Book Review: Urban Legends of the New Testament (Croteau)

Urban Legends of the New Testament (Croteau)In an age of easily-accessible information, misinformation abounds. In a world with more books, peer-reviewed articles, and professionals dedicated to understandings the intricacies of the past, present, and future of the universe, many people (perhaps even most people) are shockingly uninformed. While this paradox of unknowing plagues almost every field of human interaction and learning, it is especially acute within large portions of the Christian Church. To the detriment of their faith and witness, Christians of all types know strikingly little about the Bible and history of their Church. Not surprisingly, then, Christianity has developed its own set of urban legends, those stories which are commonly circulated as common knowledge despite their inaccuracy. To dispel some of these myths, David A. Croteau has penned Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2015), a clear and straightforward work which begins the process of clarifying and explaining away some of the most common misrepresentations of the New Testament. Continue reading

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C. S. Lewis on Myth (Part IV)

This post is the final in our series examining C. S. Lewis’s view of “myth.”

C. S. Lewis (2)Lewis gives perhaps his clearest exposition on myth in his essay entitled “Myth Became Fact“. Lewis begins this essay with the idea that he is going to refute his friend Corineus and his assertion that no one who calls themselves a Christian is actually a Christian in any meaningful sense. To Corineus, Christianity is something horrible that no modern man could accept in its totality, and thus those who confess Christianity are really confessing modernism using Christian jargon. Lewis seeks to dispel the idea that Christianity is a “system of names, rituals, formulae, and metaphors which persist although the thoughts behind it have changed” (“Myth Became Fact, 138). Lewis asks Corineus, and those like him, “Why, on his view, do all these educated and enlightened pseudo-Christians insist on expressing their deepest thoughts in terms of an archaic mythology which must hamper and embarrass them at every turn?” (Ibid., 138) Continue reading

C. S. Lewis on Myth (Part III)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining C. S. Lewis’s view of “myth.”

Lewis on MiraclesIn Miracles, Lewis reflects on the importance of myth in regards to the Old Testament and Israel. Lewis writes that “The Hebrews, like other people, had mythology: but as they were the chosen people so their mythology was the chosen mythology –the mythology chosen by God to be the vehicle of the earliest sacred truths, the first step in that process which ends in the New Testament where truth has become completely historical” (Miracles, 218). For Lewis, myth is historically important in creating the context of beliefs for the truly factual, the person and work of Jesus Christ. He writes that “Just as God is none the less God by being Man, so the Myth remains Myth even when it becomes Fact. The story of Christ demands us, and repays, not only a religious and historical but also an imaginative response” (Ibid., 218) Continue reading

C. S. Lewis on Myth (Part II)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining C. S. Lewis’s view of “myth.”

An Experiment in CriticismIn An Experiment in Criticism, Lewis approached “myth” in several ways, most importantly as a story which has “a value in itself –a value independent of its embodiment in any literary work” (Experiment in Criticism, 41). Here Lewis defined myth in several ways. First, myth is ‘extra-literary’ as it has value outside its manifestation within a literary context. Second, myth elicits pleasure from the reader, but not pleasure based upon any specific literary device such as surprise or suspense (Ibid., 43). Third, human sympathy is minimal –the reader generally does not project himself into the myth (Ibid., 44). Fourth, myth is fantastic and deals with the seemingly impossible (Ibid., 44). Fifth, the experience of the myth, while possibly joyful or sad, is always serious and grave (Ibid., 44). Finally, even within the midst of the seriousness, the myth is awe-inspiring, portraying the communication of some great truth to the reader (Ibid., 44). From this literary perspective, the importance of myth to Lewis was the experience: “When I talk of myths I mean myths as we experience them: that is, myths contemplated but not believed, dissociated from ritual, held up before the fully waking imagination of a logical mind” (Ibid., 45). Myth is to be thought-provoking, awe-inspiring, and contemplated. Yet, the appreciation of myth does not necessarily have to be literary and scholarly. While any man can read myth, only the truly literary will be impacted by both the literature for its own sake as well as the delight that accompanies the meaning behind the myth (Ibid., 46-47). Having viewed Lewis’ literary approach, we now turn to examining his perspective on myths in terms of their historicity. Continue reading

C. S. Lewis on Myth (Part I)

C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis

Most people do not like being told that they are wrong. This is especially true when it comes to politics or religious faith. Interestingly, a number of pundits and scholars have taken to calling religious faith “myth” in recent years, especially religious faith that for many adherents hinges upon certain events that claim to be historical. The work of Joseph Campbell springs to mind, as do more contemporary perspectives such as those espoused by Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins. For perspectives such as these (most admittedly devoted to philosophical naturalism) and others (one thinks of certain Historical Jesus scholars over the years), Christian claims about the resurrection of  Jesus of Nazareth cannot be categorized as anything but “myth,” the stuff of legend, or theological story-telling. And, as one might expect, most Christians do not appreciate being told that their deeply held religious convictions are, in a word, myth. While for many the term “myth” connotes feelings of falsehood or story, Christian thinkers such as C.S Lewis conceived of myth in other terms. In the essay that follows, we examine Lewis’ conception of “myth,” as well as his understanding of the relationship between “myth” and “fact” in the Christian narrative. Continue reading

The Importance of Narrative in the Axial Age

This post is the first in a series of reflections concerning “Conceptions of the Ultimate”, the ways in which various world religions conceive of and interpret the Ultimate Being of the cosmos. In today’s reflection I consider some of the implications of the “Axial Age”, a term first coined by Karl Jaspers to designate the period of development among the major world religions, wherein these movements transitioned from “primitive cultures” to developed religions.

