Why You Must Be Dying to be a Christian Scholar (Wrap Up)

“I am doing what I can to help Christian scholars to integrate their faith with their scholarship.” — David Williams

Following his move to The Big Apple to serve with InterVasity’s Graduate & Faculty Ministry at NYU this fall, David is back to wrap up his series on Why You Must Be Dying to be a Christian Scholar. For earlier posts in the series click here and here. Take it away David! ~ Thomas B. Grosh IV, Associate Director of ESN, editor of ESN’s blog and Facebook Wall


4.  We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.  In his lucid (though acerbic) book, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), David Bentley Hart summarizes the “simple but thoroughly enchanting tale” underlying modern attitudes toward the Christian Tradition:

Once upon a time, it went, Western humanity was the cosseted and incurious ward of Mother Church; during this, the age of faith, culture stagnated, science languished, wars of religion were routinely waged, witches were burned by inquisitors, and Western humanity labored in brutish subjugation to dogma, superstition, and the unholy alliance of the church and state.  Withering blasts of fanaticism and fideism had long since scorched away the last remnants of classical learning; inquiry was stifled; the literary remains of classical antiquity had long ago been consigned to the fires of faith, and even the great achievements of “Greek science” were forgotten till Islamic civilization restored them to the West.  All was darkness.  Then, in the wake of the “wars of religion” that had torn Christendom apart, came the full flowering of the Enlightenment and with it the reign of reason and progress, the riches of scientific achievement and political liberty, and a new revolutionary sense of human dignity….  (33)

Hart goes on to note that the sole defect of this “simple and enchanting tale” is “that it happens to be false in every identifiable detail.” (34)  Nevertheless, most modern Western people have swallowed this tale hook-line-and-sinker.

We Evangelical Christians have swallowed it too, and, to the extent that we have, we have cut ourselves off from the vital intellectual and spiritual Tradition of historic Christianity.  As Protestants we were already primed to swallow this tale because, as you may already realize, it is simply a modernized, secularized, and slightly updated version of the (tall) tale Protestants have told about Catholicism since the time of the Reformation: Post tenebras lux!  But we American Evangelicals were triply primed to swallow this tale because, frankly, we are a product of it—in addition to being Protestants and Moderns, we Americans are a characteristically individualistic bunch that have a deeply engrained suspicion of tradition, and that are especially prone to conceive of theology as an ahistorical, do-it-yourself project.  In any case, Christian scholars who do not resist this “simple and enchanting tale” do so at their peril, for in so doing they lose the capacity to locate themselves and their work within the orthodox Christian Tradition.

St. Augustine, fresco by Sandro Botticelli, 1480; in the church of Ognissanti, Florence. “Augustine, Saint: Botticelli”. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 21 Aug. 2013.   http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/media/19528/St-Augustine-fresco-by-Sandro-Botticelli-1480-in-the-church

Let me illustrate what I mean: My commitment to historic Christianity is, in part, precisely why I am quite comfortable not taking Genesis 1 “literally” (whatever “literally” means here).  I’m with Augustine, Origen, Justin Martyr and many others in thinking that the opening chapter of Genesis cries out for a non-literal interpretation.  I agree, too, with John Calvin in thinking it ill-advised to treat Genesis 1 as a scientifically accurate account of cosmic origins or a cosmological handbook, and I agree with Augustine that Christians need to take “secular” science with the utmost seriousness.  Moreover, Genesis 1 aside, I agree with Saint Jerome in thinking that it’s at least possible that the Pentateuch came together in its final form in the post-Exilic period (the current, mainstream scholarly consensus in Pentateuchal studies).  I share Luther’s skepticism about whether John the son of Zebedee wrote the Gospel of John, Calvin’s doubts about whether Peter wrote Second Peter, and Origen’s doubts about whether Paul wrote the Letter to the Hebrews.  Many of these ideas—asserted on their own apart from my references to the theological Tradition—would be identified by my secular, liberal and conservative counterparts alike as being “progressive,” or “liberal,” or “modern.” In other words, the assumption is that thinkers of such thoughts must reside on the heretic fringe.  And, yet, ironically all of these ideas have some precedent in the grand theological Tradition of the Church, having been entertained by some of our faith’s brightest and most revered luminaries.  Ergo, I am carrying on the Tradition as much as anybody.

