Friday, February 24, 2017

Fun With Modern Day Heretic Detectors

This is fun.

Back in the early days (1837-1842) of the American Restoration Movement, now dubbed the Stone-Campbell Movement, there was a brotherhood journal named "The Heretic Detector." Their name tells you all you need to know about them. They flared out, and others took their place, but none with as nifty a moniker as "Heretic Detector." But their intellectual descendants yet survive.

Here’s the setup:  A Baptist seminary in Louisville, Ky recently held their annual lecture series.  I know nothing about the college or the lectures (other than they are named after a wealthy Louisville family to which I am distantly related, and who were not at all Baptist.)  One of their speakers was none other than Rod Dreher, an author and writer for The American Conservative.  But Dreher (whom I know) is a fairly public Orthodox Christian, and his talk concerned “The Benedict Option,” also the title of his forthcoming book.  This was apparently too much for some Baptists (though I suspect my subject is a fringe group).

A self-described Calvinist Reformed Baptist pastor, JD Hall, runs a site called Polemics Report.  In his most recent post, he took the Baptist seminary to task for inviting Dreher to speak, calling him out as a non-Christian.  I would consider Dreher to be a fairly innocuous choice, but I have half-forgotten how this mindset works.  We had such groups--plenty of them--back when I was in the Church of Christ.  A non-Church of Christ speaker would never be invited to speak at one of our Lectureships. Having been away for a dozen years, I don’t know if that is still the case--but it may not matter, for the lectureships themselves seem to be fading away from lack of interest.  I do remember my son being called down after a Wednesday night devotional for citing C. S. Lewis.  The preacher asked him, “You do know that C. S. Lewis was not a member of the Lord’s Church?”  Duh.  We were also told that his books should be burned.  That same spirit apparently animates Pastor Hall.

I don’t imagine that he has much sway in Baptist circles at large (and I don’t keep up that much).  In fact, my impression is that some Baptist leaders (Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, etc.) have a clear understanding of what is happening in the larger culture.  The Great Sluffing-Away has reached their ranks, with Baptist numbers actually declining in recent years.  Oh, there’s no danger of them going away anytime soon.   But still, some leaders realize that their coziness with our materialistic, consumer culture has transformed them, rather than the world; that a faith that survives is one that has a bit of substance to it, that their allegiance to the GOP has been a disappointing dead-end, and perhaps that they need to be something more than the Republican Party at Prayer, something maybe, well, a bit more Christian.  

Pastor Hall’s circle-the-wagons polemic seems almost like old times for me. (In my former church’s language, this was called “keeping to the old paths.”  Unfortunately, those paths only led back to the 1920s or so.)  Four times in the article, Hall drives home the point that Dreher is non-Christian.  His wording indicates that he is only superficially aware of the beliefs of Christian Orthodoxy.  He refers to it only as “Greek Orthodoxy” and he takes Dreher to task for finding inspiration in Dante, rather than Scripture.  And sometimes, he’s unintentionally funny--calling Dreher a “crunch-con,“ when he no doubt meant “Crunchy-Con,” his first book.  But here are his basic accusations against us (cleaned up a little for clarity):

  1. We deny Sola Fide
  2. We believe in the perpetual virginity and veneration of the Mother of God
  3. We venerate icons (he puts “icons” in italics--ha!)
  4. We pray for the dead
  5. Chrism for the reception of the Holy Spirit
  6. Baptismal regeneration and the baptism of infants
  7. We deny justification by faith alone, which puts us “outside the bounds of Biblical Christianity.”
  8. We deny penal substitionary atonement, which puts us “squarely outside Christianity”

Hoo-boy. What do you say to that? "Guilty as charged," I suppose.

Actually, I don’t really resent this at all.  I even feel a little sorry for Hall.  Calvinism does that to me; it makes me sad. But I much prefer this sort of in-your-face opposition rather than the usual broad-church-foyer smile in person followed by vicious ripping-into you when your back is turned.

A kinsman of sorts once remarked that he'd rather I'd become an Agnostic than Orthodox. No doubt Pastor Hall would agree. Sorry to disappoint.


elizabeth said...

oh dear, such craziness.... sad that this still happens... btw, my husband read this and commented that Robert George (of Princeton) is Catholic, but his brother is not, so perhaps you meant him???

Always glad to see you writing here, I look forward to reading your posts with pleasure and anticipation!

John said...

Yes, it does seem like a throw-back to earlier times, doesn't it? Maybe that is why it didn't bother me--reminding me of a simpler time when the divisions were clearly drawn. Until I remember exactly whom I meant, I have removed the reference to RG. Thanks!

elizabeth said...

Yes, fair enough... it can be almost more tricky when the lines are not clearly drawn but internally people still have them and they come out at unexpected times... No problem about RG! Welcome! :)

David Dickens said...

I still read your blog. I think it might be the only one of the ortho-sphere I still visit from time to time. I suppose because of our connection via the Campbellite churches of Christ.

This was quite the stroll down amnesia lane. Though Orthodox, I'm still in CofC-ville socially (mostly because I continue to work at Pepperdine), but the folks around these parts are often not considered proper CofC by others.

When I became Orthodox, only one person raised objection. He invited me to lunch (which became a three hour inquiry into my leaving the church) and was quite respectful, though in the end disappointed in my decision.

I admit I've never gotten Calvinists no matter how hard I've tried. It seems like a solution to a problem that doesn't exist; a solution worse than any problem I can even imagine.

Bill M said...

I saw reference to this kerfuffle on Facebook, and appreciate reading your commentary on it. It's been a long time for me as well since I traveled in company with that mindset, and I had forgotten how hard and dark the boundary lines can get drawn.

For the purposes of living day to day peaceably with other family members, I'm glad for the normally genial softness of such lines. I recently attended a funeral (ahem, "memorial service") for a dear Auntie held at the Presbyterian church she attended, with "thoughts shared" by both the pastor there and a young Baptist preacher. Things could have gotten ugly, I suppose, but everyone played nice.

But, yeah, sometimes the "in-your-face opposition" is preferable.

Steve Hayes said...

Back in the days when I was Anglican we had a Vacation Bible School (VBS) in the parish I was in. A guest preacher from the Scripture Union told the rector that they ran such things, so he invited them to come and run the next year's one. A mistake. In that town the Scripture Union had been taken over by Calvinistic Baptists, and the VBS, instead of evangelising the heathen morphed into proselytising the faithful.

The SU team arrived with well-thumbed copies of Present Truth (an ultra-Calvinist publications) and got the kids in the youth group to discuss complex questions about imputed vs imparted righteousness. They told them to eschew stickers with smily faces :-) saying "Smile, God loves you". God doesn't love you, he is very angry with you, because you are a sinner.

So yep, Bro Hall does sound familiar.