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What will you do with Jesus?
on June 8, 2005
First of all, if I may get away with answering some critics. I was a philosophy and religious studies student at a secular liberal arts university where Christianity was not thought of fondly. I then went to a divinity school where I learned that not everything called "Christian" really is. Though I may not be an expert, I know what kind of things go on in the setting that Kreeft has offered, a divinity school.
If nothing else, Socrates criticizes modernist "Christians" who try and have it both ways (All the success of the spread of Christianity without any doctrine or personal piety). Now with regards to the critics, many of them use two words: "straw man" and "fundamentalism." The irony is this: anyone who does not want to critically consider the claims of Christianity calls even its basic, central beliefs (crucifixion, resurrection, Bible) "fundamentalism." Anyone who goes to Divinity School will (hopefully) learn that there have been Benedictines, Puritans, and Lutherans; however all these people had in common basic beliefs about who Jesus was and what he did. After a belief is deemed "fundamentalist," it is no longer studied. Fundamentalism becomes such an all-encompassing, and thus poorly defined staw man, that Christianity is considered easily dispatched.
However, it would serve such critics well to read the sociologist of religion Martin Marty's "Fundamentalisms Observed." In it, he dispels the popular notion that fundamentalism is the predominant mode of Christianity, and second, contends that many "conservative" Christians really aren't fundamentalists. In fact, this irony is aptly exposed in chap. 3 of Kreeft's book when Socrates concludes that the definition of fundamentalism employed currently is too broadly conceived.
Furthermore, this Socrates, for better or worse, is exactly the "gadfly" of the Apology/Phaedo, the eternal questioner. The central method of Socrates was to start with a set of premises and follow them to their logical conclusion. Aristotle later criticized Socratic logic in his "Prior Analytics," suggesting that premises themselves might have to be established from a more empirical basis, preventing an ad nauseam of logical progression. However, this Socrates is the very rationalist who Aristotle criticized. The exact reason for some of the philosophical overlaps between Socrates and Christians (theism, monotheism, ethical holiness of God) is still a subject of great debate; Kreeft just offered an answer to that overlap that displeases the philosophical secularist.
Perhaps the bottom line is that several critics don't want to acknowledge/consider even the most basic premises of faith. In this sense, they are ironically dogmatic. Either Jesus was who he said he was or he wasn't. This much is a tautology. We'll call it J v ~J. If he wasn't, it is because the Scriptures were untrue or the ones who wrote Scripture were deceived (argument in pp. 169-170, one critic stopped reading at 150). The argument is logical. What it really means is that Christianity is an all or nothing. You either accept it or mightily refute it as a lie. There is no middle ground of "Jesus was just kinda nice." The historical character and teachings of Jesus simply burned that philosophical bridge.
I guess my bottom line to critics is, just read the book. Don't read the book reading your stereotypical view of a Christian apologist such as Kreeft into the book (an inherently ad hominem read). Just take the premises as they come; avoid gratuitous emotion or subjectivity, try to look at the ideas themselves. That is the true task of the philosopher, and Socrates makes that evident, unlike an "intoxicated hippie" (to use words of a profound critic of this book). Socrates may yield to some foundational propositions that are occasionally questionable, but each argument he makes necessarily follows from the starting premises.
Whether you believe or do not believe, I implore you to look at the ideas and logic itself, and judge the book on this basis, not on the basis that this book is written by a Christian apologist. I think then you will realize one thing that both a secularist and I can agree on: Jesus was, and will continue to be, one of the most influential figures of all time.