Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Why do we believe in Jesus?

Today I went to Den Haag to get my "verblijfsvergunning" from the Justice Ministry. Thankfully everything went smoothly. On my way back I stopped over at the University of Utrecht to visit their famous Protestant Theology Department. There I made friends with Jan van Wygerden, a PhD student  who is doing research on catholicity in the patristic era. We had a fascinating (and encouraging!) discussion. Thank you for that Jan.

Following our discussion I reflected back on some research I did last year in Durham. There are voices within Patristic and New Testament circles arguing that what came to be regarded as the orthodoxy of the late second century and beyond (i.e. belief in bodily resurrection, the virgin birth of Christ etc)  was, among other things argued for based on apostolic succession, and the authority of the church.
Much of this goes back to research done on the writings of Irenaeus in his well known work Against Heresies. I hope to discuss more about this some other time. For the moment though, I want to make one point by drawing on Tertullian's On the Resurrection of the Flesh (Resurrection). If we accept that apostolic succession and the authority of the church became apologetic tools to try and defend orthodoxy, other appeals were also necessary to argue for the legitimacy of what orthodoxy claimed. This Tertullian did masterfully in his Resurrection. Instead of focussing on apostolic succession or the authority of the church, he went on to face all those texts which Marcion and some Gnostic groups employed to argue for their interpretations head on. One good example is Romans 8:3 where the latter argued for a docetic Christology (which holds that Christ did not really took on flesh). In his defence of the orthodox position, Tertullian analysed the whole pericope and pointed out, among other things that a docetic Christology is impossible if one keeps in mind what Paul declares in 8:11: "But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."

Especially today, we as Christians should be able to use Scripture (and not apostolic succession and the authority of the church) in our witness and defence of WHY we believe.


Steve said...

Thanks for this. I put an earlier post in a few days ago, but it seems to have vanished. Blessings. Steve.

Frederik Mulder said...

Thank you Steve - sorry about the other post.


Steve said...

The church on fire, is it a Dutch Reformed Church building in South Africa? It looks very much that style of building, as well as the surroundings.

Frederik Mulder said...

I think you're right Steve. I got the picture on a Afrikaans newspaper website some weeks ago.
It is quite interresting how the styles differ from country to country. If you compare British, Dutch, German and South African church buildings... It is as if each has it's own theology behind it. I told some friend last night that it's a pitty that the church buildings have often been such an important feature of Christian communities that the Gospel got lost in the process. Not tradition, not church authority, or church argitecture, BUT the Word of God should define our identity as Christians.