Monday, January 11, 2010

Christianity and the Classics

For a few years I have been teaching a course that examines Classical civilization, from the Mycenaeans to the Romans. The course explores the Greco-Roman world from a number of interconnected perspectives: Mythology, Literature, Philosophy, Religion, Art, Architecture, Archaeology, History, and Geography. I am by trade, a teacher of English literature; taking on a course like “Classical civilization” has required me to do a considerable amount of research. I am still learning new things, even after four years of studying the subject for instructional purposes. They say that a student can learn more by teaching; so, as a teacher of Classical civilization, I have indeed learned a great deal. The most surprising thing I have learned is that studying Greco-Roman world has given fresh insight to my understanding of New Testament Christianity. Tertullian once postulated, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?” In other words, what does Christianity have to do with Classical thinking? The rhetorical answer is "nothing". But such an austere view ignores the big picture: Jesus came to the Greco-Roman world, the New Testament is written in the language of the Greco-Roman world, the Apostle Paul ministered to the Greco-Roman world, and the church sprung up in the Greco-Roman world. These are significant factors to consider. In his book, 5 Cities that Ruled the World, Douglas Wilson suggests that---by God’s design---“a certain amount of cross-pollination” occurred between Hebrew thinking and Classical thinking in the forming of Christianity in the first century (81). He qualifies this notion, of course, stating that New Testament Christianity is no syncretism between the God of Abraham and the gods of the Greeks… Citing Romans 11, however, he compares the Kingdom to an olive tree: God grafted Greek gentiles into the Hebraic trunk; the result is a “new kind of olive” (80). The more I study the Classics, the more I realise how much Greco-Roman flavouring has been added to the hearty stew of Christianity. Whatever ingredients God uses for His recipe does not diminish the fact that He is still the chef par excellence!

Wilson, Douglas. 5 Cities That Ruled the World Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009.


UB said...

Interesting, we never know it all.........always something to of the mysteries of life God...

halfpint said...

very interesting.... I have now learned something new as well! L.