Wednesday, August 31, 2005

What is a Christian?

[This is an entry in a forthcoming reference volume. The subject is rather significant.]


A Christian is one whose identity and purpose are defined by being a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ. Since many cult members who hold heretical doctrines claim to believe in “Jesus Christ“ and to be “Christians,” it is paramount to remember that Apostolic Christianity was greatly concerned—as we should be as well—that people believe in the genuine Jesus, not some counterfeit Christ (2 Corinthians 11:1-4). The Apostle John stipulates that true and saving belief affirms that “Jesus is the Christ” (the divine Messiah) and that he “has come in the flesh,” which refers to his true humanity (1 John 2:22; 4:1-3). A Christian believes that Jesus is the Incarnate Word (John 1:1-3; 14, 18). Belief in Christ requires a monotheistic worldview. These Christological stipulations rule out any religious groups that deny the true deity of Christ (Colossian 2:9), such as non-Trinitarian Jehovah’s Witnesses or those teach that Jesus is one god among many (polytheistic Mormons) or those claiming that Jesus tapped into a universal “Christ Consciousness,” which is available to anyone sufficiently enlightened (New Age adherents), and so on. Christological errors are many (2 Corinthians 11:3-4), as is the wide path of destruction, as Jesus taught (Matthew 7:13-14).

A Christian has repented of his or her sinful ways (Acts 17:30) and has embraced the finished work of Christ’s earthly life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin, justification before God, and the gracious gift of eternal life (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:1-9). A Christian’s saving faith is proven true by his or her ongoing confession of the Gospel and by Spirit-led works that display the sincerity and genuineness of that faith (James 2:14-26). The works themselves, however, do not contribute to one’s status as justified before God through the work of Christ alone by God’s grace alone (Ephesians 2:8).

A Christian belongs to Christ (Mark 9:41; 1 Corinthians 15:23) and confesses Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9). “Christian” was first used at Antioch to describe disciples taught by Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:26). The term is used two other times in the New Testament: when Agrippa accuses Paul of wanting to make him a Christian (Acts 26:28) and by Peter who challenges believers not to be ashamed when they “suffer as a Christian” because they “bear that name” (1 Peter 4:16). The term is taken from christos, which is Greek for the Hebrew messiah, the promised deliverer and anointed one. Christ is a title and office that exclusively refers to Jesus of Nazareth. “Christian” refers to countless people worldwide throughout the centuries who have entrusted their lives to Christ because other Christians have been faithful in making Christ known (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). The book of Revelation declares that the redeemed will include “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9).

Although “Christian” has become the term most commonly used for followers of Christ, the New Testament employs a wealth of other descriptions, only a few of which we can address. The book of Acts reveals that Christians are often called “disciples” of Christ (Acts 14:21), as were the first disciples in the Gospels. This involves more than being a student or a religious consumer, because Jesus stipulates that: “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Acts also refers to Christians as “followers of the Way” (9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22), meaning the way of Jesus himself (John 14:6), the way of life instead of death (Matthew 7:13-14), the way of heaven instead of hell (Matthew 25:46: John 11:25-26).

Christians of both genders are referred to as “brothers” in Christ. This expresses the bond of divine love that all believers share (Romans 12:10; 1 Peter 3:8) through their friendship with Christ himself (Matthew 28:10; John 20:17; Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:11-12). Every Christian is a part of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). In the New Testament church this brotherhood revolutionized the relationship between a Christian master and his slave. Paul tells Philemon to receive Onesimus “as no longer a slave, but...as a dear brother” (Philemon 16).
Because the gospel claims that a person becomes a Christian through saving faith in Christ, those who have partaken of God’s redeeming grace are sometimes simply called “believers,” as opposed to “unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Timothy 4:10, 12). The New Testament repeatedly warns of those who profess Christian faith, but whose lives and/or beliefs belie their profession (Matthew 7:15-23; Galatians 1:6-9; 1 John 2:19).

All Christians are also called “saints,” because they are made holy or set apart by God (Ephesians 1:1), and because they become more holy (or sanctified) over time through the work of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:3). Their sainthood is completed when they are glorified in the presence of Christ after their earthly deaths (1 John 3:2). At the glorious and victorious Second Coming of Christ, Christians will be given resurrected and imperishable bodies (Philippians 3:22-21) and will dwell with God in a restored cosmos forever (Revelation 21-22).

References:
1. R.C. Sproul, Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification (Baker Books, 1995).
2. John Stott, Basic Christianity, revised ed. (Eerdmans, 1986).

Monday, August 29, 2005

Basic Logical Principles Required for Apologetics

Winfried Corduan only very briefly mentions three related principles of logic--identity, contradiction, and excluded middle--in his excellent apologetics text, No Doubt About It.[1] I will provide a bit more clarification concerning these principles and introduce one more closely related logical principle in order to fathom better their meaning in relation to apologetics. All four of these principles trade on the idea of antithesis and identity.

These principles of logic are not deduced or inferred from other principles that are more basic or more certainly known. These principles must be presupposed or assumed in order to communicate intelligibly. As such, we might borrow a term from Immanuel Kant (without endorsing his whole philosophy) and call them transcendental preconditions for knowledge. That is, if there is to be knowledge at all, these principles must be in place. These principles stand behind all rational thought and language. They are not arbitrary or whimsical, as are some other principles or ideas that people gratuitously adopt (such as, “I just know in my knower--without need of any outside evidence--that I was abducted by aliens.”). They are fundamental principles or laws of thought, not groundless speculations or ad hoc notions. They are neither Eastern nor Western, neither male nor female, nor are they pigmented. They are eternal and essential principles by which our minds were created by God to function. They are rooted in the perfect reason and comprehensive knowledge of God himself.

1. The principle (or law) of identity simply states that something is what it is: “A=A.” Something is itself and nothing other than itself. If we say, “You’re not yourself today!” we don’t violate the principle of identity. We mean, rather, that someone is acting out of character, acting strangely or unexpectedly. The person is still identical to herself even if she is acting strangely.

2. The principle (or law) of contradiction is, rather paradoxically, also sometimes called the principle of non-contradiction. This is not a contradiction, but simply two ways of looking at the same logical operation of antithesis. Aristotle put it this way: “The same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject in the same respect” (Metaphysics 1005 b19-20). Or: “A is not non-A.” Put another way: a proposition and its denial or negation cannot both be true. Those who deny the principle (or law) of contradiction, appropriately enough, contradict themselves. Consider: “The law of contradiction is false.” If so, the opposition of this claim--that the law of noncontradiction is true--must be reckoned false. Thus, the principle of contradiction is affirmed. The principle is inescapable and incorrigible if we intend to state anything meaningful about reality. It’s not just a good idea; it’s a law of thought and a law of being.

