Sunday, September 1, 2013

Fortenberry Keeps Pulling Me Back In On Frazer

I've done a great deal of work discussing, analyzing and promoting Dr. Gregg Frazer's work on the American Founding over the past few years. I think he provides a very useful analytic paradigm supported by solid research. Though, I admit there are many other potentially valid paradigms. His book, I understand, sold quite successfully. So I thought my work was largely done and I could move on to other matters.

But Mr. Bill Fortenberry insists on dragging me back in. See the comments here.

At issue is Dr. Frazer's 10 point test for determining who is a Christian according to late 18th Century American historical purposes and how that contrasts with the points in which the theistic rationalists believed. In particular the "Christian" notion that all of the Bible is inspired, "inerrant" if you will v. the theistic rationalist notion that the biblical canon was fit for man's reason to scrutinize and determine which parts were valid, which were error.

Fortenberry concludes, absurdly to me, and indeed using a "reductio ad absurdum" mechanism that Dr. Frazer's method proves himself (and all other self identified Bible believing Christians) to be a "theistic rationalist."

Note, even though I by in large agree with Dr. Frazer's work, I don't agree with everything about it. I respect it as an authority while understanding that all earthly authorities are fallible and have potential problems. No one is perfect.

One area in which Frazer could have been clearer is which of the 10 elements are more central to the understanding of "Christianity" than the others. Though, his book was less than 300 pages and aimed to be both scholarly and accessible. Such demand for more explication, taken to its absurd extreme, could result in an unreadable book over 1000 pages.

I think Frazer is on strongest ground, historically, insofar as his test matches with the Nicene minimum understanding of "Christianity" that has a long accepted tradition that stretches from St. Athanasius to C.S. Lewis.

But Frazer's test isn't quite the same; it's more refined. For instance, the doctrine of Original Sin is one of those points. But (as far as I understand them) the capital O Orthodox Church doesn't believe in that doctrine. Yet they aren't part of Frazer's 10 point lowest common denominator test because (surprise) they didn't have much if any presence in late 18th Cen. America.

But still, an interesting question might be which, if any one of those ten points could an individual disbelieve in and lose or retain the label "Christian."

The problem with this question is that, ultimately, it's unanswerable on this side of cosmic reality. But because I, as above noted, see Frazer's strongest historical case as that which accords with the Nicene minimum understanding, I see the doctrines which that tradition clearly explicates as more important.

So if a particular person believed in 9 of the 10 points but rejected Original Sin (like the Eastern Orthodox) I'd be hard pressed to say that person isn't a "Christian." Or someone like Benjamin Rush who disbelieved in eternal damnation while still believing in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, I still see him a "Christian" -- a Christian universalist.

Or what if someone believed, as Fortenberry accuses Frazer, that man's reason determines which parts of the Bible are valid revelation and, as it were, the canon is "fit" to be edited. I dispute that such accurately categorizes Dr. Frazer. But even if it did, if that person still believes in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, I'd be hard pressed to say that person is not a "Christian." However, just as Benjamin Rush, because he rejected eternal damnation, is a "Christian-universalist," such a person would be accurately categorized as a "Christian rationalist."

But what if such a theist and a rationalist didn't even believe in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement? (The first four Presidents and Ben Franklin!) Then, it seems to me, that they don't deserve the label "Christian" for historical purposes. Those tenets have historically been viewed as more central to the faith.

Thus, the term "theistic rationalist" would distinguish them from the "Christian rationalists" -- the latter believers in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement who, with the former, thought man's reason could test for valid revelation and edit from the Bible that which doesn't pass "reason's" smell test.

16 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

But what if such a theist and a rationalist didn't even believe in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement? (The first four Presidents and Ben Franklin!)

You could call him a Mormon. Or a Unitarian Christian*. Or a Stone-Campbell Movement non-credal Protestant. Or Judeo-Christian for historical purposes.

If a Hindu can be a "theistic rationalist" [and one can], this term is not specific enough to be helpful.
___________________
*http://www.biblicalunitarian.com/100-scriptural-arguments-for-the-unitarian-faith

Lee said...

Since J. Adam was a Unitarian and T. Jefferson predicted (with approval but with not much prescience) that all Americans one day would be Unitarians, maybe Frazer should have used that term instead of theistic rationalism. Maybe he could of come up with a ten point test for Unitarianism and explored to what degree particular founders adhered to those points.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Lee,

You have a valid point in the sense that there are other valid paradigms/terms out there in my opinion.

Unitarianism is one of those paradigms. Gary North (who has some very sharp ideas despite having personal religious views that I consider nuts -- Christian Reconstructionism which in its first best world would stone to death most of the posters here probably) terms it small u unitarianism; it's theological not denominational unitarianism.

wsforten said...

