Sauf Le Nom: A Postmodern Intervention for Heretics and Addicts of Orthodoxy (Part 2 of 3)

In my last post, I gave an introduction to a Rortian critique of theology. What follows is a continuation thereof.

(De)Revisionist Church History

            So often when scholars (or just Christians) talk about the nature of pre-Nicene Christianity, they typically only cite the canonical letters and epistles for a picture of what it was like, but I think that undermines the very rough start Christianity got off with and the extremely heterogeneous nature of Christianity in its first 300 years and thereafter. Granted that texts and thinkers that were posthumously anathematized are far scarcer than the canonized texts and thinkers—they still exist, even if to the chagrin of the orthodox.

Imagine being capsized and devoured by a sea of Christians

What justice do we do to those who were also persecuted for carrying the name of Christ when we omit their voices from characterizing early Christianity and thereby reading a selective, orthodoxy-privileged history to ourselves? Are we really that masturbatory? What if, instead, we allowed the history of the Church to be told through the lens of the oppressed and marginalized, namely, those heretics who have been hunted in a cacophony of ways, forced into naufrages literal or figurative? I do not mean to invalidate the testimonies of martyrs for the orthodox faith; I simply mean to mourn the murders and abuse of the heretics that the orthodox had so polemically promulgated. Hereafter, we ought not to understand the heretics through the lens of ecumenical councils and the early orthodox writers whose “prurient accounts are to be taken with more than a pinch of salt.”[1] Instead, we ought to consider what Church history would look like if it was dominated or simply written by those Christians who were deemed heretics.

Let us not be fooled into thinking that Church history is characterized by righteousness and monolithic unity. In the name of God or “God”, the Church has been glaringly divisive, invidiously insidious, exclusivist, and hegemonic—silencing any perceived threat.[2] Henceforth it is the responsibility of each generation to carefully evaluate how and if the tradition and biblical texts apply to their given contexts. For the sake of terseness, I will not unpack a (de)revisionist history of pre-Nicene Christianity.[3] But this one idea remains to be said: if we view orthodoxy as a narrative conversation, such a history is a greatly favorable approach. In the words of Peter Enns:

Perhaps we should think of biblical interpretation more as a path to walk than a fortress to be defended.…I would rather think of biblical interpretation as a path we walk, a pilgrimage we take, whereby the longer we walk and take in the surrounding scenes, the more people we stop and converse with along the way, and the richer our interpretation will be. Such a journey is not always smooth. At times what is involved is a certain degree of risk and creativity: we may need to leave the main path from time to time to explore less traveled but promising tracks.[4]

Deconstructive, Or Edifying Theology

            These “less traveled but promising tracks” Enns refers to are what I call “the paths of the edifying theologians.” The edifying theologians are those who ask “how ‘good’ must our theology really be?” Of all possible areas of study, is not theology the least appropriate to employ a correspondence theory of truth? If theology has any salvific aspect, we ought to be primarily concerned with how God’s kin-dom comes and her will is done on earth as it is in heaven.[5] As Hans Blumenberg remarked, “At some point we stopped hoping for immortality and started hoping for our great-great-grandchildren.”[6]

Indeed, we are often less occupied with whether or not there is life after death and more concerned with whether there is life before death. For instance, individuals, including me, worry not if we are going eventually to some afterlife; we are wondering, praying, crying, pleading, screaming out for a time when Christians will finally cease their libelous polemics against the LGBTQIA+ community, namely by abandoning their self-privileged position as arbiters of God’s damning will and realizing the terribly un-neighborly and inflammatory malice that homophobic beliefs promulgate. There is no conversation and, even if there is the specter of conversation, there is never a listening Christian ear.

We must, in a way, ratiocinate an edifying theology “to help…society as a whole break free from outworn vocabularies and attitudes, rather than to provide ‘grounding’ for the intuitions and customs of the present.”[7] By this token, such an edifying theology would be therapeutic[8], find itself as “an intrinsically reactive movement of thought, one which has point only in opposition to the tradition,”[9] and “[aim] at continuing conversation rather than at discovering truth.”[10] It is, in effect, a theology for the edification of those people engaging in the conversation. Edifying theology, in turn, never ends theology in its entirety, but instead “[helps] prevent it from attaining the secure path of a science,”[11] or in this case, orthodoxy.

[The final installment can be read here]


[1] Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, (New York: Viking Penguin, 2010), 124.

[2] Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, 4.

[3] In order to get a good idea of what this might look like, consider reading Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, (New York: Viking Penguin, 2010).; and James G. Crossley, Why Christianity Happened: A Sociohistorical Account of Christian Origins (26-50CE), (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006).

[4] Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 162-63.

[5] Cf. Matthew 6:10

[6] As quoted by Richard Rorty. Interview by Wim Kayzer. Of Beauty and Consolation. Vrijzinnig Protestantse Radio Omroep. VPRO, The Netherlands, 2000. Television. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzynRPP9XkY&gt;.

[7] Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, 12.

[8] Ibid., xxxi-xxxii.

[9] Ibid., 366.

[10] Ibid., 373.

[11] Ibid., 372.

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Posted on February 1, 2014, in Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I read MacCulloch’s book when it first was released and lately have come back to it, wishing to explore both the book and Christianity in a historical context on a deeper level. I would be curious in your views on both “The First 3000 years” and Christian history. Would you be willing to discuss this sometime?

  1. Pingback: Sauf Le Nom: A Postmodern Intervention for Heretics and Addicts of Orthodoxy (Part 1 of 4) | The Space Beyond Being

  2. Pingback: Sauf Le Nom: A Postmodern Intervention for Heretics and Addicts of Orthodoxy (Part 3 of 3) | The Space Beyond Being

  3. Pingback: Sauf Le Nom: A Postmodern Intervention for Heretics and Addicts of Orthodoxy (Part 1 of 3) | The Space Beyond Being

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