Tradition and Apocalypse: David Bentley Hart and Orthodoxy 2.0

by John Stamps

If David Bentley Hart (DBH) didn’t exist, it’d be necessary to invent him. He provokes me to rethink basic concepts unlike any other writer that I know. I don’t always agree with him, but I always relish reading him. I am, in fact, a card-carrying subscriber of his Leaves in the Wind sub­stack. His latest book, Tradition and Apocalypse: An Essay on the Future of Christian Belief, is no exception; it’s a stimulating read but pondering its implications is dis­ori­ent­ing. In a nutshell, DBH argues that the truth of the Chris­tian tradition is bound to the apocalyptic future every bit as much as it is to the historical past. The new book includes an invigorating affirmation of the fullness of the Christian faith. I love his “Big Bang” Christology. The “singular event” of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth ignites and launches all “dogma, theology, hermeneutics, liturgy, and spiritual disciplines” (p. 12). If you’re looking for a book to reaffirm your primary convic­tion about Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead on the third day, Tradition and Apocalypse is your book.

But DBH’s latest and greatest is not for readers who are faint of heart. He takes no prison­ers. For example, he spares no opportunity to gore Christian fundamentalism. God help you if you’re a Roman Catholic “integralist” or a traditionalist of a certain shape, size, or color. His review of Integralism: A Manual of Political Philosophy by Thomas Crean and Alan Finister is particularly savage, but entirely well deserved for what DBH calls its “moral disorders” (p. 13).

You might be pleased to note that Tradition and Apocalypse is a relatively small book, less than 200 pages. Even better, you don’t need to compile a DBH glossary to read it. I only had to look up definitions for 11 words.1 Tradition and Apocalypse summarizes quite nicely lines of thought DBH has been pursuing for some time. My Eclectic Orthodoxy review will mostly focus on the “apocalyptic” section of DBH’s book, with an unjaundiced eye towards how DBH reads the Bible. I intend to cover “history” and “tradition” in a later review. I do have some quibbles, but they are minor and they are few.

Apocalypse then and its eclipse now

Let me not-so-briefly summarize DBH’s arguments about apocalypse and apocalyptic theology.

Apocalyptic theology starts with the empty tomb of Jesus

Christian faith is pre-eminently apocalyptic, from start to finish. Per DBH: “Faith is always born in a moment of apocalypse” (p. 43) and “The gospel is nothing if it is not apocalyptic” (p. 131).

To be more concrete, apocalyptic theology begins with the empty tomb. The apocalypse is not pushed out into a distant extended future. The future is now. Because God the Father raised His Son Jesus from the dead, the Last Days are currently upon us. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead on the third day completely altered and recast human history. The empty tomb of the crucified and risen Jesus is the eschatological sign par excellence. DBH describes well its shock-and-awe effect:

In this sense, the living tradition, if indeed it is living, is essentially apoca­lyp­tic: an originating disruption of the historical past remembered in light of God’s final disruption of the historical (and cosmic) future. One might even conclude that the tradition reveals its secrets only through moments of dis­ruption precisely because it is itself, in its very essence, a disruption: it began entirely as a novum, an unanticipated awakening to something hitherto unknown that then requires the entirety of history to interpret… This is the only true faithfulness to the memory of an absolute beginning, a sudden unveiling without precise precedent: an empty tomb, say, or the voice of God heard in rolling thunder, or the descent of the Spirit like a storm of wind or tongues of fire. In a very real sense, the tradition exists only as a sustained apocalypse, a moment of pure awakening preserved as at once an ever dissolving recollection and an ever renewed surprise. (pp. 142-143)

“Disruption” is the key word here, even if it is an understatement. If we confess with the Nicene Creed that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who rose from the dead on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, we must realize the radical consequences of such a state­ment. Nothing can ever be the same for a conscientious disciple of Jesus Christ. We can no longer look at our lives and our cosmos in the same way ever again.

The empty tomb is the greatest gauntlet ever thrown down to challenge historicism and its all-embracing, all-determining relativism than which none greater can be conceived. The crucified, risen, and ascended Jesus is the greatest novum of all novorum.

The Risen Christus is Victor over the principalities and powers

If we don’t understand the apocalyptic radix of first-century Christianity, we don’t under­stand it at all. DBH nicely summarizes what “apocalyptic” Christianity looks like in all its historical novelty:

Even so, it should never be forgotten that Christianity entered human history not as a new creed or sapiential path or system of religious observances, but as apocalypse: the sudden unveiling of a mystery hidden in God before the foundation of the world in a historical event without any possible precedent or any conceivable sequel; an overturning of all the orders and hierarchies of the age, here on earth and in the archon-thronged heavens above; the over­throw of all the angelic and demonic powers and principalities by a slave legally crucified at the behest of all the religious and political authorities of his time, but raised up by God as the one sole Lord over all the cosmos; the abolition of the partition of Law between peoples; the proclamation of imminent arrival of the Kingdom and of the new age of creation; an urgent call to all persons to come out from the shelters of social, cultural, and political association into a condition of perilous and unprotected exposure, dwelling nowhere but in the singularity of this event—for the days are short. (p. 135)

This is 100-proof unadulterated Christus Victor theology. As DBH translates John 16:33: “Take heart—I have conquered the cosmos.” Jesus Christ has triumphed over the principalities, powers, thrones, and dominions. The good news of the Gospel is God’s invasion, conquest, spoliation, and triumph over the heavenly, terrestrial, spiritual, and physical powers.

DBH insists that God’s revelation of Himself is most clearly seen in no place other than a crucified Jewish slave. This is St Paul’s theology of salvation in a nutshell. Apocalyptic Christianity is the realization that Jesus Christ engaged in combat and conquest against the spiritual powers of darkness in the heavenly places and won.

But as DBH diagnoses the state of 21st century Christianity, he argues we forgot apocalyptic Christianity a long, long time ago.

We rendered unto Caesar the things that belonged to God

Where did it all go wrong? DBH tells the sad and tragic tale of us Christians living in Christendom confused about our identity. We Christians sold our theological birthright for a mess of politically expedient pottage. The Christendom experiment is dead, gone, kaput. We should have known better. Jesus Christ has triumphed over the principalities and powers through His crucifixion. In DBH’s translation, “Stripping the Archons and Powers, he exposed them in the open, leading them prisoner along with him in a triumphal procession” (Col 2:15). The principalities and powers had previously held us in thrall. But Christ unmasked them and now we are freed from their delusion, deception, and power. So why for one instant should we ever again have sucked up to them?

And one need only compare all of it (sc. the radical apocalyptic faith of previous Christian generations) to the later social and institutional realities and theological concerns of imperial Christendom, or to modern Western culture’s comfortable bourgeois cult of civic respectability and personal prosperity, or to the free-market capitalist orthodoxies and ridiculous gun-obsessions and barbarous nation-worship of the “Christianity” indigenous to contemporary America (even among the Catholics and Orthodox)—or, for that matter, to countless other variants of Christian adherence throughout history and across the globe—to find oneself hard-pressed to see how any of this could truly be regarded as a single continuous faith, rather than merely a series of historical ruptures, divagations, accidental sequelae, and frequent total inversions. (p. 34)

The Eastern Orthodox cultural accommodation to political systems—indeed, any Chris­tian’s cultural accommodation—has not looked good in retrospect.2 When Christians have caved in to cultural demands and compromised the gospel, history has judged us badly, always, and for good reason. Miraculously the Christian faith manages to survive in spite of our miser­able efforts, even though none of our accommodations with political systems has turned out well. The only success stories I know of are when Christian disciples have shown the backbone of their convictions and resisted the powers.

A professed Christian, for instance, so detached from the teachings of Jesus that he or she is willing to argue in favor of capital punishment, or to claim that Christians may blamelessly acquire and keep vast personal wealth, or to embrace libertarian social theory, or to support a certain recently unseated Republican president of the United States, or to champion right-wing Catholic integralism, and so forth is one who is effectively left the Gospel behind and who may justly be regarded as having abandoned the true tradition altogether. (p. 169)

The consequences of this ill-conceived arrangement between Christ and Caesar are devas­ta­ting to Christian witness in the world. We lost the capacity to witness God’s manifold wisdom to the archons, thrones, dominions, and powers in the heavenly places (Ephesians 3:10).3

If the teachings of Christ form the indispensable standard of Christian spiritual life, then it is clear that Christianity as a historical project has been in many respects a ghastly failure, and in no way more conspicuously than in many of the terms its institutional embodiments accepted as the price of alliance with empire and state. (p. 171)

Instead of speaking Christ’s truth to spiritual power, we decided instead to collude with them for sheer political expediency.

The Delay of the Parousia

DBH stresses the delay of the Second Coming of Jesus as perhaps the biggest issue that Christian theology has tried to ignore over the centuries. Resurrection was thought to be the singular event that would end history as we know it. But it did not. History continued. Jesus the Messiah arrived and ascended but He arrived and ascended without the Messianic Age that everyone had expected. The earliest Christians eagerly expected His imminent return, His parousia. And they waited. And we waited. And we wait some more. The French New Testament scholar Alfred Loisy summarized this “embarrassing but fairly unarguable fact” with lapidary precision: “Jesus announced the Kingdom and it was the Church that arrived” (p. 67).

The delay of the parousia became a problem for faithful but historically responsible Catholic theologians like Maurice Blondel. Blondel wanted to avoid the sad fate of Loisy, who was excommunicated for his Modernist heresies. But Blondel managed to impale himself on both horns of a dilemma. One horn of the dilemma was “extrinsicism,” i.e., the dogma of the church never changes. The other horn was “historicism,” i.e., all dogma can be reduced to the contingent processes of history, “more or less without remainder” (pp. 70-71). It is well-nigh impossible to juggle

the apparent expectation on the part of Jesus and the early Christians of an imminent end of history and arrival of the kingdom and, on the other, the evident facts of history’s obstinate, indeed millennial refusal to end and of the evolution of the institutional church instead.” (p. 77)

St Paul and the rest of the New Testament writers altered the Second Temple expectations to explain the inexplicable resurrection of Jesus from the dead on the third day. Jesus of Nazareth came and fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. But certainly not in the way that anybody had expected.

DBH repeats repeatedly the commonplace platitude among scholars and theologians that the early church expected the imminent return of Jesus and were deeply disillusioned that He did not return quickly. According to 20th-century conventional wisdom, the early Christians were bitterly discour­aged when the Son of Man did not return as expected. The institutional church is the result­ing disappointment. But maybe there was no massive disillusionment over the delay of the parousia. Our problems lie elsewhere.

It’s at this point I can start my critique of DBH’s little book. Here are my quibbles.

Reading the Bible with DBH

One of the biggest strengths of Tradition and Apocalypse is how DBH defamiliarizes the Bible for us. He makes it a strange and enchanting book to read again. He forces us to stop and think seriously about Scripture’s meanings, literal and otherwise. Reading the Bible becomes a strange new world.4

Quibble #1 — Sometimes DBH is not piteously literal enough

DBH claims his New Testament translation is “piteously” literal. But his translation and explanation of John 1:1 is not literal enough (pp. 113-119). Perhaps for shock value, DBH exploits a moment of Second Temple ambiguity about what Alan Segal has labeled as the “two powers in heaven” theology: “In the origin there was the Logos, and the Logos was present with GOD, and the Logos was god” (pp. 113-119). But we can do better. DBH missed one definitive article (θεόν avec article) and added unnecessary ambiguity. How about this alternative rendering that nicely preserves the word order of the Greek?

Εν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was present with the GOD, and GOD was the Logos.

At one stroke even the most biblically illiterate reader can perceive that St John deliber­ately echoes Genesis 1:1. This Logos—Whatever or Whoever this deuteros logos is—is God’s associate and His agent in creation. If the rabbis didn’t think the Logos compro­mised or weakened “pure monotheism,” then we shouldn’t either.5

No wait, there’s more. My own translation doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb with the rest of the Gospel. We suffer no cognitive dissonance when Jesus states “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). St John has already prepared us. We know that GOD was the Logos. St John tipped us off just enough so that when St Thomas exclaims, “My LORD and my GOD” (John 20:28), we are suitably shocked. But we are not completely taken by surprise. The resurrected Jesus with nail marks in His hands and feet is LORD and GOD. The declaration by St Thomas is a fitting capstone of the Gospel of John. We don’t suffer theological whip­lash when we jump from subordinationism in John 1:1 to the industrial-strength christology in John 20:28. DBH argues that we can’t simply read Nicene Orthodoxy straight off the pages of the New Testament. By comparison, Daniel Boyarin6 suffers no such doubts about the deuteros logos of Philo: “If Philo is not on the road to Damascus here, he is surely on a way that leads to Nicaea and the controversies over the second person of the Trinity.”7

St John’s Gospel doesn’t give us the Trinity quite yet. At best we get a robust Binitarian faith. We need to fill in the details about the Holy Spirit from elsewhere. But we’re not left in doubt about the status of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the only-begotten GOD (John 1:18).

