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Friday, Aug. 22, 2014

Again: Bush sees Jesus as his philosopher in his decisions

Friday, August 1, 2003

"For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped prayer for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding" (Colossians 1.9).

Last week we followed Professor Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at the evangelical Denver Seminary, in his defense of President George Bush's choice of Jesus as his philosopher. This choice is for making major decisions confronting him as our nation's leader. The choice is approved by many with strong support as we face the ongoing "War on Terrorism" (including winning the war/peace in Iraq). And these confrontations are aggravated by involvement in the quagmire of a seemingly perennial Palestinian-Israeli conflict and enormity of carnage.

We saw that Groothius challenged philosopher Materiel Martin's book "The Case Against Christianity," which alleges that the Jesus of the Gospel "does not exemplify important intellectual virtues . . ." The statement in question is that Jesus called a child among His disciples and claimed that if they did not become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." This, argues Martin, is "uncritical and unthinking."

Yet Jesus spoke much of humility, and never associated humility with stupidity, ignorance, or gullibility. Jesus praised children for the same reasons that people have always prided them. Children are never viewed as models because they are innocent and wholehearted in their love, devotion, and enthusiasm for life. They are esteemed because they can be disarmingly humble, having not learned the pretensions and posturing of adulthood - "the presentation of self in society."

Jesus did thank God for revealing the gospel to the humble and not to the supposedly wise and understanding: "At that time Jesus prayed, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was you good pleasure." (Matthew 11:25-26).

This statement, however, does not imply that intelligence is a detriment to believing Jesus' message, but that some of the religious leaders of the day could not grasp His message in part because of its humbling consequence. It crosses one's mind that when this requirement for humility applies to many secular scientists are "seeing" and "hearing" but do not "hear" or "see."

(Personal footnote: We have observed this pride during 60 years in professional academia career. At least tow lessons we've learned in that span are (1) to be honest when asked a question by admitting "I don't know but would join you in obtaining the answer; and (2) the use of the first person plural of "we" rather then "I" - Why? because whatever knowledge one gains is an accumulation of the knowledge of other scholars AND non-scholars, for no one can honestly and accurately claim that he or she is a "self-made" person in knowledge and wisdom. Every person with earned degrees or not, gains the knowledge he or she acquires from formal AND informal sources. Many intellectual friends of mine are not formally educated at higher levels but are knowledgeable and intelligent indeed. Consider for example the formal "education" of Lincoln with his mastery of writing and articulation.)

Unless humility is incompatible with intelligence and rational investigation, there is no reason to believe that Jesus prizes gullibility or credulity. Most of us have met a few valued women and men who have been both tough-minded and softhearted. A good part of their intellectual virtue consist precisely in their humility, their willingness to let truth make its demands on them. They pursue truth reasonably, but not arrogantly or pridefully. Moreover, children often ask searching and difficult questions - even of philosophical nature.

Martin further charges that when Jesus did give any reason to accept His teaching, it was never a "rational justification," but merely pragmatic. On these grounds, Martin objects to Jesus' exhortation that His listeners believe His words because the kingdom has come. This charge rings hollow.

When Jesus referred to the kingdom of God as a justification for His teaching and preaching, He was admonishing people to reorient their lives spiritually and morally because God was breaking into history in an unparalleled and dramatic fashion. This is not necessarily an irrational or unfounded claim if (1) God was acting in this manner in Jesus' day and (2) one can find evidence for the emergence of the kingdom, chiefly through the actions of Jesus Himself.

The Gospels present the kingdom as uniquely present in the teachings and actions of Jesus. So it was that Jesus claimed, "If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matthew 12:28). Since His audience took Him to be driving out demons with singular authority, Jesus was giving a modus oppons argument. If P, then Q: P, therefore Q. Jesus' argument for the kingdom of God served as a logical support for His teaching and purpose. He was not merely making assertions or ungrounded threat, and expecting a childish or cowardly compliance.

For these reasons (and many more), we believe George W. Bush's show-stopping assertion was correct. Jesus was a philosopher and a great one. If so, Christians should investigate the Gospels afresh to discover Jesus the philosopher as well as Jesus, God Incarnate. Moreover, His followers might find some inspiration to imitate their Master intellectually and to enter the great philosophical debates of the age of the Spirit of the One in Whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

We dare say that President Bush also would agree with Paul: "Where is the wise man" Where is the scholar? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him . .. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles . ." (I Corinthians 1:20-24).