I have discovered time and again that the Christian theological Tradition (including the Reformed tradition) does not always say what we thought it always said.  I have discovered time and again that historic Christianity is a vibrant, sophisticated, and nuanced intellectual Tradition with abundant resources for creatively engaging the discoveries and difficulties of our day.   In other words, there is room for serious thinking in the Christian Tradition.  There is room for exploring, for learning, for growing, and for developing.  There is room for difference, disagreement, and doubt; for mystery and wonder; for asking and living with questions; for unanswered, indeed, unanswerable questions.  There is room for serious Christian scholarship and, most importantly, there is room for you.

Jacques Berlinerblau The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously. Cambridge University Press, 2005.

5.  We are strangers and exiles.

Unappreciated by their secular colleagues in the Academy, unknown to the religious lay masses, and not unconditionally affirmed by Church or Synagogue—this is the plight of the ideal-typical biblical scholar.

I quoted this line from Jacques Berlinerblau’s book The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) in my initial post and, as several commenters noticed, it could apply to the ideal-typical Christian scholar in practically any field, not just biblical studies.  While the deep-seated anti-intellectual streak in American Evangelicalism has been well documented (see, e.g., Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind), a seam in that story that has, perhaps, not been seen clearly enough is churches’ reluctance to embrace Christian intellectuals.  By “Christian intellectuals” I do not mean would-be “apologists” whom churches can always count on to defend what they already thought, but rather scholars whose research has the potential to unsettle our preconceptions.  The Christian intellectual can often expect to be held at arm’s length by the Academy because she is a Christian and held at arm’s length by her church because she is an intellectual.

Consider my friend, Ben, a Christian with a PhD in biology from one major research university who is working as a postdoc at another major research university.  His area of expertise is population genetics, an area exceedingly relevant to contemporary discussions of evolutionary theory, and, having worked day-in and day-out with the relevant data for more than a decade, Ben has come largely to accept the Neo-Darwinian account of life’s development.  Despite Ben’s strong resume and publishing history, his coworkers question his intelligence because of his Christian faith.  Despite Ben’s deep piety, church involvement, and decades-long walk with Christ, Ben has discovered that he cannot talk about his work at his Evangelical church without running the risk of being berated for undermining the faith or dismissed as having simply imbibed the Academy’s secular Kool-Aid.  As a result, Ben experiences a sort of double alienation, both ecclesial and academic, on account of his Christian scholarly vocation.

I could give more examples of this sort of dynamic, but I don’t think I need to.  Many of you will know exactly what I am talking about.  And to you I want to say that that is part of the deal.  Part of the Christian scholar’s vocation is to live in and to try to heal this rift.  You will have to be an apologist for the faith within your discipline and also an apologist for your discipline among the faithful, and often that will mean being a stranger and an exile in both Church and Academy.

Peter Enns. Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005. Note: Book Review: Peter Enns Double Header (Bob Trube. ESN Blog. 8/12/2013).

6.  We do not wrestle against flesh and blood.  Something which I had not expected in coming to Westminster Seminary was to be embroiled in a controversy that was not merely academic, but which, at its heart, was political.  The question on the table was what it meant to be Reformed.  There are no easy answers here.  The Biblical Studies department could appeal to precedents within the Reformed tradition for the sort of work we were doing (see point 4 above) and could rally around the Reformed value of being semper reformanda.  The Theologians and Apologists could appeal to precedents, as well, not least when it came to classical Reformed expositions of the doctrine of justification and Old Princeton’s resistance against 19th century historical-criticism.  Neither side had a monopoly on precedent within the Reformed tradition.  In the end, however, the discussion between these two competing visions of what it should mean to be Reformed in the 21st century was not settled by theological argumentation, but prematurely foreclosed upon with heavy-handed political machinations—not least the overriding of a 12-8 faculty vote in Enns’ favor and the leveraging of key members of the Board of Trustees.   Money and power had as much to do with how things shook out at Westminster as theology did.

