Christianity

Metanarrative Collapse: Has the Christian Cosmology Invented by St. Augustine of Hippo Stood the Test of Time? Part Two

St. Augustine [1]of Hippo (354–430)

Augustine’s Hellenistic Hermeneutic

Augustine’s interpretation of the biblical metanarrative portrays both the creation and the end of the world as the appearance and disappearance of corruptible material existence.  He had no doubt that the New Testament writers were predicting the literal end of the earthly world when, as “[t]he whole Church” expected, Christ would “come down from heaven to judge the living and the dead.”[1]  Augustine was clear that the Day of Judgement applied not just to the people of Israel but to “the rest of the nations as well.”[2]  Faithful Christians, those who live according to the spirit, would exchange the perishable goods of mortal existence for the “Supreme Good” of an imperishable “eternal life” in the City of God.  Other mortals, those who live according to the flesh, would suffer the “Supreme Evil” of “eternal death,” the nothingness inherent in the absolute privation of the Good.[3]  It was out of just such nothingness that the world was created on Augustine’s understanding of Genesis One.  Furthermore, Augustine’s understanding of Genesis 2–3 identifies Adam, not as proto-Israel, but as the first human being.  Accordingly, it not just Old Covenant Israel but mankind as a whole which faces judgement at the end of the world.

Augustine’s neo-Platonic cosmology presupposed the absolute dependence of both mankind and the material world itself on an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God.  Seduced by the delights of our mortal life “we have wandered far from God,” losing sight of “the invisible things of God.”[4]  The inherent difficulty mortal beings experience in apprehending such invisible divine “objects” must make us eternally thankful for the revealed Word of God.  But a proper understanding of sacred scripture depends upon two things, according to Augustine: “the mode of ascertaining the proper meaning, and the mode of making known the meaning when it is ascertained.”  Understanding the world generally requires that we distinguish between things and signs.  “All instruction is about things or about signs; but things are learned by means of signs.”  There are spiritual as well as material things and signs.  Higher spiritual things are the true objects of enjoyment and use.  A man should view his whole life as “a journey towards the unchangeable life, and his affections [should be] entirely fixed upon that.”[5]

The Bible is both a material and a spiritual thing which can be used or enjoyed in order to understand and participate in the imperishable City of God.  Augustine reminds his readers, however, that not every spiritual or material thing can be judged by its outer form.  On the surface, biblical prophecies of the Day of the Lord may appear to be addressed only to Old Covenant Israel, warning of the impending destruction of Jerusalem.  The inner form of such scriptural signs of things to come can sometimes only be understood “by comparing all the similar passages on the subject which occur in the three evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke.”  Augustine points as well to John “who tells us most clearly that the judgement should take place at the resurrection of the dead.”[6]  Clearly, Augustine conceives the resurrection of the dead as a material and bodily, not a solely spiritual, phenomenon.  No such event has taken place; therefore, he expects the fulfillment of that prophecy to occur at some still future time.

Augustine knew, of course, that many “wise men of this world” scoffed at any suggestion “that the earthly bodies of men” can “be carried over into a heavenly habitation.”  To ward off such scepticism, he drew upon an idea that appeared quite suddenly in the late second century AD to defend the idea of a bodily resurrection.  Augustine deployed the doctrine of creation ex nihilo to demonstrate that “He Who in making this world…has already accomplished something far more wondrous than the transformation in which our adversaries refuse to believe.”  If God has already bound “incorporeal souls” to earthly bodies, why should we doubt “that bodies, though earthly, should be raised up to abodes which, though heavenly, are nonetheless corporeal.”[7]

During Augustine’s lifetime, such metaphysical speculation on the origins of matter had already become commonplace among neo-Platonic philosophers such as Plotinus.  Augustine followed Plotinus in contending that “creatio ex nihilo was the expression of God’s omnipotent ability to create without need of supporting causes.”  Such a doctrine was nowhere to be found in the New Testament.[8]  Neither the New Testament writers nor Plotinus were responsible for the connection made by Augustine between the creation story and the eschatological hope of a still future resurrection of the body.

Augustine taught “that because every created intelligence had its origin ex nihilo, it also had to look beyond itself for its end.  Every creature lacked God’s perfection and was therefore mutable.  Because it was mutable it could fall away from that end and become evil.”[9]  At the same time “the resurrection of our Lord from the dead” added “a great buttress of hope” to our faith.  Our bodies, too, after the death we suffer because of sin “shall at the resurrection be changed into a better form…this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on immortality.”  He urged the faithful to believe “that neither the human soul nor the human body suffers complete extinction but that the wicked rise again to endure inconceivable punishment, and the good to receive eternal life.”[10] Read more

Metanarrative Collapse: Has the Christian Cosmology Invented by St. Augustine of Hippo Stood the Test of Time? Part One

Introduction

From its beginnings in the first century A.D. Christianity anchored its cosmology in the Bible.  But what is the Bible?  As a book in hand, of course, it is a collection of ancient texts, the product of the religious history of a remarkably durable and professedly holy ethno-nation in the ancient Near East.  One might well ask, therefore, just what spiritual truths or religious guidance could, or should such a book convey to people like me, specifically, White Anglo-Saxon Protestants living in the twenty-first century?  Is the Holy Bible just another “social construct,” a mere cultural artefact, or is it instead the literal Word of God?

