To the editors:
As a student at a local seminary, I had initial interest in your cover story on "The Gospel According to Thomas Sheehan" in this past week's edition [April 21]. When I read the article, however, I was disappointed to find Sheehan's statements reflect essential atheism disguised in the polished language of high-powered intellectualism.
I have for many years been aware of the methods with which biblical scholars analyze scripture, and I am also familiar with many of the philosophers and theologians mentioned by Sheehan (Heidegger, Schillebeeckx, etc.). In spite of this I still believe in the divinity of Christ, His virgin birth, and His bodily resurrection and ascension. Knowledge of biblical criticism, the significance of the natural and social sciences, and an appreciation for history and philosophy need not rob one of the faith Christians have adhered to for centuries in spite of being ridiculed by the so-called enlightened and educated people who "know better." Indeed, many theologians of the modern world (as well as biblical scholars) would sharply disagree with Sheehan's opinions (Karl Barth, Wolfhart Pannenberg, F.F. Bruce, J.I. Packer, and E.J. Carnell, to name a few). Of course, Sheehan makes no mention of any of these.
Some of Sheehan's "learned" statements, however, are based upon quite weak arguments. To say that Simon Peter "hoped" Jesus out of the grave instead of Jesus's being bodily resurrected is pure, unadulterated speculation, founded upon nothing but Sheehan's own cerebral gymnastics. The Gospels do not produce a written account of Jesus's post-resurrection appearances until forty or fifty years after it happened because these gospel narratives were written to combat heresies which had crept into the Church at that time which essentially stated that there was no bodily resurrection, the very thing that Sheehan himself says. Indeed, to think that Simon Peter went to his violent death as a martyr for the sake of a gospel of resurrection which he knew wasn't true is senseless. The Christian message on the resurrection of Christ would have gone nowhere if the dead body of Jesus could have been produced by any of the foes of the early Church. But the body was not produced, because there was no body left in the grave, and Christianity spread to the ends of the earth.
Sheehan may be gifted in his manipulation of religious language and philosophical terminology to substantiate his own intellectualizations, but when it comes right down to it, we all choose whether or not we want to believe. Modern science, biblical criticism, philosophy, history, and theology cannot make this decision for us. Anyone can doubt. To believe, however, is what Jesus as He is present within the Church has called us to do.
Bradley S. Hauff