Friday, December 30, 2011

The Debate of Ages

Couple of days ago I was exposed to the Gospel in Chairs. It's a picturesque contrasting of two views of the crucifixion. One is labeled 'legal' (I've also seen it called 'juridical') and the other, 'restorative.' Brian Zahnd, the speaker, essentially popularizes the debate I alluded to in an earlier post-- popularizes and makes his case for the restorative view of the crucifixion.

Now without saying too much about the debate itself-- I see weaknesses in both positions, glossings over or ignorings of relevant scripture passages that would support the opposing view (like I said in my earlier post: a plague on both your houses) -- I really have to say that watching the video really got my dander up. There was an underlying message shouting louder to me than the chairs presentation that upset me greatly.

The problem came when Zahnd started to hold forth on the restorative view with all his gusto and passion. Passion that included supporting many of his statements with the phrase, "more biblical, more patristic" holding up the restorative view as the one to choose. Essentially, in an aside, he equates 'biblical' with 'patristic' and sets forth an underlying message that there is an ideal 'true' church that we all have to get back to. That's something I have serious problems with-- on lots of fronts.

First of all patristic is not necessarily biblical. For evidence let me submit this patristic writing. Justin Martyr's exaltation of the bishop in this passage borders on the obscene. Certainly, it carries any scriptural messages on the authority of leaders in the church to a ridiculous extreme. It flies right in the face of everything Christ taught about leaders not exalting themselves.

Secondly supporting your position terms by labels such as ancient and pillorying the opposing view as modern is as stupid as the opposite side calling your position old-fashioned and theirs, reformed. C.S. Lewis rightfully calls this sort of thing chronological snobbery. Essentially, you have exalted one age above another and given your audience to understand that everything from this age is better than that which comes from that age. (Hence the blog title) You have moved from serious debate (where ideas are weighed on their true merit) to a sales pitch. Yuck.

Thirdly, and to me, the most important problem with the idea of getting back to the ideal earlier church is this is a different age, culture and time. The issues addressed in patristic times are not the same as those needing addressed today. (Try St. Augustine's The City of God. Starts of with a refutation of polytheism.) Similarly the reformed view also comes from a different time and is showing its age. That is why videos like the one in question are popping up. Questions are being raised as we rethink some of the implications of what we've always been taught. It's a natural process. But what I hear when speakers employ chronological snobbery to push their point home, is that by returning to 'ancient ways' (how seductive that phrase sounds) we are not actually completing that process and answering the questions of our time in a way that we can truly embrace. If you want to embrace 'ancient ways' it's out there for you. The Catholic and Orthodox churches want to embrace you, too. Come home! Come home! Come home!

As for me, this is my age. I can't make myself into a Graeco-Roman of patristic times, nor yet a medieval. Too ornery, maybe.

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