Saturday, November 29, 2008

Contemporary Orthodox Theologians Who Deny Non-Orthodoxy As Christianity:

I was beginning to think it self evident that most orthodox Christian theologians define non-orthodoxy as "non-Christianity," but apparently this thesis needs a defense. My co-blogger at American Creation, Kristo Miettinen, a theologically and politically conservative orthodox Christian of the Lutheran bent, challenges me on my assertion. He writes:

You talk about "conservative theologically orthodox Christians of the Protestant, Roman Catholic, or capital O Orthodox Christian faith" as though I wasn't one. If you want to debate the (rabid radical) religious right, I'm right here in front of you. You speak of "conservative Christian audiences which eat up [David Barton's] work"; as for myself, I'll not go that far, but let's say I'm a conservative Christian who appreciates his work (such of it as I have read - about half of [Myth of Separation]). BTW thanks for introducing me to Barton. And I mean that sincerely; this is why I want you to cite the right wing nutjobs that you claim to be rebutting, I have a genuine interest in reading them, if they really exist.

Okay. Mr. Miettinen wants to know of theologically-politically conservative Christians who define "Christianity" with orthodox Christian doctrine and define unorthodox groups like the Mormons "outside" of the definition of Christianity. I should note off bat that Dr. Gregg Frazer is one such conservative evangelical whose PhD thesis argues these Protestant figures from America's Founding era were not "Christian" but something else (even though they tended to think of themselves as "rational Christians" or "unitarian Christians"). He showed on page 10 of his PhD thesis that all of the established Churches in late 18th Century America (except for the Quakers) held to orthodox Trinitarian confessions and creeds. They included Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Baptists, Anglican/Episcopalians and Roman Catholics. And as such it's "reasonable" for late 18th Century America purposes to define "Christianity" with orthodox doctrine.

But in any event here are some notable modern day theologians and figures who likewise define "Christianity" as synonymous with orthodox doctrine. Yes, Virginia, they do exist. And exist in abundance! What I reproduce will be very "Mormon heavy" in the sense that the test of "Christianity" = "orthodox doctrine" = the "Nicene Creed" is most likely to be flunked in contemporary America by the Mormons.

First Joe Carter, one of the most well respective conservative evangelicals in today's blogsphere:

If you tell me that you’re a "Christian" I take that to mean that you subscribe to a common set of doctrines outlined in either the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. Both of these creeds are ecumenical Christian statements of faith accepted by the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and almost all branches of Protestantism. They outline what it means to be a "mere" Christian.

Next, Father Richard John Neuhaus of First Things Magazine, for the Roman Catholic take:

Christianity and the History of Christians

Beyond these doctrinal matters, as inestimably important as they are, one must ask what it means to be Christian if one rejects the two thousand year history of what in fact is Christianity. Christianity is inescapably doctrinal but it is more than doctrines. Were it only a set of doctrines, Christianity would have become another school of philosophy, much like other philosophical schools of the Greco-Roman world. Christianity is the past and present reality of the society composed of the Christian people. As is said in the Nicene Creed, "We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." That reality encompasses doctrine, ministry, liturgy, and a rule of life. Christians disagree about precisely where that Church is to be located historically and at present, but almost all agree that it is to be identified with the Great Tradition defined by the apostolic era through at least the first four ecumenical councils, and continuing in diverse forms to the present day. That is the Christianity that LDS teaching rejects and condemns as an abomination and fraud.


Another Religion

Some have suggested that the LDS is a Christian derivative much as Christianity is a Jewish derivative, but that is surely wrong. The claim of Christianity is that its gospel of Jesus Christ is in thorough continuity with the Old Testament and historic Israel, that the Church is the New Israel, which means that it is the fulfillment of the promise that Israel would be "a light to the nations." The Church condemned Marcion’s rejection of the Old Testament, and she never presumed to rewrite or correct the Hebrew Scriptures on the basis of a new revelation. On the contrary, she insisted that the entirety of the old covenant bears witness to the new. While it is a Christian derivative, the LDS is, by way of sharpest contrast, in radical discontinuity with historical Christianity. The sacred stories and official teachings of the LDS could hardly be clearer about that. For missionary and public relations purposes, the LDS may present Mormonism as an "add-on," a kind of Christianity-plus, but that is not the official narrative and doctrine.

