Monday, December 20, 2004

The "Gnostic" Vs. the Sophist: Part 3

We've completed half of our response to TGE's blog. Today we continue with part 3:

This is, basically, what happens when a Christian community holds to an anti-Christian concept of "tolerance." It is what happens when perfectionistic Christians so long ignore the world outside of their own narrow "spiritual" concerns that when they come back to it and begin to engage it, the quality of their engagements impresses everyone but themselves with how they have reversed the old saying by becoming "of the world but not in it". Hence the common complaint of those who seriously study the history of "Evangelicalism" that it is always enthusiastically embracing ten year old fads, but thinking while it does so that it is "cutting edge".
Again, what in the world has any of this got to do with the NTRMin forum? Who is embracing ten-year old fads?

It's very difficult to talk to these die hards, because they restrict "reason" to something that operates only inside their heads and rarely, if ever, bother to look up from their "theology" to see what's going on in the rest of the cultural endeavor. Sometimes, in fact, you feel like the only thing left for you to do (because they won't answer arguments like "Secularism, Sacralism, and the Christian Antithesis") is to satire their silly, hermeneutically self-referential concept of "The Self Evident Truth Study Bible" and their absolutely unbalanced obsession with "propositional truth".
In reality, I invited TGE to the forum so that he could clarify his views. He was extended both courtesy and respect, as well as the opportunity to explain his views in a public setting—that is, until he completely broke down, crashed and burned over his repeated inability to explain the glaring inconsistencies in his own view. Here is the opening of that dialogue: LINK1. Here is how it progressed: LINK2. And here is how it ended: LINK3. In a nutshell, TGE crumbled. No one left his points unanswered as he always claims. We answered them fully, and he was unable to produce a cogent response. Instead, he began to issue his strange litany of ad hominems all in the name of “rhetoric.”

Now don't get me wrong: I'm not complaining about not being able to post on an utterly culturally-irrelevant "Evangelical" message board, which in just a few short years will, like most "Evangelical" anti-cultural products, go the way of the dinosaur and the dodo.
Actually, he did complain about it, and rather loudly. And I care little about whether the NTRMin forum is "culturally irrelevant"--it probably is; but then again, the gospel has always been "culturally irrelevant" too, so we're in good company. What I never want to be is biblically irrelevant--I don't think there's any question that this is what TGE's blogsite is.

Essentially what I'm doing here is using a concrete example of what Andrew Sandlin writes generically about in his "A Note On Friendship and Truth." Because I used to be closely involved with a ministry that, as the days pass, seems to me to be getting more and more outlandishly radical in its isolationism and perfectionism, I think it's a good way to see the profound cultural ugliness that gets incarnated by an essentially "gnostic" approach to Christianity.
In reality, in the many years we've been in operation, we've never changed our direction. You'll recall in part 1 of this series that it is TGE who admits he changed his direction after he tired of pretending he was one of us (Link4). Aside from that, one wishes that if TGE is going to persist in the use of words like “gnostic” he might first make an effort to understand that system so that he doesn’t misapply its tenets to groups who have absolutely no connection to it.

The quickest way to ruin your sanctification for the week--and aid in significantly setting back Christian cultural advance--is to spend some time reading the shrill, impersonal, love-less diatribes about "Truth" that frequently fill this "more pure than thou" enclave of Ultra-Reformed "Gospellers".
Actually, having visited TGE's blog and the Reformed Catholicism blog frequently, I can think of at least one activity that produces this effect even more.

"Pygmy interpretation of truth" is an apt metaphor, indeed, as is the allusion to the Ring of Power that nearly destroyed Middle Earth. Quote Calvin differently than the Ultra-Presbyterian faction there, and you must be trying to cram Calvin into a "New Counter-Reformationist" mold and compromise with "Romanists" (for you see, there is not a whole lot to the Reformed religion but militant, immensely prejudiced anti-Romanism).
Conversely—and more to the point—quote Scripture (in context, no less) to support your point and you are treated to a barrage of TGE's “NO ONE IS ABLE TO ENGAGE IN PURE EXEGESIS BECAUSE YOU’RE ALL JUST A BUNCH OF SLAVES TO YOUR RADICAL, SECTARIAN ENLIGHTENMENT FOREFATHERS” statements.

