October 19, 2017

The Big Picture of Andrew Perriman’s Narrative-Historical Scheme

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Emperor Constantine

UPDATE: Andrew has just put up a new post that complements our piece today, outlining his method and its results in biblical interpretation.

UPDATE 2: I have added a brief summary of AP’s position to the end of the post.

• • •

I continue to be intrigued by the approach to biblical interpretation that Andrew Perriman takes. He blogs at P.OST: An Evangelical Theology for the Age to Come. He has also written The Future of the People of God: Reading Romans Before and After Western Christendom, The Coming of the Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church, and Hell and Heaven in Narrative Perspective, among other books. Andrew has been a good friend through correspondence, answering my questions, and supporting Internet Monk by allowing us to re-post some of his pieces and by participating in some of our conversations.

This week, I have been reading through a large number of articles on P.OST, trying again to clarify his narrative-historical hermeneutic and the resulting “big picture” of interpretation it yields. I call Perriman’s method “the New Perspective on steroids.” He is relentless in applying his narrative-historical approach, surpassing such stalwarts of the NP as N.T. Wright, whom Perriman appreciates but doesn’t think goes far enough in staying within historical boundaries, especially when interpreting the eschatology of the apostles.

Today, I’d like to simply post a summary of Perriman’s “big picture” and have us discuss it. Andrew thinks that the Western church took some wrong turns when her teachers moved away from the specific historically-focused narrative of Scripture and developed a more metaphysical, abstract, meta-narrative approach. Theology trumped history, in his view, whereas a better view understands theology as growing out of history.

Our inherited theology has spent the best part of two thousand years wooing, living with, separating from, and trying to win back History-with-a-capital-H. It now needs to learn how to live with a much more down-to-earth, messy, painful, everyday, contingent, non-capitalized history, beginning with the New Testament story of the Son of Man, which is the story of how God judged, restored and promoted his people amongst the nations of the ancient world.

Theology, history, and which Jesus?

Here are the overall contours of Perriman’s narrative-historical interpretation. I’ve taken a few paragraphs from one of his foundational articles, “The narrative premise of a post-Christendom theology”, as a summary statement.

andrew-perrimanThe New Testament presupposes, describes, and predicts a long, tumultuous transition in the history of the people of God, running from the initial summons to Israel to repent in the face of imminent judgment and national destruction (John the Baptist) to the eventual displacement of the institutions and worldview of classical paganism and the recognition of Christ as sovereign over the empire and beyond (Constantine). Jesus’ death and resurrection constitutes the key redemptive event in this historical process, by which the people of God are saved from complete destruction and granted a new lease of life – the life of the age that was to come. On the outskirts of the New Testament’s vision of the future (but of much greater eschatological relevance to the church today) is the hope of a final judgment and making new of all things.

The ‘good news’ at the heart of the story begins as an announcement to Israel that its God is about to act both to punish and to restore his people; but (precisely on this basis) it becomes the announcement to the empire that God is no longer willing to overlook its idolatry, immorality and injustices. Paul’s gospel is that God will sooner or later ‘judge’ (in the characteristic biblical sense) the Greek-Roman world by a man whom he has appointed, and that this historical transformation will finally vindicate the refugees from Judaism and the growing numbers of Gentiles who have attached themselves to this Spirit-driven renewal movement. This moment of vindication, when Christ will receive the nations as his inheritance, will mark the beginning of a new age, when he (and the martyrs) will reign at the right hand of the Father over and on behalf of God’s people.

The story of Jesus includes and anticipates the story of the early believers who had to follow him along a difficult and narrow path leading to life. The New Testament in the first place, as a set of historical documents, describes the life and vocation of an eschatological community, scattered across the whole oikoumenē, which in its supra-national and ecumenical nature, in its solidarity, in its holiness, in its confession of Christ, in its experience of the eschatological Spirit, in its faithfulness and willingness to endure the most severe opposition, represented the claim of Israel’s God to be sovereign over all the gods of the nations.

From our perspective, looking back, the new age that began with the instatement of Christianity as the religion of the empire (as a consequence of the faithful witness of the Christ-like martyr church) appears to have finally come to an end: Christendom as both a social and an intellectual phenomenon has collapsed. The challenge now is to deconstruct the Christendom paradigm, which is both ecclesial and theological and within which we are still to a large degree ensnared, and ask what new paradigm, what new way of existing in the world, might emerge for the post-Christendom, post-imperial, post-modern church as it seeks to be loyal to the original calling in Abraham to be an authentic new creation.