World ReligionsIn “What is Axial about the Axial Age?” Robert Bellah argues that the central development of the Axial Age involved the transition from mythic culture to theoretical culture with second-order thinking and ideas concerning transcendence (78). Perhaps the most critical point from this article concerns the ongoing connection between theoretical culture and mythic culture. Throughout the “Axial Age” Bellah argues for a shift from thinking in terms of myth and narrative to analysis steeped in reflexivity and logic, a shift from primarily oral narrative to the use of external memory and graphic invention (79). However, this theoretical turn did not dispense with narrative and mythic culture entirely; indeed, analytic and theoretical thinking were added to the existing narrative worldviews and modified them. Thus, while second-order thinking during the Axial Age gave rise to considerations of the transcendent, these conceptions were ultimately born out a worldview that contained mythic narrative as well as analytical insights. It is within this context of the “radicalization of mythospeculation” that transcendental breakthroughs occurred, not merely with the insights of the theoretical (81). Recognizing the centrality of this point remains key for the study of conceptions of the Ultimate both because it touches upon the cumulative effects of ideas of the transcendent as well as because it notes the centrality of narrative within axial worldviews. Continue reading

Philo and the Gospel of John

Dionysus

Dionysus

While reading Joseph Ratzinger’s Jesus of Nazareth, I came across a couple of interesting passages which I felt were worth reflecting on and sharing here.

“The historical study of comparative religion likes to claim the myth of Dionysus as a pre-Christian parallel to the story of Cana. Dionysus was the god who was supposed to have discovered the vine and also to have changed water in wine–a mythical event that was also celebrated liturgically. The great Jewish theologian Philo of Alexandria (ca. 13 BC- AD 45/50) gave this story a demythologizing reinterpretation: The true giver of wine, Philo says, is the divine Logos; he is the one who gives us the joy, the sweetness, and the cheerfulness of true wine. Philo then goes on to anchor his Logos theology onto a figure from salvation history, onto Melchizedek, who offered bread and wine. In Melchizedek it is the Logos who is acting and giving us the gifts that are essential for human living. By the same token, the Logos appears as the priest of a cosmic liturgy.

“Whether John had such a background in mind is doubtful, to say the least. But since Jesus himself in interpreting his mission referred to Psalm 110, which features the priesthood of Melchizedek (cf. Mk 12:35-37); since the Letter to the Hebrews, which is theologically akin to the Gospel of John, explicitly develops a theology of Melchizedek; since John presents Jesus as the Logos of God and as God himself; since, finally, the Lord gave bread and wine as the bearers of the New Covenant, it is certainly not forbidden to think in terms of such connections and so to see shining through the Cana story the mystery of the Logos and of this cosmic liturgy, which fundamentally transforms the myth of Dionysus, and yet also brings it to its hidden truth.” (253-4)

Continue reading

C. S. Lewis, Myth, and Fact

C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis

Most people do not like being told that they are wrong. This is especially true when it comes to politics or religious faith. Interestingly, a number of pundits and scholars have taken to calling religious faith “myth” in recent years, especially religious faith that for many adherents hinges upon certain events that claim to be historical. The work of Joseph Campbell springs to mind, as do more contemporary perspectives such as those espoused by Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins. For perspectives such as these (most admittedly devoted to philosophical naturalism) and others (one thinks of certain Historical Jesus scholars over the years), Christian claims about the resurrection of  Jesus of Nazareth cannot be categorized as anything but “myth,” the stuff of legend, or theological story-telling. And, as one might expect, most Christians do not appreciate being told that their deeply held religious convictions are, in a word, myth. While for many the term “myth” connotes feelings of falsehood or story, Christian thinkers such as C.S Lewis conceived of myth in other terms. In the essay that follows, we examine Lewis’ conception of “myth,” as well as his understanding of the relationship between “myth” and “fact” in the Christian narrative.

The idea of myth was an important one for C.S. Lewis, especially with regard to his conversions to theism and Christianity, and his later apologies for the Christian faith. Lewis came to define myth in perhaps a non-traditional manner, writing that “Myth in general is not merely misunderstood history… nor diabolical illusion… not priestly lying… but at its best, a real unfocused gleam of divine truth on human imagination” (Miracles, 138). Thus, one must understand that what Lewis refers to as myth is not some cleverly narrated story but truth wrapped in narrative which can, when properly understood, convey great truths to its readers. Continue reading