Intellectual heavyweights among mainline Anglo-European Protestants such as Karl Barth concede that the Bible is indeed a “humanly composed and selected” collection of “human words” while professing a neo-orthodox faith that scripture remains “the witness of divine revelation”.[1]  But how should faithful Christians interpret the testimony of that witness?  Or, should we say “witnesses”?  After all, Protestants differ with Catholics as to whether this or that ancient Hebrew or Jewish text should be included in the biblical canon.  At the end of the day, however, even if all churches somehow settle upon on a single, canonical corpus of antique texts, the theological significance of the biblical metanarrative, from Genesis to Revelation, will remain open to competing interpretations—as it always has been.

The difficulty of distinguishing heresy from orthodoxy forced the early church to master the art of theological hermeneutics.  The church fathers expounded the Word of God using a bewildering variety of literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical (mystical) methods of biblical interpretation.  In quick succession, rival camps staked out their respective claims to the true or most useful understanding of the Bible story.  First in were the mostly Hebrew and Jewish authors and participant observers responsible for the original texts of both the Old and New Testaments.  Marinated in Scripture, the Mosaic law, and the prophetic tradition, they read and told their stories of the creation, fall, and redemption of Old Covenant Israel through an ethnocentrically thickened, Hebraic hermeneutic lens.  Their insider’s view of the Hebrew religious culture revolving around the Jerusalem Temple was far removed from the cosmopolitan, Hellenic, or Greco-Roman presuppositions underlying the Christian tale of two cities told several centuries later by Augustine (354–430 AD), the bishop of Hippo in North Africa. Read more

Global Jesus versus National Jesus, Part Two: The Political Hermeneutics of Resurrection Part Two

N.T. Wright on Paul’s Resurrection Theology: Global or National?

N.T. Wright, the former Anglican bishop of Durham, is an influential scholar-theologian-priest and the author of many gargantuan studies of the historical Jesus and the apostle Paul.  He, too, maintains that the meaning of the cross and resurrection is not to be found in theological abstractions but in “certain very specific and concrete aspects of the history of Israel”.  Such a forthright challenge to the conventional wisdom has provoked much interest and some consternation.  In Alister McGrath’s summary of Wright’s argument, the “pattern of cross and resurrection, reflecting that of exile and restoration, has determinative significance for Israel rather than a universal significance for all humanity”.[1]

Professor N.T. Wright

In other words, Wright agrees that, linked as it was with the idea of the covenant, the death of Jesus had a “corporate significance” for Israel, rather than an “individual significance” for either sinners or victims in other times and places.  The crucified-and-resurrected Jesus should be understood, therefore, “as a redemptive representative of Israel, bearing her specific curse and making it possible for her as a people to achieve her intended national destiny”.[2]  In Jesus and the Victory of God, Wright thus aligns himself with historical critics who have found a “national Jesus” hidden beneath deeply-encrusted ecclesiastical creeds and Tradition.[3]  In his more recent, studies on Paul, however, the “global Jesus” literally rises from the grave of “national Jesus”.

Wright presents the apostle Paul as a proto-Augustinian, Judaeo-Christian “theologian”.  On Wright’s reading, Paul’s “freshly-inaugurated eschatology,” projects the second, general resurrection of the dead far beyond the fall of Jerusalem and into our own twenty-first century future.[4]  In doing so, Wright credits Paul with the invention of a Christian theology in which “global Jesus” reigns over the whole of humanity.  According to Wright, “Paul’s expectation of ‘the day of the Lord’ included the expectation that on the last day, that which was already true would at last be revealed: Jesus is lord, and Caesar is not”.  On Wright’s interpretation of Paul’s vision of final eschatology, then, “the creator and covenant God will, at the last, put the whole world to rights”.[5]

Wright presents Paul’s allegedly rock-solid faith in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ as the foundation for his eschatological vision of the resurrected bodies of all those who have fallen asleep in Christ.  Wright’s emphasis upon the physical resurrection of Jesus presupposes that “national Jesus” was a genuinely historical, human person, deeply rooted in the covenantal history of national Israel according to the flesh.  The death of “national Jesus,” the man, entailed his descent into nothingness.  Jesus’ resurrection, thanks to his reading of Paul, brings Bishop Wright back within the bounds of credal orthodoxy.  As Robinette puts it, the post-Easter narrative shows the creativity of God “in a significantly new light.  Creation from nothing is logically coherent with (and in Christian theology historically dependent upon) a view of God who raises to life what has succumbed to the nihil of death”.[6]  Wright and Robinette continue to espouse the Augustinian doctrine that creatio ex nihilo underwrites the credal promise of the physical resurrection of the body.  Just as the earthly city was created out of nothing, so, too, Augustine expected that at the end of the world Christian believers would rise from the dead, in a newly embodied form, to enter the heavenly city of God.

