Church History research paper from Spring 2014
Book review on The Passion of the Lord: African American Reflections which was possible the book I enjoyed the most from my preaching class last summer.
Atonement theories can be funny things. While they are not entirely self-referential, how people understand the nature and mechanics of atonement theories can often explain much about them. This is true not only for individuals, but for entire people groups. There are a number of factors that can contribute to how one formulates an atonement theory, and they are not all based on Scripture or theological presuppositions. While it would be easy to think that atonement theories are solely derived from how one reads (or in some case possibly misreads) Scripture, the reality of how doctrines and theological constructions are birthed could not be further from that.
Though there are a number of factors that contribute to how one “does theology” (and it would be improper to call one or the other the “primary” one), one thing that plays a major role in theological constructions of the atonement is how members of a community relate to power structures. Those in positions of power can (and many times will) understand how humanity is made right with God in a different manner than those who, for instance, are not in power or are being oppressed by those who are in power.
Here you’ll find the link to my Advanced Systematic Theology II paper from last Spring.
Preface: this post is not an attack or meant to be an attack or any antagonism whatsoever against those of you who have joined or are in the process of joining the Eastern Orthodox Church in one of its many manifestations. This is merely an observation. If you have found your home in the Eastern Orthodox Church, I couldn’t be happier for you and don’t want you anywhere else but there. I’m not trying to get anyone to leave the Eastern Orthodox Church or to think ill of it or those who are members of it.
So I’ve noticed kind of a trend. Whenever there is an individual who is contemplating, or is in the process, or has already joined the Eastern Orthodox Church, and they are Protestant (formerly or currently), there are usually some very similar reasons for wanting to join the Eastern Orthodox Church. For the most part, there is an affection towards the Early Church; the desire is to have and practice Christianity as close to that practiced by the earliest Christians. There is nothing wrong with this, and I totally understand it. There isn’t much in modern Christianity that really closely resembles Christianity as was known earlier and history. What’s interesting to me though, is that those having these feelings and urges to be like the earliest Church are Protestants.
A brief history lesson: one of the driving factors of the Protestant Reformation, both liturgically and theologically, was a desire to go back to the ways that Christians had done things before. For the sake of brevity will call this desire primitivism. Essentially a lot of the Protestant reformers believed that the Roman Catholic Church had made additions to Christianity, theologically and liturgically, and wanted to strip away those additions and get back to the beginnings of Christianity. Did the Protestant reformers do a very great job of returning back to a more “original” form of Christianity? I wouldn’t say so. Were they correct in suggesting that the Roman Catholic Church had made significant additions to Christian theology and practice? Once again, I don’t think so. Keep in mind here that you don’t have to necessarily agree with me on my conclusions, we’re all historians here, but you have to agree that the driving force behind a significant portion of the Protestant Reformation was this desire which we can refer to as primitivism.
Now, this desire for primitivism doesn’t ever really go away in Protestantism. You have much later Protestant groups that pop up that are still trying to “do things like the early church” (some non-denom “bible churches,” some Baptists, and some Church of Christ folks come to mind).
Now, history has shown that the Reformers (as well as modern Protestants who share their inclinations) weren’t great at their history and that the thing they were rejecting (Catholicism and Orthodoxy by association) was actually closer to the “older Christianity” than what they ended up with. But the Christian primitivist inclination doesn’t go away, and I would contest is the is a core presupposition (though probably subconsciously) for a lot of Protestants.
Enter the internet age where the history of the Church is readily available 24/7, literally at our fingertips. We have access to historical realities and facts that our Protestant forebears couldn’t dream of. So if you take the Protestant inclination towards a kind of Christian Primitivism, add in a better understanding of Church history and early Church source material, and also add the latent anti-Catholicism in a lot of Protestantism (thus removing it as an option), and you find a logical end to the Protestant experiment as it has been conceived of thus far: conversion to Eastern orthodoxy.
