Median Christianity vs. Mediocre Christianity, pt. 2

Note: This post continues the discussion I started yesterday on Median Christianity and Mediocre Christianity.

What does someone need to believe in order to be a true Christian? Moreover, what does someone need to be able to confess in order to be considered a true Christian? That’s the question Werner Harenberg is asking here:

Does what Gerhard Ebeling writes about every confession still apply to the Apostles’ Creed: It has “a separatist function. It draws the line between true and false doctrine. A uniting confession in the sense of one that refrained from drawing any distinctions from false doctrine would be a contradiction in terms. For a confession always presupposes a casus confessionis. It is the pronouncement of a decision.” And if this no longer applies to the Apostles’ Creed, how otherwise will the “line between true and false doctrine” be drawn?

In the Apostles’ Creed there is much which many can no longer believe or will no longer believe. Modern theologians teach that a man must not, or perhaps only ought not, believe it. Why not another confession of faith which every believer can speak without qualification? Professor [Ernst] Barnikol has asked this question and has wanted to know whether “the congregations and the servants of the Word today must not have the evangelical courage to do it.” He received no answer.

A church is not credible in which literally everything is, and remains, questionable. But a church is credible in which one may, to be sure, ask everything, but in which one cannot answer everything.

Luther once wrote: “It is not we who preserve the proclamation of the Church; it was not our forefathers; it will not be our descendants. But it was, is still, and will be him who says ‘I am with you always, to the close of the age.'” “It is not we,” Hans Grass also consoles the reader at the end of his book on the resurrection, “who preserve the church in the storms of the time and in the often still more dangerous times of calm when everything seems to go so well and smoothly, when Christianity has become again a self-evident presupposition of the middle-class and when we are in danger of becoming sluggish in the faith and of falling asleep. But is he who preserves the church.”

He = Jesus.

Which Jesus?

(From Werner Harenberg, Der Spiegel on the New Testament (trans. James H. Burtness; London: Macmillan, 1970), 191-192.)

I’m with Ernst Barnikol. The Church Catholic needs a confession that every believer, regardless of tradition, can affirm. And we need the courage to do away with anything that pretends to be essential to faith but should actually hold no pride of place. I’ll develop my thoughts on this later (hopefully tomorrow or Saturday), but for now, I’d like to propose this as the only confession necessary to prove Christian faith:

“Christ, the Lord, is risen.”

Anything more, and the confession would alienate true believers who happen to be modernist/postmodernist in the way they think. Anything less — though I fear it may already be too much “less” for some — and it would alienate true believers who happen to be traditionalist in the way they think.

What do you think? Is this confession, simple as it is, enough to prove that someone is a Christian? Does it say enough to be a good confession of Median Christianity while avoiding the pitfall of Mediocre Christianity?

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “Median Christianity vs. Mediocre Christianity, pt. 2

  1. Shep Shepherd

    No, Cory, that would leave too many heretics in Christianity. An adoptionist or a Jehovah’s Witness could agree with that creed.

    What is wrong with the Apostle’s Creed? Or the Nicene Creed? Both were truly ecumenical. They were arguably more ecumenical than anything the Church has ever done since. The Church Catholic has confessions already that every true believer can affirm. If they don’t affirm them, I’d view them as unrepentant.

  2. I submit, though, that anything more would be unnecessarily restrictive. After all, Paul said:

    “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'”

    As for the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, I’m planning on addressing them in a post today. Until then, suffice it to say that I think the 325 text of the Nicene Creed is better than the Apostles’ Creed, though I think both introduce doctrines that, while orthodox in a historical sense, do not necessarily prove or disprove true faith.

  3. On another note, it’s good to see you back. I’d begun to worry that I had gotten too frustrating for you! Haha.

  4. Shep Shepherd

    No, not frustrating! Some weeks are busier than others for me.

    The creeds aren’t meant to prove faith. The creeds are rules of faith. You seem concerned with finding out what is the most basic concept a Christian needs to believe in order to be saved. But “Jesus is Lord and God raised Him from the dead” isn’t minimalist in its content or implications. Confessing it isn’t just standing up and saying those magic words and sitting down. Jesus is Lord? Why? God raised Him? Why? Why did Jesus come to die and be raised?

