Sunday, September 01, 2013

Fortenberry Keeps Pulling Me Back In On Frazer

I've done a great deal of work discussing, analyzing and promoting Dr. Gregg Frazer's work on the American Founding over the past few years. I think he provides a very useful analytic paradigm supported by solid research. Though, I admit there are many other potentially valid paradigms. His book, I understand, sold quite successfully. So I thought my work was largely done and I could move on to other matters.

But Mr. Bill Fortenberry insists on dragging me back in. See the comments here.

At issue is Dr. Frazer's 10 point test for determining who is a Christian according to late 18th Century American historical purposes and how that contrasts with the points in which the theistic rationalists believed. In particular the "Christian" notion that all of the Bible is inspired, "inerrant" if you will v. the theistic rationalist notion that the biblical canon was fit for man's reason to scrutinize and determine which parts were valid, which were error.

Fortenberry concludes, absurdly to me, and indeed using a "reductio ad absurdum" mechanism that Dr. Frazer's method proves himself (and all other self identified Bible believing Christians) to be a "theistic rationalist."

Note, even though I by in large agree with Dr. Frazer's work, I don't agree with everything about it. I respect it as an authority while understanding that all earthly authorities are fallible and have potential problems. No one is perfect.

One area in which Frazer could have been clearer is which of the 10 elements are more central to the understanding of "Christianity" than the others. Though, his book was less than 300 pages and aimed to be both scholarly and accessible. Such demand for more explication, taken to its absurd extreme, could result in an unreadable book over 1000 pages.

I think Frazer is on strongest ground, historically, insofar as his test matches with the Nicene minimum understanding of "Christianity" that has a long accepted tradition that stretches from St. Athanasius to C.S. Lewis.

But Frazer's test isn't quite the same; it's more refined. For instance, the doctrine of Original Sin is one of those points. But (as far as I understand them) the capital O Orthodox Church doesn't believe in that doctrine. Yet they aren't part of Frazer's 10 point lowest common denominator test because (surprise) they didn't have much if any presence in late 18th Cen. America.

But still, an interesting question might be which, if any one of those ten points could an individual disbelieve in and lose or retain the label "Christian."

The problem with this question is that, ultimately, it's unanswerable on this side of cosmic reality. But because I, as above noted, see Frazer's strongest historical case as that which accords with the Nicene minimum understanding, I see the doctrines which that tradition clearly explicates as more important.

So if a particular person believed in 9 of the 10 points but rejected Original Sin (like the Eastern Orthodox) I'd be hard pressed to say that person isn't a "Christian." Or someone like Benjamin Rush who disbelieved in eternal damnation while still believing in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, I still see him a "Christian" -- a Christian universalist.

Or what if someone believed, as Fortenberry accuses Frazer, that man's reason determines which parts of the Bible are valid revelation and, as it were, the canon is "fit" to be edited. I dispute that such accurately categorizes Dr. Frazer. But even if it did, if that person still believes in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, I'd be hard pressed to say that person is not a "Christian." However, just as Benjamin Rush, because he rejected eternal damnation, is a "Christian-universalist," such a person would be accurately categorized as a "Christian rationalist."

But what if such a theist and a rationalist didn't even believe in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement? (The first four Presidents and Ben Franklin!) Then, it seems to me, that they don't deserve the label "Christian" for historical purposes. Those tenets have historically been viewed as more central to the faith.

Thus, the term "theistic rationalist" would distinguish them from the "Christian rationalists" -- the latter believers in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement who, with the former, thought man's reason could test for valid revelation and edit from the Bible that which doesn't pass "reason's" smell test.

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