I say this because Christian scholars need to understand what they are up against.  Westminster is by no means unique.  In any institution of higher education, whether secular or confessional, intra-institutional politics will loom large.  I have met more than a few Christian scholars in secular universities who would rather not “come out” as Christians until they have tenure—if ever.  Indeed, it is quite telling, for instance, how many of our writers here on the ESN blog feel the need to write under pseudonyms.  Being a Christian scholar comes with certain liabilities and however solid one’s arguments, resume, or publishing record, these cannot always protect us from being black-balled, marginalized, passed over, rejected, or even fired.  Christian scholarship, in other words, is a full-contact sport, and you need to be ready to take a few lumps.  In this regard, however, the Christian scholar is no different from Christians in any other vocation.  In fact, compared to what our brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world have to deal with in terms of persecution, Western Christian scholars have it quite easy.

It’s time to wrap up.  I will return to many of the themes of these posts as I write here on the blog: the Christian Tradition, Biblical studies, faith and science, anti-intellectualism.  I would love to hear from you about what has most piqued your curiosity or encouraged your heart.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, statue at Westminster Abbey, London. “Bonhoeffer, Dietrich”. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 21 Aug. 2013. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/media/132770/Dietrich-Bonhoeffer-statue-at-Westminster-Abbey-London

Over these last three posts I have not painted a very rosy picture of the Christian scholar’s vocation.  You have, no doubt, by now detected the irony of my title: “Why you must be dying to be a Christian scholar.”  Yes, you must be dying to be a Christian scholar: As Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”  Or, as Jesus said, “Whoever would come after me must take up his cross daily and follow me.”  Following Jesus into the Academy is as cross-ward a path as any other Christian vocation.  You must be prepared to die to yourself.  Following the evidence while following Jesus can lead you to Golgotha.  Your preconceptions about God and His world may have to die, your denominational allegiances may have to shift, your fears will have to be faced, and, yes, persecution may have to be endured.  But we are in good company as we tread this narrow road, for not only are we surrounded by the great cloud of fellow Christians who have gone before us in thinking deeply about difficult issues, but we are also accompanied and assisted by Him who has called us.

Go in peace!

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David Williams

David is a campus staff for InterVarsity’s Graduate & Faculty Ministries at New York University, where he serves as a university chaplain, and as a pastor and advisor for the school's medical, dental and law student fellowships. A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, David joined InterVarsity in 2011 and spent his first two years on staff serving the Graduate & Faculty Ministries at NC State University, Meredith College and Campbell Law School. David holds masters' degrees in biblical studies and theology from Westminster Theological Seminary and Duke Divinity School, and is a devoted lifelong learner. David is passionate about helping non-Christians to meet Jesus and about helping Christians — both Christian scholars and laypeople — to love the Lord their God with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength. David and his lovely wife, Alissa, live in New York City. You can follow David’s ministry at his blog, 10000places.com and you can support his pastoral and writing ministries here.

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  • DocPencil@twitter.example.com'
    Lead Soldier (@DocPencil) commented on August 22, 2013 Reply

    Backwards, Christian soldiers. Another “scholar” who assures us the Reformation was a mistake (Tell it to Anne Asquith, Mr. Faintheart), and the eminent plausibility of the documentary hypothesis. Many will go off the path in your company, and few will find their way back on to it. Called to die, you have that part right.

    • dmwilliams83@gmail.com'
      dmwilliams83 commented on August 22, 2013 Reply

      Thanks for commenting, but I never claimed to be a “scholar” (I am, however, a pastor for scholars). Nor did I ever say that “the Reformation was a mistake” (I am a Protestant, after all). All I said was that in order to justify the (tragic) schism that attended the Reformation Protestants have tended to resort to painting the pre-Reformation church and the Catholic Church generally in dark colors (probably darker than necessary or warranted) and that that habit of so narrating our history primed us to swallow Modernity’s analogous metanarrative.

  • curious@nospamplease.org'
    scientia commented on August 22, 2013 Reply

    Regarding your commitment to historic Christianity: prior to writing this “Wrap Up” post, how much of Augustin’s De Genesi ad Litteram had you read? If very little, it seems you are perpetuating the very practice you are accusing evangelicals of committing. If the work as a whole, then you do not seem to have understood Augustin nor his time, and you are claiming to be allies with a church father who believed far more that you would disagree with than what is in superficially apparent agreement in the snippet of his writing that is loosely referred to here.

    • dmwilliams83@gmail.com'
      dmwilliams83 commented on August 26, 2013 Reply

      Scientia, I apologize for my tardiness in responding to your comment. I have been away from technology for the last few days leading a retreat for law students.