Now, I’m not saying that this thought process is representative of all Protestants. You actually don’t see this kind of thing happening to those who find themselves within more high-church or mainline Protestant circles. Those who do usually follow this line of thought, more often than not come out of more low-church Protestant backgrounds, and upon rejecting the story of Christianity as it has been given to them (usually because of a correctly perceived mis-teaching of Church history), find solace in the arms of the “true” older Christianity, which just so happens to be Eastern Orthodoxy.
Now to restate, I have no problem with people taking this path, I’m just trying to analyze it from the perspective of competing sociological realities. What is interesting to me though is how, when you begin to examine the factors involved, the popularity of shifting from Protestantism to Orthodoxy makes a lot of sense. It is, in some ways, the most Protestant thing one can do. Therein lies my issue more than anything else.
An attentive and close reading of Scripture and Church history (an attempted, though not necessarily successful, enterprise of the Protestant Reformers) can indeed lead one to the Eastern Church. There is no denying this. But where is the line between “studying and being captivated by the beauty and truth of the Orthodox Church” and “following very Protestant presuppositions (even subconsciously) one after the other until arriving at Orthodoxy, all for Protestant reasons”?
I’m not being critical of those who have made their way out of Protestantism; I myself am on that journey. But I know that for myself, I don’t want to cease being Protestant, leaving Protestantism, because of Protestant reasons.
That’s my take. As usual, comments, concerns, criticism, and alternative points of view are welcome. I don’t take much on Tumblr personally, but please, if you feel the need to respond/reblog (and feel free to do so!), be kind to one another.
On this week’s episode of “Richard Dawkins is a Total Piece of Shit” New Atheism’s Pat Robertson suggests that mothers pregnant with children with Down Syndrome should abort.
What’s shocking to me about this whole thing (which is still ongoing on his Twitter account) is not his suggestion for a mother to abort a fetus, I expected that from him. I’m shocked by the logical conclusion of his line of thought, which is that society should take measures to decrease the population of individuals with Down Syndrome.
His language caught me off guard also. He uses the word “immoral” to describe willingly bringing a child with Down Syndrome into the world. How does he rationalize a statement like that?
One of the major Christian interpretive issues when reading the Jewish Law is equating “unclean” with “sinful”. While there are some places where these two overlap, they are not synonymous.
This is extremely important and is something a…
Last semester my Women in the Old Testament class had a wonderful conversation on the issue of menstruation and childbirth as they relate to ritual uncleanliness.
There’s a pretty solidly affirmed concept found in the rabbinic literature about Torah scrolls defiling the hands of those who touch them. The idea is that some things are intrinsically holy and can “defile” things in a holy way. There were certain things that had to be done both before and after touching a Torah scroll to allow one to enter back into the regular assembly.
Feminist OT scholars have wondered if the same concept can be applied to women who are menstruating or involved with childbirth. We know from Leviticus that blood is considered holy and is connected to life, thus belonging to YHWH and YHWH alone. Perhaps these women were considered “unclean” in a holy manner. Blood and childbirth were (and still are if you ask me) mystical things. The blood “defiled” things because of how it was tied to life and therefore to YHWH.
Just a thought to contribute to the discourse.
Below you’ll find this past Sunday’s sermon! For mobile users, I apologize for the length.
So, below the “read more” you’ll find this morning’s sermon. If you missed the last one I posted you can find it here. You can also, if you are so inclined, follow the tag “#scott preaches.” I’m going to have more preaching opportunities so I’ve decided to share some of my manuscripts with you, my readers.
Stanley Hauerwas, Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), 15.
It’s worth noting that Hauerwas is not saying that the average person is intellectually incapable, i.e. not educated enough, to read the Bible on their own. The issue is not that people are not schooled in the most recent form of higher criticism or hermeneutics. Instead, the issue lies in how people are formed within a community.
Hauerwas posits, and I find myself agreeing with him, that people in America come to the Scriptures presupposing democratic and American values. Before people can be expected to read and encounter the Bible as Christians, they have to be taught how. American presuppositions must somehow be un-taught.