Here is my summary of Andrew Perriman’s basic interpretation of the NT message:

1. The “Gospel” is not a universal theological message of personal salvation, but must be understood as a message intimately connected to the historical circumstances in which it was given.

2. Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom was a message of judgment and salvation for Israel in the light of the pending crisis of 70AD.

3. The apostles’ gospel was a message to the nations that God had made Jesus King and would, through him, bring judgment and salvation to the Greek-Roman pagan world, which reached its climax in the establishment of Christendom.

4. There is an ultimate day of judgment and salvation coming which will inaugurate the new creation.

5. The church is now witnessing the collapse of Christendom, which is prompting the church to reevaluate how to be a faithful eschatological community of mission in a post-Christendom world.

I will be interested to get your responses and hear your discussion.

Comments

  1. As odd as it is to read the NT without an eye on history, to read the kingdom of God as literally Constantine and the Empire (and the Catholic Church in Europe, as an extension) seems to me even stranger. To my eyes, Constantine is not the good guy in our narrative. Maybe the monk orders, but not Rome.

    I’m thinking I’m tainted by American / reformation thoughts though. Even though I try not to think unkindly of the Catholic Church, I’m deeply suspicious of Monarchy in general and Religious Political forces in particular. Somewhere in my mind, Constantine and the Catholic Church “hijacked” authentic Christianity. But such a sentiment has to be a-historical, a kind of leftover baggage from all the debates over “early church” practice that reformed types do.

    And at any rate, it seems especially odd to simply declare that Christianity as a political / intellectual force has ended. Doesn’t it make more sense to say that the kingdom of Constantine was not the Kingdom we had waited for, and we are today still the martyr church? That Christianity’s imperial moment was a distraction, not our prophetic end? But there I am back to American thoughts, thinking imperial is always “evil”. Good old Star Wars logic, right? Empires are evil, rebels are just.

    • @Kerokline…I appreciate your acknowledgment of an American influenced mindset…..somehow the idea that the Catholic Church is a monarchy got brought to the new world with the Pilgrims and their own particular worldview. At the risk of stating the obvious, however, it is impossible for me to see how the early Church “hijacked” Christianity, knowing that Christian and Catholic were synonymous for 1500 years. Certainly there were errors and problems in the “Pilgrim Church on Earth”, then as now, but the Faith did follow in the footsteps of Peter for QUITE a long time, before well intentioned reformers sometimes threw the baby out with the bathwater….

    • Here is Perriman:

      “I understand that as modern believers, many of us with Anabaptist sympathies, we have a hard time swallowing the argument that Constantine and Christendom constituted the fulfilment of such a core New Testament belief. But I think that simply reflects the difference between a modern abstract theological perspective and a historical perspective. The fact is that Christendom—that is, Christianity descended from the conversion of the empire—has been the dominant expression of the people of God throughout most of the history of the church. We have to take it just as seriously as we take the historical existence of Old Testament Israel. I think it is a mistake to escape into a theological idealism that ultimately finds it has nothing to say to humanity as a socio-political—and therefore historical—phenomenon.”

      http://www.postost.net/2011/06/more-questions-about-kingdom-god

      • Thank you for the link. It does make me feel more at ease to know that Perriman acknowledges that his conclusions will sound at odds with certain reformation sentiments.

        In the comments there was another response from him that answered my fears as well;
        “If we think of Jesus’ “kingdom” as an ideal state of affairs, then we will inevitably have difficulty associating it with Constantine.”
        And later,
        “Having said that, the cognitive gap between prophetic vision and historical reality is not accidental or merely cultural. It reflects a persistent unhappiness with the way things are in the world and a constant striving for redemption and newness. It is a generator of hope. Our life under Jesus as our king is imperfect, but my argument is that for us now the overarching hope is not for kingdom but for new creation. The kingdom came so that we might be new creation.”

      • @Chap Mike:
        By “dominant”, does he mean true, or widespread and well known…. popular. Does he see christendom as a true representation of the kingdom (or is that too black and white a question) ??

        The fact is that Christendom—that is, Christianity descended from the conversion of the empire—has been the dominant expression of the people of God throughout most of the history of the church

        • Briefly, I think AP would say that a narrative-historical perspective requires us to accept that the reality of Christ’s reign during the time of the church is as messy as it was in the time of biblical Israel. So, perhaps your question is too black and white in the sense that we (and I certainly include myself here) have been led to expect more obvious evidences of “transformation” as Christians in the church and the world.

