The Philosophy of Jesus Christ – restoring Christian philosophy to its biblical roots, with Jesus Christ, Wisdom Incarnate, as the focal point. The Fathers of the Church rightly recognised the profound influence of Hebrew wisdom, the Bible, upon the Greco-Roman world. As ‘Salvation is of the Jews’, so is Wisdom. “Jesus appealed to God’s previous revelation in the Hebrew Scriptures (Matt. 5:17–19; John 10:31) and issued authoritative revelations of His own as God Incarnate”. … Jesus reasoned carefully about the things that matter most — a handy definition of philosophy. His teachings, in fact, cover the basic topics of philosophy. …. “As an apologist for God’s truth, He defended the truth of the Hebrew Scriptures as well as His own teachings and actions” (Fr. Anthony Zimmerman).
The consideration of Jesus Christ as a philosopher is not entirely new. Had not St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio (ca. 1217-1274), for one, written of Him in this light, referring to Jesus Christ as “the Metaphysician par excellence”? Regarding this, we read: (http://cdn.theologicalstudies.net/60/60.2/60.2.2.pdf):
Bonaventure’s most outstanding achievement, which has been virtually overlooked, is his development of a theological metaphysics. As Zachary Hayes has shown, Bonaventure’s theology of the Word enabled him to concentrate on the Word of God as the principle of universal intelligibility.(4) Identifying metaphysics as the task of unifying all of finite reality to one first principle who is origin, exemplar and final end, Bonaventure perceived the quest of the philosopher to be fulfilled when the exemplar of all else is identified with the one divine essence.(5) For Bonaventure, the exemplar is Jesus Christ, and only in light of exemplarity is the deepest nature of created reality unlocked for the philosopher. Without Christian revelation the philosopher is unable to reduce reality to a first principle.
[End of quote]
However, we wrongly tend to look to the pagan Ionian and mainland Greeks for the beginnings of philosophy.
And so there appear to be few detailed analyses of Jesus Christ as a philosopher.
In recent times, however, professor Peter Kreeft has written a book entitled:
The Philosophy of Jesus
About this book we read at http://www.staugustine.net/our-books/books/the-philosophy-of-jesus/
Amazingly, no one ever seems to have looked at Jesus as a philosopher, or his teaching as philosophy. Yet no one in history has ever had a more radically new philosophy, or made more of a difference to philosophy, than Jesus. He divided all human history into two, into “B.C.” and “A.D.”; and the history of philosophy is crucial to human history, since philosophy is crucial to man; so how could He not also divide philosophy?
[End of quote]
In the following review of professor Kreeft’s book, we read
The Philosophy of Jesus by Peter Kreeft is a short, pocket-sized book of just 150 pages. From the title one might wonder what sort of philosophy book this might be. The author explains who this book is for on the first page:
“It is for both Christians and non-Christians. It’s designed to show Christians a new dimension of Jesus: Jesus the philosopher. And it’s designed to show non-Christians a new dimension of philosophy, a new philosophy and a new philosopher. It’s not designed to convert them.” (1)
Kreeft introduces the book further by answering the question Why is Jesus a philosopher? He states that on one level, of course Jesus was not a philosopher in the traditional sense. But he contends that Jesus was a philosopher in another sense that is more meaningful. But “…this book is not so much about Jesus’ philosophical style or method or ‘cast of mind’ but about his philosophical substance, his philosophical answers, his philosophy.” (5) As for the title: “The title of this book is appropriate because Jesus is more philosophical than any philosopher, not less.” (48)
The goal of the book is to look at how Jesus answers the four great philosophical questions. “They are the questions about being, truth, self, and goodness.” (6) These are questions of metaphysics, epistemology, philosophical anthropology, and ethics. But if these are the great philosophical questions throughout history, why haven’t we found adequate answers? Kreeft contends that the Christian answer is this: “because the only adequate answer to all four great philosophical questions is Christ.” (9) And so begins a book which is focused not on philosophy, but one that centers and focuses on the person of Jesus Christ, while showing how he is the answer to the great philosophical questions.
