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Archive for December, 2016

Either/Or….Two 19th Century Christian theologians, one or the other of whom dominates the thought of all modern religionists

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 22, 2016

Hegel or Darby

To be sure, there are some thinkers who have tried to avoid all entaglement with the outbreak of 19th century thought systems.  Whether these have been successful in evading modernity, let alone post-modernity, can be left as a moot question.  Various strains of neo-Thomism, neo-Calvinism, and neo-Traditionalism might fit the bill.  We are not trying to be exhaustive here.  But whereas they sung in that great 19th century satire Iolanthe “Everyone is a bit Platonic or Aristotelian”…the salient thought of Christian intellectuals and those whom they have influenced pretty comes down to these two Titans and the giants that sprang from their loins.

In the case of Hegel the giants are well known, since the descendants of Hegel captured the academy, the state, and the media in that order.  It has been said that the battle of Stalingrad was a fight between right-wing and left-wing Hegelians.   The left won, which is why modernity was ostensibly dominated by atheistic Sartre and theistic Kirkegaard (the controlled Hegelian opposition) rather than the ponderous Heidegger.  Likewise, as the left has consolidated its power over Western civilization, it is Gramchi and the Frankfort school who have come to dominate post-modernism.

Darby’s followers on the other hand have been confined to the evangelical and fundamentalist ghettos of post-Christendom, principally within the Anglosphere.   However Darby’s thought has long since broken free of the ecclesial cocoon  where it was first nurtured, and has become a grab-bag of inspiration for all who seek a more literal yet spiritual Protestantism, a project which has broad, albeit unorganized and unrecognized appeal.   It is precisely this contrast between the heirs of Hegel and those of Darby which makes them so interesting to compare.  Hegel got the intellectuals, while Darby (Franz Fanon notwithstanding!) got the wretched of the Earth.  Which of them, if either, is the true gospel, is yet a different question altogether.

The Great Divide

For Hegel, all human history is the outworking of revelation.  For Darby revelation and history are two different things, and the latter is understood through the former, not vice versa.

For Hegel, the “heroic” is a type and informs anthropology at periodic stages of history.  For Darby there are no heroes, although there were “men of renown” who cooperated with God prior to Christ, not with much success, and of course the God-Man himself, who was singularly successful.

For Hegel, the “end of history” is a point in the future where the possibilities of the dialectic will exhaust itself.  For Darby, the “end of history” can be located around 30AD when Christ uttered the phrase, “It is finished” on the cross.

For Hegel, God is more or less identical to the spacio-temporal manifestation of Being, with the conscious, or intellectual aspect of Being (a.k.a. human history), taking center stage.  For Darby, the entire spacio-temporal manifold is a creature of God, which the God-Man can penetrate into, as from a higher dimension or dimensions.

There are many more points of contrast, but that should suffice.

Afterthoughts

Odd though it might seem, Hegel and his heirs have promoted a very cozy, almost simplistic, mode of thought, which intellectuals are quick to recognize as well within their comfort zone.  Behind all the jargon it is basically “human beings talking about human beings” which has the seeming advantage of evading Divine judgement.  None the less, human beings left to their own judgement of themselves prove, apart from grace, to be the least merciful of creatures.

In contrast, for all the numinous terror of Darby’s eschatology, there is at least an antidote, which is the blood of Christ.  For while with men there is no forgiveness, there is always forgiveness from God.  But with Hegel the whole issue of condemnation and forgiveness fades into a haze, since individuals lose themselves in the abstract forces of history.  The post-Hegelian individual would seem to enter into a sort of Limbo, which probably seems like a very safe and warm place to the children of post-modernity.

Yet are the children of post-modernism really safe among the Hegel-spawned gods of our age?  The Marxists, the Feminists, the epigons of the Frankfurt school and of the French critical schools?  Or are these academic gods suppressing the truth about certain matters vital to the well being of their wards?  One of the most important facts which they have suppressed is their own lineage as Christian theologians, albeit heretical ones.  Their project, long forgotten, was to abolish orthodoxy in favor of a New Christianity, and now that they have been so fabulously successful, they have tried to stuff the very name of God down the memory hole.  They are doomed to eventual frustration, since the surge of Time can never wear down the Rock of Eternity.