    Paul says “the Word of faith that we proclaim,” which points to the entirety of the apostolic witness. The context of that passage in Romans is the discussion of Jew and Gentile, law and faith. Paul is saying that salvation is by faith, not your religious / ethnic heritage. Paul is indeed being nonrestrictive, but not doctrinally, but ethnically.

    A very new Christian may not understand everything in the Nicene Creed. Faith, however, is not meant to be intellectually static. Christians are called to immediate growth. Once you believe Christ is the Son of God who died and rose again, you don’t stop there – you must consider what that entails. Creeds are the rule of faith, meant to guide and direct and shape one’s belief by summing up the core truths of Scripture that the Church catholic believes. Here the distinction between ignorance and heresy again comes into play. A Christian may not understand something initially, but once confronted by the truth, they must believe it or be unrepentant.

  5. The difference between a forensic creed (proving faith) and a normative creed (rule of faith) seems so small to me as to be basically nonexistent. Or, in other words, they seem to be two sides of the same coin. After all, according to this idea, someone who does not agree with the rule of faith does not have true faith, and someone who does agree with it does have true faith.

    Thus, it may be true that I’m concerned with finding the most basic doctrine necessary for someone to be a Christian, but that also would mean I’m concerned with finding the most basic confession necessary for someone to be recognized as a Christian.

    I agree with you that faith is not meant to be intellectually static, but that’s not what I’m taking about here. I’m talking about people who are very intelligent, and who have spent their entire adult lives thinking about what it means to be a Christian, but who do not affirm, say, parts of the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed are both historically conditioned, and they teach things that we can no longer hold as being boundaries of true Christianity. They are fallible, human expressions of what it meant to the authors to have true faith in Christ; however, precisely because they are fallible and historically conditioned, they need to be revised to reflect some 1600-1800 years of development in the Church. And that revision, I’m convinced, means extensive pruning, ridding them of all inessential teaching.

  6. Shep Shepherd

    Cory, a few questions before I respond fully.

    1. Pruning by whom? If this is necessary, how is it done?

    2. The Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed “teach things that we can no longer hold as being boundaries of true Christianity.” Give me some concrete examples.

    3. Are you willing to say adoptionists or Jehovah’s Witnesses are saved Christians, truly in the invisible Church? If so, why? If not, why?

  7. 1) Pruning by anyone courageous enough to do it. In an ideal world, it would progress in a scientific sort of fashion; that is, different individuals from different backgrounds proposing explanations for the idea of “true Christianity,” each subjecting all the views, including their own, to scrutiny, and — here’s the important part — being willing to a) be wrong about anything and everything, and b) earnestly working toward consensus.

    2) I’m going to go into greater detail in a separate post later today, but in the Apostles’ Creed, the lines “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born from the Virgin Mary” and, to a lesser extent, “resurrection of the flesh,” are inessential. In the Nicene Creed, the inclusion of “homoousios” is likewise not essential.

    3) In a word, yes. I may think, for example, that the practices of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are strange, but that’s not grounds for me to declare their faith to be false. And remember, adoptionism can be clearly supported by such proof-texts as Psalm 2, and it had currency in the early church (as the Shepherd of Hermas attests).

  8. Shep Shepherd

    Cory, I don’t care one whit what biblical texts can be misused to support a heresy. One major benefit of the rule of faith is to orient one’s theological interpretation of Scripture in accordance with the truth of the whole. These are doctrines with key theological implications. If you want theology to be scientific it should certainly be in some form systematic, meaning that yes, an adoptionist does reject the Gospel, as does the Jehovah’s Witness who denies that Jesus was divine and a part of the Trinity. Denying the homoousion is a dangerous rejection of Trinitarian doctrine that breaks the unity of the Church. From the ancient days of the Church, people were baptized in the name of the “Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Baptism itself has important theological content.

    Our disagreement here is on a fundamental theological level. I wish I had the time or space to go through the Nicene Creed step by step and emphasize the importance of each doctrine. You are subjugating Christianity to a modernist self-critical idealism, allowing that to shape your understanding of what theological development and unity should look like, rather than grounding the identity of the Church and her faith in the Person of Jesus Christ. If I can be frank without offending you, your understanding of Church tradition is highly cynical and I think slightly deistic. The Church is certainly fallible, yes, but she is not alone.

