these two conditions had better leave my book unread; for even if he were to read it, he would not understand why I have been obliged to write so many passages in the style of a polemical pamphlet rather than in that of a purely historical essay.
BASEL, December 1900.xii
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