06 April 2013

Worldwide Persecution, Sacralism and the Colson/Metaxas Pseudo-Zion

It’s been awhile since I’ve bothered with an interaction/critique but I heard this today on BreakPoint and I felt compelled to write something. In terms of Biblical doctrine and how it plays out in the world and history, BreakPoint in many ways represents the antithesis of everything I stand for. It’s ‘ministries’ like this more than anything else that compel me to speak out and do what I can. I realize at best I will only reach a handful of people while their audience is in the millions. But I believe they represent not only a dangerous error but also their commentaries represent the kind of foolish misinformed and twisted perspective the American (and increasingly worldwide) ‘church’ is so eager to embrace.

I hear these commentaries five days a week on the Family Life Network…a so-called Christian ministry which dominates the Mid-Atlantic region and continues to grow. In the past they’ve carried other Christian worldview commentators like Kerby Anderson and Cal Thomas. They’re all cut from the same cloth.

 I wish to be abundantly clear in expressing the level of disagreement I have with Colson and his successors. This isn’t just a disagreement. There is a fundamental even existential difference in our understanding of the world we live in and how we as Christians relate to it…and what it means to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

 Here’s the commentary. The original link can be found here if you wish to read the unbroken text or listen to the audio. My interactions are interspersed.

BreakPoint Commentator E. Metaxas:

The persecution of Christians is something most of us would rather not think about. Find out why we need to, next on BreakPoint

Christianity came to Ethiopia in the fourth century and today about two-thirds of the population is Christian, but not everyone is happy about it.

In May 2011, Abraham Abera, a worker at an Evangelical church, was walking home with his pregnant wife, Bertukan. Suddenly, six Muslim men wielding machetes assailed them beating Abraham to death and leaving Bertukan unconscious. She and the baby survived and as Bertukan recounts the attack she recalls the men’s words: “You [Christians] are growing in number in our area. You are spreading your message. We will destroy you.”


Actually according to tradition Christianity came to Ethiopia in the 1st Century…the eunuch in Acts 8 was said to have brought it. Nevertheless the Christianity in Ethiopia certainly is representative of the events and theology shaping in Christianity during the 4th century, viz. rampant syncretism.

When Europeans came into contact with the Ethiopians during the 18th and 19th centuries they found the old ‘Christian’ kingdom of Axum awash with pagan barbarism and idolatry…despite a Christian veneer. The same can be said of the Armenians, Assyrians and other ‘Christian’ nations. Of course we might also extend this to the ‘Christian’ nations of England, France etc… Syncretism manifests itself in different ways, and the ‘minority’ church-nations were in a different context and thus manifest their cultural ‘Christianity’ in a different fashion.

The problem is the definition of Christian and Christianity has been terribly distorted and this is one of the chief errors of Metaxas, the BreakPoint crowd and Sacralist thought in general. The category of Christian they’re using here is not one found in the Bible. They’re using the term as a sociological and historical construct, but being absent from Scripture it carries no theological meaning. 

Actually it does carry a theological meaning, but not in the Biblical sense. Or to put it differently, it carries a theological definition that can only be categorized as heretical. Nations and cultures are not baptized, they’re not redemptive. Citizenship, race, or geography does not a Christian make. Nor can it be defined by civilization refinements. It’s not about whether you eat with a fork, or wear a certain type of clothing, nor can it be defined by some of kind of Constantinian style tradition or political theory. One does not become a better Christian by adopting Western language, dress, or any other custom.

This whole commentary is already off to a bad start. There are certainly Christians in Ethiopia and yet the missionaries you talk to would certainly dispute the claim that 2/3 of the country is Christian. If that were the case, the land would hardly be a candidate for missionary activity. The claim of Metaxas as you will see is rooted in political concerns which are ultimately ‘the gospel’ for these people.


In Russia, police with automatic weapons and attack dogs stormed St. George’s Lutheran Church during Sunday morning worship. Blocking all exits, they announced that they were searching for “extremist literature” and proceeded to ransack Bibles and hymnals. Justifying the raid, the police commander said, “There were indications that terrorists were gathering there, and distributing terrorist literature.” In fact, the raid was part of a growing program of hostility toward the Lutheran congregation that has been oddly branded “a Catholic sect.”


This just exhibits more confusion. Suddenly Russia is not Christian? I of course would say Russia has never been ‘Christian’ nor has any other nation. There have long been Christians in Russia and certainly they were persecuted under the Tsarist Orthodox Church and the Soviets. Today the difficulties many churches face are due to the renewed and growing power of the Orthodox Church. Would Metaxas say the Russian Orthodox Church is ‘not’ Christian? What makes them different from the group in Ethiopia, most of the churches in Africa, or for that matter the Papacy which he seems to venerate?

What’s the criterion he’s using? At times he seems as if they only issue is whether or not the nation in question is in line with American foreign policy.


This is one of those moments that I wonder…is he ignorant or being deceptive? Under Colson I had no doubts whatsoever. The man had no qualms about being deceptive and regularly played fast and loose with the truth. He made a career of it, before and after Watergate. With his disciples who have taken over, I just don’t know. I guess he can feign ignorance of what’s happening in Russia and try to blame it on someone else.

Though Metaxas seems offended and treats the notion as novel, the Orthodox have long considered Protestantism to be nothing more than a ‘Catholic’ sect. As far as they’re concerned Protestantism is merely a different flavour or variation of Catholicism. The creedal and theological, indeed the philosophical issues that differentiate the Orthodox world from the West are in no way assuaged by the Protestant Revolt. If anything the Reformation only enhanced these differences. 21st century Russia is reverting to a Sacral model and they’re being consistent in their suspicion and rejection of Protestant missionary movements. It doesn’t mean they’re right, but it is consistent with Sacral thinking.