3. The principle (or law) of excluded middle states that “either A or non-A”; any middle option is excluded. That is, it is not the case that “A and non-A,” nor is it the case that “neither A nor non-A.” Put more technically, given any meaningful proposition A, the proposition “either A or not-A” is necessarily true. For example, “There is either a building over two hundred stories high or it is not the case that there is such a building.” Or: “Jesus is Lord or Jesus is not Lord.” This should not be confused with the similar principle (or law) of bivalence.

4. The principle (or law) of bivalance affirms that any meaningful proposition is either true or false. “Douglas Groothuis is half Italian”[2] is either true or false; not both true and false, not neither true nor false. Every proposition has a truth value, and there are only two truth values--true and false. To distinguish this from the principle (or law) or excluded middle we should note that: “The law of excluded middle is a logical law operating at the level of the object language, whereas the principle of bivalance is a semantic principle, one governing the interpretation of the language to which it is applied.”[3] In other words, the law of excluded middle relates to the state of things or being: “Either there is a pro-life Democrat at Denver Seminary or there is not a pro-life Democrat at Denver Seminary.”

The principle (or law) of bivalance relates to the nature of statements (semantics): “There are no pro-life Democrats at Denver Seminary” is either true or false. Of course, these semantic statements about pro-life Democrats at Denver Seminary do refer to things outside of themselves, so the semantical content is related to objects outside of semantics, given the correspondence view of truth. The proposition, “Hell exists,” is either true or false and is made true or false in relation to states of affairs outside of the proposition itself.

[1] Winfried Corduan, No Doubt About It (Nashville, TN: Broadman, Holman, 1997), 26-27.
[2] This statement is true. My father was half-Dutch, my mother is fully Italian.
[3] “Principle of Bivalence,” Dictionary of Philosophy, revised second edition, edited by Anthony Flew (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984), 46.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Review of Brian McLaren's "A New Kind of Christian"

Here is my review from The Christian Research Journal of A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren. This is follow up to my recent post in which I mention McLaren. http://www.equip.org/free/DP808.htm

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Groothuis on Backbone Radio in Denver

I am slated to be on "Backbone Radio" (KNUS--710AM, Denver, CO) with Sen. John Andrews on Sunday, August 28 from 7:15-8:00 on the subject of Intelligent Design. I hope some of you can listen and perhaps call in. You can listen on line. I don't know if they archive progragms, though. http://www.710knus.com/
Best,
Doug Groothuis

Staying True to the Truth

A prospective student wrote to Denver Seminary. He was alarmed by our vision statement, which speaks of defending “absolute truth” in our postmodern world. Being favorable to postmodernism (through reading Brian McClaren’s book, A New Kind of Christian), he was wary of believing in absolute truth. This view would stifle our witness to non-Christians and hinder Christian growth, since those who believe in absolute truth think they have it all figured out.
This reveals that postmodernism is seducing the church as well as the world. Christians authors tell us not to emphasize biblical truth as objective and absolute. Instead, we should underscore the life of our community and tell the Christian story. According to McLaren, it is wrongheaded modern view to try to prove other religions wrong. We should rather try to be good and not worry so much about being right. (However, McClaren is concerned throughout the book to prove supposedly “modern” Christian are wrong.)
This kind of thinking issues the death sentence for apologetics: God’s call to defend our faith as true, rational, and compelling in the face of intellectual objections (1 Peter 5:15-17; Jude 3). One leading challenge to Christian faith—and to the idea of truth itself—is postmodernism itself.
Postmodern philosophies claim that truth is constructed by communities and shaped by language and social structures of power. There really is no truth “out there” above us. Richard Rorty claims that no “vocabulary” (or worldview) is any closer to reality than any other—although he presents his own view as an improvement over opposing views. Truth is merely what his colleagues let him get away with. Few Christians make such bald claims, but one Christian writer recently published a chapter called, “There is No Such Thing as Objective Truth and It’s a Good Thing, Too.” Other Christian leaders join the chorus and instruct us to leave a strong emphasis on truth and apologetics behind.
Yet without a clear view of the nature of truth and a rational defense of Christianity as true our witness will be paralyzed. We should tell our stories and invite people to join our communities. But Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, New Agers and others in our pluralistic world will tell their stories and beckon souls into their communities, too. What makes us different? As apologist Francis Schaeffer often said, the purpose of Christian community is to serve the God of truth with all our being. Truth should constitute our identity as Christians, individually and corporately. Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them by the truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
The Hebrew and Greek words for “truth” in Scripture have deep meanings, but they all center on the idea of factuality and accuracy. To put it more philosophically (but not unbiblically), a true statement corresponds with reality or fits the facts. Christian faith must fit the great facts of the Christian story or it is false and hopeless. Paul said that if we hope in Christ and his resurrection and Christ is not risen our faith is in pointless and misleading. It must be historical, factual, and reliable (1 Corinthians 15). Our confidence in the gospel is based on objective facts. We believe these them because they are true; our believing them does not make them true. Christians do find their faith to be subjectively compelling. However, these beliefs are existentially gripping only because they lay rightly claim to realities about our selves, our world, and our God.
But can we say that Christianity is absolutely true? Many professed Christians get philosophical cold feet at this point. Recent polls show that upwards of sixty percent of “Christians,” like our prospective student, deny the existence of absolute truth.
An absolute has no exemptions or qualifications. Jesus affirmed an absolute truth about himself: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6; see also Matthew 11:27). Paul echoes this when he claims that there is but one mediator between God and humanity, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:4). Peter preached that salvation is found in Jesus alone (Acts 4:8-12). This absolute truth gives us a trustworthy point of reference, Jesus Christ, who is he same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). It is no arbitrary pronouncement, but a claim based on good evidence from the incomparable life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and found in historically reliable documents (Luke 1:1-4; 2 Peter 1:16).
Defending and living in accord with this objective and absolute truth does not imply we have absolutely mastered all the truth or all biblical truth. We bear witness to the absolute truth, but we are not absolute! No church or denomination perfectly captures biblical truth, but that is the goal. Nor does belief in absolute truth mean we can easily convince doubters of this truth, but we should try. Nevertheless, we must marshal truth-claims and humbly present the arguments and evidence given for the uniqueness and finality of Jesus Christ—as well as for all the defining doctrines of Christian faith. Otherwise, we fail to be true to the truth that sets the captives free.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and the author of several books, including Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism (InterVarsity Press, 2000).

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Letter to "The New York Times" Concering Intelligent Design

Veryln Klinkenborg’s editorial about Intelligent Design (ID) (8-23) caricatured the movement and begged important questions. He accuses “faith-based rejections of evolution” as “ultimately requiring a foreshortening of cosmological, geological, and biological time.” That is true for six-day creationists, but not for the ID perspective, which acceptes an ancient cosmos. ID theorists argue that even given vast stretches of time, the probabilistic resources available to a mindless and undesigned universe could not have brought about our information-rich Biosphere. For the philosophical and scientific arguments for this (with no appeal to the Bible), see William Dembski, No Free Lunch. Ironically, Klinkenborg’s own view is “faith-based”—given enough time mindless matter can account for everything. He asserts that life evolved from non-life when, in fact, there is no plausible materialistic explanation for this, as many modern scientists, such as Francis Crick, have admitted.

