I recently came across several titles referencing Christian Philosophy or the Christian Challenge to Philosophy and would like to provide links for readers to explore these necessary areas of their 21st century faith.
As example (and I say this as much to myself as a point of note as to those reading this article), I think of the "Higher Criticism" disciplines of the Bible as falling into a number of research areas: from literary criticism (genre) to historical (fact versus fancy), from redactionary criticism (authorial/editorial/legacy description) to textual (manuscript transmission).
And then, external to all of these critical endeavors comes the additional disciplines of anthropologic (cultural/societal), psychoanalytic (perception/awareness/identity), archaeologic (time, place, and event), philosophic (existential critique of either historical, mythological, or contemporary writers/readers), and theologic (theism and church history), to mention a few.
For example, is it fair to describe the gospel of John simply as an historical book or as a theological book. That is, how does the apostle John's singular descriptions of Jesus differ dramatically from the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke? And because they do, does it disqualify his gospel from being qualified as historical? And if so, by the inference of "higher critical research" become perhaps an intentionally colloquial description of Jesus as John knew him, or as the early church knew Him?
In higher critical terms, this discipline might describe the difference between the gospels as one of bearing differences between the "historical Jesus" (as seemingly evidenced in the synoptics) as versus "the Christ of Faith" (as found in John's gospel via either John himself or through an early Christian liturgy, teaching, and confessions. But this latter could be said of the synoptics as well). And then, of course, you begin the subjective vs. objective" process of questioning the biography of Jesus as presented by John as perhaps created by an authorial largesse pandering to the early Christian religion of its day, if not by the early Christian fellowship during this time of transcript creation.
And so, there seems to be at least these several factors to consider why the gospel of John was written and to whom:
Firstly, sound, biblical theology is never separated from history - though many times history can be separated from theology through dissemination of denominational, sectarian, and cultic teachings. To say that John's gospel is without historical significance is to deny to any author of the bible their personal critiques of the "God event" they are witnessing or testifying to. That is, biographies should be considered every bit as historical as historical tracts might be labelled as novellas.
Secondly, Jesus is either an historical figure or not. And if not, then He has been lost to the church through its many varying claims of who or what Jesus is so that He becomes the "Christ of that believing group" though not necessary the Christ of the Bible. But this is where theology steps in to reclaim who or what Jesus meant then, as now, so that the church may continue in its traditions of homage and missional witness to God's redemptive event through Jesus both as an historical personage as much as what this God-event meant to us (the theology behind the historical event).
Thirdly, criticism has this built in lens of "negativity" within it. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it seems when it is connected to biblical studies its negativities almost always invalidates the reality of the God event - such as illustrated here in the testimony of John to his Lord. In doing so the discipline of higher criticism considers the Jesus of John's gospel as disqualified from the Jesus of the synoptic gospels. However, this artificial negativity (or attitude of disbelief) is not necessarily as helpful as it can be when lost within contemporary science's attitude of skepticism and disbelief. Hence, at least for myself, (higher) criticism has its place, but it must also be remembered in just what place criticism is to be used, why, where, when, and how.
Conversely, just as it is absurd to divorce theology from history and then make reckless claims of who Jesus was or was not, so too is it absurd to not think "higher criticism" cannot be helpful. What is required is a bit of common sense and the ability to step away from one's self, background, and personal judgments to be able to read Scripture in a sense that is different from the traditional vernaculars or popular sentiments of the day.
To help with this, one method is to utilize different academic disciplines as external tools of objective judgment in critiquing a text, teaching, or belief. But, like the disciple John, given all that we know we still must make way for a personal, subjective decision to whom and what Jesus was then for John himself and his early fellowship as well as for ourselves today set within our own fellowships. For John, Jesus was "very God eternal come to Redeem men." He had no dithering on this subject and felt compelled to describe the Saviour of man through personal insight and in relation to the theological teachings of his day.
Many times we must question ourselves and our motives as much as that of any other academic disciplines we intentionally enter into which promise truth and grace. Many times simple awareness of ourself and our objectives for undertaking a particular line of study can be as helpful in determining what we wish to accomplish as unhelpful in belying the truths we set out to discover. The disciple John may have been skeptical at first when meeting Jesus but after his conversion to his Lord he then spent a lifetime of service learning to disseminating what Jesus meant to his world around him as Christ's apostle as well as to the fellowships which moved towards his graceful teachings of Jesus.
Even so is this true for the church today. To learn to healthily critique itself and its doctrines so that it might better reflect the Christ of its faith to more truly correlate with the historical Jesus of time and event not only to early Christianity but to God's heart of intent towards mankind immemorial. For the church to critique itself can be as much helpful as it can be destructive, and yet, the trick is to pray for God's discernment through His Spirit in allowing any criticism of the Christian faith to build stronger communities of the Lord to the outreaching of God's will and word in Christ. For those uncaring to these "higher critical" endeavors "of spirituality" we may regard them as scholars but perhaps not as shepherds to God's children.
June 15, 2015
edited June 17, 2015
edited June 17, 2015
The Christian Challenge to Philosophy, by W.H.V. Reade, S.P.C.K., 1951
Philosophy and Christian Theology, by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2002 (with substantive revision through 2012)
Analytic Philosophy & Christian Theism, by Klaas Kraay, April 2015
Christian Faith and Greek Philosophy in Late Antiquity, Essays in Tribute to George Christopher Stead, E.J. Brill, 1993
Christian Philosophy, by Wikipedia
|Christian Philosopher, Alvin Plantiga|