Albert Schweitzer Achieves Quest For His Own Irrelevance

By: Rev. Jack Cascione

Albert Schweitzer is now the 20th century “Doubting Thomas” look-a-like after the discovery of an ossuary (burial box for human bones) with the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."

In 1906, Albert Schweitzer wrote his doubting masterpiece “The Quest of the Historical Jesus.”  The brilliant young Schweitzer was the brightest rising star in the cosmos of liberal, German Lutheran theologians.

After 400 pages of scholarly, insightful, critical analysis, Schweitzer came to the conclusion that there wasn’t any evidence to prove that Jesus was a historical figure.  Schweitzer wasn’t questioning the miracles or the resurrection.  He simply concluded that there wasn’t anyone to do them.

The following quotation is from the last chapter of Schweitzer’s book:

“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 work which historical theology thought itself bound to carry out, and which fell to pieces just as it was nearing completion, was only the brick facing of the real immovable historical foundation which is independent of any historical confirmation or justification.

Jesus means something to our world because a mighty spiritual force streams forth from Him and flows through our time also.  This fact can neither be shaken nor confirmed by any historical discovery.  It is the solid foundation of Christianity.

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.  History can destroy the present; it can reconcile the present with the past; can even to a certain extent transport the present into the past; but to contribute to the making of the present is not given unto it.

But it is impossible to over-estimate the value of what German research upon the Life of Jesus has accomplished.  It is a uniquely great expression of sincerity, one of the most significant events in the whole mental and spiritual life of humanity.” (Albert Schweitzer, “The Quest of the Historical Jesus” 1906, translated by James M. Robinson, Macmillan, NY, 1968 Page 399)

Schweitzer was a master of the oxymoronic sentence.

Schweitzer’s book played a key roll in the philosophy that guided 45 LCMS Professors and 450 students who walked out of the St. Louis Seminary to form Seminex in 1974.  The intellectual elite of the LCMS wrapped themselves in Schweitzer’s enlightenment while the unwashed peasant class blindly followed a naïve, literal interpretation of the four Gospels.

The ELCA’s “Lutheran Book of Worship” has dedicated an entire saint’s day to Albert Schweitzer.

What would Schweitzer say today?  The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls prove that Christians did not rewrite the Old Testament to make it appear to prophesy the life of Christ.  A stone with Pontius Pilate’s name has been discovered.  And now, in 2002, the world hears about the discovery of an ossuary with the words "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."

Of course, this discovery doesn’t answer Thomas’s doubt.  Schweitzer didn’t get as far as Thomas.  Thomas knew there was a historical Jesus, Pilate, Mary, etc.  He just said he would not believe in Jesus unless he saw Jesus alive after death.

Schweitzer’s quest was rooted in the quest for his personal deification.  He defined truth as something that he could discover and measure by his own experience, without reliance on the words of the Bible.  Was there really a Nebuchadnezzar, Abraham, Noah, or Genghis Khan?  Not unless Schweitzer met them!

Was there really an Albert Schweitzer?  I never met him.

So, here we are in 2003, Schweitzer is dead, his admiring contemporaries are dead, Schweitzer’s followers were led to follow Hitler’s “Fatherland” (what else was there?) and Seminex ruined the LCMS-so much for anthills after the thunderstorm.  What wasted lives.

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” Isaiah 40:8


May 1, 2003