Tag: history

This Idea Must Die, Part Two

I have come to like the idea of killing off old ideas so well that I’d like to expand it today. In Part One, I suggested that Protestants should give up on a doctrine that has never really worked itself out, even though it started with the best of intention: Sola Scriptura. In Part Two, I want to suggest giving up on the designation Protestant, by letting it die. I’m not sure what this “protest” amounts to in the twenty-first century. What specifically, is still being protested?  After all we have taken ourselves out of the Roman Catholic Church, and for a long time have had our own church families, the many divisions of which are called “denominations.”  The various denominations are the children our branch of the Church has produced. Each of them has a different name. But they remain in the Protestant family. In leaving the RCC, and starting our own family of churches, we let it be known that there was very little about our former family that we liked. But that was a long time ago. To hang on to the Protestant designation after so many years sounds like a child who many years ago threw a tantrum because of being angry at Papa. He was too demanding, too authoritative, was corrupt, and had some ideas that were damaging to the family. So the reformers walked out in protest and became known as Protestants.

However the Church that launched the protest is all grown up now ‪— or at least ought to be.  Therefore it should no longer have the character of the angry Church of five hundred years ago. Many of the arguments that made sense then,  no longer work. And if we still have issues with the RCC, they should no longer have the nature of “protest.” And there should not be the need to fight even though disagreements still exist. Now our own family has  multiplied into thousands of fragments disagreeing with each other over almost anything. We have serious trouble sharing the same table with each other, or at even having conversation.

So it makes sense to me just to drop the “Protestant” label. It no longer has a usefulness. There is a need to prayerfully look for something else. After all we are Christ’s Church. Our differences with the RCC and with our brothers and sisters of other denominations have become an offense to the world. They are a huge stumbling block. Protestantism needs to die. Some say it is already dead, although I have my doubts.

Peter J. Leithart gets at this in his article The End of Protestantism , where he says “The Reformation isn’t over. But Protestantism is, or should be.” Further on he puts it thus

Protestantism is a negative theology; a Protestant is a not-Catholic. Whatever Catholics say or do, the Protestant does and says as close to the opposite as he can. …

Protestantism ought to give way to Reformational catholicism. Like a Protestant, a Reformational catholic rejects papal claims, refuses to venerate the Host, and doesn’t pray to Mary or the saints; he insists that salvation is a sheer gift of God received by faith and confesses that all tradition must be judged by Scripture, the Spirit’s voice in the conversation that is the Church. …

I urge you to read Lethart’s entire post. What he says has profound possibilities for the unity of Christ’s Church. Let the idea of “Protestant” die.

See also: Without Intent

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Without Intent

After sitting on my shelf for about a year, I finally dusted off The Unintended Reformation; How A Religious Revolution Secularized Society,  by Brad S Gregory, a professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Notre Dame.  I quickly became engrossed. However to read it is one thing, but to digest it is another. I finished the reading about three weeks ago, but my mind is still attempting to comprehend its full meaning.

For me to write anything approaching a decent review would take more time and space than  I‘m prepared to give today. I’ll leave reviews to others. So I will approach the book in bits and pieces, chew a little on it, then let it rest until the next time.

As the title makes clear, Gregory does not question the intent of the reformers. The argument of the book is

“that the Western world today is an extraordinarily complex, tangled product of rejections, retentions, and transformations of medieval Western Christianity, in which the Reformation era constitutes the critical watershed.”

The book develops the claim that “incompatible, deeply held, concretely expressed religious convictions paved the path to a secular society.” To do so he uses “a wide-ranging, multifaceted genealogical analysis of the Reformation era” ….

The first chapter is entitled “Excluding God.” To do this he points to changing philosophical arguments that actually began before the Reformation, but eventually provide bases for much that follows.

The traditional Judeo-Christian view of God is that of being radically distinct from the universe as a whole; one who created what came to be ex nihilo. Such a God cannot be explained and is thus beyond our comprehension without intervening revelation. This God cannot be fitted into intellectual categories. The Christian view is that this is the unfathomable God who raised Jesus from the dead, thus ratifying the incarnation, and who himself was the very God of creation. Gregory points out that “It is self-evident that a God who by definition s radically distinct  from the material world could never be shown to be unreal by empirical inquiry”….

However philosophers sought out and found a way to help explain God. It is beyond me to explain the intricacies of such thought.  John Duns Scotus believed that he could show that God’s being did not differ from everything else that exists. Thus, according to Gregory, he paved the way for the eventual taming down of God.

William of Occam, a student of Scotus,  went much further. He rejected the traditional way of speaking about God as being incomprehensible. According to the thinking of Occam “’God’ had to denote some thing, some discrete real entity”…. This came about as the result of a philosophical argument that became known known as Occam’s razor. Thus, according to Gregory, “the intellectual pieces were in place, at least in principle, for the domestication of God’s transcendence and the extrusion of his presence from the natural world.”

After wading through this argument, Gregory uses the remainder of the chapter fleshing out the explanation as to how this has informed both religion and science as time progresses.1

Gregory’s book has ignited opinion, both pro and con. Some excellent commentary by various scholars can be found at: The Immanent Frame.

  1.  Brad S. Gregory, The Unintended Reformation; How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012)
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