Protestantism is crypto-Catholicism to them and a threat to their Sacral vision of Russia. The same would be said here if the Christian Right wielded political power and suddenly there was a massive influx of Orthodox activity within our borders.

While I hardly think these Lutherans represent some kind of threat to the Kremlin and while I would (unlike Metaxas) never appeal to violence in order to defend some version of the Sacral state…if I were a member of the Russian authorities, I too would be suspicious of American-linked Evangelicals. They tend to be pro-American Empire, militarist, and few exhibit any hesitation in co-operating with the American intelligence agencies. Russia is painted as the aggressor in the Western media but there’s another side to the story and an equal if not more compelling case can be made that the opposite is the reality.

This is what happens when you politicize the Church, when you bring it into the power equation.


These and far too many other stories are told by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea in their book Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians.

“Our Christianity,” they write, “doesn’t require us to keep looking over our shoulders, unsure if we will be arrested for praying or attacked for having a Bible.” But the majority of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians do look over their shoulders. They have to.

Consider this horrific fact: “Christians are the single most widely persecuted group in the world today.” The authors write, “This persecution is targeted at all Christian faith traditions from Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant to liturgical, evangelical, and charismatic, including hundreds of small, little-known sects.”


While I do not dispute Christian persecution exists and is widespread, the categories employed in this commentary are meaningless. Using the teaching of Scripture as the criteria it can be safely asserted that only a small fraction of the 2.2 billion figure qualify as something resembling Biblical Christianity. That said, in no way do I endorse any state or group wielding violence against others…and that would include the state Metaxas and I both live in. Why this broad extra-Biblical categorization? That becomes clear enough as the commentary progresses.


The sources of persecution, write Marshall, Gilbert, and Shea, are threefold: Communist and post-Communist regimes that still “hunger for total political control”; Hindu and Buddhist nationalists who see Christianity as a political as well as a religious threat; and radical Islam with its “urge for religious dominance.”

Across the world Christians are harassed, arrested, jailed, tortured, raped, beaten, and killed. Their churches and homes are bombed or burned to the ground. And children are taken from their Christian parents lest they too become tainted with faith in Jesus.

As I wrote in the Foreword to Persecuted, “we have been blessed with such a bounty of religious freedom that we can hardly imagine what such suffering must be like.” But imagine it we must.

Persecuted is a hard book to read not because it’s complicated, but because of the injustice, violence, and suffering running down every page. In some ways it hurts to read this book, but I recommend you read it nonetheless. Why?

Well first of all, it will strengthen your faith. The lives of those who witness to the truth of Christianity in the midst of unspeakable pressure are inspirational. Second, you’ll understand the world better. This blood-spattered world is the world Jesus came to save and for which we need to pray.


Employing terms like ‘Communist’ and ‘post-Communist’ regimes tell us more about Metaxas and the authors he cites rather than anything about the actual regimes. Communism, Socialism, Fascism, Democracy…these terms are all thrown about and have become almost meaningless. The Communist states in many ways were never communist at all. They were Totalitarian and failed on many key points to implement the ideas of Marx or Engels. The leaders were not motivated by Communism then…or now.

The problem is power. The problem is that man wants to build Babel and in order to do so needs a unified and largely uniform society. Thankfully God breaks up their projects before they go too far.

Metaxas is no different. In order to accomplish their Babel-goal, people like Colson and Metaxas have simply changed the old parameters and increased their power-base. Starting during the 1990’s, they’ve sought to ‘bring in’ Roman Catholics and others that historically Protestants would have nothing to do with. This has opened them up to a new pool of demographic and financial resources. And despite this they’re still in demographical trouble. The last election has made them realize that they need to recalibrate again and attempt to bring in new groups. Their thinking, motivations, and thus interpretations and commentary are not shaped by Scripture.

During the Cold War, pseudo-Communism was the Sacral ideal, the glue, the vehicle the Eastern Bloc employed to bind society together. Today, they are just as happy to employ the Orthodox Church which historically…fulfilled that same subservient role to the state. That’s why in many ways the Communist era (particularly in Russia was almost a recasting of the Tsarist vision. Stalin was like Ivan the Terrible taken to the superlative. He has rightly been called the Red Tsar. Mao has rightly been called the Red Emperor. Marx would have repudiated both and all they stood for.

The Orthodox see the Evangelicals as ‘cowboys’ coming in to take over their territory and it serves the state’s interest to back up the ‘church’. If you want to understand Russia today, then you’re going to have to dig a little deeper than Metaxas. You need a shovel, not a plastic spade fit for a toddler.

Why do nationalists perceive Evangelical Christianity as a threat? I would like to say it’s simply due to the offense of the Gospel. In some cases that may be true but all too often I’m sorry to say the believers (and unbelievers categorized as Christians) are suffering due to what I have labeled the Shapur Effect. Prior to Constantine, Christians lived in the Parthian and Sassanid Empires of Persia with little difficulty. Rome and Persia had long been enemies and when Constantine ‘converted’ and began to formally sponsor Christianity this put the Christians in the Persian Empire in an awkward position. Suddenly they seemed a fertile ground for intrigue, espionage, sabotage etc… a Fifth Column that would naturally look to Rome for political protection and support. The Persian Empire began to persecute Christians…not because of the Gospel, but because of political affiliations and concerns. Christianity was now identified with Rome. A tamer version of this occurred in the 1950’s under McCarthy. It was a new occasion for ‘Thoughtcrime’. People who sympathized with the enemy were perceived as a threat.

