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how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference

Scot McKnight on Peter Leithart’s defence of Constantine

Scot McKnight has been looking at Peter Leithart’s book Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom. Scot doesn’t sound too impressed at the outset by Leithart’s thesis, and much of the comment has been from scandalized Anabaptists.

Scot quotes this paragraph from the book, and I have to say that from one point of view at least I think Leithart is absolutely right:

For all its flaws, though, I believe the project of Christendom—the project of seeking to reshape political and cultural institutions and values in accord with the gospel—is a direct implication of the gospel’s proclamation that Jesus is Lord. Yoder, to his great credit, argued that Christians are called to live in conformity with the demands of the gospel here and now, and he even imagined what a more faithful Constantine might have looked like. His imaginary Constantine resembled the real Constantine more than Yoder realized. Christians disagree on how achievable that project [Christendom] is. It is, of course, full of risk and temptation, like everything else. I have a difficult time understanding Christians who object to the premise of Christendom.

Most of us now look back on Christendom as a spiritual, moral, social and political failure. But whether it should have happened or should have happened the way it did is really neither here nor there. It did happen; we cannot simply disown it, much as the Anabaptists would like to; and it is now more or less defunct.

It is important that historians assess Constantine and the whole Christendom paradigm with some detachment from the massive modern prejudice against imperialism. But to my mind, what is interesting in the paragraph quoted is not vaguely revisionist account of Constantine that it suggests but the argument that the ‘project of Christendom… is a direct implication of the gospel’s proclamation that Jesus is Lord’.

Things look rather different when we look forward from the standpoint of the early church. My argument in The Future of the People of God is that Paul’s systematic announcement to the Greek-Roman oikoumenē—his gospel—is that God has made Jesus Son of God and has given him the nations as an inheritance, that Jesus has acquired lordship by a means directly contrary to the blasphemous self-aggrandizement of pagan rulers, that by this man God will sooner or later judge the empire in the same way that he judged the Egyptians or the Assyrians or the Babylonians, and deliver his harassed people from persecution. This establishes a coherent narrative-historical trajectory that, I think, has to come to earth in the conversion of the empire to Christianity.

To make it clear, this is not all that the New Testament has to say about the future of the church or of the cosmos, but I would say that most of its teaching, one way or another, is directed towards this telos. What happened subsequently is really beyond the purview of the New Testament—the writings have nothing to say about the history of European Christendom, its eventual collapse, or what comes after that. But by reading it in this way, we are able to recover the concrete narrative centrality of a people called to live in the world, under the turbulent conditions of history, as God’s righteous humanity.

What I think Christendom stood for, under the imperial paradigm, symbolically and politically and certainly fallibly, sinfully, was exactly that possibility. On the one hand, it embraced the full scope of human social existence; on the other, it embodied in its largest symbolic structures the vindication of the God of Israel through his Son Jesus—it was, as Leithart says, an attempt to ‘reshape political and cultural institutions’ in accordance with the ecumenical recognition that Christ has been given the name which is above every name.

Old Testament Israel was a flawed representation of new creation and of the sovereignty of the one Creator God on a national scale, in the midst of and frequently oppressed by powerful empires. European Christendom was a flawed representation of new creation and of the sovereignty of the one Creator God on an imperial scale, with the resources to project those realities around the globe.

The fact that this imperial scale paradigm is now disintegrating from the centre outwards suggests that the people of God is again in transition, searching for a new modus vivendi amid the nations and cultures of the world—a new but no less flawed way of representing in our corporate existence the possibility of new creation and the sovereignty of the Creator.

Comments

I raised a question here http://www.postost.net/2010/10/community-beatitudes-restoration-creation#comment-328 (now being indirectly addressed on a neighbouring thread) which may have seemed impertinent or cheeky, but it pointed to a serious issue. Andrew has yet to provide a convincing way of relating the NT, including gospels, to life and practice outside their own immediate historical context. In particular, Andrew’s own narrative reinterpretation removes the necessity of relating the beatitudes, or Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 5 - 7 or anywhere else, to anyone or anywhere outside their immediate supposed audience and times - transposed creation keys notwithstanding.

I did provide, as a kind of addendum, issues which for me go to the heart of the matter in Andrew’s narrative project, which I think are strained and distorted by what he is trying to do, and briefly saying why - just to keep an eye on the bigger picture. I have also to say that, in my opinion, the broader biblical narrative, which Andrew helpfully sketches pictorially in another post, is far more part of the Jesus narrative, in the gospels, letters and Revelation, than Andrew is able to accept, and which I have tried to illustrate in different posts before, and would be happy to do so again.

