Monday, December 1, 2014

The Mighty Works of Jesus Christ

I am thinking about what in Jesus gave rise to the very early and 'high' belief in Jesus' sharing the identity of the God of Israel which we find in the writings of the New Testament. The sceptical revisionist may disbelieve the faith of the Bible, but then has the puzzle of accounting for an unlikely belief by Jews of that era.
These blog thoughts are jottings, not a fully developed essay. Still, here's a start.
Jesus' miracles, also attested in the earliest strands of the tradition, pointed in the direction of his Divine sonship. H.P. Liddon summed up this fact: " The four Evangelists, amid their distinguishing peculiarities, concur in representing a Christ whose life is encased in a setting of miracles." 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Can We Use the Gospels to Know the Real Jesus?

My question is how the New Testament writers came to their belief in the Divine Sonship of Jesus of Nazareth, if it was not connected with the historical impact of Jesus himself.
The issue of the historical Jesus is a huge one, but a few facts can be our anchors.
First, the NT writings (most of them) can be reasonably and reliably dated in the lifetime of the eye-witnesses of the historical Jesus. Paul, whose letters are very close in time and in contact to the historical Jesus and his circle, who claims to be handing on the traditions he received (1 Cor. 15), is the strongest evidence, and his clear teaching about the divine identity of Jesus is undoubted. So we can date this testimony within 20 years or so from the life and resurrection of Jesus (see dating of Corinthians, early 50's CE).
Also, the canonical Gospels themselves can be dated in the first century, even allowing for the fourth Gospel to be placed at the close of the century , just within the eyewitness life-spans. There was a continuous community of testimony. As Richard Hays shows in his latest book, the Christology of the Gospels is the same in essence to the other NT writings.
Sceptical scholars can dispute the dating of NT writings but my guiding principle is to rest on sufficient evidence. We have some strong date indicators about the short interval between Jesus and the written belief in his Divine Sonship. The letter to the Hebrews, for example, was surely composed before the destruction of the Temple in 66-70 CE. The whole argument of the letter is the obsolete or fulfilled nature of the Jewish sacrificial  system. Had the Temple already been destroyed, it is inconceivable that this fact would have been omitted by the writer; it would have clinched his argument.
So I give the benefit of the doubt to the Gospels when it comes to presenting reliable historical testimony about Jesus, recognising that there are theological themes governing the presentation. I see no reason to believe that the Gospel writers invented a legendary Jesus while so many living witnesses were alive.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Divine-Human Identity of Jesus Christ

Recently I read with great enjoyment the new book by Richard Hays on the Gospels - "Reading Backwards". Hays unfolds the ways in which the canonical Gospels unveil the divine identity of Jesus. It is firmly clear, I believe, that the New Testament writings testify in different ways to their belief that Jesus Christ shared the identity of the God of Israel. This mystery, later developed and expounded into the doctrine of the Incarnation of the Son, is an astonishing idea to be found in these Jewish, Second Temple period documents. This high Christology is very early; you find it in the letters of St Paul reliably dated in the 50s CE. This means that in the lifetime of many eyewitnesses of the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth, this faith in him as worthy of worship as Divine, was a reality.
There are sceptical, revisionist scholars who think it was highly unlikely that Jesus himself had this view. But how did it arise, then, if it was not connected in some way to the historical Jesus? I am thinking about what it was in the life, teaching and activities of Jesus Christ, that led his friends to this deep mystery about his identity and nature. I will collect my thoughts and share them in this blog.

Friday, January 31, 2014

What is your picture of the world?

David Bentley Hart (The Experience of God) outlines the historical philosophical steps by which moderns came to view the cosmos bereft of God. The rise of the mechanistic philosophy (nature regarded as a kind of machine operating according to its own self regulating mechanisms) set aside any consideration of purpose or ultimate causation. This was useful for scientific progress, but in time the method became a metaphysic. Deism, a nod in the direction of some divine machine designer or operator, was simply a step along the way to atheism. Darwinian theory complete the move, suggesting an intrinsic mechanism for development with no purpose. 

But it is a sleight of hand, as Hart notes, since natural selection cannot by itself account for the existence of the universe or for the lawfulness of nature. The question of being had been forgotten- and still is. 
So we have a new metaphysical master narrative based on mindless, purposeless materialism. It is now a cultural bias in the modern West, "a story we have been telling ourselves for centuries, without any real warrant from either reason or science."(65). 
Yet this picture of the world is fraught with difficulties, and it is these that Hart targets as his critique unfolds.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Being, Consciousness and Bliss

David Bentley Hart chooses to use three terms from the great theistic traditions, to describe the experience of God: Being, Consciousness and Bliss. These are not only metaphysical explanations of God, but also describe key ways in which we all encounter God. He says:
"For to say that God is being,consciousness and bliss is also to say that he is the one reality in which all our existence, knowledge and love subsist, from which they come and to which they go,and that therefore he is somehow present in even our simplest experience of the world. . . (p 44 The Experience of God). 
Hart thus claims that encounter with the reality of God is inescapable, even if many are oblivious to it or deny it. There is a kind of "ubiquitous natural evidence of the supernatural. 
These terms also describe three regions of experience that cannot be accounted for adequately by atheism. The three realities are "the three 'supernatural' forms of the natural - prior conditions of the natural. The medievalist called them the "transcendentals". To stop and acknowledge these mysterious underpinnings of the natural is to be confronted with the question of God.
Hart is making the same kind of argument used by C.S.Lewis and others. A reflective honest consideration of life will point our the inadequacy of naturalism. "Atheism" he contends, "is a kind of obliviousness to the obvious".

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Concept of God

I have been reading David Bentley Hart' s book The Experience of God. No atheist could surely deny that this is a sophisticated essay on theism. Hart puts the absurd simplifications of some current atheist big names into their place.
His first argunent is that God is not a being in nature but is Being itself. Popular discussions tend to conceive of God as a kind of semigod, a big super person somewhere else who is able to do supernatural things.
Rather God in the great religions is "the one infinite source of all that is  : eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things abd for that reason absolutely immanent to all things."
Dawkins and others simply miss the whole point, having a misconstrued concept of God.