Saturday, October 18, 2008

Is "Unorthodox Christianity" "Christianity"

Kristo Miettinen says yes. Many orthodox Christians say no. I say, yes and no; it depends on how one defines "Christianity." Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnessism are two classic examples: They call themselves Christians. But many orthodox Christians balk: "This isn't Christianity, whatever you call yourselves."

It all depends on where you draw the line and how you "box" people. For instance, regarding race we have blacks, whites and mixed race. In this society we tend to box folks as either "white" on the one hand or "black and mixed race" on the other. But in a society where blacks predominate, we might box folks as either "black" or "white or mixed race." Likewise we box folks as "straight" or "gay or bi." Looking for homosexual purity we could box folks as "gay" or "straight or bi."

America's key Founders [Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin] emerged from a "Christian" history but tended to reject orthodox Trinitarian doctrines and the infallibility of the Bible; they were theists who believed God primarily revealed Himself through nature discoverable by reason, secondarily by the Bible which they regarded as partially inspired, not infallible. To many orthodox Christians of the past and present era that puts them outside of the "Christian" label, regardless of what they termed themselves [the key Founders including Jefferson and Franklin, more likely thought of themselves as "Christians" not "Deists"].

And with that I am going to reproduce a little back and forth between Kristo Miettinen -- arguing for the "unorthodox" understanding of Christian -- and Gregg Frazer -- arguing for the "orthodox" understanding of Christianity.

My conclusion is the glass is half full and half empty so it all depends on which perspective one takes.

Kristo wrote:

I think your term “theistic rationalist” misses a key element of the left-wing founders: that even they were bibliophiles or bibliocentrists, and affiliated in individual cases with bibliolatry (e.g. the masonic ritual use of the KJV as their “Volume of the Sacred Law”).

Might I suggest “biblical rationalist” rather than “theistic rationalist”, since what they applied their rationalism to was more often the bible than God in any natural-theology sense.

[...]

[The term theistic rationalism] misses the founder’s bibliocentrism, which I believe was stronger than their theocentrism, if the latter is interpreted in a generic sense. They may have dabbled in natural theology, but not with the same energy that they applied to the bible.

Frazer deflects attention from their biblical obsession because they didn’t see the bible as he sees it. That is no reason to follow him in his choice of terms. Early America was a bible-soaked society. Frazer’s intellectual ancestors were products of that environment, but so were a number of other highly creative bibliocentric thinkers whose opinions Frazer abhors.

He may have coined a term, but you make an independent judgment of the matter when you choose his term over others. You have to stand behind your choice, you cannot point a finger at the man behind you.


Frazer replied:

“Biblical rationalist” would be a very misleading term. One shouldn’t use something they largely rejected as a central part of identifying them. That would be like calling the Protestant Reformers “Catholic” instead of Protestant. After all, they lived in a “catholicism-soaked society” and they applied their reforms to catholicism!

The key Founders lived in a “Bible-soaked society,” but they reacted against that to a large extent. The key Founders almost universally rejected and scorned the Old Testament (other than the Psalms & Proverbs & Ecclesiastes) as well as the New Testament other than the Gospels. They were hardly “obsessed” with the Bible and were FAR from bibliocentrists! When one uses “centric” as a suffix, it is not to be prefaced by something the individual rejected or disagreed with!

To the extent (not that much, by the way) that they used biblical allusions or illustrations, it was to relate to their “Bible-soaked society” — not because of their own “obsession” with the Bible.

It would also be misleading to use “biblical rationalist” simply because they applied their rationalism to the Bible. To call them “biblical rationalist” is to apply the adjective “biblical” to THEM (the rationalists) — not to the target of their rationalism.

As for the choice of “theistic,” the definitive dictionary of the 18th century, the Oxford English Dictionary, defines theism as: “Belief in one God as creator and supreme ruler of the universe, without denial of revelation: in this use distinguished from deism.” That is a precise description of the belief of the key Founders.

I can’t help but wonder how Mr. Miettinen knows so well what I abhor and to what “highly creative” bibliocentric thinkers he refers.

Finally, I don’t think Jon was hiding behind me where the term “theistic rationalism” is concerned. He has been scrupulously careful to give me credit (and I think it is CREDIT, not blame) for coining the term and I am exceedingly grateful. That is all he was doing.

15 comments:

Phil Johnson said...

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"...bibliolatry (e.g. the masonic ritual use of the KJV as their 'Volume of the Sacred Law')."
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It is curious that Masonry is seldom brought up in any discussions of the Founding era; but, Masonry was a great deal of what kept everything and everyone going in those days.
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Much of Masonic ritual is all about American history in one way or the other.
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One important aspect of Masonry is that it relies almost 100% on tradition. Nothing is written down within the various lodges and degrees. Yet, what is done now is what was done then--for the most part.
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"Where did you come from?", is the first question asked. And, "Why have you come here?", is the second one. George Washington answered those questions using exactly the same words that every mason has. It is quite possible to get "inside of Washington's head".
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Phil Johnson said...

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I am sure George Washington took his Masonic oaths most seriously and that accounts for a great deal of his secretive nature when it comes to things about The Grand Architect of The Universe.
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I thought I just toss that in for what it might be worth.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

I agree with Phil that there seems to be little evidence that Washington's personal creed isn't well-accounted for by his affinity and affiliation with the Masons.

Kristo's point, then

the masonic ritual use of the KJV as their “Volume of the Sacred Law”

needs addressing, as does GW's use of a Masonic Bible [which, keep in mind, is simply a KJV] at his inauguration.

As for Dr. Frazer's

"...choice of “theistic,” the definitive dictionary of the 18th century, the Oxford English Dictionary, defines theism as: “Belief in one God as creator and supreme ruler of the universe, without denial of revelation: in this use distinguished from deism.” That is a precise description of the belief of the key Founders.