In an article for the Harvard Theological Journal, B. B. Warfield once wrote that: “Clearly, Christianity being a historical religion, its content can be determined only on historical grounds.” Warfield then cited H. H. Went as coming to the same conclusion when he wrote that the Christian religion “is a historically given religion” and that we must determine its essence “by such an objective historical examination as we should give it were we dealing with the determination of the essence of some other historical religion.”

As much as I disagree with Frazer, I appreciate the fact that he attempted to make use of an objective historical examination to establish his definition of Christianity. He failed to produce an accurate test for determining whether one is a Christian for the simple reason that he began in the middle of the historical record for Christianity rather than the beginning. But at least he attempted to provide historical evidence to support his opinions.

My critique of Frazer's book also attempts to provide a historical examination, but I chose to begin at the beginning. By beginning with the first use of the term "Christian," I was able to provide a historical definition which I believe is more accurate than Frazer's. According to my study, one becomes a Christian through believing in the sacrifical death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and Warfield agrees with me. He stated his agreement with Paul Feine's conclusion that:

It has been the belief and the teaching of the Christian Church of all ages and of all confessions, that Jesus, the Son of God, in His sacrificial death on the cross wrought the reconciliation of men with God, and by His resurrection begot anew those who believe in Him unto a living hope of eternal life.

Warfield concluded his article by saying,

The redeemed in the blood of Christ, after all is said, are a people apart. Call them what you please, they are of a specifically different religion from those who know no such experience.

It is the belief in the gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ which has always separated Christians from those of other faiths. Those who take the name of Christian unitarians do so because they believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ without believing in the Trinity, and those who have rejected the gospel of Christ (even if they believe in the trinity as some Hindus do) have always been rejected from the community of Christians on that ground. It is the belief in the gospel and that belief alone which has been the distinguishing characteristic of Christianity throughout history.



Source: Benjamin B. Warfield, The Person and Work of Christ, ed. Samuel G. Craig (Phillipsburg, NJ: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1950), 479-530

Jonathan Rowe said...

No. There is an historical tradition that stretches from St. Athanasius to CS Lewis that anathematizes from the label "Christian" those who don't believe in orthodox Trinitarian minimums. Frazer's test is the Nicene minimum with a late 18th Century American twist.

It's both novel (something important for cutting edge scholarship) but strongly grounded in history.

wsforten said...

I am sure that you realize that the Nicene Creed was written nearly 300 years after Christianity was first established. To rely on that creed for your understanding of who is and who is not a Christian is to ignore the 300 years of history which preceded it.

Additionally, the very same church which formed the Nicene creed held another council in Constantinople less than 60 years later in which they anathematized "those who claim to confess a faith that is sound, but who have seceded and hold assemblies in rivalry with the bishops who are in communion with us." In other words, those who accepted the Nicene Creed were denied from being Christians simply because they were not part of the Catholic church. If you're going to accept the Council of Nicea as having the authority to define who is and who is not a Christian, then why wouldn't you also accept the Council of Constantinople? For that matter, why wouldn't you accept the Second Council of Nicea which proclaimed that only those who worship Mary are Christians?

Jonathan Rowe said...

The whole point of Nicea is clarity in how "Christianity" is defined and understood.

On a personal note, I don't have a problem with a loosey goosey definition of Christianity.

But as I noted to you before, the vast majority of reformed and evangelical Protestants along with Anglicans and capital O Orthodox Christians claim Nicea and think of themselves in communion with that Church.

It's the non-Trinitarians -- the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and theological unitarians -- who seek to distance themselves with that Council and "blame" it on Roman Catholicism. That's whose side you seem to have taken in your perspective on Nicea.

wsforten said...

Are you saying that the church of the Council of Nicea and the church of the Council of Constantinople were not the same church?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Yes, the Council of Constantinople is arguably the same Church as Nicea. I still don't see the relevance.

As far as I understand, that latter Council was simply refining orthodox Trinitarian doctrine and making it clear that in addition to Arianism, Apollinarism, Sabellianism were not "Christian" doctrines.

wsforten said...

I'll comment at greater length later this evening, but let me suggest that you browse through my article on the errors of the seven ecumenical councils in order to get an idea of the foundation from which I am arguing.

http://www.increasinglearning.com/the-minimalist-messiah.html

Jonathan Rowe said...

"The Council of Nicea abandoned the example of Scripture."

All of the churches in Frazer's 10 point test accept Nicea and want to be in communion with that, the "early Church."

There wasn't even a finalized canon during that time; though, arguably that was the Church that finalized it.

You are pretty much giving the Roman Catholics credit for writing the Bible.

Seeing this, other evangelicals and reformed types are likely to write you off as a non-Trinitarian heretic.

