Review: Delivered from the Elements

My earlier notes here.  A potential problem with Leithart is that most people who read him either “join his camp” or “attack his camp.” I don’t want to do either. I actually think the book is quite good.  It has a lot of promise for evangelism and missions and steers a path through the problems with New Perspective on Paul. It is also a good book on metaphysics.

Main idea: the fundamental physics of every society consists of purity, pollution, and ritual (Leithart 12). If you “relocate” the sacred then you change the structure of society.  Goal: a successful atonement theology must show how Jesus’s death and resurrection is the key to history.

One interesting point is that he draws attention to the word “nature.”  Yes, the NT uses “substance” language, but not the kind usually thought.  The NT use of “nature:” a moral order rooted in the differences of the sexes (27).  When Paul uses “nature” it is neither Aristotelian or Stoic.  Gentiles do not have the Torah “by nature” but they still can do what Torah commands (sometimes). Physeis is closely linked to nomos, so of law means a change of the elements (29).

Here is the problem: given what is wrong with the world, how does Jesus’s death as my substitute fix the world?  Leithart will defend substitutionary atonement, but he does not the problem in most popular accounts.  If the goal is to cash Jesus out as the credit card on my account, then did it matter that he was a Jew?  Framed another way: how does Christ’s dying for me deliver humanity from ta stoichea?  You have to be able to answer this question.

“The elements (ta stoichea) are features of an old creation that Christ has in some way brought to an end” (25).  In both Gentile and Jewish worlds they are structures and symbols that involve distinctions between purity and impurity, sacred and profane.

Yahweh’s intention is to destroy the fleshly physics.  When he introduces Torah he is continuing his cutting away of flesh.  The problem with flesh is that flesh spreads pollution (100). As Leithart notes, “Torah cannot kill flesh without killing the man or woman who bears that flesh” (102).

Torah provides a way for Israel to be Yahweh’s people among the division of nations.  It regulates the flesh but does not fix it. As long as Israel is under Torah she is under managers. It is spiritual and we are flesh.  If we come to it it will kill us.

Justification

(1) The judgment is not a  mere verdict of righteousness, but it is the very act by which it is accomplished (181). “It is a favorable judgment in the form of resurrection.” It also makes more sense in the historia salutis than in the ordo.  Justification was an act in Jesus’s life (1 Tim. 3:16). And through it we are delivered from the realm of death and stoichea to the realm of Spirit.

Thesis: Paul denies that the Spirit comes through the mechanisms of Torah (193). Flesh and Torah are mutually defining (Romans 7:1-6).  Paul’s argument: to be reckoned righteous is to receive the Spirit.  We receive the Spirit who does acts of power by hearing the message [as Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Humanity is supposed to grow into maturity, but it cannot do this while remaining under the elements and Torah.  The elements are beings who guard and manage children. They could be angelic beings, since Jews received Torah through angels and Gentiles were under beings that are “by nature no gods” (Gal. 4.8).

While stoichea regulate the elements of social life, and a dissolution of stoichea would dissolve the universe, Jesus gives the Spirit who is the new fundamental element of social life (219).  As the Spirit spreads, stoicheic divisions give way to a new order of the Spirit. Instead of a pyramid society of slaves, Paul sees a single body.

Conclusion

The book has several appendices of varying interests.  My main problem with the book was it could have been about 50 pages shorter.  The chapter on Presbyterian Buddhists was neat, but could have been reduced to a footnote.

Advertisements

Notes on Leithart’s Delivered from the Elements

I clean this up in a book review later.  This review is neither an endorsement nor a critique of Leithart.  It’s simply looking at scholarship in NT studies.  Full stop.leithart

Main idea: the fundamental physics of every society consists of purity, pollution, and ritual (Leithart 12). If you “relocate” the sacred then you change the structure of society.

NT use of “nature:” a moral order rooted in the differences of the sexes (27).

Goal: a successful atonement theology must show how Jesus’s death and resurrection is the key to history.

Part 1: Under the Elements of the World

The Physics of the Old Creation

“The elements (ta stoichea) are features of an old creation that Christ has in some way brought to an end” (25).  In both Gentile and Jewish worlds they are structures and symbols that involve distinctions between purity and impurity, sacred and profane.

