Dr. Pennington handed out a great summary of Hans Frei’s influence and major contribution written by William Placher. I encourage you to read the entire article. Here is a highlight:
Hans Frei, who died last September at the age of 66 after a very brief illness, was never famous outside the guild of theologians. He was a perfectionist who wrote slowly and published reluctantly. In over 30 years of teaching at Yale he devoted himself unstintingly to his students, often at the expense of his own research. And what he wrote was never faddish and often technical. Yet future historians just may consider him the most important American theologian of his generation.
Frei certainly never thought of himself as a “great theologian, ” but he did have a central passion, a central idea. That idea emerged through long study, in the 1950s and ’60s, of l8th- and 19th-century ways of interpreting the Bible. He grew convinced that nearly the whole of modern Christian theology, from the radical to the fundamentalist, had taken a wrong turn.
For many centuries before the modern age, most Christian theologians had read the Bible primarily as a kind of realistic narrative. It told the overarching story of the world, from creation to last judgment. Moreover, the particular coherence of this story made “figural” interpretation possible: some events in the biblical stories, as well as some nonbiblical events, prefigured or reflected the central biblical events. Indeed, Christians made sense of their own lives by locating their stories within the context of that larger story.
But somewhere around the 18th century, people started reading the Bible differently. Their own daily experience seemed to define for them what was “real, ” and so they consciously tried to understand the meaning of the Bible by locating it in their world.
They did that in — to overgeneralize — two ways. They saw the meaning of the biblical narratives either in the eternal truths about God and human nature that the stories conveyed or in their reference to historical events. The Bible thus fit into the world of our experience either as a set of general lessons applicable to that world or as an extension of that world developed by means of critical history.