The resurrection was an unprecedented physical event that set aside the laws of nature.  Wright’s historical investigation of the crucifixion-and-resurrection aims to explain how Christians came to believe in the reality of such an event.  He concludes that early Christians themselves offer the most convincing historical explanation for an empty tomb “previously housing a thoroughly dead Jesus” and subsequent reports “that his followers saw and met someone they were convinced was this same Jesus, bodily alive though in a new transformed fashion”.  He says simply “that something happened, two or three days after Jesus’ death, for which the accounts in the four gospels are the least inadequate expression we have”.  Beyond that point, “the historian alone cannot help”.[7]

It was the apostle Paul who went beyond history to provide a theological account of a resurrection-event so unexpected that not even the teachings of “national Jesus” had prepared his followers to understand, the world-historical, indeed cosmic, significance of the empty tomb.  Wright finds in 1 Corinthians 15 one compelling example of just how Paul transfigures “national Jesus” into “global Jesus”.  For Wright, “there can be no doubt that Paul intends this entire chapter to be an exposition of the renewal of creation, and the renewal of humankind as its focal point”.  Paul’s resurrection theology presupposes both a God not only capable of creating the world out of nothing, but a just God determined to defeat the power of death.  But if death is to be defeated, then “[a]nything other than some kind of bodily resurrection, therefore, is simply unthinkable”.[8]

Wright flatly rejects the suggestion that Paul was concerned with any sort of “non-bodily survival of death”.  Paul had no need, Wright argues, to argue for the immortality of the soul: many people in Corinth “believed in that anyway”.  After all, even two thousand years later, no such resurrection has occurred; history has not witnessed millions of Christian believers rising from their graves.  Naturally enough, therefore, many in Corinth found it hard to swallow the idea of a physical resurrection of the dead: “everybody knew dead people didn’t and couldn’t come back to bodily life”.  Chapter 15, Wright argues, was intended to answer that challenge.  According to Wright, Paul’s argument ran “as follows: what the creator god did for Jesus is both the model and the means of what he will do for all Jesus’ people”.  Throughout the chapter, Jesus’ resurrection serves as “the prototype and model for the future resurrection”.[9]  When Paul describes the body into which Christians hope to be resurrected, “the unique, prototypical image-bearing body of Jesus” is identified as “the model for the new bodies that Jesus’ people will have”.[10]  Even those presently alive on the last day, when the kingdom finally arrives, Paul promised, “will not lose their bodies, but have them changed from their present state to the one required for God’s future”.[11]

Paul, according to Wright, portrays the parousia of “global Jesus” as the moment when “all those who belong to him are themselves raised bodily from the dead”.  Wright describes the result as “the establishment of a final, stable ‘order’ in which the creator and covenant God is over the Messiah, and the Messiah is over the world”.  In the new creation, humans are destined to play “an intermediate role between creator and creation”.  The “human task and the messianic task thus dovetail together: the Messiah, the true Human One, will rule the world in obedience to God”.[12]

The following questions suggest themselves: If Paul’s resurrection theology did indeed take this universalist form, could he have expected the parousia to arrive anytime soon?  Would he have been likely to identify it with the fall of Jerusalem in the lifetime of his followers?  Wright’s response is clear.  He long ago dismissed the idea of an imment parousia as an “old scholarly warhorse” that “can be put out to grass once and for all”.[13]  So too, Wright rejects “the suggestion that Paul was hoping to bring about…some kind of large-scale last-minute conversion of Jews, and perhaps even the parousia itself…Paul did not think the parousia would necessarily happen at once, and he certainly was not trying to provoke or hasten it by his missionary work”.[14]  In Wright’s interpretation, Paul’s cosmopolitan theology and over-the-horizon perspective were firmly fixed on the transfiguration of the entire cosmos; Paul was definitely not a present-minded apostle of “national Jesus” warning of the apocalyptic judgement soon to fall upon Old Covenant Israel according to the flesh.

