Monday, June 9, 2008

book review, part 4--christianity worth believing

It's an occasional criticism levelled by these emergent-types, that those "others" (whom they disparage, as opposed to the "other" whom they seem to think can do no sin) who call themselves Christians are not nuances enough. They don't take all of the ins and outs, or try to balance everything like angels on the points of a needle.

I suppose it goes without saying that the reality is very much the opposite of the emergent fairy tale.

Let's take, for example, Pagitt's take on the Fall.

...If we lived out a theology of depravity, we would have a very different society. One could argue that the logic of every person being born depraved and living as a sinner until being released from sin at the point of death makes infertility a sign of God's kindness--one less child will have to live with the scourge of sin.
p. 125

To say that Pagitt logic is sick and sickening is to pay it a kindness.

This statement is in a chapter called "Wonderfully Made". I would assume that he takes that statement from the Psalm that says, "I will rejoice, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvellous are Your words, and that I know right well".

I suppose, then, that means that he doesn't care much for other statements in the Psalms, such as "I was born in iniquity, and in sin my Mother conceived me".

Or this, in Romans 3

9. What then? Are we better than they? By no means, for we have proven that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin.
10. As it is written, There is none righteous, no not one.
11. There is none who understands, there is none that seeks after God.
12. They are all gone out of the way. They are all unprofitable. There is none who does good, no, not one.
23. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.

One part of that is taken from a Psalm, number 14. It has these cheery words about the condition of man.

1. The fool has said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable things, there is none that does good.
2. The Lord looks down from heaven upon the sons of men, to see if there were any that understand, and that seek God.
3. They are all gone aside, they have all become filthy. There is none that does good, not one.

One may guess that Pagitt doesn't like that Psalm, either.

Or what about this, from Isaiah?

64: 6
But we are all as an unclean thing, and our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

And these, from John 1

10. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
11. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

and John 3

19. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather then light, because their deeds are evil.

And one I remember, though the reference escapes me at the moment.

For by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin. So death passed among all men, because all have sinned.

(I wonder if he would consider that as an example of using Scripture as a weapon, something he whines about in another part of the book. I hope he would, I would hate if he got the wrong impression.)

Taking the overwhelmingly negative (and realistic) view that Scripture gives of the human condition, what do we then get from Pagitt?

The Biblical story is one that inspires us to live out God's love for us as we interact with one another. It's the one that reminds us that people are good and kind and creative.
p. 121 One may well ask, in the phrase "there is none that does good", what part of "none" does Pagitt not understand.

you don't have to believe in God to believe that it's wrong to be cruel to another human being.
p. 119-120

Is Pagitt that ill-informed about human history? How many millions (billions? trillions?) of cruelities have people done to other human beings throughout history? How many slaveries, how many tortures, how many rapes and molestations, how many robberies and murders, how many scams and cons, how many humiliations? How many death camps and holocausts? How much true hateful rhetoric? How many deaths for enjoyment? How many lies and beatings and name-callings even by little children? How many mutilations? How many martyrs?

For Pagitt to say what he's saying here shows a blindness that is staggering to the dark and evil depths to which people can fall. And it isn't just the Hitlers and Stalins of the world who are so evil. It was only a few weeks ago that we heard about a man who kept his daughter locked in a basement for something like twenty years, raping her and having children by her, and keeping those children locked away.

We have stories of mothers drowning babies, of school kids taking guns and shooting classmates. We have fathes and husbands abandoning their families.

I can remember things from my own childhood, of being on the receiving end of schoolmate's cruelties. I can remember some of my own cruelties, as well. I know the truth of the fallenness of even the youngest of children.

Pagitt's blind if he thinks his nice words do anything to change the reality of the human condition. We don't need nice words, we need salvation. We need someone to tell us how filthy we really are, and to point us to the One who died for us to so we can be "cleansed of all unrighteousness".

What about his claim that the idea of depravity makes human life less valuable? It's nonsense. The same Psalms that speak of the filth and corruption of mankind also tell us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. The truth is that Pagitt, the great theologian of holism, thinks that since the one, positive statement is true, the the other, negative ones must be, well, less true, I would suppose, or at least must be ignored lest they rain on his positive and holistic parade.

If you've read me enough, you probably know that I may have some Chesterton to throw into this post. Here we go, from "Orthodoxy".

In one way Man was to be haughtier than he had ever been before; in another way he was to be humbler than he had ever been before. In so far as I am Man I am the chief of creatures. In so far as I am a man I am the chief of sinners... Christianity thus held a thought of the dignity of man that could only be expressed in crowns rayed like the sun and fans of peacock plumage. Yet at the same time it could hold a thought about the abject smallness of man that could only be expressed in fasting and fantastic submission, in the gray ashes of St. Dominic and the white snows of St. Bernard. When one came to think of ONE'S SELF, there was vista and void enough for any amount of bleak abnegation and bitter truth. There the realistic gentleman could let himself go--as long as he let himself go at himself. There was an open playground for the happy pessimist. Let him say anything against himself short of blaspheming the original aim of his being; let him call himself a fool and even a damned fool (though that is Calvinistic); but he must not say that fools are not worth saving. He must not say that a man, QUA man, can be valueless. Here, again in short, Christianity got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites, by keeping them both, and keeping them both furious. The Church was positive on both points. One can hardly think too little of one's self. One can hardly think too much of one's soul.

The phrases above I think puts it quite well, "In so far as I am Man I am the chief of creatures. In so far as I am a man I am the chief of sinners." This shows man's dual state (which is real despite Pagitt's holism), that we are both God's creation and fallen from God. To have one without the other is to become a monster, and perhaps even to lose the other. Emergents want us to lose the fact that we are the "chief of sinners", and so they are becoming pagans who would have us fall into earth worship and so lose our status as "chief of creatures". If you think I'm making that up, go over to here. There are four entries in this series, I'll link to the first one. Read it, and learn what's going on.

That is why it is so important to say "all our righteousness is a filthy rags" and "there is none that does good", and also to say "for God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son". That is why the message must be about human sinfulness and God's salvation available to sinful humans. To have sinfulness without salvation is despair, and to have salvation without sinfulness is blindness and pride.

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