When Paul uses “nature” it is neither Aristotelian or Stoic.  Gentiles do not have the Torah “by nature” but they still can do what Torah commands (sometimes). Physeis is closely linked to nomos, so of law means a change of the elements (29).  Paul does not use stoichea in the Greek sense. It is a cultural cosmos linked to religious practices.

Flesh

Adam was placed under the elements.  “Touch not, taste not” was his pedagogy (76).  After the fall, though, flesh was a reminder that the strength of man cannot save.  This might explain circumcision as a symbolic attack on flesh, a reminder that salvation won’t come through natural means.  As Leithart notes, “it is a division from division,” from the pride of nations (89).

What Torah Does

Yahweh’s intention is to destroy the fleshly physics.  When he introduces Torah he is continuing his cutting away of flesh.  The problem with flesh is that flesh spreads pollution (100). As Leithart notes, “Torah cannot kill flesh without killing the man or woman who bears that flesh” (102).

Torah provides a way for Israel to be Yahweh’s people among the division of nations.  It regulates the flesh but does not fix it. As long as Israel is under Torah she is under managers. It is spiritual and we are flesh.  If we come to it it will kill us.

Part Two: Good News of God’s Justice

The Justice of God

Torah and every form of stoichea institutionalize a world of death (126).  In Jesus’s death the old world, the stoichea, the old humanity is gone. Torah established a pedagogy under the conditions of the flesh.  Jesus established a pedagogy under conditions of the Spirit (139).

The Faith of Jesus Christ.

Penal substitution can stand only if it emphasizes the resurrection.  If Christ is not raised, then it is not clear that God accepted his sacrifice. 

Justification 

(1) The judgment is not a  mere verdict of righteousness, but it is the very act by which it is accomplished (181). “It is a favorable judgment in the form of resurrection.”

It also makes more sense in the historia salutis than in the ordo.  Justification was an act in Jesus’s life (1 Tim. 3:16). And through it we are delivered from the realm of death and stoichea to the realm of Spirit.

Galatians 2 Chiasm:

A. Knowing that a man does not receive delivering verdict by what Torah does.
B. But through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
               C. We have believed in Jesus Christ.
        B’ so that we may receive the delivering verdict by the faithfulness of XP.
A’ and not by what the law does, since the law does not justify

Pistis Christou in B and B’ refer to the faith of Christ and not Paul’s act of believing. Paul isn’t saying the same thing in three different ways (189).

“Works of Torah” refer to the man and not the deeds (190).  It is someone whose nature has been molded by circumcision, temple, and purity laws.

Justified from the Elements

Thesis: Paul denies that the Spirit comes through the mechanisms of Torah (193).

Flesh and Torah are mutually defining (Romans 7:1-6).  Paul’s argument: to be reckoned righteous is to receive the Spirit.  We receive the Spirit who does acts of power by hearing the message [as Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness].

Chiasm in Galatians 3

A. Spirit comes through the message of faith (1-5).
       B.Abraham believed God (6-9).
C. Those who are of the law are cursed by the law (10).
D.Law vs. Faith (11-12).
            C* Jesus becomes curse to remove curse (13)
        B* So that the blessing of Abraham can come to the Gentiles (14a)
A* So that we might receive the Spirit through faith (14b).

Justify has to refer to more than a verdict.  It also includes a rescue. When Yahweh promised to justify the Gentiles, he was going to judge sin and death. (197).    The good news was not only to the Gentiles, but about them. The content of the gospel is that “all nations shall be blessed in you” (Gal. 3:8).  

Back to Paul’s use of nature:  those who are of different cultures are of different natures.

Galatians 4 is an Exodus motif. Torah works death, so to remain under Torah is to remain under the realm of death.

“The Seed”

Refers to a collective line of descent.  Moses doesn’t mediate the Seed, nor could he since, as mediator of Torah, he can only have a divided humanity (206).

Chiasm in Galatians 4

A. Heir as child (nepios)

       B. no better than a slave (ouden diapherei doulou

                 C. under guardians and managers (hypo epitropous…kai oikonomous)

A’ When we were children (nepioi)

          B’ held in bondage (dedoulomenoi)

                    C’ under ta stoicheia tou kosmou

Humanity is supposed to grow into maturity, but it cannot do this while remaining under the elements and Torah.  The elements are beings who guard and manage children. They could be angelic beings, since Jews received Torah through angels and Gentiles were under beings that are “by nature no gods” (Gal. 4.8).

