Thursday, November 27, 2008

What is Faith?

What is Faith?
Examples of Faith in Our Popular Culture:

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: starring Harrison Ford & Sean Connery as Indy’s father) – At the end of the story, Indy must retrieve the Holy Grail to save his father’s life. He makes it through a long corridor of obstacles; only to find he is standing on the edge of a deep chasm he must cross. He steps out “in faith” and finds he is actually walking on a camouflaged footbridge. Therefore, we see that FAITH = BELIEVING IN THE FACE OF CONTRADICTORY EVIDENCE.

Revolutions: the third movie in The Matrix trilogy. In the final scene the Oracle is asked if she always knew that Neo was “The One”? She replies, “Oh no. But I believed. I believed.”Therefore, we see that FAITH = BELIEVING WITHOUT REALLY KNOWING.

Polar Express: The boy, who is skeptical about whether Santa Clause is real, finally is lead to say, "I believe, I believe." Just then, Santa appears to him. Therefore, we see that FAITH = BELIEVING MAKES IT REAL. (1) For that matter, can one's faith make God exist? Can one's faith make the Bible true, or make Jesus rise from the dead? Hopefully you answered NO to these questions. (1)

The Leap of Faith
As seen above, is it any wonder why our culture does not have a clear understanding of the nature of biblical faith? Furthermore, one of the most common assertions about faith in God or Jesus as the Messiah is nothing more than a "leap of faith." But is this really what the Bible teaches? Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), became one of the foremost contributors to existential philosophy because of a reaction to one of the largest influences on his life, that being George Hegel, who believed the only way to discover reality was through rationalism. Another contributing factor to Kierkegaard’s existentialism was the experience he had in his formal church that was located in Denmark. It was there that practicing faith with passion was discounted. Out of his reaction to the cold formalism, Kierkegaard discovered what was important was to have an existential encounter with God. (2)

The phrase itself “leap of faith” finds its origins in the writings of Kierkegaard. For him, since man finds his authentic existence in a relationship with the Creator, the decision to believe must involve a criterionless choice, a leap of faith into the dark. Even though Kierkegaard says there are no rational grounds to take the “leap of faith,” the individual must do so or he will forever remain in an inauthentic existence. (3) Kierkegaard was correct in calling people to a passionate experience with God. After all, faith is not simply about adhering to a set of objective, historical propositions. However, the subjective nature of existentialism leads to one of the most important questions in religious dialogue- what god is the individual encountering? Do not all religious experiences require an external test for truth? After all, while there are some similarities in faiths such as truth, a God, right and wrong, spiritual purpose in life, and communion with God, they all also have some glaring differences such as the nature of God, the afterlife, the nature of man, sin, salvation, and creation.

In their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli give a summary of faith. It is very helpful.

Kreeft and Tacelli say we must distinguish between the act of faith from the object of faith- believing from what is believed. The object of faith means all things believed. For the Christian, this means everything God has revealed in the Bible. This faith (the object, not the act), is expressed in propositions. Propositions are many, but the ultimate object of faith is one. The ultimate object of faith is not words, but God’s Words (singular), indeed-Himself. Without a relationship with the living God, propositions are pointless, for their point is to point beyond themselves to God. But without propositions, we cannot know or tell others what God we believe in and what we believe about God.

The act of faith is more than merely an act of belief. We believe many things-for example that the Chicago White Sox will win this years world series and that New Zealand is beautiful but we are not willing to die for those beliefs, nor can we live them every moment. But religious faith can be something to live every moment. It is much more than belief and much stronger, though belief is one of its parts or aspects. There are four aspects of faith:

Emotional faith: is feeling assurance or trust or confidence in a person. This includes hope (which is much stronger than a wish and peace (which is much stronger then mere calm).

Intellectual faith: is belief. It is this aspect of faith that is formulated in propositions and summarized in creeds.

Volitional faith: is an act of the will, a commitment to obey God’s will. This faith is faithfulness, or fidelity. It manifests itself in behavior, that is, in good works.

Faith: begins in that obscure mysterious center of our being that Scripture calls the ‘heart.” Heart in Scripture does not mean feeling, or sentiment, or emotion, but the absolute center of the soul, as the physical heart is at the center of the body. “Keep your heart with all viligence” advised Solomon, “for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23).

