The Evolution and Persistence of Marcionism

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After five or six years of intermittent blogging I think I have finally found my niche. Once all of the hot takes have been written and shared, and then all of the frustrated responses to the hot takes have been posted, there is a sweet spot right in between the two where a ton of potential exists for fruitful dialogue. The latest dust up over Andy Stanley’s sermon regarding the way that believers should relate to the Old Testament is a perfect example of this. The most popular response I’ve read was Wesley Hill’s FirstThings article, in which he made the accusation of Marcionism. It wasn’t long after this that the “Can we stop calling everyone a Marcionite…” posts started filling my twitter feed. The funniest of which had to be Peter Enns’ personal blog post where he feigns contempt for being accused of Martianism. If you haven’t been following this debate or if you’re not familiar with Marcionism and you think this is just another obscure theological debate with little to no relevance in the real world, I would encourage you to do a little research into Marcionism, because the relationship between the Old and New Testament is vital to the gospel and to the life of the believer.

One of the things that shocked me the most about Andy’s message was his attempt to relate with those who were handed a bible early in their lives with little to no instruction as to how to read it. I suspect that Andy grew up in a church dominated by a dispensational interpretive method that was instrumental in instructing his reading of scripture whether he was aware of it or not. I have often thought that dispensationalism seems to be an evolved form of Marcionism where the God that Marcion rejected from the Old Testament is now embraced in an attempt to harmonize Old and New Testament revelation and preserve divine immutability. It seems to me that the system fails on both accounts, but that is a topic for another day. The reason I think that the charge of Marcionism “sticks” to Andy in some ways is that he seems to have embraced the dispensational idea of the violence in the Old Testament as being a divine “means to an end,” and therefore we must “unhitch” ourselves from the Old Testament in order to come to a deeper faith in God revealed through the New Testament. Some suggest that because Andy didn’t directly say that the God of the Old Testament must be rejected then the charge fails, but what is said implicitly is often as strong as or stronger than what is said explicitly.

I recently defended Brian Zahnd against the charge of Marcionism in a blog post because his attempt at harmonizing the Old and New Testament required a reinterpretation of the Old Testament rather than a distancing or a disconnection. And his method revealed a more Christ like God being active in the early history of Israel rather than his inspiration being a “stepping stone” to the New Testament. His teaching was also in accord with what I believe to be the “faith once delivered unto the saints” and handed on by the apostles. A great introduction to the methods the apostles used to interpret scripture is the Popular Patristic Series published by Saint Vladimir’s Press and edited by Father John Behr, and specifically On the Apostolic Preaching by Saint Irenaeous of Lyons. I would love to see discussions like this follow a natural progression from the specific topics to the general principles. This debate swirls around our interpretive methods and our fundamental understandings of the divine nature. As we discuss it we should be drawn unavoidably to the incarnation as the supreme revelation of God’s nature in history and allow it to be our guide in understanding these complex questions.  

 

My Grandfather's Keeper

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Are we our brother’s keeper? If so are we our father’s keeper and how far does it go? From the beginning we have been blaming others and refusing to accept responsibility. Adam points the finger at Eve, then Eve does the same to the serpent. Theft leads quickly to murder and when confronted by God with his guilt Cain responds with those timeless words that still haunt humanity, “am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is yes, unhesitatingly yes! We are our brother’s keeper. We are our sister’s, our father’s, our mother’s, and even our grandfather’s keeper. That is why it shocks me every time I have a conversation with a Christian who is a part of an organization with past sins, and they coolly reply that they aren’t responsible for the sins of previous generations. I was even more shocked to hear Jordan Peterson, a man whose influence has seen a meteoric rise in the past year especially among conservative christians, renounce the idea of collective guilt during a recent interview with Ben Shapiro. But it might explain why he left out the Brother’s Keeper section of the Cain and Abel story in this interview with Sam Harris.  