Sincerely,
Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.,
Professor of Philosophy
Denver Seminary

A Little Bit on G. K. Chesterton

[This was an entry commissioned for a book called Christianity A-Z. The editor never used it for the book. But here it is. May it spark interest in this incomparable thinker.]

GILBERT KEITH CHESTERTON (1874--1936)

Prolific British Christian author whose huge corpus of writings includes works of literary criticism, biography, journalism, poetry, autobiography, novels, and Christian apologetics. Chesterton also worked as an editor and lecturer. His writings are known for their endless wit, insight, and humor, as well as their intellectual depth and force. As a master of aphorism, paradox, and pithy argument, Chesterton uniquely combines entertainment, education, and edification--and is exceptionally quotable on many topics. He converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism in 1922, but remains a favorite writer of many Protestants as well as Catholics. His apologetic work, particularly The Everlasting Man (1925), significantly influenced C.S. Lewis to embrace Christianity. Many Chestertonian themes--such as Christianity as the fulfillment of pagan mythology and the life of the imagination as vital to Christian faith--can be found in Lewis’ writings as well. Besides his popular Father Brown detective novels, his most well-known and best books include Orthodoxy (1908), a wringing defense of Christianity, which takes on the prevalent nonChristian philosophies of the day (such as Nietzsche’s philosophy, scientism, pantheism, and pragmatism). It remains a powerful argument for Christianity even in postmodern times. Chesterton stressed the objective truth and reasonableness of the Christian faith by saying, “I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.” His work on Thomas Aquinas, The Dumb Ox (1933), was a popular treatment of the great medievel philosopher and theologian. Nevertheless, the eminent Thomist, Etiene Gilson, said of it, “I have been studying Saint Thomas all my life, and I could never have written such a book.” Saint Francis of Assisi (1923) is a warm and appreciative biography of the noteworthy Catholic saint who was a source of constant inspiration for Chesterton. Because of the breath of his knowledge and the productivity of his pen (and despite his some of his intellectual idiosyncrasies), Chesterton remains a rich source of Christian insight into the Third Millennium.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Book Review of "True to Life"

Michael Lynch, True to Life: Why Truth Matters. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004. 204 pages with index. Review first published in The Denver Post.


Despite their ancient pedigree as “lovers of wisdom,” philosophers sometimes muddy the waters more than they clear the air. This is especially true of philosophers who claim that truth is nothing more than collective opinion, that it is not discovered but created. Contemporary philosopher Richard Rorty claimed that truth is simply “what my colleagues let me get away with.”

Philosopher Michael Lynch doesn’t let these philosophers get away with it. Nor does he want to give up a strong and objective sense of truth when it comes to “speaking truth to power” in politics. Both politicians and other citizens must be held accountable to what is true; otherwise politics is reduced to unprincipled power brokering. To that end, Lynch has crafted a thoughtful but approachable work on the meaning and value of truth. Although intellectually stimulating, True to Life is not written in a technical philosophical style. It speaks to anyone who puzzles over the nature of truth and the value of truth in a world so fraught with lies.

Lynch defends four basic and interrelated claims in this brief but meaty book. First, truth is objective; it is not mere belief. Humans are fallible. We often hold beliefs that we later reject because they have been refuted by reality. Believing something does not make it true. Nor can two contradictory beliefs (such as “There is a God” and “There is no God”) both be true. Second, it is good to believe what is true. Therefore, third, truth is worth pursuing intellectually. Fourth, truth has objective and intrinsic value. That is, truth is not a means to an end, but an end itself. If we are thinking clearly, we don’t use truth for something higher than truth itself.

True to Life addresses more deep philosophical issues than a short review can adequately accommodate. Especially noteworthy, though, are his arguments against relativism (“True for me, but not for you”) and pragmatism (“What’s true is what works”). These philosophies dominate popular culture and have infected much of the academy as well. Nevertheless, they fail to survive Lynch’s careful scrutiny. Once rationally dissected, they die. For example, when Martin Luther King, Jr. cried out against institutional racism (speaking truth to power), he based his arguments on objective truth-claims: that African Americans were equal to whites, that African Americans had been exploited, and that they deserved freedom as equal citizens of the United States. King’s power came not merely from his oratorical abilities, but because he was challenging the social consensus and the law itself on the basis of objective truth. Appeals to relativism and pragmatism would have carried no persuasive power. As Lynch notes, “Having a concept of truth allows us to make sense of the thought that a claim, no matter how entrenched in one’s culture [such as racism], no matter how deeply defended by the powers that be, may still be wrong” (p. 41).

Lynch rightly notes that if truth exists, and if we should pursue it, certain dispositions or habits of the mind are appropriate. This “involves being willing to hear both sides of the story, being open-minded and tolerant of other’s opinions, being careful and sensitive to detail, being curious, and paying attention to the evidence. And it also involves being willing to question assumptions, giving and asking for reasons, being impartial, and being intellectual courageous—that is, not believing simply what is convenient to believe.” (130). How much of popular American culture—especially television—encourages these intellectual virtues?

One may question, however, Lynch’s secular worldview at two key points. First, while he affirms objective truths about human rights, Lynch has no explanation for where these rights come from. They are left unexplained, unanchored, and mysterious. The Declaration of Independence, which Martin Luther King often invoked, seems more convincing: “We are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.” Second, philosophers such as C.S. Lewis have argued that our knowledge of truth would be very unlikely if we were merely material beings who were not designed for that purpose in mind. According to Lynch’s worldview, the fact that our thoughts may connect with objective facts is merely a happenstance of nature. Truth happens—for no reason.

Despite these concerns, True To Life is a bracing antidote to the disease of postmodern cynicism that renders truth impossible and leaves us with nothing but wind-blown opinion. It challenges the reader to be “true to life,” because truth matters.

· Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., directs the Philosophy of Religion program at Denver Seminary and is the author of Truth Decay (InterVarsity Press, 2000).

Sunday, August 21, 2005

More support for Intelligent Design

Thomas Woodward, Doubts About Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2003. 303 pages. Hardback $19.95.


The media often organize information according to predictable and simplistic stories. Sometimes the media story captures the truth, and sometimes the truth eludes it. One oft-repeated story is that all challenges to Darwinism are merely religiously motivated and hopelessly unscientific. Science is about objective facts. Religion is about subjective values. Darwinism is scientific. Challenges to Darwinism are not scientific and so have no place in any public institution. This standard story is being upended by lawyers, scientists, and philosophers who claim that Darwinism fails the tests of good science. These thinkers, who are neither theologians nor preachers, make up the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, which is chronicled in this important book written by a professor at Trinity College in Florida.

