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Kicking the Gnostic Habit: The Problem of Faith as Knowledge (Essay)

About the Author
David Wagschal

Three Pillars of the Old Order: Part Three

This post is the final instalment in my three-part series on the central doctrinal pillars of the classical, mainstream synthesis of Christian theology as it has developed since approximately the 4th C. (A bit earlier, to be truthful, but this isn’t history class…)

My central contention in this series is that there is a lot more wrong with this core synthesis than most of us recognize. But if we are going to move towards a new synthesis – which I think is now inevitable – we need to start to engage in a much more open and comfortable critique of these older ideas.

The final pillar in my triad is the idea that Christian faith is a kind of knowledge. This is the subtle but pervasive idea that Christianity is a religion of insight, wisdom, and knowledge. It’s the belief that Christianity is the ultimate “philosophy”, even in the broadest, ancient sense of the word as a wise or holy way of life.

It’s hard to get your mind around the idea that Christianity might not be this, at least not at its core — but once you do, the effect is pretty dramatic.

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The Problem with Deification (Essay)

About the Author
David Wagschal

Three Pillars of the Old Order – Part Two

 In this series, I’m exploring a few of the fundamental assumptions of what I call the “classical” or “imperial synthesis”.  This is the doctrinal mainstream of Christianity as it has developed since the 4th century or so. It’s most representative forms are perhaps the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or Calvinist churches, but its assumptions have permeated most forms of Christianity.

My contention is that some of the core doctrines of this synthesis are much more problematic than is often acknowledged. Yet we are still so deeply “within” this synthesis that we rarely directly and frankly question its central ideas.

Last week I looked at the common notion that Scripture is the revelation of God – and the problematic idea that Christianity is somehow at core an exercise in biblical exegesis. This week: salvation as divine transformation.

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The Problem with Scripture as Revelation

About the Author
David Wagschal

Three Pillars of the Old Order – Part One

I frequently have conversations with friends who ask me: “why have you abandoned the old patristic / Greco-Roman synthesis?”

By “Greco-Roman synthesis”, depending on the conversation, they might mean Catholicism, Orthodoxy, or, for that matter, traditional forms of Calvinism or even Lutheranism.

In all cases they expect that I will launch into a laundry-list of complaints about the institutional problems or moral stances of contemporary churches. They are surprised when I instead answer: “theology.”

Then follows a few uncomfortable moments when they realize that I seriously think we need to question several central pillars of the Great Church synthesis, that is, of the central trajectory of Christian doctrinal elaboration since at least the 3rd/4th C, whether in its eastern or western forms.

Their first reaction is to think I’ve gone a bit crazy. To be fair, even three or four years ago, my reaction would have been similar.

But abandoning the classical synthesis is easier, simpler and maybe more plausible than you might think. Read More…

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Luther Reading List Updated

About the Author
David Wagschal

Time to get this blog going again!

My reading list is still quite modest, and certainly a work in progress, but, voila:

David’s Annotated Luther Reading List – October 2016

Why read Luther?

  1. It’s amazing how few theologians really know anything about him.
  2. His influence, acknowledged or not, is incredibly pervasive (this guy’s already in your head in all sorts of ways).
  3. Luther represents something really very new and different. You may not like him in the end, but after you read him, it’s amazing how Barth or Aquinas, Athanasius or Calvin, Augustine or Pseudo-Dionysius … they all kinda start sounding the same. (Doubt it? Try it.)

Have fun!

Credo in…quid? Who is an orthodox Christian?

Pope Francis’s visit to American shores unleashed a storm of breathless reporting and commentary that transfixed the press in the United States for a full week. (I would link, but it’s hard to know where to begin.) Yet amidst the musings on issues both profound and mundane that his journey spawned, one thing was again very clear in the coverage of the pontifical progress: the media are generally flummoxed when they attempt to comprehend and articulate the nature of the factions and fractures within Christianity, particularly when it comes to understanding what an orthodox Christian might actually be.

Exhibit A was this New York Times piece, which begins by airing the views of a representative from the traditionalist wing of the Catholic Church [bold emphasis mine]:

[Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller], a conservative German in black clerical clothing, said neither the pontiff, nor his church, cared whether “Obama says the pope is a very good man” or whether a “fallible” Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. And if papal proclamations of Catholic doctrine on core issues of family have eroded Francis’ global standing, so be it.

