Posts tagged ‘Albert Schweitzer’

Wisdom That’s Not So Wise

Credit:  wired.com

Credit: wired.com

It was G.K. Chesterton who said, “It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob.”[1]  There just seems to be something about one’s own age the dupes those living in it into thinking they are living in the best age – they are living at the pinnacle of human achievement, intelligence, and insight, unsurpassed by anything that has come before it, or, for that matter, anything that will come after it.

Case in point:  Albert Schweitzer, in his seminal work The Quest of the Historical Jesus, opens by touting his credentials:

When, at some future day, our period of civilization shall lie, closed and completed, before the eyes of later generations, German theology will stand out as great, a unique phenomenon in the mental and spiritual life of our time.  For nowhere save in the German temperament can there be found in the same perfection the living complex of conditions and factors – of philosophic though, critical acumen, historical insight, and religious feeling – without which no deep philosophy is possible.[2]

At least Schweitzer doesn’t have a confidence problem.

The ironic thing about Schweitzer’s opening paragraph is that on the back of this very book is this review:  “Schweitzer’s … proposals no longer command endorsement.”  In other words, Schweitzer, who thought his age was so wise that the people, and specifically the Germans, in it could in no way be mistaken, were, in fact, mistaken.  Perhaps his German pedigree wasn’t as intellectually impenetrable as he thought it was.

Whether or not we are as unabashedly arrogant as Schweitzer, we all, to one extent or another, use our age as the measuring rod for all ages.  We project the sensibilities of our age back onto the past and even forward into the future.

Greg Miller of Wired Science recently published a pithy little post, “Here’s How People 100 Years Ago Thought We’d Be Living Today.”[3]  Ed Fries, the former vice president of game publishing at Microsoft, shared with Miller a fascinating cache of vintage European postcards that offer a glimpse of how the people of yesteryear thought we would be living in our years.  For instance, there is one postcard featuring a prop plane with a spotlight and luggage attached to the top of the cabin ushering a group of tourists to the moon for “just another weekend trip.”  The year, according to the postcard, is 2012.  Are any rockets needed?  No.  And the people on the aircraft seem to be blissfully unconcerned with the fact that their cabin is not pressurized.  Another postcard features a videophone, projecting its picture onto a wall, just like the movies of the early 1900’s did.  Apparently, those at the turn of the 20th century simply could not envision the hand-held screens we enjoy today.  Perhaps most comically, the people in all of these postcards are decked out in their early 1900’s wears.  As Miller wryly notes, though everything else underwent radical evolutions, “fashion stayed frozen in time.”

For all the fanciful things these postcards envision, they are embarrassingly transparent products of their time.  No one would mistake these as accurate or modern depictions of our age.  The people of the early 1900’s, it seems, were stuck in the early 1900’s.

We would do well to remember that just like the people of the early 1900’s were stuck in the early 1900’s, the people of the early 2000’s are, well, stuck in the early 2000’s.  We too are products of our time.  Not that this is all bad.  Our age has much too offer.  But our age cannot lead us to disparage other ages – especially past ages.  For the wisdom of the past that we discount as foolishness in the present may just be the wisdom of our present that will be discounted as foolishness in the future.  In other words, we should take the wisdom of our age with a grain of salt.

One of the wonderful things about Scripture is that it self-consciously bucks the human tendency to jump on the bandwagon of whatever zeitgeist happens to be popular at any given moment.  Indeed, it sees past learning as key to present wisdom.    As the apostle Paul says, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).  This is why, according to one count, the Old Testament is cited in the New Testament some 263 times.[4]  Wisdom, according to Scripture, cannot be confined to just one age.  It needs many ages.

When you look at your present, then, don’t assume that your day is the greatest day and your generation the greatest generation.  Or, to use the words of Moses, “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past” (Deuteronomy 32:7).  Wisdom is not just when you are.  It was before you.  And it will continue after you.  Wise, therefore, is the person whose memory and vision is long.

______________________

[1] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1908).

[2] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Mineola:  Dover Publications, Inc., 1911), 1.

[3] Greg Miller, “Here’s How People 100 Years Ago Thought We’d Be Living Today,” wired.com (5.28.2014).

[4]New Testament Citations of the Old Testament,” crossway.org (3.17.2006).

