Archive for March, 2011
After today, this Christian history “series” of sorts will be over … and on Monday I’ll be back to writing stuff that’s more engaging. I know some of you enjoy history and some of you don’t. Personally, I’d rather read church history than eat gourmet pizza and hot wings.
Especially for us younger types, who have/are using new forms of media and tech, and confronting new phenomena like globalization, we like to think we’re entering a new world, trekking where “no man has gone before.”
History is full of people confronting similar challenges wrapped in different paper, contexts and languages. And if we can’t learn from em we’ll pay the stupid tax. I’ve paid that tax before and will pay it again, but with a history book at my side, I feel pretty thrifty.
Yesterday I looked at one historical reaction (the Quakers) to the intolerance and dogmatism of the church. Today, I want to look at another approach: The Pietists.
Strictly speaking, Pietism deals mainly with the Germans, Philip Spener (1635 – 1705) and Spener’s follower, August Hermann Francke. Yet, even though these two are credited with starting Pietism, Justo Gonzolaz argues that both Zinzendorf and the Moravians, as well as John Wesley share in the spiritual heritage of the Pietists.
Spener came from a wealthy German Lutheran family (many Christian movements seem to come from money), attended the top Protestant universities and, after he earned his doctorate in theology, became a pastor. At the time, the pastors were financially supported by the state and were considered arms of the government. This bred a sense of complacency in the clergy who felt their main responsibilities were to preach and administer the sacraments. Spener’s conscience told him that his tasks as a pastor went far beyond this, as he believed he was to foster the “personal faith of his parishioners” (Gonzalez; 259). Thus, he started study groups that he called “colleges of piety.”
In his book Pia desideria Spener builds on Luther’s idea of the priesthood of all believers. He suggests that the division between clergy and laity is an unnecessary division and that all Christians should have a common responsibility. This trajectory that Spener was moving in also helped him encourage other pastors to lessen their academic tone – as preaching was not a means for them to show their doctrinal knowledge — and rather call their parishioners to obedience to God. He essentially suggested that personal transformation trumps dogmatic information, for the lack of growth in a believer is to be feared moreso than the potential for doctrinal error.
Luther had focused on justification, while Spener was focusing on sanctification.
Francke, Spener’s ardent follower, had a similar background as Spener in that he was from a wealthy background and highly educated … Francke was a Prof. at the University of Halle, which he eventually directed to become a training center for missionaries.
While the emphasis on the need for “personal faith” of all believers still pervades the evangelical church today, the “most significant contribution of Pietism to the story of Christianity was the birth of Protestant missions” (262). At that time, some within Protestantism believed that the commandment of preaching to the nations was only for the Apostles and not for their church. The Pietists disagreed.
The missionary trajectory that began in the Pietists was eventually grasped by the Pietist, Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, who was Spener’s godson. After his education, Zinzendorf served in the court of Dresden which is where he met a group of pietist exiles from Moravia that would change his life.
Zinzendorf and the Moravian exiles mutually stoked each other’s desire for world missions. Gonzolaz writes that “within a period of twenty years a movement that had begun with two hundred (Moravian) refugees had more missionaries overseas than had been sent out by all Protestant churches since the Protestant Reformation two centuries earlier” (263).
Not only were the Moravians the beginning of the Protestant mission movement, they were also the main impetus in the conversion of John Wesley. Again, most of this came out of the reaction of a group of people against the dogmatism and intolerance within the church.
If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you may have picked up on the tendency for Christians to fight among themselves over doctrinal issues, usually resulting in labeling and a general intolerance towards other Christians we consider “wrong.” The labeling (“I’m a dispensationalist” or “I’m a five point Calvinist” or “I’m a seven point Calvinist” [yes, they exist] or “I’m a Charismatic” “I’m a Methodist”) has the tendency to make our particular persuasions and/or denominations more important than our desire to be called “son” or “daughter” by God.
The dogmatism and intolerance that is seen today is rather tame to what existed a couple hundred years ago. Today we write nasty blogs back and forth without the fear of being killed for our differences. For instance, Servetus — considered a heretic in both Protestant and Catholic camps – was passing through John Calvin’s Geneva after escaping from his Inquisition imprisoners. His identity was exposed in Geneva and Calvin himself offered 38 accusations against Servetus, who was then burned at the stake. Few Christian leaders in this time period are clean of the blood stains of supposed “heretics”. Certainly — on a larger scale — the Spanish (1478–1834) and Portuguese (1536–1821) Inquisitions are a major blemish in the history of the Church.
The strong emphasis on doctrine worked in favor of the rich who were able to afford education. Justo Gonzalez (who’s two volumes on “The Story of Christianity” have been hard to put down over the last couple months) writes that “Those who did not have such opportunities, and who therefore could not discuss complicated matters of theology, were seen as children, needing someone to guild them through the intricacies of dogma in order not to fall into error.”