The added bonus is that our translation stands cogently within the realm of meaning of Second Temple Judaism.8 The Logos who is in the Father’s bosom is not the God—the God of course is the Father.9 In the parlance of Aramaic Judaism, Jesus of Nazareth is the Memra of the God who spoke creation into existence.10 The Logos exegetes (ἐξηγήσατο) Him. As Daniel Boyarin explains, John 1:1-5 is neither hymn nor poetry: it’s “midrash,” a very Jewish homily on Genesis 1:1-5 to readers who are already well familiar with the Bible. John 1:1 no longer is a weird anomaly. For readers with ears to hear, St John lets us overhear resounding echoes from a rich intratextual conversation within sacred scripture. We get a front-row seat to a biblical dialogue that eventually leads us to Nicea and Chalce­don, and even beyond, to Barth, Balthasar, Bulgakov, and DBH. The only “innovation” is the “incarnational Christology,” which to me sounds quite innovative indeed. As Boyarin goes on to explain, “John’s Prologue is a piece of perfectly unexceptional Jewish thought that has been seamlessly woven into the christological narrative of the Gospel.” The novelty in St John’s Gospel isn’t the Logos-Memra. That’s standard Second Temple Judaism. The novum is that the Logos-Memra became flesh and His name is Jesus.11

Quibble #2 — Sometimes DBH overstates his case

If only DBH would dial back his rhetoric … oh … 20%. Hyperbole doesn’t help his arguments. For example:

The form of life that was Christianity, by definition, entailed a total renunciation of private property and power; or, rather, it did not merely entail that renunciation: such renunciation was precisely what defined a believer as belonging to the new creation established in Christ… So too the rejection of military service, the proscription of participation in capital punishment, and the refusal to use the courts to seek legal redress for grievances or to have crimes punished. (p. 33)

Did the early Church reject military service in toto, as DBH claims? Au contraire, Diocletian and Galerius became unnerved and panicked at the sheer numbers of Christians in their armies.12 Christians were present everywhere at all levels of Roman society. Tertullian famously quipped, Christians have filled “cities, villages, markets, the camp itself, town councils, the palace, the senate, the forum. All we have left you is your temples… Nearly all the citizens of all your cities are Christians.”13

And there was one very good reason soldiers ended up worshipping the crucified Jewish slave instead of the mystery god Mithras. God loves soldiers. He especially loves to use them to push history forward. Unlike your typical cowardly apostle (say, St Peter), soldiers are courageous. Unlike your typical obdurate prophet (say, Jonah), they know how to take orders and how to give orders. “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matt 8:8-9).

Their strategic placement in the New Testament is startling. Start with John the Baptist. He didn’t dislike soldiers in the way that he detested the Pharisees and Sadducees. John the Baptist honors soldiers enough to address them seriously. He exhorted them to be content with their wages. Don’t behave like gangsters. Don’t shake down people. Don’t use force to violently extort money from them. Don’t be a sycophant (συκοφαντήσητε)—i.e. don’t blackmail them (Luke 3:14). But what is most remarkable of all, he didn’t tell them to stop being soldiers.

Certainly Jesus of Nazareth loved Roman soldiers. He never met a soldier He didn’t like. The highest praise He gives to anyone He ever meets in his short 33-year life is to a Roman centurion. The faith of the Roman soldier amazed Him: “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Matt 8:10). High praise indeed coming from the mouth of our Lord, I recall none higher. The capacity and incapacity of humans for faith was the only thing that ever truly surprised Jesus. In radical contrast to this centurion’s faithful­ness, He was boggled by the rank unbelief manifested from his hometown (Mark 6:6).

If we’re pondering apocalyptic theology, we cannot exclude the Holy Spirit’s role in pushing history forward. The apocalyptic role of the Holy Spirit is prominent in Luke/Acts. St Peter insists we live “in the last days” because the prophecy of Joel is now fulfilled in God’s people. He hermeneuted standard “earth-shattering” apocalyptic language and applied it to Pente­cost. The cosmos is convulsed to its foundations—“the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and manifest Day of the Lord comes”—because the fire of the Holy Spirit has now filled the upper room (Acts 2:17-21).

But if Pentecost surprised St Peter and the Jews dwelling in Jerusalem, the conversion of Cornelius the Roman centurion staggered him even more. The Holy Spirit reveals to St Peter the massive sea-change about to envelop the people of God. All the standard apocalyptic signs—visions, trances, angels, voices from heaven, and charismata—push Luke’s story forward. And Cornelius wasn’t just any Roman soldier. He commanded the entire Italian cohort. He led several hundred soldiers. What an astounding convert to kickstart a church that is “neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all!” (Col 3:11).

Now let’s talk about money and “the total renunciation of private property and power” (p. 34). In fairness to DBH, the entire New Testament is extremely wary of money and possessions, to put it blandly. Offhand, I cannot think of a single New Testament text praising wealth. Greed is condemned without exception. St James can envision no greater folly than a wealthy Christian storing up perishable wealth in the End Times: “Your gold and silver are rusting away and their rust will be a witness against you and will eat up your flesh like fire. You have stored up treasure in the last days” (Jas 5:3).

And yet … St Luke—the one writer who says the most about the use and misuse of posses­sions than the rest of the New Testament combined—refuses to condemn wealth and the wealthy outright. The most obvious example is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. God did not condemn the rich man for his wealth. Dives ended up tortured in Hades (16:23) because he has ignored the poor man lying directly outside his gates.14 The foolish rich man did not heed Moses and the Prophets. In my own translation of Deuteronomy 15:7-8:

When there shall be among you a poor man from one of your brothers in any of your gates (שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ/shaʻarekah) in your land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart and you shall not shut up your hand from your brother, the poor one. For you shall surely open your hand to him and you shall surely lend him enough for his need which will be lacking to him.

The rich man had violated the explicit terms of the covenant explicitly outlined in the Torah.

There is no one-size-fits-all mandate that defined the early church’s attitude to wealth and possessions. Jesus commanded the rich young ruler to sell all he possessed and give to the poor and follow Him (Luke 18:18-30). But He made no such demand of Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-9). Martin Hengel acknowledges St Luke is all over the map regarding money and “makes apparently contradictory statements.”15 On the one hand, Luke praises the generous hearts and complete sharing of goods among the earliest community of disciples who were on fire with the Holy Spirit from the flames of Pentecost (Acts 2:44, 4:32). But on the other hand, Luke surprises his readers when Peter rebukes Ananias for lying about sharing all the proceeds of the property he had sold. Peter scolds him, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4). There’s a critical difference between the total renunciation of all private property and God’s encouragement of lavish gestures of extravagant generosity.

More to the point, God’s nets are wide open to any fish He captures. The net won’t break. God will drag fish of every kind to the shore (Matt 13:47). How big is God’s net? Just ponder the sociological and demographic composition of the churches assumed by St Paul and St James. Both take it for granted that wealthy men and women are sitting in their pews, listening to their scathing epistles. “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you!” (Jas 5:1).

“Each one in the calling to which he was called, let him remain in this calling” (1 Cor 7:20). If Jesus could arrive at any time, St Paul’s argument is counter-intuitive. But he didn’t want Christians to act like Millerites or other crazed apocalyptic millenarians. Instead, play your position and don’t mooch off other Christians (2 Thess 3:10-11). If you’re paying attention, God will call you to where He wants you to be. And if you stumble and fall, just remember—there’s always mercy and grace. God loves sinners, even rich ones.

And He especially loves soldiers. Who better can understand “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” (διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ e.g. Galatians 2:16, 20) than a U.S. Marine with “Semper Fi” tattooed on his bicep? But will our Marine remain one? Maybe, maybe not. When Jesus called St Peter from his nets to fish for men, he didn’t remain a fisherman. Same with St Matthew when Jesus called him away from his tollbooth. And when Jesus calls soldiers into the Kingdom of God, God will use their courage and obedience. But they likely won’t stay soldiers for long. They cannot. Jesus calls us into a peaceable kingdom. As Tertullian stated so memorably, “Christ, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.”

Quibble #3 — Sometimes DBH is piteously reductionist

DBH is pitilessly literal, by his own admission, but he can also be pitilessly reductionist. He likes to shock his readers. Take his own (mis)reading of Genesis 3. He rubs our noses in a Tree of Life reading that sounds like it was ripped straight out of the Enuma Elish. He summarizes a reductive Ancient Near Eastern story of Yahweh, the Snake, and the Tree:

The original tale, of course, had nothing to do with any notion of original sin or of a great fall requiring an extraordinary divine repair, except in the cloudy way that all of humanity’s myths of a lost beatitude or communion with the gods seem to carry with them a kind of memory of some immemorial loss… In short, it was a fairly typical Mesopotamian story about gods of no moral or intellectual eminence, and of a humanity sadly denied any share in their happiness. (pp. 164-165)

Fair enough. DBH reminds us about the dangers and fatal consequences of eisegeting St Paul with later Christian beliefs that must be read into his difficult writings. “Humans are born damnably guilty in God’s eyes, or good deeds are not required for salvation”16 is just bad Pauline theology. His “more literal than thou” literalism keeps fundamentalists at bay. Fair enough.

But to push back a bit, such a subversively reductive reading of Genesis 3 cannot actually be found anywhere in any actual cuneiform text, moth-eaten leather scroll, or papyrus fragment. For our purposes, the greatest writer of the Bible is not J, E, P, D, Q, or Proto-Mark. Instead we are stuck with the humble and anonymous R, “the Final Editor of the Bible.” Robert Calasso calls R “the most ignored and most decisive” (p. 170) of all the authors of the Bible.17 And R most certainly did think he was writing Scripture. R is that master scribe trained for the Kingdom of Heaven, “who brings forth things old and new from his treasury” (Matt 13:52). We are not mired in the past. Genesis 3, for all its intratextual misreadings with Romans 5:12, is more than pious folklore. It is Scripture. That most sagacious (φρονιμώτατος) serpent of Genesis 3 morphs into the “the dragon, the ancient serpent” of Revelation 20:2. And the best biblical interpreters listen for all the intratextual echoes, allusions, and figural readings of the Bible.

DBH’s persistent habit is to rattle our cages, rub our noses in the historical literality of the text, and then move on. Again, fair enough. But that method becomes tiresome after a while. However we construe the literal meaning of Scripture, our exegesis and our hermeneutics cannot stop there.

What DBH refuses to do, almost by design, is lend his readers a hermeneutical hand or even a finger. His readings tend to stay mired in the past he has retrieved for his readers. That’s fine, as far as he goes and as far as it goes. But even the “literal” level of Scripture is deeply intertextual, with all kinds of hermeneutical hints for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. St Paul himself reminds us in 1 Cor 10:11: “Now these things happened to them figuratively, and were written for the purpose of our admonition, for whom the ends of the ages have arrived.” That’s what a truly apocalyptic reading of Scripture should look like! St Paul’s aeonic reading of the Torah is bold indeed. The Torah wasn’t ultimately intended for its original audience. We who stand at the end of time are its privileged readers. St Paul himself shows us how to be apocalyptic readers. Scripture’s meaning is never exhausted by its literal reference. And DBH admits as such:

For instance, believers should welcome the historical–critical method of reading scripture, not out of any submissive acceptance of historicist prejudices, but as a convenient instrument for overcoming fundamentalist misunderstanding of what scripture is, and perhaps for learning again that, as the best ancient and medieval readers knew, a book’s meaning—like a tradition’s—is not simply resident in its material aetiology. (p. 173)

What DBH taketh away with one hand, he giveth with the other. We cannot reduce the meaning of the Bible to the products of historical-critical exegesis. So what might a fully informed apocalyptic reading of the Bible look like? Karl Barth—once a formidable apocalyptic theologian in his own right in his early career—remarked that if he “were driven to choose between [historical-critical exegesis] and the venerable doctrine of inspiration, I should without hesitation adopt the latter, which has a broader, deeper, more important justification… Fortunately, I am not compelled to choose between the two.”18

We who stand at the end of the ages claim the same historical-critical and hermeneutical freedom. We can cantillate the sacred scriptures with graceful voices. We can pray the Lord’s prayer and call upon the Heavenly Father with boldness and without condemna­tion, even though we are grossly unworthy. At the same time, we are not forced to abandon rigorous historical inquiry or the latest scholarly paradigms when reading the Bible.

Quibble #4 — Living in the Middle of Time

I get a bit unnerved when DBH makes apodictic statements like the following:

All sound historical and biblical scholarship on these matters leaves no doubt of this (sc. St Paul’s theology of the hostile celestial powers). (p. 150)

As a general rule, none of us should get too comfortable with the findings of biblical scholarship. The so-called “assured results of biblical scholarship” come and go. You think I jest? I do not. For example, who wholeheartedly adheres to the criterion of double dissimilarity, once used to distinguish the authentic sayings of the historical Jesus? The problem is that if you winnow out all the statements of Jesus that sound Jewish and you remove all the statements that sound like they came from the early church, the result is a space-alien non-Jewish Jesus, with no father, no mother, no lineage, no pedigree, and no followers. The methodological leftovers are not the historical Jesus but an idiosyncratic construct. When I was studying the Synoptic Gospels at Princeton Theological Seminary in the early 1980s, no methodological tool was more deeply entrenched in the New Testa­ment guild than the criterion of double dissimilarity. But these days, who could stomach a non-Jewish Jesus?19

The commonplace platitude among scholars and theologians that the early church was bitterly disappointed that He did not return quickly is not exactly terra firma either.

Loisy was right: The Kingdom was preached, but it was the church, with its almost comically corrupt and divisive institutional form, that arrived. The Kingdom did not come—not in the fashion expected, at least, not in the time allotted, not in the twinkling of an eye—and so the ever more visibly hierar­chical and depressingly mundane civic institution of the church became the only concrete, tangible form that Christian hope and expectation could now take in this prolonged interval of infinite delay. (p. 138)

According to 20th-century conventional wisdom, the earliest Christians were bitterly disillusioned when the Son of Man did not return as expected. The institutional church is a disappointing legacy. But serious fractures in this scholarly edifice have started to show for some time. Again, no less than Martin Hengel claims that forcing a distinction between a “present” Kingdom versus a “future” Kingdom is nothing less than a “false dichotomy.” We can start with a clear-headed reading of the Gospels themselves. My own pushback is that the delay of the parousia was not much of a problem for the early church after all. It’s a scholarly construct invented by Johannes Weiss, Albert Schweitzer, and Martin Werner and has become a shibboleth for modern biblical scholarship. But in fact, there are as many responses to the delay of the parousia as there are writers in the New Testament. Each writer accommodates the issue just fine, each in his own way.