      First, I will gladly own up to the fact that I have not read the entirety of Augustine’s “On the Literal Meaning of Genesis.” I will also gladly own up to not being an Augustine scholar and to it being quite possible that I have not fully understood the man, his context, or what I have read of his works. In other words, Sure, I could be wrong.

      That being said, however, I never claimed to be in total agreement with Augustine on every salient theological matter (is anyone?). Rather, I claimed that one can find precedents for having exceedingly high regard for “secular” sciences in Augustine’s work (not least, “On the Literal Meaning of Genesis”–you’ve sniffed out my source quite successfully) and also for interpreting Genesis 1 in a non-literal way. Do you disagree with that claim? If so, would you care to elaborate?

  • John.Of.Pinebrook@gmail.com'
    Johnny Walker commented on August 24, 2013 Reply

    Your comment on the Protestant suspicion of tradition is dead on. As modernist individualism dies off I suspect institutions with no ancient grounding will go with it. Perhaps folks like Thomas Oden and Daniel Williams may posses the way to go forward.

    • dmwilliams83@gmail.com'
      dmwilliams83 commented on August 26, 2013 Reply

      I appreciate Oden, as well, Johnny. Robert Webber and Robert W. Jenson have been quite helpful to me, too.

  • brianleport@gmail.com'
    Brian LePort commented on August 24, 2013 Reply

    Wonderful series of posts. I enjoyed it and I’ve shared each one with others. Thank you.

    • dmwilliams83@gmail.com'
      dmwilliams83 commented on August 26, 2013 Reply

      Thank you, Brian. I am glad you have found them helpful. Blessings on you and your work!

  • tweeksgalindo@gmail.com'
    Tristan Galindo commented on August 25, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for writing the posts.

    I would like to state up front that I am largely sympathetic with most if not all the points you bring up. Having said that I would like make some points by way of critique:

    I would venture that one of the things you would like to impart and encourage is the idea of openness for intellectual rigor that is willing to question and seek truth no matter where it leads.

    While you are upholding such an ideal with explicit affirmations I think you are also working against it in the way you make those affirmations. I see at least 2 possibly 3 ways you are working against such an ideal:

    (1) Appeal to personal testimony: In point 3 you state how mere Christianity helped you and you call such a thing a “truth”.
    — The problem with this is you make no argument as to why one should believe there is such a thing as “mere Christianity”. Should we take you on your say so?

    (2) Appeal to tradition: In point 4 your main point is that you fit inside of the “Christian Tradition” and so do we.
    — The problem with appealing to tradition should be pretty clear based on the WTS controversy. Whose tradition? The tradition (something like the tridentine Catholicism) that rejected other traditions (like the Reformed or Lutheran Tradition)? I’m not saying that tradition is unimportant, rather I am making the point that tradition is inadequate when it comes to settling issues, such as the one that transpired at WTS. Surely the author(s) of the gospel of Thomas and other such literature saw themselves as part of the Tradition. Perhaps more poignantly the different resurrection “traditions” that Larry Hurtado points out in his essay in JSHJ 3.2. So I don’t see appeal to tradition, simpliciter, as a useful one.

    (3) Implicit (unintentional) appeal to fear: You mention in point 3 how fear is a bad thing. The implicit fear factor of this series is in point 5 and the very title of the series.
    — It could be construed that if someone disagrees with your points then that person is a “non-intellectual” or perhaps even a “non-christian” if point 4 is taken to an extreme where if-your-not-as-open-as-the-christian-tradition-is then you don’t belong to it.

    I’ll state again that I am sympathetic most if not all your points. But I think your posts are likely contributive to creating a a community analogous to the problematic christian/academic communities you mention.

    I figure you didn’t intend to write posts that were “rigorous” in their presentation and I think that such non-rigorous posts have their place, but I feel compelled to question such presentations especially when aimed at an “academic” audience and that is promoting a vision of christian scholarship that is rigorous and non-fear based.

