Modern Marcionites

Modern Marcionites March 27, 2015

In the first of his Hulsean lectures, Richard Hays claims (Reading Backwards) that “many ‘mainstream’ Protestant churches today are . . . naively Marcionite in their theology and practice: in their worship services they have no OT reading, or if the OT is read it is rarely preached upon. Judaism is regarded as a legalistic foil from which Jesus has delivered us” (5).

This has “had a disastrous effect on the theological imagination of many Protestant churches, at least in the United States; everything in the gospels that looks too much like the OT is screened out as ‘inauthentic’ and theologically dangerous – teachings about the election of a particular people, the mandate for holiness and purity, the expectation of God’s ultimate judgment of the world. All this is excluded from the authentic red-letter material of what Jesus ‘really’ taught” (5).

This is not only a failure of imagination but, Hays argues, a rejection of the medicine that could heal the imagination – the medicine of typological or figural reading of the NT that is both a reading backward and a reading forward: “the Gospels teach us how to read the OT, and – at the same time – the OT teaches us how to read the Gospels. Or, to put it a little differently, we learn to read the OT by reading backwards from the Gospels, and  – at the same time – we learn how to read the Gospels by reading forwards from the OT” (4).

In this circular process, “the Gospel writers summon us to a conversion of the imagination” (4).

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