Frank Pastore (who, according to the author info, has a graduate degree in philosophy of religion) has a stilted view of Christianity. In this weekend’s column – the second he’s written against the Emergent Movement – he says:
If Christianity is not objectively true, if the Bible is not the inerrant Word of God, if the Cross is not the greatest expression of Divine Love but an example of “divine child abuse,” if one can merit heaven without a having a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, if God doesn’t hate sin, if wrath is not an attribute of God, if there is no personal devil and if a conscious and eternal hell is not real, then… Why be a Christian?
In other words, if “my personal list of most important doctrines is not right,” there’s no point in being a Christian. Let’s examine his list.
“If Christianity is not objectively true” – If this means something like, “Is true regardless of my opinion,” then I don’t have much problem with it. Neither God nor the universe is a projection of my mind or desires. I often find that the world does not fit with my desires and expectations, giving me the choice of pain or adapting. God’s the same way. I’m not sold on the word “objectively,” however, so maybe Pastore will assume I’m not a real Christian. But then the notion that something, whether Christianity or something else, needs to be “objectively true” is of fairly recent vintage. Surely there was a point to being a Christian before we starting worrying about “objectivity.” We might say that concern for the objectivity of the faith is peculiar to our modern context, but that would surely sound too much like relativism for Pastore’s taste.
“if the Bible is not the inerrant Word of God” – Here’s another modern Shibboleth. While the notion of the perfection of the bible is fairly old and wide spread in Christian history, the epistemological theory that seems to require inerrant propositions for doctrine to work properly is fairly recent. As before, was Christianity pointless before the Princetonians originated this way of understanding scripture? Personally, I’m afraid I lack both a theory of inerrancy and errancy. When I preach and teach I do so from the perspective that the bible is God’s word, and an authority over me, not merely an objective text below me.
“if the Cross is not the greatest expression of Divine Love but an example of ‘divine child abuse,'” – I’ve never heard any Emergent speaker call the Cross an example of “divine child abuse.” Now some may say a particular explanation or theory of the Cross sounds like “divine child abuse,” but that is talk about a theory, not about the cross. Surely Pastore cannot be thinking of that since he says the Cross is the “greatest expression of Divine Love,” not that a particular theory of the cross is the greatest expression of divine love.
“if one can merit heaven without a having a saving relationship with Jesus Christ” Pastore’s confused if he thinks one can merit haven by having a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Merit is irrelevant. Even with Christ we do not merit heaven. When we come to faith in Christ we are gifted with the Holy Spirit, the down payment of eternal life. We deserve neither the Holy Spirit nor eternal life. God simply gives to those who believe. Can a person “merit heaven” apart from Jesus? Of course not. No one “merits heaven.”
“if God doesn’t hate sin” – Where did this come from? Surely the bible presents a God who hates sin. But how would the lack of this truth make Christianity not worthwhile? Have some Emergent folks been saying that God secretly likes sin? While some of the Emergent folks might have different sin lists than Pastore in their front pocket, I haven’t heard any say God is soft on sin.
“if wrath is not an attribute of God” – Ok, the bible depicts God as sometimes being angry, and sometimes exercising judgment in reaction to his anger. But God is not a cosmic grouch. I’d rather say God exercises wrath than that wrath is an attribute of God.
“if there is no personal devil” – Is a “personal devil” like a “personal savior,” a supernatural being of my very own? This strikes me as the oddest item on the list. How could the lack of a “personal devil” make Christianity not worth while? I don’t have difficulty believing there are spiritual forces of wickedness in high (and some low) places, but such a belief is no where near the center of my faith. I have several concordances and I have yet to find a reference to a “personal devil.”
“if a conscious and eternal hell is not real” – Again my concordances fail me. Surely there are pictures of hell in scripture that depict inhabitants being aware (if this is the same as “conscious”) of their being there, and of a hell that lasts forever. But why is this a core doctrine of the faith? I think Pastore is looking at doctrines attacked by people he disagrees with and then deciding whatever they attack must be essential. I don’t find that to be a very useful strategy.
The key doctrines of historic Christianity have almost no place in Pastore’s list. Where is the Incarnation? The Trinity? The resurrection of Jesus? The forgiveness of sins? The church? But then these doctrines might get in the way of Pastore’s main concern: finding the salvation of America (and the world) in political conservatism. I’m generally more conservative than politically, but I find the notion that we should look to conservatism for our salvation as blasphemous as the notion we should look for our salvation in liberalism. His claim that the Emergents side with Al Qaeda because they don’t stand entirely with political conservatism is nonsense.
If Pastore wants to find the real culprit in the war against war he should look not to the Emergents but to Jesus. Jesus – at least the one described in the bible, the “inerrant word of God,” wimped out against Rome and the Jewish terrorists (Zealots) who sought their demise. Instead of fighting, he offered no resistance. He let himself be arrest, tried and crucified. He went like a lamb to the slaughter.
While one might make arguments – even good ones – for the necessity of fighting Al Qaeda and their ilk, I think Jesus and faith in him stands as more a hindrance than a help to such an effort. If Pastore wants a tough god, one who will back up his political ambitions and quest for national salvation, he’ll simply have to look somewhere other than Jesus.
Thanks for the well thought out response to this.
One quick note – for philosophers, “personal” means that they exist as a person and not just a generic force. So a personal devil is one who has specific desires/intentions, and is not just a name imposed on certain actions or forces.
Yes, I understand the sense of “personal” as used by Pastore. (Yes, I know it is a different sense than the use made of a “personal” savior. I shouldn’t have tried being funny.) I’m not questioning the existence of a “personal” devil in this case, merely the importance of belief in such to the Christian faith.