Biblical Research, Critical Thinking, and 18 Pillars of Christianity

Biblical Research, Critical Thinking, and 18 Pillars of Christianity

Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 38
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-5452-4.ch002


In this chapter, the central themes or “pillars” of the Christian paradigm are grouped into three categories: (1) those that were central to the message of Jesus's preaching, (2) those that derived from the experiences of his closest disciples, and (3) those that represent Christological stances that are argued to be unwarranted or unnecessary. Then, each of the pillars in the first category (central to his messages) are described and critiqued in turn. The goal is to see which should be retained as is, which need to be revised, and which should be dropped. The chapter ends with the conclusion that all should be retained in essentially their original form.
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Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity (it did not need changing)! Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God. ~ Richard Rohr (2008, p. 202)

Chapter 1 focused on foundational issues that laid the groundwork for the next three chapters. In addition to arguing for the need to revise the traditional Christian paradigm and presenting the critical essentialist approach to biblical interpretation, Chapter 1 also described how a twofold approach of using scholarly research and critical thinking to evaluate the Christian paradigm was preferable to the approaches utilized by the Jesus Seminar and Traditionalists. In the next three chapters, the focus is on the following two questions: (1) what are the core beliefs or “pillars” of the traditional Christian paradigm? And (2) which need to be revised in light of many years of scholarly research and critical thinking? My primary sources for the list of pillars include texts that were written to summarize the basic tenets of Christianity for undergraduate or graduate students (e.g., Chilton, 2015; Urban, 2005), comprehensive and well received Christologies (Löfink, 2012; Schillebeeckx, 2014), and a classic text published in 1915 to lay out the “fundamentals” of Christianity as a means of arguing against the historical criticism of the late 19th century (Torrey, 2013).

As will become evident below, I sometimes grouped closely related pillars together into one section rather than discuss them separately. In addition, I used the format of discussing each pillar in the form of a question, and typically contrasted at least three perspectives within each response: (1) the traditional (orthodox or magisterial) perspective, (2) the opposite pole often advocated by those sympathetic to classical and contemporary historical criticism (e.g., the Jesus Seminar), and (3) a perspective that could be said to be “in-between” and beyond these two poles but nevertheless coherent and preferable.

There are several different orders that could be used to present the pillars, but any given order is somewhat constrained by the fact that some pillars derived from others (e.g., the Virgin Birth Pillar was a logical consequence of the Dual Natures Pillar), so each of the derivative pillars had to be discussed after the pillars from which they derived. For expository purposes, it is also useful to make a distinction between pillars that were central to Jesus’s message, pillars that pertain to the experiences of his followers, and pillars that pertain to what his earliest followers (and early Church Fathers) believed about him. The case can also be made that certain pillars are more essential to what it means to be Christian while others are more peripheral and dispensable. These distinctions and constraints mean that it is not possible to follow a strictly historical organization.

In what follows, I first discuss the pillars that were central to the preaching of Jesus that represent what he believed about how to behave, how to think about our role in the world, and how to think about God the Father. I will argue that all of these pillars should be retained in a revised conception of Christianity. In Chapter 3, I then discuss pillars that have to be retained because it is not possible to explain the spread of the Jesus Movement without them. However, some of these pillars are in need of modification. In Chapter 4, I discuss the pillars that pertain to what his earliest followers and the Early Church Fathers believed about him but can be said to be inferential leaps beyond what was essential, necessary, or logically coherent. As such, the pillars of Chapter 4 should be eliminated, in my view.

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