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.