Dallas Willard makes some extremely important points about Jesus the Logician.
Few today will have seen the words “Jesus” and “logician” put together to form a phrase or sentence, unless it would be to deny any connection between them at all. The phrase “Jesus the logician” is not ungrammatical, any more than is “Jesus the carpenter.” But it ‘feels’ upon first encounter to be something like a category mistake or error in logical type, such as “Purple is asleep,” or “More people live in the winter than in cities,” or “Do you walk to work or carry your lunch?”
Sort of brings to mind the presidential debates of the 2000 election season in which then-Governor Bush proclaimed Jesus as the philosopher who had the most impact on him.
There is in our culture an uneasy relation between Jesus and intelligence, and I have actually heard Christians respond to my statement that Jesus is the most intelligent man who ever lived by saying that it is an oxymoron. Today we automatically position him away from (or even in opposition to) the intellect and intellectual life. Almost no one would consider him to be a thinker, addressing the same issues as, say, Aristotle, Kant, Heidegger or Wittgenstein, and with the same logical method.
This is most true in academic philosophy in the secular university (and, not infrequently true of the Christian seminary, too). Perhaps one might refer to him in a philosophy of religion class, but not in a logic or epistemology class, nor in an ethics class. Yet at least with regard to the latter, Jesus had some extremely critical ethical things to say.
Now this fact has important implications for how we today view his relationship to our world and our life–especially if our work happens to be that of art, thought, research or scholarship. How could he fit into such a line of work, and lead us in it, if he were logically obtuse? How could we be his disciples at our work, take him seriously as our teacher there, if when we enter our fields of technical or professional competence we must leave him at the door? Obviously some repositioning is in order, and it may be helped along simply by observing his use of logic and his obvious powers of logical thinking as manifested in the Gospels of the New Testament.
Is Jesus Lord or not? Do all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge inhere in him (Colossians 2:3) or not?
Willard answers in the affirmative.
Now when we speak of “Jesus the logician” we do not, of course, mean that he developed theories of logic, as did, for example, Aristotle and Frege. No doubt he could have, if he is who Christians have taken him to be. He could have provided a Begriffsschrift, or a Principia Mathematica, or alternative axiomatizations of Modal Logic, or various completeness or incompleteness proofs for various ‘languages’. (He is, presumably, responsible for the order that is represented through such efforts as these.)
He could have. Just as he could have handed Peter or John the formulas of Relativity Physics or the Plate Tectonic theory of the earth’s crust, etc. He certainly could, that is, if he is indeed the one Christians have traditionally taken him to be. But he did not do it, and for reasons which are bound to seem pretty obvious to anyone who stops to think about it. But that, in any case, is not my subject here. When I speak of “Jesus the logician” I refer to his use of logical insights: to his mastery and employment of logical principles in his work as a teacher and public figure.
So what is unique to Jesus’ use of logic?
Not only does Jesus not concentrate on logical theory, but he also does not spell out all the details of the logical structures he employs on particular occasions. His use of logic is always enthymemic, as is common to ordinary life and conversation. His points are, with respect to logical explicitness, understated and underdeveloped. The significance of the enthymeme is that it enlists the mind of the hearer or hearers from the inside, in a way that full and explicit statement of argument cannot do. Its rhetorical force is, accordingly, quite different from that of fully explicated argumentation, which tends to distance the hearer from the force of logic by locating it outside of his own mind.
Jesus’ aim in utilizing logic is not to win battles, but to achieve understanding or insight in his hearers. This understanding only comes from the inside, from the understandings one already has. It seems to “well up from within” one. Thus he does not follow the logical method one often sees in Plato’s dialogues, or the method that characterizes most teaching and writing today. That is, he does not try to make everything so explicit that the conclusion is forced down the throat of the hearer. Rather, he presents matters in such a way that those who wish to know can find their way to, can come to, the appropriate conclusion as something they have discovered–whether or not it is something they particularly care for.
“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Yes, and no doubt Jesus understood that. And so he typically aims at real inward change of view that would enable his hearers to become significantly different as people through the workings of their own intellect. They will have, unless they are strongly resistant to the point of blindness, the famous “eureka” experience, not the experience of being outdone or beaten down. . . .
Today, by contrast, we commonly depend upon the emotional pull of stories and images to ‘move’ people. We fail to understand that, in the very nature of the human mind, emotion does not reliably generate belief or faith, if it generates it at all. Not even ‘seeing’ does, unless you know what you are seeing. It is understanding, insight, that generates belief. In vain do we try to change peoples’ heart or character by ‘moving’ them to do things in ways that bypass their understanding. . . .
Paying careful attention to how Jesus made use of logical thinking can strengthen our confidence in Jesus as master of the centers of intellect and creativity, and can encourage us to accept him as master in all of the areas of intellectual life in which we may participate. In those areas we can, then, be his disciples, not disciples of the current movements and glittering personalities who happen to dominate our field in human terms. Proper regard for him can also encourage us to follow his example as teachers in Christian contexts. We can learn from him to use logical reasoning at its best, as he works with us. When we teach what he taught in the manner he taught it, we will see his kind of result in the lives of those to whom we minister.
May we all, I especially, seek to emulate our Lord in our conversations and dialogues with others.
And how might we bring this about?
Here I have only been suggestive of a dimension of Jesus that is commonly overlooked. This is no thorough study of that dimension, but it deserves such study. It is one of major importance for a healthy faith in him. Especially today, when the authoritative institutions of our culture, the universities and the professions, omit him as a matter of course. Once one knows what to look for in the Gospels, however, one will easily see the thorough, careful and creative employment of logic throughout his teaching activity. Indeed, this employment must be identified and appreciated if what he is saying is to be understood. Only then can his intellectual brilliance be appreciated and he be respected as he deserves.
An excellent way of teaching in Christian schools would therefore be to require all students to do extensive logical analyses of Jesus’ discourses. This should go hand in with the other ways of studying his words, including devotional practices such as memorization or lectio divina, and the like. It would make a substantial contribution to the integration of faith and learning.
While such a concentration on logic may sound strange today, that is only a reflection on our current situation. It is quite at home in many of the liveliest ages of the church.
This certainly brings a new perspective to my teaching of logic on Thursday nights!
Be sure to read the entire article linked above.