Certainly Darby had many failings, both as a man and as a theologian.  Yet he is an important witness against modernity, even if he espoused a kind of hyper-modernity.  Hegel saw Napoleon passing by and thought he saw Christ walking upon the Earth, while Darby, half a generation later, meditated on the same emperor and could only see a harbinger of the Anti-Christ.  C.H. Spurgeon might tease Darby and his movement by paraphrasing the book of Acts, “Men of Plymoth, why stand you there gazing up to Heaven?”  To be sure many a fundamental Christian has been encouraged to withdraw from the fight “contra mundo” through the pietistic, if not outright quietist, strain in Darby’s system.  None the less, it would be hard for anyone to claim that Darby’s system was anything other than a system of fervent belief.

In brief, while Hegel was an advocate for Being and Time, Darby was an advocate for Eternity, albeit an Eternity to which the temporal world was related through a system of dispensations.  Thus while Hegel may or may  not have been an “anti-Christ” in the generic sense of the term, we are on solid grounds if we dub Rev. Darby (over Kirkegaard and all other contenders) the true “Anti-Hegel.”

 

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If Hillary electors really cared about national reconciliation…

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 19, 2016

…they would break their pledge and make Mr. Trump’s election unanimous

The electoral college critics have a weighty argument on their side.  Electors were not intended by the Founders to be puppets of their states’ voting majorities.  The entire idea of the Electoral College is to serve as a bulwark against the system called “direct democracy” a.k.a. mob rule.  Democracy only works well in the market, where consumers can vote their preferences on a wide variety competing but not conflicting goods.  The fact that I like sweet tea and you like lemonade doesn’t put your life, liberty, or property on the line…it just means that if the sweet tea party wins the market vote, you and your fellow holdouts for squeezed lemon will have to travel farther to find a lemonade stand.  Public choice is different from market choice, since it is a vote to see which majority gets to hold a gun to the head of which minority.

This makes democratic elections a dangerous thing.  The left has suddenly realized this and is now promoting what the Founders always envisioned, a body of citizens selected by the people of their states, free to wrestle with their consciences on the merits of the various candidates.  This is the true, prelapsarian, doctrine of the American republic, a political society in which principles of democracy and monarchy were blended to produce an aristocracy of merit and virtue…or something to that effect.  In fact, we inhabit a postlapsarian America, fallen from the philosophical pinnacle of the Founders’ thought and into the purgatory of party politics.  Today we accept that the electors can be trusted to tow the party line as mandated by the popular vote in their respective states.  In effect the majority-by-state principle is a compromise between the aristocracy of virtue and a national referendum.  It is not a scrupulously constitutional way of proceeding but, as the saying goes, close enough for government work.

Now the rump of the Clinton campaign, faced with the certainty of a Trump administration, has undergone a death-bed conversion to the aristocratic ideals of the early republic.  Like all conversions, it is both to be welcomed and its motives questioned.  But let us not impugn the fine ideals of these newly decked out counts and countesses of the commentariat.   Let us assume that their sensibilities and sensitivities are in earnest, and address them with all the reverence due a moral aristocracy.  O you who are about to vote, take not into consideration the clamor of the vulgar mob, but only the political virtue of the two most likely candidates.

Keep in mind that the duty of the electors is to consider the political virtue of the candidates to the exclusion of any other moral characteristics.   Thus we need not consider any of those flaws in Mr. Trump’s character which would have so justly offended the Reverends Wesley or Witfield…rather we ought to consider who, by the standards of Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson, and Jay, would have been considered a danger to the state, and altogether unworthy of nomination, let alone election, to high office.