Kreeft first engages with Jesus’ metaphysics. In particular, he points out that Jesus’ metaphysic was undeniably Jewish. And this question of the nature of ultimate reality is answered in how God revealed Himself — as the Ultimate Reality — the “I AM.” But this metaphysic also is revealed in Jesus’ unique name for God as Father. Kreeft goes on to show how love and morality and everything flows from the ultimate reality of who God is.
The author then looks at the question of epistemology. Kreeft shows how Jesus answers this question:
Jesus’ answer to the first question, the question of being, was Himself. It was not to point but to be, to be ‘I AM.’ So His answer to the second question, the question of truth, is also not to point to anything else as the truth but simply to be Himself the truth: ‘I AM the truth.’ (47)
Again, the reader will find that this is not a book glorifying philosophy, but showing how all things point to Christ: “Everything in the universe and everything in the Bible is a finger pointing to Him. He is the end of epistemology.” (66)
Next Kreeft explores the anthropology of Jesus, noting that Christ is the key to anthropology. Jesus is the only way for man to really know himself. Even Kreeft’s writing style weaves word pictures together in such a way as to point to the beauty, artistry, and glory of Christ. In addition, the content itself encompasses both the philosophical questions and the scriptural answers.
In looking at Jesus’ ethics, Kreeft says “There are really three moral questions, three basic parts to morality: how should we relate to each other, to ourselves, and to God?” (95) Kreeft’s writing prowess shines through as he reflects on Christ as the answer to ethics:
“He is the world’s greatest moral teacher, but He is more than that. He is the world’s most perfect moral example, but He is more than that. He is the world’s greatest prophet, but He is more than that. He is more than one who taught goodness and lived goodness and demanded goodness. He is goodness.” (98)
What the reader finds in The Philosophy of Jesus is a powerful and even worshipful look at the person of Jesus Christ. The author, though academic, is not writing an academic book; though a philosopher, he has not written a philosophy book. This is a profound look at Christ as the answer to life’s great questions:
“Philosophers seek wisdom. Christ is wisdom. Therefore Christ is the fulfillment of philosophy. Moralists seek righteousness. Christ is righteousness. Therefore Christ is the fulfillment of morality.” (114-115)
The conclusion: “The answer is that there is only one hope, for societies as well as souls: ‘What must I do to be saved?’ ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.’ (Acts 11:14)” (149)
[End of quotes]
Returning to http://www.staugustine.net/our-books/books/the-philosophy-of-jesus/ we read more about professor Kreeft’s book, including an outline of its contents:
This book (1) looks at Jesus as a complete human being (as well as divine), therefore also as a philosopher; (2) looks at philosophy as Jesus’ pre-modern contemporaries did, as a wisdom, a world-view, and a way of life rather than as a super-science (Descartes, Hegel) or as a servant-science (Hobbes, Hume); and (3) looks at philosophy in light of Jesus rather than at Jesus in light of philosophy. It explores the consequences of Etienne Gilson’s point that when St. John brought Christianity and Greek philosophy into contact and identified the Messiah the Jews had most deeply sought with the logos that the Greeks had most deeply sought, nothing happened to Christ but something happened to the logos.
This book explores the most radical revolution in the history of philosophy, the differences Jesus made to metaphysics (the philosophy of being), to epistemology (the philosophy of knowing), to anthropology (the philosophy of man), and to philosophical ethics and politics.
And, besides, it has the greatest ending of any philosophy book in a century.
Contents Introduction 1: Who Is It For?
Introduction 2: How Is Jesus a Philosopher?
Introduction 3: What Are the Four Great Questions of Philosophy?
- Jesus’ Metaphysics (What is real?)
* Jesus’ Jewish Metaphysics
* Jesus’ New Name for God
* The Metaphysics of Love
* The Moral Consequences of Metaphysics
* Sanctity as the Key to Ontology
* The Metaphysics of “I AM”
- Jesus’ Epistemology (How do we know what is real?)
III. Jesus’ Anthropology (Who are we who know what is real?)
- Jesus’ Ethics (What should we be to be more real?)
* Christian Personalism: Seeing “Jesus only”
* Jesus and Legalism
* Jesus and Relativism
* Jesus and the Secret of Moral Success
* Jesus and Sex
* Jesus and Social Ethics: Solidarity
* Jesus and Politics: Is He Left or Right?
