Wednesday, 8 June 2016

A CENTURY OF FAILURES OF ATTACKS ON CHRISTIANITY.

By JOSEPH COOK.

GOD in history in our time has revealed Himself in a century of failures of attacks on Christianity. Six great attempts to undermine Christianity have been made in our century, and each of the six have failed. To use a metaphor of Lessing's, we may say that the temple of God in our century has seemed to be on fire and six times the flames have turned out to be only the aurora borealis.
 In the nineteenth century—
 1 The naturalistic theory for the explanation of the origin of the New Testament literature has risen, reigned, sickened, died, and been buried.
 2. The mythical theory of Strauss has risen, reigned, sickened, died, and been buried.
 3. The tendency or partisanship theory of Baur has risen, reigned, sickened, died, and been buried
4. The legendary theory of Ernest Renan has risen, reigned, sickened, died, and been buried.
5. The hypercritical theory of the author of Supernatural Religion, an anonymous work, issued only a few years ago, has risen, reigned, and already sickened, died, and been buried.
 6. The Neo-Platonist theory has risen, reigned, sickened, and, if not buried, is at least moribund.
 The greatest brilliancy of Deistic writers is found at about the middle of the eighteenth century. Voltaire, you remember, died in 1778 ; Rousseau the same year ; Gibbon in 1794; Thomas Paine lived to 1809; Shelley was with us until 1822 ; Byron until 1824 ; and Goethe until 1832. There beamed over into this century from the eighteenth a large amount of lurid light from the French Revolution, from the foremost Deistical writers, and so our century began with an anti-supernaturalistic bent. At the opening of the century Schleiermacher exerted a profound influence on all Protestant theology in Europe. In the middle and toward the close of the century Christianity found new vigour and new methods in the Wesleyan revival in England. Wesley and Whitefield, as well as Butler and Paley had shown that Christianity was not likely to disappear. As our century progressed great revivals swept through large parts of Christendom ; missions to foreign lands arose; the religious press became a cosmopolitan power.
 What is the chief effort of all modern schools of attack on historic Christianity? It is to account for the New Testament literature without assuming that any miracle has occurred. Immense effects have been produced by the literature, and the effects seem to have depended on what the churches at the outset took to be a supernatural attestation of the doctrines of this book. How can the effects be explained if this attestation is shown not to have been given ?
  Frederick Strauss and his theory was described ; then Professor Baur, whose scheme, called the tendency scheme, aimed to account for much of the literature of the New Testament by a conflict between the Petrine and Pauline factions among the apostles. There was Peter's party, made up chiefly of Jewish believers ; there was Paul's party, composed principally of Gentiles.
 But these various systems contradict each other. Professor Strauss says of Paulus, that, under his guidance, we tumble into the mire, and that confusion of thought is the result of following him. Baur charges Strauss with most uncritical treatment of the New Testament documents, and leaves him as thoroughly unhorsed as Strauss left Paulus. The mythical theory laughs at the naturalistic, the tendency theory laughs at the mythical, and the hour glass laughs at them all.
 The legendary theory of Renan, the fourth of the six attacks on historic Christianity which have been made in our century, is peculiarly Parisian, I will not say Gallic, in the softness with which it treats lies. Ernest Renan maintains that the founder of Christianity is the individual who has made his species take the greatest step toward the divine, and yet assumes that he was repeatedly guilty of falsehood. Renan rejects the mythical theory, and, of course, the naturalistic. He holds the legendary theory ; and a legend, a word of vague import, differs in his use of it from a myth chiefly in the fact that a legend is more or less purposed falsification or embellishment of historic records.
 Renan assumes that conscious falsifications of historic records must have occurred in many cases in the growth of the New Testament literature. For instance, in discussing the account of the resurrection of Lazarus, Renan affirms that some one must have lied egregiously, or there never could have been incorporated into the record of the Gospels such a narrative as they now contain on this topic. Renan maintains that in Jerusalem Christ loses something of His limpidity of conscience. Great spirits, as Renan teaches, by partaking of the world's evil, help on its redemption. Renan is so shameless as to affirm that when we have done as much by our scruples as they by their lies ("Mensonges ") we shall have a right to be hard upon them. 
Nearly every great professor in Europe has declared that there is nothing in Renan's Life of Christ. Renan's literary glitter has little substance to recommend it. There is nothing behind it that will give him permanent power.
 Renan's Life of Christ is a fanciful literary venture. It is, I had almost said, such a life as you might expect from one who maintains in Paris that nature cares nothing for the ideas of the New Testament as to the family. The psychology of Renan's book is French, in the worst sense of the word. He revives the crudeness of Celsus and endorses it. He explains great events in the Gospels by suppositions that would bring a blush to the cheek, one would think, of any respectable writer. For one, I confess that I come out of the reading of Renan with moral loathing for the author.
 The fifth of the attacks on Christianity is that by the author of the anonymous English book, entitled Supernatural Religion, and has sometimes been called the hypercritical theory. It has been thoroughly answered by Bishop Lightfoot in England, and by Professor Fisher in this country. The reply to it turns on so many details of history that, instead of discussing them here, I prefer to have you read Bishop Lightfoot and Professor Fisher, the one the leader of sound historic criticism of the New Testament in England, and the latter the leader of such criticism in America.
 The Neo-Platonist school is a sixth form of attack on Christianity, and its failure is a necessary result of the downfall of the mythical theory and its successors. Men of the twentieth century will remember that certain things have been proved by the progress of scholarship in the nineteenth century.
1. The four chief epistles of Paul remain undisputed.
2. The story of one event, at least, that of the resurrection, cannot have originated in myths, for there was no time for myths to grow up between the date of the crucifixion and the date of the founding of the earliest churches. Not only the evidence, but the repetition of and reiteration of it, is to be emphasized now as it was by the apostles.
3. From Paul's four undisputed epistles we know not only the fact that Paul believed that the resurrection occurred, and that he had seen our Lord after the resurrection, but that all the apostles believed this.
4. We know that in the face of enemies who would have disproved the Christian assertions if they could, the churches were founded on the most definite assertion of these facts. In all of the churches throughout the whole breadth of the Roman Empire, beginning at Jerusalem itself, and on the very scene of the crucifixion, and within sixty days of that event, the fact of the resurrection was proclaimed, and also that of the repeated appearances of the Risen One to his disciples. The importance of the forty days after the resurrection is brought into clearer view by recent discussions.
5. The growth of the New Testament literature has been discussed so critically that very few who value their reputation for scholarship dare now place the gospels later than the end of the first century.
6. There is a debate about the fourth gospel, but more and more the common opinion concerning it is confirmed by the progress of discussion.
 7. It is commonly granted, even by rationalistic writers, since Keim and Ewald, that the evidence is overwhelming that the resurrection, or its equivalent occurred, and that repeated appearances of our Lord occurred after it.
 8. The resurrection admitted, other spiritual miracles must be received. The line of the anti-supernaturalistic attack broken here, is thrown everywhere into confusion.
 9. There is growing up a new philosophy, both of history and of nature, which asserts not only the possibility, but the actuality, of the supernatural.
10. After all attacks, the character of Christ stands forth as the supreme miracle.
11. As such it is a supernatural revelation of God in man and to man.

Christian Colonist 29 May 1885

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