1. Courtesy of Summit Ministries. Available at
2. Erickson, M. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 1998, 40-47.
3. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith. Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984, 56.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Jesus Studies

The Jesus Studies

For over 100 years, there has been a quest to identify the historical Jesus and differentiate between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith. Here are some of the aspects of these quests.
The First Quest Period-1778-1906: marked by works such as David Strauss’s, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. Under the influence of David Hume, Strauss dismissed the reliability of historical and supernatural elements in the Gospels as “outrageous” and “myths” Another important work of this period was Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus. (1)

The No Quest Period-1906-1953: Rudolf Bultmann regarded Schweitzer’s work as methodologically impossible and theologically illegitimate. (2) Schweitzer’s thesis marked the end of the Old Quest and the beginning of the No Quest period. Through the first half of the twentieth century, the pursuit of the historical Jesus seemed to some scholars to be futile and irrelevant. The failure of the Old Quest, as N.T. Wright has said, had left a “deep ditch” separating the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith. During the period of the No Quest, critical scholars became more interested in examining the New Testament for what it revealed about the early church and its evolving message. Rudolph Bultmann was a primary leader in what is called form criticism during this period. Form criticism sought to draw distinction between various literary forms within the gospels- parables, pronouncements, proverbs and so on- and to identify the stages of development of the texts and the traditions behind them as they passed from oral to written form. (3)

The New Quest Period- 1953-1970: Ernst Kasemann, a student of Bultmann began the “new quest” in a 1953 lecture. While he rejected some of Bultmann’s views, he was concerned with the person of Jesus as the preached word of God and his relation to history. The major work of the new quest is Gunther Bornkamm’s Jesus of Nazareth (1960). (4) Among the New Questers were German scholar Joachim Jeremias whose works in the 1950’s and the 1960’s focused heavily on the message of Jesus rather than on reconstructing a full-blooded biography. In the United States, the groundwork for the New Quest was laid by the eminent New Testament scholar James Robinson of the Claremont School of Theology, whose 1959 book called A New Quest of the Historical Jesus defined many of the issues that would come to dominate the scholarly community for decades.(5)

Weaknesses of The First Quest, The No Quest and The New Quest:

Anti-supernaturalism: Miracle accounts and any references to the supernatural are immediately rejected. This is unjustified. The naturalistic worldview came to be more prominent during the Enlightenment period. For theists, miracles (which are paramount to the Christian faith) are supernatural but not anti-natural. If a miracle occurs, it is not the violation or contradiction of the ordinary laws of cause and effect, but rather a new effect produced by the introduction of a supernatural cause. Natural law describes naturally caused regularities; a miracle is a supernaturally caused singularity. According to the naturalist, since God cannot be proved by observation and experiment, the entire supernatural realm must be completely rejected. If someone is a naturalist, despite all the available evidence that shows a supernatural act occurred (such as God creating the universe out of nothing, Jesus' resurrection, the virgin birth, the parting of the Red Sea), they will still provide a naturalistic explanation of the entire event.(6)

A false separation: These quests fail to show that there needs to be a dichotomy between the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history. They assume the Gospels are non-historical. (7) In relation to the resurrection, Ben Witherington III says:

"Any position in which claims about Jesus or the resurrection are removed from the realm of historical reality and placed in a subjective realm of personal belief or some realm that is immune to human scrutiny does Jesus and the resurrection no service and no justice. It is a ploy of desperation to suggest that the Christian faith would be little affected if Jesus was not actually raised from the dead in space and time. A person who gives up on the historical foundations of our faith has in fact given up on the possibility of any real continuity between his or her own faith and that of a Peter, Paul, James, John, Mary Magdalene, or Priscilla. The first Christian community had a strong interest in historical reality, especially the historical reality of Jesus and his resurrection, because they believed their faith, for better or for worse, was grounded in it. "(8)

Something that all historians consider in evaluating a historical document is the usge of eyewitness testimony. Eyewitness testimony is one of the primary ways we "know" things from the history of the past. In the Bible, the biblical concept of testimony or witness is closely allied with the conventional Tanakh legal sense of testimony given in a court of law. In both Testaments, it appears as the primary standard for establishing and testing truth claims. Even the testimony of one witness is insufficient—for testimony to be acceptable, it must be established by two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15).

In recording the historical events that are related to the life of Jesus, we see the usage of testimony and witness in the following passages:

Luke 1:4: Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as those from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word have handed them down to us, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigating everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Acts 2:32: This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses of it.

1 John 1:1: What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled concerning the Word of life.

Acts 10:39: We are witnesses of all that he did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross.

Acts 4:19-20: Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

1 Peter 5:1: So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed.

2 Peter 1:19: We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.

1 Corinthians 15:1-17: Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
Paul's lists the elements of the Gospel:
The Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures.
He was buried.
He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
He then appeared to all the apostles.
He then appeared to 500 brethren at one time.
He appeared to James.
He appeared to Paul.