Nonetheless,  the vision of “global Jesus” attributed to Paul by Wright is a far cry from the mindset of “national Jesus” as he hung upon the cross in Jesus and the Victory of God.  Jesus and Paul do not seem to be on the same page.   Wright is annoyed by those for whom such divergence is cause for concern.  He regards it “as illegitimate in principle, and very difficult in practice, to conduct historical Jesus research” as if Paul and Jesus both saw the world in the same light.  He asserts that “[p]recisely because the resurrection made such a huge difference to everything” Paul simply must have viewed the world differently from the way that “national Jesus” had viewed it prior to the Easter event.[15]  This is a plausible position: but is Wright’s interpretation of 1 Corinthian 15 really about history at all?

Arguably, Wright’s forty-page exegesis of chapter 15 is more a defence of credal orthodoxy than an analysis of the historical context of a biblical text written in first-century Corinth (about which we learn next to nothing).  In Wright’s interpretation, Paul is portrayed as a Hellenized, Judaeo-Christian preacher-theologian laying the doctrinal foundations for medieval high Christology.  Wright describes Paul’s message as simplicity itself: Jesus is lord.  The point of Paul’s theology, therefore, “was to name the Messiah, to announce him as lord, in the culture-forming places, the cities to and from which all local or international roads ran”.[16] 

Anyone looking more deeply into the situation facing Paul in Corinth as he wrote chapter 15 may well doubt whether Paul had enlisted in the service of Wright’s “Human One”.  Just as plausibly, Paul was working to vindicate the Old Testament saints of national Israel.  It is just possible that the resurrected Messiah, “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20), remained a “national Jesus,” still determined to rescue his people from the death-like grip of sin.  Perhaps, a more truthful and useful understanding of Paul’s account of the resurrection of the dead can be achieved by treating him as a deeply patriotic historical actor actively engaged in the political art of scriptural hermeneutics.

The Resurrection of the Dead in Covenantal Eschatology

The covenantal eschatology of national Israel offers a much more persuasive hermeneutical framework within which to interpret Paul’s understanding of the resurrection body.  Samuel G. Dawson, an American preterist scholar, has written at even greater length than Bishop Wright (no mean feat!) on 1 Corinthians 15.  In doing so, he portrays a “national Paul” very different from the “global Paul” one meets in Wright’s work (or in mainstream theology generally).  This should not come as a surprise.  Paul publicly declared that he “was saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come” (Acts 26:22).  Dawson points out that “Paul’s concept of the resurrection wasn’t that fleshly (or even transfigured) bodies would come out of holes in the ground at all, because that’s not what Moses and the prophets taught”.  He taught, instead, “the resurrection of Old Covenant Israel from the death of its fellowship with God”.[17]

The problem Paul faced with his “brethren” in Corinth was not that some doubted the resurrection of Christ or that others denied the resurrection of anyone.  Rather, some doubted the resurrection of the Old Covenant saints.  Paul’s concept of the resurrection “depicted the ongoing translation of the body of death headed by Adam (which would, of course, contain Old Covenant Israel) to the body of life headed by Christ”.  It follows that “[i]f Israel, the rest of the firstfruits, was not being raised when Paul wrote these words, then Christ wasn’t raised, for his own resurrection was the first of the firstfruits”.  As Paul was writing to the Corinthians, those who denied that the Old Testament saints were being raised were, in effect, denying the resurrection of Christ.  In other words, Paul taught that “the faithful Old Covenant Jews were going to be the rest of the firstfruits, and the dead in Christ were going to be the rest of the fruit at the harvest”.  Gentile Christians in Corinth were generating dissension by saying that “Israel’s last days had come and gone, because God was through with them since the cross”.  Paul replied, according to Dawson, that “God’s promises to Israel were irrevocable, so that the salvation of Gentile Christians was linked to theirs at the coming of the Lord (which the Corinthians were eagerly awaiting, 1:7)”.[18]

Dawson contends that when Paul turns to the nature of the resurrection body, he raises the question as to how the dead ones are being raised (n.b., not how are the dead raised) and with what manner of body are they coming (n.b., not do they come).  Now, if some Corinthian Christians expected “a resurrection of biological bodies to certain dead persons,” such questions would not arise.  Dawson attributes a spiritual concept of the resurrection to Paul breaking sharply with Wright’s insistence on the transfigured but still bodily nature of the resurrection.  Dawson breaks even more dramatically with Wright when he points out that Paul never speaks of resurrected “bodies”.  Instead, Paul refers only to “the resurrection of one body, the Old Covenant faithful who were being transformed into the body of Christ”.  Dawson observes that the “prophets [e.g. Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, and Isaiah] from which Paul preached had foretold the resurrection of a single body”.  The hermeneutic problem here, Dawson concludes, “comes down to whether the resurrection Paul spoke of was of one body in his present time or of billions of bodies more than two thousand years in the future.[19]

A fair-minded person who compares Wright’s exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15 with that offered by Dawson could conclude, at the very least, that the strength of the case for “global Paul” has been seriously compromised.  Dawson reinforces the strength of that proposition by his discussion of how the politics of hermeneutics manifests itself in the translation of 1 Corinthians 15.  His seemingly arcane argument as to the importance of the present passive verb tense in chapter 15 gives rise to the suspicion that translators committed to “global Paul” have (perhaps unconsciously) put a thumb on the hermeneutic scale.[20]  It is beyond my linguistic competence to adjudicate on this matter but, if Dawson is correct, generations of English-speaking bible readers have been nudged ever so subtly to believe in a “global Jesus” as well as a “global Paul” presiding benignly over the church universal until the time of the end.  Translation bias is a form of hermeneutical—and thus political and cultural—warfare.