I also think there are huge problems with any kind of generalisation about ‘the post-Constantinian church’, and certainly anything that can be summed up in the generalistion ‘Christendom’, which is now, supposedly, falling apart from the centre. I think it is far easier to impose a retrospectively coherent ‘Christendom’ philosophy of the kind Andrew suggests than was probably ever the case in the development of the church after Constantine.

It is possible to see this lack of coherence in the Christology debates, which were far more like desperate and muddled attempts to deal with difficulties which arose at the time, than a grand sweep of theological development which produced the core beliefs of the church as we have it today.

It is also possible to see the huge variety and lack of uniformity in the church through the counter-imperial movements, both within and outside the imperial church, throughout the period until the Protestant Reformation, and afterwards a lack of uniformity with a vengeance (that’s well over 500 years of historical lack of uniformity, ie non or anti-Christendom, and still going strong).

Anyone (in history) looking at the example of Jesus in his life and teachings, and reflecting thoughtfully on the life of the NT church, especially as Paul sought to provide an example and role model in himself, would have questioned the association of the post-Constantine church with the wealth, greed and corruption which became its hallmarks. This reminds me of the history exam question which was popular when I was at school: “The Holy Roman Empire - neither holy, Roman nor an empire. Discuss.”

So we are not merely considering flaws and imperfections in the development of the church on its trajectory beyond the NT, but frequent outright contradiction of Jesus and his teaching, a grotesque distortion of the meaning of ‘kingdom of God’ and the imposition of that kingdom through coercion, and a fundamentally flawed interpretation of what ’Jesus is Lord’ actually meant. 

To generalise about ‘the church’ is, of course, to overgeneralise. The reality was very mixed, both within the the Roman church, and between that church and counter-movements. It is arguable, however, that one of the core conflicts was between denial or compromise of Jesus as a ‘servant-leader’ and his teaching, and affirmation or recovery of the teaching that he brought.

Beyond this is a further tension between what it means to be a church on the margins of culture and society, and what it means to be a chuch in a more socially hospitable environment. The issue is whether the church can ever comfortably coexist with the structures within which life is carried out in the present world - such as government, art and culture, trade and commerce, and so on. On this level, the tendency is always towards too close an association of church and world, and insufficient critique, detachment, and prophetic pointing towards a world which has yet to come. This generalisation would need further qualification, of course, in outlining tensions between identification/relevance and uniqueness/authenticity, as a rough and ready antithesis.

The issue of church and culture also goes to the heart of what it means to be a church in a postmodern culture, and what aspects of belief are changeable, what aspects of belief are unchanging, and how the expression and understanding of faith are to be framed in scriptural understanding and paradigms.

Which brings us back to the heart of the issue. If Jesus’s teaching was only for his time and not beyond it, or with an extension to allow for the apostles and the suggested AD 70 terminus, what authority does anyone have to question how the church might develop its power and authority beyond then, other than drawing on general moral observations? Transposing the teaching of Jesus into the key of a creation narrative does seem to me to be trying to have one’s cake and eat it. Either the teaching of Jesus is authoritative, or it isn’t. In which case, either Jesus (and the NT) speaks to generations beyond his (and its) immediate generation, or he (and it) doesn’t.

And if Jesus lives, not metaphorically, but as a transdendent, yet personal presence, in his church (as his people), what are the criteria by which we will know that presence if not at least on the objective basis provided for us of how he lived, and what he said, did and taught?

Just continuing to think out loud.  And yes it really is time I put these thoughts onto my own blog, rather than leaving my muddy footprints all over the carpet of Andrew’s. How on earth do I go about that, I wonder, in my chronically fallen state of technical ineptitude?

Peter, a couple of distinctions need to be made and kept in mind.

First, most of what you say in this comment may be a relevant critique of Leithart’s defence of Christendom, which I presume like me you haven’t read. But my point was that whatever the New Testament has to say relevant to the massive transformation of the classical world that took place in the fourth century, it does so looking forwards, not backwards. The New Testament, I think, addresses the conflict with paganism and its culmination in the victory of Christ over Caesar; it doesn’t look beyond that.

Secondly, the objection, which you have repeatedly made, that I have so far failed to ‘provide a convincing way of relating the NT, including gospels, to life and practice outside their own immediate historical context’, goes beyond exegesis. There is no intrinsic reason why Jesus should have directly addressed the church beyond AD 70. That is our problem not his.