But even more basic, Albert Schweitzer and his followers up to the present-day fundamen­tally misunderstand the nature of biblical prophecy. No prophecy, not even the imminence of parousia, is predetermined. Prophecy is entirely contingent upon human cooperation. Sergius Bulgakov already knew this back in 1944:

The goals of God are unalterable and irrevocable, but the paths to them can differ; and these differences, inessential for the whole, can turn out to be essential for individual destinies and achievements. This leads to the possibility of conditional prophecies and, as Scripture shows, to the fact that they are not irrevocable. The most expressive example is, of course, Jonah’s prophecy of the destruction of Nineveh.21

There was no urgent expectation for Jesus Christ to return imminently simply because the prophecies of Jesus were conditional like all ancient biblical predictions. Jesus was a prophet in the mold of Jeremiah and especially Jonah. I offer my own translation of Jonah 3:9: “Who knows (מִי-יוֹדֵעַ/mi yodea), God may turn and repent and turn from the burning of His nose, so that we might not perish?” For both Jonah and the One who is greater than Jonah (Matt 12:41), God changed His mind to allow space and time for humans to repent. Not coincidentally, this is essentially 2 Peter’s argument about the delay of the parousia.22

Take St Paul. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, he can breathlessly insist to his readers that the Parousia will come like a thief in the night and you must be ready and awake. You don’t need to grieve for brothers and sisters who have died in Christ. Most assuredly they will not miss the Parousia. “Then we the living who remain will be seized together with them among clouds, into the Lord’s escort through the air; and thus we shall be with the Lord always.” At first blush it sounds like St Paul expected to be alive when Jesus returned. This passage for good reason has become the locus classicus proof-text for the imminent return of the Lord Jesus. But then 2 Thessalonians dampens those fervent hopes. There’s no need for the Thessalonians to get “morbidly excited” because Jesus’ return cannot possibly happen yet (2:1-8).23

Albert Schweitzer might not have invented the delay of the parousia paradigm. But he certainly popularized it. When Jesus preached the radical ethics of the Kingdom of God in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Schweitzer claims that the historical Jesus never intended them to be a social program to reform society. Schweitzer characterized them as Die Interimsethik—“interim ethics.” Of course the commands to sell your possessions and turn the other cheek to your oppressor were unrealistic. The disciples were supposed to follow them only in the short interim before the coming of the Kingdom. But as you read St Matthew’s Gospel, you quickly realize Matthew has already de-delayed his Gospel from all imminent expectations. He doesn’t feel any anxiety at all about the Parousia taking far longer to appear than anyone ever expected. In fact, Jesus repeatedly states in His parables that “my master is taking a long time” (24:48), “the bridegroom is taking a long time” (25:5), and the householder finally returns from his journey only “after a long time” (25:14, 15, 19). St Matthew quite deliberately composed his Gospel as a manual of Christian discipleship for Christians expected to wait in the long haul.24

But most intriguing of all is how St Luke reframes the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the history of Jesus Christ and His church. “All that Jesus began to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1) in Luke’s hands becomes a sizable two-volume work.25 The story of Jesus does not end with the resurrection and the ascension. Hans Conzelmann wrote a theology of St Luke titled in German as Die Mitte der Zeit, that is, The Middle of Time.26 It’s St Luke’s own way to deal with the apocalyptic event of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the midpoint and center of God’s time. But we are now living in the time of the church. Luke would beg to differ with Loisy. Luke recognized that history continues, but we must still proclaim the Kingdom of God, even (especially?) in the time of the church. The perfect conclusion to Acts offers the perfect rejoinder to Loisy:

And (Paul) remained a whole two years in his own rented lodgings and received all who came to him, proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning Jesus the Anointed, with all boldness and without hindrance. (Acts 28:30-31)

This is why Luke wrote the book of Acts. And the later you date Luke/Acts, the better. The time of the church is in full effect and St Paul is still preaching the Kingdom of God. In summary, I don’t perceive the NT as particularly “anxious” that the Second Coming didn’t arrive as quickly as St Paul expects in 1 Thessalonians. We can see that the New Testament makes various adjustments, but then it simply moves on. And DBH himself acknowledges this inaugurated-but-not-yet-consummated eschatology:

The Kingdom was drawing near; the Kingdom had already partly arrived; indeed, the Kingdom was already within, waiting to be revealed to the cosmos in the glory of the children of God. (p. 136)

If there is apocalyptic anxiety in the NT, it concerns one huge unresolved and painful question that haunts us to this very day. If Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Jewish Messiah long-expected by the Jewish people, then why did the Jewish people reject Him? Certainly St Paul agonizes over the issue in Romans 9-11. And the Four Gospels and Acts offer one classic terrifying apocalyptic answer to this troublesome apocalyptic question. According to Isaiah’s prophecy, God has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts so that they cannot believe even if they wanted to (Matthew 13:14-15, Mark 4:12, Luke 8:10, John 12:40, Acts 28:26-27).

Conclusion

My criticisms of DBH are mere quibbles. I muddy the waters a bit and that’s it. DBH’s essential arguments all hold true. All the best exegesis in the world can’t save us Christians from ourselves and our sinful follies. We need more than better reading habits. Plowing through Tradition and Apocalypse is not a cheerful exercise. DBH is not optimistic about much of anything in the Christian world, East or West. And who can blame him?

It would be no exaggeration to say that, viewed entirely in historical perspective, cultural and institutional “Christianity” has, for most of its history, consisted in the systematic negation of the Christianity of Christ, the apostles, and the earliest church. (p. 35)

You don’t believe DBH? You think he’s exaggerating? I sure don’t. You don’t need to read Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to ponder one set of alternative facts versus a different set. We don’t need a fact check here. Just read the latest edition of the New York Times or the Washington Post.

On February 27 380 A.D., the Roman emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessa­lo­nica making Christianity—specifically Nicene Orthodoxy—the official “religion” of the Roman Empire.27 On February 24, 2022—1642 years later—one Nicene Orthodox country (Russia) invaded another Nicene Orthodox country (Ukraine). We might be horrified. We might be shocked. But we shouldn’t be surprised. When Constantine had declared Christianity to be a tolerated religion (religio licita), the relationship of Jesus Christ to political power was forever changed. We feel the aftershocks to the present day.

This outbreak of warfare between two ostensibly “Christian” nations is outrageous at any number of levels. What we moderns think it means to be a Christian would be absolutely unrecognizable to any Christian living prior to Constantine’s empire.

I never expected a global pandemic in my lifetime. Who did? Yet even more surprising is a replay of the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 in the Year of our Lord 2022. DBH states:

Here, I want to emphasize just how chaotic a picture the (sc. historical) record really presents to an impartial eye. How quickly, after all—a few centuries at most—even the most prominent features of the faith were altered almost beyond recognition by the imperial culture into which the faith was integrated from the time of Constantine on. (p. 33)

DBH encourages us to live, think, and act like the earliest disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, not like ideologues propping up the status quo. He wants us to retrieve the sheer brio of Chris­tian theology with all its magnificently outrageous claims. If we claim that tradition is the living faith of the dead and not the dead faith of the living (Jaroslav Pelikan), DBH shows us where the faith was indeed once alive.

And this deeply heterogeneous picture becomes especially unconvincing when it is employed to explain away obvious instances of profound disjunction within the historical record: such as, again, the transition within Christian tradition from the radical social and economic and moral precepts of the earliest Church, which were so absolutely essential to its sense of mission and its self-understanding, to the entirely incompatible and indeed inimical practices of the Christianity of later Christendom. (pp. 89-90)

He then shows us where tradition is now dead or on life-support. DBH paints quite a picture of what the apocalyptic theology of the New Testament and the early church looked like, before the “failed and inherently defective fusion of the realms of Christ and of Caesar that underlay the power of the imperial church” (p. 174). But the shotgun wedding between Church and Empire transmogrified the Gospel of Jesus beyond all recognition. The apocalyptic event of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, formed and shaped a people. Jesus Christ intended to build a cruciform and transfigured church, a church content to live on the margins of society, shaped by the apocalyptic event. Instead of theologians, prophets, and priests who speak truth to power, these days we have the ideologues, shills, and false prophets who grovel and kowtow before the principalities and powers and co-opt the church into joining them.

DBH, himself Orthodox, doesn’t criticize us Orthodox with the same severity that he criticizes our Roman Catholic and Protestant brothers and sisters. In retrospect, we deserve far greater condemnation. It was not, it is not, and it never will be our task to tame the principalities and powers for the purposes of creating a Christian empire. We must resist our temptation to sacramentalize them. The church’s task, rather, is to expose and resist them. God forbid that we should ever become chaplains and cheerleaders to the principalities and powers in the interests of sacramentalizing the cosmos. Something is definitely wrong with Orthodox Christianity when Vladimir Putin is now the most dangerous man on Planet Earth and the Russian Orthodox Church refuses to condemn him. Indeed, his lapdog Patriarch Kyrill fawns over Putin.

If I read DBH correctly, Eastern Orthodoxy can no longer exclusively rely on the false memories of a dangerous triumphalist past. By design, we must start looking to God’s future. Please forgive the following software analogy, but I am, after all, a technical writer at a Silicon Valley software company.

The time is ripe for a new major release of Orthodoxy 2.0. The infamous “Milvian Bridge” release (the Beta version of Orthodoxy 1.0 was released in 312 AD) was flawed from the start. Constantine painting a cross on his army’s shields before they slaughtered their enemies turned out not to be such a great feature after all. It was infected by buggy software and introduced numerous glitches, faults, and defects into the system. And the marketing slogan—By this sign, conquer—was a misleading disaster. We need a new release of Open Source Orthodoxy to re-introduce the kenotic Son of God, the Prince of Peace, crucified and risen from the dead on the third day, back into the system. Many faithful Christians are helping to design Orthodoxy 2.0 and it is generously distributed under a fully Jim Forest, Dorothy Day, and Jacques Ellul-compliant license (hereafter known as “JFDDJE”) which grants all the rights to Protestants, Catholics, agnostics, unchurched, apostates, Nones, and atheists of good will to use, study, change, and share. The Sermon on the Mount—even the radical “turn the other cheek” component—comes installed as a default feature, not an option. This updated version of Orthodoxy 2.0 is fully deputinized and dekyrillized. No more pseudo-monastic fundamentalism. No more Uber-trad rightwing racist autocratic ideologues. The tired ghosts of Russo-Byzantine triumphalism are exorcised once and for all. Orthodoxy 2.0 embraces the following challenge with which DBH concludes:

Faith is the will to let the past be reborn in the present as more than what until now had been known, and the will to let the present be shaped by a future yet to be revealed. Hope is the conviction that that revelation will not only fulfill but far exceed the promise that the tradition preserves within itself. And, in the end, faith and hope will both pass away, or rather pass over into perfect love—which is, at the last, another name, and perhaps the highest, for that final horizon that calls all thought and all of creation to itself. (p. 188)

This is what Orthodoxy 2.0 should strive for. Stay tuned for my next installment on tradition and history.

Footnotes

[1] If you must know: recherché, misprisions (not what I thought it meant), purblindness (this word too), divagations, sequelae, catachrestic, curvets, diegetic, ductility, bibulous, and fissile. I already knew what bricolage meant from reading Jeffrey Stout.
[2] Without too much prejudice, we can call this Church-State/Christ-Caesar synthesis either Caesaropapism or Constantinianism.
[3] Remember that we are contending “against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
[4] The early Karl Barth would like it.
[5] Thus Daniel Boyarin: “So any evidence for Jewish binitarianism does not constitute a ‘weakening’ of pure monotheism, any more than Christian trinitarianism does, except from the point of view of Modalists such as rabbinic Jews, who regard it as heresy, of course.” Cited in “The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John,” Harvard Theological Review, 94 (July 2001): 261, n. 64.
[6] Daniel Boyarin is the Hermann P. and Sophia Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture in the Departments of Near Eastern Studies and Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. What a weird thing it is that students can study Talmud at UC Berkeley with the most famous Talmudist alive. There might be hope for us Californians yet.
[7] Boyarin, “The Gospel of the Memra,” p. 251.
[8] The literature on Second Temple Judaism is vast. I’d start with Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah (Second Edition) by George W. E. Nickelsburg (2011). And you could do much worse than reading the notes and essays in The Jewish Annotated New Testament (2nd Edition), edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler (2017).
[9] Boyarin thinks St John is riffing on Numbers 11:12. The Logos is God’s beloved child (pp. 283-284). “For the rabbinic text, the beloved child that the Father carries in his bosom, the son or daughter of God, is the Torah; for the earlier midrash of the Fourth Gospel, she [Wisdom] was the Logos, the Son.”
[10] The Aramaic word memra (מימרא) is related to the Hebrew verb amar (אָמַר) used in Genesis 1:3: “And God said …”
[11] For additional reflections about the Logos in John’s Gospel by Daniel Boyarin, see Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (2004), pp. 89-147.
[12] Per John McGuckin in “A Conflicted Heritage: The Byzantine Religious Establishment of a War Ethic“: “The Constantinian age changed attitudes, but it was not a move from pacifism to militarism. Christians were now a dominant force within the army and the imperial court whereas before they had been a minority, a fact that alarmed Diocletian and Galerius considerably, and led to the outbreak of the Great Persecution. They were such a force that even years of purges could not unseat them, and after Constantine they would not be ready to relinquish power again” (p. 35).
[13] Tertullian might be spouting a bit of hyperbole as well.
[14] Oddly enough, St Luke here doesn’t echo his beloved Septuagint (LXX) as usual but instead the Hebrew text itself. The LXX translates שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ/shaʻarekah as “your cities.”
[15] Martin Hengel, Property and Riches in the Early Church (1974), p. 50.
[16] From DBH’s online article, “Everything you know about the Gospel of Paul is likely wrong.” I don’t think it’s in print yet.
[17] The Book of All Books (2021). I think “R” stands for “Redactor,” or better yet, the German word “Redaktor.” Calasso didn’t specifically say. In any case, R stands for the anonymous editor of the books of the Bible in their final, canonical shape that we have received today.
[18] Karl Barth, “The Preface to the First Edition (1918),” in The Epistle to the Romans, trans. Edwyn C. Hoskyns (London: Oxford University Press, 1933), p. 1.
[19] For my money, the best deconstruction of the criteria of dissimilarity is Morna D. Hooker, “On Using the Wrong Tool,” Theology 75, no. 629 (November 1972): 570–81. It’s still a great read.
[20] Jesus and Judaism (2019) by Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer, p. 427. See also pp. 185-202.
[21] The Bride of the Lamb, p. 342.
[22] For arguments along this line, see When the Son of Man Didn’t Come: A Constructive Proposal on the Delay of the Parousia (2016) by Christopher Hays and others.
[23] G.B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible (1980), p. 252.
[24] The second ending of St John’s Gospel also prepares us for what is potentially a very long wait for Jesus to return: “If I wish him to remain until I come, what is that to you?” (John 21:15-23)
[25] 27.5 percent of the New Testament. St Luke wrote more than St Paul.
[26] Why oh why didn’t the translator translate Conzelmann’s German title into English instead of the bland, misleading The Theology of St Luke?
[27] I deliberately put the word “religion” into scare quotes. What we post/moderns mean by “religion” and what pre-moderns meant by “religion” are two entirely different things. A massive sea change in the meaning of “religion” took place in the modern world. For a fascinating discussion of the entire process, start with Brent Nongbri’s Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept (2013).