Dawson points out that:

The present active tense shows how the subject of the sentence is acting.  An entirely different concept, the present passive tense shows how the subject of the sentence is being acted upon.  Yet [in most translations of 1 Corinthians 15] this present passive tense is often ignored, or completely changed to a future![21]

Although the present passive is used “relatively rarely, it’s a precise verb form.  Paul meant to use it instead of a future, yet in many cases, Paul’s intention has not been honoured.  He spoke of the subject (the dead ones) receiving the action (rising) at his present time, not at some future time at least two thousand years later”.  For example, the New King James Version of the bible renders 1 Corinthians 15:16 as” “For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen”.  Dawson would translate this passage as: “For if the dead are not [lit., being] raised, neither hath Christ been raised”.[22]

Translation bias is but one hurdle that a hermeneutic grounded in covenantal eschatology faces.  A stubborn adherence to the ecclesiastical traditions that underwrite the futurist eschatology to which mainstream Christianity adheres is another.  Such powerful commitments to tradition pose a threat to ecclesiastical integrity in many other ways as well.  Preterist scholars have been driven to the fringes of the ecclesiastical and academic world.  Don K. Preston, to name but one prominent preterist, has been attacked as a heretic and shunned by the mainline Protestant churches in his home town.[23]  Theological colleges and seminaries simply ignore covenant eschatology in their bible studies classes despite the obvious sincerity and skill with which the massive contributions made by preterist scholars to biblical exegesis have been undertaken.

Dr. Don K. Preston

Indeed, the poisoned relationship between preterism and mainstream theological scholarship represents a case study in the erosion of theological integrity plaguing contemporary Christianity.  Even Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury (as he then was), acknowledges that when theology “resists debate and transmutation, claiming that it may prescribe exactly what the learning of its skills lead to, it is open to the suspicion that its workings are no longer answerable to what they what they claim to answer to…and thus integrity disappears”.[24]  This is a political problem eating away at the heart of theological hermeneutics.  Unfortunately, those who have done so much to re-discover “national Jesus” and “national Paul” have failed to mount an effective political challenge to the institutional defenders of “global Jesus” and “global Paul”.

Such a challenge would have to consider the possibility that the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ were inextricably bound up with the national history of Old Covenant Israel.  Israel became a holy nation precisely because it served as the corporate womb giving birth in history to a divinely inspired Messiah.  If Jesus really died as the representative of national Israel, it perhaps follows that some nations are more open than others to what Orthodox Christians call the process of theosis or deification.[25]  According to Athanasius (296-373 A.D.), global Jesus became Man so that we might be made God.[26]  Or, in light of covenant eschatology, Jesus Christ became incarnate in-and-through the nation of Israel, so that at least some other nation(s) might be made in the image of God.  And so, our salvation, too, could become corporate, national and spiritual rather than personal, individual, and biological—much like the resurrection of “the whole house of Israel” envisioned for the valley of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37:1-14.

Conclusion

One might imagine that, having restored “national Jesus” to historical memory, scholars such as Scot McKnight could help contemporary Christians reconceive the political hermeneutics of resurrection.  As it happens, however, few historical revisionists display much faith in the spiritual vitality of mainstream Christianity.  McKnight, for example, denies that his own findings are of any use to the church—even if they are true.[27]  The traditional ecclesiology of global Christianity rests upon the eschatological hopes and ecumenical dreams of a long-dead civilization.  Awaiting their long-delayed Day of the Lord, Christian churches have no interest in a philosophy of religious history grounded in the rise and fall of nations in a world without end.  This observation holds true even among Christian biblical scholars who reject futurist eschatology.  Samuel Dawson, for example, rests content in the hope that when he dies his reward “will be blessedness or happiness, and rest, in the presence of Christ!” Even preterists, it seems, cannot do without the vision of a “global Jesus” as our universal, heavenly overlord.[28]  Sadly, those whose only hope lies in death rather than in the historical opportunity to prepare the way for our own “national Jesus” have resigned themselves to national suicide.

