Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Decline of Christian Reasoning in the Fourth Century

In his book, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, Mark Noll looks to the creeds of the fourth and fifth centuries as a high-water mark in Christian intellectual discourse. He also (p. 162) praises the work of Philip Jenkins as important work in "developments in world Christianity." Oddly enough, that same Philip Jenkins has a less sterling view of Christian intellect. Here are some of his comments on the level of intellectual discourse in the fourth and fifth centuries that produced the creeds:
Church debates became a matter of dueling slogans, phrases shouted at councils and synods, or recited antiphonally in a precursor of modern rap, in order to drown out opponents. The church's battles continued through slogan, symbol, and stereotype rather than through any kind of convincing intellectual discourse.

But if they did not fully understand the theology they believed, Christians knew passionately the kinds of religious thought that they loathed. They knew what they were against. (Philip Jenkins, Jesus Wars [New York: Harper One, 2010], 66-67).
Jenkins acknowledges that there were a few geniuses in the fourth and fifth century but notes that they often did not even understand each other.