It seems to me that you are interested in starting your own sect.

wsforten said...

No, Jon, I am not attempting to establish my own sect of Christianity. I am simply attempting to convey a proper, historical explanation of what one must believe in order to be a Christian. I am not arguing for or against the validity of the doctrine of the Trinity which is expressed in the Nicene Creed. I am only pointing out that the anathema attached to the end of the creed is unscriptural. There is no biblical justification for claiming that one must believe in the doctrine of the Trinity in order to become a Christian.

Your defense of this anathema usually takes the form of either an appeal to tradition or an appeal to authority. In this particular thread, you appealed to "an historical tradition that stretches from St. Athanasius to CS Lewis that anathematizes from the label 'Christian' those who don't believe in orthodox Trinitarian minimums." I mentioned the council of Constantinople because it was a council of that same tradition to which you have appealed in support of your position on the anathema of Nicea, and you have expressed recognition of this fact. This means that the very same tradition to which you appeal in support of your view of the anathema of Nicea also includes the anathemas of Constantinople.

The anathemas of Constantinople include an anathema against the members of any non-Catholic church which is in the same town as a Catholic church even if that church teaches the same trinitarian doctrine as the Council of Nicea. Furthermore, the Second Council of Nicea, which is in the same tradition to which you have appealed, pronounced an anathema against anyone who rejected the doctrine of Mariology. This is the tradition which has upheld the anathema of Nicea.

In addition to this, you have argued that all the protestant churches also adhered to the Nicene Creed, but this argument fails to recognize a fundamental difference between the Protestant view of this creed and the view held by the Catholics. As far as I know, there is not a single protestant church which adheres to the original Nicene Creed. All of them use the version of that creed which was introduced at the Council of Constantinople and confirmed at the Council of Chalcedon. This version of the Nicene creed does not include the anathema of the original. Therefore, its use by the protestant churches cannot be relied on as evidence that they agree with the anathema of the original.[1][2]

Thus, your appeal to tradition fails on two accounts. First, the same tradition to which you appeal for the anathematization of those who reject the doctrine of the Trinity also anathematizes many individuals who accept that doctrine. Second, one of the major branches of that tradition has abandoned the very anathema for which you cite that tradition as support.


[1] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/creeds1.iv.iii.html

[2] http://books.google.com/books?id=iuQGAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA203

Jonathan Rowe said...

"In addition to this, you have argued that all the protestant churches also adhered to the Nicene Creed, but this argument fails to recognize a fundamental difference between the Protestant view of this creed and the view held by the Catholics. As far as I know, there is not a single protestant church which adheres to the original Nicene Creed. All of them use the version of that creed which was introduced at the Council of Constantinople and confirmed at the Council of Chalcedon. This version of the Nicene creed does not include the anathema of the original. Therefore, its use by the protestant churches cannot be relied on as evidence that they agree with the anathema of the original.[1][2]"

I don't think this is correct.

The orthodox Protestants who affirm the Nicene Creed do not, or at least do not believe they affirm a bowdlerized version of it to avoid unscriptural "anathema" language that the Roman Catholics erroneously used when the creed was first formulated.

They feel as though they are in communion with the early church that formulated it in 325 AD.

When you ask a non-Roman Catholic when did the RCC first begin, you invariably get different answers.

Few if any of the Protestants who affirm the Nicene Creed think the Roman Catholic Church was the Church that wrote it or even existed at that time.

wsforten said...

Here is the traditional wording of the Nicene Creed which is used by the Protestant churches:

I believe in one God,
the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made;
who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost
of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man;
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried;
and the third day he rose again
according to the Scriptures,
and ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
and he shall come again, with glory,
to judge both the quick and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Life,
who proceedeth from the Father [and the Son];
who with the Father and the Son together
is worshipped and glorified;
who spake by the Prophets.
And I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church;
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
and I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. AMEN.


This wording has been used in Protestant churches since 1549, and as you can see, it does not include the anathema. It is this form of the creed that Protestants view as bringing them into communion with the early church. In fact, the average Protestant probably doesn't even realize that this creed is different from the original Nicene Creed. Their claim to accept the Nicene Creed must therefore be viewed as a claim to accept the doctrine of the Trinity which is stated in that creed rather than an acceptance of the anathema which most of them don't even know exists.

wsforten said...

You can find this information at:

http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/creeds/nicene.htm

Jonathan Rowe said...

Mr. Fortenberry,

The problem is with your "therefores."

I've look at your links and others around the Internet on the matter and the best I can find to explain all this is notion that the creeds are subject to different interpretations among the sects that use them.

Your understanding and interpretation of the language is utterly peculiar to you.

If you get enough folks to follow it, you can start your own sect.