[End of quote]
This is indeed a big and necessary step in the right direction. Much more needs to be written. Of course it is difficult to impossible for a western educated scholar to put on an ancient Jewish mind. So the work is never going to be perfect. Hence, Romans 11:24: “For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree”.
Thus it is open to criticisms such as this one: “Jesus as a Jewish philosopher” by Matthew Del Nevo An appraisal of Peter Kreeft The Philosophy of Jesus (St. Augustine’s Press, 2007)” (http://philosophos.org/philosophy_article_152.html):
This is a popularly written book about the philosophy of Jesus rather than the Jesus of philosophy — at least that is the intention. The book scopes the philosophy of Jesus in terms of the primary questions of ontology, epistemology, anthropology and ethics, respectively: What is being? What can I know? Who is man? What ought I to do? The style is very direct, and what is lost in subtlety is gained in clarity. The book gets off to a good start but increasingly confuses the philosophy of Jesus with the theology of the Catholic Church as represented by recent official documentation. The book is divided into four sections aligned with the four prime questions. There is a subject index and a scriptural index.
So what does Kreeft make of Jesus’ philosophy?
First of all Kreeft makes it clear that he does not occupy that ostensibly neutral or supposedly objective position struck up by many in philosophy of religions discourse. Kreeft’s presumption in writing about Jesus’ philosophy from a Christian point of view is not apologetic or polemical, rather he understands, rightly in this reader’s view, that Jesus’ teaching and person (like Socrates’) present matters of intellectual substance that have to be engaged philosophically if they are to be engaged properly. He believes that Jesus’ philosophy is not only of historical philosophical importance in the history of ideas, but still has a critical relevancy today. As a Christian he is in a good position to expound this, just as someone who knows the Greek is in a better position to expound Plato.
On Jesus’ metaphysics or ontology in Chapter 1 Kreeft rightly accentuates its Jewishness and in this regard the uniqueness of the Jewish take on reality in which God, world and humankind are seen as ontologically other and not merged, submerged or seen as intrinsic to one another. It is a philosophy of otherness and difference. Kreeft could have been more definite about this point. The threefold difference of God, world and humankind demarcates Jewish reality from pagan reality which does not mark the ontological otherness of these three so absolutely, if at all. The Jewish take on reality is different from that of other religions and non-religions (pantheism, panentheism, henotheism, ontologism, atheism, prophetism etc.), and Kreeft touches on this.
Kreeft tends to describe Jesus’ metaphysics theologically rather than out of the Jewish world of Jesus. Kreeft speaks of a metaphysics of love, but this does not capture the links back, in rabbinic thought, between God, world and humankind which can be encapsulated by naming Creation, Revelation and Redemption, as Rosenzweig has famously put it: Jesus has both a teaching on these links back and a personal stance that is re-creative, redemptive and revelatory. It is in this kind of metaphysical context that Jesus speaks of love. Kreeft argues his case for Jesus’ metaphysics of love from the Name of God, but he is incorrect in saying that Jesus calling God ‘abba’ (father, papa) was revolutionary. It is not in the Hebrew Scriptures as such, although the Fatherhood of God is, but speaking to God familiarly as abba was common in rabbinic tradition. What is revolutionary about Jesus’ philosophy is that he said you did not have to be Jewish to speak to God like this, or even religious!
Kreeft rightly asserts that everything else follows from Jesus’ metaphysics. In epistemology, what we must know is ourselves, the world and God. There are degrees of knowledge and the key is wisdom. Again Jesus not only taught in the Jewish wisdom tradition but personified it. As Kierkegaard wrote in Practice in Christianity, ‘the only explanation of truth is to be it.’ Jesus’ philosophy is in that sense ‘existential’. Our knowledge will increase with our sanctification of the Name of God, and of the world and of ourselves. Kreeft rightly refers to prayer as an important key to knowledge, allowing us to draw close and relate to that which we need to know, rather than just to ‘know about’.
Jesus’ anthropology revolves around the imago Dei, the instruction that we are made in the image and likeness of God. Each person is infinitely other than God, but bears God’s image and likeness in one major respect: each human person is absolutely one and only. Upon this is founded human dignity. Jesus’ anthropology is one which seeks to serve human dignity and increase it upon the face of the earth, for God’s glory.