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118 Responses to Tradition and Apocalypse: David Bentley Hart and Orthodoxy 2.0

  1. Tom says:

    John, thanks for investing time to write this up. I share some of your same quibbles, but I’ll just mention a thought I have on JN 1.1.

    I’ll include the Greek for those who wanna see it:

    Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

    Hart’s translation: In the origin there was the Logos, and the Logos was present with GOD, and the Logos was god.

    Your translation: In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was present with the GOD, and GOD was the Logos.

    I think all who have grappled with the complexities here will agree there’s no English translation that captures all the nuances of the Greek.

    You focused on this verse as an example of your quibble with Hart’s translation not being literal enough. I’m not sure his is any less literal. He renders the Greek ‘ho theos’ (‘the God’) with the all caps GOD and the anarthrous ‘theos’ with ‘god’. Yours has the advantage of actually having the definition article ‘the’ in front of ‘God’. More literal? I’m not sure. At some point I suppose there’s a bit of room for differences among equally literal translations. But I take what is to be literally translated as the determined meaning of a passage after one has exhausted lexical, grammatical, and contextual factors.

    And we are ‘translating’, after all. Surely what readers in the target language are most likely to understand has to come into play in our choices. In this case I think your ‘the God’ presents English readers with an anomaly since ‘the God’ (standing alone without a following genitive as in ‘the God of Israel’) isn’t English. Readers will end up essentially guessing at what the construction means. Hart’s small case ‘god’ is English but (IMO) ends up miscommunicating since English readers will, I think, take ‘god’ as a deity of lesser status over and against ‘God’. IOW, ‘God’ (in English) is, I’m suggesting, the best literal ‘translation’ of ‘ho theos’. Full CAPS by itself don’t convey meaning, other than that stress is being brought to bear on a word or phrase.

    That brings us to the anarthrous ‘theos’ preceding the definite ‘ho Logos’ in the last phrase: “…and ‘theos’ was ‘ho logos’.” I don’t have an easy answer. Colwell’s Rule is peering over my shoulder, so I’m inclined to a qualitative/adjectival reading: “and the Word was divine.” This seems to have been Origen’s reading as well. And (for what it’s worth) it’s recommended by ‘An Eastern/Greek Orthodox Bible’.

    Sorry for rambling on. My point here is that ‘divine’ is just as ‘literal’ a reading as ‘god’ or ‘GOD’ if what is to be translated literally is what one determines the meaning to be after exhausting lexical, grammatical, and contextual factors (as opposed to ‘literal’ amounting to matching number of words, articles, prepositions). Wouldn’t you agree? ‘The God’ may literally match ‘ho theos’ for word count (including 1 definite article and 1 noun), but ‘God’, I think, is a better literal translation of ‘ho theos’ since it ends up being understood more closely to ‘ho theos’ than ‘the God’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • johnstamps2020 says:

      Thanks, Tom. I didn’t want to offer up just a pure lexical reading though. I tried to contextualize John 1:1 within the rest of St John’s Gospel. And I also wanted to offer some Second Temple Judaism background to boot, especially Daniel Boyarin’s insistence that John 1:1-5 is “midrash.” Boyarin didn’t have any problems with deuteros theos or Logos as Big-G “God.” And I thought Boyarin’s insistence that the Logos-Memra is standard Second Temple Judaism was spot on. The sticking point between St John and his Jewish contemporaries is John 1:14: The Logos-Memra became sarx. And finally, Boyarin thought Philo was well on his way to Nicaea.
      P.S. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a big Daniel Boyarin fan. Any Talmud scholar who loves Tennessee Ernie Ford is OK in my book. “As long as I can remember I have been in love with some manifestations of Christianity (not always ones that my Christian friends would themselves love or even approve). Tennessee Ernie Ford singing on television the hymn “The Garden” moved me to tears when I was a child.” I wonder if Daniel Boyarin also tapped his foot as he listened.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ed H. says:

    Thank you for this most interesting review (Note: the reference to Col 2:16 above is actually 2:15)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jesse says:

    Wow! Loved this. Not only a thoughtful review of the book but some real cool bonus content within the quibbles. I’ll be sharing and talking about some of this for a long while.

    If I have any quibbles with your review content, I suppose it would be this point: “DBH, himself Orthodox, doesn’t criticize us Orthodox with the same severity that he criticizes our Roman Catholic and Protestant brothers and sisters. In retrospect, we deserve far greater condemnation.” This is perhaps true of the book (which I’ve not quite finished reading myself), but it is certainly not true of the full DBH corpus of publicly available writings. He has been devastatingly critical of many Orthodox trends and public voices. He has a remarkable and very critical lecture on “Orthodoxy in America and America’s Orthodoxies” (Oct 2, 2017 at The Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University), and he most recently made a clear case for Kirill as a satanist and Nazi. Much more could be listed of course. Given all this, it would be only fair to DBH to clarify that you are talking about just the material within this short book that you are reviewing.

    I’m also no fan of software analogies. 🙂 However, you did apologize for that, and I should forgive gladly (especially given that we are still within the Lenten season).

    Joking aside, very grateful to have read this. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

    • johnstamps2020 says:

      Hi Jesse, I was thinking mostly of DBH’s relatively minor criticisms of Orthodoxy within “Tradition and Apocalypse.” But he certainly did unload on us in the recent substack post you allude to:
      “Of course, the fiction here is that Kirill is actually in any sense a Christian. He is, it seems fairly obvious, basically a satanist (even if he has somehow gotten some of the names in the story confused). His failure to denounce Putin is not the dereliction of a coward. Would that it were. It would be more pardonable then. Instead, he is simply a deeply evil man who has long been not only an accomplice of Putin’s, but an ideological influence on the little monster as well. When he calls for the eradication of Ukraine, he does so not as a concession to his fear, but out of the exuberance of his convictions. Nor is he in any sense unique in the current Russian church.”
      Come on, David. Don’t hold back. Tell us what you really think!
      And thank you, Jesse, for your kind comments.

      Liked by 2 people

      • DBH says:

        Come on, man, read the long footnote on Neo-Palamites.

        Like

        • johnstamps2020 says:

          I did. But it’s still nothing like the long footnote about Integralism on page 13. Plus, I promised a part 2 review about Tradition and History. I wanted to squirrel away page 174-175 for later.

          Like

  4. Fascinating review. I couldn’t take the time to read all of it carefully, unfortunately. But I really enjoyed the part about Apocalypse – and I couldn’t agree more, to the extent I read it. We live in the Last Days of His Coming and the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit of Jesus, and Time does not stand apart from Eternity.

    And, I think reductionism and shock value is a fatal flaw. Shock when you must; overdo it, and you lose all the value of it. And reductionism is, in my understanding, a quick way to do a very poor job establishing … not trust, but respect that will make sure to spend the time to pay attention and consider, once it is noticed. I try to avoid reductionism and being reactionary (and I fear I often do not succeed).

    Liked by 1 person

    • johnstamps2020 says:

      Hi Raina, I don’t know if you’re a Flannery O’Connor fan. She once wrote: “To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.” But in my opinion, a little bit of shock value goes a long long ways. And overstating your case as a rhetorical device isn’t helpful either. Then the readers start picking holes at nits — almost in self-defense — and miss the writer’s point.
      And thank you for your kind words.
      My $.02.
      John

      Like

  5. Calvin says:

    I was disappointed with this book, to be honest. DBH relentlessly applies the historical-critical method to the Old Testament to dismiss things such as Augustine’s conception of original sin, but he doesn’t even offer the slight hint of similar scrutiny to the New Testament. To assume that one can base anything on the words of Christ recorded therein, then one has to assume a very historically-conditioned stance that we actually have genuine statements of Christ and a historically-accurate account of his life and doings. Bart Ehrman, for instance, would have a very different outlook on the many of the supposed sayings, and I don’t see any rejoinder to likes of him in this book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jesse says:

      Calvin, Hart does not engage the OT more critically because of worry over the findings of modern critical scholarship. He does so because fundamentalism with regard to the OT leaves us with a morally despicable God. This danger is not the same when it comes to the NT. As for Ehrman, he confuses modern technical precision in history with reliability and meaning. Just because the NT authors often had theological reasons for reordering material or filling in illustrative details (and such) does not mean at all that the accounts are unreliable. It means just the opposite, in fact.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Calvin says:

        Perhaps I didn’t make it clear enough: outside of belief in the received, why should I put any credence in the New Testament at all? Why should I believe that it records the words of a Jewish carpenter two millennia ago with even the remotest degree of accuracy, let alone the conclusions that someone came to decades later that said carpenter was actually God? And if you don’t think that the NT contains a morally despicable God to rival the worst of the OT, I challenge you to read Revelations and see how the God depicted therein deals with the Earth. And Ehrman, whatever you think his flaws are, is pointing out something quite obvious: if we can’t trust the received text to be consistent with itself, let alone with what we know of history, why should we believe it represents anything but a silly book of superstitions and gossip except for a preexisting faith in the traditions passed down to us?

        Liked by 1 person

        • johnstamps2020 says:

          Hey Calvin, see my additional comments below. I do think Intellectual Certitude and Skepticism feed off each other. If you think the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, you’re setting yourself up for bitter disappointment if the Bible you’re actually reading and holding in your hands doesn’t match your intellectual expectations of what it is supposed to be. Part of the solution is simply resetting unrealistic expectations. After you do that, historical-critical methods are not much of a threat. They’re simply one other way of reading the Bible and perhaps not even the best way. Since I’m throwing out book suggestions left and right, get your hands on “The Superiority of Pre-Critical Exegesis” by David Steinmetz. It’s wise and learned.

          https://www.walkingtogetherministries.com/2012/10/10/david-steinmetzs-the-superiority-of-pre-critical-exegesis/

          Like

          • Calvin says:

            “If you think the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, you’re setting yourself up for bitter disappointment if the Bible you’re actually reading and holding in your hands doesn’t match your intellectual expectations of what it is supposed to be.”

            I’m just pointing out the fundamental problem of Hart’s argument. He wants us to ditch the bits of traditional Christianity that he thinks don’t mesh with the words of Jesus as recorded in the new testament. He explicitly says that those are the only boundaries he really respects as determinants of heresy or not heresy. That entire line of thinking relies on a pair of deeply historically-conditioned truths: that there were ever reliable records of those words and their context and that the very people he wants us to disregard kept them intact. Why should we believe any of that once we’ve thrown out the church’s traditions as authoritative? Historical criticism works just as well on his preferred bits of the New Testament as those parts of the Old he doesn’t care for.

            Like

        • Jesse says:

          We’ll likely just disagree here, but it comes down to an understanding of how stories and meanings work in history. My own modest training is in history with a masters from Sy Andrew in Scotland. Ehrman suggests an all or nothing proposition as you just did which strikes me as neurotic reaction to fundamentalism (and a proposition that no reasonable person before the Enlightenment would could have conceived of seriously). There are many great historical critical readers in the line of Wolfhart Pannenberg who don’t fall into this all or nothing trap. Spend more time with good scholars, and you’ll be left with more than enough room for liturgical hearing of the word and faith and all that.

          Liked by 3 people

          • Jesse says:

            I failed to respond to “I challenge you to read Revelations” comment. It is certainly some of the most brutally vivid language of destruction in the NT. There are still very respectable universalist readings of it of course, and we all want evil to be utterly destroyed. However, I’m my part of the EO church, Revelation is never read in the church, and strong caution is advised regarding it because of its easily confusing and terrifying imagery.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Calvin says:

            Absent both a reasonably consistent inspired text and a fundamentally trustworthy set of traditions dedicated to preserving and expositing them, I see no especially compelling reason to accept that Jesus’ words were accurately recorded, let alone that they represent any particular revelation of God to men. Hart wants to just sort of use (his interpretation of) the recorded words as the one and only litmus test of what’s Christian and what’s not, I see no reason to grant him that such words represent any remotely truthful account given his presuppositions.

            Jesus says a lot of things in a lot of books. My real estate agent claims that his wife speaks with Jesus one on one on a regular basis. If we’re doing away with church tradition as an authoritative source as Hart wants to, why not listen to those sources instead?

            Liked by 1 person

          • Jesse says:

            I think it’s my third time saying it, so I should probably stop. However, the “all or nothing proposition” that you make is not remotely how history, eye-witness testimony or oral tradition work. That is a response to fundamentalism that plays the same game fundamentalism plays, just in reverse. Hart’s assessment of how much we can trust the words of Jesus in the gospels is middle-of-the-road as far as scholarly consensus, and for very good reasons.