Like today, there were reactions against the absolutism, intolerance and theological aristocracy of these dogmatic believers. The reaction was exemplified in both the Spiritualists and the Pietists.
The Spiritualists attracted two types of people: well cultured people who didn’t appreciate the dogmatism and those who had little education that wanted the freedom to express their relationship with God. Probably the most known figure in the Spiritualist movement was George Fox, the founder of the Quakers … who were called such by their opponents because their “religious enthusiasm was such that they would tremble” (Gonzalez; 253). George Fox himself preferred that his group be called “friends” because of the egalitarian nature of their movement, so that today they’re called, “The Society of Friends.”
One major feature of the Quakers that aided in their ability to lesson dogmatism and intolerance is their emphasis on the “inner light.” Although today the term sounds eastern, Fox’s sense of the term was in opposition to Calvin’s doctrine of “total depravity” and in opposition to the “natural reason” of the Deists. Instead of believing that man is innately corrupt or naturally endowed with a compass that points to God, Fox believed that man had the “capability … to recognize and accept the presence of God.” And thus, all men had the ability to legitimately speak about God.
The “inner light” lead to the “spirit lead” types of services that marked the “friends meeting.” This belief that all were equal and so all could engage in God talk, lead to Quakers not addressing their superiors “properly” nor respecting social tiers and statuses. These practices, as well as others, caused the Quakers to receive numerous types of persecutions. George Fox’s first beating came when he countered a preacher who was saying that ultimate truth is found in scripture. Fox stated that ultimate truth was the Spirit who inspired scripture and was consequently beaten. He spent years in prison, as did his wife and many of his followers.
The most famous of Quakers was William Penn, who founded our great Commonwealth. Gonzalez writes of Penn, “He was convinced that the Indians, and not the crown, were the legitimate owners of the land. And he hoped to establish such cordial relations with them that the settlers would have not need to defend themselves by force of arms” (256). Such cultural respect, that arose in reaction to the dogmatism and intolerance of their time, can be traced back to the Quakers deep sense that all men have something to share from God.
Most Churches failed in defending slaves. For instance, the Church of England held a common belief that white Christians couldn’t hold baptized believers as slaves. So most white Christians and slave masters preferred that their slaves weren’t baptized; until a law was passed in 1667 that removed their difficulty for owning baptized slaves: it declared baptism didn’t change the status of a slave. For all the abuses of the church, it was the Quakers who asserted that slavery was wrong and they stand as one of the lone shining lights of grace and freedom during the legality of slavery in the United States and Europe.
Weston McCarron lives in Idaho. He’s married to my cousin, Rachel. He’s also been reading and commenting on my blog from ages back. Respect … Ali-G style with double handed finger snap.
Along with Napoleon Dynamite and potatoes, Weston is proof that Idaho contributes to the global awesomeness of the United States. He’s smart, honest and asks better questions than anyone I know.
I love questions and I’m rarely taken back by them, no matter what the questions take aim at. So, when Weston responded to my post on Tim Keller’s absolutes, I thought, “These are great thoughts and questions, let’s make them a blog.” Weston agreed and here we are.
Within the fairly recent past I held a handful of assumptions that each seem to be fairly ubiquitous within American Christianity and which, once considered seriously, compelled me to arrogantly and dogmatically villify multitudes of human beings that in reality I knew nothing about.
Here are those assumptions:
- Everyone in the world will spend eternity in torment unless he or she is saved.
- A requirement for being saved is to believe the right things (including at bare minimum some basic ideas about Jesus’ death and resurrection and divinity)
- God is perfectly good and just and wants to save people, but allows for people’s own free wills to exclude them from His salvation. This entails that:
- Any punishment God inflicts is fully deserved and just
- Anyone’s failure to be saved is his or her own fault and due to his or her deliberate rebellion against God’s will.
If these assumptions are correct, then anyone who does not believe the Right Things (however broad or narrow that list may be) is not saved and anyone who is not saved has chosen to be not saved by rebelling against God’s will.
Conclusion: Anyone who does not believe the Right Things must be in willful rebellion to God, and hence also in rebellion to love and to goodness, and will experience a fully deserved eternal punishment.
Does not this conclusion strictly follow from these assumptions?
Is not this conclusion an explicit intellectual commitment to demonizing everyone who believes sufficiently differently from oneself, even while knowing absolutely nothing else about them?
If so, then wouldn’t this imply that either (1) it’s a good and reasonable thing to dogmatically villify and condemn all outsiders and assume we already know everything important about them and their motivations, or… (2) there’s possibly something wrong with one or more of those assumptions?
Or did I totally miss something here?
I was out with my good friends Phil and Luis on Saturday night and we saw Philip Dick’s “The Adjustment Bureau” with Matt Damon. Awesome movie, if you get geeked out by philosophical romances that dabble in open theism like I do. After the movie, we pit stopped at Harbor Freight Tools in Exton so Phil could get an item that they had on sale before heading over to get some sushi.