But having said that, it still surprises me that you can’t or won’t see how powerfully formative and transformative it is to be part of a story in which the events of the New Testament happened, part of a people whose existence was determined by those events.

You also seem stubbornly to refuse to acknowledge statements such as the following:

The dynamic effects of that transformation also remain with us: we do not cease to be a people in relationship with the Creator, under the lordship of the Son who was given the nations as his inheritance, and empowered to live as new creation by the Holy Spirit.

I was critiquing your comment on Leithart’s defence of Christendom which neither you nor I have read! My comment must have been unanswerable in the brilliance of its insights.

I don’t think anyone would take seriously the idea that relating the NT to people and situations beyond itself goes beyond exegesis and is not its valid concern, if that’s what you meant. Exegesis is pointless if it forecloses that possibility.

I don’t know where the final quotation comes from, but it raises as many questions as it seeks to answer. How do we come into a relationship with the Creator, if the entire creation has been estranged from him, which is the broader narrative of scripture, and if the NT events are purely for the NT people and times? Just by receiving information about what happened to Israel in the 1st century? Is that all we need: information?

There is a big difference in the power of narrative between, say, the story of the Exodus, which moulded Israel’s self identity, and where there was an expectation that the God who rescued Israel from pagan oppression would do so again, and bring Israel’s story to its fulfilment, and a story which is complete in itself and does not invite others to participate in it, because it was completed in history.

You really need me, Andrew, to be asking these questions.

(Reply: yeah, like a hole in the head!).

Exegesis is pointless if it forecloses that possibility.

Nonsense. It is part of the task of exegesis to decide whether that possibility is to be foreclosed or not. I have been reading Campbell’s The Deliverance of God, as you know. Time after time he draws the distinction between what is contingent and what is universal, and more often than not comes down on the side of contingency. I don’t think he is consistent enough, but the point is that the exegete always has to decide how and to what extent events and arguments in scripture are delimited by context.

The final quotation came from the post with the pretty picture, which I thought you’d read. The questions you highlight are fair enough, but they are there to be answered. For now I am intent on exploring the possibility that they can be answered without sacrificing the contingency—and with that potentially the integrity—of the texts.

I don’t get your point about the exodus. I would suggest that the Jesus story is exactly like the exodus story as you have described it: Jesus saved Israel in the same historical way that YHWH saved his people from slavery in Egypt—only more fundamentally. The Jesus story is no more ‘complete in itself’ than the exodus story: it has massive implications for what follows, but no one pretends that subsequent generations of Jews are literally involved in or addressed by the exodus texts.

Peter, please get this basic point: my argument is that we relate to the New Testament narratively, historically, diachronically, as the continuation of the communities that went through the eschatological crisis described in it—these are all powerful ways of engaging with past events. And that includes having to wrestle with the reality of our calling to be God’s new creation, under Jesus as Lord, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, preserved by grace. We do not, to anything like the same degree, relate to the New Testament synchronically, as though its teaching were relevant for us in the same way that it was relevant for the early church.

It’s not a question of whether the New Testament has anything to say to us but how it shapes our existence under our own historical circumstances.

Andrew - just stepping back from the minutiae of the argument, I suppose I haven’t really grasped why you have decided that the Daniel narrative is the exclusively overriding narrative of the NT, gospels and letters, and this includes your particular interpretation of this narrative, when there seems to me to be a great deal of evidence suggesting otherwise. That a limited interpetation of Israel’s story is simply not how the NT is fashioned is borne out by the existence in the NT of narratives which you expressly exclude from the narrative on which you wish to focus (and you are quite candid about doing so).

Just to throw in a couple of examples. How can Paul say in Galatians 3:8 that the gospel announced in advance to Abraham was that “all nations will be blessed through you”, as if this was not part of the narrative of Israel? Much of the argument of Romans is over this very issue.

Likewise how can it also be said in Galatians that Jesus was “the promised seed”, through whom all nations were to be blessed, if this was not part of the narrative? If the gospel announced to the world was simply what Israel’s God had done for Israel, why was Abraham given the promise that he would be “the father of many nations”, and why is he called in Romans “the heir of the world”? Promises are not fulfilled as indirect consequences of other events, and heirs do not come about by accident or as a secondary consequence in the meticulous planning of God in the bible.

