Muslim and Christian Scholarship

In Muslim vs. Christian arguments, I’ve heard it said that Muslim societies were much more advanced than medieval Western cultures.  Also, it’s claimed that we should thank Muslim scholars for preserving the classics of Greece for us.  Philip Jenkins has a different view.  In The Lost History of Christianity, Jenkins reminds of the history we never knew.  In particular, he writes:

“It is common knowledge that medieval Arab societies were far ahead of those of Europe in terms of science, philosophy, and medicine, and that Europeans derived much of their scholarship from the Arab world; yet in the early centuries, this cultural achievement was usually Christian and Jewish rather than Muslim.  It was Christians–Nestorian, Jacobite, Orthodox, and others–who preserved and translated the cultural inheritance of the ancient world–the science, philosophy, and medicine–and who transmitted it to centers like Baghdad and Damascus.  Much of what we call Arab scholarship was in reality Syriac, Persian, and Coptic, and it was not necessarily Muslim.  Syriac-speaking Christian scholars brought the works of Aristotle’s Topics from Syriac into Arabic, at the behest of the caliph.  Syriac Christians even make the first reference to the efficient Indian numbering system that we know today as ‘Arabic,’ and long before this technique gained currency among Muslim thinkers,” (The Lost History of Christianity:  The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died, 18).

Harold Bloom on the Gospel of Thomas

 

“The popularity of the Gospel of Thomas among Americans is another indication that there is indeed ‘the American religion’:  creed-less, Orphic, enthusiastic, proto-gnostic, post-Christian.  Unlike the canonical gospels, that of Judas Thomas the Twin spares us the crucifixion, makes the resurrection unnecessary, and does not present us with a God named Jesus.  No dogmas could be founded upon this sequence (if it is a sequence) of apothegms.  If you turn to the Gospel of Thomas, you encounter a Jesus who is unsponsored and free.  No one could be burned or even scorned in the name of this Jesus, and no one has been hurt in any way, except perhaps for those bigots, high church or low, who may have glanced at so permanently surprising a work.”

Bloom captures why the Jesus of Thomas is so alluring to post-moderns:  “The Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas calls us to knowledge and not to belief, for faith need not lead to wisdom; and this Jesus is a wisdom teacher, gnomic and wandering, rather than a proclaimer of finalities.  You cannot be a minister of this gospel, nor found a church upon it.  The Jesus who urges his followers to be passerby is a remarkably Whitmanian Jesus, and there is little in the Gospel of Thomas that would not have been accepted by Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman” (The Gospel of Thomas, 111-112).

Dual Tradition in Islam

Interestingly, the tension between authoritative text and tradition is not unique to Christianity.  It also seems to exist in Islam.  In a review of Islam without Extremes:  A Muslim Case for Liberty, Philip Johnson relates an interesting dynamic:

“When coercive Muslims want to justify their ways by referring to some Muslim precept, they usually find the desired text in the Hadiths rather than in the Qur’ran.

“It is strange that some Muslims seem to prefer the Hadiths to the Qur’ran, because only the latter records the revelation by God (Allah) to Muhammed.  Muhammed himself always distinguished between teachings that he had received by revelation and statements that came only from his own wisdom.  Muhammed is revered by Muslims as the faithful messenger of the divine revelation, but when he spoke from his own ordinary human wisdom, he was as capable of error as other men.

“Despite this distinction, some Muslims will even say that a line from the Hadiths can supersede a teaching of the Qur’an itself.  Mustafa [the author of the book, and a personal friend of Johnson] has told me that he admires the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura.  Perhaps a similar doctrine might be of benefit to Islamic teaching.[1]


[1] Philip Johnson, “Peace-Seeking Muslims” in Touchstone, March/April 2012, 10-11.

Review – Has God Spoken?

Has God Spoken?Has God Spoken? by Hank Hanegraaff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hanegraaf has produced yet another quality apologetic resource. While Hanegraaf is undoubtedly polemical, this comes with the territory of being the “Bible Answer Man.” Readers will find a large range of questions addressed, ranging from textual criticism, to archaeology, to fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Hanegraaff closes with a helpful overview of hermeneutics (the study of how to interpret the Bible), illustrating how many liberal critics (as well as prophetic fundamentalists) go off the rails in their understanding of Scriptural texts.

As one sympathetic to preterism, I found Hanegraaff’s preterist reading of prophecy refreshing, which helps us to navigate the “last days madness” which has plagued the church.

Some might dismiss Hanegraaff as being too much of a fundamentalist himself, but I found his argumentation persuasive, and backed up by an appropriate number of scholarly sources. Hanegraaff is not a lightweight, though he is in the business of making complicated problems understandable to the average reader.

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(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

King Jesus Gospel – Review

The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News RevisitedThe King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Scot McKnight’s new book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, is a keeper. In fact, I would say it’s one of the best theological books I’ve ever read. Part of what makes it exciting is that McKnight is excited himself! You can sense his energy and his joy in his subject, as he leads us step-by-step through his own theological development. It takes some work to read Jesus in his own context, and McKnight is patient with us.

I used this book in my classes at a Christian school, to help bolster my case that Christians should read the Old Testament more. My students were honest in their admission that they don’t read the Old Testament much, and don’t see the point. McKnight argues that, unless we understand the story of Israel, we cannot really understand Jesus.

I appreciated his critique of the Reformation, his insistence that we learn about the early church, and his endorsement of prayer-books and creeds. If you don’t see how those are connected with Jesus in first-century context, you’ll just have to buy the book and find out for yourself!

My only real question concerns the “contextualization” question. McKnight presents a solid case that Apostolic preaching looked like thus-and-such. Basically, the preaching of Peter and Paul was dramatically different than our “four spiritual laws” presentations and arm-twisting methods of “gospel” persuasion. Granted. But, Peter and Paul were preaching to a largely Jewish culture. Even when Paul is writing to sort out problems between Jews and Gentiles, he’s still working within Jewish categories. When we take the Gospel to Africa, do we still stress every aspect of Old Testament history as much as the Apostles did? Stephen’s speech in Acts wouldn’t seem to work so well in remote jungles. I hope McKnight will take this up in another book.

Overall, this is a splendid book, and I hope it will help to shake up the anemic and shallow American church!

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Zondervan book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

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The Heresy of Orthodoxy

The Heresy of OrthodoxyThe Heresy of Orthodoxy by Andreas J. Kostenberger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a really helpful, and scholarly, treatment of the claims made by radical skeptics like Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels about the reliability of the New Testament text, and the formation of the canon. I might be a little prejudiced (since I took a class from Dr. Kruger at RTS-Charlotte), but I hope this book finds a wide readership. Unfortunately, it will probably be ignored by the liberal gate-keepers of the media.  But, for those who are serious about pursuing truth and good scholarship, this is essential reading!

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