Jesus’ ethics revolves around the imitatio Dei, the imitation of God, which in Christianity becomes the imitation of Christ. Kreeft argues that we have to be ‘little Christs’, which I take it has to do with becoming all that God has called us to be, individually and as a people of God. The idea is that we each need to be personally responsible for our share in collective destiny, which is with God, to ‘mend the world’ (tikkun olam). Jesus’ own philosophy was to do the Father’s will, which he did, and which he enjoined us to do, and in which prayer and personal wholeness is the key to knowledge and true freedom.
In the second half of the book, in these chapters on anthropology and ethics, Kreeft’s tendency to move from the philosophy of Jesus to the theology of the Church, becomes more pronounced. This shift will lose many readers not predisposed in like manner to Kreeft. The problem goes back to Chapter 1 on metaphysics which gets a little lost in a Thomistic interpretation of the Creed, which is an anachronistic discussion. But this kind of anachronism is stepped up in Chapter 3 on Jesus’ anthropology. This chapter starts with the idea of Jesus as perfect Man and perfect God, which is Greek philosophy, not Jesus’ philosophy. Kreeft then takes up the anthropological question in terms of the Socratic dictum, ‘know thyself’. This chapter shifts into apologetics with a justification of Mary as the Mother of God, Catholic dogma rather than Jesus’ philosophy. Chapter 4 on Jesus’ ethics also shifts over into apologetics with an argument that ends with the assertion that, ‘we are to worship the Eucharist’; again, Catholic dogma, rather than Jesus’ philosophy.
Traditionally Catholic Christians have taught that philosophy is a ‘handmaid’ to philosophy. This is preferable to the Protestant response which was to try and expunge philosophy from theology, which gave them ideology. My view, the view of most philosophers, would be that any theology is no better than its philosophy. Traditionally Christian thought, that is, Christian interpretation, has depended on Greek philosophy, more precisely on combinations of Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy. Jesus’ philosophy — whatever it was — was Jewish, rabbinic, in the sense we read about in the Talmud, which reflects the oral tradition of Jesus’ Jewish world. Jesus’ philosophy was not Platonic or Aristotelian.
The problem for Kreeft, which his book bears out, is that philosophy for him is by definition non-Jewish. There is a long quotation from C. S. Lewis in the Preface to show that Jesus’ style followed broadly along Aristotelian lines as found in the Poetics and the Analytics. But Jesus’ style was halakhic and aggadic. Kreeft asserts in the Preface that it is not the style but the substance of Jesus’ philosophy that interests him, his answers. Jewish religious philosophy has always revolved around the question, though, not the answer; on answers it is pluralistic.
Catholicism by contrast is about answers and is autocratically assertive about its own answers, both to its own global constituency and with regard to other denominational points of view. Kreeft needs to cross over from a culture of answers in which he is steeped to a culture of the question, in which Jesus was steeped. Moreover, in achieving the relevancy of Jesus’ philosophy another bridge has to be crossed from an autocratic ‘one answer fits all’ culture to a plural culture. For we live in an age of philosophies, a pluralist age in which by definition there cannot be one overarching theological metaphysic because that would mean one underlying dominant philosophy, which is simply not the case in our time. Therefore we need to situate Jesus’ philosophy in terms of an age of interpretation if we are going as Kreeft intends, to gauge its enormous transformative power.
Ultimately the lack of distinction between the philosophy of Jesus and Catholic dogma lets the book down. Kreeft has taken the ecclesiastical future of Jesus as the cue, rather than the Jewish background, Jesus’ own world and the greatness of rabbinic thinking in particular.
In an age of interpretation when a lot of metaphysical theology is suspect, archaic and unengaging, the project of re-discovering Jesus’ philosophy is important as a basis for Christian self-understanding, and then for pre-understanding in philosophical argument. Jesus’ philosophy was certainly questioning and critically formulated in a rabbinic manner and it aimed to be foundational for the philosophical task of bringing heaven down to earth, a prophetic task in which humanity becomes all that God meant it to be.