We get to the check out counter and low and behold, who’s in front of us but The Coupon Guy. You know this person … the one who scours the Sunday Paper looking for coupons like a 49er dug California during the gold rush. The guy who keeps a pair of scissors in his pants at all times in case he happens to run across a succulent piece of savings pon. And then, after they found some great deals … that promise to save them loads of $$$ … they go out and they buy stuff they never needed in the first place just so they can say they saved money.
This guy had about 25 random and unconnected items in his cart (it’s not like he was buying stuff to work on a project), and as he gets up to the counter, he reaches into his tight pant pocket and pulls out a month’s worth of folded and wrinkled coupons. Now, as if matching the coupon with the item isn’t hard enough, the poor cashier had to try to unwrinkle each coupon so he could scan the barcode.
At this point, my patience left me. I’m not a patient person to begin with (in fact, I probably have undiagnosed ADHD) and when it’s 8 p.m. and all I had eaten since lunch was Twizzlers, I’m even more impatient. But, what can you do? There’s only one check out line at 8 p.m. on a Saturday evening at Harbor Freight Tools and we had to wait our turn.
So, finally … and I kid you not … after about 15 minutes (it felt like 20) of pacing, looking at odd tools that I’ll never use because I’m not a handyman, I notice that the cashiers about done. And then, wouldn’t you believe it, the guy pulls out his check book.
For goodness sake my man, first off, don’t you realize that all that junk in your cart is costing you tons of money … I mean sure, you saved $50 off retail, but you probably don’t need but 2 or 3 of your 25 items that cost you a total of $150. Secondly, wrinkled coupons? Come on, man. And a check book? Actually, I’m surprised you have a bank account and don’t hide your money under the rock in your cave.
So, this leads me to some questions for you. Let’s make some distinctions: there’s like a scale of 1 to 10 for coupon users, with “1″ being “I hardly ever use them; “5″ being “I have a good relationship with coupons” and “10″ being one or two addiction steps higher than the “Coupon Guy” … “10″ is the type of guy who knocks at the door of the funeral home asking if we ever offer a two for one special.
The rules for answering the questions are as follows: you get three free passes if you don’t want to answer, but please … do answer one or more:
1.) On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you describe your relationship to coupons?
2.) If you have a normal relationship with coupons, how much on average would you say you save a week?
3.) Do you have any experience with “groupons”?
4.) Would you rather stand in line behind a Coupon Person or get stuck in traffic?
The thirteenth century saw the height of papal power and the rise of medieval scholasticism.
Two developments occurred in Christendom due to scholasticism: the expansion of universities and the reestablishment of the Aristotle’s teachings in the West. With the expansion of the university and the theological technicalities that came with aristotelianism, “knowing God” and “God talk” became the privilege of the rich and well placed in society.
Before the rise of scholasticism and its employment of aristotelianism, most of the western Christian theologians integrated platonic philosophy into their view of God, which created a stark distinction between this world and the next, causing theologians to focus more so on the otherworldly Word of God than on the historical Jesus Christ. Yet, Platonism and Neo-Platonism tended to be cynical towards human reason and human senses as a source of knowledge because of their worldly nature. St. Thomas Aquinas – who’s Summa represented the apex of scholastic theology — came on the scene and synthesized the Aristotelian emphasis on reason and the Christian emphasis on faith.
As a result of this new Aristotelian spin on Christianity during scholasticism, Christian scholastic theology had a constant search for deeper and deeper technical questions, which resulted in a highly technical language that only the highly initiated could engage in.
It is out of this background of scholastic theology that the dogmatism and intolerance of Protestants occurred soon after the Reformation began, a dogmatism that was called “Reformed Orthodoxy.” Justo Gonzalez writes, concerning the Reformed Orthodoxy of early Protestantism, that is was characterized by it’s “attention to theological detail, seeking to clarify and discuss every possible subject, by their reinstatement of Aristotle as a tool of theology – which Luther had categorically rejected – and by a theological method in which words from Scripture were used as building blocks with which one could built vast theological systems” (224).
Abraham Calovius, a defender of Lutheran orthodoxy, stated that everything that God has revealed in scripture is absolutely necessary and that anyone who rejects any iota of biblical dogma rejects God himself.
Gonzolaz concludes that:
“it was clear that the orthodox theologians of each confession where becoming increasingly entrenched in their positions, as if only those who agreed with them on every point of doctrine properly deserved to be called Christians. Such dogmatism, while bolstering the conviction of some, also gave rise to increasing doubts about the truth of Christianity, or at least about the value of theology and doctrine” 228
The next two days I’ll look at historical Christian reactions to the dogmatism of reformed orthodoxy.