  9. You’re correct in one point of your analysis of me. I am — at least at this stage in the game — deeply cynical toward Church tradition. I think that, much the same way a lifetime of fighting makes someone bitter in their old age, hundreds of years of theological conflict (much of which, I’m convinced, was completely unnecessary) has built a lot of unnecessary dogma into Christianity. I would not say I’m a deist, though, because I’m utterly convinced God has preserved the Church through two millennia of often bitter struggles, both from without and from within. Though, of course, our definitions of “preservation” would be different; I refer primarily to faith, while it seems you would refer mostly to doctrine.

    I also disagree that, for instance, an adoptionist necessarily and inescapably rejects the Gospel. The good news is that Jesus, the Lord, has died, made an atonement for our sins, and been resurrected to sit at the right hand of the Father. It does not matter when Jesus became Lord — either at birth or at a later adoption. After all, Augustus was the adopted son of Julius Caesar, but he became the real emperor nonetheless. Would we have to deny Augustus’ right to the throne simply because he was born as an Octavius rather than a Julius? No. Likewise, if Jesus was Lord at his birth, or if he was made Lord at age 30, it does not matter; Jesus is Lord, and he died, made an atonement for our sins, and was resurrected to sit at the right hand of the Father.

    (N.B.: I am not an adoptionist. It just makes a convenient example.)

    Being non-orthodox, even to the point of heresy, does not therefore entail a rejection of the Gospel. That’s my point. If one rejects the Gospel outright and directly — for instance, those who believe that when Jesus died, it was just a man being executed for political insurrection and nothing more — they cannot be considered a Christian. But if someone holds to a non-orthodox doctrine that does not directly impair adherence to the good news, I cannot in good faith say that they are not Christian.

    Finally, I’d say our disagreement isn’t so much theological as it is philosophical. You and I both affirm that God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, has redeemed a people for himself from their sins and that he has preserved the Church through the gift of his Spirit. However, you approach the scenario from the viewpoint of someone who is trying to find out what the entire choir of Scripture and Church sounds like as a single, harmonized unit, while I approach it as one who wants to listen to each voice individually and hear where they’re unique. You would reject the portions of Scripture that do not blend harmoniously with your system (such as, I’m sure, the condoning of slavery throughout the Bible, and that rightly), while I follow the same task, only to a more extreme degree. In short, you want to find out what makes a true Christian, and I want to find out what makes a true Christian, but we go about it two different ways and, as a result, come up with two different answers.

  10. Shep Shepherd

    Cory, so you believe God preserves the “Church” but not the content of the faith that the Church believes in? The content that was preached by Christ and the Apostles? Still seems pretty deist to me. How can you divorce faith from content like that?

    The good news is not that a generic someone named Jesus died for your sins. The truth of the Gospel is the Truth, the revealed Logos. The Gospel is not simply the cross, but the incarnation and Christ’s entire life from birth to death to resurrection – the fact that God became man and took on human flesh for our humanity. Death on the cross would not be enough. Adoptionism is still a rejection of the Gospel, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. So you are wrong in your summary of the Gospel. The Gospel includes the incarnation. It must. Otherwise it is meaningless.

    “You approach the scenario from the viewpoint of someone who is trying to figure out what the entire choir of Scripture and Church sounds like as a single, harmonized unit, while I approach it as one who wants to listen to each voice individually and hear where they’re unique.” This isn’t a philosophical difference but a theological / ecclesiological one, albeit presented in a bit of an over-simplified false dichotomy. The two frameworks are not mutually exclusive, which is why I can pursue both together and call it with A. Kuyper an “organic multiformity, the Body of Christ.” Another key theological difference here is our different definitions of the Gospel, by which I exclude some apostates and you include them in the Body of Christ.

    “You would reject the portions of Scripture that do not blend harmoniously with your system. . .” I should certainly hope not, though I’m as prone to error as anyone else. “. . . (such as, I’m sure, the condoning of slavery throughout the Bible, and that rightly)” No, I’m afraid that’s a false assumption. I don’t reject that.