          One reason I have been reading AP is because of something I wrote a few weeks back called, The Most Vexing Question. I think this relates to your question too.

          “The cry, “How long?” is starting to wear thin.”

      • I don’t know- I don’t think rejecting Constantine and imperial Christendom as a legitimate expression of the Kingdom of God is retreating into a theological abstraction. It has caused some to do that, yes. But anywhere the church is, there is God in Christ reigning. It does not require the empire to be Christian, nor does a rejection of Christian empire mean God’s reign must be non-historical.

        The answer to his final question is, it seems, bound up in this. If we did not assume Christianity’ expression in Constantine’s empire as legitimate in the first place, than we probably wouldn’t have to ask the question. The answer is clear, to any who belong to the people of God, whether they exert legitimate political influence or not: God reigns on earth as in heaven, and we, in our obedience, are the expression of that reign…wherever, whenever, and under whatever conditions. We shall inherit the earth as his co-heirs. But the assumption of political power by the church is not what is meant by that. That just betrays a confusion between the Church and Christ himself, and reckons authority incorrectly.

        Unless we can find a Christian political structure that actually, in its authority and practice and expansion of its faith, REALLY looks and smells like Jesus. It’s possible, I suppose. I’m not holding my breath though.

        • I don’t know- I don’t think rejecting Constantine and imperial Christendom as a legitimate expression of the Kingdom of God is retreating into a theological abstraction. It has caused some to do that, yes. But anywhere the church is, there is God in Christ reigning. It does not require the empire to be Christian, nor does a rejection of Christian empire mean God’s reign must be non-historical.

          Absolutely agree with this. I also don’t see a problem with seeing the kingdom as, in many ways, “ideal”: this does not equate to imaginary, or purely ethereal. I see a difference between an expression of the people of GOD, and an expression of the kindgom. Just because some, or many, christians do something, does not mean they are accurately representing their King, or the gospel.

          Maybe I need to read more of Perriman to grasp his point of view, but it looks like a bridge gone too far for me.

        • Nate, it seems to me that the “anywhere the church is, there is God in Christ reigning” argument is itself a consequence of the eventual breakdown of Christendom—or of the rise of modernity. It’s essentially an a-historical argument; it denies the relevance of historical developments; and it is anachronistic to read it back into the ancient period. It could not have been said for Old Testament Israel. In the Old Testament context the kingdom of God is not where Israel is. It is where and when God acts to judge his people, save his people, defeat his enemies, rescue his reputation, and so on. My argument is that the New Testament presupposes just this historically shaped notion of the kingdom of God, in which case I think we have to take seriously the fact that the conversion of the empire meant the ending of persecution (a crucial part of the kingdom vision), the confession of Christ as Lord by the nations, the defeat of the gods of the nations, all to the glory of the God of Israel. These outcomes, it seems to me, are all intrinsic to New Testament apocalyptic expectation.

    • My understanding is that Constantine was suspicious of Rome. He moved the capital to Byzantium. Rome and Orthodoxy had a great deal in common at the time of Constantine–they were one church.

  2. “Certainly there were errors and problems in the “Pilgrim Church on Earth”, then as now, but the Faith did follow in the footsteps of Peter for QUITE a long time”

    Those in the Eastern Orthodox traditions may have a problem with that statement.

    • And what about the Nestorian Church in Persia (Parthia) ? which went from a state-santioned religion to persecuted and marginalised for centuries under Islamic rulers? And what about branches of Christianity in Africa that got cut off from Christendom by the Islamic tide? And what about the Celtic Church, which operated independent of Rome for a good long time? To see Constantine’s Imperial Church/Middle Age Roman Catholicism as “The Kingdom of God” is as much a product of a purely Western European take on history as dispensational eschatology is the birthchild of English and American Protestantism.
      From what I see in scripture, Christ’s kingdom consists of all those who believe in Him, have His Spirit dwelling inside them, and seek to do His will ? regardless of how many are gathered together, what institutional or governmental structures they employ, what time period they live in, or which part of the planet they happen to be standing on.
      And when it comes to the eschatology of the apostles, they seemed to envision Rome’s future destruction as an operation of God’s just wrath, expecting Christ to return and personally execute that destruction, after which He would set up His throne and show us how government is done. That Rome would eventually get Christianized and exist as a Christian empire for a couple of centuries before getting trodden underfoot by barbarian hordes and then continue as a kind of phantom idea in the convoluted interactions of church and state during the Middle Ages ? I dont’ think anyone but God saw that coming.