By no means am I suggesting that all people must assume collective guilt by necessity but it is a beautiful thing when it is done voluntarily. And never was it done more beautifully than when the creator of the universe took on human flesh, waded down into the baptismal waters of the Jordan, assumed the collective guilt of humanity, and started his long but inevitable journey to the cross where he would share in our punishment. John’s reaction was much like our own when confronted with the prospect of assuming someone else’s guilt, he tried to prevent him! But John was not the only one who tried to stop Jesus from fulfilling his mission on earth. When the Lord began to reveal to his followers that he would have to suffer and die for the faults of others, Peter withstood him to his face and the voice of God replied, “get behind me Satan.” In a culture where we barely have the strength to accept the responsibility for our own actions, assuming the guilt and sharing in the punishment of someone else can easily become offensive. So offensive that we murdered one of the brightest lights our nation has ever had, 50 years ago today, because he had the courage to hold up a mirror to our societies own depravity. But the tide may be turning and it may have started in an unexpected place.   

This turning can be seen in the rise of the heroic antagonist in popular culture. Roughly starting with and made wildly popular by Idina Menzel as Elphaba in Wicked and culminating in Michael B. Jordan’s character Erik Killmonger in Black Panther. The heroic antagonist is built on the foundational truth that we ought to share in each others burdens. In Black Panther, justice does not require T’Challa to spare Erik’s life, but he understands that the actions of his father contributed to the horrific dilemma and he chooses to show him mercy. The heroic antagonist has become an almost ubiquitous element in popular culture, and the acceptance of collective guilt is a fundamental aspect of the gospel, the only question that remains is whether or not leaders in our churches will stand up and fight for change in our organizations. The blood of our black brothers and sisters is crying out to us from the ground and to often our response is, “am I my brother’s keeper,” and “it’s their own fault not ours.” It's not too late to change. There is still time for denominations that have been divided since the civil war to pursue repentance, reconciliation, and reunification. There is still time for predominantly white churches to speak out against the injustices that plague their communities and our society. And there is still time for individuals who have refused to accept responsibility for their own mistakes and for those of previous generations to join in that beautiful work of the gospel.

I support the second amendment and the walk out.

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I am a conservative. I am a Marine. I am a proponent of the second amendment. But I supported students walking out of their schools yesterday. Not only do I support it but I was inspired by it. I believe it is exactly what our nation needs to prevent ourselves from crossing the event horizon which is the black hole of our nation’s own self destruction. The second amendment was established to prevent our nation from becoming, what for all intents and purposes, it has already become. The irony of men and women vehemently defending the second amendment when they have refused to use it for decades is almost unbearable!

We should have demanded gun control in 1990 by refusing to accept the National Defense Authorization Act which facilitated the transfer of surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies. This transfer was initiated to help support the “war on drugs.” That’s right, segregation didn’t work, the war on drugs didn’t work, so we had to make it a literal war on drugs by militarizing our police forces. But guess what, no one was using their second amendment rights and standing up for gun control by demanding that local law enforcement agencies not be given armored personnel carriers.

We should have demanded gun control after WWI and WWII when our nation transitioned from a non-interventionist state to an interventionist state and started demanding continual increases in the size and strength of the military. This transition produced perpetual conflicts (e.g. Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq, et al.) and it opened the door for one party to be the pro-military, pro-America, pro-freedom through intervention party. Ironically the Republican party still claimed to be the conservative party even though their support of increasing the size and strength of the military (and deregulating wall street) are traditionally liberal positions.

The reason why common sense gun control is so difficult and such a controversial topic is because our nation has benefited from gun violence for decades. Please take a second to read Revelation 18 and tell me what nation you think the author is describing. Military and Law Enforcement gun violence has brought about a Pax Americana which has allowed our nation to enjoy tremendous amounts of luxury and comfort. As a good friend of mine said recently, "if the threat of deadly force is necessary to keep the peace, peace does not truly exist."

I mentor young men and women, and something I often tell them is that I truly believe it takes more courage to stand up for what you believe is right in high school than it does to do your duty in combat. In combat you’re often performing actions that you have rehearsed dozens of times in training and you’re surrounded by people you trust that have committed to giving their lives for the same cause. But in high school you’re on your own, with no training, and ridiculed by your peers for do anything out of the ordinary. I celebrate the students who walked out yesterday. You inspire me, you encourage me, and I hope you find the courage to keep fighting for what you believe is right.