With regard to the Exodus and the story of Jesus - there is a huge difference in the way you are presenting the latter from what I understand to be the biblical presentation of the former (the Exodus). The Exodus had relevance for an Israel which was living in expectation of the fulfilment of the hopes which it embodied - as a narrative. As far as I know, Israel after AD 70/AD 135 no longer held those expectations, and I think the way in which the narrative has worked subsequently is entirely different, and not a good example to bracket with the Jesus narrative, whichever way you understand it.

My perception of how the Exodus narrative works today is that it holds Jews together around a founding story which locks them into the past, rather than holding relevance in itself for today or the future. It is a source of community identity, but as I understand it, it overlooks or ignores the whole momentum towards fulfilment in the stories which it embraces within the scriptures.

The thrust of the Jesus narrative, however, is entirely different from this present day example of the Exodus. It invites participants on the basis of what it is still doing, and what is still to come, the latter far more influential in the scriptures, to my mind, than you allow. It works as more than narrative, by providing the unifying life of the Spirit, working through those who recontextualise the teaching of Jesus as his followers. It is a narrative which, from my perspective, is on-going in history, alive, rather than historically buried, as the Exodus might be said to be for Jews today.

Major questions are raised whichever version of the Jesus narrative is preferred. If the new creation began with the people of God gathered around Jesus and all that he led them into (I include here the centrally important interim gift of the Spirit, which is equated with the power of the resurrection at work in lives now in John’s gospel, Ephesians and Colossians), on what basis did the subsequent people of God gain admission into this new creation, once the immediate 1st century beneficiaries of Jesus’s historical acts had died? What are the conditions of membership, and how are we to know, if the conditions presented in the NT are for one generation only?

More pressingly, in the paragraph in my post which does ‘wait as a question to be answered’, how is, and how will an estranged creation be reconciled to its maker, if not on the basis of what Jesus did for his own generation and those in subsequent generations? Did a former generation need a Jesus who died on a cross, but subsequent generations do not?  If a former generation benefited from Jesus’s resurrection because of his death on the cross, what are the conditions on which later generations may also benefit from the resurrection?

The lack of answers (as I perceive it) to these, and many other questions, some of which were briefly suggested in one of my previous comments on the thread, suggests to me that the exegesis which guides the trajectory is flawed. There are too many weaknesses of detail as well as overall tendency which make it impossible for me to buy into, much as I like and admire the leap of imagination which underpins it. I have to say that amongst these weaknesses, one is the explanation of the resurrection in the 1st century which is provided in a parallel post - which rests on some very flimsy textual detail indeed.

 

Peter:

Do you really think that when god promised to bless Abraham’s seed, that the promise was referring to Jesus and not to Abraham’s physical descendants?

If so, why did god never correct Abraham or any of the Israelites who wrote about the promise and based their entire religion around it? God spoke directly to many prophets, through them he lodged many complaints against the Israelites and punished them for all sorts of false beliefs and bad behavior. So why was he silent for 1,000 years on the fact that they had gotten wrong the one absolutely central promise of their entire religion?

Did he want them to be wrong in order to bring about a particular result? Did he think they couldn’t handle the truth? What do you think?

It was precisely because of Israel’s unfaithfulness that the promise to Abraham was fufilled in Jesus, the perfect Israelite, in the way it was. Jesus was a physical descendant of Abraham, as well as the promised seed - which Paul reminds us, is singular - Galatians 3:16. However, the blessing of Abraham comes to all who believe in Jesus - Galatians 3:29, so ‘seed’ has a corporate significance.

Although the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham in and through Jesus was no doubt a surprising development, the promise grew alongside and sometimes was enhanced by prophetic expectation of one to come from Genesis onwards, within an overall narrative which sustained the expectation.

So there is the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 reinforced in the carefully translated meaning of Genesis 4:1; then Genesis 49:10, Deuteronomy 18:18, Judges 21:25 seen from the context of David and 2 Samuel 7:11-16, and the latter linked with Isaiah 55:3-5, where ‘the seed’ is one of David’s descendants.

There is Isaiah 9:6-7, Isaiah 11:1-16 (Isaiah 4:2-6), Isaiah 32; 3; 34; 35; 53 and many different ways in which the promises made to Abraham are part of a picture, even in the Old Testament, of developing imagery of one to come, through whom Israel’s destiny in relation to the nations of the world would be fulfilled.

It’s interesting have much finesse must be used to avoid the plain truth: god made a promise that he didn’t keep.

Example: Israel’s “unfaithfulness” forced god to fulfill the promise “in the way it was.” But the promise was not fulfilled in any way, shape or form. Abraham’s descendants are not blessed, according to christians.