Woodward’s account shows that the problem with the template of “religion versus Darwin” is that it simply doesn’t fit the ID movement, although many detractors try to insist otherwise. The founder of the movement, Phillip Johnson, was, until his recent retirement, a Professor of Law at the University of California at Berkeley. While on sabbatical in the late 1980s, he studied the scientific case for and against Darwinism and concluded that the empirical case for Darwinism was surprisingly weak. He then presented his findings at a symposium held through his law school and was further encouraged to pursue his criticism of Darwinism. As Woodward amply documents, the proponents of this movement—which include a biochemist (Michael Behe) as well as a philosopher of mathematics (William Dembski)—have “doubts about Darwin” based on their investigation of the empirical evidence. Proponents of ID argue that Darwinism lacks crucial evidence, begs important questions, and often caricatures alternatives unfairly. It excludes the possibility of any design in nature by philosophical fiat, not by winning the game empirically.

The proponents of ID make their case against Darwinian evolution by pointing out flaws in the arguments and gaps in the evidence, not by citing religious texts. Neither do they argue that the earth is only about six thousand years, nor do they care to discuss Noah’s flood. That is, they are not part of the older “scientific creationism” movement. Rather, ID thinkers are a diverse group united primarily in their belief that Darwinism is not beyond the reach of scientific criticism. They claim that the category of intelligent design is a legitimate scientific concept required in order to explain certain aspects of the natural world, but they say little about the nature of the designer. Chance and necessity alone, they argue, do not provide sufficient scientific categories for explaining the origin of complex living systems such as DNA and the bacterial flagellum (a microscopic rotary motor). The scientific and philosophical establishment is beginning to interact seriously with ID claims in academic journals and at conferences, although it is still often dismissed as “unscientific.”

There are a growing number of books defending and criticizing ID, but Woodward’s book is unique in that it assesses the history of this movement of the past decade-or-so from the perspective of the classical discipline of rhetoric. Given the book’s rhetorical angle, the reader is treated to both the straight arguments for and against Darwinism, as well as an inside look at the personalities and persuasive strategies used on both sides of the debate. (For example, when noted Darwinist Stephen Jay Gould first met Phillip Johnson, he dispensed with pleasantries and said, “You’re a creationist and I’ve got to stop you.”) In Woodward’s account, Johnson emerges as the rhetorical mastermind of ID, who, though an outsider to the scientific guild, nevertheless mastered the scientific case against Darwinism and helped develop a consistent strategy for the ID movement. His simple charge is that Darwinism is driven more by a commitment to a materialistic worldview than by the actual evidence of biology. If one admits the category of intelligent design back into science, the case for Darwinism crumbles—or so Johnson claims.

While Woodward is a friend of the Intelligent Design movement, he lets the thinkers speak for themselves and is neither partisan nor unfair. Rather, without getting too technical, he frames the debate in terms of rhetorical strategies employed. In this way, the reader can discover the larger intellectual, historical, emotional, and cultural contours of this growing debate—which, I wager, is not about to go away any time soon.

· Douglas Groothuis is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and the author of On Pascal.

Review of "The Crisis of Islam"

Bernard Lewis, The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror. New York: The Modern Library, 2003. 184 pages, hardback. $19.95. This review was first published in The Rocky Mountain News.


This short book is rich with historical insights that are in short supply in our popular culture’s superficial understanding of the relationship between Islam and the West. In an age of pugnacious pundits, Bernard Lewis—a professor emeritus from Princeton—is a genuine scholar. He writes with eloquence, tact, and measured judgment. After a distinguished career as an historian of the Middle East, he has in recent years been called upon to provide perspective on the animosity between much of Islam and the West. This cannot be done in sound bites, but in 184 pages Professor Lewis succeeds admirably in summarizing and explaining the last 1400 years of Islamic-Western relations. He clears up a number of commonly held confusions and misrepresentations of Islam without sugar coating the dangers the world faces from Islamic terrorism. As such, The Crisis of Islam is a valuable primer for those seeking to make some sense of geopolitical events after September 11.

Lewis states that Muslims have long memories and root their present ambitions in their perceptions of both the recent and the very distant past. In a video from October 7, 2001, Osama bin Ladin spoke of the “humiliation and disgrace” suffered by Islam for “more than eighty years” (xv). While most Americas wondered what this might mean, Lewis points out that bin Ladin’s Muslim listeners “picked up the allusion immediately and appreciated its significance” (xvi). In 1918 the Ottoman Empire, ruled by a Muslim sultan (or caliph), was defeated and its capital, Constantinople, was occupied. The empire’s land was parceled out to the British and French empires. To Muslims, this was an unanticipated and unparalled reversal of their long history of global conquests, since for “Muslims, no piece of land once added to the realm of Islam can ever be finally renounced” (xxviii-xxix). This loss of social and religious influence in the face of the global influence of non-Muslim nations (particularly America) is in large part what constitutes “the crisis of Islam” today.

Muhammad, despite early setbacks in Mecca, was a very successful religious reformer, businessman, statesman, and warrior. The Qur’an proclaims Islam as the culminating manifestation of ancient monotheism that is destined to cover the earth. Lewis notes that “in Muslim tradition, the world is divided into two houses: the House of Islam (Dar al-Islam), in which Muslim governments rule and Muslim law prevails, and the House of War (Dar al-Harb), the rest of the world, still inhabited and, more important, ruled by infidels” (31).

We often hear from Western analysts that “jihad” primarily means an inner struggle for religious purity, but Lewis disagrees. For the majority of Muslim history, Jihad has been interpreted “to mean armed struggle for the defense and advancement of Islam” (31). The “presumption is that the duty of jihad will continue, interrupted only by truces, until all the world either adopts the Muslim faith or submits to Muslim rule” (31-32).

But does the concept of jihad justify the fury let loose against America on September 11, 2001? Lewis thinks not. He cites an hadith (an influential saying of the prophet recorded outside the Qur’an), where suicide is said to be “punished by eternal damnation in the form of the endless repetition of the act by which the [person] killed himself” (153). Modern Islamic terrorists today differ from the traditional Muslim martyr who was “willing to face certain death at the hand of his enemies or captors” (152-153), but not to be the direct cause of his own death. Thus, the September 11 terrorist attacks had “no justification in Islamic doctrine or law and no precedent in Islamic history” (154). One hopes Lewis is right, but how many Muslims worldwide are as knowledgeable of their own tradition as this scholar? Tragically, many seem more willing to heed the violent interpretations and pronouncements of Osama bin Ladin and cohorts.

Lewis is neither an apologist for the West, nor an antagonist of Islam. He is rather a learned and fair-minded scholar whose reflections on these vexing issues are urgently needed today.

· Douglas Groothuis is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and the contributing editor for the Dictionary of Contemporary Religion in the Western World (InterVarsity Press, 2002).

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

More Thoughts from Pascal

Not only do we only know God through Jesus Christ, but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ; we only know life and death through Jesus Christ. Apart from Jesus Christ we cannot know the meaning of our life or our death, of God or of ourselves. Thus without Scripture, whose only object is Christ, we know nothing and can see nothing but obscurity and confusion in the nature of God and in nature itself (Pensees, 417/548).

Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

There is a new web page designed to help college students develop their worldview and meet the intellectual challenges of the university. It is called True U. They have posted a new article by me called, "Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?" I hope to have other essays on apologetics posted on this page in the near future. Here is the link to the article: http://www.trueu.org/Academics/LectureHall/A000000113.cfm

Monday, August 15, 2005

Debating Intelligent Design on the Radio

Here is the link to the audio for the radio program (KGNU: 88.5 FM; 1390 AM), "Metro," which aired on August 15, 2005 from 12:00-1:00PM. The program debated Intelligent Design (ID). I was on for the whole hour defending ID. The first 20 minutes I was paired with a Chris Moody (or Moony), who is coming out with a book called, The Republican War Against Science. The rest of the program paired me with Rabbi Joel Schwartzman, a Reform Rabbi from the Boulder area. Please post any responses you have to this program.

http://kgnu.org/ht/listencomp.html

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Made for thinking, but...

Blaise Pascal, from Pensees.

Man is obviously made for thinking. Therein lies all his dignity and his merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought. Now the order of thought is to begin with ourselves, and with our author and our end. Now what does the world think about? Never about that, but about dancing, playing the lute, singing, writing verse, tilting at the ring, etc., and fighting, becoming king, without thinking what it means to be a king or to be a man (620/146).

Colossal Questions for Tragic Times: Tsunami, Catastrophe, and Christian Faith

Colossal and perennial questions assault us during times of unspeakable anguish. Although it has been several months since a devastating tidal wave pummeled southern Asia, its still behooves us to ask those haunting questions, since the punishing after effects of this catastrophe continue. Moreover, we can be certain that other catastrophes—both manmade and natural—will devil our days and render sleepless our nights in this world of woe. Yet if you were to enter “tsunami, philosophy, and religion” on Google, you would not find simple answers to why this or any natural disaster should wreak such devastation for so many human beings. Despite the instant information available everywhere, wisdom about deeper matters seems to elude our grasp.

The New York Times gave a secular, naturalistic answer, claiming that “the underlying story of this tragedy is the overpowering, amoral mechanics of the earth’s surface,” which operate “with profound indifference to anything but the pressures that drive them.” Meaning is exhausted by geology; tragedy is reducible to physics and chemistry. Yet the same plate tectonic system that permits tsunamis makes life on earth possible, along with dozens and dozens of other fine-tuned factors not known to exist anywhere else in the universe. The probability that this panoply of life-supporting elements was birthed by chance and impersonal natural law is vanishingly small. Moreover, the mechanics of life itself reveal highly complex and purposeful systems that defy mindless materialistic theories of origin. Our genes are brimming with vast amounts of highly specified and complex information. DNA is a code, a living language of symbols that cannot be reduced to the laws of chemistry or biology.

Secularism cannot explain this tragedy. A world without design is a world too small. Secularism is hard-pressed even to provide the moral categories necessary to support the very concept of tragedy. If we are nothing but the result of physical particles and forces, what’s all the fuss about human death? The earth’s plates shift, and deaths occur. Yet our response to human loss betrays what we know: we human are unique among the living. Even when it comes from nature (and not other humans), the doom of our fellows jars us as unnatural, not the way it is supposed to be. Some higher animals note the deaths of their offspring or mates with some feeling, it seems. But we lament death. We cry out to heaven as our tears fall to earth. This language of lamentation is indelibly enshrined in our literature and sacred writings.
However, there is no generic “religious” answer. Religions offer different answers, depending on their view of the cosmos. After many years of study, I am still left with unanswered questions—and I join others on the mourner’s bench. Nevertheless, there is an ancient and globally appreciated narrative that gives meaning to tragedy and sparks hope even amidst desolation.

Yet the biblical worldview provides the categories that make the best sense of human suffering and offer solid hope for a better world to come. Nature is not a self-enclosed system. The cosmos was designed by a personal and moral being, who deemed it “good.” Yet our first parents—reckoned “very good” by their Author—rebelled against their Creator, thus fracturing and fragmenting creation, both for themselves and for their progeny, whom they represented. The Creator, however, did not abandon his erring creatures. God continued to reveal truth through nature and through his prophets, whose message engaged both Israel and all the nations. Despite the fractures and fissures of a world in rebellion, God remains involved in creation and concerned for it, even sending his one and only Son to rescue it from futility. History is played out on God’s watch. God attends to every detail according to his unlimited wisdom and matchless power. As Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. . . . So don’t be afraid.” Jesus himself knows the worst that this world has to offer, having experienced it on a cruel Cross for the sake of humanity’s redemption.

How does God relate to this catastrophe? The deadly tsunami neither surprised nor outsmarted the Ancient of Days. It was no random, impersonal upsurge devoid of meaning. If it were, hope would be vanquished for both the living and the dead. But we, with clouded vision and bounded intellects, witness but a microscopic part of the cosmic narrative. Evils inscrutable to us play a significant part in the divine economy of this bent and broken world, we are told. The Apostle Paul claimed that even after the world-shaking achievements of the crucified and resurrected Christ, the whole cosmos groans together in travail, awaiting its final redemption. We all groan with it; but we may groan with hope and work hopefully for the world’s healing, if we entrust our lives to the one who said he was “the resurrection and the life.”

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Book Review: "Christianity on Trial"

Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett, Christianity On Trial: Arguments Against Anti-Religious Bigotry. San Francisco, Encounter Books, 2002. Reviewed by Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and the author of On Jesus (Wadsworth, 2003).

Until some time roughly in the middle of the twentieth century, defenders of the Christian worldview employed as part of their apologetic arsenal the claim that Christianity’s impact on history was one of its most stellar credentials. The crucified and risen Christ of the Scripture transforms not only individuals, but family relationships, institutions, politics, education, race relations, charitable endeavors, and much more. . How else could one explain the conversion and civilization of the pagan nations if not by divine grace shown through Jesus Christ invasion of history? This kind of argument was used by Athanasius in the Fourth Century in his treatise, The Incarnation of the Word of God. More recent is a large book in my library dating from 1929 by Charles David Eldridge, Christianity’s Contributions to Civilization (Cokesbury Press).

Yet the practice of arguing for Christianity based on its salutary contributions to history has fallen on hard times. So hard, in fact, that the aim of Christianity On Trial is not to argue positively for Christianity given its unique achievements, but to argue against Christianity’s detractors by setting the record straight. As the subtitle states, the arguments of the book address “anti-religious bigotry.” This defensive strategy is called for given the Western media’s penchant for making Christianity a scapegoat for nearly all forms of evil in the world today.

