During my seminary training, as part of my doctoral program, I took off a year for training as a hospital chaplain. I discovered that the formulas I was learning in seminary did not always speak to the real lives people were living. The theological formulas I had been taught were not really answering the questions people were asking. Instead they were getting people to forget what they had asked in the first place.
After seminary I began to pour over the teachings of the early church. I discovered the early writings of the church were, like the Sermon on the Mount itself, more about living than believing. Reason was not an enemy to faith but was more understood as what faith grows into.
Looking at scripture, I realized the Gospel of John begins with a philosophical essay on the logos (reason) and then proceeds to tell stories that may be illustrations of that essay. Was it possible that religion could be a complement to reason and science? Could it be that religion can build a bridge from scientific truth, to meaning in life?
I ran across passages in the early church like this statement by Justin Martyr written not seventy years after Jesus’ death. I was stunned to discover teachings that would probably get this early saint kicked out of most of the churches I know.
“Whatever is rational is Christian, and whatever is Christian is rational. The Logos endowed all people with reason and freedom, which are not lost by the fall. Christ scattered seeds of truth before his incarnation, not only among the Jews, but also among the Greeks and barbarians, especially among philosophers and poets, who are the prophets of the heathen. Those who lived reasonably and virtuously in obedience to this preparatory light were Christians in fact, though not in name; while those who lived unreasonably were Christless and enemies of Christ. Socrates was a Christian as well as Abraham, though he did not know it.” -Justin Martyr
I don’t think Justin should be heard saying that reasonable Jews and philosophers are really Christians but don’t know it. That would be arrogant. But he can be heard echoing a sentiment shared by the Jewish philosopher Philo, that all who are reasonable and loving are of one faith, even though we have different names.
Originally appeared at JimRigby.org
Photo: Flickr/Naval History & Heritage C