Aquinas on the Existence of God – an Excerpt from Proofs of God

The following is an excerpt from Proofs of God by Matthew Levering.

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In his Summa theologiae, Aquinas very briefly offers five ways of demonstrating God’s existence. These are found in question 2, article 3 of the Prima Pars.

The first way is the argument from motion or change. Aquinas states that “motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality,” and he adds that “nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality.” The same thing cannot be in potency and actuality in the same respect, and so a thing cannot be both mover and moved in the same respect. This shows that “whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another,” but this cannot proceed to infinity, since if there is no first mover, there can be no intermediate movers either. The first unmoved mover, who is pure actuality and the source of all act and potency composites, is God.

Cover ArtThe second way is the argument from efficient causality, understood again in terms of act and potency. Nothing is the efficient cause of its own finite actuality (or act of existing), and it is not possible to proceed to infinity in essentially ordered efficient causes, since without a first cause—which itself needs no efficient cause of its act of existing and is therefore pure actuality—there can be no intermediate causes and no ultimate effect. Since there obviously are intermediate causes and an ultimate effect, there must be a first cause, which is God.

Necessarily, then at some time (given infinite time on an endless continuum) everything would have not existed, since “that which is possible to be at some time is not.” If so, then there would now be nothing in existence, since nothing can come from nothing. The fact that something now exists, therefore, means that there must be some thing or things whose existence is necessary. As shown by the argument from efficient causality (the second way), it is impossible to proceed to infinity in necessary things that are caused by another. There must be one uncaused necessary being that causes all others, and this is God.

The fourth way is from the degrees of perfection found in finite things: “Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble, and the like.” The predication of “more” or “less” good or true requires that there be a measure of the degree to which something “resembles” goodness or truth. This measure must be maximal goodness or truth, for otherwise it would itself be measured rather than being the measure. For a maximum in perfection to exist, it must be maximal actuality, “for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being.” This maximum, as perfect actuality, “is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection.”

The fifth and final way comes from the governance of the world. Nonrational things cannot direct themselves to an end, and yet nonrational things in the universe generally repeat the same actions to achieve the same ends. This could not be the result of chance. Thus nonrational things are ordered to their ends by an intelligent orderer who, as the one who orders this-worldly things to their end, transcends and governs this world.

©2016 by Matthew Levering. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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For more information on Proofs of God, click here.

New Release: Proofs of God

Cover ArtLeading theologian Matthew Levering presents a thoroughgoing critical survey of the proofs of God’s existence for readers interested in traditional Christian responses to the problem of atheism. Beginning with Tertullian and ending with Karl Barth, Levering covers twenty-one theologians and philosophers from the early church to the modern period, examining how they answered the critics of their day. He also shows the relevance of the classical arguments to contemporary debates and challenges to Christianity.

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“A splendid survey; ideal for students and for the intellectually curious of every vocation. Levering fits an enormous range of information in a small space without any sacrifice of detail or clarity.”—David Bentley Hart, author of The Experience of God

“This is the best kind of book: intellectually serious, lucid, and covering a topic of great importance and perennial interest….For a reliable depiction of the Christian enterprise of thinking about reason and the question of God’s existence, this is the book to read.”—Paul J. Griffiths, Duke Divinity School

“A careful, scholarly treatment of the history of attempts to argue for and against the existence of God.”—C. Stephen Evans, Baylor University

“Matthew Levering’s panoramic, well-documented Proofs of God is a wonderfully insightful and wisely argued defense of theistic proofs.”—Paul Copan, Palm Beach Atlantic University

“An indispensable point of entry into the seminal texts on God and his existence. No philosophy or theology bookshelf should be without this gem.”—Michael G. Sirilla, Franciscan University of Steubenville

“In this extremely helpful book, Matthew Levering offers what is perhaps the best contemporary historical overview of the major positions on the subject of natural knowledge of God.”—Fr. Thomas Joseph White, OP, Thomistic Institute, Washington, DC

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Matthew Levering (PhD, Boston College) is the James N. and Mary D. Perry Jr. Chair of Theology at Mundelein Seminary, University of Saint Mary of the Lake, in Mundelein, Illinois. He previously taught at the University of Dayton. Levering is the author of numerous books, including The Theology of Augustine, Engaging the Doctrine of Revelation, and Ezra & Nehemiah in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series.