  11. “Faith is not the accepting of salvation-facts as true. It is rather the answer to the Christian proclamation, which promises men the grace of God. The reception of the grace of God presupposes that man is conscious of his nothingness before God. In that faith submits itself to the judgment of God, it is at the same time obedience, as Paul particularly emphasizes.” (Rudolf Bultmann, in an interview he gave in the late 60’s)

    Faith and doctrine are two different things, though they often interlace (such as in the term “the Faith,” which carries the connotation of the Church establishment; I distinguish between “faith” and “the Faith”). For example, I do not need to take a calculus class to understand that the harder I push the accelerator in my car, the faster I speed up. I also do not need to take a physics class to understand that a basketball will bounce higher off of bare pavement than off of a pillow. Does calculus help me better understand the phenomenon of acceleration? Yes. Does physics help me better understand the difference between elastic and inelastic collisions? Yes. But neither are necessary for the real, actual, basic act of understanding. Likewise, though doctrinal content is a means of augmenting faith, it, in itself, is different from the real, actual, basic act of faith.

    Thus, it is not deistic to say that God actively preserved the faith of the Church throughout history, while the content adjunct to that faith has changed quite a bit. The properly deistic thing to say would be that, after Jesus died etc., God left the Church completely on its own, not maintaining the doctrine or faith of its members; in other words, that God wound up the clock of the Church then left it to run its course. I hope it’s clear that I am by no means ready to say that. God is directly, actively, and perpetually involved in the maintenance and preservation of the faith of his Church through the Spirit.

    —–

    I apologize for not responding to the rest of your post, but I think that you’re right; our definitions of the Gospel are different enough that we seem to be at an impasse. I do think this provides a good illustration for the point I’m trying to make, though. Our conceptions of the Christian faith are different enough to give us pause, but I still recognize you as a Christian, and I’d hope you’d recognize me as a Christian, too.

  12. Shep Shepherd

    Cory, the content of our faith is primarily the Person of Jesus Christ. As far as doctrines as “facts” go, they are summaries of Scriptural and apostolic witnesses to Christ, and in so doing point to Him. I would not say doctrine simply augments faith. That indicates too much distance in my view. Doctrine is the outflowing of faith, “I believe in order that I may understand,” as Augustine put it. You can’t divorce faith from content.

    Pushing the pedal down on the car doesn’t involve an intricate knowledge of physics and calculus, but it does involve some understanding of what pushing the pedal down does. If someone believes that pushing the pedal down makes the car burst forward through magical jelly beans and invisible unicorns, do we say “well, they are a pedalist though, they got the car running.” Or if the car goes over the cliff? “Hey, they know how to push that thing down. Who cares how they steer?” But I think I’ve killed this analogy now.

    Cory, I hope that you understand with your limited definition of the Gospel, sans the incarnation, you could not have a resurrection or a new cosmos, and your account of redemption is simply forensic at best, an extension of OT rites. This is the sort of thing Paul was so earnestly warning the Church against. He wanted to hammer the point home that Christ came in human flesh so that we could be united to Him and raised with Him into the new cosmos. The incarnation is absolutely crucial. You don’t have to respond to this, but give it a good think.

  13. Like I said above, I think we’re at an impasse. Past this point, any sort of rebuttal I would make would be argument for argument’s sake, rather than constructive discussion of our different views; it would only serve to create division, rather than creating unity, which is the entire point of what I’m trying to do. I’d rather leave this topic open and have us be able to enjoy each other’s company (speaking of which: are you going to be at ETS/SBL this year? If so, we should grab a beer or something.) than to kill it dead and leave us both very frustrated.

  14. Shep Shepherd

    I’m not sure why continuing would be argument for argument’s sake (given we both feel something important is at stake, right?) but I agree this is probably not the best medium for this sort of discussion. Regarding ETS/SBL… maybe. I’ve got a couple of other high priority decisions to make first due to some unforeseen situations. I’d like to go though. If it works out I’d totally be up for a beer.

  15. Pingback: A “New Testament Confession” (Median vs. Mediocre Christianity, pt. 3) | Ex Libris

  16. Pingback: Median Christianity vs. Mediocre Christianity, pt. 4: Conclusions | Ex Libris

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