In reality his understanding of the issue was far more subtle. In his essay "Conflicts in Interpretation," he points out the necessity of textual referentiality for Christian faith. His chief concern, however, is an over-easy rush to the referent which overlooks the nature of the text doing the referencing, as well as a proper understanding of the relationship between text and referent. Here's what he has to say:
Christians do have to speak of the referent of the text. They have to speak historically and ontologically, but in each case, it must be the notion of truth, or reference, that is re-shaped extravagantly, not the reading of the literal text. Any notion of truth that disallows the condescension of truth to the depiction in the text, to its own self-identification, with, let us say, the four-fold story of Jesus of Nazareth taken as an ordinary story, has itself to be viewed with profound skepticism by a Christian interpreter. The textual world, as witness, is not identical to the Word of God and, yet, by the Spirit's grace, it is "sufficient" for the witnessing. Perhaps I hammer this theme too vigorously. If I do so, the reason is that in much modern theology the primacy of the subject-matter, the referent or the truth, over the text has usually meant that the text is adequate to the task by virtue of pointing to the subject-matter, that is to say, what is hidden within or implied by the text, and not by virtue of the literal sense. My own understanding of the matter, then, is that those who want to preserve Luther's fine, tense balance between Scripture as witness and as literal sense today may well be giving up one side of it. In modernity or, as they like to say in Chicago, "post-modernity," the temporary condition of the balance is to stress the sufficiency of the literal sense, without, of course, the "fundamentalist" correspondence between the literal and its ostensive reference. (1992: 355).
I plead, then, for the primacy of the literal sense and its puzzling but firm relationship to a truth towards which we cannot thrust. The modus significandi will never allow us to say what the res significata is. Nonetheless, we can affirm that, in the Christian confession of divine grace, the truth is such that the text is sufficient. There is a fit due to the mystery of grace between truth and text. But that, of course, is a very delicate and very constant operation to find that fit between textuality and truth. (356)Tomorrow I'll post Frei's thoughts on this in relation to the "historicity" of the gospels.