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Thursday April 23, 2015
Smart Christians and Ben Witherington’s thoughts on individuality.
Clearing things up
It is a misconception that there aren’t many smart Christian. Many living an intellectually sheltered life fall into the old fallacy that religion is for stupid people duped by superstitions and that it has been replaced by science, “progress,” and “enlightenment.”
This is simply not the case. There are many brilliant thinkers, scholars, and scientists that are also deeply religious. As far as Christianity goes, Anglican N.T. Wright, Catholic John P. Meier, and Protestant Ben Witherington are among the best. Their scholarly books about Jesus and Christianity are some of the most highly regarded, and persuasive, of our time. And, for the most part, they come to conclusions that any traditional Christian can agree on.
In short, being a Christian doesn’t mean having to throw away your brain at the sanctuary door.
Of the individual
Ben Witherington recently published a piece about the contemporary focus, especially in Christianity, on individuality. He argues that Jesus lived in a “collectivist culture” and that his message spoke to that:
The Bible, written in collectivist cultures, promotes a collectivist series of identities. Have you ever noticed that the people in the Gospels do not have last names? The cellphone log must have been confusing. This is because their primary identity is their group or social identity, and their secondary identity is what we would call their individual identity, their personal identity. I’m trusting you realize that Jesus’ last name was not Christ, any more than Mary’s last name was Magdalene.
His sense of humor is pretty refreshing, isn’t it? His point is valid, too: the individual was seen in the context of the group. Jesus’ message was not for individuals to be saved as they are and simply for who they are, but for each person to be baptized into Christ’s body (the church) and for that person to “die” to their former sinful self and continue to get better. Continual conversion, if you will.
Consider the oldth
He goes on to criticize our culture for worshiping the present while ignoring or having contempt for the past. He compares it to Jesus’ time:
Identity, personality, character was fixed at birth, and did not develop over time, it was simply revealed over time. The ancients were quite innocent of Freud and Jung. Youth was not idolized, ‘oldth’ was. People turned to ‘the elders’ as role models, not the Pepsi generation.
That’s always been a huge problem of mine with contemporary culture: why do we only look to what is going on now for answers? Why is youth idolized? Wouldn’t we be better off listening to, and studying, the people who have the most wisdom instead of those who happen to be around today?
In his article Witherington sharply addresses a contemporary misconception about Jesus’ message. Throughout their books, he and his scholarly companions N.T. Wright and John P. Meier do this all the time. If only their work was as publicized as the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He was also the Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik's music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.