Perhaps it is time to take the advice of the nineteenth century English historian, J.R. Seeley, who urged the Church of England to give its parishioners a break from endless sermons on the remote and obscure history of ancient Israel.  Suggesting “that every nation’s true Bible is its history,” Seeley urged the church to draw moral lessons and spiritual insight from England’s own storied past.[29]  Already, one hundred and fifty years ago, he recognized that the imperial Augustinian vision of the church universal had reached its use-by date.  Nowadays, the notion that Christendom ever did or could in times yet to come unite the whole of humanity under the reign of “global Jesus” has lost all credibility.  Another great reformation may be necessary if the post-Christian West is to reverse the nation-destroying forces of secular, increasingly satanic, globalism.  Traditionalist Catholic E. Michael Jones justly observes that “ethnos needs logos”.[30]  But it is no less true that “logos needs ethnos”.

Is it already too late to reconstitute churches throughout the Anglosphere and the wider Western world as the religious foundation for a federation of autonomous, European-descended ethno-nations?  This need not mean a complete break with the “global Jesus” historically associated with the rise of European Christendom.  Building upon their Christian past, the peoples of the Anglosphere should continue to venerate the Bible and national Israel’s historical Messiah.  Both can serve as sources of spiritual and political wisdom, providing a warrant for the distinct, ethno-religious identity of every European people, as well as a warning of the dreadful fate awaiting nations that stray from the path of righteousness.  Should the Anglican church, at home and in the old white dominions, ever heed Seeley’s call “to draw largely upon English [and Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand] history and biography for illustrations of their moral teaching,” God might well be prepared to gift us our own Patriot King![31]  Under such a dispensation, a restored Angelcynn church could begin to hope and pray for the resurrection of our own


[1] Alister E. McGrath, “Reality, Symbol, and History: Theological Reflections on N.T. Wright’s Portrayal of Jesus,” in Carey C. Newman, ed., Jesus and the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 176.

[2] Ibid., 176-177.

[3] N.T.Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 2 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996).

[4] N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 408.

[5] Ibid., xvi, 26-31, 1085.

[6] Brian D. Robinette, “The Difference Nothing Makes: Creatio Ex Nihilo, Resurrection, and Divine Gratuity,” (2011) 72 Theological Studies 525, at 527.

[7] N.T. Wright, “Jesus’ Resurrection & Christian Origins,” (2008) 16(1) Stimulus 41, at 49.

[8] N.T.Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God vol. 3 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 313-314.

[9] Ibid., 316.

[10] Ibid., 54 (emphasis added), 348.

[11] Ibid., 357.

[12] Ibid., 336.

[13] N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 462.

[14] Wright, Paul, 1497.

[15] N.T. Wright, “In Grateful Dialogue: A Response,” in Newman, Jesus & the Restoration of Israel, 267.

[16] Wright, Paul, 1503.

[17] Samuel G. Dawson, Essays on Eschatology: An Introductory Overview of the Study of Last Things (Amarillo, TX: SGD Press, 2009), 105, 109.

[18] Ibid., 144-146.

[19] Ibid., 177-178, 184.

[20] Ibid., 136.

[21] Ibid., 135.

[22] Ibid., 136, 145.

[23] See, e.g., Sam Frost, “Taking on Don K. Preston’s Jesus,”: https://vigil.blog/2017/02/22/taking-on-don-k-prestons-jesus/

[24] Rowan Williams, On Christian Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 5.

[25] See, e.g., Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, One with God: Salvation as Deification and Justification (Collegeville, MI: Liturgical Press, 2004).

[26] Saint Athanasius, On the Incarnation (Yonkers, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011), 167.

[27] Scot McKnight, “Why the Authentic Jesus is of No Use for the Church,” in Chris Keith, et. al., Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (London: T&T Clark, 2012), 173-185.

[28] Dawson, Essays, 455.

[29] J.R. Seeley, “The Church as a Teacher of Morality,” in Rev. W.L. Clay, ed. Essays in Church Policy (London: Macmillan, 1868), 278, 267. Available online at: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.ah4gyv&view=1up&seq=263

[30] E. Michael Jones, “Ethnos Needs Logos,” (2015) 34(7) Culture Wars 12.

[31] Seeley, “Church,” 278. See, Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke (1678-1751), “The Idea of a Patriot King,” in David Armitage (ed.) Bolingbroke: Political Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). For my own take on the contemporary significance of Bolingbroke’s “Idea of a Patriot King,” see my own piece: “Monarchs and Miracles: Australia’s Need for a Patriot King,” (2005) 5(1) The Occidental Quarterly 35. Available online here: https://www.toqonline.com/archives/v5n1/TOQv5n1Fraser.pdf

Global Jesus versus National Jesus: The Political Hermeneutics of Resurrection, Part One

Introduction

Biblical interpretation is, if not the only, certainly the core task of theological hermeneutics.  Unfortunately, religious conflict and biblical interpretation have always been joined at the hip.  Is it therefore the case that theologians engage in “politics” when they offer authoritative interpretations?  Is it too much of a stretch to characterize biblical hermeneutics as a branch of political theology?  It does seem that biblical interpretation fits comfortably within almost any definition of the “political”.  Politics is commonly associated with power.  And he who controls the interpretation of the Word of God sets boundaries between Christian orthodoxy and heresy; he also shapes and sanctifies the ecclesiastical role in relationships between faithful Christians and their triune God.  Indeed, the “political” nature of theological hermeneutics becomes self-evident the moment priests, pastors, and professors try to define what they mean by “politics”.

