If I had to pinpoint the high point of the historical critical method, it would probably be 1967, I think. That was the year that even those stalwarts of Protestantism, the Presbyterians, accepted the claims of the historical critical method: that you just couldn’t read or understand the Bible without it. They gave in, capitulated, and surrendered, in reluctant recognition of the method’s triumphant march to supremacy which had occurred during the preceding two centuries.
The Catholics had already done the same in 1965, in Dei Verbum, at Vatican II. And earlier than this, Pius XII had opened his arms to the historical critical method in Divino afflante spiritu (1943). Yet, despite admitting the methodological success of hist-crit, Pius XII couldn’t actually bring himself to so much as mention the method by name. It doesn’t appear anywhere in his proclamation. He only describes it, unable to bear to utter the name of what had soundly defeated his Holy Mother Church.
So in 1967, it was the turn of the Presbyterians to accept defeat in the face of an all-conquering opponent. Bent and broken, the one-time reformers surrendered, hung their heads, and humbly admitted:
“The Bible is to be interpreted in the light of its witness to God’s work of reconciliation in Christ. The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written. They reflect views of life, history, and the cosmos which were then current. The church, therefore, has an obligation to approach the Scriptures with literary and historical understanding.”
(Presbyterian Confession, 1967)
By contrast, back in the Seventeenth Century Westminster Confession, the Presbyterians could boldly state, “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof.” How the Prezzies had fallen! In 1967, understanding of the Bible had shifted to the testimony of men rejected in the Westminster Confession. The historical critical method reigned supreme and had even defeated the creeds of the Church – in both its Catholic and Protestant factions.
As the following year was, of course, 1968, this new credal submission to the supremacy of the historical critical method reveals a spectacular lack of prophetic insight.