    • dmwilliams83@gmail.com'
      dmwilliams83 commented on August 26, 2013 Reply

      Thank you so much for this comment, Tristan. You have certainly put your finger on some of the more important questions. Let me take a stab at answering, but first I want to say that I am not “the man with the answers.” I can tell you how I think about these things, but my thinking is still a work in progress:

      (1) The question of whether or not there is such a thing as “mere Christianity” is a good one and can be taken at least two ways. On the one hand, there are plenty of scholars of Christian origins nowadays who would dispute any suggestion that there was such a thing as “orthodoxy” or “mere Christianity,” and who would argue that what we now call “orthodoxy” is just the theology of the party that won out in the first four centuries or so of Christian history (e.g., Bart Ehrman, Elaine Pagels, etc.). For these scholars, “Christianity” cannot be essentialized or boiled-down to basics, the regula fidei is not more than one Christian faction’s power play, and the Gospel of Thomas has as good a claim of being orthodox as does the Gospel of Mark.

      On the other hand, there is the fact that nobody practices or believes “mere Christianity.” Everyone who self-identifies as a Christian believes much more than “mere Christianity”–they are Catholic Christians or Orthodox Christians or Baptist Christians or Presbyterian Christians or Pentecostal Christians or so-called “Non-Denominational” Christians, but not, per impossibile, just plain old “mere” Christians. And, indeed, some of these Christians would deny that you could even be a Christian without, say, “being born again,” or having been baptized just so, or believing in the doctrine of justification sola fide, or being Catholic, or believing the earth is 6,000 years old, or what have you. In other words, Who says what constitutes “mere Christianity”? (The waters can be muddied further, I suppose, by bringing in the claims of Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or John Shelby Spong).

      So I clearly have to grant that “mere Christianity” is a controversial concept. How can I justify my evocation of it? First, let me just say that I don’t think it’s the sort of thing that one can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt. But then again, few things of importance are provable in that way (e.g., I cannot so prove that I am not a brain in a vat and that all of my experiences are not an elaborate virtual reality program). For me, “mere Christianity” is much more of a working hypothesis than anything else: It’s an idea that captured my imagination as a Methodist teenager and nothing I have read or learned or studied since then has undercut that idea too badly.

      As for Ehrman and company, I think these scholars need to be taken quite seriously but at the end of the day I think they’re mistaken. I think it’s pretty well established that if you want early Christian documents dating to the first century, you’ll have to read the New Testament. The Gnostic Gospels and such were all later. Moreover, the proto-orthodox Christians of the second, third and fourth centuries did have a sort of orally transmitted guideline for discerning what was and wasn’t the Christian gospel. They called this guideline the regula fidei and they could assure its apostolic pedigree by tracing the lines of tradition whereby they had inherited this body of teaching (e.g., Irenaeus got it from Polycarp and Polycarp got it from the Apostle John). While it remains true that the Ecumenical Creeds of the Church were hammered out in the midst of controversy, they were attempts at identifying the truth as it was attested in the Scriptures and that accorded with the regula fidei. (I know I am not getting anywhere near to doing justice to this complex subject matter–would it be acceptable to offer a bibliography?)

      Long story made short, I see the regula fidei and the Ecumenical Creeds as giving us “mere,” or, at any rate, historic orthodox Christianity in a nutshell. There’s lots more to talk about and explore here.

      (2) You’re right that it does matter which tradition you’re talking about and appealing to. And tradition is always contested ground. There is something to Alasdair MacIntyre’s suggestion that a tradition is usually constituted by debates about what constitutes the tradition. And debates about tradition always entail more than just questions about what was handed down in the past, but also questions of what can or should be handed down to future generations. At Westminster both sides of the debate appealed to elements and precedents within the tradition that they felt should be emphasized, elaborated, and hand on and both sides (at least tacitly) had certain elements of the tradition which they felt should be de-emphasized and left to history.

      So, no, appeals to tradition simpliciter rarely, if ever, settle theological disputes. You’re right. Nevertheless, tradition can serve to critique our modern assumptions, to keep us grounded, and to discipline and inform theological reflection on contemporary conundrums.

      As for the writer and followers of the Gospel of Thomas, the problem with them (at least, from the proto-orthodox point of view) was precisely that their syncretistic innovations flew in the face of what had been handed down from the Apostles. They, of course, would have disputed such a characterization and, so, in a sense this is an intra-traditional debate. Again we have lots of tangles to tease out.

      (3) I think fear can motivate a sort of “intellectualism.” And perhaps not all such fear is bad. But fear that leads one to turn a blind eye to counter-evidence or counterargument undermines intellectual honesty and serious scholarship of any kind. That’s all I’m saying.