A closer parallel might be with Islam. Islam is a derivative of Judaism, and Christianity. Like Joseph Smith, Muhammad in the seventh century claimed new revelations and produced in the Qur’an a "corrected" version of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, presumably by divine dictation. Few dispute that Islam is a new and another religion, and Muslims do not claim to be Christian, although they profess a deep devotion to Jesus. Like Joseph Smith and his followers, they do claim to be the true children of Abraham. Christians in dialogue with Islam understand it to be an interreligious, not an ecumenical, dialogue. Ecumenical dialogue is dialogue between Christians. Dialogue with Mormons who represent official LDS teaching is interreligious dialogue.

Next Clayton Cramer who is a notable, smart evangelical conservative and historian of the Second Amendment:

The Nicene Creed

I mentioned a few days ago a controversy brewing concerning the Idaho Prayer Breakfast's invitation of a speaker who is an Iranian convert from Islam to Christianity. In the course of that discussion, I explained that are certain core values that define various faiths, and trying to gloss over those differences is silly. I gave as an example of a core value of Christianity--really, a lowest common denominator definition--the Nicene Creed. At least from my reading, the Nicene Creed is one that the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and nearly all Protestant denominations, accept. (I don't know about the Unitarian-Universalist Church. "Is it true that if you are a Unitarian, bigots burn a question mark on your lawn?")

In the last thirty years, I will admit, you can find some of the more liberal denominations awash in theologians and clergy who deny significant portions of the Nicene Creed. For example, denying "Jesus Christ" was "the only-begotten Son of God" and at least reluctant to admit "He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures...." These are pretty much the exception, and I think you would find that most members of even these liberal denominations, to the extent that they have thought about it, would not take these positions.

One of my readers took exception to my claim about the Nicene Creed being a core definition of Christianity. He pointed out that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) do not accept the Nicene Creed, and therefore the Nicene Creed is not the core definition of Christianity. I would say that a more accurate statement is that the Mormon Church, whatever you might want to think or say about it, is not a Christian church in the sense that Christians (and that's pretty much all divisions of Christianity) define it.

I'm not looking to pick a fight with Mormons. I have friends who are Mormons. I have a Mormon neighbor. I can tell you that if my choice is living in a community that is 70% Mormon, or 70% liberals, I would much prefer living in the 70% Mormon community. I can be pretty confident that Mormon parents will not be supplying marijuana, alcohol, or crack to their kids, or to my kids. I can be pretty sure that Mormons aren't going to be showing up at city council hearings demanding that the city license a lap dance joint, or asking the state to recognize gay marriage, or demanding that the government make enforcement of gun control laws a higher priority than rape. If my ten-year-old goes over to a Mormon home, I can be pretty sure that he and his playmates aren't going to find fur-lined handcuffs and pornographic movies in the mother's dresser. And that is what separates Mormons from liberals (at least, the kind that I had to live with as neighbors in Sonoma County).

Still, Mormon theology is different from Christianity, as defined by not only the Nicene Creed, but nineteen centuries of consensus. Let me start out by saying that I have worked with Mormons in the past who really did not understand Mormon theology. One of them had married a Mormon gal, attended Mormon churches, but did not go through the LDS educational system that effectively all Mormon young people attend. (And by the way: I wish that evangelical Protestants were this committed to educating their kids in our religion. They aren't. Not even close.)

Now, if you are LDS, and are comfortable with the LDS theology, fine, I'm not looking to pick a fight. I've had a few too many discussions with Mormon missionaries, and the whole notion that people can become gods, populating their own planets, is well outside Christian belief. If you are comfortable with it, fine, but it is as far outside of Christianity as Islam is outside of Christianity.

Now, I am not just accepting the claims of those Protestants who criticize Mormonism. Mormon missionaries with whom I have talked have made statements that fit exactly into these claims--for example, that God lives on Sirius B. (Sirius B is a star, not a planet.)

One thing that does bother me quite a bit is that the website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints presents their basic beliefs in a form that is profoundly mainstream Protestant. Yet, when you read websites defending Mormonism, you start to see that there many of Mormonism's positions are radically different from Christianity--and there has been a long history of Mormonism entertaining or internally debating positions that are, as I said, well outside the mainstream of Christianity....

Next, former baseball star and now conservative Christian columnist Frank Pastore who wrote:

Just as Christians and Jews, by definition, cannot ignore their differences over the resurrec-tion and the New Testament, so too Christians and Mormons cannot ignore the differences be-tween the Bible and the three books of Mormonism: the Book of Mormon, Doctrines and Cove-nants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

Yet many Mormons in recent years have taken to calling themselves Christians, and a grow-ing number of Christians are willing to speak of Mormonism as something akin to another Chris-tian denomination. But, Mormonism is not a Christian denomination, nor is it merely “a non-Christian religion.” To be theologically precise, though perhaps politically incorrect, Mormonism is a cult of Christianity ( — a group that claims to Chris-tian while denying one or more central doctrines of the Christian faith.