For more information on Proofs of God, click here.

The Surprising Growth of Christianity – an Excerpt from The Patient Ferment of the Early Church

The following is an excerpt from Alan Kreider’s The Patient Ferment of the Early Church.

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No one disputes that the early church was growing, but its growth is hard to measure. For a long time scholars assumed that Christian growth was so rapid that in the early fourth century, on the eve of the emperor Constantine’s accession, five to six million people—between 8 and 12 percent of the imperial populace—were Christian. The most confident statement of this approach was given in the 1990s by a sociologist, Rodney Stark, who calculated that for the church to reach this level, it grew across the first three centuries by 40 percent per decade.

Stark’s confidence has attracted wide assent but also withering criticism, not least from ancient historian Ramsay MacMullen, who has demanded solid, archaeological evidence and posited a much smaller Christian number by AD 310. Debates and speculations will continue as scholars study particular areas in detail. For now, we can safely assume three things:

Cover Art• Christian numbers were growing impressively in the first three centuries.

• This growth varied tremendously from place to place. In certain areas (parts of Asia Minor and North Africa) there were considerable numbers of Christians. But in other areas there were few believers. And some cities, such as Harran in Mesopotamia, were known to be virtual “Christian-free” zones.

• By the time of Constantine’s accession, the churches not only had substantial numbers of members; they extended across huge geographical distances and demanded the attention of the imperial authorities.

It is not surprising that this movement—both growing and worldwide—was buoyant and confident.

We tend to assume this growth and to forget how surprising it was. Nobody had to join the churches. People were not compelled to become members by invading armies or the imposition of laws; social convention did not induce them to do so. Indeed, Christianity grew despite the opposition of laws and social convention. These were formidable disincentives.

In addition, the possibility of death in persecution loomed over the pre-Constantinian church, although few Christians were actually executed. In many places baptismal candidates sensed that “every Christian was by definition a candidate for death.” More generally, as Kate Cooper has pointed out, Christians knew that they, as members of a “dubious group,” were vulnerable to being “turned in” by their neighbors or by others who wanted to see them deprived of privileges. In the 240s Origen commented about the “disgrace among the rest of society” that Christians experienced. Christians had to be cautious.

Nevertheless the churches grew. Why? After 312, when the emperor Constantine I aligned himself with Christianity and began to promote it, the church’s growth is not hard to explain. But before Constantine the expansion is improbable enough to require a sustained attempt to understand it. The growth was odd. According to the evidence at our disposal, the expansion of the churches was not organized, the product of a mission program; it simply happened.

Further, the growth was not carefully thought through. Early Christian leaders did not engage in debates between rival “mission strategies.” The Christians wrote a lot; according to classicist Robin Lane Fox, “most of the best Greek and Latin literature which remains [from the later second and third centuries] is Christian.” And what they wrote is surprising. The Christians wrote treatises on patience—three of them—that we will study in this book. But they did not write a single treatise on evangelism.

©2016 by Alan Kreider. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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For more information on The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, click here.

New Release: The Patient Ferment of the Early Church

Cover ArtHow and why did the early church grow in the first four hundred years despite disincentives, harassment, and occasional persecution? In this unique historical study, veteran scholar Alan Kreider delivers the fruit of a lifetime of study as he tells the amazing story of the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire.

Challenging traditional understandings, Kreider contends the church grew because the virtue of patience was of central importance in the life and witness of the early Christians. They wrote about patience, not evangelism, and reflected on prayer, catechesis, and worship, yet the church grew—not by specific strategies but by patient ferment.