But Cardinal Müller is no objective papal observer. He is a leading voice in the orthodox wing of the Catholic Church that worries that outsize attention on Francis’ welcoming, pastoral style could distract from the church’s core beliefs.
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Truth and Forgiveness

About the Author
David Wagschal

The Gay Question: the Way Forward (Conclusion)

In my last post, I argued that the key question facing the churches on “the gay issue” is no longer the question of acceptance but the question of reconciliation. That is, the question is no longer “Will the churches accept homosexuals as full, normal members of their communities?”, but “How do the churches now respond to the generations of people harmed by the traditional anti-homosexual stance?”

For Christians, I think this reconciliation will mean two things: 1) truth; 2) forgiveness.

TRUTH

I believe that, on a spiritual level, the anti-homosexual stance in the churches has manifested above all in one particular vice: lying.

The whole issue is clothed in untruth, deception, deflection, and euphemism. Gay people have pretended they were straight. Spouses have pretended their partners were heterosexual. Children have pretended their parents’ marriage was normal. Obviously gay youth have been treated as if they were straight. Everyone has known that a particular celibate pastor/monk/religious/priest is gay, but no one has spoken of it. Gay people are excluded from communion but no one is told why, or the issue is only spoken of in hushed tones. Many people realize that others are being repressed and hurt, but never speak out. Many completely disagree with the traditional position but keep silent. Everywhere it’s lies, fear, repression.

“…He was a murderer from the beginning, and he does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies…”

We desperately need the cleansing, purifying power of honesty. We need truth.

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The Gay Question: the Way Forward

About the Author
David Wagschal

Greetings! After a welcome summer hiatus, I think it’s high time to get back to the blog.

Like many people, I’m beginning to suffer from a little issue-fatigue with the gay question. So I’d like to wrap up our series on homosexuality and the church with a few final reflections on the way forward.

Where are we?

To move forward, I think it’s important that we have accurate sense of where we really are: “the state of the question”.

Many Christians believe that we’re still debating whether or not homosexuality is acceptable for Christians. According to them, the essential question is, “Will the churches accept homosexuality as a normal sexual practice/orientation for its members and leadership?”

I don’t believe this is true. I think that this stage of the debate is over. I think it is pretty clear that the tide has turned, and that socially and culturally, homosexuality has been accepted, and will continue to gain acceptance (barring any major socio-economic catastrophe). If you don’t believe me, just spend some time with anyone under 25.

Theologically, the tide is also turning.

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Gay Marriage: An Urgent Matter?

About the Author
David Wagschal

Now that the USA has finally legalized gay marriage, we’re seeing a new round of consternation and unsease among churches that object to full civil and religious equality for gay Christians. Reactions vary, of course, but a growing sense of urgency in conservative Christian circles is quite palpable – and along with it an understandable sense of anger and fear.

My own reaction has mostly been one of sadness – mixed with a certain anxiety.

On a civil level, of course, I’m quite happy that the US is now where it is, even if I’m a little bemused that it’s taken so long.

But on a church level, I can’t help but feel a sense of sorrow, and even trepidation, as I contemplate the long-term loss of credibility that the churches – and the Gospel itself – have suffered in the course of this debate. As I have argued at length over the last half a year or so, the traditional anti-homosexual position is not well founded theologically, biblically, ecclesiologically, or even spiritually. So it’s a hard pill for me to swallow to see “Christian” and “anti-gay” pretty much equated in the media coverage of the US decision. Truthfully, I feel a real sense of shame and embarrassment in Christianity’s association with the anti-gay position. And I worry: how long will this association linger?

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Doctrinal Quiz Time!

About the Author
David Wagschal

(“So wrong for so long?” Part Four)

My final thought on theological traditionalism relates to content – to what we believe. Here I want to make what is perhaps my boldest assertion, which is:

I’m not sure many people actually believe much of the old synthesis anymore.

If there is a definitive blow against the “tradition argument”, this may be it. If people are objecting to homosexuality on the basis of tradition, and yet not themselves adhering to that tradition on pretty fundamental levels, what are we to make of this?

This observation is born out of many conversations I’ve had with Christians in traditional churches where it becomes clear to me that the beliefs espoused by my friends often have only a superficial connection with the traditional Greco-Roman Christian synthesis. Their underlying, foundational beliefs are quite different. Sometimes people don’t seem to realize this disconnect and sometimes they do – they realize that they are actually creating something quite new, yet still wish to maintain a traditional identity.

Am I right?

Well, if you’ve had experience with traditional Christianity, take my “Doctrinal Quiz” and see what you think!

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