As journalists, the authors are both well aware of media prejudice against Christianity. Carroll is the editor of the editorial pages for The Rocky Mountain News of Denver, Colorado, and Shiflett is a free-lance writer. In their eight well-written and amply documented chapters, the authors argue that Christianity was foundational to the major social structures in the West. The book presents a strong case that Christian ideals are behind many beneficial aspects of contemporary culture, including an appreciation of science and education, equality before the law, universal suffrage, the structure of American government, and much more. One area where the book does not deliver adequately is in addressing the charge that Christianity is misogynistic. Some attention is paid to this complaint, but much more could and should be marshaled. (Chapter XVIII of Christianity’s Contribution to Civilization is entitled, “Christianity’s Contributions to the Uplift of Women.” However, this book is long out of print.)

The authors certainly grant that the history of Christianity is checkered, since Christians remain sinners who fail to live up to their ideals. Nevertheless, despite the incessant media references to crusades, witch trials, and racism, the Christian influence on the West has been pervasive and, all things considered, positively ennobling. To see this, however, one must dig deeper than sound bites and factoids. For those so willing, this book is a needed corrective. For a similar work demythologizing the Christian past, see Philip J. Sampson, 6 Modern Myths About Christianity and Western Civilization (InterVarsity Press, 2001).

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Doctrine of Calling

[By Douglas Groothuis, adapted from Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism (InterVarsity Press, 2000).]


One potent dynamo of postmodernist instability—intellectually, morally and spiritually—is the rootlessness and restlessness of many postmoderns concerning the meaning of their identities. The self becomes saturated, sated with possibilities, options, and preferences—yet without an inner gyroscope for direction, correction, and inspiration. When all values are constructed, no hierarchy of objective values is possible, no guiding ideal is available, and no taboos intrude; there are only experiments, amusements, and diversions. The postmodern self is protean and dynamic, but also fragmented and ultimately empty of objective meaning. The self was made for better things.

In this toxic cultural environment, the Christian needs to know who she is and who she serves. She should be crystal clear on what she is summoned to know, who she is summoned to be, and what she is summoned to do before the face of God. As postmodernists vainly pose and preen for effect, experience and power, Christians can and must lodge their identities firmly in the transcendent reality of the triune God.

As their primary calling, all Christians are enjoined to love God with all of their beings (Mt 22:37-39), to exemplify virtue in the Holy Spirit (Mt 5:1-12; Gal 5:22-26), and to obey God’s commands (Ex 20:1-17). But followers of Christ are also called to find their unique life purpose, in order to use their particular gifts and abilities to their utmost for God’s glory.

The doctrine of calling has fallen on hard times in the postmodern world. People speak of their “religious preferences” and “spiritual lifestyles” instead of their God-ordained duties, responsibilities, and privileges. I cannot adequately broach this weighty subject, but I will offer a few ideas that might assist us to better represent “the fixed point” of truth today. On this matter, Os Guinness’s excellent work, The Call, is pivotal.

First, Christian calling brooks no separation between the secular and the sacred. All of life is to be lived under the comprehensive Lordship of Christ (Matthew 28:18). One does not don a spiritual self for religious activities and another self for entertainment or one’s profession. All of our actions should be unified in obedience to God and for God’s glory (1 Cor 10:31; Col 3:17). Similarly, neither are church-related work nor missions is more spiritual than other professions such as law, business, education, journalism, or politics. The Kingdom of God bears on every dimension of life, and agents of that Kingdom serve as salt and light wherever the Spirit leads them. As Christians incarnate their world view in public life they help reverse truth decay in myriad ways. In the midst of the fragmentation of postmodern pluralism, the Christian sees all things as unified in God’s over-arching plan for the universe, summed up in the supremacy of Christ. All has meaning in reference to that fixed—and living—point (Col 1:15-20; Heb 13:6).

Second, the discovery of one’s particular calling involves aligning at least three key elements. One should focus one’s life on: (1) what one is good at doing, (2) what needs to be done for the common good, and (3) what gives one deep satisfaction and meaning.

1. Christians have natural and spiritual gifts that ought to be identified and utilized to the utmost. In a fallen world, we cannot always employ our talents to the fullest, but we should strive to find our areas of excellence and develop them for God. We identify the truth about our gifts best through the dynamics of personal Bible study, prayer, Christian friendship, and in the matrix of the church community. In this way, we model what biblical community should be, a community where we “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15) to one another, to stimulate each other to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24). It should be noted that this is not the postmodernist sense of community or lifestyle, which is self-contained and horizontal, without a stable, vertical reference outside of itself.

2. However, our gifts need to be coordinated with those that stand to benefit from them. Professor Howard Hendricks reportedly once said that if you think you have the gift of teaching, you had better be able to find a good number of people who have the gift of listening to you! What does the church and world lack that we can uniquely provide? We are gifted to serve, not to glorify our gifts or to duplicate what others have already done well in their place of service. Just as Paul’s ambition was to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that he would not be building on someone else’s foundation (Rom 15:20), so should we employ our gifts where they are truly needed.

3. Lastly, if we are employing our real gifts for worthy purposes, this should give us a rich sense of joy and even adventure in knowing that we are moving in God’s will for our lives (Rom 12:1-2). “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh 8:10). This is not a superficial titillation or (heaven forbid) a postmodern diversion, but a purpose and practice that orients one’s fundamental identity toward specific ends. As Frederick Buechner wonderfully phrases it, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” The soul should celebrate its contribution to others’ well-being.

As followers of Jesus refuse the false seductions of style, hype, and spiritual consumerism, they regain and retain a resonating sense of what it means to hear and heed the call of God, come what may. While postmodernists madly “reinvent” themselves (to no ultimate end) ever more rapidly, radically, and frantically, the Christian can rest in his or her identity in Jesus Christ, his Kingdom, and his calling. As we “seek first the Kingdom and its righteousness” (Mt 6:33), our lives are brought into greater harmony with God’s truth and, therefore, into greater disharmony with all untruth, postmodernist or otherwise. In so doing, we serve as signs, clues, and rumors of God’s objective reality in a world moving toward depravity in nearly every direction.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

New Reality TV!

Here is an idea for a new "Reality TV" program to be called "The Book." Lock an average American in a clean, well-lit, and comfortable room with food and water for 24 hours. This room is equipped with only one piece of unelectrified technology: a book, a difficult book--say, Augustine's City of God, or Pascal's Pensees, or the Bible, or something similar. (Left Behind will be left behind.) Film the hapless soul and use time-lapsed photography (if that is what compressing the time into shorter segments is called) to "capture" his or her slow descent into insanity--or perhaps, if grace abounds, his or her slow ascent into sanity. For most, the release from this prison would be a sufficient reward.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Groothuis (and other) interviews on line

Pastor Keith Plumber hosts the Pensees interviews. Keith has interviewed me on three topics: Blaise Pascal, Jesus as a philosopher, and cyberspace. I hope some of you will listen to these interviews, as well as the others. Keith is a superb interviewer, one of the best I have experienced in over twenty-five years of various interviews. His interviews have recently been added to World Magazine's redesigned blog (http://worldmagblog.com/ - see "features" in right sidebar). Please visit and listen.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Rocky Mountain News story on Intelligent Design

Here is a link to the August 6, 2005 article on Intelligent Design from The Rocky Mountain News. It is written by Jean Torkelson and quotes me. Sorry I have not yet worked on making the link look better.

http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/local/article/0,1299,DRMN_15_3982019,00.html

ID on TV: Reflections on Being Televised

Having recently survived an appearance on the television program “Good Day Colorado” on August 5 concerning Intelligent Design (ID), I offer a few reflections. I had some cordial conversation in the green room beforehand with my Darwinian counterpart, Dr. Victor Stenger and his wife Phyllis. Dr. Stenger and I compared notes on being mistreated by publishers and talked about some other light topics. While Dr. Stenger was out of the room, the host of the program, Steve Kelly, came in and introduced himself. He said that we should try to keep the conversation at a fifth grade level. Could this mean that only fifth graders and below watch the program? Not likely. Apparently, all post-fifth graders suffer from arrested mental development or somehow revert to this pre-adolescent cognitive level while gazing at the glittering screen. We were then guided into the Surreality Room (or TV studio), most of which is (appropriately enough) empty space shrouded in darkness.

