How did the New Testament Scriptures come to be recognized as Scripture?
- Which books were in and which weren’t? Why? (You can’t “look that up in the book.”)
- The books were all written before the end of the first century. Why didn’t these “New Testament Christians” fix the content of the New Testament post haste?
- The books of the New Testament aren’t all that voluminous, really. What in the world were the Apostles doing when they weren’t writing Epistles?
- How did those Christians ever resolve questions after the Apostles were gone but before the canon was fixed?
Father Stephen Freeman examines the topic in a very recent blog, and opened my eyes to a few ramifications I’d missed.
Within the space of 90 minutes Saturday, I heard:
- A podcast homily pointing out what a mess Abraham and Sarah made, at ages 86 and 76, by helping along God’s plan to make Abraham a father of many nations by a little procreative kanoodling between Abraham and Hagar (at Sarah’s suggestion no less!)
- A clergy invocation for a pro-life event praying that we would not “wait for divine grace” to “restore the right to life to the land.”
Might we be making a mess of things by too eagerly helping God out when we really should wait for divine grace? Maybe we should not “wait” passively (I assume that Abraham and Sarah were doing something more than praying when, at ages 99 and 89, they conceived Isaac), but surely we should measure our active help carefully against the demands of morality, including the whole of the Decalogue, which means, among other things, bearing no false witness against our wrong-headed adversaries.
Perhaps in response to the New Atheists (although he does not mention them by name), another self-proclaiming atheist has entered the debate with another provocatively titled book, “Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion.” Alain de Botton does not attempt to refute religion; he simply stipulates that it is not true. It is, however, “sporadically useful, interesting, and consoling” and can, therefore, be enlisted in the service of atheists. For people trying to cope with the pains and difficulties of life, religions (not religion in the abstract but institutional religions) are “repositories” of goods that can assuage their ills. By appropriating those goods—”music, buildings, prayers, rituals, feasts” and the like—and introducing them into secular society, Mr. de Botton proposes to rescue that which is “beautiful, touching and wise” from religions that are no longer true and put it to use by an atheism that is indubitably true but sadly deficient in such consolations.
To the obvious objection that the denial of the “logical intellect” is to give up any claim to truth, [William James] replied that it is in defense of truth that faith is justified—the truth provided not by logic or science but by experience and reflection.
Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Once-Born and the Twice-Born in the Wall Street Journal (so, likely pay wall). I blogged about Mr. de Botton a few weeks ago. The formidable Ms. Himmelfarb takes an interesting approach where William James’s borrowed distinction between the once-born and the twice-born become central. If you can get past the pay wall, it’s well worth a read.
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