Why Newer Isn’t Truer

Why Newer Isn’t Truer May 29, 2019

This article is in response to something published by Brett McCracken a few days ago on the Gospel Coalition website. His post, “Heresy Often Begins With Boredom“, had many good points that I agreed with, although I disagreed quite strongly with most of his conclusions.

In good faith, I responded to him directly on Twitter and pointed out a few of these issues, but he declined to respond to those comments. So, I wanted to publish my thoughts here and hopefully provide a counterpoint and a contrast to his observations. If nothing else, consider this “equal time.”

McCracken’s post is essentially a response to the book Bad Religion, by Ross Douthat which, he says, “makes the compelling case that heresies often begin with attempts to neatly resolve the inherent paradoxes of the Christian faith, opting for either/or where orthodoxy is able to hold the both/and in tension.”

He goes on to say:

“This is true of how many heresies begin. When there are knotty paradoxes that are hard to wrap one’s mind around (e.g., the full divinity and full humanity of Christ), we might be tempted to choose one or the other (e.g., Gnostics downplaying Christ’s humanity). We see this even with modern heresies. Those who can’t handle a God who is simultaneously loving and wrathful just dismiss one or the other.”

I’m tempted to respond to this last sentence especially since it assumes that God is both perfectly loving and full of wrath at the same time, even though Scripturally we are told that “God is love” [1 John 4:16] and never told that “God is wrath” or “God is vengeful”, etc.

In fact, what we’re told is that God’s love endures forever and God’s wrath [whatever that may be] lasts for a moment. [See Psalms 30; 107; 136; etc.]

However, this isn’t the portion of the article which most concerns me. It’s this part:

“But church tradition—orthodoxy and orthopraxy passed down from generation to generation—is a source of guidance and wisdom we should treasure.

Sadly, many Christians today have bought into the chronological snobbery of our age, where “the newer is the truer” and the past is at best undervalued and at worst viewed with scorn. Many Christians are either ignorant of Christian history, bored by it, or both. They are not compelled by the idea of inheriting a Christianity that has more continuity than discontinuity with the faith of their great-grandparents. They are compelled by a “fresh,” “relevant” Christianity that dispenses with all the old, dusty things in favor of new, shiny things. But this anachronistic posture is dangerous and prone to all manner of theological confusion.”

Now, to be very honest, I agree 100% with his statement here. I really do. But, where we diverge is in how far back we go to determine what is “true” and how recently we determine what is “new.”

For example: The prevailing doctrine of the Christian church for the first 500 years of history was Universal Reconciliation. That’s “a source of guidance and wisdom we should treasure,” in my estimation.

I’ve written on this topic here and elsewhere on many occasions. But in a nutshell there have always been three views of the Afterlife held by Christians, historically:


“In the first five or six centuries of Christianity there were six known theological schools, of which four (Alexandria, Antioch, Caesarea, and Edessa, or Nisibis) were Universalist; one (Ephesus) accepted conditional immortality; one (Carthage or Rome) taught endless punishment of the wicked.” (From the New Schaff-Herzog, page 96, paragraph 3)

“The earliest system of Universalistic theology was by Clement of Alexandria who was the head of the theological school in that city until 202 A.D. His successor in the school was the great Origen, the most distinguished advocate of this doctrine in all time.” (From the New Schaff-Herzog, page 96, paragraph 2)

Eternal Torment was a view that existed in the early Christian Church, but it was decidedly a minority view. This didn’t change until after the time of Augustine.

So, today this view [Eternal Torment] has become the dominant one in the Western Church, but it was not always the case. It’s a “Newer” view that many, including those who post at the Gospel Coalition, find “Truer” in spite of the great Christian Tradition to the contrary.

Another “Newer” view that many claim to be “Truer” is that Homosexuality is condemned by the New Testament. This is especially alarming since Jesus never said anything about this topic, and neither did the New Testament until 1946 when the English word “Homosexuality” was first added to the text.

Before that, no English Bibles included the word “Homosexual.”