            Liked by 1 person

          • M. Robbins says:

            I’m not sure that someone who believes the English title of the last book of the Bible is “Revelations” or that the text holds that Jesus was a “carpenter” is reading carefully enough to judge anyone else’s criticism one way or the other.

            Like

    • johnstamps2020 says:

      Hi Calvin, Have you read Michael Legaspi’s book, “The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies?” In my opinion, Legaspi understands very well the problem of reading the Bible with historical-critical methods versus reading the Bible as “Scripture.” Here is how he opens his preface:
      “Consider two scenes. The first takes place in an Eastern Orthodox church. The liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is under way. From behind the icon screen, the priest comes into view, carrying overhead, in solemn procession, an ornately bound, gold-plated volume: the Book of the Gospels. All stand. There is incense in the air. Acolytes, candles in hand, stand by to illuminate the reading of the Gospel. In that moment, the people are told not to look, to follow texts with their eyes, but rather to listen. The priest proclaims, “Wisdom! Let us attend!” and the people go silent. In the liturgy, the faithful see the Bible in procession, hear it in song, and venerate its holiness and authority with signs of loyalty and submission. The one thing the faithful do not actually do during this service, however, is read the Bible. It is always read to the people by someone else. Written words voiced by readers and expounded by preaching are transmuted into oral and immediate ones. The second scene is a biblical studies seminar in a university classroom. It too is filled with people. They sit, not stand. At the center is a long table. On it are many Bibles, various copies in assorted languages: Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, Latin. Some lie open, others are pushed aside into impromptu stacks. They share the table with other writings: teacher’s notes, photocopies, reference works, dictionaries, grammars, commentaries. The atmosphere is sociable but cerebral, quiet but static. Heads are bowed, but over books. There are readers here too, but the oral performances are tracked closely by others whose eyes are attuned carefully to common texts. There is speech, but no song or prayer. (p.viii) Spoken words belong only to individuals. The texts focus readerly vision. Commentary is controlled.”
      I admit I live in both worlds of a scriptural Bible versus an academic Bible. Most of the time I can bridge the two worlds without too much sweat or worry. Sometimes not so much. But the worst thing you can do is collapse the two worlds. That way leads to brittle fundamentalism. Better to realize we must read Scripture on multiple levels with multiple methods.
      My $.02.
      P.S. St Vlad’s just hired Legaspi. Wow, what a truly great hire!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Calvin says:

        The problem comes up again here. Why should I believe the liturgy represents any more than a bunch of superstitious claptrap? Why regard the Bible as anything more than a fairly obviously self-contradictory collection of fables? Why believe that the mutually-contradicting stories they tell represent anything of a Jewish carpenter truthfully, let alone that he was God in the flesh? Except insofar as I am faithful to the traditions that Hart wants me to disregard as a binding authority, why believe any of it?

        Liked by 1 person

        • johnstamps2020 says:

          Hi Calvin, Sorry I missed your point. You might find it interesting that Bart Ehrman, Mike Gorman, and I were all at Princeton at the same time. During our MDiv period, Bart was a fierce inerrantist, Mike Gorman and I weren’t. We would read papers we were writing at the time over lunch and discuss them. Bart puzzled me. His view of the Bible then didn’t mesh with the Bible I was reading. I remember an intense discussion we had about St Paul versus St James — I thought for sure it was an intramural argument right in the New Testament (I was channeling James DG Dunn) but Bart couldn’t see it. In any case, the Bible certainly didn’t look like an inerrant document to me. I thought he was painting himself into a corner, especially as he was heading into PhD studies. Well, we all know where Bart ended up. To me, the epistemological moral of the story is that Intellectual Certainty and Skepticism feed off each other. But the lure of certitude lurks deep in Western thought, going back at least to Plato. In fact, we’re bewitched by epistemology. And at some level we must exorcise it. Per Wittgenstein, we’re gripped by a picture; a picture hold us captive. The exorcism, so it seems to me, is person-relative. One book, more than any other, cast out my demons. It was Billy Abraham’s “Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology.” Since then I think Billy Abraham’s wisdom has convinced me not to fall into an epistemological abyss. How do you cross the threshold of revelation? Again, it’s person-relative. My questions are necessarily yours. I do recommend anything that William J. Abraham has written — may his memory be eternal! Perhaps start with Crossing the Threshold or Canon and Criterion.
          Again, my $.02.

          Liked by 5 people

          • Calvin says:

            I suppose the root of the question is this: if I don’t believe that the tradition as it actually exists successfully preserved and related the story, nature, and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, why accept the tale at all? After all, it comes to me through the very institutions that Hart would have me disregard as authoritative expositors of the story and doctrines supposedly contained with it (for example, that Jesus was God). Maybe it’s all so much bunk, all the way back to the beginning.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Jesse says:

            When John notes that “Bart was a fierce inerrantist” at Princeton, John is speaking (I quite sure) much more kindly and knowingly than I was about the same phenomenon that I noted above with my claims that when “Ehrman suggests an all or nothing proposition” it is a “neurotic reaction to fundamentalism.”

            Liked by 1 person

        • johnstamps2020 says:

          I also really like Diogenes Allen, my philosophy prof at Princeton. Especially “Christian Belief in a Postmodern World: The Full Wealth of Conviction.” I thought Dr Allen was a pretty good exorcist, if a curmudgeonly one.

          Liked by 2 people

        • DBH says:

          I do not believe in binding authority. I believe in tradition as a poetic and interpretive practice undertaken in light of a future hope, st present spied only as in a glass darkly. You are literally talking complete and utter nonsense. I assume you have not read the book.

          Like

        • Cody Hatch says:

          Calvin, I think your concern, as far as I understand it, is reasonable. I also think it is no different than the surprise, bewilderment, and skepticism of the earliest disciples post-Resurrection. My favorite scriptural text is the Gospel of Mark for this very reason: the author of that text utilized a common literary device to place those who heard it read directly into the story where they would come face-to-face with the tale of a guy named Jesus who would blow away their ideas of Messiah, God, and how God works in the world – and no satisfactory resolution is there in that story: you must create the conclusion after you’ve had your world turned upside down. Answers only come as one inserts themselves into that most terrifying and awesome of stories and faces the implications if the tale is true.

          Rowan Williams wrote a short, excellent reflection on this which I highly recommend:
          “Meeting God in Mark: Reflections for the Season of Lent”

          Liked by 1 person

          • johnstamps2020 says:

            Last century when I was working on an STM at Yale, Rowan Williams was my professor for a class on 19th-century theology taught downtown at the main campus. He was an amazingly brilliant lecturer. And he even liked my paper on Kierkegaard! At that time he was Bishop of Monmouth and lived in a castle. He invited us to come over and visit him and his wife – he was newly married. The invitation was legitimate. I kick myself for not taking advantage of it. But Kevin Corcoran – who now teaches philosophy at Calvin University – did. How much fun!

            Like

    • DBH says:

      That is false. I spend more time on the myths of Lucifer and Antichrist than on any other such topics. Conversely my remarks on Genesis say nothing not acknowledged by Origen.

      Like

  6. John Burnett says:

    Great article; thank you for it. Makes me want to read the book.

    Regarding the “delay of the parousia”, this theory has always struck me as odd, since Jesus himself says in Mark that the High Priest “‘will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven’” (Mk 14.62); in the economy of Mark’s Gospel, he is saying that his enthronement *on the cross* is the fulfillment of Daniel 7.13-14. Now, neither Matthew nor Luke seems to have thought that Mark had made this sufficiently clear, so in their revisions of Mark, each of them adds something here to highlight the precise timing of the event: Mt 26.64 says, “*From now on* (ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν) you will see…”, and Lk 22.69 has “But *from this very moment* (ἀπ’ ἄρτι) the Son of Man will be seated…”. So what Jesus is saying in all three Synoptics is that the apocalyptic enthronement of the Son of Man prophesied by Daniel is about to take place *on the cross*. And is that not the theology we sing about especially on the Cross feast days in the church?

    It’s worth noting that neither Mark, nor Matthew, nor John have an ascension. And since there’s no ascension, they say nothing of a return, either. The ascension and second coming are expressions of Luke’s particular exaltation-theology, and it is only in Luke-Acts that we read, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Ac 1.11). If we didn’t know that Matthew wrote his Gospel before Luke, we might even be tempted to think Matthew *denies* Luke’s idea of an ascension when he has Jesus say, “Behold, *I am with you* always, to the end of the age” (28.20). Mark of course has Jesus going before the disciples in Galilee, and “there you will see him, just as he told you” (16.7).

    Paul of course does speak of the trumpet and the archangel’s voice and the Lord’s descent, and so forth (1Th 4.16; 1Co 15.52), but he has other ways of talking about the eschaton as well— in particular, the “appearance” of Christ (Col 3.4; 2Tm 1.10, 4.10; etc). So it seems to me that the idea of Jesus’ “return”— that is, of his “parousia” in that sense— a word that really means only “presence” and then by extension a taking up of residence, and only thence a coming or arrival to take up such residence)— was only one of several ways of thinking about two things together— Jesus’ apocalyptic enthronement as Son of Man *on the cross* (which is revealed as apocalyptic enthronement by the resurrection), and the “not yet” manifestation of what this means. But if the church from the apostles onward is already thinking all at once of this apocalyptic event as having taken place on the cross, and made known in the emptiness of the tomb, and yet to be manifest in an oncoming Age— where exactly is the evidence of its big concern for the “delay of the parousia” that we are told characterized early christianity? 2Peter 3.4 seems to suggest there isn’t *enough* concern— people are saying: “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”

    So I have always thought the “delay of the parousia” is little more than a construct of 19th century German scholarship, based on the assumption that the Church started out like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, predicting the end of the world, but then when it failed, it wised up and became either Roman Catholicism or Lutheranism. I for one am not willing to grant that assumption. If the Church and indeed the very apostles themselves were that wrong about something as fundamental as the Parousia, then why should we trust anything they said?

    Otherwise, may i offer two small suggestions about your article itself?—

    “On Using the Wrong Tool.” (Theology 75, no. 629 (November 1972): 570–81) was written by Morna D. Hooker, not Margaret Barker. See https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0040571X7207501103 (you can download the full article from the usual places).

    If DBH’s apocalyptic theology is “100-proof unadulterated Christus Victor theology”, doesn’t that mean it’s only 50% Christus Victor? But, as i recall, one criticism of Christus Victor theology, at least as discussed by Gustav Aulén, who seems to have invented the term, is that he saw it as rather more scattershot and unorganized than it was, whereas from the early fathers onward— indeed from the NT onward— it’s quite consistent. One should not try to interpret it, though, under any assumptions imported from the various penal or other theories that have been proposed elsewhere, particularly in the West. If that is the case with Christus Victor theology, then maybe DBH’s Orthodox view is stronger than “100 proof”?

    Liked by 2 people

    • johnstamps2020 says:

      Oh man, I knew it was Morna Hooker, not Margaret Barker. And I just started drinking bourbon. I thought 100-proof is pretty good for a bourbon rye. You wouldn’t want it 200-proof, would you? I tried to give the analogy some thought and I still botched it.

      Like

    • johnstamps2020 says:

      The other passage I considered but didn’t want to disappear down a rabbit hole was Mark 13:35-37: “Watch therefore—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch.”
      And in the rest of his Gospel, we see Jesus moving through His passion at evening, at midnight, and at cockcrow, each of those very markers Jesus wanted us to watch for. And “in the morning (πρωῒ) is when the two Marys and Salome find the empty tomb.
      Thank you for your thoughtful comments, John!

      Like

    • johnstamps2020 says:

      Now you see why I’m a thorn in Fr Al’s side. You made him go and fix my mistake.

      Like

  7. Tom says:

    Calvin,

    I appreciate where you’re coming from, Calvin. My thinking this may be way off, but for what it’s worth – I don’t get the sense from Hart that he thinks we have the verbatim words of Jesus in the gospels, or even eye-witness accounts for that matter. And he obviously doesn’t take the Tradition as infallible. We have a story about Christ that expresses the faith of a community that chose to assign a particular meaning to Christ, a meaning that (Ehrman agrees) derives from the first apostolic community is Jerusalem who genuinely believed that saw the risen Jesus. Ehrman just explains those experiences as bereavement hallucinations. But he doesn’t deny the historicity of Jesus, a core of his sayings, or the radical nature of the visionary experiences that convinced the disciples Jesus had risen. So I don’t see the problem. Without inerrancy faith has good reason to trust the story.

    So, as I understand it, we believe that ‘Jesus rose’ is the true interpretation of what indefinite shreds of historical evidence we have not because we have reason to believe the ‘words’ in the gospels claiming it is so can be historically verified as coming from eye-witnesses, but because the words are self-evidently true in their power to transform life for those who inhabit that story by faith.

    As for the OT, I do sometimes get confused by Hart and other Orthodox writers on when to identify the text’s import with its historical/contextual meaning (and leave it there) and when to dismiss that as not compatible with a view of God revealed in Christ and thus needing to be allegorized. Personally, I’m inclined not to allegorize the OT’s violence passages. I bring Christ to bear on those passages and see them for the false portrayals they are and then move on. I don’t try to mine them for spiritual truths I can’t derive more confidently elsewhere. They’re just relics of a stage of Israel’s faith ‘en route’.
    Tom

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    • Calvin says:

      Many things have proven transformative for lives, from Mormonism to Marxism to joining ISIS as a suicide bomber. I don’t regard transformative experiences as expressions of the truthfulness of the underlying religion or philosophy. It simply means a radical change in lifestyle, which can just as easily be for the worse as for the better.

      Moreover, if the tradition has failed both to keep an accurate record of the original sayings of its founder and to faithful exposit and apply, why should I believe a thing it says regarding its origin story? We have little to no actual records of what was going on in the first century church, from within or without. Pagans don’t start even mentioning the Christians until decades after it began. Who knows what could have happened during all that time.