Christians are suffering today not exclusively but certainly largely due to their association or even feared or perceived association with Western and particularly American interests. Americans think of their country as a force for good in the world, a land that is looked up to and admired…the good people.

This is a fantasy. While there are some that view America as a rich and fat land, a place of opportunity, there are very few who view it as good. In fact I would argue the majority of the world not only considers American foreign policy to be evil, but considers the United States to be the world’s chief terrorist-state. At the end of the day American presidents and the military they command have killed far more people than Al-Qaeda or Saddam Hussein. In fact America has sponsored characters every bit as bad as Bin Laden and Hussein…in fact under different circumstances sponsored the very same!

Other people think in Sacral terms. To them Christianity due to its Western and American associations means Lady Gaga and Wal-mart as much as its Christianity…which to them usually means Joyce Meyer and World Vision. It all goes together much to the lament of Biblical Christians who would wish to divorce themselves from the whole package.

This in no way justifies the violent actions of nationalists in other countries. Nationalism is an idolatry Christians must always reject. That said it is one of the most prevalent and deeply rooted heresies in the American pseudo-church. If a Muslim or Buddhist country filled the geopolitical position currently held by the United States and this hegemonic supra-culture of Buddhism or Islam was overtaking our culture… many of the good gun-toting Americans would react with similar vitriol. I have no doubts whatsoever on this score.

The problem is power and the violence it generates. Metaxas is guilty of this and so are the nationalists and other cultists and pseudo-religionists around the world.

As usual the situation is more complicated than he’s willing to admit or perhaps even understands. His frequent attempts to ‘claim’ Martin Luther King, suggesting that Colson and the American Christian Right somehow are the inheritors of the King legacy demonstrate a gross ignorance (or deliberate distortion) of history. He’s old enough to remember when King was demonized in white politically conservative Evangelical circles. Metaxas doesn’t seem to realize that it was mostly conservative Protestant ‘Christian’ people who were resisting King, championing Jim Crow…and it’s a historical fact that the big shift in the South that took white Southerners out of the Democratic Party and into the Republican camp was due to Nixon’s Southern Strategy which sought to capture white conservatives upset with Lyndon Johnson’s passage of the Civil Rights Act. In other words the reason the Bible Belt is dominated by Republicans today is directly tied to the fact that white Christians became Republican in order to express their rejection of the Civil Rights Act. If they had stood with King as Metaxas claims…then when they voted in 1968 just seven months after King’s assassination… Hubert Humphrey would have been the 37th president of the United States and Richard Nixon’s comeback would have gone down in flames.

This is normal fare for these people. They twist and distort history every chance they can. They are desperate to ‘claim’ any revered figure in the history of the West. I laughed out loud when I heard Colson praising Charles Dickens the Christian and his writings. First of all Dickens wasn’t a Christian in any orthodox sense. And secondly his writings and ideas (which are certainly worthwhile) represent the utter repudiation of the type of society and economic systems (and the morality it produces) that Colson and his crew champion. Without hesitation it can be said that Dickens (were he alive) would absolutely reject these people. He rejected their ideological ancestors in the 19th century. He would decry the Christian Right as immoral and both rightly and ironically…anti-Christian.

But for Colson to have these ‘great’ (whatever that means) figures of the Western tradition like Dickens and King be placed outside the Christian fold is unthinkable. This is the same kind of mentality that has led authors like Schmidt and Stark and for that matter Huntington, to produce their hack histories comparing East and West. Everything good in the world is due to the Christian West and everything bad in the world comes from the East. It’s an old lie but one that tickles the ear of the devoted Sacralist. It is both theologically and historically erroneous.


Third, it will prepare you to act. As Christians in America, we’re in a position to put pressure on our government and in so doing come to the aid of our suffering brothers and sisters—and we must.


And ultimately we come to what this is all about. What we as ‘christians’…whatever that means in the Metaxas theological lexicon….need to appeal to the American Empire to threaten other nations in order to get our way. This seemingly innocuous statement is a call for blood vengeance, bombs, and the threat of annihilation.

Does he not realize that threats or to use the euphemisms ‘pressures’ or even ‘incentives’ contain a promise of violence? America is famous for many things….Hollywood certainly ranks near the top. But even above that it’s known for its bombs. America loves to drop bombs on other countries and has made an art of it.

The Early Church would not have understood someone like Metaxas. His theology would have been alien to them…even yes, evil. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find the Sacralism he proffers or the definition of Christian he employs. And certainly the violence he advocates, invokes and hopes for is completely absent.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere for Christians to appeal to the American state for ‘aid’ in advancing or promoting, or defending the Kingdom of God is idolatry if not rank apostasy. It is going down to Egypt for help and that certainly warrants an imprecation from the prophets of old.

No Secretary of State or Foreign Minister can help to build or protect the Kingdom of God. Not Hilary Clinton, John Kerry, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and certainly not the likes of Albright or Kissinger…none of these butchers and Beast-worshippers represents the Christian Church. Only poison can flow from their lips. They represent an empire of lies and violence… how ironic that so many ‘christians’ have confused it with the Kingdom of God. They even place its banners in their sanctuaries (sic) where with the same breath they praise the Prince of Peace.

I pray the lying mouth of Metaxas would be silenced, that the true Gospel would go forth and that our brothers and sisters around the world can be freed from the influence of the false church and the abundance of heresies which flow from this Bestial Pseudo-Zion. I pray this Empire would break and dissolve and that the world would be rid of its evils and that the Gospel would never be tied to an Empire of violence and that the church would be liberated from false prophets and agents of the enemy.


As Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput writes in the book’s Afterword, “Ignorance of the world is a luxury we cannot afford. We must know our faith, know our world and its struggles—and then open our hearts, engage our minds, and lift our hands.”


An appropriate ending. An appeal to an idolatrous prelate presiding over a sodomitical hierarchy. What is this ‘faith’ the self-styled Archbishop speaks of? The dogma of Rome?

This is the faith Metaxas would invoke? The faith that worships Mary, denies the completed and sufficient work of Christ on the cross, in polytheistic fashion invokes the invented cult of saints, and acknowledges the divine lordship and infallibility of the popes, placing itself above the Holy Scriptures?

What can this Archbishop teach Christians but to embrace the fleshly wisdom of Rome, to baptize death and follow the world in its quest for power? Will this Archbishop teach us how to approach God through their myriad of mediators? Should we embrace the very doctrines Paul labels as demonic? The doctrines that associate piety with asceticism in the very forms of forced celibacy and abstention from foods…the very error of Lent which Metaxas and his Roman allies endorse?

While I do not celebrate the Reformation, there are at the very least some principles I share with it that draw a line in the sand. If Metaxas and his ilk are right, then the Reformation was an inexcusable schism, Sola Scriptura must be a devilish lie… and the majority of Bible believing Christians are simply lost or at the very least in grave error.

But if the (dare I say it?) plain doctrines of the New Testament are correct and to be adhered to without modification or read through the filter of Sociological Christendom….then Metaxas represents the very thing Paul warns us of in 2 Corinthians 11.14:

13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.

Those who invoke or live by the sword will certainly die by it. Paul’s statement does not indicate these ministers are always consciously aware of their actions. In fact, I am certain many believe they are actually serving God.

Jesus warned his disciples in John 16:

2 They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. 3 And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.

In this case synagogues can even be understood in terms of prophetic idiom. The ‘church’ formally speaking had not yet started. The synagogues were the assemblies where the people of God, those in Covenant with Him met, worshipped and fellowshipped. He’s warning them that the ‘people of God’ will throw them out, reject them and think they do God service. As is clear in verse 3, they’re enemies, but don’t know it. They think they’re doing right. They think they’re serving God, building and defending His Kingdom.

And these are the same people who in Matthew 7 are identified as wolves. The same type of people who redefine what a Christian is and by labeling 2.2 billion people as Christians demonstrate the following words mean nothing to them….

13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

And sadly the subsequent verses also apply…

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’


If redefining the categories of Scripture so that the terms it employs become essentially and certainly effectively meaningless…

If goodness and the ways of peace, a Kingdom based on the work of the Holy Spirit that teaches a selfless ethic rejecting all power and violence…if this is turned into a quest for political power and the invocation of the state to employ its means (which can only be coercion and violence) in order to advance the Kingdom of God…

If that isn’t calling good evil and evil good, if that isn’t lawlessness than I don’t know what is. The World offers many temptations and there are many false paths, wicked philosophies, and false hopes. We must reject its lies and enticements.

But always the greatest threat has ever been and will ever be the wolf in sheep’s clothing that offers lust of the flesh, eyes, and the pride of life as a gospel and a way of piety. The lusts of the flesh and eye do not necessarily have to refer to inappropriate sexual desire. Even those who idolatrize pleasure are manifesting another tendency…the root of all sin, self idolatry, man’s desire to be a law unto himself, to wield all power, to be God.

Am I too harsh? Perhaps some of these folks are just misguided. I’ll grant that. I cannot judge the heart but I judge the tree by its fruit, and I see great power, wealth, and influence at work in these circles. I see great evil and a multitude clamouring after it. I am surrounded by churches but only a tiny portion preach something approaching the teaching of Scripture and yet in these congregations other terrible errors are promulgated. It is in these very congregations that Nationalism and the worship of militarism and other pagan notions seems to run the strongest.

If I’m wrong…then dismiss my words, by all means mock my ideas and my foolish tongue.

But if what I say is true…then what is the state of things when there are so very few who seem to discern what is happening? How dire is the situation when even those who can clearly see the errors of an Osteen or a Benny Hinn…cannot see the idolatry and the deviations from New Testament Christianity which have been enshrined in the church? We have wolves among us who claim to follow Christ and the Apostles and reflect the teaching of the Scripture and yet in so many crucial areas teach the very opposite.

This is what happens when I turn on the radio. But unfortunately I’m usually in the middle hooking up some wires or nailing a board down…and it takes me a couple of days to find the time to write down my thoughts. My heart goes out to the multitudes that hear this stuff and yet don’t have the tools to discern it or see through it. What a sad time we live in. The false shepherds leading the church are a disgrace. The people of God (broadly speaking) are in a state of terrible ignorance no different than the provincial peasant living on a feudal manor.


Jamie said...

I read this shortly after hearing about Rick Warren's son dying of suicide. It seems that nobody can be a true Christian w/o owning Purpose Driven Life and yet obviously Rick's rotten fruit bore no antioxidents per se. My heart goes out to the folks in these situations. That God opens their eyes to His Kingdom and not theirs. Sadly Rick is quoted testifying the contrary....post death.

Cal said...

Did you also notice when he talks about the Ethiopian he references the family as "evangelical". Which must obviously mean a man not apart of the Ethiopian Orthodox church. Funny because they, like Russia, operate as a cultural organ and so reject "evangelicals" and their baptisms. I've read horror stories of a weeping mother receiving her recently buried child back on her doorstep because the church would not allow her "unchristian" baby to be buried in "holy ground". Metaxas conveniently conflates the two.