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“Alan Kreider has done it again. Here he utilizes his immense grasp of early Christian sources, texts, and scholarship to illuminate for us the virtue of Christian patience and its formative nature in articulating an approach to worship and life. Highly recommended.”—Maxwell Johnson, University of Notre Dame

“At a time when many scholars interpret the rise of Christianity in terms of power, Kreider provides a refreshing and warranted scenario of early Christian growth from the ‘inside.’ Although this approach is admittedly harder to document, the reader is invited to discover the slower and more subtle processes that have been neglected in arguments for the rapid rise of Christianity. Herein one will find a means to better balance the scholarly dialogues prevalent today.”—D. H. Williams, Baylor University

“Lively and insightful….Kreider has the rare ability to read ancient sources from a fresh perspective and to see the growing pains of ancient churches in a way that benefits from—and illuminates—modern pastoral insight. The Patient Ferment of the Early Church is a marvelous and inspiring book.”—Kate Cooper, University of Manchester

“In this remarkable book, Alan Kreider refocuses our attention on patience, the cardinal virtue of the early church’s witness, with rich attention to how this was cultivated in worship and catechesis. The allure and beauty of a patient people is something a triumphalist church forgot. I can’t imagine a more timely history for the church in our secular age.”—James K. A. Smith, Calvin College

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Alan Kreider (PhD, Harvard University) is professor emeritus of church history and mission at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. For many years he lived in England, where he was director of the London Mennonite Centre and later director of the Centre for Christianity and Culture at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University. Kreider has authored several books.

For more information on The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, click here.

Foundational Texts – an Excerpt from Sacred Tradition in the New Testament

The following is an excerpt from Stanley Porter’s Sacred Tradition in the New Testament.

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The importance of understanding the OT background to the NT should not be underestimated. Even though, as we saw in the previous chapter, numerous difficulties still confront the scholar who addresses such issues, this does not mean that the topic is not worth pursuing. To the contrary: there are many important reasons for discussing how the OT is used in the NT. The reasons for the importance of the OT merit mention here, even if only briefly.

Cover ArtOne of the major reasons for the study of the use of the OT in the NT is that the OT constituted the foundational set of texts for the NT writers and, along with them, the first Christian believers. While it is easy to understand that the OT was important to Jews, whether they became followers of Christ or not, one must not lose sight of the importance of the OT for gentile believers as well. This importance is seen in the fact that the OT formed the basis of belief for those who first evangelized the gentiles, as well as its having an important role in defining many early Christian beliefs, which gentile Christianity adopted and developed.

One of the best examples of such a relationship is found in Paul’s writings. Paul directly quotes the OT over eighty times (scholars differ on the estimate, as noted in the previous chapter), with over fifty of these quotations occurring in the book of Romans, a letter written to a church Paul had never visited and to an audience probably composed mostly of gentiles.

Some recent scholarship has wished to see the background of the Letter to the Romans as conflict over Jewish issues, such as obedience to the Torah (Rom. 13:1–7).3 I disagree with this assertion and believe that scholars who have emphasized the Jewish background to Romans have overinterpreted the evidence. Even though Paul directly cites the OT more in Romans than in any of his other letters, his use of the OT is more for his own purposes than it is for his readers.

What I mean is that, for Paul, the OT constituted the basic framework of his thought, since he was a Jew trained in Pharisaic exegesis. As interpreters, we have probably placed too much emphasis on trying to understand Paul’s citations from the standpoint of his audience, rather than closely examining how Paul is thinking through Scripture and using it to develop his arguments.

©2016 by Stanley E. Porter. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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For more information on Sacred Tradition in the New Testament, click here.

New Release: Sacred Tradition in the New Testament

Cover ArtLeading biblical scholar Stanley Porter critiques the state of research regarding the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament and sacred traditions. He provides needed orientation for readers interested in New Testament references to themes such as “son of man” and “suffering servant” as well as the faith of Abraham and the Passover.

Porter explains that examining scriptural traditions is fundamental to understanding central ideas in the New Testament regarding Jesus. He sheds light on major themes in New Testament Christology and soteriology, offering fresh, constructive proposals.

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“In critical dialogue with recent scholarship, Porter clarifies the tricky methodological issues of how the New Testament cites, alludes to, and echoes scriptural texts. His insightful but provocative findings about the use of certain traditional texts and images by early Christians and by Jesus himself will no doubt stimulate further significant scholarly debate.”—Harold W. Attridge, Yale Divinity School

“Porter leads us into a fresh and stimulating understanding of the New Testament’s appropriation of the sacred traditions of Israel’s Scriptures. This is more than just another book on the New Testament’s use of the Old….This is a book that deserves, and will reward, a thoughtful reading.”—Donald A. Hagner, Fuller Theological Seminary

