“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” –Arthur Ash
American Servicemen Laid to Rest at the Omaha Beach Cemetery, Normandy, France
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
–John 15:13 (ESV)
This post is part of our ongoing series concerning “Conceptions of the Ultimate”, the manner in which various world religions understand the Divine. Today’s reflection engages Paula Fredriksen’s discussion of ultimate reality in early Christianity, found in Robert Cummings Neville’s Ultimate Realities.
In this reflection, I want to touch on two facets of her essay: the limited scope of sacrifice within early Christology and the function of holiness as soteriology and eschatology in understanding early Christian conceptions of the ultimate. Fredriksen rightly notes two major influences upon early Christian conceptions of the ultimate: Second Temple Jewish conceptions of the Ultimate and the blood sacrifice themes within the writings of the Apostle Paul. These she helpfully expounds upon, drawing out both the centrality of Christ in Christian attempts to understand the ultimate and also the central role of sacrifice as catalyst for early Christian thought concerning God and community. However, as insightful as her treatment of this theme is, I wonder if it does adequate justice to the full range of ideas within early Christianity concerning the ultimate. That is, how useful is Fredriksen’s (admittedly) narrow foray into conceptions of ultimate reality in early Christianity? Purposefully ignoring New Testament passages that were later favored by the early Church in Christological explanations seems an odd way to go about understanding the early church; and were Fredriksen specifically writing on the development of the ultimate in ancient Christianity, her argument concerning the centrality of blood sacrifice may stand (though this too would likely be problematized by the source materials she ignores). Most vexing, and most problematic for her overarching argument, is Fredriksen’s rejection of Philippians 2:5-11 as a suitable source. Most scholars affirm that this passage reveals a pre-Pauline Christological formula, making it one of the earliest possible Christian statements concerning both Christology and Christological conceptions of the ultimate. It is thus highly surprising that she crafts the scope and contents of her essay without this highly important passage. This leads back to our earlier question: how useful (and accurate) is the portrait of the ultimate in early Christianity when the scope of Fredriksen’s sources has been so narrowly drawn? Continue reading
“I cannot get a cup of tea large enough nor a book long enough” –C. S. Lewis
Much like C.S. Lewis, since I acquired the ability to read, I have always greatly enjoyed the reading of books. Lots of them. In fact, during elementary school I once read so many of the books in our classroom that I resorted to reading the World Book Encyclopedia in order to prevent myself from re-reading too many things. The more books I have read, the more I have come to realize two critical facts: First, there will always be more books to read. By this I mean that no matter how many books I read, there will always be more ideas and narratives to engage (this I see as a great thing, in case you were wondering). And second, there are such things as good books and bad books. That is, the content and worth of all books is not inherently equal. Some great works of literature are clearly more valuable for understanding the human condition than others. To see this, one only need to compare something by Shakespeare with any modern paperback Harlequin romance novel (or perhaps the Twlight series, but I won’t go any further into that hornet’s nest). Of course, there are less drastic comparisons and rankings, but that’s not the point of this post. Instead, I want to delve into a discussion of some (relatively recent) works of literature that have elicited a variety of judgment calls, especially among American Christians: the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Continue reading