[End of quote]
Returning to a theme of the Book of Hebrews, we read this inspiring piece by Fr. Zimmerman:
Creator by Divine Power;
Designer by Human Intelligence
The author of Hebrews ascribes to the God-man the creative wisdom and power of the Son of God, without distinguishing technically between Christ’s powers as Creator and Redeemer: He is equally the reflection of the Father’s glory, and the Redeemer who cleansed us of our sins:
In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe,
who is the refulgence of his glory, the imprint of his being, who sustains all things by his mighty word. When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, as far superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Heb 1:1-4).
We see in the passage that the Christ who redeemed us is also the One through whom God created all things. He, who now reigns at the right hand of the Majesty on high, is the same Christ through whom God created the cosmos. He is as superior to Moses, as the “founder of the house has more honor than the house itself” (Heb 3:3). Hebrews does not spell out in technical or theological terms what may be the meaning of the phrase “through whom he created the universe.”
We know, however, that only God can create, because drawing existence out of nothing requires divine power; God cannot delegate the task of creation to any creature. Neither would the Son of God create things through His human powers, that being impossible. We assume therefore that the meaning of “creating the universe in Christ,” means first of all that the Son created all things with the Father and the Spirit; and secondly that when Father, Son, and Spirit created, they first set forth the Key to the rest of creation, namely Christ in His human nature; and then shaped the cosmos in accord with the model or blue print of its First Born, namely Christ. Christ in His human nature is creation’s Alpha; all other things come from God through Him. The sky would be the roof which the God-man Christ should like to see; the earth should produce the flowers and seeds which Joseph would name for Him; the Mother who should bear Him and love Him should be the Woman, the co-Redemptrix, who would trample the head of the serpent with Him. God, in carrying out creation, measured all things to accord with the needs and plans and wisdom and will of Christ, the God- man. This God-man was already at God’s side in eternity, even though His manifestation in time was not yet perceived by creatures who are time-bound.
We might, therefore, distinguish the work of creation which is done by God only, by Father, Son, and Spirit, one divine power; and the shaping of this creation, a task in which Christ participates with His human wisdom and free choice. And so we may dare to paraphrase John 1:3 to describe this joint action: “All things came to be through him [through God]; and without him [Christ nothing came to be measured and put into shape.”
A passage of Proverbs presents a magnificent description of personified Wisdom present to God during the work of creation. We see here a vision of Christ standing at God’s side to give shape to the cosmos while God commands it into being:
When he established the heavens I was there
when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;
When he made firm the skies above,
when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth;
When he set for the sea its limit,
so that the waters should not transgress his command;
Then was I beside him as his craftsman,
and I was his delight day by day,
Playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of the earth;
and I found delight in the sons of men (Prov 8:27-31).
Christ, knowing that He was God’s craftsman, the One who always stood by to give proper shape to the cosmos, knew well all the secrets of creation and the deepest yearnings of the human soul. His advice will always be best, because this Master Architect knows the purpose of all things made. In the Gospel Christ could only weep when Jerusalem did not take advantage of His coming (cf. Lk 20:41 ff.). It is the artist weeping when insensitive people ignore the beauty and limpid rationality of His cosmos. The Church, on the contrary, does its best to make up for the world’s insensitivity, by recognizing Christ’s unique cosmic centrality when blessing the Easter Candle on Holy Saturday:
Christ yesterday and today the beginning and the end Alpha and Omega all time belongs to him and all the ages to him be glory and power through every age and ever. Amen.
[End of quote]
Douglas Groothuis is yet another of the new breed, who has recognised in Jesus Christ a Master Teacher (This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 25, # 2, 2002). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to http://www.equip.org):
Contrary to the views of critics, Jesus Christ was a brilliant thinker, who used logical arguments to refute His critics and establish the truth of His views. When Jesus praised the faith of children, He was encouraging humility as a virtue, not irrational religious trust or a blind leap of faith in the dark. Jesus deftly employed a variety of reasoning strategies in His debates on various topics. These include escaping the horns of a dilemma, a fortiori arguments, appeals to evidence, and reductio ad absurdum arguments. Jesus’ use of persuasive arguments demonstrates that He was both a philosopher and an apologist who rationally defended His worldview in discussions with some of the best thinkers of His day. This intellectual approach does not detract from His divine authority but enhances it. Jesus’ high estimation of rationality and His own application of arguments indicates that Christianity is not an anti-intellectual faith. Followers of Jesus today, therefore, should emulate His intellectual zeal, using the same kinds or arguments He Himself used. Jesus’ argumentative strategies have applications to four contemporary debates: the relationship between God and morality, the reliability of the New Testament, the resurrection of Jesus, and ethical relativism.