“Stanley Porter’s Sacred Tradition in the New Testament brings much-needed nuance and definition to a very important phenomenon in New Testament literature, especially with reference to the popular but often ill-defined term intertextuality….Anyone interested in the topic will want to engage this carefully researched and well-written book.”—Craig A. Evans, Houston Baptist University

“Ranging more widely than traditional treatments of the Old Testament in the New, Porter’s study illustrates the broad role such traditions played in shaping the way Jesus was understood by New Testament authors and in shaping Jesus’s own self-understanding. This is a significant contribution on much-debated issues.”—Stephen Westerholm, McMaster University

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Stanley E. Porter (PhD, University of Sheffield) is president, dean, professor of New Testament, and Roy A. Hope Chair in Christian Worldview at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario. He has authored or edited dozens of books, including How We Got the New Testament and Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament.

For more information on Sacred Tradition in the New Testament, click here.

Unity, Plurality, and the Gospels – an Excerpt from The Fourfold Gospel

The following is an excerpt from Francis Watson’s The Fourfold Gospel.

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The present book takes its cue from the fact that the four gospels are also a fourfold gospel. Each text is as it is only in relation to the others. The gospel texts retain their distinctiveness, yet they are coordinated with one another and do not exist outside that coordination.

Cover ArtThe plurality is a unity and the unity remains a plurality; one can therefore speak both of “four gospels” and of a singular “gospel according to . . .” in four different versions. None of the individual evangelists seem to have envisaged any such arrangement; indeed, only one of them (Mark) even uses the word “gospel” with any real enthusiasm.

The fourfold gospel is the work not so much of the evangelists as of their early readers. It is the outcome of a process of gospel reception, and—since reception creatively reshapes what is received—it is also an ongoing work of gospel production. In that work a number of well-known figures in the early church played their parts; the names of Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome will feature prominently in the pages that follow. But the work of reception was also carried forward by anonymous communities and individuals who read, prayed, lived, and cared about these books and so ensured that they continued in circulation and were available to meet new needs in new contexts.

The shaping of the four texts occurred not only in their initial selection and coordination but also in the provision of authorial identities and biographies, in the development of a gospel symbolism, and in the scholarly analysis and interpretation of gospel similarities and differences. By these and other means, the early church made sense of its own core texts, in which the one story is told and retold in four different ways.

 

©2016 by Francis Watson. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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For more information on The Fourfold Gospel, click here.

New Release: The Fourfold Gospel

Cover ArtThis groundbreaking approach to the study of the fourfold gospel offers a challenging alternative to prevailing assumptions about the creation of the gospels and their portraits of Jesus. How and why does it matter that we have these four gospels? Why were they placed alongside one another as four parallel yet diverse retellings of the same story?

Francis Watson, widely regarded as one of the foremost New Testament scholars of our time, explains that the four gospels were chosen to give a portrait of Jesus. He explores the significance of the fourfold gospel’s plural form for those who constructed it and for later Christian communities, showing that in its plurality it bears definitive witness to what God has done in Jesus Christ. Watson focuses on reading the gospels as a group rather than in isolation and explains that the fourfold gospel is greater than, and other than, the sum of its individual parts.

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The Fourfold Gospel displays all the virtues that readers have come to expect from one of the finest biblical interpreters of our day: depth and breadth of learning, exegetical prowess, clarity of argument, and sure theological judgment, all in the service of the truth of the gospel.”—John Webster, University of St. Andrews

“What does it mean, theologically speaking, that we have four canonical gospels? Drawing on sources as diverse as Ezekiel’s vision and Eusebius’s canons, Francis Watson’s reflection on this question is as astonishingly fresh as it is deeply grounded in the church’s traditions. Not for specialists only, The Fourfold Gospel is rich and richly rewarding.”—Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Baylor University

“The contributions of Francis Watson are always innovative and incisive, and this book, which will win a large readership, is no exception. With his unrivaled ability to combine expert historical knowledge with interpretive acuity, he is like the ideal scribe in Matthew, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”—Dale C. Allison Jr., Princeton Theological Seminary

“The old cliché about John’s gospel is that it is like a sea in which a child may paddle or an elephant swim. The same could be said of this marvelous book, which makes an excellent introductory book for students while also brimming with both astute historical detective work and elegant and thoughtful (and sometimes moving) exegesis that is illuminating for the expert.”—Simon Gathercole, University of Cambridge

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Francis Watson (PhD, University of Oxford) is Research Chair in Biblical Interpretation at Durham University in Durham, England. He previously taught at the University of Aberdeen and at King’s College London. Among his numerous works are the critically acclaimed Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith; Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective; and Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective.