      As for saying who’s “in” and who’s “out,” that’s not my department. I think God’s grace is wide and that plenty of people who couldn’t, say, clearly articulate an orthodox understanding of the Trinity will be just fine come Judgment Day. More to the point, I can think of lots of people whom I would call Christians and who I would say are standing within the tradition of historic Christianity, but who would not return the favor to me. That’s fine. I am not going to try to edge them out of the Kingdom (as though I could).

      Anyways, I don’t feel like I’ve even come close to doing justice to your questions. Thanks again for posing them and please keep the dialogue going.

  • tweeksgalindo@gmail.com'
    Tristan Galindo commented on August 26, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for the great reply, David.

    (I) I think a bibliography is perfectly acceptable. Is it not the case that scholars will use the “see so and so for defense of such a view” technique? I don’t see any problem emulating scholarly practice.

    (II) Now I will put out my own ignorance onto the table. I think your right about there being such a thing as “mere Christianity”. Something that initially points us to there being a mere Christianity is the fact that most Christians/denominations work under the assumption of there being a mere Christianity. So the question then how do we justify/define such a thing.

    You give the sort of trajectory you would take in developing and defining mere Christianity.

    I personally am not so comfortable with your specific trajectory, I’d rather stick to the NT documents in developing and defining mere Christianity. The main reason being that I take the NT documents to be “inspired” or at least of more importance than later Christian documents. Honestly, I don’t think the end result would be too much different.

    The one potentially major difference is the one Paul would make. In Galatians Paul draws a line in the sand, and how we understand Paul on that point could have some significant consequences. Using Paul however seems to require one of two things, that the other NT documents are harmonious on this point or that the other documents not harmonious on this point are to be considered non-inspired.

    As for me I consider the “canon” as open. So pulling a Luther is not out of the question as far as I am concerned. But right now I work under the hypothesis that the rest of the NT documents are harmonious with Paul. I am actually trying to use something analogous to Dale Allison’s methodology in Constructing Jesus for exegesis and historical reconstruction.

    (III) “Nevertheless, tradition can serve to critique our modern assumptions, to keep us grounded, and to discipline and inform theological reflection on contemporary conundrums.”

    I think this is a great point. Which is why I would be interested to compare the mere Christianity one would develop out of the NT documents and one that utilizes the early church fathers and creeds.

    Thanks again for the thought-full reply.

    • dmwilliams83@gmail.com'
      dmwilliams83 commented on August 27, 2013 Reply

      Thanks, Tristan. I really appreciate the dialogue.
      (1) Books that have been helpful for me in framing this way of thinking are Robert Webber’s ‘Ancient Future Faith,’ Craig Allert’s ‘A High View of Scripture?,’ pretty much all of the books in the Evangelical Ressourcement series, Robert W. Jenson’s ‘Canon and Creed,’ Jaroslav Pelikan’s ‘The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine,’ and others.

      (2) The trouble with appealing to the NT documents as our source for a mere Christianity is twofold. First, one of the criteria that the Church Fathers used when making decisions regarding the canonization of this or that book of the NT was that of orthodoxy (i.e., does it cohere with the regula fidei, the creed we received). In point of fact, canon and creed are more or less twins: they developed alongside of each other.

      Second, it simply throws us back into the debates about how to interpret the NT. Catholics, Orthodox, Baptists, Presbyterians and do-it-yourself armchair theologians are all reading the same NT. More to the point, Arians, Docetists, Socinians, and Orthodox were usually reading the same NT.

      That’s not to say that the NT shouldn’t be the first place we look when working through a theological, spiritual or moral question. That’s just to say that the NT will not readily yield the sort of consensus that we’re looking for when talking about “mere Christianity.” I think the creeds upon which all Catholics, all Orthodox and (nearly) all Protestants have historically agreed are much more promising on this score.

      As for your privileging of Paul and your willingness to pitch NT documents which will not fit on your Pauline Procrustean bed, I think that’s more likely to take you down a path not towards “mere Christianity” but towards your own idiosyncratic, private ideas (or maybe you’ll become a Bultmannian–I don’t know).

      N.B., For the Church Fathers who formed the canon what made the NT the NT was not that it was inspired, but that it was apostolic.

      (3) Maybe I will elaborate this notion in a future post.

      This has been a GREAT dialogue, Tristan. Keep reading deeply and thinking prayerfully. Blessings!

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