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Christian Faith and the Intellectual.

1. In the church's proclamation of the Lord Jesus Christ, Christian faith has ever heard a decisive word of divine judgment on a world alienated from its Creator (Jn 12:31) and a decisive word of divine reconciliation with that world (2 Co 5:18–21). That world has been judged and redeemed from beyond by the eternal Word, who became flesh in the fullness of time and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14; Gl 4:4–5; Eph 1:9–10). Christian faith has embraced Him who was folly to the Greek and a stone of stumbling to the Jew; its Spirit-impelled testimony to Him is the saving power of God for both Jew and Greek (Ro 1:16–17; 1 Co 1:22–25). Christian faith has seen God's Light dispel spiritual darkness, and has proclaimed that through Him alone God's redemptive purposes have become clear and the meaning of life laid bare (Jn 1:1–18; Eph 3:7–12). It has attested that in Christ a dying world has been created anew, so that the finite and fallen might bear the Infinite and Holy (Ro 8:9; 1 Co 3:16; 2 Co 5:17). In a Christian, godless reason has been transformed, set free from its spurious claims to autonomy (1 Co 2:14–16; 2 Co 10:5), and placed in the service of God. Out of this tension between judgment and reconciliation, darkness and light, reason and faith, Christian faith has addressed itself to the human situation, esp. to the intellectual.

2. The witness of the early ch. to Greco-Roman intelligentsia took 2 primary forms: 1st, the ch. was compelled to est. the sanctity of Christian morals in answer to those cultured despisers who accused it of such abominations as cannibalism, incest, infanticide, sorcery, and, in gen., “hatred of the human race” (Tacitus, Annales, XV, 44); 2d, Christian witness asserted the divine truth of its doctrine. It opposed dualistic and pantheistic polytheism; in this it joined forces with leading pagan literati of the times (at least in rejecting crude mythologies). But more: as evinced in writings of the Apologists, the new faith claimed fullness of truth. Justin* Martyr, e.g. conceded that the greatest of the pagans may have participated in the truth; but he held that Christians alone possess it in entirety. They alone have perfect truth because they alone have the Logos incarnate. In extended defense and exposition of doctrine the fundamental problem of the church's best thinkers from apostolic times to Augustine* of Hippo was elaboration of strict monotheism within a Trinitarian framework. Attempts to solve this problem gave rise to Trinitarian, or Arian (see Arianism), and Christological* controversies. Among instruments used by the Fathers to effect a solution were categories derived from Hellenistic philosophy. Faith and reason operated closely together; but the Scriptures were always the point of departure. The Fathers regarded “reason,” or Hellenistic philosophy, as propaedeutic to Christianity and an instrument in doctrinal exposition. Pagan philos. contained certain anticipations of Christian truth (which the Fathers largely attributed to borrowings from the OT); but it was beset by serious aberrations of human speculation. Christianity was accordingly heralded as the one true wisdom.

3. The hist. of Christian witness to the intellectual from Augustine of Hippo to the late Middle Ages and Renaissance is the hist. of increasing rapprochement of theol. and philos. since the great thinkers of the time were primarily theologians or theologian-philosophers. Christian faith became, in the words of Anselm* of Canterbury, fides quaerens intellectum, “faith in search of understanding.” Insofar as faith reflected on the content of revelation with the help of reason it developed Scholastic theology (see Scholasticism); in reflecting on presuppositions of revelation it developed natural theology,* i. e. proofs for God's existence. Faith, however, was not construed as incomplete without proof, but as the key factor in the search for a comprehensive vision of life; philos. was the handmaid in this quest, which culminated in the synthesis of Gk. philos. (particularly Aristotelianism; see Aristotle) and Christian revelation by Thomas* Aquinas in the 13th c. This synthesis was occasioned by the discovery and tr. of Aristotle's complete works; it afforded the Christian “answer” to those intellectuals (e.g. the Latin Averroists; see Arabic Philosophy) who saw in Aristotle an inclusive rational system independent of Christian revelation. Reacting to the latter, Aquinas solved the relation of faith and reason by incorporating them in a uniform system of “natural” and “supernatural” truth. Architecturally this synthesis was given expression in the Gothic cathedral; in literature by Dante's Divine Comedy; in politics by the desideratum of harmony bet. papacy and empire. But the synthesis was precarious and was called into question in the late Middle Ages by William of Ockham* and representatives of the so-called via moderna who favored terminological analysis rather than metaphysical synthesis, and criticism rather than speculation. They drove a wedge bet. theol. and philos. and broke apart the 13th c. synthesis by a theory of “double truth” in which faith and ecclesiastical authority were posited as superior to reason. Luther and the Reformers gen. shared in the Ockhamist reaction against the via antiqua, but Luther's critique of reason was theol. rather than epistemological, i. e. the “theol. of the cross” is foolishness to the sin-darkened intellect of natural man. This theological critique of reason has since been shared by such Christian thinkers as Pascal,* Kierkegaard,* and K. Barth.*

4. The Middle Ages ended with philos. and theol. each claiming autonomy; this, with the growth of empirical science, set the stage for the modern period. Christian witness to the intellectual since the Renaissance has been normed by two “attacks” from philos. and science, both of which had been freed from original ties to the church. Christian response has been marked by diversity and subtlety and by concern to speak responsibly to the modern situation (the latter emphasized by theological liberalism). This response has primarily been an informed apologetic recognizing changing philosophical and scientific attitudes and inferences (rather than specific conclusions, though these too have been involved). Pascal and Kierkegaard opposed, respectively, the rationalism of Descartes* and Hegel* and the attempt to subsume Christian revelation within a “system.” Joseph Butler* and W. Paley* answered 18th c. deism* and upheld the “Book of God” over against the self-sufficiency claimed for the “Book of Nature.” Schleiermacher* addressed the early 19th c. cultured despisers of religion in terms of the very premises of the philos. and natural science of his day; he sought affirmation of Christianity as the highest value of life. Following his cue, 19th c. theol. concerned itself mainly with reconciling Christ and culture. In the 20th c. with its frightful legacy of 2 world wars and the threat of imminent atomic holocaust, Christian theologians have been challenged to answer the atheistic existentialism of such thinkers as F. W. Nietzsche,* J.-P. Sartre,* and A. Camus.* Paul Tillich* responded to Nietzsche's charge that “God is dead” by presenting God as the “Ground of Being,” i. e. the presupposition for all life and for “authentic existence.” In an age dominated by science and technology, Christian thinkers have also addressed the scientifically educated in terms of the contemporary picture of the physical universe. K. Heim's Der evangelische Glaube und das Denken der Gegenwart (5 vols.) is the most notable of such ventures. Rudolf Bultmann's program of “demythologization” may be seen as an attempt to preserve the Christian message for modern man by paring “prescientific” trappings off the NT Christian apologists have also had to consider the positivists' contention that only that is true which can be demonstrated by scientific method. Related to this is the problem of the nature and validity of religious language and the verifiability of theological claims. From apostolic times to the present, Christian theologians and defenders of the faith have recognized themselves to be “under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish” (Ro 1:14 RSV).

See also Apologetics.

C. N. Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture, rev. ed. (New York, 1944); B. A. Gerrish, Grace and Reason: A Study in the Theology of Luther (New York, 1962); H. R. Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York, 1951); J. Pelikan, The Christian Intellectual (New York, 1966); A. Richardson, Christian Apologetics (New York, 1947); P. Tillich, Theology of Culture (New York, 1959).


Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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