But another oddity, aside from the willingness of the "Evangelical" leadership to peremptorily use force to squelch dissent while complaining about force applied by others to themselves, is the fact that, like the Modernity-driven concept of "tolerance" that structures the basic social structure of "Evangelicalism", much is heard about others "hating" them, and very little about the bitter vitriol they regularly spew at others in the name of "the Truth". The "hate" card, like its cousins the "race" and "gender" cards, is a distinctive feature of Modernity's shallow culture, and so it is most instructive to find it buried right at the heart of an "Evangelical" ministry, and so easily played by "Reformed" men who themselves appear quite frequently to be simply eaten up with real hatred for all that is different from their narrow concept of "the Gospel".
Hmmm . . . All this from the man who authored this entry. Yes, I know. He claims to have clarified this point in a latter entry. The problem is, his unbridled rhetoric and consistent disparagement against anyone who happens to be “babtist”—both before and after this entry—speaks much louder than his words of “clarification.”

The absurdities pile on top of each other, but are best illustrated by this contrast: It is unacceptable "rhetoric" to challenge the purveyor of "Real Clear Theology" to demonstrate that he's not an Enlightenment ideologue quoting Scripture as if it was a test subject lying splayed open on a laboratory table yielding up Objective Scientific Axioms,
Actually, that’s not exactly what happens. I have an operating table in my lab, and all I do is place an English version of the Bible on top of a Greek text, turn to the appropriate page, and begin poking my scalpel into the pages at strategic points. After three or four well-placed plunges, the Holy Spirit releases objective truth through the slits, and a dense fog materializes and solidifies into theological propositions. I then gently carve the remaining “material” away from the propositions (can’t stand that “yucky material”), place them on my HP Scanjet, convert the images into digital jpegs, and upload them to my blog.

The real problem is, TGE seems to want me to prove that I’m not "an Enlightenment ideologue quoting Scripture," when he has yet to prove I am. As I’ve noted elsewhere, just because TGE thinks that reading 1100 pages of materials related to 20th-century culture and 13th-century church history suddenly makes him an expert in the way someone else’s mind works does not make it so. It’s comical even to imagine that someone would actually have the audacity to suggest such a thing. I keep picturing in my mind some geeky, unsocialized and isolated undergrad student who has no wife and no kids, but who after reading a handful of books on the family suddenly proclaims to his married friends (who do have kids), “You’re all wrong! And you’ve been so conditioned by your RADICAL JUNGIAN SUBCULTURE that you can’t see past it! It’s true I have no wife, no kids, and absolutely no experience in this—But I HAVE READ 1100 PAGES of texts related to this topic, so I can now assert with confidence that if I haven’t personally experienced marriage myself, THEN IT’S NOT POSSIBLE THAT ANYONE HAS!!! The idea of marriage and kids is JUST A FARCE created by RADICAL, SECTARIAN ANTINOMIAN GNOSTICS."

TGE does something very similar with exegesis. He can’t do it—that much is obvious by his constant avoidance of Scripture. And that is no small matter to TGE who prides himself on being the bright bulb in the lamp. To admit he can’t do it would be devastating. And so frustrating is that to him that he’s now decided that the whole thing must be a farce. No one can do exegesis, and anyone who claims he can is simply a post-enlightenment fool, blinded as he is by his own cultural presuppositions. After all, TGE can’t do it, therefore it can’t be done.

Perhaps someday, after TGE has had time to mature, he will begin to see that not all of us share his limitations. If he is unable to do exegesis in a competent way, then he should frankly admit his own weakness, steer clear of that discipline (it’s clearly not his forte), and leave it to those of us who are at home with it. That would be the reasonable thing to do. Sadly, TGE is not known for his ability to be reasonable. Instead, he condemns the entire discipline of exegesis as some quasi-scholarly field of study, and insists that no one is able to do it (after all, he can’t do it; so how could anyone else realistically claim competence in that area?).
But it is perfectly acceptable for him to opine that I belong to "a Christian cult" merely because I challenge "well established Evangelical beliefs"--as if the sum total of "Christianity" was just self-evidently confined to the "Evangelical" worldview, truncated beyond belief and completely unable to handle any kind of serious-minded criticism without simply breaking down into tears at the "hate" coming its way.
I don’t label TGE’s movement a “cult” on that basis. Here is the definition of a cult that I’m working with: “A religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.” Whether TGE happens to like it or not, that definition aptly fits the handful of people who subscribe to his beliefs. And of course I believe that the sum of Christianity is confined to Evangelicalism. Why wouldn’t I believe that? If you are not an Evangelical, you are outside the faith. I do not believe Roman Catholicism is within the pale biblical orthodoxy; just as I do not believe Eastern Orthodoxy is within the pale of biblical orthodoxy; just as I do not believe Mormonism is within the pale of biblical orthodoxy. They are, all of them, false religious systems by virtue of the false gospels they hold; and consequently, they are not Christian churches. I make no bones about that. And just because TGE wants to include some of them—contradicting all scriptural teaching on it—and wants to make an emotional appeal about “hate” (who’s playing that card now?), that does not make my points on this less valid.
No argument about the pathetic culture of "Evangelicalism" ever gets answered because all the Evangelicals can see is how radically offended they were that you even dared to contradict what is so "obvious" to them.
You’ll get no argument from me about the pathetic culture of Evangelicalism. I will be the first to decry the lack of discernment and the pattern of following worldly philosophies to do ministry and worldly practices in the church. I think most of the stuff that comes out of Evangelicalism these days is pathetic. But that’s a different subject entirely.

Yet when I wrote a heartfelt post describing how, in fact, I do not "hate" Evangelicals as people , I got no response at all from those most responsible for playing the "hate" card in the first place.

I addressed this above. One short blog entry does not overturn the plethora of blog entries contradicting the sentiment that came before and has come after that post. Further, my time is extremely limited, and I have to pick my writing projects carefully. I do not respond to every post on the Internet that happens to mention my name or allude to something I've said.

Months have gone by since that post, and I have for the most part tried to mind my own business and focus on more constructive things. Yet in the course of only a few weeks a number of attacks on those Outside the Camp Clique have been made. I pass over in silence the blunt insults by an intellectually-fringe apologetics warrior to a well-educated, well-respected Reformed man (Peter Leithart) who offered a serious, quite biblical criticism of the warrior's Great Book on the Center of All True Religion, i.e., Correct Intellectual Comprehension of Justification By Faith Alone.

There were no blunt insults coming from my keyboard. I did not respond to that blog entry.

I pass over the atrocious insults by a Radical Baptist polemicist against a Lutheran on the NTRMin board--let's not worry about chopping off the branch we're all sitting on: "the Gospel" can survive just fine as long as it's "clearly" in our heads and not nefariously mixed up with "one little work", which "work" the Lutherans consider to be one performed by God (but then, Radical Baptists need not concern themselves with accurately representing other people's theologies, since it's Real Clear what's going on).

Again, there were no blunt insults coming from my keyboard. I did not respond to that thread either. Yet, TGE somehow feels justified in alluding to the title of my blog here, as though I had something to do with that thread. This is just the kind of inciteful thing TGE engages in. He gets really, really mad; and then he blows his top and takes it out on whomever he currently has in mind, as though those innocent bystanders were deserving of wrath-by-association.

I have one more installment to this series. Stay tuned.