You're right about the Shapur Effect. I was reading a book about Missions in the Mid-East and whether or not they were about the kingdom or culture. Surprisingly (not really), it was a cultural surge of European global-politics that drove a lot of it. Becoming Christian meant becoming English/American/Western.

We have some differences on what the church looks like, but it is always Christ at center. Not Rome, not Moscow, not Addis Abbaba, not Washington or whatever culture is hooked as The City which is nothing more than a beast. Sadly so much damage is done and continues to be done, that the backlash will continue and churches in areas like Africa, Mid-East and Asia will receive, what they think is help, but has poison oozing out. Thankfully, that's not exclusively true and good still comes out of much evil. Lord Jesus has the scepter, standing at the Right Hand.

Good News indeed.

PS. I'm still waiting for you email response! I know you're busy, so no rush. Just letting you know I still remember.


Anonymous said...

Hi Proto. Remember last year we had a brief discussion about American Christians putting pressure on the US government to put pressure on other governments to "help" persecuted Christians? At face value, who could be against saints doing everything possible to minister to other suffering saints? Yet, is the Church to use carnal weapons, worldly means, worldly power? Is that actually wrong, unholy alliance, wordly thinking,not going to be fruitful not blesssed?

The Shapur Effect is insightful.

Good critique here. You are becoming more frank and clear about the evil and dangers of sacralism.

I, too, have found a small church that we can relate to well in terms of their emphasis on Christ, Scripture, rejecting "tradition", being biblically literate, the table of the Lord; then to discover this awful contradictory undercurrent of Americanism, pro-military, hate liberals, etc. We were so happy to find a meeting place that did not display an American flag, yet the idol of the flag may be more strongly worshipped there than in the flag-displaying congregation. Oy vey! I know it is a spiritual bewitchment because it makes no logical sense.

Steve said...

Your post is a bit upsetting. I'm about 1/4 the way through Metaxas' biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and I'm impressed with the depth of his research. Now I worry that he may have put an American evangelical 'spin' on it.

I wonder if Bonhoeffer were alive today if he would have anything to do with people like Metaxas and Colson.

Steve said...

Regarding persecution - I read this blog post yesterday that I'd like to share:

The images of "before" and "after" the Constantinian shift are intriguing.

Protoprotestant said...

God willing I'll get to all your comments tonight......gotta run.

Mark Nieweg said...

Steve, There is another book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer that will be coming out this fall that might intrigue you. Here is the link about it: http://bbhchurchconnection.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/coming-this-fall-bonhoeffer-as-assassin/. Bonhoeffer is usually celebrated for betraying his principles that he wrote about in The Cost of Discipleship, becoming "real" or "mature." It never made sense to me this prevailing attitude. The book challenges this "fact."
Mark Nieweg

Protoprotestant said...

Sorry my job is killing me lately. Between the hours at work, the time it demands at home and normal home life....I don't have any extra time. I'm hoping this weekened I can sit down and actually write something and get caught up comments, emails, etc....

Anyway, there's a helpful book review that can be found at this link...


While she doesn't 'get' everything, she certainly gets enough to cast some serious doubts about the Metaxas interpretation of Bonhoeffer.

The other odd part is that few Evangelicals seem to understand Bonhoeffer's theology is not theirs. He wasn't an Evangelical...itself a meaningless term...but he certainly belongs more in the Neo-Orthodox camp. His views of the Biblical text, its historicity, theology in general do not harmonize in the least with what most conservative Protestants believe.

What disturbs me the most is that the Christian Right/Tea Party crowd keeps comparing Obama to Hitler. Obama is an evil man to be sure...but Hitler?

However if you do view him as such...or a successive leader....and Bonhoeffer is the model...what's the conclusion?

That's pretty scary and a cause for concern for all Christians because if ever an excuse is needed to 'crack down' on extremist Christians, that would be it.

Gotta run....I should have left a 1/2 hour ago.

Protoprotestant said...


I'm curious if you read that review link. If so, what do you think?

The Metaxas book is on my list. I'm plenty familiar with his thinking and before I wrote a big essay on the whole Two Kingdom Theology enabled the Nazi fraud I definitely want to digest his book. I doubt he has much to offer in terms of history, but regardless of what actually happened, his argument (which is also used by others)is what people are hearing, so it has to be interacted with.

But I am quite curious for your thoughts and observations.

I guess I would say the same to Mark. Any further comment would be appreciated.

I heard about Bonhoeffer pretty early on in my Christian life. I still have 'The Cost of Discipleship' on my shelf. Like I said I had always understood him to be...interesting guy, sad story.
Theology not to be fully trusted and though he lived in a turbulent time, and in such times it's hard to judge after the fact the actions of the people who lived in those times....

nevertheless, he wasn't viewed as a hero.

Again, tough times, tough decisions. You can't condemn everyone because sometimes they make the wrong ones. It's hard to say what any of us would have done.

But I don't agree with him.

Theologically...I'd put him with someone like CS Lewis. Anyone who has read Lewis knows he had tremendous insight and wisdom and certainly a love of Christ. That said, he was quite goofed up on some stuff. I'm sure many would say the same about me.

But I think Metaxas and that whole crew really have very little interest in these matters. They're pushing an agenda. They have a program. They'll re-write history, ally themselve with whomever, do whatever they have to do...to win.

That's not a Christian ethic and can only bear bad fruit.

Protoprotestant said...

One of the sad things about Warren's son is all the talk concerning his counseling and medications.

This issue raises such tremendous passions but I think the whole issue of psychology, medications, mental illness....all of it....is one of the great farces of our times.