WAS JESUS A PHILOSOPHER AND APOLOGIST?
I had to face the question of whether Jesus was a philosopher and apologist head-on when I was asked to write a book on Jesus for the Wadsworth Philosophers Series. I already knew that Jesus articulated a developed worldview and reasoned brilliantly with His opponents. As I studied the subject carefully, however, I came to appreciate Jesus, the philosopher, more than ever. When Jesus defended the crucial claims of Christianity — He was its founder, after all — He was engaging in apologetics, often with the best minds of first-century Judaism.
Some Christians may be reluctant to label Jesus as a philosopher or apologist because they worry that such a reference may demean the Lord of the universe. One well-known Christian philosopher told me that emphasizing Jesus’ reasoning abilities could take away from Jesus as a revelator, a source of supernatural knowledge. I respect his concern but disagree for the following reasons.
Jesus was the incarnation of the Logos — whom theologians call the second person of the Trinity. As Christian philosopher and theologian Carl Henry and others have emphasized, the apostle John used the term logos to personalize the Greek view of the wisdom, logic, and rationality of the universe.1 Our English translations say, “In the beginning was the Word [Logos]” (John 1:1).2 Jesus embodies the rational communication (Word) of God’s truth. He is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). We should expect that God Incarnate would be a wise and reasonable person, however much He may cut against the grain of human presumption, pride, and prevarication. Jesus, moreover, was both divine and human. As a human, Jesus reasoned with other human beings. He did not run from a good argument on theology or ethics but engaged His hearers brilliantly.
Jesus was not a philosopher in the sense of trying to build a philosophical system from the finite human mind. He appealed to God’s previous revelation in the Hebrew Scriptures (Matt. 5:17–19; John 10:31) and issued authoritative revelations of His own as God Incarnate. On the other hand, Jesus reasoned carefully about the things that matter most — a handy definition of philosophy. His teachings, in fact, cover the basic topics of philosophy.3 As an apologist for God’s truth, He defended the truth of the Hebrew Scriptures as well as His own teachings and actions.
When we inspect Jesus’ mind in action in several familiar stories from the Gospels, we see that His thinking was sharp, clear, and cogent. Not only should we believe what He taught because He is our divine Master, but through hard work, prayer, and reliance on the Holy Spirit, we should also strive to emulate His intellectual virtues because we are called to walk as He walked (1 John 2:6).
Presenting Jesus as a worthy thinker can be a powerful apologetic tool to unbelievers who wrongly assume that Christian belief is a matter of blind faith or irrational belief. If the founder of Christianity is a great thinker, His followers should never demean the human mind (Matt. 22:37–39; Rom. 12:1–2). In addition, Jesus’ strategies in argument can serve as a model for our own apologetic defense of the truth and rationality of Christianity, which I will discuss.
DID JESUS DEMEAN RATIONALITY?
Jesus engaged in extensive disputes, some quite heated, mostly with the Jewish intellectual leaders of His day. He did not hesitate to call into account popular opinion if it was wrong. He spoke often and passionately about the value of truth and the dangers of error, and He articulated arguments to support truth and oppose error.4
Jesus’ use of logic had a particular flavor to it, notes philosopher Dallas Willard:
Jesus’ aim in utilizing logic is not to win battles, but to achieve understanding or insight in his hearers…He presents matters in such a way that those who wish to know can find their way to, can come to, the appropriate conclusion as something they have discovered — whether or not it is something they particularly care for.5
Willard also argues that a concern for logic requires not only certain intellectual skills but also certain character commitments regarding the importance of logic and the value of truth in one’s life. A thoughtful person will esteem logic and argument through focused concentration, reasoned dialogue, and a willingness to follow the truth wherever it may lead. This mental orientation places demands on the moral life. Besides resolution, tenacity, and courage, one must shun hypocrisy (defending oneself against facts and logic for ulterior motives) and superficiality (adopting opinions with a glib disregard for their logical support). Willard takes Jesus to be the supreme model, as does Christian philosopher James Sire.6
Atheist philosopher Michael Martin, in contrast, alleges that the Jesus of the Gospels (the reliability of which he disputes) “does not exemplify important intellectual virtues. Both his words and his actions seem to indicate that he does not value reason and learning.” Jesus based “his entire ministry on faith.”7 Martin interprets Jesus’ statement about the need to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3) as praising uncritical belief. Martin also charges that when Jesus gave any reason to accept His teaching, it was either that the kingdom was at hand or that those who believed would go to heaven but those who did not believe would go to hell; supposedly, “no rational justification was ever given for these claims.”8 According to Martin, for Jesus, unreasoning faith was good; rational demonstration and criticism were wrong.