      • Your last paragraph sums up the content of a question I myself have asked Andrew and for which I am awaiting a reply.

        • Honestly, I’ve never encountered an eschatological/historical paradigm that proved to be watertight when you examine it closely.
          When you try to resolve interpretations of scripture with a particular take on history while trying to get inside the heads of people who lived thousands of years ago in an alien cultural context, the only way to make it at least appear to work is to simplify the universe by subtracting or avoiding all the problematic pieces that don’t seem to fit.
          When it comes to stuff like this, we’re like the descendants of rats who wandered into a vast maze a long, long time ago, who have undertaken the impossible task of drawing a comprehensive map of the entire maze as seen from above. We just don’t have the necessary information or perspective to pull it off.

  3. I’ve just recently(two weeks ago) placed Andrew’s blog on my favorites list. Why did I do this? I now have to go back and try to figure it out. It was probably because of a post on Internet Monk, but now I have to get into all this more deeply.
    After reading the first two comments here this morning, my first opinion is that it is way counterproductive to start criticizing Roman Catholicism or the Reformation. I’m with James K.A. Smith in his brilliant covering of Charles Taylor and the secular age. It is both a recognition of Christianity as a center focused unbounded set and a compelling approach to how did we get here from there.
    Andrew certainly uses many post-modern buzz words. He probably truly is post-modern and I know what that means is not grasped by the people I hang around with(Granted you would not call this northeastern Ohio place the center of the world- but we have a town called just that). So for the sake of clarity, let’s just put some defining of post-modern thought into internet monk today.
    Post modernism holds foremost that one’s philosophy of life is determined by the group or community which is most influential in your life. Other factors such as personal choice or religion, are secondary. Post modernists view history more as a study of people’s images and thoughts about their society and their past. What actually happened is no longer the concern, in fact, can never be actually known. Instead, it is what people thought happened. Therefore, the metanarratives of the past now need to be deconstructed, that is exposed for what they really are….”overarching explanations of reality based on central organizing truths”. And they are myths that gave authority to those who wrote them, and ideological power structures built upon oppression of others and upon domination of the earth. The post-modern suspicions are that Christianity is (1)intolerant- not respecting difference. (2) its communicators lack authenticity- too much leaning toward will. (3) does not affirm people- tries to disempower some while lifting others. I would only add that James K.A. Smiths approach in how(not) to be secular “deconstructs” these three suspicions. Oops, sorry, one more thought. “The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in Late Modern World” by James Davison Hunter is a great answering to Andrew Perriman’s question, “What new way of existing in the world?”

    • Sorry, but I don’t hear many of those so-called “post-modern” emphases in Andrew. He is trying to interpret the Bible and make sense of its words in light of the history that actually happened and not according to universalized theological “principles.”

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Thank you.

        “Context” is not “Relativism”.

        Interpretation of a text mindful of a Context is not “Post-Modernism”, it is good scholarship, and as old as scholarship itself.

        Between ‘Absolutism Of All Things’ and ‘All Things Are Nothing More Than Context’ lies ‘Sanity’.

      • I think the postmodern suspicion of over-confident “modern” historiography is entirely valid. I also think that it has helped us regain a sense of the importance of context, community, perspective and narrative in our reading of the New Testament. I emphasize the need to read the New Testament from within the circumscribed historical contexts of the communities for which it was written, insofar as that is possible, which is perhaps not very far. But I don’t think of my work as an exercise in postmodern criticism particularly.

  4. Christiane says:

    (I admit that I am lost to the vagaries of the complexity of this post)

    but in response to this: ““The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in Late Modern World” by James Davison Hunter is a great answering to Andrew Perriman’s question, “What new way of existing in the world?”

    all I had was the thought that Christ left His followers with ‘something’ by that enables them to dilute the misery of this world, and that seemed a core transcendent theme in the whole history of the Church, from the story of the Samaritan’s care of the wounded man all the way up to the recent cases of Christian missionaries in service to Ebola victims in Africa . . .

    the concept of Christians with the power to ‘diluting the misery’ . . . words from a source I do not remember,
    but I see the wisdom of it as a blessed assignment containing within it an inherent witness for the Presence of Christ active among us still. . .
    how do I know this?
    Startling examples.