Chiasm of Galatians 3-4

A.  Faith of Abraham (3.1-14)/
        B.  Faith and law (3.15-22)
               C. Law as pedagogue (3.23-25)
                        D. Baptism into the Seed (26-29)
                C’ Childhood under guardians and managers (4.1-11)
        B’ Weakness of Paul’s flesh/first visit (12-20)
A’ Allegory of Abraham and Sarah (21-31)

Contributions to a Theology of Mission

In Ranks with the Spirit

While stoichea regulate the elements of social life, and a dissolution of stoichea would dissolve the universe, Jesus gives the Spirit who is the new fundamental element of social life (219).  As the Spirit spreads, stoicheic divisions give way to a new order of the Spirit. Instead of a pyramid society of slaves, Paul sees a single body.

Summary of argument so far: “After the curse of Babel, Yahweh continued his war on flesh by beginning an anti-sarkic pedagogy within one family” (283).  Jesus has to be the sacrifice because if he were merely “good,” we would still be barred from Eden.  We would still have to face the flaming cherubim.

 

Leithart isn’t Wilson

This is a dangerous post.  I believe I can now quote and interact with Leithart’s scholarly works in good conscience.  True, he was involved in the Sitler affair, and he made some bad decisions.  But he repented of them publicly.  Wilson hasn’t.

And James Jordan kept himself from that whole fiasco.

Leithart and Jordan are public theologians.  Jordan forces me to wrestle with the Hebrew text.  I can respect that.

Review: Defending Constantine (Leithart)

I used to be a fan of Leithart’s writing.   Even a few years ago when he openly attacked Reformed theology in *The Baptized Body,* his writing was cogent and impressive.   Something happened between the writing of that book and the writing of this one.    Admittedly, Leithart does accomplish a few useful ends in this book.   I will list where he is strong and where is his is either wrong, misleading, of inadequate.

Pros:
1) Leithart does a good job handling the disciples of Yoder
2) Leithart does a good job dealing with the secular scholarship that downplays the obvious persecution of Christians.   I like Gibbon a lot, but Leithart ably rebuts him.
3) There remains the fact of a Christian *polis,* and we see such in Constantine.

Cons:
1) While I side with Leithart over Yoder, it cannot be denied that there was a seismic shift in the Church’s praxis with the advent of Constantine.

2) Further, there was a seismic shift in the church’s eschatology.   While some have challenged the ubiquity of premillennialism in the pre-Nicene church, it was there and its eschatology was forward-looking to the reign of Yahweh-in-Christ upon the earth.    With the advent of a Christian Emperor over the known world, an emperor who was known as “Equal-to-the-Apostles” (which can still be heard in Eastern Orthodox litanies today), in whose person Empire and Sacras were united (cf Runciman, *The Byzantine Theocracy*), there is little point for the church to retain its intense eschatological focus.  Yoder and Moltmann capably document this.   In losing this focus, one must acknowledge it lost a lot of its original ethical thrust.

2a) This is a tangential note:  In *Against Christianity* Leithart attacks Eusebius for his postmillennial ethics centered in the Advent of Constantine, saying we should have a more Augustinian eschatology centered in the tension of already-not yet.   Now Leithart writes a book where he tacitly endorses Eusebius’ eschatology. One of them has to give.

3) Constantine was a bad Christian, if I may not judge.  I am willing to concede the point he was a Christian.   I can even buy, for sake of argument, the miracle in the sky.  But there are significant problems:   1) He put his family members to death (yes, I know it was realpolitik), 2) he postponed baptism based on very bad theology, and 3) He was not always friendly to Nicene Theology (yes, I realize he didn’t understand it, which further underscores my point).  These facts to not negate Leithart’s thesis, but they remain tough pills to swallow.

Orthodox Bridge’s End of Protestantism

I haven’t dealt with Orthodox Bridge in a while.   But sometimes they come across a decent review or article that deserves outside notice.  Their article highlights a number of weaknesses in the CREC, but does nothing to touch magisterial Protestantism.