These charges against the claim that Jesus was a philosopher who valued reasoning and held a well-developed worldview are incriminating. The same Jesus who valued children, however, also said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37; emphasis added).
Jesus praised children for the same reasons that we customarily praise them. We don’t view children as models because they are irrational or immature, but because they are innocent and wholehearted in their love, devotion, and enthusiasm for life. Children are also esteemed because they can be sincerely humble, having not learned the pretensions of the adult world. The story in Matthew 18 has just this favorable view of children in mind. Jesus is asked by His disciples, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” After calling a child and having him stand among them, Jesus replies:
I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. (Matt. 18:3–5)
The meaning of “become like little children” is not “become uncritical and unthinking” (as Martin claims), but instead “become humble.” Jesus spoke much of humility, as do the Hebrew Scriptures. He never associated humility with stupidity, ignorance, or gullibility.9 Jesus did thank God for revealing the Gospel to the humble and not to the supposedly wise and understanding. This, however, does not imply that intelligence is a detriment to believing Jesus’ message but that many of the religious leaders of the day could not grasp it, largely because it challenged their intellectual pride (see Matt. 11:25–26).
Martin also charges that the only reasons Jesus gave to support His teaching are that the kingdom of God is at hand and that those who fail to believe will fail to receive the heavenly benefits accorded to those with faith.10 Is this true?
First, Jesus often spoke about the kingdom of God while using it as a justification for some of His teaching and preaching (Matt. 4:17). Jesus was admonishing people to reorient their lives spiritually and morally because God was breaking into history in an unparalleled and dramatic fashion. This is not necessarily an irrational or unfounded claim if (1) God was acting in this manner in Jesus’ day and (2) one can find evidence for the emergence of the kingdom, chiefly through the actions of Jesus himself.
The Gospels present the kingdom as uniquely present in the teaching and actions of Jesus who Himself claimed that “if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28). Since His audience saw Him driving out demons with singular authority, Jesus was giving them good reason to believe His claims. He was not merely making assertions or ungrounded threats while expecting compliance in a childish or cowardly way.
Second, Jesus’ use of the concept of God’s judgment or reward did not supercede or replace His use of arguments. His normal argument form was not the following: “If you believe what I say, you will be rewarded. If you don’t believe what I say, you will lose that reward. Therefore, believe what I say.” When Jesus issued warnings and made promises relating one’s conduct in this life to the afterlife (see John 3:16–18), He spoke more as a prophet than a philosopher. Whether Jesus’ words in this matter are trustworthy depends on His moral and spiritual authority, not on His specific arguments at every point. If we have reason to deem Him authoritative (as we do), however, we may rationally believe these pronouncements, just as we believe various other authorities whom we deem trustworthy on the basis of their credentials and track record.11
[End of quote]
The entire article is well worth reading.
Finally, Wayne Jackson well sums it all up with reference to Ernest Renan (https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1497-jesus-the-master-teacher):
The benevolent influence of Jesus’ teaching is beyond reasonable dispute. Even the skeptical philosopher Ernest Renan (1823-92), who opposed Christian tradition on almost all points, stated: “Jesus will ever be the creator of the pure spirit of religion; the Sermon on the Mount will never be surpassed” (1991, 221).
As his critics, both ancient and modern, fade into the obscurity they so justly deserve, the Son of God, who adorned this earth with his presence two thousand years ago, will continue to exert his influence through a vast conglomerate of students around the globe, who will bless humanity because of the teacher at whose feet they have received instruction.