Tweetable Nietzsche: His Essential Ideas Revealed And Explained

Image Source: Zondervan

Dr. Ivan Spencer has new work coming out, Tweetable Nietzsche.

Friedrich Nietzsche radically confronted Western culture, morality, and social mores, until his death in 1900. Occupying a first-rank position as a thinker, his thought later inspired numerous movements that weave the tapestries of contemporary culture: existentialism, theology, nihilistic culture, Nazism, twentieth century film and art, atheism, ethical egoism, deconstruction, the hermeneutics of suspicion, and the postmodern age.

Nietzsche’s incalculable sway on our culture persists to this day. Even his acerbic criticism of Christianity has affected the religion. But many people remain unaware of the pervasive attitudes Nietzsche disseminated, attitudes they echo. His stark prophecy that “God is dead, and we killed him” thrives in this accelerating secular age where postmodernists lionized him as a prophetic voice of a new era.

Tweetable Nietzsche introduces and analyzes the worldview of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s tweets, 140 characters or less, provide readers a distilled essence of every major aspect of his worldview. Each tweet illustrates some aspect of his worldview contributing toward a full-orbed understanding of Nietzsche’s thought.

Dr. Spencer is Professor of History and Philosophy at The College at Southeastern. He teaches the History of Ideas, Philosophy, and History. Dr Spencer was the creator of the school’s History of Ideas curriculum and has cultivated the study of the greatest thinkers from the past to the present.

Doing Theology as a Servant of Jesus (8): What Roles Do Philosophical Theology and Systematic Theology Play?

For many Christians, the words “philosophical” and “systematic” do not have the best of connotations. “Philosophy” reminds them, perhaps, of certain philosophers who have mocked Christianity, such as Nietzsche or several of the New Atheists. Likewise, “systematic” might conjure up images of theologians whose “system” subverts or overrides the biblical testimony, or whose books are so dense and technical that one wonders who could possibly understand them. And while these negative impressions might sometimes have been earned by practitioners of these two disciplines, I think that both disciplines can be helpful tools in a theologian’s toolbox, if treated appropriately. I will give you a hint: I am going to suggest that it will be helpful for the church if professional theologians will do systematic theology in such a manner that they move a step or two away from philosophical theology and step or two toward biblical theology.

The Nature and Legitimacy of Philosophical Theology

There are various ways of conceiving the task of philosophical theology, but it will suffice here to say that philosophical theology is the appropriation of philosophical tools for the task of theology. Such appropriation has been evident since the earliest days of church history, in which the church found itself needing to interact with a language and a Greco-Roman framework of thought that were not designed with the needs of Christian theology in mind. McGrath writes, “On the one hand, it was necessary to go beyond the insights of scripture in order to meet the new intellectual challenges faced by the Christian communities; on the other, it was necessary to ensure that these extensions of the scriptural vocabulary and conceptual framework were consonant with its central insights.”[1] Indeed theologians in the present era wrestle with the same challenge, acknowledge that some level of philosophical theology is unavoidable, and find appropriate ways to draw upon his context’s conceptual languages and frameworks.

The Nature and Legitimacy of Systematic Theology

As with biblical and philosophical theology, there are more than a few ways to conceive systematic theology. For the purpose of this chapter, we will define systematic theology as a discipline which draws upon the biblical narrative in order to conceptualize and articulate the biblical faith in a comprehensive, well-proportioned, and unified manner for a particular cultural context.[2] Because it is done for a particular context, it often conceptualizes and articulates the biblical faith in relation to questions that arise outside of the text, and with categories that are not explicitly found in the text. It is “systematic,” by nature of the fact that it is organized based upon a set of presuppositions, and also on the basis of pedagogical and presentational concerns. A faithfully biblical systematic theology will be “systematic” without flouting the biblical ordering, lopping off awkward biblical data, or otherwise relegating Scripture to a secondary status. It will seek to construct systematic conceptions of the biblical material that arise comfortably from the biblical narrative, resonate with its core teachings, take into account all of the biblical data, and recognize its own secondary status in relation to Scripture. Further, we note that faithful theologians will not read the Bible in order to construct “great systematic theologies.” Rather we construct systematic theologies that help us read the Bible better, systems that lead us to deeper and richer exegesis. Scripture is primary, while systematic renderings of it are secondary.

The Relationship of Systematic Theology to Philosophical Theology and Biblical Theology.

Evangelical systematic theologians generally sustain conversation, at some level, with both biblical theologians and philosophical theologians. Systematic theologians are sometimes dependent upon philosophical theology for certain concepts with which to articulate the Christian message. Rational representation of the Christian message requires concepts, which are abstractions of the more concrete and historical biblical narrative(s). Philosophical theology provides those concepts, and has done so throughout church history. For example, the early church fathers spoke of Christ as being homoousios with (or, “of the same essence as”) the Father. They did so in order to speak clearly and in a common language within their cultural context. Philosophical concepts can function as a sort of intellectual shorthand which allows for more direct apprehension than can be had from the sprawling narrative of Scripture, composed as it is of narrative, poetry, prose, and other genres.