In fact there is one such dangerous person under consideration, and the list of her alleged failings is too long and too murkey to be mentioned here, yet these might include

…entangling the United States in unnecessary and unprofitable conflicts abroad, resulting in the shedding of much American blood,

…putting American envoys in mortal danger in one such foreign conflict,

…running a foundation to accrue private gain and public power under the pretext of charity,

…being influenced by foreign agents on her staff while engaging in government business,

…shielding her spouse from prosecution on moral grounds,

…and the list could be prolonged practically without limit.  The point is that whether any or all of these suspicious activities can be substantiated in either Congress or a court of law, the mere suspicion should  completely disqualify such a candidate from receiving even a single electoral vote.  Of course I am not speaking of the worthy Mr. Trump, who’s private pecadillos will surely give way to both pastoral rebuke and the waxing wisdom of mature years.  His electors can all vote with great zeal and good faith.

However the electors pledged to Mrs. Clinton face an exacting moral dilemma.   Can they safely ignore such weighty allegations without perjuring their conscience?  Since Mr. Trump is bound to win anyway, should they leave a stain on this nation’s history by endowing Mrs. Clinton with some scrap of moral legitimacy?  Would it not be a noble gesture for them to cast their votes for Mr. Trump, giving him, not just the majority, but the unanimity, of the Electoral College?

I for one would like to see national reconciliation, and would delight in seeing blue states such as New York, Illinois…and yes, even California, return to the fold of sane, albeit imperfect, governance.  And dear Clinton electors, consider one more fact before you vote.  Those Clinton strongholds might actually be red states if we had accurate recounts in all of them.  You can salve your democratic consciences with that as you vote for Trump!

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You can walk like an Egyptian, but please don’t think like an Episcopalian

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 8, 2016

…and a nice time was had by all

How would you feel if you were at the last service in a church which was shutting its doors?  I recently heard that 6,000 local churches and denominational parishes vanish into the annals of history every year.  I hope I was misinformed, as the number seems too high.  None the less, it happens from time to time.  The other day I was at such a service, at a church which figured importantly in my family history but in which I had long ceased to be a member.  One always worries that something negative will happen in such a situation…that there will be some lamentation, or accusation, or that someone will create a “scene.”

Actually the whole affair was quite tasteful…if anything, too tasteful.  There was some nice baroque music performed by the soon to be dismissed choir, a very nice sermon which restricted itself to the recitation of some Biblical archetypes, mercifully devoid of contemporary illustration, and word-for-word recitation from an ancient liturgy.  I ducked out after the service, but I understand there was fellowship with champagne afterwards.  Perhaps that was when things started to get nasty.  Or more lamentably, and probably, people just started to waft off into a nirvana of nostalgia.

The problem is when the violent don’t bear it away

As you can probably guess, this was not a church from which the firebrand gospel had been recently preached by any of Billy Sunday’s spiritual descendants.  It was a church where negative growth had been slowed, if at all, by older people moving into a growing region in search of a convenient location or a parish which reflected their own denominational background.  Although it was a church which baptized infants, there had probably been few of these since the congregation was aging, with few young couples of child bearing age.  And I doubt that there were many, if any, adult conversions.

You might also guess that this was a parish subject to denominational governance, not an autonomous congregation.  If you don’t think there is a relation between church growth and governance, consider the following.  There was a man who desperately wanted to be a preacher in a small congregation.  I don’t know if this church was Baptist, Congregational, Pentacostal or whatever, but it was self-governing.  There was an election and another man won the coveted post of senior pastor and chief preacher.  This didn’t discourage the runner-up, since he was a strong man of prayer and a willing evangelist.  He hit the streets with the saving message of Jesus, and by the time the next year’s general meeting rolled around, enough new members were enrolled to tip the scales in favor of the challenger.  Perhaps that’s not a happy story from the perspective of the “established” pastor, but it did result in a net gain in church membership.  One can imagine one of two outcomes, either the established pastor and the upstart were reconciled to continue growing an undivided church, or there was a split and there were now two churches rather than one.   And while I’m tempted to introduce loafs, fishes, and miracles into this story…I’ll just stick to the bottom line, that its better to go from one to two than from one to zero.

The via media isn’t viable

You would win your bet if you had guessed that this vanished church was of the Episcopal persuasion, and of course “episcopal” with a small “e” is the name of a governance-system, not a theology.  But there is a habit of thought, not at all restricted to members of the Anglican communion, which is even more dangerous to the church than a faulty system of governance, since “…as a man thinketh.”  Anglicans just happen to have a fancy Latin name for it, but I think “split-the-difference-ism” expresses it with greater clarity.

