I long admired Peter Leithart – in my pre-Orthodox days, I fancied that the PCA of which he’s part would have been my preferred denomination – but more recently have watched him say some pretty silly things.
This time, though, I think he’s got it right or so close I can’t tell the difference in the available time:
A generation ago, R.P.C. Hanson argued that Arians were theologians of the cross. At the heart of their faith was the proclamation of the crucified God. Redemption, they insisted, required a more-than-human death, but since the high God can’t come into contact with death, that thorn-crowned sufferer on the cross must be a lesser someone. He cannot be merely human—a human death cannot redeem; but he also cannot be God either—God can’t suffer like that. He’s got to be something in between.
Hanson thought that Arians understood the “scandal of the cross” better than the orthodox, but where’s the scandal in God sending a flunky to bear the sins of humanity? That’s safely Hellenic, and the only scandal is that God would rely on someone else to do the dirty work. To say, as the orthodox did, that the Son of God suffered in the flesh is to present a genuine scandal undreamt of in philosophy. It is to say that God does his own dirty work, confronting death in person so as to swallow it up in life.
(The Adventure of Orthodoxy, in First Things. No, not the real Orthodoxy) This is but one section of his defense of “patristic Trinitarian theology” against the charge that it “obscured the gospel by relying on the premises and categories of Greek thought.” Leithart again:
The big story of early Trinitarian theology was not an “acute” or even a “mild” case of Hellenization, but rather what Jenson calls the “evangelization of metaphysics.” As the Church carried out her mission, the gospel invariably confronted Mediterranean theology, which usually went by the name of “philosophy.” At some points, the Fathers found they could agree with that pre-existing theology, but at many points, Christian theologians could remain faithful to the gospel only by revising much of what they thought they knew. Chesterton could have told us: Orthodoxy is precisely the audacity to abandon safe havens to follow one who suffered outside the gate.
More on Fecundophobia:
Having so many children violates the unwritten code of one’s tribe, and could produce guilt feelings. If the Smiths have so many children, and they are like us in almost every respect, then their countercultural (for white professional class people) decision casts our decision not to have that many children in a certain light. For example, Mrs. Smith is a stay-at-home mom, because you’d have to be to raise that many kids. That the Smiths made this choice shows that this choice is possible within our tribe — and that can be a profoundly unsettling thing for people who are committed to a double-income, materially prosperous way of life. So people who are tempted to have more than two or three children must be subject to stigma to banish the thought of defying the social norm that undergirds the lifestyle most white professionals wish to live.
Mrs. Tipsy and I have one child (my friends know the full story). So I have no personal horse in the “fecundophobia” race.
But I think this fear and loathing of countercultural decisions runs
deeper to other places as well. Taking the time to cook healthy food; buying a CSA membership; fasting for religious reasons; home schooling; staying home Saturday night to examine your conscience before communion on Sunday morning; all of these can, to a lesser degree than conspicuous reproduction, threaten the prevailing value systems and provoke veiled or unveiled hostility.
Maybe the most truly transgressive countercultural decision today is to be unmarried and live chastely (marital chastity is less visible). Showing that chastity is possible is profoundly unsettling to the zeitgeist.
And the zeitgeist is just about everywhere, as I heard, for instance, a older Roman Catholic woman suggest that the virginity of an attractive 30-something mutual acquaintance was “weird.” Is it any wonder that a right to “sexual fulfillment” is assumed regardless of marital status or sexual orientation?
He knew that sola scriptura was untenable, so he couldn’t be a Protestant.
(A Calvinist Anglican Converts To Orthodoxy) On my Calvinist-to-Orthodox road, too, this was the first major landmark.
For me, the proof was in the spawning of schisms and denomination-upon-denomination. I knew too many conscientious people in contrary protestant traditions to think that disagreements were the result of someone’s bad faith, yet perspicacious scriptures should never produce such a state of affairs. “That they all may be one” and “isn’t it wonderful that there’s a church for everyone’s tastes” are irreconcilable.
Deacon Joseph Gleason came at it a bit differently, it appears.
Right about this same time, I had been studying the canon of scripture, and even as an Anglican, I started becoming very suspicious about the 66-book canon, because I’d done enough historical studies and textual studies to be very tempted to believe that the Book of Wisdom was inspired scripture, and that the book of Tobit was inspired scripture, and these other books that you find in the Catholic and the Orthodox Bibles.