However, these concepts can undermine the Bible unless the theologian defines those concepts biblically, filling them with Christian meaning drawn from the biblical narrative. In his seminal article on this topic, Michael Williams writes, “I want to argue this precise point: the biblical narrative structure, the story of God’s relationship with his creation-from Adam to Christ crucified and resurrected to Christ triumphant in the restoration of all things in the kingdom of God-forms the regulative principle and interpretive key for systematic theology no less than it does for biblical theology. This suggests that a systematic theology that is oriented to the biblical narrative and scriptural ways of knowing ought to be redemptively-historically grounded rather than ordered to a cultural convention of rationality or an extra-biblical conception of system.”[3]

If the concepts drawn from philosophical theology are ever “cut free” from the narrative and allowed to “float” on their own, the result will be a distortion or subversion of the biblical teaching. For example, Christian theologians have drawn upon Aristotelian philosophy in order to conceive and articulate God’s attributes in terms of God’s “pure actuality,” “simplicity,” “aseity,” “necessity,” and so forth. But if God is described merely in those terms, without those terms being defined by the biblical witness about God and his mighty acts in history, we have not understood who God is. We have contemplated some abstractions about a purported deity, but we have not understood or embraced the God of Israel who alone can save. For this reason, we affirm that biblical theology, rather than any culturally conditioned philosophical framework, is the home environment of systematic theology.

Theology’s often inappropriate relationship with philosophical theology began in the patristic period, but gained steam in the medieval period, as the scholastic method fostered an impulse toward abstraction. Theology became an exercise in abstract, metaphysical knowledge of God divorced from the concrete particularity of the historical narrative. In fact, the Reformers sought to reform theology on this exact point. Luther’s “theology of the cross” was an attempt to assert the priority of the narrative over metaphysics. “Luther’s fundamental point . . . is that the narrative of the crucified Christ must be interpreted on the basis of a framework established by that narrative itself, rather than upon the basis of an imposed alien framework.”[4] The theologian of the cross is the one who allows his conceptual framework to arise naturally from the biblical narrative rather than vice-versa, interpreting the biblical narrative on the basis of a preconceived system.

[1] McGrath, The Genesis of Doctrine, 6

[2] This definition draws upon, but modifies and expands, the definition given by John Webster, that “systematic theology aims at a comprehensive, well-proportioned, and unified conceptual representation of Christian teaching.” Webster, “Introduction: Systematic Theology,”12.

[3] Michael Williams, “Systematic Theology as a Biblical Discipline,” in All for Jesus: A Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Covenant Theological Seminary, ed. Robert A. Peterson and Sean Michael Lucas (Fearn, Tain, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2006), 167-196.

[4] McGrath, The Genesis of Doctrine, 65.wordstat google

On Disciplined Reading (4): Why Should I Read? Other Advantages of Reading

In the first installment of this series, I gave a theological reason that one might want to read: God himself gave humans the unique ability to read and write, and to use our rational and imaginative capacities for his glory is one way that we reflect his image. In this installment, I will enumerate further reasons to read and some of the advantages accrued for a lifelong habit of reading.

First, reading books sharpens the mind. For Christians, reading gives us the chance to interact in the world of ideas, giving theological critique of what you read. It is one way to practice thinking Christianly. If I am reading a work of fiction, I ask a series of questions: Who is the hero, and why does the writer want me to admire him? Who is the adversary in this story, and what does the author think is so bad about him? Does this story provide a note of redemption, and if so, in what is the redemption found? If I am reading a theological text, I critique it in light of the Scriptures and the best of the Great Tradition. If I am reading one of the great philosophers, I question his presuppositions and look into the logical coherence, empirical adequacy, and existential viability of his theories. Reading prepares us to think in a distinctively Christian manner.

Second, reading exercises the mind. It forces us to increase our skills of concentration, memory, and reasoning. It requires that we focus on, remember, and assess arguments, plots, themes, characters, facts, and figures. Reading improves vocabulary. Without reading regularly, I would have never known, inter alia, such susquapedalian words as “pervicacious” or “stultiloquence.” Further, reading makes us better writers. (Just think how much worse this blogpost would be if I didn’t read regularly.)

Third, reading gives one something about which to converse. If I have read Ghost Wars, I can make a meaningful contribution when conversation turns to Afghanistan. If I have read The World is Flat or The Clash of Civilizations, then I can make conversation with about any number of global issues. If I have read Mere Christianity, I have some idea how to make theological conversation with a skeptic. If I read Wildlife in the Kingdom Come, I will be well-equipped to poke fun at theologians.

Fourth, reading allows one to “travel” to other times and places. Although I might not have the time or money to travel to Iran right now, I can read about it in The Ayatollah Begs to Differ or The Shia Revival. I may never be able to interview Abraham Lincoln or Jonathan Edwards, but I can read their biographies. Although I was never able to converse with one of the famous atheists, I am able to read Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil and Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian.

Fifth, reading reduces stress. Researchers at the University of Sussex have shown that the best way to relieve mental and physical stress is to read a book. In their study (which Al Mohler pointed out in his blog on 4/3/09), reading caused a 68% reduction in measurable stress, topping other stress reducers, such as listening to music (61%), sipping tea or coffee (54%), and taking a walk (42%).

Finally, reading is an inexpensive and low maintenance form of entertainment. Compared to the cinema, for example, books don’t cost much. Most books cost $10-$30, which is approximately the same as 1-3 movie tickets, and give more pleasure over a longer period of time. Library books do not cost a dime. Imagine the money I can save if I can one day get my baby daughter hooked on reading (and convince her not to marry).

Note: In the concluding installment of this series, I will interact with some of the comments and questions I’ve received, make some book recommendations, and provide some concluding thoughts.