Monday, August 30, 2010

Do Liberal Christians Heart Christianity?

It depends on what you mean by Christianity. In some ways, many modern, progressive Christians have an almost Gnostic approach to the Faith. Immanent figures such as JohnShelby Spong and Bishop Gene Robinson act as though it's OK to be a Christian, as long as you see Christianity their way - the right way. For 2000 years, the Faith has been languishing in error; bigoted, sexist, homophobic, racist, anti-Semitic, anti-intellectual, wrong, dumb, violent. It's only now, with the rise of this enlightened generation, that we know the rights and wrongs of being Christian. Through the glories of critical scholarship, we now know the bulk of the Bible is myth, legend, and outright lies. We know the proper way to interpret the Scriptures - what little is left of value. And we can see the error of our ways and find true Enlightenment and, if you must, salvation. In fact, so close to an inner, secret Truth is this approach that it shouldn't be a shock that I knew several progressive ministers in my own pastoral days who had little problem with Gnosticism; some actually thought it brought much to the table.

That, of course, is the basis of much post-modern thought. There is an underlying 'surely, you don't disbelieve what we've said, do you?' approach in presenting various subjects. Proof is assumed to be out there, even if it needn't be provided. Are more Americans being violent against Muslims? Has there been violence against Muslims out of proportion of violence against other groups? Do we really know exactly why homosexuals are homosexuals? Do we actually know an unborn baby can't feel pain? Are we sure we have the right to define human life? Are we positive that religion was made up by cave people trying to understand why Woolly Mammoth dung smelled? Is there actual proof? Ask these questions, and there's a snort of derision, a 'you must not be in on the Truth' response. A subtle 'we don't need proof, because we know, and we know because we are' echo in what is said. An approach to knowledge that would certainly bring pride to the most fervent Gnostic thinker of two millennia ago. Which is why a wise pastor once said there are no new heresies, simply old ones repackaged.


  1. "... act as though it's OK to be a Christian, as long as you see Christianity their way - the right way."

    Sounds like your whole article is really about the kettle calling the pot black

  2. Not in the least. I admit, as a Catholic, that I see the Truth rooted in the historic Catholic Faith. Progressive Christians, on the whole, tend to dismiss the greater part of the traditional faith, keeping only those parts that are in line with modern, progressive thinking. Because so much of their defense lies on 'well, that part of the Bible was just made up and added later (without evidence mind you), it has a very 'secret knowledge of the truth' sound to it. Not unlike a Fundamentalist approach. Of course we're all a little fundamentalist about the things we believe in, but the difference with progressives is 1. their reliance on the latest, hippest trends of fashionable knowledge as the basis for reshaping the faith, and 2. their tendency to lean on 'most of the Faith being wrong' (which they seem to know beyond all others), in order to justify their stances.

    The big irony, of course, is that progressives have long strutted under the label of tolerant, diversity loving folks when, in fact, they have their absolute truths they are absolutely sure of just like the rest, albeit with less of a clear arrow pointing to their sources.

    Hope that helps, and thanks for visiting.

  3. Dear Dave,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond to a one-off post by an anonymous poster. Yes that post was mine.

    First let me state I'm a Christian with a heavy leaning towards Gnosticism. That is how I found your blog, it had "Gnostic" in it.

    Secondly, I'm staunchly conservative and have no sympathy for "progressives" and their ilk.

    I guess that makes me a bit of a paradox in your world :)

    You make the case that the progressives sees the church as have been in error "for 2000 years." That the "Truth rooted in the historical Catholic Faith" has been overturned by these individuals. But if we where to look at doctrinal changes in the "church", we should also include the doctrinal change made by St. Anselm of Laon in or around the year 1100 a.d. St. Anselm took the "truth rooted in the historical Catholic Faith" for over 1,000 years and turned it upside down when he introduced the "Satisfaction theory" of atonement. A wholly incompatible doctrine to the doctrine of the the Catholic church up to that point. Interestingly enough the Catholic church still clings to his doctrinal change. So my question to you is: do you subscribe to the truth rooted in the historical church prior to St. Anselm or do you subscribe the truth rooted in the far less historical catholic church of post St. Anselm?



