I’m not referring to Travolta’s Scientology or Gibsonian sedevacantism, but to the kind of theological thinking that adopts Hollywood’s standards of unambiguous right and wrong, with “right” gloriously triumphant and “wrong” stamped out in disgrace. Way, way too much of contemporary theological arguments operate at the level of sophistication one expects from a grade-B action drama, where the flawed protagonist is forgiven every lapse because he is the Good Guy, and this protagonist kills the despicable antagonist because he or she is the irredeemable Bad Guy. [Later: And all problems are resolved within a manageable duration of time: “OK, it’s been two hours; let’s wrap this up!”]
Contemporary polemics to the contrary notwithstanding, that approach oversimplifies doctrinal discernment to the point of falsification. Arius was not an evil conspirator, gleefully leading duped souls to perdition; he and his supporters were wrong, but not maleficent, as careful studies by a number of scholars (including ++Rowan Williams) shows. Whoever is right and whoever is wrong about the various topics that inflame our tempers, the problems won’t be settled by repeating “But we’re right, and we know it!” or by mockery or by counting votes. Anyone involved in the discussions might be wrong: I, you, your hero, my hero, anyone. When we presume to suppose that we can’t possibly have misread the signs of the times, or when we refuse to stipulate criteria by which our position could be discerned erroneous, or when we exacerbate division by amplifying the volume and intensity of theological debate at the expense of the truth, we’re propagandizing for ourselves, not glorifying God.
If we’re part of a school for sinners, there’s an unaccountable quantity of stones flying around here.
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Thank you for this post, AKMA.
At least we don’t literally burn our enemies at the stake … yet.
One thing which bothers me which dates right back to the time of Arius and the Helenization of Christianity is the unbiblical idea that salvation involves having correct theology. I think English makes it worse as we use the word “faith” in at least two senses. Faith, as St. Paul uses it is more akin to trust. But we, in English, refer to “the faith” as a collection of doctrines and practice so that, when we hear St. Paul talk about justification by faith, some of hear doctrine and not trust.
People are essentially accusing Arius of interfering with people’s salvation by teaching doctrine they disapprove of rather than recognizing that the kind of passion aroused by these public discussions in the marketplace stimulated Christianity more than any boring, old Orthodoxy.
I seem to have been stepping oover into that lately (and often over the past couple of years). Quite the sobering word to bring us back from our arrogant stupor.