Again, as  a conservative, I wasn’t particularly offended by anything in the scuttled church.  There were no banners proclaiming the slogans of Liberation Theology, or portraits intentionally conflating the image of Christ with that of Che Guevara.  If there had been such in-your-face leftism I suspect that the parish wouldn’t have perished.  Indeed, it probably would have grown, if only in heresy and numbers.  But these were not wicked people, they were good, albeit ineffective people.  The problem, both for Christians or anyone else, is by what criteria do we determine “the Good.”  Jesus solved that problem when he was hailed as a Good Man, and he rejected, or at least questioned, the praise, noting that only God is Good.  Does that mean Man is Bad?

Fearing the worst, the carnal human mind drops that whole line of reasoning, and goes on to frame a wide variety of ethical standards.  Split-the-difference-ism is one of the less sophisticated but more popular solutions to the problem of moral standards.  Take the measure of two extremes, both bad, and find a happy medium between them.  Aristotle made a virtual science out of this way of thinking, but it survives as a handy rule of thumb for positioning oneself in the broad mainstream of opinion.  Again, Jesus would demure and say some unpleasant things about a “narrow gate”…but for those who’s God is far, while human beings threaten ambush from close at hand, the council of prudence lies on the side of split-the-difference-ism.

A number of criticisms could be made of split-the-difference-ism, but since we started with the problem of church growth vs. church extinction, it should be noted that split-the-difference-ism isn’t sexy.  Again, there are two ways to grow a church, one is through actual sex, or procreation by believers.  The other is by making the gospel “sexy” to unbelievers.  This doesn’t mean that the unbelievers are attracted to a good-looking Christian rock star or worship leader, although many mega-churches seem to be embracing that strategy.  It means that in the heat of revival there is usually some strong sentiment of attraction to God, a spiritual analogue to the kind of violent psychological compulsion which people experience during sexual attraction.  Split-the-difference-ism mitigates against the strong contrast between right and wrong, left and right, orthodox and unorthodox which draws souls to a clear decision.  The devil may be in the details but Christ is more often found in a striking binary Gestalt.

Walk like an Egyptian

But the most frustrating thing about split-the-difference-ism is its refusal to split.  Above all, it is gregarious and ecumenical, seeking never to offend.  If this nuanced avoidance of extremes was actually growing, like “”The Blob From Outer Space”, rolling on and on and absorbing everything in its path, there might be some argument in its favor.  However the gospel, unlike the blob, globalism, or split-the-difference-ism, preserves souls rather than destroying them.  The only things that split-the-difference-ism can grow are collectives, a.k.a., denominations, para-church organizations, and sundry societies.  Larger collectives standing for fewer convictions representing less and less people.   That’s split-the-difference-ism, handmaiden of ecumenicalism.

Instead of split-the-difference-ism, why not just split?  Instead of giving up your convictions, why not give up your church, or at least your church building, and find another.  Fortunately, for the vanishing church that I visited, there was what Paul Hardy would have called “…the rest of the story,” since that parish was the reluctant and unrecognized mother-church of many a dissident faction, each of which went on to form its own congregation.  Many of these congregations, be they evangelical, orthodox, traditional, or conservative are today flourishing, growing, and even building…both spiritually and materially.  They are a diverse and unrecognized brood, but they were all founded by spliters, not split-the-differencers.

Search the scriptures, and you will be hard pressed to find moral and doctrinal compromise confused with charity.  We must love the heretic, but even so, hate the heresy.  Moses was raised among the fleshpots of Egypt, but he took a walk, taking a multitude with him.  Sometimes its not enough just to “go along to get along”…one has to forfeit a pleasant environment as the price of upholding principle.   One has to walk away from Egypt, even though you are still an Egyptian at heart.  There is a Spirit that is calling you into the wilderness, a Spirit which will transform you into something other, and better, than an Egyptian.

 

 

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