June 2, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Adam Is For Real

Adam and Eve 1 editIn 1906, theologian and philanthropist Albert Schweitzer published The Quest of the Historical Jesus, surveying theologians’ attempts to understand who Jesus was historically apart from what Schweitzer thought to be the layers of mythologizing that had been overlaid on Him by the Bible.  Schweitzer finally concluded that Jesus saw Himself as One whose suffering and death would bring in the Parousia, or the final appearance of God.  In Schweitzer’s own words:  “He must suffer for others…that the Kingdom might come.”[1] But Jesus proved mistaken in His imminent expectations of God’s Kingdom and Christianity has been grappling with Jesus’ failed apocalyptic expectations ever since:

The whole history of “Christianity” down to the present day, that is to say, the real inner history of it, is based on the delay of the Parousia, the non-occurrence of the Parousia, the abandonment of eschatology, the progress and completion of the “de-eschatologising” of religion which has been connected therewith.[2]

Interestingly, Schweitzer later abandoned his quest for the historical Jesus, considering it futile.  After all, reconstructing who Jesus was apart from and skeptical toward the record of Jesus in the Bible is a tall order!

Over one hundred years after Schweitzer’s quest, Christianity Today published an article titled “The Search for the Historical Adam.”[3]  Much like the quest for the historical Jesus a century earlier, this quest seeks to reconstruct who Adam was quite apart from the biblical record of him.  But this quest questions not only what Adam did and did not do – for example, “Did he really eat some forbidden fruit?” – this quest questions whether Adam even existed.  The argument against Adam’s existence, which is where the shining stars of this quest have broadly landed, runs thusly:  because evolution is true, a historical Adam cannot be.  Instead, the human race emerged out of the chaos of natural selection, albeit this natural selection was guided by the detached hand of theism, rather than according to the simple and succinct word of the personal Creator.

It is important to note that cries to dispense with a historical Adam are not few and far between, nor are they outside the mainstream of Evangelical Christianity.  Consider this argument against the existence of a historical Adam:

What is a “given” for Paul is the saving event of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The other things he says, especially about sin, the Law, and eschatology, are reinterpretations that grow from the fundamental reality of the Christ event. Recognizing this relieves the pressure that sometimes builds up around a historical Adam…We can now recognize that Adam is not the foundation on which the system of Christian faith and life is built, such that removing him means that the whole edifice comes crashing down. Instead, the Adam of the past is one spire in a large edifice whose foundation is Christ. The gospel need not be compromised if we find ourselves having to part ways with Paul’s assumption that there is a historical Adam, because we share Paul’s fundamental conviction that the crucified Messiah is the resurrected Lord over all.[4]

From where does such an argument against the historicity of Adam arise?  From J.R. Daniel Kirk, and associate professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, a one-time bastion of classic evangelical orthodoxy.  Denying the historical existence of Adam has gone mainstream.

Contrary to the sentiments of many, I would argue that it is theologically and logically necessary for the historical Adam to have existed.  It is theologically necessary because no mythical character can account for real sin.  And the apostle Paul identifies Adam as the original sinner:  “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).  It is logically necessary because it is incoherent to make an argument for Christ’s death and resurrection, boldly contradicting the consensus of the scientific community that dead people do not come back to life, on the one hand while arguing against the historicity of Adam because of the general consensus of the scientific community concerning evolution by natural selection on the other hand.

What Professor Kirk engages in is nothing less than a full on gospel reductionism.  That is, Professor Kirk is willing to cede the integrity and veracity of the biblical record on whether or not Adam really existed as long as he can hold on to the gospel that Christ died and rose again.  But once one lets go of what the Bible says in general, he will not be able to hold on to what the Bible says about the gospel in specific for long!  The church body of which I am a part, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, has explained it this way:

The Gospel is not normative for theology in the sense that beginning with it as a fundamental premise, other items of the Christian system of doctrine are developed as provisional, historically conditioned responses to a given situation which will need to be revised for another situation.[5]

This is precisely what Professor Kirk does in his article.  He assumes that we can reinterpret the historicity of Adam for our situation because Paul’s insistence on a historical Adam was only a “provisional, historically conditioned response to a given situation.”  But this false view of Adam can only lead to a false view of the gospel.  In the words of G.E. Ladd, who was addressing those who were undermining the historicity of the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ life:

Jesus was a historical person.  His words were historical events.  His deeds involved other people; but they were far larger than the boundaries of personal existence.  His deeds included interpersonal fellowship, healings of bodies as well as minds.  His mission created a new fellowship of men; and this fellowship after the resurrection because the Christian church which has become one of the most influential institutions in Western culture.  All of this happened in history; and it is only because certain events first happened in history that other results were experienced in their existential dimension.  Existential import results only from historical event.[6]

What is true of Jesus is true of Adam.  The existential reality of sin can only be meaningfully explained by an existentially historical Adam.  Evangelically orthodox Christians must settle for nothing less.