The Church has embraced this wholesale. It is all rooted in philosophical ideals that are contrary to Biblical Christianity. Dobson would be no fan of Freud or Skinner, but like it or not he has been greatly affected by their ideas.

I'm afraid when it comes to Warren, Hybels and many of these folks, it's a case of the blind leading the blind.

I intensely dislike Warren, but as a father I feel great sorrow. What a tragedy. I'm sure he questions what his whole life has been about. I know I would feel like a miserable failure.

Foundations of hay and wood. 1Cor 3

Protoprotestant said...

Thanks Victoria and Cal for your encouraging affirmations.

I think our modern Islamic Extremism is a child of Western Imperialism. While the USA is the current guilty party, you certainly have to look back to the 'powers' of 19th century.

Colonialism hasn't ended, it has just changed its spots.

And it's also interesting how the 19th century powers, particularly the British had conflated their Empire with the Kingdom and for many this motivated their actions. For others it was convenient propaganda.

The West is reaping the whirlwind and yet for all that's happened, the Islamists are hardly ascendant.

I can't detest someone that wants to reach out to persecuted Christians. I'm sure many of the petitition signers mean well. I know they do.

They don't realize what they're doing, that it's wrong, and they've misunderstood the larger picture. In the end, their actions are only making it worse.

I keep pointing to Vietnam and China. These 'enemies' were never conquered and yet in many ways the West is in the end winning. KFC McDonalds and the values that go with Western life are in the end transforming these societies.

It is very hard to find a congregation minus the American flag. The PCA we last attended met in a Christian school's gymnasium. They had the flags up on the stage. We'd put them in the back, behind the curtains during the meeting. Though there were certainly some Glen Beck fans there, they had at least enough sense to realize the banners don't belong there.

I know of another PCA where the preacher being from outside the USA didn't buy into the whole Patriot cult...though sadly I believe his son joined the legions...nevertheless he removed the flags and actually had some people leave because of it.

Can you imagine? The presence of the American Flag is one of the marks of the True Church?

Personally if I walk in and see the flags, I'm pretty likely going to walk out. I might sit through it and not come back. It just depends. I can put up with High Church Anglicanism easier than I can that.

Protoprotestant said...

Steve thanks for that link. That was interesting and certainly it's good to read there are others who are seeing the problem.

Despite how 'bad' things are at present I am also encouraged. There are some good things going on. There are some good currents and good questions be asked.

I think in another 10 years, things will be much worse in some ways, but in some ways things will be better.

Not culturally, socially, or anything like that. I think there will be some better churches out there. They might be small though.

Steve said...

Hi Proto - Sorry for the delay in getting back to the discussion.

Yes I did read the review link and wish I could of read it before starting the book. I'm a little embarrassed that I had not heard of Metaxas before buying the book. I wasn't aware of his 'agenda' until I did more research.

The review makes a case that the book is "a polemic, written to make the case that Bonhoeffer was in reality an evangelical Christian whose battle was not just against the Nazis but all the liberal Christians who enabled them". To be honest I haven't noticed this yet since I'm not too far into the book. Nevertheless, I've lost motivation to continue reading.

I enjoyed Cost of Discipleship and Letters and Papers from Prison and just would like to read an honest, historically accurate biography. Is that asking too much?

I'm curious why you're not too impressed with his theology. I found the principles outlined in the Cost of Discipleship to run counter to the a lot of the americanized evangelical nonsense that is so popular today.

You mentioned the Christian Right comparing Obama to Hitler. I've met a few of them who think he's anti-Christ. Yikes!

Mark - Thanks for the information about the upcoming book. I too would like to see a challenge to the idea that he ditched his principles in the Cost of Discipleship.

Protoprotestant said...


I wouldn't feel embarassed. I had never heard of the guy either. He's only come onto the scene in the past couple of years.

Before he took over from Colson he was best known for his work with VeggieTales.

I don't know about you but I find that rather telling.

It might be an interesting exercise to read the book and see if you think the review is true...or read some other materials first and keep them in mind as you read Metaxas.

Easy for me to say. It's hard to find time to read as much as I would like. Too busy.

Bonheoffer is often placed within the camp of Neo-Orthodoxy. Some say he was a bit worse than that school...others say a bit better.

Neo-Orthodoxy tried to take the Bible seriously in the wake of Liberalism deconstruction of Scripture. They found a way to make the text relevant and retain a concept of supernatural revelation...and yet not adhere to all the historical particularities.

Its critics have argued that Barth could speak of Christ having been raised from the dead and yet also mean that Christ's body to this day is still underground.

The theology is often labeled Christocentric and there are times when Barth and other NO's sound pretty good...but if you dissect what they're saying many (including me) would conclude it's really not all that different from the old Liberalism.

Some, even some who visit this site will disagree.

There are a host of questions and it's quite complicated but I feel pretty safe saying that Neo-Orthodoxy has a very different understanding of Christianity than what we might call traditional forms of orthodoxy or even standardized meanings of theological terms.

I'm all for critiquing the traditional church and many schools or camps would consider me heterodox. So that in and of itself is not the issue for me.

But Neo-Orthodoxy goes a little too far I'm afraid...beyond the pale of Scriptural Christianity.

But again they have some insights and make some good points. And like all movements, it wasn't monolithic. Bonheoffer apparently went his own way at times.

If you look up Bonheoffer, Neo-Orthodoxy etc.. on Wikipedia it'll give you a good start. It gets confusing. I'm not a big fan or Kierkegaard but at the same time, I can certainly appreciate some points he made. I do see kind of a Faith or Nihilism tension. To me, it's sort of one or the other and this runs against most of the philosophical currents within historical Christendom.