And so one of the popular arguments against sola scriptura is,
“Okay, well, the doctrine of the canon of scripture: where is that in the Bible? Where does the Bible say there are 66 books in the Bible? Where do the scriptures tell you that the book of Baruch is not inspired, but that the book of Esther is inspired?“
You know, there are nine books in the Old Testament—at least nine books, and maybe more—that are never quoted anywhere in the New Testament. And a lot of those are—actually, those nine, if I remember right, those are all in the Protestant Bible, so if you add the deuterocanon, that would be you know, fifteen or twenty—but just in the Protestant Bible, you have like Obadiah, you have the Song of Solomon, you have Ecclesiastes, you have multiple Old Testament books that are never once quoted in the New Testament, so you can’t even use that as your guide.
And then of course the New Testament itself: there’s nowhere in the Bible that tells us that 2nd Peter is or is not scripture, or that Revelation is or is not scripture. So, I think one of the big ones for me is that I finally realized that even Protestants do not believe in sola scriptura. Now, they say they do, and yet when you ask them,
“Okay, how do you know for sure that these are the 66 books in scripture, how do you know for sure what is scripture and what is not?”,
they never can give you a proof from scripture. They always have to fall back onto their Protestant tradition. And so at the end of the day, I realized I was not pitting tradition against scripture; I was pitting Protestant tradition against a much more ancient, Orthodox tradition. And once I realized it in those terms, you know, it made it easy to know which side to choose.
His story also is interesting for the criteria by which he picked Orthodoxy rather than Roman Catholcism, though he, like I, came to believe that those were the two plausible choices.
Robin Phillips at the Colson Center website has thus far completed 6 installments in his exploration of Gnosticism and Evangelicalism. The connection is easy to overlook, and easy likewise to deny when it’s pointed out, because Evangelical Gnosticism is a mutation of the gnosticism of the early Christian era.
Phillips most striking example of gnosticism’s pervasiveness thus far, for my money, is this:
In 2008 when N.T. Wright published another book, “Surprised by Hope,” setting forth the historic Christian hope of physical resurrection and popularizing some of the ideas he had covered in “The Resurrection of the Son of God,” ABC News ran a curious report on it. They referred to Wright’s idea that “God will literally remake our physical bodies” as “a radical departure from traditional belief.” Think about how extraordinary this statement is. Though the Apostles’ Creed professes belief in “the resurrection of the body”, and though the Nicene Creed contains the statement, “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”, this doctrine is now assumed to be not just a departure from traditional Christian belief, but a radical departure from it.
(Raised a Spiritual Body: Gnosticism & Evangelicalism 3)
ABC news demonstrates the cultural dominance of creedless and theologically sloppy Evangelicalism, and the extent to which that putatively “traditional” Evangelical Christianity has become gnostic. It’s appalling, but it’s been a long time coming:
‘What is Death?’ from McGuffey’s “New Fourth Eclectic Reader” of 1868[:]
“How beautiful will brother be
When God shall give him wings,
Above this dying world to flee,
And live with heavenly things!
The idea here — and which can also be found in countless 19th century hymns — is that the goal of salvation is to flee from this world, and those things associated with it (including, of course, materiality).
For example, in his 1974 publication, “Where on Earth is Heaven?,” Arthur Travis stated, “The fact is, we shall not live in physical bodies after death. …we shall not need or desire the things associated with our present physical bodies, simply because we shall not possess physical bodies in heaven.” Travis was followed by Leon Morris who wrote in his commentary on Revelation, “…we must not understand that the heavenly city will be as material as present earthly cities.”
Radio broadcaster Tony Alamo made this explicit in his article “The Art of Spiritual Communication,” when he wrote, “The way we communicate with the material world is with our bodies. The way we communicate with the spiritual world is with our spirit.”
I’m still puzzing over how a convicted sex offender (Alamo) and two no-names (Travis and Morris) have more street cred than N.T. Wright, but there must be a ton of like-minded pastors (or else Phillips unfortunately picked some of the less “credible” proponents). But the illiteracy of “born-againers” on this topic is clear. Phillips:
I used to teach history at a private Christian school. Like many schools in the classical education movement, we couldn’t afford our own building and had to rent from a church. One day as I was walking to my classroom, I stumbled over a piece of paper in the hallway. Stooping to pick it up, I saw that it was a hand-out from one of the church’s Sunday school classes, titled “Ten Great Doctrines of the Bible.”
I found myself intrigued. I knew that the church had Gnostic leanings, so I was curious to see how they would handle the doctrine of bodily resurrection. However, as I scanned the TenGreat Doctrines of the Bible I soon discovered that the doctrine had not made it onto the list …
How sad, I thought, that the entire Christian hope had been collapsed into fire assurance. How strange that salvation was being reduced to escaping to heaven for eternity and that the teachers of this class had not found it necessary to even mention the hope of bodily resurrection
I began this series on Gnosticism and Evangelicalism by sharing a Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll which found that among those who consider themselves to be ‘born again’, only 59 percent answered yes to the question: “Do you believe that, after you die, your physical body will be resurrected someday?”
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)