I’ve been thinking about the claim that X “is at the very heart of the Gospel.”
Every orthodox Christian acknowledges the centrality of some things:
Historically, the measure of “orthodox” Christianity has been conciliar; that is, orthodoxy was rooted in, and measured by, the ecumenical councils and creeds of the church (Nicea, Chalcedon) which were understood to have distilled the grammar of “right belief” (ortho, doxa) in the Scriptures.[This misses the mark of the Councils] As such, orthodoxy centers around the nature of God (Triune), the Incarnation, the means of our salvation, the church, and the life to come. Themarkers of orthodoxy [that’s probably fair] are tied to [what the heck does that mean?]the affirmations of, say, the Nicene Creed: the creatorhood of God; the divine/human nature of the Incarnate Son; the virgin birth; the historicity of Jesus’ life and death; the affirmation of his bodily resurrection and ascension; the hope of the second coming; the triune affirmation of Father, Son, and Spirit; the affirmation of “one holy catholic and apostolic church”; one baptism; and the hope of our own bodily resurrection.
(James K.A. Smith) My side often adds, rhetorically, broadly Christian sexual standards: no fornication; no adultery; no homosexual sodomy; marriage requires one man and one woman; probably a few more. In James K.A. Smith‘s caricature, some even reduce orthodoxy to matters sexual.
This morning I saw someone toward whom I’m sympathetic claim that “care for the poor, the orphans and widows” is at the very heart of the Gospel. And we’re forever admonished that anodyne niceness, like “the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man” (I know that dates me) is the core Christian message.
Maybe all that, and more, truly is at the heart of the Gospel, but I’m concerned that the very heartiest heart of the Gospel can be obscured if “at the heart of the Gospel” becomes the emotive trope for “so important that all Christians really should believe and practice it.”
This concern is closely related to the suspiciously-timed debate over whether Christian orthodoxy, properly speaking, includes or merely entails a sexual ethic, in which debate Christian institutions are highly motivated to relativize anything offensive to the sexual revolution — most particularly in anything opposed to homosexual sodomy or same-sex marriage — in other words, to conclude that such things are decidedly not at the heart of the Gospel.
There’s a tendency, at least among Protestants (or so it seems to me; am I mistaken?) toward binary thinking: if something’s not at the heart of the Gospel, then it’s adiaphora.
I demur. Between those extremes is the Vincentian Canon:
“Care must especially be had that that be held which was believed everywhere [ubique], always [semper], and by all [ab omnibus].” By this triple norm of diffusion, endurance, and universality, a Christian can distinguish religious truth from error.
Under that Canon, both sexual standards and concern for the poor are indispensable parts of vital Christianity, not adiaphora. And nobody is at liberty to jettison them and still expect respect as “orthodox.” (Sinning against them is a separate matter.)
I don’t know if Protestants tend to neglect the Vincentian Canon because it reads like an indictment of American Protestantism. I guarantee that there’s much in the ubique, semper et ab omnibus that was all-too-quickly jettisoned after one Martin Luther opened Pandora’s Box.
Americans have imbibed the idea that Christianity began about 500 years ago, at the time of the Reformation. But that view overlooks three-fourths of the history of the church,” the bearded 39-year-old says, and laughs. “Orthodoxy is a well-worn spiritual path more than an institution, and we know it has been producing saints for 2,000 years.
(Fr. Gregory Gilbert, quoted in the Baltimore Sun)
I’d agree with this, but would add that many Americans know nothing substantial about pre-American Christianity — not even the gap from the Reformation to the First and Second Great Awakenings — let alone pre-Reformation Christianity or, God forbid, pre-Great Schism Christianity.
Alan Jacobs has some irenic words about how we debate, whatever else we may hold dear. Trigger warning: he quotes from I Corinthians 13.
And in his customarily tight writing, he packs a whole lot in a small space about how we’ve moved from a “Civil Rights struggle in the Deep South [that] was largely an intra-Christian dispute,” and even to the supposed triumph of “Christianists” by 2011, to a bloody and ominous clash in Charlottesville between anti-Christians:
As many conservative Christians on social media can attest, the alt-right seems to have a particular disdain for gospel-centered Christianity. (For examples see here, here, here, and here.) Some on the alt-right (such as Vox Day) claim that Christianity is a “foundational pillar” of the movement. But what they mean by Christianity is often a heretical form (Day rejects the Trinity) a racialized version of the faith (e.g., the Kinist movement), or “religion as culture” (Spencer says he is both an atheist and a “culture Christian.”). The true religion of the alt-right is white identitarianism, which is why the SBC accurately considers it an “anti-gospel” movement.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the political spectrum, it’s pretty clear — see for instance this excellent report by Emma Green — the the Black Lives Matter movement is also largely post-Christian, with little interest in and occasional hostility to the African-American church, which BLM activists often see as weak and ineffective — or simply irrelevant.
Ross Douthat once said to people on the left that if they hated the Religious Right, they should just wait to see the Post-Religious Right. We all saw it in Charlottesville yesterday. When political movements paid even lip service to the Christian Gospel, they had something to remind them of commandments to forgive, to make peace, to love. There were stable moral standards to appeal to, even if activists often squirmed desperately to evade their force. I am far more worried about neo-Nazis than BLM — as you should be too — but when people confront one another, or confront us, who don’t know those commandments, or have contempt for them, the prospects for the healing of this nation don’t look very good. I don’t know what language to use to persuade a white nationalist that those people over there are their neighbors, not vermin to be crushed with an automobile.
The answer to black, LGBT and other identity politics is not to set up countervailing identities with associated countervailing politics:
- “From one human being he created all races of people and made them live throughout the whole earth.” –Acts 17:26
- “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” – 1 John 4:20
- “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” –1 John 3:15
(H/T Denny Burk)
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There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)