Dr. Stenger and I were installed on the set and sat there while the news and commercials played before we came “on.” The cameras in the Surreality Room had no human operators present. They were literally robots. They stalked us and stared at us. I’m glad I am a Christian; otherwise, I might have panicked. Listening to the news before our segment was jarring. I have not watched television news in a very long time. Factoids flew fast and furiously. Each “story” was given 25 seconds at most. Accounts of murder and mayhem were followed by an appeal to adopt animals from the animal shelter. Then another commercial flashed, and suddenly we—two professors taking opposite sides on a subject that involves philosophy of science, biology, public policy and much else—were “on” television. We had three segments of no more than three or four minutes each. I had prepared the entire day before by reading a substantial amount of Dr. Stenger’s on line material as well as brushing up on ID arguments. He is a retired physicist and a published skeptic. I knew he would say that ID was not scientific and that Darwinism was the only game in town. So, I brought a document recently released by the Discovery Institute (www.discovery.org) listing 500 scientists who dissent from Darwinism. I also brought a document (also on the Discovery Institute web page), listing peer-review articles supporting ID. I was able to produce both documents to good effect, I think. I also brought Michael Behe’s groundbreaking 1996 book, Darwin’s Black Box (Free Press). Dr. Stenger first displayed this for me (rejecting it), but I showed it to the camera as well.

About half way into the program, an “audience” of accordion players (I kid you not; this is television) were consulted for their questions. (They would later perform on the show, I assume.) This “audience” was not in the room with us. We saw them (or part of them) on a monitor. I answered one question and Dr. Stenger answered another. I didn’t answer my question that well, I’m afraid. The fellow asked, “How does ID explain intelligence?” He then went on to say that he, a science teacher, teaches Darwinism to explain life and that anything related to ID should be taught as “culture and history.” I said that this was “conceptual apartheid” and that ID does explain life. I did not address the first part of his question, which, I think boiled down to the old Humean canard, “Who designed the designer?” This is supposed to end the argument. I was ready with an answer to this objection, because Dr. Stenger employs this strategy in his writing. However, in the surreal TV environment (perhaps I was distracted a bit by the accordion in the fellow’s lap); I didn’t immediately pick up on the fact that this was his primary question, so my answer was incomplete. The basic answer is that if, for example, we can explain a number of murders by arguing that Ted Bundy did it, we do not have to explain who designed Ted Bundy to answer the question at issue. Similarly, ID attempts to explain contingent, complex, and specified physical events in terms of an antecedent and designing intelligence. It is not an overarching metaphysical theory that attempts to explain everything. See William Dembski, The Design Revolution (Intervarsity Press, 2004), pages 197-199, on this. There are also good philosophical answers that deal with this question with respect to the argument from design. See the chapter by Robin Collins in the forthcoming book, In Defense of Natural Theology, edited by James Sennett and Douglas Groothuis (InterVarsity Press, November 2005). See also J.P. Moreland’s discussion of the design argument for God in his Scaling the Secular City (Baker, 1987), pages 63-64.

Perhaps I can summarize the meat of what I said by citing an email from my friend Douglas White, who pastors New Day Church in Boulder. Having watched the event, he came up with six basic ideas that I communicated.
1) You exposed the Darwinist monopoly in the public school instruction.
2) You requested to allow each of the claims to be introduced for people to decide.
3) ID is not attempting to bring Adam and Eve into the debate.
4) We should measure the merit of ID by empirical evidence and not nose counts.
5) There are distinguishable markers that point to intelligent design that should be studied.
6) You were not angry or deriving data from the Fundamentalist backwaters.

All things considered, I was able to present some arguments and facts, but in a very compacted, interruptive, and generally absurdist format. Dr. Stenger did not flummox me, nor did he provide a lot by way of substance against my view. I think I responded to most of his criticisms, at least when I was given opportunities to do so.

Will I ever do this again? No, I will not—unless God zaps me. It involved too much stress for too little output. However, Dr. Stenger and I discussed being part of some kind of informal debate or discussion in the future. We left on good terms with each other after this surreal experience. So, I hope we can follow up with some rational discourse in a nontelevised public setting, perhaps at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he is an adjunct professor and where I have occasionally spoken in lectures and debate formats. I will endeavor to do my best as a foot soldier for the Intelligent Design movement.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Televised Curmudgeon

From 8:00 - 8:30 AM on Friday, August 5, I am slated to appear on "Good Day Colorado," on Fox News TV in Denver, Colorado, to defend the thesis that Intelligent Design Theory should be taught as a scientific theory in public schools. My opponent will be a Dr. Victor Stenger of Citizens for Science. It is a half-hour, live program that I’m told will be punctuated by four or five commercials.

Why do this? My hope is that I might get in a few good chops that will cause people to read something significant on the topic, as can be found at http://www.discovery.org/. I will try to submit a report of what transpired within a few days after it is on. Since "thinking doesn't play well on television" (Neil Postman), I do not have high hopes. I watched part of the program this morning and I realized that all I can do is inject a few thoughtful sound bites (if there is such a thing). Matthew 10:16, it is.

This comes during the week we are critiquing television in my class at Denver Seminary and after I recently preached on "Television: Agent of Truth Decay"!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Strange Exile of Jesus

[This is the pre-edited version of a piece that ran in The Chroncile of Higher Education a few years ago. It is adapted from my book, On Jesus. They changed the title of the piece to "What Would Jesus Think?" which is far inferior to the original title.]


Liberal education, among other things, aims to engage the most influential and significant thinkers in history. Professors urge their students to join the great conversation on matters of goodness, truth, justice, and beauty. The ideas and arguments of recognized philosophers form a firm part of the canon. Recently, many have argued that this canon should be widened to include the voices of women and non-Western thinkers. If we read Aristotle, why not Confucius and Mary Wollstonecraft?

One thinker remains oddly exiled—outside nearly everyone’s canon of noteworthy intellects, despite the fact that no one has transcended his influence in global history. He wrote no books, but neither did Socrates or Buddha. The historicity of the documents that record his life and thought have been disputed, but this is true for nearly all ancient thinkers. The four short accounts of his brief life have generated more historical and literary analysis than perhaps any other texts. While the thinking of those who were inspired by his life and teachings—whether Augustine, Aquinas, Martin Luther or Martin Luther King—is often studied, the actual philosophy, argument forms, and worldview of Jesus of Nazareth is too often omitted from the curriculum of higher education, and from the academic world overall.

There are myriad materials on “the historical Jesus”—what he said and who he thought he was. But these discussions rarely take place outside of religious studies contexts and often fail to address the philosophical dimension of Jesus’ recorded teachings. Most reference books in philosophy omit mention of him. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1967) has no entry under “Jesus” or “Christ.” The newer and well-respected Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1998) has no entry for “Jesus” or “Christ,” but includes one on “Buddha.”

Many take Jesus to be more of a sage, exorcist, mystic or prophet than a philosopher. Even those who hold to the theological doctrine of the Incarnation sometimes devalue Jesus as a thinker, since they emphasize his statements as authoritative on the basis of his deity, not his intellect.

I was challenged to encounter Jesus as a philosopher when secular philosopher Daniel Kolak asked me to write a volume on Jesus for the Wadsworth Philosophers Series. Scrutinizing the canonical Gospels, I encountered a philosophical mind at work on matters pertaining to metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and gender relations. Amidst Jesus’ exorcisms, prophecies, and prayers, one finds a disciplined and discriminating intellect.

But several scholars deny that Jesus was a careful thinker. Historian Humphrey Carpenter claims that Jesus could not be a philosopher because he was a Jewish theist and not Greek. That principle, of course, would exclude Maimonides and many other Jewish philosophers. Neither does it do justice to Jesus’ teaching as recorded in the Gospels. Philosopher Karl Jaspers asserts (with little evidence) that Jesus’ thinking was unsystematic and contradictory, yet shows no appreciation of Jesus’ various ways of reasoning or the coherence of his worldview. Contemporary philosopher Michael Martin argues that Jesus disparaged rationality, since he praised the faith of children. But Jesus commended the humility and sincerity of children, not their ignorance or stupidity. When asked to state God’s greatest commandment, he answered that one should love God with all of one’s being, including the mind.

While Jesus did not articulate a systematic philosophy in the manner of Plato or Descartes (few philosophers have), his teachings, debates, and even prayers indicate a mind ready to think logically and to tackle great issues. The Gospels document Jesus making judgments in the prophetic mode, but not at the expense of Jesus’ use of reason, evidence, and analysis. If the necessary and sufficient conditions for being a philosopher are a strong and lived-out inclination to pursue truth about philosophical matters through the rigorous use of human reasoning, and to do so with some intellectual facility, then Jesus qualifies as a philosopher. Consider two examples of his reasoning.

Recently, philosophers have been exploring the role of moral character in epistemology. Philosophers still rightly ask what makes beliefs qualify as knowledge (truth plus justification or warrant), but increasingly philosophers are also wondering what makes believers good candidates for acquiring knowledge. This is called virtue epistemology; it has a long pedigree going back to Aquinas and Augustine in the Western tradition. Intellectual virtues have classically included patience, tenacity, humility, studiousness, and honest truth seeking. Vices to be avoided are impatience, gullibility, pride, vain curiosity, and intellectual apathy.
There is a strong emphasis on character in Jesus’ epistemology, which is closely intertwined with his teachings on ethics and the knowledge of God. He not only gives arguments and tells parables, he calls people to intellectual rectitude and sobriety. Jesus’ familiar moral teaching about the danger of judgmentalism contains an epistemological element easily and often overlooked.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person’s eye (Matthew 7:1-5).

This passage is frequently taken to forbid all moral evaluation, as if Jesus were a relativist. But Jesus has something else in mind: a clear-sighted self evaluation and a proper evaluation of others based on objective standards. He stipulates that all moral judgments relate to the self as much as to the other. When one judges others, one is implicitly bringing oneself under the same judgment. One will be measured by the same measurement one employs. Therefore, a person needs first to search her or his own being for any moral impurities and seriously address them (“take the plank out of your own eye”). Only then is one in a good epistemological and ethical position to evaluate another, to “see clearly” the speck in another’s eye.

If I fail to evaluate myself by my own standard, I cannot rightly discern the moral status of others. Accurate moral evaluation requires knowledge of the self, and allows for no special pleading. The hypocrite is not only morally deficient, but epistemologically defective as well. By failing to be subjectively attentive to one’s conscience, one fails to discern moral realities objectively. Thus people will often condemn others overly because they ignore or obscure their own transgressions.

Several incidents in the Gospels illustrate Jesus’ ability to escape deftly from between the horns of a dilemma when challenged. One famous response from the twenty-second chapter of Matthew is quite philosophically nuanced. Disciples of the Pharisees and several Herodians asked Jesus a controversial political question. The Pharisees were ardent nationalists who opposed the rule that Rome had imposed on the Jews in Palestine. The Herodians, on the other hand, were followers and defenders of the Herods, the Roman rulers who strictly governed Palestine. After some initial flattery about Jesus’ integrity, they tried to spring a trap. “Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Jesus faced a dilemma. If he sided with the Pharisees, he might be seen as an insurrectionist and a dangerous element (as were the Zealots, Jews who defended violent revolution against the state). If Jesus affirmed paying taxes, he would be viewed as capitulating to a secular and ungodly power instead of honoring Israel’s God. He would be denounced as disloyal. As Matthew tells us, the Pharisees had “laid plans to trap him in his words.” Jesus responded by asking for the coin used to pay the tax, a denarius. He asked, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” They replied that it was Caesar’s. Jesus uttered the now famous words, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” At this the delegation dispersed in amazement at his answer.

When confronted with a classic dilemma pertaining to what we would call church/state relations, he finds a way out logically. Jesus gives a place to the rule of Caesar under God without making Caesar God. Caesar’s portrait on the coin (a bust of Tiberius) had an inscription ascribing deity to the emperor. In differentiating Caesar from God, he strips Caesar of his supposed deity.
Jesus’ saying, while short and pithy, has inspired many political philosophers to explicate and apply the concept of a limited state in relation to religion and the rest of culture. While not offering a developed political philosophy (no one was asking for that, anyway), Jesus shows a deep awareness of the issues involved and responds intelligently under public pressure.

In light of these examples (and I could cite many more; see my On Jesus), I encourage professors in the humanities to rectify the omission of Jesus from the canon of philosophers by asking philosophical questions of the figure dominating the Gospels—questions about Jesus’ worldview and patterns of reasoning. Challenge students to bring new questions to these old texts—questions that don’t fit nicely into stereotypically religious molds. One might discover new dimensions of Jesus’ thought and new significance as well. Jesus, the philosopher, should be released from the religious ghetto and welcomed into the classroom as an intellectual participant in the discussion of things that matter most.