New Year’s Day 2023

Happy New Year!

I rarely go back and read things I wrote earlier in the life of this blog, but I did so recently and was pleased with, for instance, 50th Anniversary. Indeed, I’m a bit ashamed at how much thought I put into that compared to my current tendency to curate other people’s memorable passages.

I suspect that I’ve resorted to curation because I long ago blogged my big ideas and I’m under no pressure (financial, for instance) to generated new content on some schedule or other.

I’m hoping to publish more of my own thoughts in 2023, but we’ll see how that goes.

Evangelicals and Evangelicalism

I have written many a critical word about Evangelicals and Evangelicalism. I’m going to step back from that a bit.

First, it’s exceedingly difficult to define who is an Evangelical or what is Evangelicalism. I’ve tended to go with the term when my sources used it. That’s a problem when some of the press may over-apply the term.

But there’s a bigger reason than that for backing off a bit: what I have been calling “Evangelical” or “Evangelicalism” is almost entirely non-denominational Protestantism. With a few possible exceptions, Evangelical denominations (there are a few), especially those denominations wherein local churches aren’t entirely at liberty to do their own thing (unlike the Souther Baptist Convention, where they are entirely free to go astray), tend not to be the perpetrators of the stuff I criticize.

These thoughts came to me as I thought about the Religion News Association’s #9-ranked religion story of 2022:

Non-denominational Christian churches soar in growth, according to the newly released 2020 U.S. Religion Census, a decennial survey conducted by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. There are now more non-denominational churches than any denominations’ churches but Southern Baptists, and their 21 million adherents outnumber every group but Catholics.

I also think it’s time for me to re-re-read Tom Howard’s Evangelical is Not Enough. It’s not that I’m tempted to return to Evangelicalism; it’s that I tend to forget what Evangelicalism at its best can be (Howard’s childhood Evangelical home was idyllic), and that in a non-trivial sense, believing Evangelicals (as opposed to Trumpists who use Evangelical as a political identity), however misguided I think them, are fellow-Christians.

How capacious is “Christian”?

I was preparing something for publication a few days ago on the boundaries of the term “Christian.” Part of the question in mind was “can a sect hold such a skewed idea of Christ that I need not credit their claims to be “Christian” because they follow the “Christ” of their skewed ideas?”

More specifically, “Do Mormons hold such a skewed idea of Christ that I need not credit their claims to be “Christian”?

Then I stumbled onto something I’d written on the topic earlier that was better than what I was in the process of writing. My bottom line: if a sect rejects the Christology of the first three or four ecumenical councils, I won’t acknowledge them as Christians. And the Mormons, for all their clean living, are dead wrong about Christ.

For those who think “Christian” is the equivalent of “nice guy,” this doubtless seems unkind, but we already have “nice guy” to describe nice guys, and “Christian” is not a synonym.

Caesaropapism

The Royal Court, grouped round the Imperial Chapel and, seized with theological fervour, sought to ensure the triumph of a novel teaching concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit. Pressure from the Frankish empire caused this strange teaching to triumph in the West. After resisting for a while, the Popes were in the end obliged to alter the traditional, sacred text of the Creed. From then on, schism from the Eastern Patriarchates became inevitable. (Byzantium, on the other hand, never experienced such an extreme case of Caesaropapism.)

Vladimir Lossky, Seven Days on the Roads of France: June 1940

The “novel teaching concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit” was the filioque, the unilateral corruption of the Nicene Creed’s declaration that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father” by changing it to “proceeds from the Father and the Son.”

Human reasoning

Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos also noted the difference in process and perspective between Latin scholasticism and the patristic approach. He concluded that the emphasis on human reasoning led to the collapse of Western Christian theology.

Dr. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind

The more I understand the real-world limits of human reasoning, the truer this seems.

The Fall

There is a common mistaken notion about the fall (the sin of Adam and Eve). That mistake is to think that the fall somehow changed all of creation and human beings from a state of original innocence into an altered state of evil and corruption. This is not the teaching of the Scriptures or of the Tradition.

Occasionally you hear the term “fallen nature” which is another inaccurate term. “Nature,” in theological terms, is synonymous with “essence,” or “ousia.” It is the very “thing” that something is. What is understood, theologically, is that the fall has brought death into the world. What is different about human beings is not our nature, but our inability to actually fulfill our nature.The bondage that comes into our lives through death is what we term “sin.” But this is not our “nature” causing the problem.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Essential Goodness of All Things


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

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