Many parts of this are troubling. For one thing, god did not tell Abraham that the promise was conditional on what people did 1,000 years down the road. God didn’t say “your heirs will be blessed unless they tick me off, in which case I’ll transfer the blessing to other people.”

What’s more, god presumably knew the future when he made the promise, and he knew full well that the second person of the trinity was the seed to which he was referring. But he didn’t share that with Abraham or his descendants, not that the promise was going to be transferred, or that a portion of god himself was the seed to which he was referring.

Another thing: seed is not singular, no matter what Paul says. If god says he is going to raise an army, does that mean one person? What’s more, such an assertion is clearly ludicrous in light of the plain meaning of the interaction between Abraham and god. As I said, if god really meant Jesus as he was talking to Abraham, he was clearly misleading.

Given what you say, how then can the fulfilment through Jesus be a surprising development? On one hand, christians say God has this plan from the beginning of time, on the other the fulfilment of the plan is surprising?

No offense to you, Peter, because you are trying to defend the indefensible, but Paul’s spin on the Abraham promise is illogical and not supported by the clear meaning of the Hebrew bible. And if Paul is right, it says nothing but bad things about god’s character and his interaction with humans.

“God made a promise that he didn’t keep” - in a slightly broader sense than yours, but including the promise to Abraham, that’s a viewpoint which Paul systematically refutes in another letter: Romans.

“Abraham’s descendants are not blessed, according to christians.” - Again from Paul - “Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” - Romans 9:6. What makes a Jew? A current question if there was one. Paul argues that it is those who experience circumcision of the heart - Romans 2:28-29, by the Spirit. This is the fulfilment of the covenant promise - Deuteronomy 30:6. So those who have this circumcision are Israel’s descendants according to the promise. This is Paul’s argument in Romans. The promise was fulfilled in its entirety.

‘God didn’t say “your heirs will be blessed unless they tick me off, in which case I’ll transfer the blessing to other people.” ’ - Too right he didn’t!

“What’s more, god presumably knew the future when he made the promise, and he knew full well that the second person of the trinity was the seed to which he was referring. But he didn’t share that with Abraham or his descendants, not that the promise was going to be transferred, or that a portion of god himself was the seed to which he was referring.”

- You are telling God what He should or shouldn’t do here, according to your own logic. The promise was not “transferred”; it was fulfilled, both in relation to Abraham’s seed, and the blessing which came to the world through that seed.

“Another thing: seed is not singular, no matter what Paul says. If god says he is going to raise an army, does that mean one person?” - Let’s look at what Genesis says. In 22:16-18, ”seed” is “zera”, and in the NASB v17 it reads: ”I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand of the seashore”.  The “seed” becomes a plurality - but it does not begin as plural. That is the emphasis of Genesis, which Paul develops in his argument. He isn’t twisting or misinterpreting anything.

“As I said, if god really meant Jesus as he was talking to Abraham, he was clearly misleading.” - Again, this is your logic. not God’s words to Abraham.

“Given what you say, how then can the fulfilment through Jesus be a surprising development? On one hand, christians say God has this plan from the beginning of time, on the other the fulfilment of the plan is surprising?”

- Many people were surprised that Jesus should be regarded as “the one to come” - Matthew 11:3, which is what I meant. And even today, it comes as a shock that God’s plans should have been fulfilled by a humble carpenter’s son, whose appeal was largely to those on the margins of Jewish society, and whose teaching cuts at the root of reliance on the power politics of Israel and Rome.

Yes, I believe God planned from the beginning that He would personally intervene in the wider Adam narrative through his own representative in the Israel narrative. I also say that the way in which this occurred was surprising - to those at the time, to subsequent generations, and to us, if we try to look at the story as if we had not grown so familiar with it. Whether God saw things exactly as they occurred, like history played in advance, and knew they would occur in this way, I don’t know. See the neighbouring thread.

You haven’t offended me; I think Paul was one of the best and most able interpreters of the Hebrew scriptures in his own day and at any subsequent time. Highly knowledgeable, highly logical, he spent much of his time interpreting through debate. He was also highly misinterpreted by others who did not listen carefully enough to his arguments, or deliberately misinterpreted him, then as now.

 

Thanks for the intelligent response. You haven’t really answered so much as repeated christian dogma – which is fair enough, although a bit circular. I don’t accept St. Paul as gospel, and unless you do none of this makes the slightest sense.