This was a “Newer” view that has very rapidly become “Truer” the more often it is repeated by those who
are compelled by a  “‘fresh,’ ‘relevant’ Christianity that dispenses with all the old, dusty things in favor of new, shiny things.”

this anachronistic posture is dangerous and prone to all manner of theological confusion.”

As long as we’re going to call out heretics for being enamored with “newer” doctrines, let’s also take time to acknowledge other recent additions to Christian Theology, like “Dispensationalism” which was invented by John Nelson Darby in 1830 [the same year Joseph Smith invented Mormonism], and today permeates most major Christian Seminaries and pulpits in the American Church; giving rise to all the Futurist “Left Behind” End Times hype which has plagued our nation ever since.

I’m a huge fan of going back to the Early Christian Church for inspiration and guidance, especially when it comes to Orthopraxy versus Orthodoxy. This is why I wholeheartedly embrace Non-Violence [because Jesus and the Early Church did], and caring for the poor [Ditto], and gathering in homes to share a meal with Christ [and only Christ] as our Head. 

So, yes, please, let’s take a good, hard look at those Early Christians. Let’s see what they believed, and why. Let’s be brave enough to question whether our “Newer” theology is “Truer” or not.

If you want to believe in a God of wrath who burns His children forever, I suppose this is your right. And if you prefer to hold tightly to the idea that God hates gay people, even if the Scriptures don’t explicitly say so, this is also your prerogative.

But, let’s also not try to claim that those who believe differently than we do are enamored with some Theological “Flavor-of-the-Month” simply because it doesn’t square up with your views, [which, of course, are merely grounded in the unshakable bedrock of Orthodoxy]. You may find that your own views are “Newer” than you realize, and that what is “Truer” may be even older than you imagined.

**

Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today, He and his wife live in Meridian, Idaho, awaiting their next adventure.

His new book “Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible”, is available now on Amazon and features a Foreword by author Brian Zahnd.

He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb” with a Foreword by Greg Boyd.

Keith also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. BONUS: Want to unlock exclusive content including blog articles, short stories, music, podcasts, videos and more? Visit my Patreon page.

Join me this summer at one of these upcoming events:

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  • bill wald

    Agree! In this century, the simple solution is for the preacher to confess that some opposing “proof texts” can’t be reconciled but it doesn’t matter because Jesus taught that the Christian LAW is to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Everything else is (only) commentary on loving God and neighbor.

    Christians love to criticize the Jews for teaching post-Tanakh writings as Tanakh. Christians make the same error by teaching post NT writings as the NT.

    If the topic is later NT commentary as superior, more truthful, that ancient NT commentary, then

    https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/roman-catholic-church-quickening is interesting.

    Roman Catholic Church Quickening
    By Katherine Brind’Amour
    Published: 2007-11-11
    Keywords: Fetus, Abortion, Catholicism, Human development
    Although the concept of quickening was not developed initially by the Roman Catholic Church, much of their histories are intertwined. Quickening, the point at which a pregnant woman can first feel the movements of the growing embryo or fetus, has long been a pivotal moment in pregnancy. Historically, it has also been a pivotal moment for law and the Church in deciding the criminal and religious sanctions for women who intentionally procured an abortion.

    It is interesting to note that although many of the debates in the early Roman Catholic Church regarding procured abortion centered on animation, another term for “quickening,” this was not the original focal point in embryology and development for Church leaders. In fact, the Old Testament of the Bible mentions only that a formed fetus, or one with the shape and features of a human baby, would warrant full legal protection in the “life for a life” sense, as referenced in Exodus. Much of the Bible discusses life in the womb as active, but quickening is rarely mentioned specifically. One example is when the “infant” in the womb of Elizabeth is said to “leap for joy” at the presence of Mary, who had just recently conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit as described in the Gospel of Luke.

    Many early Church leaders and publications, such as the Didache, Tertullian, Athenagoras, Basil the Great, and others, also indicated that quickening was not used to determine the value of life in the womb. Later Catholic theologians, leaning heavily on Greek philosophers like Aristotle, declared a distinction in the severity of the crime of procured abortion based on a particular point in development. Indeed, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas both cited a point after conception, generally the point of quickening, as the moment at which the life in the womb becomes human, meaning ensouled with a rational human soul. For Augustine and Aquinas, intentional abortion was always an offense against God but after the point of ensoulment it was much more so. These and other Church theologians often declared that abortion after quickening was a highly immoral action, worthy of immediate excommunication and/or the legal penalty for homicide.

