I have, I suppose, sort of a weird and twisted hobby: I enjoy reading confused people. Not marginally confused people, or people who are trying hard but have things a little off – but people who are really confused. Especially, for some reason, when they are dogmatically sure of themselves, even though they are 100% wrong. This stuff, to me, makes excellent reading for some reason.
If I was alive in the Middle ages, I would have loved to sit at the feet of the leading scholars of the day as they droned on about the unmoved mover, the eternality of creation, the chain of being and – of course – why their eminent wisdom proves that the Bible is an outdated book. If I was alive in the eighteenth century, I would have loved to sit at the feet of the great “theologians” of that day as they philosophised about the essential goodness of man, the progress of science, and the irrelevance of Christianity for the “new man,”etc. And, of course, what time-traveling excursion to the 1930’s would have been complete without sitting in on a Nazi propaganda meeting, where we would learn that evolution teaches us that one color of skin is more “evolved” than another, and thus the Bible is simply out-dated for saying that all humans are God’s image bearers.
The problem is, of course, that the anti-Christian philosophers die and are forgotten so quickly that it is hard to really get ahold of their works. Those who oppose Scriptures usually do it based on the philosophies of the day – but these philosophies change so quickly, and the truth of Scriptures is so unyeilding, that usually a heresy has a shelf-life of under a century, and a hay-day of only a generation or two at most.
The result is that “Biblical scholarship” (that is, Liberal Biblical scholarship) is continually a cutting-edge discipline. It is not cutting-edge because new information is being collected about God’s Word – rather, the old philosophies and theologies are dying off at such an alarming rate that new ones must be constructed hurriedly in their place, and a theologian must continually shift their feet, run forwards, invent new pathways before the old ones collapse beneath their weight.
For example, in the 1800’s, a major undercurrent of Liberalism was that since humanity was basically good and improving every day, the Bible could not be completely accurate, since it spoke about human sin. After the Titanic fiasco and two world wars, the worldview build on the goodness of man was in shambles. It was crunch-time for the Liberals! Today, it is hard even to find the works of the major scholars of the 1800’s. As their world crumbled, so did their thoughts: they are recent relics. People who lived such a short time ago, yet are already buried almost to smothering obscurity in the sands of time.
One cannot help but contrast this with luminous figures such as Calvin, Luther, and Augustine. Men whose works defy the ages, plant their feet for the millennia…centuries and even millenia later, their works (Institutes, Introduction to Galatians, Confessions) read with a pressing relevance, an enduring importance. Their thoughts still play a dominant role in the thinking of educated people to this day.
By way of contrast, the scoffers pass away like a breath, like grass, and quickly become a sub-sub discipline, a topic known only by the freakishly obsessed students of history. By contrast, those who stick like lichen on the Rock of Ages enjoy the humble benefit of presenting His Word for the ages.
I say all this to explain my delight in subscribing to Stanford University’s “Historical Jesus.” Here is a class which a) assumes that there is a difference between the Jesus of the Bible and the Jesus of history, b) assumes that historical inquiry is an effective tool to discover the latter, and c) assumes that faith is passe, and “scientific evidence” is the best/only way for students to “make their own decision” about Jesus of Nazareth. This last line makes me smile: I wonder what grades a student would get if they “chose” to believe in the Jesus of the Bible?
Such nonsense is easy to come by in our own day – but you have to look to the future to see its importance! In but a few more decades, such classes will have already passed from easy access. I am actually surprised that people are still talking about “the historical Jesus,” since the attempt to find a “historical Jesus” as distinct from the Jesus in the Bible basically failed a century ago. Also, this hard distinction between “faith” and “fact” is already a distinction which is passing away…and confidence in science as the supreme discipline? Please! Spare me! My kids (or, at the least, their kids) will find this absolutely ridiculous. I am listening to history in the making here – a real live modern relic! I should really keep these lectures in a safe place. By the time I am an old professor, such thinking as this will have passed thoroughly and completely from the scene, and my students will laugh in incredulity that people actually thought as they did back in such a primitive time.
Well, wish me best of luck. I am looking forward to this class, and I will tell you how it goes!