      Liked by 2 people

      • johnstamps2020 says:

        Hey Calvin!
        I have a modest proposal. Let’s call it “Incredulitas quaerens intellectum — Skepticism Seeking Understanding.” (I hope my Latin is correct here)
        Consider 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 for a minute. Not just for the obvious tradition that was handed down to St Paul — Christ died, He was buried, He was raised on the day. But ponder the backstory St Paul assumes. Typically he calls St Peter “Cephas” – the Aramaic name given to him by none other than Jesus Himself (John 1:42). Also in the list of witnesses to the Risen Jesus, Paul mentions James, the brother of the Lord. But the backstory is that James is the former unbeliever who thought his brother was crazy and suffered messianic delusion (Mark 3:21).
        Another tantalizing thread is St Paul invoking the Aramaic word for Father — Abba — when talking about our inherited relationship with God. We cry out, “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6) Paul makes no specific reference to Mark 14:36 because he felt like he didn’t need to. He counts on the backstory understood between him and his readers.
        I was taught (via Ernst Kasemann) that Christian prophets had retrojected their prophecies back into the Gospel as sayings as the earthly Jesus. But the biblical evidence we have suggests otherwise. St Paul certainly knew what Jesus had said and what his own opinions were. He suffered no such confusion. He knew and his readers knew what “the Lord” had said previously about divorce (1 Corinthians 10:10-12).
        Or ponder St Paul’s line in his hymn of love in 1 Corinthians 13: “if I have all faith so as to remove mountains…” He assumes an amazing backstory from the Gospels… and dares to up the ante. Love is more important than faith.
        The other tidbit that fascinates me is when St Mark says Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross (15:21), he tosses in without explanation that Simon was “the father of Alexander and Rufus.” It’s a tantalizing throwaway comment that Matthew and Luke both throw away as unnecessary. But Mark signals us this was αὐτόπτης — eyewitness testimony. Simon isn’t apparently around anymore — but Alexander and Rufus are. Ask them!
        What’s interesting about these fascinating tidbits scattered throughout the New Testament is they’re not a tight chain of evidence. We have to piece the backstory together, with various degrees of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. It’s certainly not “Evidence That Demands A Verdict.” (Let the reader understand) They’re weird one-offs that you pay attention to or you ignore or you disregard because they went over your head. It’s a bit like C.S. Lewis hearing an offhand remark by his hardboiled atheist Oxford colleague T.D. Weldon: “Rum thing, all that stuff of Frazer’s about the Dying God. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.”
        We don’t have Cartesian bedrock of certainty, after we have removed all that is dubious. But we rarely have bedrock certainty about much of anything. What’s ironic about modern evangelicalism or fundamentalism — they thought they were resisting modernity. But like the Trojans, they never realized they opened up their gates and invited modernity inside with welcome arms with their views of scriptural air-tight inerrancy.
        And we don’t get what St Thomas wanted — empirical certainty. The risen Jesus doesn’t pronounce His macarism (“Blessed are those who have not seen…”) on Thomas but on us who receive testimony through the normal channels i.e. the apostolic community. Isaiah complained, “Truly You are a God who hidest Himself” (Isaiah 45:15). Seems to me Pascal is correct: “God being thus hidden every religion which does not affirm that God is hidden is not true and every religion which does not give the reason of it, is not instructive.” Well, to be more precise, Deus is absconditus until He reveals Himself. We fantasize that God is just like us. He isn’t. God is far more subtle. Ludwig Feuerbach warned us about creating God in our own image. But we failed to heed his warnings. We think God does what we expect. He doesn’t. God doesn’t coerce anyone… well, not usually.
        Last note — do you know of the philosopher Paul K. Moser? He is serious as a heart attack. But he philosophizes and theologizes well. Particularly on the subject of skepticism. I recommend him highly.

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          I’ll interject here, pardon me. None of what you raise, John, undoes the Gordian knot to which Calvin is, rightly, calling attention. The understanding you are seeking will need to be based on something that is deemed credible. Can’t be purely text, as text without context doesn’t exist, but yet this is what DBH is pressing hard, per Calvin (I haven’t read the book, so I can’t say).

          I like to understand tradition (which includes text) as a fluid process, but a process still, in all its messiness, which is at final count, the God with us. Held provisionally, not above question, an authority sublime and fragile, not wielded but offered in service.

          Liked by 1 person

          • johnstamps2020 says:

            Thanks, Robert. Good to hear from you. Tradition is messy. And to reify it as “Holy Tradition” as though it were an unequivocal and unambiguous whole misunderstands the very fluid nature of tradition. Even worse, to insist that dogma never changes or develops paints us into a corner.
            IMO, DBH is at his most insightful when he talk about “living” tradition. He understands quite well the threat that historicism and its relativistic claims makes upon our historical claims. Take this bon mot:
            “If Christian tradition is truly a living thing, it is a spiritual reality, and the Spirit breathes where it will. Whatever the future of theology and doctrine may be, one can be assured of one thing: the enemies of any healthy developments that might in the course of things naturally emerge or that might as the result of unanticipated crises try to force their inhibiting influence upon theological reflection will always be one or another species of “traditionalists.” Living as they do like Walter Benjamin’s angel of history, with their faces turned toward the past and backs toward the future, carried onward by historical forces whose ends they cannot see and therefore cannot understand or interpret, they resent the living tradition’s often chaotic and disruptive vitality. From the time of Jesus himself to the present, there has always been a struggle within the tradition between the guardians of religious and social stability and the apocalyptic ferment of the Gospel. But, of course, the Gospel is nothing if it is not apocalyptic.” (pp. 130-131)
            And if I’m allowed to quote myself — yes, it’s hubris and folly — I try to wrestle with the ghosts of historicism in some reflections I make about miracles, David Hume, and St Symeon the New Theologian. We all are dealing with spooky stuff that we dimly understand and we cannot control. And reading the Bible is never just “text.” John Wesley, Simone Weil, and Metropolitan Anthony Bloom — each very different — all had life-changing experiences reading the Bible. Would that experience convince every person? No. Why should we expect it to? In this case, being convinced is person-relative.

            https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/st-symeon-the-new-theologian-and-the-quest-of-the-historical-jesus/

            Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Calvin, about the competitive nature of existential (transformational) claims, you’re right. But that’s where we end up anyhow. Even if we had iron clad proof that the gospel records report ‘verbatim’ the words of Jesus, it wouldn’t matter. Its being true ‘that’ Jesus said something doesn’t make ‘what’ Jesus said true. So if non-Xans have existential claims to the transformational power of beliefs at variance with the Xan story, so be it. Apart from God’s Spirit being transformationally present in unique ways in the Xan kerygma, we’re at a stalemate. We can’t prove ‘historically’ from any ‘text’ that God is or isn’t so present in the kerygma.

        I could be way off, but as I see it, the Xan story is self-authenticating to faith. I’m not saying the Xan story isn’t about history or that there are no historical claims which if known to be true would gut that story. But the only such claim that would have that kind of falsifying power is its being the case that Jesus never existed. But that’s not remotely provable. Besides that not even Ehrman’s criticisms about the history of Xan texts falsify core/essential Xan claims. So I’m struggling to understand what is really at stake for you if inerrancy is false and if historical claims made by the NT nowhere reflect an unbiased interpretation of history.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Grant says:

        To this Calvin I would just say, welcome to ancient (and for that matter medieval history). We are often lucky with history ancient and medieval to have anything close to or directly at the time of the events written about (and even less by those involved). The Gallic Wars are a rare exception, as to a degree is Josephus (but then again, there always are queres about just reliable either are, in terms of how they chose to present it). Most of what Tacticus relates he never observed and were decades or more before his time for example, same with Suetonius (or say parts of the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesial History of the English, which nevertheless remains one of the major sources of early medieval Britain, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle). What we know of Scorates is from Aristophanes, Xenophon, and Plato (the first knew his early in life but the information is situated in a Comedy, the following two would only have known him later in life, and it’s questionable what familarity Xenophon had with Socrates, and whether his portraits in some instances the memories may well be pastiches that could well not occured as prestented, and with Plato is old teacher was presented as a vehicle for his own philosophy, so how much was true to man himself). We have no direct insights past them into the man himself, his history and exactly what truly happened, and all wrote what they did well past the events they reflect. Yet thos events have had major reverbartions through Western history. Or take Alexander the Great, we don’t have any of the works written by or from those who travelled on his campaigns, and from what we know most of those were written decades later, they are all lost to us. All we have are works of historians later using these now lost sources (Arrian, Plutarch etc, both of those writting in the Roman empire centuries after the events), still historians consider them relatively reliable, but is it certain, no.

        Nor can you say, well things like say the Gospels are recounting supernatural or fantastical occurances and the others do not, so one should be held with much greater suspicion. Supernatural events, happens and general ‘supernatural’ convictions abound in ancient sources as well, the very ones we also use for history (say Alexander, of Ceasar’s death with great signs and portents, or Ango-Saxon Chronicles, or the Black Death’s emergance in China accompanied by unearthly signs etc, supernatural claims abound).

        Basically true certaintiy that you seem to seek you will never find (in the way you wish) in historical sources. Many of speaches accounted might at best be only approxmiations of what someone actually said, dressed up by a later historian or chronicler to elerbrate on what they might consider to be the truth of the matter or to reflect the import of what was happening.

        I would agree also with John Stamp the quest for that certitude and skeptism are two sides of the same fundemenatlist coin. I don’t Ehrman has really changed, simply where one proved untenable, rather than reflecting and rethinking his drive for absolute certainity and scientific level proof (which itself is often far more provisional that many, including many scientists, wish to to admit), just flips to one of absolute skepticism (which really is just another attempt at finding absolute certainity, not tolerating the differing levels of knowing, and the deep ambguities of history).

        And this isn’t even getting into the fact that outside inscriptions of momuments and archeological remains, we have know sources (besides that few like say the old bit of letter found archeolgically or the Dead Sea Scrolls etc) that come from the author’s hand, or are even the original copies. Most ancient sources are from verisions centuries away from the original versions.

        Just to say, I think were are trying to find, or advising to find is impossible quest for anything in history beyond the last 500 or so years. History works with probablities, with nuance, comparision of sources, both detection, assessment and art, it is an act of reconstructions, from the accouints. And this itself is affected by biases, aims and personal predilections of the historians in question, their worldview and the age and culture they live in and it’s assumptions and understanding, or example ours tends to say supernatural events don’t happen (or are so unlikely to be essential impossible). The result of this though then is to often ignore or not comment of such aspects of an account, or to say it was say for effect or tall tale or to dress a source correctly. No doubt there definitely some truth to all this (in ages where what happened in the heavens was believed to directly impact and be related to what happened in the earthly human sphere it would certainly make sense that might be driving instinct behind some descriptions. Yet by chosing to ignore these, modern historians in that way already preclude that explination from the table and their reconstruction won’t include it in how they analyse the events and what drove the persons involved or caused the events etc, often intrpreted to other forces. This is not a netural account, but rather the enforcement and reconstruction of those events according the worldview of the Western post Enlightenment world that has held supernatural/spiritual reality either wholly seperate or non-existant and forcing that onto that time and how it’s interpreted. And if the West is wrong there, then by definitation that reconstruction is also wrong, since it excluded something that did happen from the get go.

        Other ages might on the other hand perhaps be over credulous and not consider other forces their reconstructions. Either way, a historian can rule out a real possiblity because other commitments or worldview.

        But whatever the case, there is no certainity in any ancient history of the kind you desire I’m afraid, and perhaps in life in general that kind of certainity is not possible in almost anything. And to say, critical and skeptical are diffrerent things (this is true whether you think Christianity is true or if it is hogwash, or something inbetween and so on).

        Liked by 2 people

  8. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Calvin, I believe you have raised a crucial point, one that I have thought about for many years. Once we raise historical questions (and how can we not?) like “Did this really happen?” or “Did he really say that?” etc., etc., then we are left wondering whether the Christian tradition has any validity whatsoever. Various methodologies have been devised over the years, e.g., to sift through the saying of Jesus to identify levels of probability–the most infamous being the Jesus Seminar with its color-coded New Testament. The simple fact is, we are always dealing with probabilities and those probabilities are always changing, depending on the methodology or the judgment of the historian. At no point can historical science declare certitude. This is why more than a few seminarians, upon being introduced to the historical-critical method, have lost their faith. The method introduces a kind of skepticism that evacuates the certitudes of faith.

    Am I expressing the point you are making accurately?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Calvin says:

      Fairly accurately. But I’m specifically responding to Mr Hart’s selective use of historical criticism and rather arbitrary boundaries on what he thinks should and should not be counted as heresy. He says the recorded words of Jesus are the dividing line, I say how absent the tradition whose authority you reject do you know you have those words.

      Like

      • DBH says:

        That is nonsense. Amazing that you have the temerity to make such claims. I say nothing of the sort. I have no canon of heresy or orthodoxy. I reject none of it absolutely and I give none of it absolute credence. What I have said is that there are different genres in the Bible and that the earliest mythic material, at its literal level, is very like the material of Mesopotamian cultures far older than the Hebrew canon.

        Who is this person?

        Like

        • Calvin says:

          I’m specifically referring to your arguments on pages 168-169, where you suggest the best litmus test of whether or not something or someone can be counted as Christian is if they contravene the alleged words of Christ himself.

          “Who is this person?”

          Among other things, the person whom you complimented a few short months ago on the Gaudium et Spes blog for persuasively restating your case for universalism in the comments. I used the same username there.

          Like

        • Calvin says:

          The specific quote I am referencing, just so that you are aware:

          “Only in cases of moral departure from the explicit teachings of Christ can one easily identity what one can rightly call heresies.”

          For that to be true, you must be able to say what said teachings are with relative accuracy.

          Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            Moral departures. The point being that the word “heretic”— if it has any meaning for Christians—could apply clearly only to those who reject the moral demands of the faith. That claim has nothing to do with what one believes true or false, and it certainly doesn’t alter the difference in genre between mythic materials from ancient Mesopotamia and catalogues of moral teachings supposedly compiled in the first century.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            And I am not sure what you mean by “just mythology.” Noting that at the literal level the early chapters of Genesis are very old myths, and that their later theological usage is not found in the texts at that level, is hardly to reject those texts. It is not even to say anything not said long ago by various church fathers.

            Like

          • Calvin says:

            You have to know what the moral demands of the faith are (and, frankly, your conclusions are far from uncontested), which in turn is contingent on a historical claim fraught with a great many ambiguities and vulnerable to the historical critical method. Why listen to the church on what constitutes canonical scripture imposing moral demands if you’re not going to listen to them about anything else?

            Why do you call yourself Orthodox, by the way? The actually extant Orthodox church is one in which Constantine is a saint and Origen is not. You seem like you’d fit in much better as anabaptist. You’ve got the beard for it.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            You keep missing the point. I did not say we know with certitude what Christ taught. You keep repeating the mistake of thinking that I am making dogmatic claims about facts. I am talking only about the tradition, and what (if anything) constitutes a clear departure from the tradition. The book is not about what is true or false, but whether one can plausibly identify an actual coherent living tradition. If one can—if—then it is in terms of the sort I lay out; otherwise it is just one damned thing after another. Your questions are simply irrelevant to the book’s topic and arguments.

            I do not call myself Orthodox. That just happens to be where I am if I am at church. Anabaptism? Curiously, I have standards regarding intellectual depth, spiritual richness, and good taste. Anabaptism is just another fundamentalism.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Calvin says:

            I think I’ve got my answer, thank you.

            Like

          • M. Robbins says:

            Calvin, you seem to think David is drawing some sort of line & claiming that everything on one side is truly Christian & everything on the other is not. But David is not making truth claims about Christianity, he is interrogating the concept of tradition. I know David, & he is as much a Buddhist as a Christian, which is not a contradiction for him (nor should it be for anyone else, but I digress). I would make so bold as to say on his behalf that each of the major religious traditions aspires to & sometimes achieves truths about God in its own way. His own dog called him a Hindu. Aham Brahmasmi.

            Like

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Calvin, as others have pointed out, you will never achieve certainty or near certitude regarding the authenticity of the sayings of Jesus. If therefore this is what you deem is necessary before you are able to become a disciple of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, then you will not become a disciple. It’s as simple as that. There’s nothing I or anyone else can say that will persuade you.

        But I do believe that the extreme skepticism you have expressed is, well, too extreme. N. T. Wright and Richard Bauckham have presented strong arguments why we may reasonably believe that the body of Jesus’ teachings have been faithfully transmitted through the oral tradition and later inscribed in the gospels. Scholars might argue about specific sayings and how they have been altered through the process of transmission or even invented; but this is a far cry from saying that the apostolic Christians simply made them all up. This is not certitude, of course, but reasonable and sufficient probability for us to believe that in the gospels we are presented with relatively reliable portraits of Jesus. Of course, Christians also believe that the final canonical form of the gospels enjoys the imprimatur of the Holy Spirit, which of course I do not expect a non-believer to take seriously.

        I have wrestled with doubt, sometimes very serious doubt, all my Christian adult life. For me personally, I do not worry myself about the reliability of the sayings of Jesus. For me, my doubt is centered on the existence of a transcendent Creator. Arguments can be advanced. At one point early on I found one philosophical “proof” convincing, but today I honestly do not know whether it is sound. I do know that today I find all such proofs existentially irrelevant.

        At some point the Christian just needs to take a existential stand. Life is too short to do otherwise. Nobody possesses certainty. One either decides to stake one’s life on Jesus Christ and his Father or one doesn’t. At my death I will either encounter Christ face-to-face, or I won’t. If it turns out that I’m wrong and death is my extinction, will I have lost anything? I don’t think so. Sheldon Vanauken once asked C. S. Lewis, “But what if you’re wrong and God doesn’t exist?” Lewis replied: “Then I will have paid the universe a compliment it doesn’t deserve.” Lewis presented a similar response in fictional form in his fantasy tale ‘The Silver Chair.’ You might want to ponder Puddleglum’s response to the Green Witch: “I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.” For me, that is sufficient. I’d rather live in a cosmos in which Jesus is risen from the dead than not.

        https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2020/05/07/im-on-aslans-side/

        Liked by 5 people

        • Calvin says:

          A fine stance to take, I suppose. But I’m not speaking as an unbeliever so much as a critic of certain lines of argument. I tend to believe (most of the time), but I can see why some wouldn’t.

          Like

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            It is a fair to question Calvin, but perhaps you are pushing it too an extreme, no? Is David arguing to set aside tradition <en toto? I have not read the book, but it would be a stretch in any case. John cites pp. 130-131, see his response to me above. Does this not assuage your concern, partially answer that David is not arguing for the eradication of tradition, but rather drawing attention to the dangers of reifying tradition into an unquestionable and unchangeable line of authority?
            Be it as it may, it would be great to hear David clarify his position, what is epistemological standard does he propose?

            Like

        • johnstamps2020 says:

          Because I’m longwinded, I’m going to make two posts. My own historicist and Troeltschian tendencies have returned with a vengeance! As antidote (if not exorcism), I’m deeply enjoying Martin Hengel’s Jesus and Judaism. Hengel is a master historian and expert with the New Testament (and Second Temple Judaism/Hellenism). His section on the Kingdom of God as present/future is short and clarifies matters immensely.
          John Bob Stamps gives it two thumbs up. Be warned. It’s a serious tome. Ooops, I’d be remiss if I left out the co-author Anna Maria Schwemer. Hengel and Schwemer collaborated on many many books and articles together.

          Like

        • johnstamps2020 says:

          And it’s always good to wrestle with Soren Kierkegaard when trying to sort out these historical issues. SK’s pseudonym (Johannes Climacus) dares to ask the provocative question: “How Can an Eternal Happiness Be Built on Historical Knowledge?” SK is indirectly responding to Lessing’s (in)famous disjunctive argument,
          Contingent truths of history can never become the proof of necessary truths of reason.” SK/JC think it’s hilariously comical or infinitely tragic (depending on your point of view) to put too much stock in the results of merely probable, ever shifting “here today, gone tomorrow” historical research.

          Like

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            John – I have found this to be one of the strongest arguments against eternal hell – viz. the infinite disproportion between the historical in relation to the eternal. Only a monstrosity of a construction would make an unending, unrecoverable hell the just reward for deeds in duration.

            Liked by 2 people

  9. DBH says:

    Oh, and John 1 does not say “God was the Logos.” If we go by word order, we fail to notice that the anarthrous from of “theos” stands to the arthrous form of “ho Logos” as predicate to subject. If, however, we want to reverse that logic in keeping with the strict syntax, we get “a god was the Logos.” John’s prologue does not give us a co-equal Son. John 20 does. And therein lay all the debates of the fourth century.

    Like

  10. DBH says:

    And, as for the other quibbles, the earliest Christian renunciation of military service (if possible) was pretty clearly absolute. And the snake in the story of Eden was originally a snake in a garden planted by a dishonest thunder-god and divine regent. The later redactors are a very different matter.

    Many thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Calvin says:

      “ And the snake in the story of Eden was originally a snake in a garden planted by a dishonest thunder-god and divine regent. The later redactors are a very different matter.”

      Then why, Mr. Hart, should I take it that the story of Jesus is anything different than another such mythology around one particular Galilean preacher? Jesus supposedly said a lot of things in a lot of books. Why should I take your canon as binding and final on what it means to be a Christian?

      Like

      • Calvin says:

        “I don’t “believe” in the gospels as literal documentary sources, but I do believe in much of what they convey.”

        On what grounds?

        Like

      • DBH says:

        Calvin
        Are you a fundamentalist? The actual text of Genesis says exactly what I say it says. It does not pretend to be the tale of humanity’s break with the metaphysically exalted God of later Jewish and Christian monotheism. The book of Wisdom and Paul use Adam as a type to represent the difference between mortal, sinful humanity and the immortal sinless humanity created in Christ. Your insistence that the mythic nature of Genesis cannot be admitted without discrediting the logia traditions of the synoptic gospels is just bizarre.

        Liked by 1 person

        • DBH says:

          Sorry, there’s a phrase missing there between Wisdom and Paul.

          Like

        • Calvin says:

          No, I am not a fundamentalist. I don’t really know what I am some of the time, though idealism has always had a strong grip on my beliefs. I’m probably more influenced by Marcus Aurelius and nde research than anything else, truth be told.

          Like

    • Logan(mercifullayman) says:

      I’ve always found it fascinating how the West has moved away from one of the first patron saints of soldiers…St. Martin of Tours. I at least appreciate the nod to the very deep feeling of refusal within the first aspects of the early church that so many tend to want to gloss over for a more (m)aligned state-focused movement. Thank you for bringing awareness to this to a larger public.

      Like

  11. DBH says:

    That is an insipid question. I don’t care what you believe or do not believe, since the issue is one of genre. The early chapters of Genesis are old myths of a Mesopotamian kind, at least from ch. 2 onward and through the flood narrative; the gospels are another genre, not myth but purported histories (in a stylized form that no doubt incorporates a good deal of fictional framing, as was common in ancient narratives of the sort). But the issue of belief is totally irrelevant to what I said. I don’t “disbelieve” Genesis, though if I believe in its myths at all it is as mythically meaningful. I don’t “believe” in the gospels as literal documentary sources, but I do believe in much of what they convey.

    Try to think before you type.

    Like

    • Minimus says:

      I have been following and at times admiring the work of DBH for years. I must say that I find his fiction – particularly the short stories in The Devil and Pierre Gernet – the most appealing part of his writings (although as a non-native English speaker I had to read it with a dictionary by my side, which can be quite annoying). The Doors of the Sea was a book that really left a lasting “existential” impression on me when I read it 10 years ago.

      There is one question that keeps coming back everytime I read DBH’s extremely acrimonious and sometimes insulting comments and reactions (“try to think before you type” being one of the milder insults): Form, style and attitude in addressing others does matter when attributing credibility to the thought of someone who writes about God, love and mercy. I guess it wouldn’t matter so much if we were talking about a mathematician, but it really is disturbing when someone writes about the themes that DBH writes about.

      And before someone remarks that theological discussion has been abundant in polemical sayings from the beginning, I do think that is begging the question.

      So, David, here’s my two cents: if possible, keep it cooler. It would help spreading the message.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Jack H says:

        I find it refreshing for the most part. When someone is accusing someone else of saying things they did not say, and continues to talk past folks and beat a dead horse a stick, I think they are fair game.

        Like

      • DBH says:

        Is that line really as harsh as you think it is? It’s a piece of advice I give myself regularly. These commentary boxes are always a temptation to leap into argument before you’ve thought an issue through.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Minimus says:

          “I’m as egalitarian as it’s possible to be. I know you don’t believe that, because of how I treat my man” . Thank you for the answer and blessings

          Like

  12. EAM says:

    Is there a condensed Orthodoxy 2.0 or JFDDJE reading list? As one uneducated (subject to the tragic privations of a misspent youth) and too often overwhelmed with getting enough bread on the table, I find myself too often grasping for breadcrumbs as I try to comprehend the actual implications and worldview of minds of those such as DBH. I catch glimpses in MacDonald, and have learned a great deal from Roland. As I’m making my way through You are Gods (and has I have in past my adventures through Beauty of the Infinite, That All Shall be Saved, and the last two chapters of Tradition and Apocolypse), I find myself wanting to pause at moments to jump for joy — but where does one go from there? DBH’s Bibliographical Postscript in The Experience of God has been a personal go-to for over a decade (and I’ve anxiously wished for more such postscripts in later books) but I’m no academic. How I wish there was a set of literature I could at least read to my children at night that conveyed /this/ most-beautiful vision of Christ and His plan for all the world. (Not implying there isn’t great Christian literature available for just this. But I mean the great Orthodox vision so beautifully, and often illusively, implied by DBH in so much of his writing).

    As I scout through his list of books for a very long journey – perhaps I can speak a wish into the wind and ask: DBH, (or– ROLAND) if you’re out there: please o’please continue your fiction!

    Liked by 3 people

    • johnstamps2020 says:

      Let me try to condense an Orthodoxy 2.0 or JFDDJE reading list. FYI, Jim Forest wrote a biography of Dorothy Day.

      Like

    • DBH says:

      My vision of things is not Orthodoxy’s vision as such, I fear, so a reading list of that sort might simply reveal my eccentricities. In fact, I never pretend to speak for Orthodoxy as such, and actually long ago lost interest in confessional identities. As for the fiction, of course. That’s all I ever want to write, but it’s hard to do that alone because I’m not the sort of writer who produces very popular bestsellers.

      Liked by 1 person

      • TJF says:

        Well, if it is any consolation, I love your fiction. I found kenogaia to be an excellent gnostic novel and wish you could live off of your fiction alone. The devil and Pierre was also a wonderful collection of short stories. The one that spoke to most was ” A voice from the emerald world.”

        Like

      • EAM says:

        Dr. Hart,

        I wonder if your self-perceived eccentricities are not exactly what is most endearing and welcome to the stifled room of confessional Christianity. I, for one, am less interested in “Orthodoxy according to DBH” as “The possibilities of Christian belief, such as that of DBH.” In such a light, I wonder if you would still consider adding a few breadcrumbs to John Stamp’s list below – perhaps a few of your favorite, most eccentric, literary depictions of the transfiguring beauty conveyed in Christ? Sumerian temple hymns, obscure Japanese poetry and Vedic scriptures would all be welcomed!