...once again, we focus on "key" Founders, which is not synonymous with "the" Founders, but more importantly, this definition of "theistic" applies to orthodox and unorthodox Christians alike, as well as Jews. And it seems to apply just fine to a "Grand Architect of the Universe."

But this belief in a monotheistic, providential God does not necessarily apply to other religious traditions, specifically Hinduism or Buddhism. [Islam we shall leave for another day.] Neither does it necessarily apply to "natural" religion, unless we mean the one that grew directly out of the Judeo-Christian tradition of the West, in other words, the God of the Bible.

And it would be Kristo's argument, I imagine, that the Judeo-Christian God was in the air they breathed back then, and despite theological battles about this or that dogma, the word "theistic" as used here inexorably still points back to this biblical God, so using the word conceals as much as it reveals.

Phil Johnson said...

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Pretty much Masonry--in theory--is all about building personal character.
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Maybe the results have been diluted in general society since the Founding Era; but, I am absolutely certain that the Founders took Masonic oaths and the teachings with the greatest solemnity. George Washington was the Worshipful Master of his Lodge.
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They put sharp focus on strong structure in the architecture of whatever it was they were building. Their foundations would have been solidly and deeply laid. Each Masonic Founder would have taken his descendancy into consideration at nearly every step of the way. There is a strong Old Testament foundation with a definite move toward resurrection.
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Brad Hart said...

"America's key Founders [Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin] emerged from a "Christian" history but tended to reject orthodox Trinitarian doctrines and the infallibility of the Bible; they were theists who believed God primarily revealed Himself through nature discoverable by reason, secondarily by the Bible which they regarded as partially inspired, not infallible. To many orthodox Christians of the past and present era that puts them outside of the "Christian" label, regardless of what they termed themselves."

I could not agree more.

Brad Hart said...

Phil writes:

"Where did you come from?", is the first question asked. And, "Why have you come here?", is the second one. George Washington answered those questions using exactly the same words that every mason has. It is quite possible to get "inside of Washington's head".

An excellent point, which would be worth exploring here on the blog. We haven't done much on the role of freemasonry and the founders on this blog. If anyone has some good insight into the topic I think it would be worth posting.

Tom Van Dyke said...

This Mason thing sounds like something you both should work on, and report back to the blog so that we may all learn.

"Being persuaded that a just application of the principles, on which the Masonic Fraternity is founded, must be promote of private virtue and public prosperity, I shall always be happy to advance the interests of the Society, and to be considered by them as a deserving brother.
[GEORGE WASHINGTON]"

Source: http://www.themasonictrowel.com/Articles/Symbolism/lodge_files/the_ornaments_of_a_lodge.htm

Sounds pretty close to the "old fox" as politician, and not much more than he gave to the Swedenborgians, but, hey, go for it. The Masons were and are monotheistic, so that's a start.

Phil Johnson said...

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It will be difficult to get a lot of information about Masonry in a public forum.
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Now, if we were all Masons and in a social gathering after a lodge meeting, we might have a very enlightening conversation.
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The teachings of Symbolic Free Masonry are very much in line with a certain basic understanding of Christianity and in opposition to Judaism in a certain sense; but, in another, they are compatible.
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I have seen nothing in any commentary about George Washington that is not in line with Masonry which is NOT a religion. That, for me, accounts for our first president's seemingly non-denominational attitude toward God and other supernatural things. It seems to me that he must have been an outstanding personage among Masons--an exemplar.
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The first three degrees are based almost one hundred percent on biblical stories surrounding the building of King Solomon's temple. And George Washington was a Worshipful Master.
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You might be surprised at the number of Masons who believe Masonry supersedes their church when it comes to knowing any truth about the Bible and and man's relationship to God.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I think the biggest problem between FM and orthodox Christianity is that Masons have to take competing religious oaths to an organization that is very indifferent towards non-Christian religions and the paths they take to God. This is why I believe FM so complemented the sectarian indifference (that extended beyond "Judeo-Christianity") of the key FFs.

Phil Johnson said...

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Some Masonic organizations may require "competing religious oaths".
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Maybe the Knights of Malta and the Knights Templar; but, not Free Order of Accepted Masons to which Geo. Washington belonged and which involves the first three degrees. Beyond that, it may be a different situation.
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The oath of the A.A.O.N.M.S., for example, only requires the belief in one god.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Might be going a bit overboard on this mason thing.

"And which allows me to add little more now, than thanks for your kind wishes and favourable sentiments, except to correct an error you have run into, of my Presiding over the English lodges in this Country. The fact is, I preside over none, nor have I been in one more than once or twice, within the last thirty years."
---Washington, 1798

http://watch.pair.com/GW.html

Phil Johnson said...

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Well, the English lodge and the Colonial lodge may have been two different lodges.
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Just as the York Rite and the Scottish Rites are separate today. The York being more Anglican with the Templars and the Scottish being the Consistory with degrees up to the 33rd. In a certain sense they are parallel to each other.
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I imagine the Scottish is the American because of the some of the degrees that are about American history. The York is what might be called the religious.
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Brian Tubbs said...

There is a difference, I think, between social Christianity, "orthodox" Christianity, and biblical Christianity. The first tends to be a very loose umbrella. The second refers to that which is defined by a church authority. And the third is based on what the Bible says.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ah, you could be right, Phil. I enjoy your reports.

These varieties of Masons are starting to echo Jonathan Rowe's writings on orthdoxy---What IS a Mason, anyway? Hehe.

Pinky said...

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"What IS a Mason, anyway?"
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He is a person seeking light.
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