The polytheism of Latter Day Saints is a striking contrast to the monotheism of the Bible. The Mormons also deny original sin (central to a Christian understanding of the human condition) and believe that Jesus was conceived through sexual intercourse between God the Father and Mary. I could go on, but Mormonism has far more that distinguishes it from the historic Christian faith than unites it to Christianity.

Next from "Worldview Weekend" which promotes David Barton's "Christian America" idea more than most any other source I've seen:

And so you see, 45% of Christians know what thousands of the media elite do not: Mormonism is not Christian.

Next, the late Bible Answer Man, Dr. Walter Martin:

Mormon theology is polytheistic, teaching in effect that the universe is inhabited by different gods who procreate spirit children, which are in turn clothed with bodies on different planets, "Elohim" being the god of this planet (Brigham�s teaching that Adam is our heavenly Father is now officially denied by Mormon authorities, but they hold firm to the belief that their God is a resurrected, glorified man). In addition to this, the "inspired" utterances of Joseph Smith reveal that he began as a Unitarian, progressed to tritheism, and graduated into full-fledged polytheism, in direct contradiction to the revelations of the Old and New Testaments as we have observed. The Mormon doctrine of the trinity is a gross misrepresentation of the biblical position, though they attempt to veil their evil doctrine in semi-orthodox terminology. We have already dealt with this problem, but it bears constant repetition lest the Mormon terminology go unchallenged.

On the surface, they appear to be orthodox, but in the light of unimpeachable Mormon sources, Mormons are clearly evading the issue. The truth of the matter is that Mormonism has never historically accepted the Christian doctrine of the Trinity; in fact, they deny it by completely perverting the meaning of the term. The Mormon doctrine that God the Father is a mere man is the root of their polytheism, and forces Mormons to deny not only the Trinity of God as revealed in Scripture, but the immaterial nature of God as pure spirit. Mormons have gone on record and stated that they accept the doctrine of the Trinity, but, as we have seen, it is not the Christian Trinity. God the Father does not have a body of flesh and bones, a fact clearly taught by our Lord (John 4:24, cf. Luke 24:39).

Finally, responding to one of my posts at Positive Liberty, the very bright, young, orthodox Christian missionary, attorney and scholar Joshua Clayborn asks:

I’d be curious to see a legitimate, respected member of the [o]rthodox community that does not consider [o]rthodox to be Christianity.

1 comment:

Kristo Miettinen said...


What a bizarre post from you. Do you really misunderstand me so completely? I doubt it. You can't afford to admit what I'm saying, so you pretend to argue against me while really addressing a phantom of your own making, rather as you deal with Barton.

First of all, you do realize, don't you, that for the historical question that we are discussing, it is not the opinion of "orthodox Christian theologians" that matters, but rather the standard appropriate for historians of Christianity.

I've cited Pelikan, but I could add Kung, Latourette, and McManners (limiting myself to authors within arms' reach as I type this). By the standards of any serious history of Christianity that you care to name, heretics like Arius were Christian, despite not being orthodox. "Orthodox Christian" is not a redundant expression, it is an expression that picks out a subgroup among Christians.

I have no interest in knowing of "theologically-politically conservative Christians who define 'Christianity' with orthodox Christian doctrine and define unorthodox groups like the Mormons 'outside' of the definition of Christianity". Don't put words in my mouth.

I have no issue with the quotes that you muster, except to point out that they conflate christianity with their varying versions of orthodoxy, positions that are fine for anyone within a Christian community looking to judge his fellow men. From a sectarian standpoint, you get no bonus points for being a Christian if you fail to achieve salvation, and next to salvation (or lack thereof) nothing else matters, so the only relevant definition of "Christian" to a sectarian is whatever it takes to achieve salvation, which is orthodoxy at least, and probably more (varies by denomination).

This is fine, as I have told you before, for sectarian squabbles, but not for the historian. You aspire to be a historian (or at least to write a book on history), so it's time to stop playing silly games with sectarian definitions and start thinking like a historian. Except that as soon as you do, your position collapses. In order to defend the position you are wedded to, you have to cling to an unhistorical definition of "Christianity", and furthermore you have to pretend, against contrary evidence, that your opponents (like Barton) cling to that same unhistorical definition, when in fact they don't (for historical purposes).

BTW, in closing, your "bright, young, orthodox Christian missionary" is incoherent in the passage you cite. Of course orthodoxy is Christianity, it is the converse that is in question. Why didn't you catch this obvious error yourself before endorsing the quote? Jon, I am confident that you are smarter than you present yourself to be.