Against Christianity

I just finished reading Against Christianity by Peter Leithart. In this book, Dr. Leithart contrasts compares and contrasts "Christianity" and "Christendom." Christianity is defined as "a set of doctrines or a system of ideas." Unfortunately, as the good doctor points out, "The Bible gives no hint that a Christian 'belief system' might be isolated from the life of the Church, subjected to a scientific or logical analysis, and have its truth compared with competing 'belief systems.'" Jesus didn't come to propose a new philosophy, but rather to establish a new society, the Church. And the Church is not only a new society, but a new humanity, the beginning of the eschatological state of the human race. As Leithart writes, "...the Church presented herself not as another 'sect' or cult that existed under the umbrella of the polis; she was an alternative governing body for the city and the beginning of a new city."

As there is far too much in this book that I love, I'm going to simply list a few of the things that I really liked about it.

1) I very much appreciated Dr. Leithart's interaction with John Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas. It has been several years since I read Yoder's The Politics of Jesus, but Leithart seems to put his finger on exactly what made Yoder so right, and exactly what made him so wrong.

2) I loved the little sketch he wrote of the Apostles Paul, Peter, and John meeting with Georgus Barnus to discuss how they were going to market their new religion.

3) I loved this passage: "Theology is a specialized, professional language, often employing obscure (Latin and Greek) terms that are never used by anyone but theologians, as if theologians live in and talk about a different world from the one mortals inhabit.
Theology functions sociologically like other professional languages--to keep people out and to help the members of the guild identify one another.

Whereas the Bible talks about trees and stars, about donkeys and barren women, about kings and queens and carpenters."

4) Related to the previous is this: "Let us not talk of theology. Let us talk about the Church's language and myth. The Church is a distinct 'language group'...the Church speaks and must speak one language. We have one confession, and with the confession comes a distinct way of naming the world and unique categories for interpreting creation and history.
As a language group, the Church is called to maintain and develop her own, Scriptural naming of the world. When the church enters a new mission field, she always comes into an existing culture in which the world is preclassified. The Church enters that situation with a new classification and new names. That is mission: Christian language penetrates an existing language, and the Church begins to attach new labels to everything she finds.

Contextualization be damned. The Church's mission is not to accommodate her language to the existing language, to disguise herself so as to slip in unnoticed and blend in with the existing culture. Her mission is to confront the language of the existing culture with a language of her own."

5) Dr. Leithart's view of the Church is breathtaking and beautiful. Outside of the context of the book, this may not make sense, but it's wonderful anyway: "The Church is neither a reservoir of grace nor an external support for the Christian life. The Church is salvation."

I could go on and on like this but it will suffice to say that this book is outstanding and, one might say, brilliant. I'm looking forward to letting it settle on my mind for several months, and then going back to read it again in order to see what more I can glean from it.

Comments

What is Leithart's critique of Yoder? I read the book quite a long time ago, before reading The Politics of Jesus, and can't for the life of me remember.

thanks
Joel said…
Glad you liked it. He is my favorite living theologian.
Rick said…
Matt,

Leithart challenges Yoder on several points, while recognizing that he had many good things to say. Leithart's main critique is that Yoder criticizes Constantinism on the basis that it created a dualistic world where the only people required to truly follow Jesus' teachings were those with "holy" vocations. On the other hand, the early pre-Constantine church was a group in which every member was devoted to Christ's teachings. However, Yoder acknowledges the possibility of a Christian ruler bringing the teachings of Christ to bear on his rule, and this fundamentally weakens his argument against Christendom. As Leithart writes, "Yet this means that the evils of 'Constantinianism' were historical accidents, not inevitable results of the conversion of the Roman empire." So Yoder's critique of Christendom really becomes a critique of Christendom done poorly, and doesn't remove the possibility of Christendom done well. Yoder later speaks of lordship in this world as always "worldly lordship," effectivly isolating the political realm from any possibility of conversion, and setting up the same dualism that he accuses Constantinism of inculcating.
Erica said…
Sounds very interesting; I do like that passage you quoted. I must find this book now :-)