Every time you say that my logic is different than god’s logic – that’s my point. My logic is normal everyday logic that is recognizeable to the human race. The “logic” which you attribute to god isn’t logic, but an excuse for illogic. Who are we to question god? Why not? He’s a big boy, he should be able to take it.

It’s like the trinity. Christians believe one is three, but it just isn’t. One is one and three is three. One plus one plus one is three. Saying that god is free to his own logic doesn’t cut it anymore with me.

You don’t have to accept Paul as gospel, and I don’t wish to be dogmatic. I’m just trying to trace Paul’s line of thinking, which addresses, and I think superbly answers, the questions you are raising.

I’m not criticising your logic either. I’m just saying that before anyone introduces logical deductions (of any kind), we need to ask what the text is saying.

You could have pressed me on my inadequate response to ‘seed’ - singular or plural, however. I’m grateful for being prompted to look further into the question. Out of interest, I found the following on the web:

http://www.answering-islam.org/Shamoun/q_abrahams_seed.htm

http://bible.cc/galatians/3-16.htm

 

http://www.tyndalehouse.com/tynbul/library/TynBull_1997_48_1_07_Collins_Gen3_15WomansSeed.pdf

 

http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/b-hebrew/2003-May/015417.html

 

http://www.rabbisaul.com/articles/oneseed.php

I’d be interested to know what you think (or anyone else). It’s a key issue for post-Christendom emerging theology. 

And Andrew - I really preferred the previous format of this site, fonts etc. I particularly like the clean, crisp format - and the development of the images at the head of the site. It now has a very cluttered, and rather claustrophobic feel.

Is this the Wm. Buckley school of theology?  It seems to me that the pompousity and verbosity of everybody’s dialog here overwhelms the simplicity of what “Christianity” (a poor term, by the way…) is and where it’s going.  And focusing on minute slivers of each other’s writings edifies nobody but - yourselves.

 

I’m actually “replying” to the opening paragraphs about McKnight’s book.  Andrew concluded:

 

The fact that this imperial scale paradigm is now disintegrating from the centre outwards suggests that the people of God is again in transition, searching for a new modus vivendi amid the nations and cultures of the world—a new but no less flawed way of representing in our corporate existence the possibility of new creation and the sovereignty of the Creator.

 

We are on no different trajectory than we have always been since Jesus’ departure.  The history of man is what it is; there’s no special spiritual distinction about how flawed “Christendom” is or was.  It happened.  Man is still lost and the Kingdom of God (or Heaven) is still not fully manifest on this earth.

 

Is this too difficult to understand?  Why overcomplicate everything?  Any nuanced “enlightenment” (said charitably) around the edges that y’all seem to inhabit adds NOTHING and inspires NO ONE to greater spiritual awakening.  

 

Constantine was a boor and a phony and pretty much ruined Judaic ties to “Christianity…”  amongst other things.  Whatever true spiritual enlightenment he may of had is all supposition, but certainly difficult to historically discern in all events.  

 

I don’t want to seem unkind, and I apologize if this is offensive.  I just think that when there’s this much hard-wrought material on a website about God with the ostensible purpose of evangelicizing, then it would be nice to read something that actually creates clarity and not billowing fogs of obfuscation.  And I know that sounds snide so I apologize again.  

Isaac, you may be right. There is always going to be a critical tension between the complexities of theological analysis and the core simplicities of an evangelical existence, and no doubt the “theologians” need to be taken to task sometimes for their obfuscation. However, I think you underestimate the extent to which the simplicities of faith are shaped, controlled, or distorted by our worldviews—by a very complex, difficult, elusive set of assumptions and intellectual commitments that is the product not of scripture or of some innocent response of faith but of our place in cultural history.

There are good reasons, it seems to me, for thinking that the modern worldview, which is the end-point of a long tradition of Western thought, badly warps our understanding of the biblical narrative. I’m not sure how much Constantine is to blame for this—I don’t think he can simply be dismissed as “a boor and a phony”—but you have yourself highighted the fact that from a very early stage Western Christianity (I agree, a poor term) lost touch with its Jewish origins. I’m not at all sure we can correct the distorting influence of worldview without doing the painstaking work of exposing its hidden presuppositions and prejudices.

One of the thoughts that has emerged from the New Perspective is that “gospel” in the New Testament is not simply a universal remedy for personal sinfulness. The gospel is oriented towards the historical existence of the people of God. If that is the case, then I do think it is important that we grasp the significance of the Christendom period and what it means now to be post-Christendom.