If the Messiah is not risen, their faith is in vain and they are false witnesses of God
Misunderstanding of “myth”: Most of the people who are involved in these quests misunderstand the nature of “myth.” Just because an event is not empirical does not mean it is not historical. C.S. Lewis, who wrote several fantasy novels said "First then, whatever these men may be as Biblical critics, I distrust them as critics. They seem to lack literary judgment, to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading . . . If he tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he had read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavour; not how many years he has spent on that Gospel . . . I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this." (9)

Genre Issues: In studying for his doctoral dissertation, Richard Burridge, dean of King’s College in London England, researched the genre of the gospels. Burridge says, “Genre is the like a kind of contract between the author and the reader, or between the producers of a programme and the audience, about how they will write or produce something and how you should interpret what they have written. Therefore, it is important that you know what the genre of the thing is before you come to interpret it."(10)

As Burridge diligently searched for a genre, he compared the content of the gospels to other Hellenistic bioi (“lives” or biographies), such as Isocrates’s Evagoras, Xenophon’s Agesilaus, Satyrus’s Euripides, Nepos’s Atticus, Philo’s Moses, Tacitus’s Agricola, Plutarch’s Cato Minor, Suetonius’s Lives of the Caesars, Lucian’s Demonax, and Philostratus’s Apollonius of Tyana. Burridge placed special attention on the prologue, verb subjects, allocation of space, mode of representation, length, structure, scale, literary units, use of sources, style, social setting, quality of characterization, atmosphere as well authorial intention and purpose.Because of the gospel’s similarities to these ancient biographies, Burridge concluded that the genre of the gospels is an ancient bioi as well. The desire to place modern historiographic expectations on an ancient biography is a continual apologetic issue that can be resolved by studying the conventions that the ancient authors used. (11)

Most of the modern world’s standard of accuracy is defined by an age where tape recorders, video cameras are prevalent. However, as Ben Witherington says so well, “Works of ancient history or biography should be judged by their own conventions.” (12) Another recent contribution to the study of the gospels has been made by scholar Richard Bauckham, a British scholar who specializes in gospel studies. Bauckham has shown in his book called Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony the importance of eyewitness memory. In studying the eyewitness testimony of people within a courtroom, psychologists have noted that the witnesses who participated were not required to recall the peripheral details of the event, but the gist of the events they recalled.

Bauckham quotes Alan Baddeley in relationship to eyewitness memory: "Much of our autobiographical recollection of the past is reasonably free of error, provided that we stick to remembering the broad outline of events. Errors begin to occur once we try to force ourselves to come up with detailed information from an inadequate basis.This gives full rein to various sources of distortion, including that of prior expectations, disruption by misleading questions, and by social factors such as the desire to please the questioner, and to present ourselves in a good light." (13)

A non-Jewish Jesus: Many Jewish scholars view the “New Quest” period as just another attempt to “de-Judaize Jesus” or deny his Jewishness.

The Third Quest Period-1970 and on: As of today, biblical scholars have embarked on what is called “The Third Quest” for the historical Jesus, a quest that has been characterized as “the Jewish reclamation of Jesus.” Rather then saying Jesus broke away from Judaism and started Christianity, Jewish scholars studying the New Testament have sought to re-incorporate Jesus within the fold of Judaism. In this study, scholars have placed a great deal of emphasis on the social world of first- century Palestine. The scholars of the Third Quest have rejected the idea that the Jesus of the New Testament was influenced by Hellenic Savior Cults.(14)
Some of the other non-Jewish scholars that are currently active in the Third Quest are Craig A. Evans, I. Howard Marshall, James H. Charlesworth, N.T. Wright, and James D.G. Dunn.
In his book Jesus and the Victory of God, author N.T.Wright says that the historical Jesus is very much the Jesus of the gospels: a first century Palestinian Jew who announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God, performed “mighty works” and believed himself to be Israel’s Messiah who would save his people through his death and resurrection. “He believed himself called,” in other words says Wright, “to do and be what, in the Scriptures, only Israel’s God did and was.” (15)

Both E.P. Sanders and James Charlesworth say “the dominate view today seems to be that we can know pretty well what Jesus was out to accomplish, that we can know a lot about what he said, and that those two things make sense within the world of first- century Judaism.” (16)

Geisler N. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999, pgs 385-386.
Sheller, Jeffrey L. Is The Bible True? How Modern Debates and Discoveries Affirm the Essence of the Scriptures, New York. Harper Collins Publishers. 1999, 176-182.
Geisler, pgs 385-386.
B. Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, pg 167.
Lewis, C.S. Christian Reflections. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967, 154-55.
Burridge R. and G. Gould. Jesus Now and Then. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2004,pg 48.
Craig, W L. Christian Reasonable Faith, Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984, 218. See Burridge, R. What Are the Gospels?: A Comparison with Graeco Roman Biography. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Second Edition, 2004.
Witherington, 18.
See Bauckham, R. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids,MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2006.
Craig, 240-241.
Sheller, 191.
Craig, 240-241.

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