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Why should metaphors pose a problem for the philosopher of religion? Most forms of discourse involve some use of metaphor: if I describe Fred as ‘a tower of strength’ most people know what I mean and there can be no objection to my doing it. Of course, metaphor in general generates certain philosophical problems which have been taken up in the philosophy of art and which continue to generate controversy. For example, how does one identify a metaphor, and how does it differ from a literal assertion? Is a metaphor a disguised comparison, logically reducible to simile? Can metaphors be true and false, or can one only describe them as ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate’?
It is a traditional belief of Christianity that God is Sovereign or omnipotent. It seems to follow from this that God can do anything. And if he can do anything he can save anyone; and if he can save anyone, he can save everyone.
Ernest Renan, in his Vie de Jésus, over a century ago, put out a startling theory that family relationships meant little to Christ. In his pursuit of an absolute form of righteousness and truth, the family with its petty loyalties was a hindrance to Jesus. He rebelled against parental authority, even as a child. As a man, he was harsh to his relatives; nor did they love him. But that left him free to follow his ideal, and create a new unity with his disciples. ‘Jesus, like all men exclusively possessed by one idea, came to think lightly of the ties of blood. The bond of thought is the only one recognized by natures such as his’.
The question of the relationship between Paul and Jesus has exercised scholars for the past century and a half, although J. Blank has argued that it is only since the beginning of this century that we can really speak of the scholarly treatment of the questions of ‘Paul and Jesus’ or ‘Jesus and Paul’.
In 1892, Hastings Rashdall delivered a University Sermon at Oxford entitled ‘Abelard's Doctrine of the Atonement’. In this sermon, he outlines with increasing enthusiasm what he considered to be ‘as noble and perspicuous a statement as can even yet be found of the faith which is still the life of Christendom’. The central theme of his sermon is that in the twelfth century figure of Peter Abailard can be found a theory of the Atonement which meets the demands of an age shaped in the spirit of Darwinism and historical criticism. What Rashdall understands by the ‘Abelardian doctrine of the Atonement’ is expounded at much greater length in his 1915 Bampton Lectures, The Idea of Atonement in Christian Theology.
The vast literature on the Reformation and the rise of science has produced what may be called strong and weak interpretations of their relation. The strong interpretation holds that specific doctrines or attitudes affirmed by the Reformers and their followers contributed directly to the growth of science. On this view, the Reformation was among the causes of the Scientific Revolution. Without the changes in thought and values wrought by the Reformation, proponents of the strong interpretation argue, modern science would not have developed as it did. The weak interpretation, on the other hand, does not claim a direct influence of Protestantism on science. It acknowledges that modern science developed as a movement independent of the Reformation and it claims only that Protestantism offered relatively few obstacles to scientific expansion. On the weak interpretation, the absence of the Reformation would have had little, if any, effect on the Scientific Revolution. After brief discussion of each of these interpretations, I will argue that the strong interpretation is too strong and that the weak one can be strengthened. I will outline an indirect approach, which falls between the above extremes, and offers advantages not offered by either of them.