  4. Mats,

    A conservative Gnostic? What's this world coming to? :)

    That's interesting. YOu see, I have no problem with anyone who is this or that belief or approach to a belief. My beef with the progressive Christian movement is that they don't just come out of the closet and say, once and for all, that they reject the historic Christian faith and plan on building a new faith around their values and beliefs. That they use a quasi-gnostic approach to some higher spiritual truth that they alone, by virtue of whatever, seem privy. Our only choice is to accept their often subjective take on what Scripture is true, or what belief is true, or face the usual charge of bigot, homophobe, racist, sexist, you name it.

    It isn't even that they see parts of Christian history as wrong. After all, the entire Protestant Reformation was based on saying roughly a 1000 year period of Christian history was wrong. It's that they do so uncritically, as secular progressives do. They take general, and superficial, Hollywood spins and make it the basis for blasting the Christian faith as being alone among sources of evil in the world, turning blind eyes to the evils anywhere else in the world, and again, suggesting that they alone have the Real Truth of what is True, not unlike the fundamentalist (though in fairness, at least the Fundamentalist plops the Bible down and says he alone has the proper reading. The Progressive plops the Bible down, and then proceeds to tell you 90% of it is BS, and only they seem to know which parts are real to begin with before you even get to the interpretation).

    As for the Anselm question, I'll post an answer on that one. It demands more space than the comments will hold! (good question, though).

  5. Dave,

    I agree with all you have stated above. Reading my comment again it comes across as somewhat coarse. I'm sorry for that, that was not my intention. My intention was to point out what I see as a drastic dogmatic change in a church that claims a continuous tradition and ask for your explanation.

    I'll look forward to your response on St. Anselm.

    Thanks for the blog, I'm truly enjoying it. We have many views in common.


  6. I'll have to check on what St. Anselm's "Satisfaction Theory" is, but if it's the notion that God had to satisfy justice (among other things; e.g. it isn't good for man to be wiped out for his sin any more than it would be good for him to face no consequences for his actions or for him to never be created to avoid the whole problem) I'm pretty sure you'll find it in St. Athanasius's "On the Incarnation", albeit from a slightly different angle and not in isolation from other factors (particularly those mentioned in the previous parentheses).

    Of course, whether the Church held to it dogmatically then or later, that's an issue I'd have to research some councils to find out on top of reading St. Anselm to be sure I'm understanding the issue correctly. Sometimes continuity simply means that there's _some_ basis for the stake in history and nothing definitively staked already that would contradict it. Is that dishonest given that continuity involves at least some level of, well, unchangingness? Or, does it contradict the unchanging aspect of continuity for there to be leeway among the beliefs or practices of the membership or even the leadership (when the latter isn't formally binding the whole Church)? I don't particularly think so.

    Actually (and this is not intended as a defense of my inherent claim they're not contradictory, but as a suggestion that the "flexibility" is necessary if we grant the unchanging element), I think it'd be a little too obviously measurable (the same way, for instance, that God doesn't show up directly under laboratory conditions) if the Church's members and/or leaders never toyed with any deviations from the absolute truth down to the last iota, particularly the last iota that hasn't yet been spelled out definitively (since only so much of Christ's teaching was written down by eyewitness accounts, all the books in the ancient world not being enough to record everything He said and did). Continuity, to be credible but not downright provable, has to both base its claims in the history, showing no definitive contradictions, and also allow some leeway among the believers.

    My two cents; I'll be interested to see what the Daffey One has to say.

  7. I'm going to retract my statement about ransom theory. After some more reading it wasn't quite as universal as I first thought. While still the dominant theory up until St. Anselm, it was clearly not the only theory and from what I can tell was never "the" theory of the church.

    I still would love to hear more from you on atonement, particularly how a "ransom" fits within the doctrine when the devil is no longer a player as recipient.

    PS. Seems I have also confused my Anselms, all of the references above should be regarding the Canterbury fella not the Laon fella.


  8. Mats,

    I was about to post my thoughts on it, but I think you caught a couple things already. For purposes of space, I may leave it with that. Though I might see if I can run with the question in some broader sense. I'll also do up some thoughts on atonement in the ransom sense, but mind you, I don't consider myself an actual Catholic apologist. My training was as a Protestant minister with graduate work in theology from a Protestant POV. So I'm a little hesitant to go beyond 'this is what I've seen as a new Catholic/former Protestant.' I'll come up with a few things, but I recommend a couple sites on the sidebar, particularly Zippy Catholic or Mark Shea.


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