When Christian thinkers in the modern West turn their minds to politics, they generally fall somewhere along a spectrum stretching from those most attracted to cosmopolitan humanism to those characterized by a more parochial or patriotic political realism.  The humanists, perhaps typified by the German Reformed theologian Jürgen Moltmann, espouse a future-oriented, eschatological vision of politics.  Moltmann portrays politics as “the search for forms of human association and for uses of the powers of nature which foster the realization of full human life”.[1]  This global vision of Christian politics stands in stark contrast to the more national focus of another famous German political theologian, the Catholic jurist Carl Schmitt.  Highly sceptical of liberal humanism, Schmitt believed that the political has to do with the existential conflict between friend and enemy.[2]

The Resurrection as a Problem in Political Hermeneutics

In effect, Moltmann’s political “theology of hope” grounds Christian faith in an ontology of peace set in opposition to the ontology of violence he saw in Schmitt’s hard-nosed historical realism.[3]  Whether such differences over the definition of the political are ontological or merely historical, the tension between cosmopolitan and parochial perspectives is baked into the cake of biblical hermeneutics.  Even scholarly disputations over the resurrection of Jesus Christ are filtered through explicitly political interpretations of biblical texts.  Political theology cannot be swept under the rug.  The stakes are too high.

The survival of Christianity as we know it depends upon its capacity to maintain the faith in the risen Christ set out, inter alia, in the Nicene Creed:

For our sake [Jesus Christ] was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. 

Professor Jürgen Moltmann

Individual believers, no less than various branches of the church universal, have vital interests, spiritual and material, in the perceived truth and/or utility of their version of the resurrection story.  Theological hermeneutics is, has been, and forever will be in search of the “proper” interpretation of the “paschal mystery” at the heart of the Easter story.

Certainly, it is becoming painfully obvious that the ongoing quest for the “true” meaning of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection cannot be separated from the central political conflict of our time: globalism versus nationalism.  Can it be mere coincidence that interpretations of the Easter story portraying the crucified-and-resurrected Messiah as a “global Jesus” are a staple of mainline Protestant preaching?  “Global” Christianity teaches that the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ represents the hope of a still-future resurrection of the dead for the whole of “humanity”.  Accordingly, most professing Christians would greet the very idea of a “national Jesus” as an oxymoron at best and a heresy at worst.  But just as secular nationalism has arisen in opposition to the process of globalization in the temporal realm of politics, a growing number of Christian scholars, across a range of disciplines, now offer a “national Jesus” as a compelling alternative to the globalized interpretation of the resurrection story.   Read more

“The Mightier Our Blows, the Greater Our Emperor’s Love”: The Crusader Ideology of Germanized Christianity in the Song of Roland

There is a mysterious quality to the first literature of any ancient nation. The earliest recorded poems are those produced right at the edge between the forceful spontaneity of barbarism and the dead letter of civilization. They almost invariably reflect a primordial and manly mindset very different from that of our own time. They express the psychology and values of conquering peoples, heeding closely to the law of life, by which nations prosper or die. So it is with the Iliad of ancient Greece,the Beowulf of the Anglo-Saxons, and the Song of Roland of the French.

The Song of Roland is the French national epic and the first great piece of French literature, emerging in the eleventh century, on the back of the First Crusade to retake the Holy Land from the Muslims. The poem’s author is even more mysterious than Homer, for we do not even know his name. The Song is a vivid and powerful expression of the values of medieval European chivalry and indeed of the centuries-long clash of civilizations between Christianity and Islam, dating back to the Muslim conquests of Roman Christian Levant and North Africa.

In contrast with later criticisms of Christianity as embodying a universalist “slave-morality,” in the Song we find Christian values perfectly fused, and perhaps subordinated to, the essentially Germanic warrior ethos of the French knightly aristocracy in the form of a novel crusader ideology. The Song presents a perfect case-study of what James C. Russell called the “Germanization of early medieval Christianity” or what William Pierce called “Aryanized” Christianity.[1] The heroes of the poem are obsessed with honor, family, nation, religion, and service to the emperor. I shall present the historical Charlemagne and the values of the Song of Roland. These can help us understand both the emergence and defense of European identity in past centuries. Read more

William Gayley Simpson on Christianity and the West

William Gayley Simpson in the early 1940s

The following is adapted from a book I wrote based on interviews with the late white activist William Pierce, The Fame of a Dead Man’s Deeds.

