The first word of the Latin title for this song, nunc, means “now.” Simeon exalted, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word.” Let’s dwell on that word “now” because of how cogent it is in our day as the church works to rebut the wholesale attack on the reliability, trustworthiness and inspiration of Holy Writ. Coming out of the Enlightment of the 18th century, in Germany in the 19th century, we saw the rise of what was called “liberalism,” which preached a hypercritical view of Scripture, undermining all its supernatural references — including the virgin birth of Jesus, His miracles, His resurrection and ascension.
Of course, that movement did not end with the 19th century. In fact, at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century, the prime minister of the Netherlands and the founder of the Free University of Amsterdam, Abraham Kuyper, said, “Biblical criticism has degenerated into biblical vandalism.” Vandalism, defined, is the violation disfigurement and destruction of what is of profound worth or scarcity. During the 20th century, the dominant higher critic of Europe was the New Testament scholar, Rudolf Bultmann, who developed an initiative called “a program to ‘de-mythologize’ the Bible.” Bultmann believed that the Bible was a mixture of a little bit of history and a whole lot of mythology. Bultmann essentially said that if you live in an age of electricity, radio, television, antibiotics and other so-called “miracle drugs,” you cannot, if you’re in your right mind, believe in a three-tiered universe with heaven above, earth here and hell underneath, and a world that is populated by angels and demons. Bultmann said that if the New Testament is to have any relevance to people in our day, it must be revised by the manner of “de-mythologizing” it, and coming with what he called an “existential approach” to Scripture.
In the mid-1960s, G.C. Berkhauer wrote in one of his volumes regarding Rudolf Bultmann, “Theology can sink no lower.” In retrospect, that statement is rather sanguine because theology has indeed slumped even lower than Bultmann, to the Jesus Seminar and the “Death of God” theologians. Bultmann’s goal as an interpreter of the Bible was to take Christianity out of the plane of history. His agenda was to cast the Christian faith as something that is not bound to historical events. He stated that we can’t even discover the historical Jesus and whatever we read in the New Testament can only be interpreted through the lens of mythology. He essentially stated, “About all we can be sure of historically is the faith of the early church. We can’t deny that there were people running around Palestine in the 1st century giving their lives for some kind of religious commitment to this person named Jesus. But it’s okay that we don’t have any real historical knowledge of Jesus because salvation is not a matter of history. It’s not a matter of space and time.” Using terms such as “supra-temporal,” Bultmann claimed that Christianity is something that exists out of time. His favorite expression to describe this notion was that Christianity is something that takes place in the hit et nunc, or the “here and now.”