        Liked by 3 people

        • EAM says:

          If I may add: your Bibliographical Postscript in The Experience of God together with your ongoing “Books for a Very Long Journey” post have been singular and most helpful references to one deprived of a formal education. As a non-academic, it’s a joy to piddle around in the footsteps of giants. If you would ever consider doing another such postscript for /any/ of your work since, I have no doubt it would be widely received with great appreciation!

          Like

    • johnstamps2020 says:

      Hi EAM, here’s my JFDDJE short list:
      – Jim Forest, Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment
      – Jim Forest, Silent as a Stone: Mother Maria of Paris and the Trash Can Rescue – it’s a kid’s book but a great read about Mother Maria Skobtsova. She’s the patron saint of JFDDJE, so make sure you read her.
      – Jim Forest, All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day
      – Jacques Ellul, Anarchy and Christianity
      – Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity

      Liked by 1 person

    • johnstamps2020 says:

      I meant to say that Mother Maria Skobtsova is the patron saint of Orthodoxy 2.0. Start with her “types” of religious lives. She detested “synodal” piety: “Only one thing is important: without a doubt it is dying and has no future. The future challenges the Church with such complex, new and crucial problems that it is difficult to say offhand to which religious type it will give the possibility to prove itself and reveal itself in a creative manner.” If you don’t know who Mother Maria was, the Nazi authorities occupying Paris arrested her for hiding Jews and she ended up dying in the Ravensbruck gas chambers.
      https://incommunion.org/2005/01/20/types-of-religious-lives/

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Sheep100 says:

    I wish DBH wouldn’t bring his far left politics into philosophical and theological topics.

    Liked by 2 people

    • johnstamps2020 says:

      As one sheep to another sheep, politics are inescapable and unavoidable, not just for American Christians but global Christians. To me, the question becomes, What polis do we Christians think we belong to? “Let us then go to him outside the camp, bearing the reproach that he bore. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:13-14) At best we are resident aliens in the cities we reside in.
      P.S. I like the Sheep100 moniker.

      Like

    • DBH says:

      Yeah, because of course Jesus never made political statements about poverty and wealth, justice and injustice, debt and law courts… He never corrupted his theology with condemnations of oppressors of the poor or corruption of the law.

      Jesus was a political figure. He was crucified out of political expediency. His ministry was principally to the poor and marginal, and the kingdom he preached was explicitly subversive of the orders of power of his time.

      Liked by 1 person

    • JBG says:

      Politics cannot be so severed from any topic, as one’s political perspective is a reflection of one’s worldview.

      Personally, I love DBH’s political leanings and share them unreservedly. It let me know that he walks the walk. He’s not a ersatz Christian that bows to the throne of soul-destroying pathology of capitalism.

      Like

  14. Tom says:

    DBH: And the snake in the story of Eden was originally a snake in a garden planted by a dishonest thunder-god and divine regent. The later redactors are a very different matter.”

    Calvin: Then why, Mr. Hart, should I take it that the story of Jesus is anything different than another such mythology around one particular Galilean preacher?

    —————–

    Tom here.

    Calvin, the gospels aren’t cast in the literary mold of myth. As David says, the gospels purport (at least) to be histories – involving known persons, places, and events. To ‘believe’ the truth of what an author employing a myth wishes to convey is not hermeneutically convertible with believing what the gospel writers claim Jesus said and did.

    But if I may ask, do you grant that the genre of myth appears anywhere in the Bible? It seems to me that your objection to David boils down to claiming that if the genre of myth appears anywhere in the Bible, then we can’t be confident that Jesus said any of the things ascribed to him in the gospel. But surely you see the fallacy of this reasoning.

    Like

    • Tom says:

      *gospels* (typo!)

      Like

    • JBG says:

      Tom: “The gospels aren’t cast in the literary mold of myth. As David says, the gospels purport (at least) to be histories – involving known persons, places, and events.”

      The presentation of myth as historical fact had antecedents in antiquity.

      Like

      • Tom says:

        Thanks JBG. If you could, would you identify for me the basic measure, rule(s), or mechanism(s) by which you distinguish history as such from myth in the Xan story?

        Like

  15. Ilari says:

    I would love DBH’s answer to Feser’s latest gem that Hart is a ”post-christian pantheist”

    Liked by 3 people

    • TJF says:

      I second that. I expect we are in for a furious rebuttal.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Logan(mercifullayman) says:

      All the greats have been called pantheists at one point or another….But what else would I surmise from someone who thinks that Thomism and Aristotle alone are all one needs to understand the world. Myopic thought is so hard to break when one is utterly convinced of the phantasmagoria that pays their bills.

      I think I’ll side with DBH, along with many a church father, Eriugena, Cusa, all the great mystics like Ruusbroec and Eckhardt, heck even Spinoza and Schelling to name a few (and that doesn’t even include the Vedantists or for that matter the Philosophical Taoists like Lao Tzu)

      Like

  16. Calvin says:

    “But if I may ask, do you grant that the genre of myth appears anywhere in the Bible? It seems to me that your objection to David boils down to claiming that if the genre of myth appears anywhere in the Bible, then we can’t be confident that Jesus said any of the things ascribed to him in the gospel. But surely you see the fallacy of this reasoning.”

    No, it is much simpler than that. It is that, if you do away with tradition for the sake of tradition, then there is no reason to grant any particular inspiration to the books of the Bible we have, which in turn does away with the binding force of any teachings of Christ supposedly contained within, including his cherished apocalypticism. Rejection of Christian morality cannot be termed heresy as Hart might like unless prior agreement exists as to what Christian morality actually consists of. Otherwise it’s just one guy shouting at someone else. Bluntly, his paradigm reduces all of Christianity to such a subjective mess as to make it impossible for any number of people to meaningfully cohere around.

    Like

    • Tom says:

      I’ll just say that from where I stand, there’s no escaping the subjective mess. That mess is at the heart of the Tradition which I understand to be (I may be wrong) a kind of shared subjective mode of belonging to one another in a particular story. And the ‘case’ that Tradition makes for itself never escapes this subjective mode (of apprehending and belonging). There is no objective, historically-critically verifiable proof that provides us ‘certitude’ that we have the verbatim words of Jesus or that his claims were true. That much is indisputable, I think.

      The Scripture’s purported ‘inspiration’ is not historically verifiable anyway. If we could prove the gospels report verbatim the words of Jesus and his moral insights, that’s no proof of their divine inspiration. Inspiration is manifest in the story’s power to transform life in those ways it promises to those who give themselves in faith to it. We have no other reasons for thinking the Bible is inspired on any level apart from the effect that believing its message has in/upon and in us. You keep dismissing this as irrelevant, but there’s no getting around it. And once you grant the irreducible subjective nature of belief in/belonging to the Tradition, what complaint can there be about those who admit we this is the circumstance we find ourselves in?

      Liked by 2 people

      • Tom says:

        I hate typos.

        Liked by 1 person

        • johnstamps2020 says:

          Typos and various brain farts are part of the subjective mess.

          Liked by 2 people

        • johnstamps2020 says:

          Speaking of malodorous writing, a peer reviewed one of my documents this morning:
          4. In the Policy Expiration Date field,
          He commented: “I think you are missing the rest of this step!” I was incredulous. But he was right.
          I had reviewed this procedure over and over. But I couldn’t see what I had missed. St Paul maybe had the same problem in Romans 9:22-23 — protasis without apodosis. Tertius needed a peer review or he should have paid closer attention.

          Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Calvin, I have to ask you: Are you simply trolling my blog or are you genuinely searching?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Calvin says:

        The latter. Why would I be trolling? You can see me posting defenses of Hart’s arguments vis a vis universalism on the Gaudium et Spes blog if you want, I’m also Calvin there. I just disagree with his conclusions and argument here.

        Liked by 2 people

        • DBH says:

          With all due respect, you’ve shown no sign of knowing what my conclusions and argument are. I’m not saying this to be snide, but all your remarks come across as simply irrelevant to the book’s actual topic, which is a critique of Newman and Blondel on doctrinal development and the proposal of a different model based on what has actually happened in doctrinal history. You seem to be concerned with something totally different. My question is along the lines of “What happened at Nicaea?”—given that Newman’s reasoning is clearly wrong.

          Like

          • Calvin says:

            Perhaps you’re right, and this is futile. My concerns and yours appear to be too different for anything to be worked out here.

            Like

    • DBH says:

      Do away with tradition? What?

      Is there any obscurity regarding the morality enjoined in the sermon on the mount? Matthew 25? Is this all that hard?

      Like

      • Calvin says:

        You don’t seem to get what I’m saying either. I do not, under your paradigm, grant any special inspiration to the writer of Matthew nor do I believe in the divine guidance of the church which selected the book for canon. Therefore I have no reason to believe such a sermon ever happened, much less that it was recorded accurately decades later and successfully preserved for two millennia. But if you do believe in the morality the sermon, then I would advise you to consider working on the “love your enemies” bit. You are, to put it mildly, quite hostile towards yours. Matthew 5:22 springs to mind.

        Like

        • DBH says:

          There has not been any hostility in any of my remarks here. Don’t pout. I simply don’t mince words. What you are saying is crudely unreflective. Either literalist fundamentalist verbal inspiration or total incredibility. But that’s nonsense. The evidence for the general credibility of the logia traditions is strong, their moral contents clear. At the same time the material in the early chapters of Genesis is mythic, but—as myth often is—was used for other purposes in later generations. But Paul clearly was not a fundamentalist literalist.

          Liked by 1 person

  17. Geoffrey McKinney says:

    Someone earlier in this conversation mentioned liking Dr. Hart’s fiction. Of everything that I have ever read by Dr. Hart, my favorite is his short story, “The House of Apollo”.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Calvin, your skepticism is so deep and extreme that it is impossible for you to embrace historical events as divine revelation. You will always be able to subvert and dismiss such claims. On the other hand, folks like myself will never find your objections persuasive precisely because it is so extreme. If historians were to adopt your skepticism, there would be no history. Constructive conversation, therefore, is impossible.

    For this reason I respectfully ask you to stop commenting. This blog does not exist to engage in apologetic disputation. Thank you and Godspeed.

    Like

  19. johnstamps2020 says:

    I’m delighted by the ongoing traction from this blog. I thank (or blame) Calvin. I took the unusual step of emailing a Stanford professor of religion to beg him shamelessly for his syllabus on historicism. But I don’t want to single out Calvin. I appreciate every single person who commented. I promised a second article on tradition and history. I’m not sure when it’ll see the light of day. There is much to ponder here.
    P.S. The Stanford prof sent me his syllabus and three student-generated annotated bibliographies yesterday. “Ask, and it shall be given to you…” That works with God as well. We just have to ask.

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  20. Vasili says:

    I do agree with DBH’s negative assessment of the alliance of church and state and the sacrifice that was made in order to accommodate that. The state at the end of the day is mainly concerned with its own power and is always willing to subvert the church for her ends. In the Byzantine empire alone we have several instances of heresy being introduced for mainly political ends, such as the monothelite controversy, the iconclastic controversy, and finally the unionists. The church constantly had to struggle not to be controlled and subverted by the state, and she did not always attain victory over the state. The most egregious example of this lies in the last couple centuries where the church aligned itself with nationalism. The church backed pogroms in Russia and in Romania allied with the nazi regime. The current Russian ukraine conflict shows that even today the church still struggles with this problem.

    That all being said I do believe that the true original Christian ethos did survive and was not snuffed out as Hart maintains. The rise of monasticism in the 4th century is a direct continuation of the early Christian’s belief that their kingdom was not of this world. If anything throughout all of Christian history no group has applied Christ’s ethical and apocalyptic teachings as radically as the desert fathers did. They truly took Christ’s words on poverty, pacifism and brotherly love to heart and applied these things in their daily life. If anything they applied these principles much more radically then their forefathers of the 3rd and second centuries. Of course this monastic ethos continues to this day and can be found in all eras of Christian history.

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    • joey says:

      Vasili, your comment provides a nice way for me to introduce the “reception” of DBH’s book and other works of his by Anabaptists. You find the “true original Christian ethos” preserved in the monastic tradition, while Anabaptists would say that they and their precursors have preserved that ethical tradition. As you may or may not know, the Anabaptists say that they truly take “Christ’s words on poverty, pacifism and brotherly love to heart and [apply] these things in their daily life.”

      For this reason some Anabaptists have read DBH’s work and find themselves thinking that he is just a latent Anabaptist who doesn’t realize it yet. The quote that was referenced above (“Only in cases of moral departure from the explicit teachings of Christ can one easily identity what one can rightly call heresies.”) could have come straight from any number of Anabaptist teachers, and has been picked up within those circles.

      The reasoning is something along these lines. Jesus introduced the kingdom of God with his words in the Sermon on the Mount, and said at the end “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” So “Christianity” is just simply doing what Jesus our King commanded (a self-applied label by some Anabaptists is “kingdom Christians”). So Anabaptists are nonviolent (or nonresistant), they don’t swear oaths, no divorce, do not participate in lawsuits, don’t accumulate wealth, etc. These are replaced by marital faithfulness, suffering love, sharing of resources, truth telling, love of neighbor, etc.

      Simply obeying these commands of Christ is what is ultimately important for Anabaptists. They often view “theology” as an intellectualized attempt to “soften the blow” of what Christ taught and avoid doing it. So when DBH says as he did above: “Curiously, I have standards regarding intellectual depth, spiritual richness, and good taste. Anabaptism is just another fundamentalism,” they would say this is absurd. DBH is setting “intellectual depth, spiritual richness, and good taste” as more important than simply doing what Jesus commanded, and seems to be contradicting his own statement in the book about placing primacy on the “explicit teachings of Christ.” How is that even a tradeoff one can think about? What will it profit a man if he gains “intellectual depth, spiritual richness, and good taste” and loses his soul?

      (I personally am not Anabaptist but have followed the reception of his work in some of those circles with interest. So my previous paragraph is not meant as any sort of insult to DBH but is just my representation of the natural Anabaptist response.)

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