I am glad they reviewed Leithart’s End of Protestantism.   It shows the naievety of “everyone’s adopting liturgical CREC worship in the postmillennial glory.”  However, I think there are some weak spots in Arakaki’s analysis.  

Note:  I am only dealing with his analysis of Leithart.  As is always the case, Arakaki ends his article by saying, “Wouldn’t St Ignatius feel more at home in an Orthodox Church?”  Even if that is true, who cares? That’s not a logical argument.  Now onto the review:

RA: This future-oriented ecumenicism is not new.  Gabriel Fackre – Andover Newton Theological School’s Samuel Abbott Professor of Christian Theology Emeritus – in an essay written in 1990 describes the United Church of Christ’s ecumenicism which anticipates Rev. Leithart’s future oriented vision of church unity.

Here is where I think Arakaki hits a weak point.  First of all.  The United Church of Christ is not Reformed.  It is an apostate denomination that is quickly “dying the death.”  But on to the substantial point:

RA: Pastor Leithart has an evolutionary understanding of the Church in which doctrine, practice, and worship evolve over time.

Maybe he does.  I’m not sure, though.  Is development the same as evolution?  We don’t see an argument that it is.  Ephesians 4 talks about the church “growing into the body of Christ.”  That’s development language.

RA: One weakness of Protestantism has been its wholesale neglect of church history, especially the first 1,000 years.

This is false.  I’ve refuted and rebutted these guys so often on this point that I give up.

RA: Readers of Leithart’s book should be aware of the high cost that comes with Leithart’s proposed solution: broken fellowship with the early Church.

Two points:
1) Assertion
2) So what?

RA: This is evident in his flat out refusal to subject the Protestant Reformation to critical scrutiny.

I’ll take RA’s word for it, not having read the book myself.  But that charge is kind of ironic, since Orthodox Bridge has never subjected itself to scrutiny, nor will they, nor will they allow anyone like myself to do so.

RA: How many modern day Evangelicals and Protestants would be welcome at the Eucharist in Luther, Calvin, and Bucer’s church?  

None would be welcome in Luther’s church, given our rejection of a corporeal, capernaitic eating of Christ.  Calvin and Bucer?  Probably quite a few, given the recent interest in Psalmody.  But I wonder if Arakaki really wanted an answer, anyway.

RA:  The discrepancy between Protestantism and early Christianity is something that Protestants must give account for.

We’ve done this so many times.  I’m not going to answer the challenge, though, since doing so would grant that Arakaki’s church is identical to a given point in early church history.  That is to be proven, not assumed.

RA: The future church which Pastor Leithart described with moving eloquence in Chapter 3 sounds much like the mild liberalism of the UCC in the 1950s and the 1960s.  In line with the title of his book, Rev. Leithart calls for Protestant denominations and churches to “die,” that is, to cease to exist in their present forms in order for new forms to emerge.

This is probably a good point.  It also shows one fatal weakness in Leithart’s analysis.  Unless Leithart is going to base the unity on justification and the glory and sovereignty of God, then more and more CREC Turks will end up going Tiber/Constantinople.

RA: For those who grew up in the provincial sub-culture of Evangelicalism all this might sound daring but for those who grew up in mainline Protestantism this is familiar territory.  Within a matter of a few decades the UCC’s inclusive ecumenism degenerated into radical liberalism.

Again, a very good point.  However, the only people taking Leithart seriously are CREC members, and they are more likely to swing towards a cultic conservatism rather than liberalism.

RA: Many Evangelicals are unaware of how insulated they are.  They hold in high esteem teachers and pastors for their “unique” and “brilliant” insights into Scripture not knowing that much has been borrowed from others.  What seem to be bold and innovative teachings are often drawn from one of the early Church Fathers or, worse yet, a revived heresy.  This is why knowledge of church history is so important for sound theology.

I am sorry.  This is just silly.  This might be true of Independent Fundamental Baptists, but not of anyone else.  

RA: The Evangelical subculture in many ways is a closed off, provincial religious ghetto

To quote the greatest politician in American history: “Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!”

wrong

Arakaki ends by quoting the Fathers on unity.  Well, I could respond but that assumes a lot of presuppositions (on both sides), and that brings us into questions about ontology and logic.