Saturday, October 18, 2008

Is "Unorthodox Christianity" "Christianity"?

Kristo Miettinen says yes. Many orthodox Christians say no. I say, yes and no; it depends on how one defines "Christianity." Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnessism are two classic examples: They call themselves Christians. But many orthodox Christians balk: "This isn't Christianity, whatever you call yourselves."

It all depends on where you draw the line and how you "box" people. For instance, regarding race we have blacks, whites and mixed race. In this society we tend to box folks as either "white" on the one hand or "black and mixed race" on the other. But in a society where blacks predominate, we might box folks as either "black" or "white or mixed race." Likewise we box folks as "straight" or "gay or bi." Looking for homosexual purity we could box folks as "gay" or "straight or bi."

America's key Founders [Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin] emerged from a "Christian" history but tended to reject orthodox Trinitarian doctrines and the infallibility of the Bible; they were theists who believed God primarily revealed Himself through nature discoverable by reason, secondarily by the Bible which they regarded as partially inspired, not infallible. To many orthodox Christians of the past and present era that puts them outside of the "Christian" label, regardless of what they termed themselves [the key Founders including Jefferson and Franklin, more likely thought of themselves as "Christians" not "Deists"].

And with that I am going to reproduce a little back and forth between Kristo Miettinen -- arguing for the "unorthodox" understanding of Christian -- and Gregg Frazer -- arguing for the "orthodox" understanding of Christianity.

My conclusion is the glass is half full and half empty so it all depends on which perspective one takes.

Kristo wrote:

I think your term “theistic rationalist” misses a key element of the left-wing founders: that even they were bibliophiles or bibliocentrists, and affiliated in individual cases with bibliolatry (e.g. the masonic ritual use of the KJV as their “Volume of the Sacred Law”).

Might I suggest “biblical rationalist” rather than “theistic rationalist”, since what they applied their rationalism to was more often the bible than God in any natural-theology sense.


[The term theistic rationalism] misses the founder’s bibliocentrism, which I believe was stronger than their theocentrism, if the latter is interpreted in a generic sense. They may have dabbled in natural theology, but not with the same energy that they applied to the bible.

Frazer deflects attention from their biblical obsession because they didn’t see the bible as he sees it. That is no reason to follow him in his choice of terms. Early America was a bible-soaked society. Frazer’s intellectual ancestors were products of that environment, but so were a number of other highly creative bibliocentric thinkers whose opinions Frazer abhors.

He may have coined a term, but you make an independent judgment of the matter when you choose his term over others. You have to stand behind your choice, you cannot point a finger at the man behind you.

Frazer replied:

“Biblical rationalist” would be a very misleading term. One shouldn’t use something they largely rejected as a central part of identifying them. That would be like calling the Protestant Reformers “Catholic” instead of Protestant. After all, they lived in a “catholicism-soaked society” and they applied their reforms to catholicism!

The key Founders lived in a “Bible-soaked society,” but they reacted against that to a large extent. The key Founders almost universally rejected and scorned the Old Testament (other than the Psalms & Proverbs & Ecclesiastes) as well as the New Testament other than the Gospels. They were hardly “obsessed” with the Bible and were FAR from bibliocentrists! When one uses “centric” as a suffix, it is not to be prefaced by something the individual rejected or disagreed with!

To the extent (not that much, by the way) that they used biblical allusions or illustrations, it was to relate to their “Bible-soaked society” — not because of their own “obsession” with the Bible.

It would also be misleading to use “biblical rationalist” simply because they applied their rationalism to the Bible. To call them “biblical rationalist” is to apply the adjective “biblical” to THEM (the rationalists) — not to the target of their rationalism.

As for the choice of “theistic,” the definitive dictionary of the 18th century, the Oxford English Dictionary, defines theism as: “Belief in one God as creator and supreme ruler of the universe, without denial of revelation: in this use distinguished from deism.” That is a precise description of the belief of the key Founders.

I can’t help but wonder how Mr. Miettinen knows so well what I abhor and to what “highly creative” bibliocentric thinkers he refers.

Finally, I don’t think Jon was hiding behind me where the term “theistic rationalism” is concerned. He has been scrupulously careful to give me credit (and I think it is CREDIT, not blame) for coining the term and I am exceedingly grateful. That is all he was doing.

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