Unfortunately some to Kierkegaard's ideas much further and you end up with the atheistic existentialists trying (and failing) to find meaning in the world.

And then you have Bonheoffer who sometimes is classified with the "death of God" theologians. I think this has been misunderstood and while I can't agree with the conclusions...some were actual atheists, some weren't.... they're wrestling with some basic philosophical questions regarding epistemology and the very nature of theological construction. I don't agree but it's worthy of consideration.

This all plays out in the realm of theology proper...prolegomena and apologetics.

Probably not very helpful, but I wanted to throw some stuff out there.

Feel free to fire back in disagreement and/or ask questions. Forcing me (and anyone else who wishes to jump in) to elaborate is a healthy exercise.

Actually I have a bunch of notes for some articles along these lines...but as always (sigh and smile) no time.

Cal said...

Jumping into the convo!:

Neo-Orthodoxy is hard to use when talking about Barth. At some moments he seems to go along with it, other times he seems to run as far away as possible. I think Brunner would've been more a poster-boy for it, and while him and Barth traveled well together, they violently parted over some key things.

I don't know why you think Barth can say "Christ is Risen" and still mean he is still in the ground. That makes no sense when you put it in context of Barth in argument with Bultmann. He excoriated Bultmann up and down for the double speak.

Also, many evangelicals misunderstand some of Barth's major points. Such as his doctrine of Scripture. He is saying that the Scriptures are not the word of God objectively, but only when the Spirit speaks through the page. Stop there and it sounds wishy-washy Schliermacher 'god-consciousness', but Barth's point is then to say that God is always faithful. When your eyes fall upon the page, the Lord stands before you speaking. For you especially Proto, consider Chelcicky's opinion on the Supper. It's always the Body and Blood of Christ as a mystery. Yet Chelcicky blasted both the Romans who thought they could place Christ in the meal through a latin "spell" and the Taborites who brought down Christ through a personal faith. King Jesus chooses to be in the meal, and yet it is every time because the Lord is faithful to his promises.

I have my disagreements with Barth and I do not consider myself a Barthian, but he is not so far away from Scripture as you sometimes paint. He speaks very oddly, and he, in effect, introduces a new sort of scholasticism in light of Kant and Hegel (as the old scholastics did so in light of Aristotle and Plato). Yet I can learn much from him. Ultimately though I'd rather read Augustine :).

Fellow Pilgrims all,

Protoprotestant said...

I will have to admit that I haven't spent much time reading Barth. No time for it, and it's quite an exercise.

Basically I'm relying on the testimony of others. They spent quite a bit of time talking about Neo-Orthodoxy while I was at seminary.

Now I will freely grant that they may have misrepresented him. There's an apocryphal story regard Barth meeting Van Til. Barth apparently got quite upset and accused Van Til of misrepresenting him.

Basically it was explained to me, and in my other readings I've never really found anything to counter it that Barth's treatment Heilgeschichte (Salvation History) vis-a-vis geschichte (Regular history in the context of time) allowed him to speak in those terms...the double speak Barth is usually known for.

Bultmann I've always understood sought to deconstruct or demythologize the text. And essentially you're just left with a Bible equal to the Grimm Brothers or something... dressed up morality lessons.

Barth obviously believe the Bible was much more than...divine to be sure. Although his understanding of that seems a little slippery. The way the individual 'gets' the Bible strikes me as Kantian or subjective which would be rather unacceptable.

And yet despite all of this he and others are wrestling with some fundamental epistemological questions that touch on the nature of theology.

What I haven't been able to figure out is the outworkings of his rejection of Natural Law. I can see why he would reject the notion of innate knowledge...that leads to a type of rationalism which could compete with or overthrow the need for Revelation.

And yet is it a complete rejection of the idea, or is he simply saying that even though the knowledge is there (which you cannot deny based on Romans 1 for example)it does man no good. He can't formulate anything concrete or tangible in light of it. Why? Well I would say because of the noetic effects of sin. I don't know what Barth would say.

I'm reminded of the Clark-Van Til debates on the Incomprehensibility of God. Clark was something of a Christian rationalist. Once you have the starting part, the Universal as it were, you can via logic work out your systematic theology.

Van Til didn't quite agree with this and limited man's ability. Knowledge depended on comprehensibility and since we can never know anything in a comprehensive manner, our knowledge is at best analogous.

This touches on the whole nature of theology and on this point I defintely would agree with Van Til. At one time I was intrigued by Clark but then grasped what he was all about and since then I've only grown more zealous in my rejection of his ideas.

Yet Van Til's and his followers I would argue in the end head down the same road.

Fascinating stuff but at times it does seem like a waste of time. It is and it isn't. It's just dealing with more fundamental issues that most folks take for granted. If they can do that, that's fine.

Protoprotestant said...

I know what you're saying with regard to Chelcicky. I of course agree with him and would apply that same kind of tension to a great many doctrines.

There are always these tensions. The kids and I were looking at Matthew 26.24 last night. The two sides are at work there. If you hold to only one part, you get into trouble.

Now if you're right about Barth then he indeed has been greatly misunderstood. Because with him (as far as I've understood it) those tensions would extend to actual historical events.

I of course believe in typology as a primary motif for Redemptive History. And yet the historical events have to be accurate because too many theological points made in the New Testament rest on their actual historicity. Paul and Jesus both assume historicity. Obviously Bultmann would have no problem explaining that away....

I've always understood Barth to embrace a dialectic (which to me is a fundamental to understanding Biblical theology)...but that his dialectic extended to question actual historicity.

But you're saying that's wrong.