    Using quickening as the standard for determining how serious a crime it was to procure an abortion was a tradition that lasted for centuries as common Church and legal practice. Though theologians, clerics, and legal authorities published a variety of opinions on the matter, it was not until 1588 that the Roman Catholic Church dropped the distinction between the quickened and the unquickened fetus with the release of “Effraenatam,” an encyclical written by Pope Sixtus V. Overwhelmed by the large number of cases brought before the clergy and Church courts, the document’s decision was reversed by the next pope, Gregory XIV, and the quickening test was reinstated. Presumably in response to the liberalization of abortion practices and laws, as well as in anticipation of the loss of Church legal power through the Papal States, Pope Pius IX released the encyclical “Apostolica Sedis Moderationi” in 1869. This document, like “Effraenatam,” dismissed quickening as a standard for determining the right to life of the fetus and reaffirmed the consequence of immediate excommunication for any intentionally procured abortion.

    The condemnation of abortion without regard to quickening or stage of fetal development is still the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church and many popes have since elaborated on the Church’s beliefs in their own papal documents. “Humanae Vitae” by Pope Paul VI and “Evangelium Vitae” by Pope John Paul II both dismiss the importance of quickening in determining the value of embryonic or fetal life and fiercely defend the decision set in motion by Pope Pius IX. In addition, as science has progressed with technology to observe life in the womb, the Roman Catholic Church has pointed to techniques such as ultrasound to support the irrelevance of quickening for determining the beginning of life. The documents named above are also reinforced by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which confirms the idea of immediate hominization or ensoulment upon conception and disregards quickening as a point of legal or moral significance.

  • Damian Matthew Hall

    Yay Keith, I learn a lot from your articles as a Urantia Book reader who is only recently unpacking Christian Theology. I only found a horrid repugnance for a doctrine that positions our perfectly loving heavenly Father requiring the brutal torture and death of his innocent Son in order to forgive and save mankind, for choices made by the distant relatives of the human race, but reading articles from yourself and others on this site really gives me hope, and I learn a lot. Thanks

  • Dr Paul

    I support your comments. First, the book, BAD RELIGION, correctly notes that paradoxes of Christianity and never be resolved from a physical or human reasoning since we are dealing with super-physical issues. Dogmatism in these areas is foolish. Your comments on Love are right on. Jesus and the apostles stressed LOVE not punishment. My website, http://www.instituteformerechristianity.org has maintained the same observations.

  • Ellen Hammond

    Well said, Keith! I have often thought it ironic that many Christians who cry “heresy,” when we speak of a non-violent God and/or universal reconciliation, tend to base their own beliefs on much newer theology, doctrines, and ideology, while ignoring what Jesus taught by his words and example.

  • Phil McCarthy

    Keith – love this and love your work. But a friend points out, without arguing with the main thrust of the article, that if you want to make the point about arsenokoitoi in this context (church history), you’ll need to engage how the word was translated int Latin over 1500 years, and what the English equivalent(s) was/were. Care to comment?

  • Joseph (the original)

    …amen…

  • Ron Richardson

    I agree and also take it deeper. Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed because of homosexuality. The text describes a society that has become totally depraved; lacking any consideration for life and decency. But, because the text describes the citizens as wanting to have sex with these men, the ancients took the homophobe ball and ran with it. I don’t agree with universal salvation. It isn’t scriptural. If you read Jesus’ words, he states that many are called, but few are chosen and that Father God has sewn tares among the wheat. As far as eternal damnation, I don’t believe in the ancients visual of a burning lake of fire. I believe it was the only image the Holy Spirit could give to represent an eternity without God’s love. Again, the ancient prophets, being naturally superstitious in the matters of God misunderstood God’s warnings of mishaps if one doesn’t live right as threats from God. That’s not the case, or does one believe that God told Elisha to sick a bear on a bunch of teens who were teasing him? Ya gotta rightly divide!