Dr. Matthew J. Ramage answers questions about his forthcoming book and how his graduate studies at AMU prepared him for entering into contemporary theological debate.
One of the marks of success for the Graduate Theology Doctoral Program at AMU is that of those who have been graduated, all of them have found placement at various universities, colleges, and seminaries. (For a complete list, check here. ) In addition to being an external confirmation of the quality of the program, the diffusion of graduates throughout these various places allows them to engage in the current theological conversations and debates in a multitude of forums and ways. Of course, one of the principal methods of engaging in the current conversation is through publishing. Thus, it is always a moment to celebrate when one of our alumni has a work published.
Dr. Matthew J. Ramage, Assistant Professor of Theology at Benedictine College, is the latest to contribute to current discussion with his latest book, Jesus Interpreted: Benedict XVI, Bart Ehrman, and the Historical Truth of the Gospels, set to be released January 2, 2017. This book is a sequel to his last, Dark Passages of the Bible. In Jesus Interpreted, Dr. Ramage attempts to answer some of the major challenges presented to the Christian faith by some current New Testament Scholarship, such as:
“Did God become man in Jesus, or did the first Christians make Jesus into God? Was Jesus’ resurrection a historical event, or rather a myth fabricated by the early Church? Will Jesus indeed return to earth on the last day, or was this merely the naïve expectation of ancient believers that reasonable people today ought to abandon?” (Cited from Amazon description)
Ramage tackles these questions using the exegetical vision of Benedict XVI in response to the work of Bart Ehrman, in particular, as a representative of the historical-critical school of exegesis.
The following is a series of questions that Dr. Ramage graciously agreed to answer about this latest work, Jesus Interpreted.
1. What was it that inspired you to write Jesus, Interpreted: Benedict XVI, Bart Ehrman, and the Historical Truth of the Gospels?
Dr. Ramage: I was passionate to write this volume because its subject has played an important part in my own autobiography. Over the years I have been dissatisfied with the way many Catholic apologists simplistically dismiss modern historical Jesus scholarship without first deeply understanding it. For me, however, Benedict XVI has always proven himself the eminent exception to this rule. One can tell from reading his exegetical works that the questions he asks are not merely academic but also existential in nature.The emeritus pontiff’s Jesus trilogy in particular represents the fruit of his personal quest for the face of Christ, a quest which is always asking how to engage, critique, and learn from the most serious challenges posed by modern biblical criticism as a committed Christian.
2. Does it seem to you that Benedict XVI’s call for a “critique of the critique” is having a significant influence on Catholic Biblical Scholarship? Non-Catholic Biblical Scholarship?
Dr. Ramage: Certainly. Having been formed by eminent faculty at institutions like AMU, a younger generation of scholars like myself is attempting this critique in our teaching and writing. Several books have recently emerged on subjects including the origins of historical criticism itself, what it has to say about challenging or “dark” passages in the Old Testament, historical Jesus research, etc. I have recently witnessed a number of Evangelical authors I read with admiration cite Benedict’s principles and conclusions approvingly.
3. Can you briefly summarize Benedict XVI’s exegetical vision, and why you think that it might be superior to others?
Dr. Ramage: Benedict’s overarching project weds the modern, historical-critical approach to interpretation with a traditional theological reading of Scripture based in the patristic-medieval tradition. Whereas these two approaches are sometimes viewed as mutually exclusive or even contradictory, Benedict’s project eminently reflects the Catholic “both/and” by insisting that the two are mutually enriching and necessary for doing justice to the Bible’s most challenging texts. The necessity of this two-pronged approach is especially evident when considering troublesome passages of the Old Testament like those I dealt with in my volume Dark Passages of the Bible. That is to say, some Old Testament passages really do not fully make sense merely from the perspective of historical criticism, i.e. apart from the perspective of the New Testament and their significance for our spiritual lives. As for the Gospels which are the subject of this new book, the traditional emphasis upon biblical inspiration remains of paramount importance. While affirming this, the principal objective of the volume consists in engaging historical criticism on its own terms and showing that Benedict’s hermeneutic of faith offers a plausible and attractive alternative to Ehrman’s agnostic approach to the gospels, one that is every bit as scholarly and no more reliant on unprovable assumptions.
4. Why did you choose to engage with Bart Ehrman, in particular?
Dr. Ramage: In the book I could not possibly deal with every contemporary portrait of the life of Christ that stands as a rival to the Catholic approach epitomized in Benedict. While I certainly will interact here and there with modern authors whom Benedict himself finds important, I chose Ehrman for my principal representative of the modern academy because he tends to base himself on a relative consensus among scholars, because he is immensely popular, and because I think he is a fair-minded interpreter who is not so overcome by his own agenda so as to think that every rational person ought to see things his way
5. Did you consider that your time at the AMU Graduate Program prepared you well for entering into contemporary theological debate? If so, how?
Dr. Ramage: Absolutely. Indeed, I think one reason why Benedict’s emphasis upon recourse to both the Ancients and the Moderns attracts me so much is that this holistic approach to theology was a central emphasis in my formation in AMU’s doctoral program. The reality that all theology has a sapiential unity—that each area of theological inquiry can only be carried out well in light of other disciplines and in light of God’s own wisdom—has been crucially important in my own academic work. When it comes to biblical interpretation, sometimes critical exegesis is done in a vacuum, apart from the perspective of faith. But doing this renders the Bible a “dead letter,” a historical and fascinating artifact, but a mere thing of the past. On the other hand, many Christians ignore the contributions of modernity, throwing the baby out with the bathwater so to speak. This tendency is not sapiential, either. At AMU I was blessed with constant reminders of Aquinas’s principle that every truth, no matter who utters it, is of the Holy Spirit.
N.B. Dr. Ramage was graduated from the Ave Maria University Graduate Theology PhD program in 2006.