[1] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Mineola, Dover Publications, Inc., 2005), 387.

[2] The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 358.

[3] Richard N. Ostling, “The Search for the Historical Adam,” Christianity Today (6.3.2011).

[4] J.R. Daniel Kirk, “Does Paul’s Christ Require a Historical Adam?Fuller Theology News & Notes (Spring 2013).

[5] The Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, “Gospel and Scripture” (November 1972), 9.

[6] G.E. Ladd, The Pattern of New Testament Truth (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1968), 64.

May 13, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Sermon Extra – “Long Time In Coming”

I am not a person who likes to wait.  I can remember standing in the HEB automatic checkout line a  few years back behind a person who was painfully slow as he scanned and bagged his groceries.  He would search intently for each item’s barcode and then carefully slide it across the scanner only to find that it did not register.  So he would inspect the barcode and try it again.  And again.  And again.  It took him a full ten minutes to check out his “20 items or fewer.”  I was furious.  “If these people can’t figure out how to use this machine, they should go to a checker,” I fumed to Melody.  My wife, of course, was embarrassed by my bad attitude and she reminded me that I was a pastor who needed to act charitably.  My anger, however, was not dissuaded.  “This is ridiculous,” I protested, “I don’t have all day!”  My turn finally did come to check out my items.  And so I, employing my best breakneck speed, frantically slide my first item over the scanner just to prove how competent I was in using this machine and how inept the person before me was.  I had to scan the item again.  And again.  And again.  Maybe the machine wasn’t as user friendly as I thought it was.  It took me ten minutes to check out.

In our text for this weekend from Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable about ten bridesmaids who are waiting on the arrival of the groom so that they can escort both the bride and groom to the wedding reception.  Jesus makes this simple note about the groom’s anxiously anticipated arrival:  “The bridegroom was a long time in coming” (verse 5).  The Greek word for “long time” is chronizo, from which we get our English word “chronology.”  Apparently, this groom took so long to arrive to meet his bride, it felt to the bridesmaids as if they were waiting through decades long chronological epic.

Jesus’ parable, of course, is meant to give us insight into His Second Coming.  He too will be “a long time in coming.”  And indeed He has been.  2,000 years after His first advent, we are still awaiting His second.  But already in the first century, people were becoming impatient as they waited for their Lord.  They were not people who liked to wait.  Thus, the apostle Peter must remind them that Jesus has already promised to be “a long time in coming.”  Peter writes:  “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  The Lord’s slowness in returning is not really slowness at all, Peter argues.  Rather, it’s an opportunity for repentance and faith.

In 1910, a German theologian and physician named Albert Schweitzer published a book titled The Quest of the Historical Jesus. In it, he portrayed Jesus as a failed eschatological prophet who believed that the advent of God would come sooner and quicker than it did.  Thus, Schweitzer estimates Jesus’ ministry to be a failure and the belief that Christ will come again to be delusional.  Schweitzer cynically states:

The whole history of “Christianity” down to the present day, that is to say, the real inner history of it, is based on the delay of the Parousia, the non-occurrence of the Parousia, the abandonment of eschatology, the progress of the “de-eschatologis-ing of religion which has been connected therewith. (Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 358)

The Church, Schweitzer contends, has deliberately downplayed and dismissed the urgent eschatological expectations of Jesus and His first century followers.  However, nothing could be further from the truth.  For we remember Jesus’ words:  “The bridegroom was a long time in coming.”  Our Lord is a long time in coming.  But make no mistake about it, He will come.  And so we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20), no matter how long that coming may take.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Zach’s
message or Pastor Josh’s ABC!

July 26, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,136 other followers


%d bloggers like this: