Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The "Gnostic" Vs. the Sophist: Part 4

We continue once again with our response to TGE's charges against "Real Clear Theology" and the NTRMin Discussion Forum. This will be our final installment for the series.
I pass over the slurs chronicled by Mark Horne on Reformed Catholicism earlier today. But I will not pass over the kicker: out of the blue last week comes a "Real Clear Theology" post that sounds more like an advocacy of gnosticism than Christianity as it insularly cries (my paraphrase): "Listen to the Apostle Paul telling us in all these clear texts to flee from embodied reality and seek a world of pure spirit!"
What you see here is a typical example of TGE’s “critiques.” I engaged Scripture; so what does TGE do in response? He mischaracterizes it in a lamentable paraphrase, and then proceeds to ignore the Scriptures I presented. That’s standard for TGE. He doesn’t like Scripture. And the reason he doesn’t like it is because he doesn’t understand it. He absolutely refuses to engage anyone’s argument on an exegetical level. He won’t explain what these passages mean in his view, or just how I have misquoted them. Instead, he simply makes a bald assertion that I am an "unaccountable Gnostic," and leaves it at that. Behold the response!
Sadly, no one can hold these men accountable for their actions, because their theory of "authority" and "accountability" is essentially sola ecclesia solitaria--the mirror image of the "Romanism" they claim to hate so much and which is the true formal principle of their stunted understanding of the Protestant Reformation (the true material principle being Justification By Intellectual Assent [to Propositions About Justification]).
That’s right, TGE. Just ignore the texts I quoted and go off into sophist ramblings again.
This brings me back to the point of "Christian society". It is clear enough from the mere fact that this enclave has more than one person in it and that they all interact with each other and produce artifacts (books, tapes, message board posts) which they hope will last, that it is a culture. It is also clear from the fact that they all claim to be Christians that this enclave is a "Christian culture". The point of this post is, then to observe that attacks by such people on the very notion that there can and ought to be a "Christian society" in this world are fundamentally incoherent.
If that’s what TGE thinks my point is, then he needs to read more carefully before he critiques. I have already said that the Christian society is the church. Can the church meet in other places but a building? Well of course! That goes without saying. It also goes without saying that anytime the church meets and wherever the church meets, there is a “Christian society.”

But that is not what TGE means by the phrase “Christian society.” What he means instead is the collection of all those who happen to be baptized in the name of the Trinity. We’ll get all those together and conquer the world with baptism, until all of society is “cleaned up” (those who are unwilling to be baptized will be legislated into it—then we can call them “brothers”) and we succeed in creating a "Christian kingdom" on earth. That type of “Christian society” I reject entirely—and that type of “Christian society” is fundamentally different from the church gathered. The latter is biblical; the former is not.
They themselves have a "Christian society" and expect the Lord to bless their "Evangelical" work by prospering it and allowing it to gain converts so that the next generation will continue the work. The mere fact that they expect their "spiritual" work to have results in the space and time world is all the proof that is required that it is impossible for embodied creatures to truly escape from their embodied condition.
This is laughable. Who disagrees that we are “embodied creatures” who do real work in the space-time world? Not I. The belief system TGE has described here is Gnosticism. We’re not Gnostics. That may come as a shock to TGE, but it is true nevertheless. And the fact that TGE is unable to distinguish Gnostic teaching from the apostles’ teaching is still more confirmation of why he is safer if he just steers clear from exegesis altogether. He just doesn’t fare well with Scripture.
In fact, attempting to escape from embodiment--and all its "messy" conditions, like "bias" and "tradition" and "institution" and "culture"--is inherently an anti-Christian mentality. It does not seem to even recognize, much less try to observe, the Christian cultural antithesis.
Here is where TGE is confused. He confuses the biblical teaching that “the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now,” and that it “waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God” at which time it “will be set free from its slavery to corruption” with Gnosticism. He confuses the biblical teaching that our hope is not in this world but in the glory to be revealed in us at the coming of Christ with Gnosticism. He confuses the biblical teaching that world conditions will go from bad to worse before the great and terrible day of the Lord with Gnostic tendencies. He confuses the biblical teaching that we are strangers and aliens on this earth, that we have no permanent home here, and that our citizenship is in heaven with Gnosticism. He characterizes the biblical mandate to love not the world or the things in the world, and that friendship with the world is enmity with God as Gnosticism. He confuses the biblical teaching that we currently reside in frail vessels of weakness and that are hope is fixed on the transformation of our bodies to be like his glorious body in the Day he comes to be marveled at by all those who have believed with Gnosticism. TGE engages in this confusion because he is either biblically illiterate or exegetically inept—or both. There is just no other good explanation.
No matter how much "clear" Scripture one cites to prove that we should abhor our bodies and all the physical works they produce, nothing is clearer from the the whole warp and woof of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, that the physical creation is good in and of itself and will be delivered, not dissolved.
Who has said anything different? Not I.
The Second Person of the Trinity became flesh and dwelt among us. Our mortal bodies will one day but will be resurrected. We Christians are not gnostics; we do not believe in "the immortality of the soul", or in the flight of the soul from corrupting matter and back up into a world of "pure" spirit.
Again, who has said anything different? Not I.
As someone, C.S. Lewis I think, said, "God likes matter. He made lots of it." Accordingly, "Christian society", and its corollary "Christian culture", are simply inescapable.
Although TGE’s point above simply does not follow, I have already agreed to the notion of a “Christian society”—just not TGE’s brand of it.
Diatribing against other Christians, such as myself, merely for seeking a "Christian society" is shallow.
No such thing has been done. Rather, the “diatribe” has been against the idiosyncratic form of Christian society espoused by TGE—one in which modern-day Judaizers are part and parcel.
Alternatively, trying to have a society built solely on "agreement on the Gospel"--i.e., built solely on Justification Propositions beamed between brains is a tacit denial of the incarnation of the Word.
Again, this is just plain dopey and laughable. No one believes the church is built on a “set of justification propositions” that are being “beamed between brains.” But there is no question that the first-century church excluded from its fold those whose own "propositions" lay in contradiction to the “faith once for all delivered to the saints.” John instructed the readers of his first letter:

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world." (1 John 4:1-3).

That is a proposition that must be believed. And it is intended to include some and exclude others. Likewise, Paul instructed his readers:

"I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed." (Gal 1:6-9).

That is an implicit proposition. There is a "gospel" to be believed to the rejection of all other "gospels." What is that gospel?

"knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified." (Gal 2:16).

Paul tells the Corinthians:

"Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Cor 15:1-4).

This is a proposition to be believed, and by which--if we hold to it--we are saved. These are all essential propositions--required beliefs--and they could be multiplied many times over. The New Testament is replete with them, and no amount of sophistry is going to change that fact, whether TGE happens to like it or not.
Such an anti-society cannot even hold itself together, much less transform anything outside of itself.
Indeed? Why, then, is the Evangelicalism TGE "hates" so huge, and his ilk so small?
All its energies go into the deep suspicion its members are forced to entertain that maybe their neighbors harbor secret heresies that render them unfit for the exalted company of "the Elect".
Methinks TGE is just a tad paranoid. No such dark "suspicion" exists except in TGE's own mind.
Yet even the most ardent "It's all propositions!" advocate can be readily found clutching his physical Bible in his physical hands and using his physical eyes to read physically-imprinted words on a physical page and his physical fingers to physically type out those nasty attacks on all the "miscreants" who dare to imagine that "the Gospel" has some kind of implications for space and time!
Wake me when TGE finally descends from the gnostic mother ship and either accurately represents our position or makes a cogent point against it.
It comes down to this: What Christians have for centuries disagreed about--and what many of us disagree about today--is not whether there is to be a "Christian society", but what kind of "Christian society" there will be.
Bravo! He finally gets it! It’s just too bad he had to waste so much time, energy and disk space in the process.
This is the question at issue no matter whether we are talking about Roman Catholicism, Presbyterianism, Eastern Orthodoxy, or Reformed Baptistism. Nobody can get away from the question of "society" because we are made in the image of God, who is Himself a society.
God is a “society”? Now that’s interesting. Our God, the Society. Do we now rewrite the Athanasian Creed: “We worship one God in society, and society in unity”? Or perhaps we should start baptizing people in the name of the Society. TGE may be closer to his Mormon “brother” than he realizes.
Let them prooftext all day long about "the Gospel" and how everyone else but them is falling away from it. In the created world that God made the proof is in the pudding, not in the propositions. When it comes to arguments about what Christian culture should look like, I much prefer the advice of Luther,
I see. Scripture can be, and probably always is, prootexted—but Luther is, of course, impervious to that.
Luther replied "Make a good shoe and sell it a fair price." Now that's the Gospel at work in the real world.

And once we realize that Luther here was not addressing the issue of the "gospel" per se (he had plenty to say about propositions concerning the gospel! Sola fide, sola scriptura, etc.--remember those?), but was responding to the common Roman Catholic distinction between religious vocations and secular vocations, applying Paul's principle in Col 4:17 "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father," then we see that "Voila!" Luther can indeed be prooftexted afterall!

Returning to a previous analogy, here again is the geeky, single undergrad who, based on his 1100 pages of reading, thinks he is now qualified to instruct his married friends. I own a business. No one knows—or practices—that principle of the "gospel" more than I. That’s not the issue we have with TGE’s notion of “Christian society.” But since I have already gone over this point several time above, I’ll refrain from repeating myself.

Here’s my prediction. When the dust settles and all that are left are the “reformed Catholics,” then that movement will implode. At that point they will begin to see that the only thing that has ever held them together was their common disparagement of Scripture and their common hatred of all things Evangelical and “babtists”—at which point they will turn on each other:

“You don’t believe in Mary’s supremacy? Why, you’re nothing but an anti-catholic radical!”

“Oh yeah? Well your Mariolatry is nothing but an affirmation of your belief in Platonic forms! You’re nothing but a neo-platonic, sectarian radical!”

“Oh yeah? Well you believe Roman Catholics are only ‘wink-wink’ brothers! You’re the sectarian!”

“Oh yeah? Well you just don’t get the point of Reformed Catholicism to begin with. We’re here to ‘grab them by their baptism’ and make ‘em repent like the unfaithful husbands they are!”

“Oh yeah? Well none of you believes in New Perspectivism! You’re all nothing but crypto Evangelicals!”

[Gasp!] “He said the ‘E’ word! Them’s fightin’ words! . . .”