“Someone else you might want to include in this [book] project,” Pierce called out to me as I was leaving his office at the end of one of our evening talks, “is William Gayley Simpson.  Do you know about him?”

Very little.  All I knew about Simpson was that he had written a book called Which Way Western Man? (free pdf) and that Pierce had published it under his own imprint, National Vanguard Books.  I hadn’t read the book.

“Simpson was born in 1892, the same year as my father,” Pierce continued, “so he was a generation ahead of me.  In the ’30s he was interacting with the public in a big way, speaking at a lot of universities, mostly about peace issues, how we must never get into another world war and that sort of thing, and at one time he taught Latin, mathematics, and history at a boarding school around where he lived in New York state.  Somehow, he had gotten hold of something I had written—this must have been around 1975—and he wrote me about it.  At that time, he was over 80-years-old [he died in 1991 at 99].

“We started corresponding.  I found Simpson to be a deep, sensitive, and serious man.  He invited me to visit him up at his farm.   He had built a farmhouse with his own hands, a really nice house, and he had a shop and outbuildings.  He did some planting, but mostly he just lived there and thought and wrote and maintained contact [letters in those days] with people from all over the world.  I stayed with him a few days and visited him a couple more times after that.

“Simpson told me about a book he was finishing up, which turned out to be Which Way Western Man?  I read it and was very impressed and published it.  We sold that printing, and then we did two more printings, about seven thousand copies, and sold out on those.   Let me get you a copy of Which Way Western Man?

Pierce stood up from his desk, turned to his left, took a couple of steps, and turned left again through an open door into his library.  I followed.   It was dark in there—I could barely make out the titles of the books.  It was a good-sized room, about fifteen-by-twenty feet.  It reminded me of the stacks in a university library, the same kind of metal shelving.   Rows of shelves tightly packed from floor to ceiling with books spanned the room’s interior.  Pierce had labels taped onto the shelves categorizing his collection, so he knew right where to find the Simpson book.  I stood behind him and took in this tall grey-haired man standing in this gloomy library as he turned a few pages of the Simpson book, his eyes just a few inches from the print as he had very poor sight.  

Pierce handed me the bulky, dark blue paperback.  My hand gave way a bit from the weight of what I later learned was a 758-page volume.

I thanked Pierce for the book and told him I would spend the rest of that evening and the next day looking it over, and that if I could get my thoughts organized I’d talk to him the next evening about what Simpson had written.   Read more

Operation Excalibur: Back to Church, Bucko! Part 2

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

Go to Part One

Toward an Alt Right Biblical Theology

As teen-agers many secular humanists on the Alt Right probably rejected one or other of the millenarian visions of Christian theology (pre-, post- or amillennialist) available to the average suburban church-goer.  For these folks, the Bible situates us within as-yet-unfinished story.  We are awaiting the end times; we just cannot agree on when or how the Day of the Lord will come.  But what if there is another, better way of reading the grand narrative set out in the Bible?  Perhaps God knows how to tell a story.  Perhaps the biblical narrative is set in historical time with a beginning, a middle, and an end that has already come and gone.

On that assumption, it seems to me that there is a good fit between the embryonic cosmology of the Alt Right and the eschatological views of a dissident school of predominantly white Anglo-Protestants known as “preterists” (from Latin, praeter or “past”).  The covenantal eschatology (from the Greek eschaton, or “end times”) espoused by preterists holds that biblical prophecies promising that the Lord would come again in judgement (the Parousia) were fulfilled with the destruction of the Temple in AD 70.  On a preterist reading of Scripture, the Day of the Lord occurred in real historical time.  The forty-year interval between the Passion of Christ and the Parousia marks the Exodus of the righteous remnant from Old Covenant Israel.  In that period, the apostles preached the gospel to the ends of the earth, thereby fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

In the Last Days of the Old Covenant age, the New Jerusalem came down to earth, forever supplanting the Temple made with hands.  A new heaven and new earth took its place.  Within a reborn cosmic temple, the saints of Old Covenant Israel as well as those who had “fallen asleep” in Christ in the first century were resurrected from the dead.  No, the physical bodies of Abraham and the prophets did not rise magically from the grave.  Rather, the long-promised, long-awaited spiritual communion of the Old Testament saints with the Body of Christ (now incarnate in the early Church) was consummated.  The providential telos, the divine point and purpose of Old Covenant Israel had been fulfilled.  What relevance, then, has preterist eschatology to the desperate need in our time for an Anglo-Protestant political theology? Read more