Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Faith and Intellectual Rigor

Peter Berger describes well the tension experienced by many Christians who value intellectual rigor (“Worldly Wisdom, Christian Foolishness,” August/September). The temptation to succumb to the Zeitgeist is powerful as it offers recognition and affirmation from a secular community, often the object of missionary intent. Making Christianity intellectually credible is a dangerous prospect, not because it is impossible, but because of the compromises that one must make.

In the dialog between the historic culture of the church and the contemporary milieu, it has always appeared to me that those who rushed to make Christianity culturally and intellectually appealing to the present time were foolhardy. If the Scripture is correct, then the faith and its biblical foundation transcend time and culture, while contemporary thought is transitory, certain to change and fade. Why then seek to accommodate to something that will not withstand time’s passage? The conflict between time and eternity is not limited to philosophical discussion, but is at the heart of the issues facing the decline of the American mainstream church today. The church must be wary of hitching its wagon to a bright, yet falling, star. The truth that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever is not a pious platitude, but a key to the essentials of the faith, which transcend time and culture.

The Christian intellectual lives in the tension of this debate and conflict. The answer, though, is found in recognizing the changeable nature of secular thought forms which are attempts to find a stable conception of truth that lasts. This is the beauty of the Apostle Paul, who was able to converse with the thought forms of the day in the light of the truth that is found in Christ.

The Rev. Ed Brenegar
elkins, wv

Palestine, not Israel

That Robert L. Wilken (“Jews, Christians, and the Land of Israel,” August/September) can talk about the issues of the land of Palestine without any reference to the people who live on the land, the Palestinians, is astounding. Bloodless abstractions may create “theological toughmindedness,” but they can also create bloody policies. If reference is to be made to the promise of the land, what about the promise of separation from the land because of the sins of the people?

The Rev. Robert H. Tucker
houston, tx

Robert L. Wilken responds:

An earlier draft of my essay (a response to an earlier column by Michael Wyschogrod, “The Bishops and the Middle East,” April) included a section on the Palestinians, but I decided to drop it because it was not directly pertinent to the issue at hand, Christian theological interpretation of the Hebrew prophets. But it is a matter dear to my heart and I have discussed the fate of Palestinian Christians in an article in the Christian Century (“From Time Immemorial? Dwellers in the Holy Land,” July 30-August 6, 1986) and next year will publish a book on the Christian presence in the holy land entitled Land Called Holy: The Palestine of Christian Memory (Yale University Press).