Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Historic Christianity

I often use the phrase "historic Christianity" to denote longstanding traditional orthodox Christianity. Note this tradition goes back thousands of years; if something occurred in Christendom, for instance, 150 years ago, I consider it relatively “novel” looking back at the big historical picture. I also understand there is a long tradition in Christianity of heresy and dissent (prompting orthodox Christians to reply: “This isn’t ‘historic Christianity’"). And I have no personal problem with theologically liberal, unorthodox and heretical faiths (indeed were I to become a Christian it would probably be that kind; and then the orthodox could tell me, "no, you really aren't a Christian").

I especially try to remove 20-21 Century, and even late 18th Century cultural "prejudices" when examining "historic Christianity." Doing so permits me to conclude that much of what the American Founders claimed to do under the auspices of Christianity is either incompatible with such, or, at the very least had an alien origin. For instance, Locke's a-biblical, perhaps anti-biblical notion of the "state of nature" was preached from Christian pulpits during the Founding era to justify revolt. Similarly, today the Christian pulpit might lecture on the need for "self-esteem," which is either a) anti-biblical (I thought Christians were supposed to despise themselves as wretched sinners) or b) at the very least, not of "biblical" origin and thus, not part of "historic Christianity."


[American Creation Readers: I am going to direct you to the rest of the post at Positive Liberty; I'm doing so because I don't want to be a "space hog" and blogger doesn't allow for hiding portions of your big posts! But feel free to discuss the contents here.]


Phil Johnson said...

Personally, I've almost always wanted to call myself a Christian in what I believe is the truest sense.
But, I am rejected by Fundamentalists and Evangelicals as being misguided at best and as being in the service of the Devil by some of the less tolerant.
Your post is on to something important. Does anyone ever think it will come to a head within orthodox circles?

Brian Tubbs said...

Very interesting article, Jon. And I like your idea of putting part of it here and the rest of it at your other blog. Both blogs benefit.

Anonymous said...

My conclusion is Babka’s Christianity reminds me of Benjamin Rush’s: a mixture of orthodoxy and heterodoxy.

And this may be the real state of almost every Christian. Your project (which I enjoy by the way) requires a highly definitional approach to Christianity. But definitions, as they are, are something short of an understanding. And while I have the utmost respect for the significance of doctrine, it is not the real thing. The reality is that Christianity is relational (and therefore revelational); that we are to 'work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you...'.

Those who heard this asked, "Who then can be saved?"
Jesus replied, "What is impossible with men is possible with God." -Lk 18

Earnest Christians can sleep at because they understand that this relationship covers the shortcomings in their understanding of things like the Trinity, the nature of Jesus, etc.

I mention all this not to discuss 'who's in, who's out', but only to note what you already know - that you will never find a truly orthodox Christian anywhere, ever. (Except for this one guy...)

Tom Van Dyke said...

I've never known where this inquiry of yours is going, Jon. Religion-in-politics or theological investigation.

But what I see startling absent is that until Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the church door in 1517, what we in the west know as Christianity is what we now call Roman Catholicism.

That's over 1000 years of theological foundation unaccounted for. Further, Although Luther called for a return to the Bible, how Lutheranism [and Anglicanism] differ from Catholicism is at this point only penetrable by those who give a damn about the finer points of theology and dogma.

The fruit didn't fall very far from the tree.

If by "biblical" Christianity you mean what we call "fundamentalism," that's a movement that dates only to the early 1900s.

Jonathan Rowe said...


I don't know where my investigation is going either. I'm justing trying to shine a light and go where ever it takes me.

Though on your substantive point, I agree that the "Left-behind" rapture oriented fundamentalism is a production of the last 100 years. However, orthodox evangelical Protestants like John MacArthur would argue that they trace their heritage to Luther and Calvin.

And further they argue that the Church against which they rebelled in 1517 was NOT the Church that gave us the Nicene Creed. They would argue they are the true heirs to the Church that established the Nicene Creed.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, some argue that. But you'd have to examine the actual theology. Is Lutheranism closer to evangelicism or Catholicism? Is evangelicism just another flower that will join the vase at some point?

"I am far more tolerant of other kinds of Christians than I once was. My contact with Catholic, Lutheran and other leaders--people far removed from my own Southern Baptist tradition--has helped me, hopefully, to move in the right direction. I've found that my beliefs are essentially the same as those of orthodox Roman Catholics . . . We only differ on some matters of later church tradition."---Billy Graham, 1978

More here.

Can't keep a good Whore of Babylon down. ;-[D>

Jonathan Rowe said...

Two points:

1) I've come to greatly admire Billy Graham's moderating his theological creed as he's aged. Though, some of the hard core types (again MacArthur comes to mind) have practically rebuked Graham for it; he calls them (Graham and the Catholic Church) moderated Universalists.