For more information on The Fourfold Gospel, click here.

BA Books & Authors on the Web – April 15, 2016

Cover ArtScott Sunquist was interviewed on the Bible Gateway Blog about his book The Unexpected Christian Century.

“In 1900 religionists—people following and studying religions—assumed Islam would become the religion of Africa. They were wrong. They thought Christianity would remain strong in the West. They were wrong. They assumed Christianity would continue to look Mainline, Catholic, and Orthodox. They were wrong: Pentecostalism was not even a concept at the time.

Historians were wrong because they and politicians were progressive; they thought everything would get better and better. The Russian Revolution, Armenian genocide, and the Great War put all those ideas to bed.”

Robert Sherman’s Covenant, Community, and the Spirit was reviewed at The Gospel Coalition.

Norman Wirzba’s From Nature to Creation was featured as part of an essay in Duke Magazine.

Scot McKnight, at Jesus Creed, continued his series on Neither Complementarian Nor Egalitarian by Michelle Lee-Barnewall.

Founder, Corrupter, or Defender? – an Excerpt from Paul as a Problem in History and Culture

The following is an excerpt from Paul as a Problem in History and Culture by Patrick Gray.

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While the notion that Paul founded Christianity should not be rejected out of hand as patently ridiculous, neither is it as self-evident as its proponents seem to think. Paul may be the earliest Christian writer, but he indicates that the movement was already up and running by the time he stopped persecuting it and became a member. He claims to be handing on traditions that he has received from others, not introducing novel teachings. Furthermore, as the ardently pro-Paul author of the Acts of the Apostles indicates, he is not the first follower of Jesus to reach out to non-Jews.

And it should not count for nothing that very few Christians—and even then, only very recently—have ever thought of Paul as the founder of their faith. That title is reserved for Jesus. It may not be found in Scripture or in any of the historic creeds, but most Christians of most times and places reserve that title for Jesus.

Cover ArtWho deserves the title? Answering this question is not as straightforward as it may seem. It may be the case that key terms in the debate, such as “founder” and “Christianity,” are not defined with sufficient clarity to yield a single correct answer. But this observation is hardly satisfying. Semantics are only one variable in a more complicated equation. There is something other than purely objective historical investigation going on in the various attempts to solve it.

When it is said that Paul is the founder of Christianity, much more is implied than that a particular name belongs in a particular box on an organizational flowchart. Neither is giving the title to Jesus free of historical and theological presuppositions. Because Jesus is the default choice, however, it is clear that Paul’s “advocates” are trying to say something more. Indeed, they are saying more, and usually more than they realize. To call them Paul’s advocates, of course, is a bit misleading since they are certainly not his defenders. Almost without exception, to refer to Paul as the founder of Christianity is to pay him a backhanded compliment.

This is just one of many ways to register one’s protest against the outsized impact Paul has had on the church and, through the church, the rest of the world. Criticism of Paul is almost as old as Christianity itself, but it can be found with increasing frequency over the past two centuries. The sources from which it issues can be surprising.

According to Adolf Hitler, “The decisive falsification of Jesus’s doctrine was the work of St. Paul,” who “used his doctrine to mobilize the criminal underworld and thus organize a proto- Bolshevism.” David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of the State of Israel, comments that while “Jesus probably differed little from many other Jews of his generation.” it was Paul’s “anti-Jewish emphasis” that “gave Christianity a new direction.”

According to Sayyid Qutb, who deeply influenced Osama bin Laden and has been called “the philosopher of Islamic terror,” Paul’s preaching “infected” Christianity from the beginning because it was “adulterated by the residues of Roman mythology and Greek philosophy.” And when Mahatma Gandhi explains, “I draw a great distinction between the Sermon on the Mount and the Letters of Paul,” he leaves little doubt as to which one he prefers.

Who would have guessed that a loathing for Paul is the one tune that this unlikely quartet would sing in harmony?

©2016 by Patrick Gray. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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For more information on Paul as a Problem in History and Culture, click here.