Someone once said that no one can understand Barth. Barth couldn't even understand Barth.

Well somebody better because he's quite popular right now. There are a lot of young Evangelicals (whatever that word means) who are embracing him and let me tell you there are some people who are very concerned about that. To the Reformed Barth is just liberalism dressed up in different clothes.

But I hardly trust them on everything either!

I think you're right to cite Kant and Hegel. There are similarities. Liberalism like Hume had reached a point where there really wasn't anything left. Epistemology was almost reduced to ashes and metaphysics was just plain gone.

To many Kant rescued philosophy and yet his solution doesn't really allow for objective truth. In that sense he birthed much of our modern world.

And yet it did allow for men to speak of truth and knowledge. Viola!....Barth is doing very much the same thing.

What I'm wrestling with a bit at the moment is how Existentialism both fits in and differs with all. It's probably a waste of time because there's no unified teaching flowing from that school. I guess I'm more interested in Kirkegaard on this point.

I can see resonation with Kierkegaard, Barth and Kant.

And yet Kierkegaard was quite critical of Hegel. Was this because of Hegel's removal of the individual as the standard...his taking of Truth and placing it in the context of history, society and culture?

And on that note there seem to be many that suggest that's partly what Bonheoffer was doing. That whole process theology thing that sort of reduces God to man's 'ultimate concern' which allowed those theologians in the 1960's to proclaim God as dead.

And yet with Bonheoffer there's too much warmth. You read the Cost of Discipleship and you think no way...this guy doesn't believe in a God that's basically a complex of philosophical ideas. He believes in a person. You're not going to find that kind of warmth and piety when you read Tillich.

Dead ends...all of it. You're right it's better to read something like Augustine or better yet Paul.

Cal said...

As much as I know, Barth's primary concern was placing Christ as the Word of God, at the very center of all things. This is absolutely the very heart of our faith, but it led him in some strange ways. I think the dialectic over history is one of them. I believe Barth would say that history is meaningless and an impossible mess unless driven by the reality of the death and resurrection of Christ. I think this is very true, but it led him down some whacky assertions. One of those was that the historicity of Adam was meaningless and that the idea of a second coming is unnecessary. I think he is wrong on both counts (it's almost a rehash of an eternal world from the Middle Ages), but his reason for doing so is sound. He doesn't want history constructed by either Adam or a last judgement, absent the very life of Christ. He felt this threatened. He even raises up the old Irenaean argument about the pre-existent humanity of Christ in his attempt at giving preeminence (an eternal condescension). This is what I gather anyhow, a Barthian scholar might know more. I've not read his dogmatics.

A lot of misunderstanding with Barth is based on selective readings. This is the liberal adoption of Barth and also the critique of him. Think of Luther, how so many people can cite his name. How many would he not write invectives against? Many if not all!

TF Torrance, one of Barth's students, considered his own approach as "Athanasian" in contrast with the lack of tension he found in "Augustinians" who dominated the West. I think he misread Augustine, and turned a blind-eye to some of Athanasius' missteps, but I think this impulse comes from Barth. He's sort of a Calvin mixed with Athanasius speaking in the categories left over from Hegel and Kant. He widens the tradition and helps appreciate Christ, the True Word of God, which (I agree with Barth here) Scriptures receive their authority because the Savior speaks them.

Cal said...

Also I'm not saying Barth is Kantian or Hegelian, but used the same tools. This is why he was hated by liberals. He used the same categories to undermine all their work. It's a neo-scholastic framework, but undermined. Christ erupts out of the system. This may be a bad comparison, but it's sort of like Calvin. Calvin certainly was well read as a Humanist to use Aristotelian categories for discussion, but Christ received the preeminence. So ultimately, it was Christ driving his thought and the system was language, sometimes bursting in flames, trying to contain the content of the Lord. Some of his contemporaries and successors, saw the language and inadvertently swapped it around. They ended up subordinating Christ to a philosophical construct. With Calvin's, it was Aristotle, with Barth's, it was to Hegel and Kant. Do you see what I'm getting at?

By no means am I defending everything Barth said, and again, I'm not in his camp, but he has a lot of gems. Like Calvin, there is much to praise, much to disagree with.

One more thing on history: Jacques Ellul, one who drew from Barth, would talk about the Bible presenting historical myth. When I read this in one of his books, I gasped. Then I went onto read, on the next page, his definition of myth: the deeper reality of events. That's to say: the Bible is not mere history, it is history with theological understanding. Imagine we found 7 other books detailing the history of Israel. None of those who contain "truth myth" because they would not be giving the full-orbed reality of what was occurring. God's Spirit speaks through the Scripture. So while the books could say: Senacherib's army perished from plague (possible, but 2-D truth) OR Senacherib's army perished because he blasphemed Marduk (false reality), none approach the full reality of history in the eyes of His Spirit moving.

Ellul specifically defines his use of myth because of the Bultmann's. Given this, it is helpful to remember that in Barth's context when he uses a strange category. He may redefine our initial shock over it.

Also, as an off-topic FYI, while Ellul did deny the historicity of Jonah (which I disagree), he didn't do so because he thought the Scriptures were just story tales, but that the text had a larger point to make: the City's (as in the concept of city) possibility for redemption, but its refusal of such repentance.

Again, I agree with you on the existence of types in the OT (all out of faith in the One to Come) and the necessity that these events be rooted in history. And yes, Peter, Paul, John et al. (ultimately the Spirit!) trumps Augustine. Knowing him, he'd tend to agree with us :).


Cal said...

I got lost in my negatives: my comment about Luther should be "How many would he write invectives against? Many if not all"

Slow morning