Why choose Christ?

February 3, 2014

George A. Buttrick

As you would expect, a Presbyterian will turn this question around. I love the way Buttrick, professor at Harvard University during the 1950’s and 60’s, does this:

Bible history is focused history. The forwardness climbs to a lighted hilltop, and all history beyond that point is in that light, moving on to the fulfillment of the light. The focal point is Christ; and the lighted hilltop, though the light is darkness, is Calvary. …The Bible makes no apology for this faith: it proclaims it with boldness and remorse and rapture. When our modern mind asks, “But why choose Christ?” the Bible answers, “Men did not choose Christ. Rather they have hurried him to some new Cross in every generation. He chose them, as in every contrite pondering of Him He chooses us.” When our modern mind asks, “But why take one event long ago and far away as the clue to history?” the Bible answers, “Why not, if it finds us? Why assume that truth is in a logical syllogism, scientific formula, general law, or philosophical abstraction?”

And he continues with his usual rhetorical energy:

This fact compounds the daringness of the Bible. How could anyone find it dull? Our dreary factualisms are dull. Our so-called “universal laws” are dull, cancelling the vividness of the event in favor of a deadly sameness. Our political conventions are dull, filled with windbag clichés. Our divorce is dull, and our industrialism with its chimney smoke smudges out both landscape and life. But the Bible is not dull. It may be incredible, a wild dream, a madness, and an ecstasy, but it is not tedious: a flash of light, rather, and a spurt of blood — blood of God in our human flesh! …

We cannot analyze Calvary. It is too late, for it has pierced us. That, at least, is the outright avowal of Bible history. Redemption through a person accents the Biblical conviction that history as a whole must be construed through persons, not through “movements” or “patterns.”

[George A. Buttrick, Christ and History, pp. 25-26.]

Buttrick was a Presbyterian pastor in NYC for 28 years before his appointment at Harvard in 1955. In addition to his books and lectures, he edited the influential multi-volume set, The Interpreter’s Bible.

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9 Responses to “Why choose Christ?”

  1. james said

    It is a delight to read this quote and the profundity with which Buttrick contrasts modern reductionist, literalist and scientist thinking with the radical counter-intuitive logic of Christian faith. However, i am mildly saddened too because i know the subtley would be lost on many Christians. He wrote in a time where i think many thought more deeply about faith.

    • Kevin Davis said

      I heartily agree about the fruitfulness of theological discourse at this time — and it was widespread, among preachers and interested laymen, not just the professors. Buttrick represents the “neo-orthodox” approach, which was hardly monolithic, and (unfortunately) was unduly derided by evangelicals on the right and liberals on the left. The mainline churches were once favorable incubators of this “movement,” if you could call it that, but those days are long behind us. We are the poorer for it.

  2. The bit about the universal laws reminds me a bit of Chesteron in ‘The Ethics of Elfland’. That line is great.

    • Kevin Davis said

      I’ve read lots of Chesterton, but I have not read that yet…I’ll have to look it up.

      • It’s a chapter from ‘Orthodoxy’ – if you google ‘the ethics of elfland’ it you should be able to read the whole thing online, it’s like the 3rd or 4th result, I think.

      • Kevin Davis said

        Ha, then I have in fact read it — a while ago! Orthodoxy was one of the first theology books that I read about 10 years ago when I first started reading theology. I have recommended it to several friends, but I am long overdue in re-reading it.

  3. […] George Buttrick never fails to inspire, without any of the trite sentimentality associated with that word. Here is one of his reflections from The Parables of Jesus: […]

  4. […] Sloane Coffin is one of the most delightful writers that I have ever read, similar to George Buttrick. There is something about that generation. In the excerpt below, Coffin offers an illustration for […]

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