2) I've noticed that Roman Catholic apologists usually do the best job arguing against evangelicals in these debates (as opposed to the Mormons, JWs et al.). I've listened to a number of these debates with folks like Walter Martin (who argued for fundamentalism) and Martin usually gets the better of the "cults" as he terms them (though I can't tell whether that's because of the way the show is edited). And that's probably because Martin has the weight of historic Christianity from which to draw, whereas the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. are more novel and haven't had the time to develop the longstanding tradition of apologetics.

Yet when Martin et al. get to Roman Catholicism, it's like they pick a fight with their big brother.

Finally I'll listen to these debates because "supposedly" my soul is on the line. So if there is a "truth" I'll listen with an open mind for it. Yet, when I hear them (and I think I'm a fairly smart fellow capable of following a good argument) I see no way to tell who is right who is wrong. As noted the evangelicals, as I see it, tend to do better than the more modern religions of recent invention. But as the newer folks note historic Christianity could be wrong.

I take the debate between Roman Catholic v. the Protestant Sola Scriptura types to be one big wash. And indeed genius thinkers have converted from Roman Catholicism to evangelicalism and vice versa.

If one had the "Truth" in a 2+2=4 sense, that wouldn't happen; who is going to believe in 2+2=5? And if I can't so easily find that truth? Then how could it possibly be fair to punish me at all, indeed eternally punish me, for not coming to the right answer?

The only side that has the satisfying answer (and it's satisfyingly unfair) is the old fashion mean spirited Calvinist who says if you don't figure the truth out before you die, you just aren't of God's Elect so to Hell with you. What about all of those Muslims and Hindus that die with the religion they were born in (as most folks do)? Well God just chose to place His non-elect disproportionately in those lands, so to Hell with them., etc. etc.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Listen to this debate for an example of two sides teaching incompatible claims of truth in a debate that ends in a wash. At heart there are certain unproven and unprovable premises that are at issue. But when it comes to differences over biblical text (one side knows the Bible better than the other) but still both sides offer reasonable interpretations. Likewise on the Trinity, from what I've studied theological unitarianism (what you'll hear in this debate) has as much biblical support as trinitarianism does. Yet, to hear these folks tell it, our souls depend on getting the answer right, when there is no objective way to tell who has the truth in a 2+2=4 sense. If you choose to believe at all, you have to pick a side, have faith in it and pretend [or perhaps really believe] that your truth is the objectively provable one in a 2+2=4 sense.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Why are you concerned with things you don't believe anyway, Jon? As for the Trinity, our parish priest told us [privately, of course] that he struggles with the whole concept. Ho-hum.

There are two approaches to inquiry, I reckon, to look for truth or look for error. I dunno if you've decided yet.

Me, I favor the first approach because the discovery of error is inevitable anyway, human beings being full of it.

As it's exponentially more common, to seek out error can take up all of one's time, like looking for dust instead of diamonds. Well, you'll never come up empty, which satisfies many people.

But as you know, playing "Law & Order" is the limit of our discourse in this day and age. Find the other fellow's error and you win. Hollow victory, though.

If you're concerned about going to hell, well, I find less scriptural backing for hell than the Trinity. And you always have the Catholics and Apokatastasis, where God has mercy on us all.

"Catholicism" and "apologetics" go hand in glove, eh? They have an apology for everything. Mebbe not a bad way to go.

But the leap into faith, from Kierkegaard to the more-Lutheran-than-Luther Karl Barth has its appeal, too, that reason and material experience isn't going to address [let alone answer] your deepest questions, so let 'er rip.

But I do not think that even one who has made a leap into faith can ever tell you honestly that he never has doubts and questions after the leap. Jesus on the cross asks why His Father has [seemingly] abandoned him, no?

You've no doubt heard of Mother Teresa's crisis of faith in the second half of her life. Not just a crisis, a blackness.

Still, she kept on keepin' on. Faith is like that, not quite the magic [?!] wand they crack it up to be, one that sucks out your brains and your humanity and leaves you an insipidly happy self-sacrificing Stepford Person.

That would be way too easy. There's ample objectively provably provable proof that the Big Homie in the Sky---if there is one---don't play that.

bpabbott said...

Tom: "There are two approaches to inquiry, I reckon, to look for truth or look for error. I dunno if you've decided yet."

It was clear to me that Jon is looking (proportionately) at the "error" .. in this instance (not in general).

To claim to know the unknowable is an error.

If your reasoned mind leads you to a conclusion (regarding matters of faith), it is erroneous to presume the same holds for another who has different cognitive ability and has witness different things.

The short of it is that "truths" relying on faith are sacred to the individual alone (imo).

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, I'd hoped that was a tasty epigram, Ben, one that justifies at least a little chewing on.

I see and hear error all the time. Just not enough hours in the day, or in the rest of my life.

Next time you see me asserting a theological truth, I hope it'll be the first time, and I do trust you'll let me hear about it. Think of me as the fellow you see outside the church, holding the door open for people. Do I ever walk through it myself?

Better you not even take notice. Makes not a damned bit of difference, eh?