    Take a look at these words from Ebola victim Dr. Brantley:

    “When Ebola spread into Liberia, my usual hospital work turned more and more toward treating the increasing number of Ebola patients. I held the hands of countless individuals as this terrible disease took their lives away from them. I witnessed the horror first-hand, and I can still remember every face and name.
    When I started feeling ill on that Wednesday morning, I immediately isolated myself until the test confirmed my diagnosis three days later. When the result was positive, I remember a deep sense of peace that was beyond all understanding.” (Dr. Kent Brantley)

    • Let me try to state the position as simply as possible:

      1. The “Gospel” is not a universal theological message of personal salvation, but must be understood as a message intimately connected to the historical circumstances in which it was given.

      2. Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom was a message of judgment and salvation for Israel in the light of the pending crisis of 70AD.

      3. The apostles’ gospel was a message to the nations that God had made Jesus King and would, through him, bring judgment and salvation to the Greek-Roman pagan world, which reached its climax in the establishment of Christendom.

      4. There is an ultimate day of judgment and salvation coming which will inaugurate the new creation.

      5. The church is now witnessing the collapse of Christendom, which is prompting the church to reevaluate how to be a faithful eschatological community of mission in a post-Christendom world.

      NOTE: I have added this summary to the end of the post.

      • Is it possible that the Gospel is a both/and scenario?

        IOW, could it be BOTH a “universal theological message of personal salvation,” AND “a message intimately connected to the historical circumstances in which it was given?” Do these two perspectives have to be mutually exclusive, or could they inform one another to the enrichment of both?

        Also a secondary issue for now. Since I am just learning about these “new historical perspectives.” While I appreciate the premise, I’m not sure I can buy it whole. I’m uncertain that history is actually the ONLY lens we should use. But…if it were, I’m not seeing how to preach it. This is likely simply the result of my lack of understanding, but I’d be curious if anyone is trying to use these ideas in shepherding ministry.

        • I’m still working through it too, David. And yes, there is a theological message that grows out of the history, but when we put the cart before the horse and lose the history, the message and how it applies to us comes out much different.

          I suggest you read Andrew’s post:

          The “gospel” was not about the reconciliation of a man with his creator

          • CM, I really am not certain about the way Perriman is (imo) imposing his own interpretation of theological matters onto history. It seems to me that he is fear from unbiased and is actually making the history of the time fit into his scheme, rather than truly approaching things the way a historian would.

            I’d rather read Jaroslav Pelikan, who was balanced in his approach (but he was a historian as well as a theologian).

            Finally, I’m not convinced that the Greco-Roman world was any more or less corrupt than any other society on earth, then or now. I think Perriman might well be as inflexible in some ways as fundy interpreters of the NT and history are in theirs.

            My 0.02, fwiw.

          • Numo, I’m not sure the G-R world was more corrupt either. I simply think AP is saying that it was the world that the apostles were addressing, the world which cooperated in killing Jesus and in which Jesus rose again. When Paul spoke of the “wrath” to come and when Revelation portrays the triumph of the martyr church, it was that G-R world that was the context. I don’t think he’s passing theological judgments, but simply trying to get the NT perspective from ground level, looking at the world they knew.

          • CM, gotcha, though I honestly think the NT perspective is much, much bigger than that. I mean, Paul speaks about Central Asian peoples (Scythians) and others in Ephesians; people of the day were aware that there was something beyond *North* Africa and to the East, even if they had vague, fantastical notions of what those places might be like. (Merchants who dealt w/goods from Central and East Asia – silk, spices and much more – likely had a far clearer picture than we might suspect.)

            Even the Hellenistic world had some understanding of Terra incognita…

          • Numo, Paul was obviously aware that there were peoples beyond the empire, but that just makes it all the more remarkable that he and the New Testament generally show no interest in a mission to the East or to the Africa. Paul set out to proclaim his gospel for Jerusalem to Spain, as a matter of judgment on the pagan oikoumen?. He may have encountered Scythians and Barbarians in Asia Minor, and perhaps their inclusion signified for him something of the wider relevance of the message, but the New Testament remains resolutely focused on the Greek-Roman world. Revelation climaxes in judgment on idolatrous pagan Rome as the supreme power hostile to the purposes of YHWH. The point is that the storyline of the New Testament as we have it is not about the global relevance of a universal gospel but about the more limited conflict between God’s people and the classical pagan world.

        • They’re not mutually exclusive, but considering them BOTH the Gospel probably is. The plan of salvation for individuals is fine, but it’s not the Gospel. The Gospel invites people into a salvation, but the message of how to be personally saved is not the Gospel, and does not really even need to accompany the Gospel.

      • Christiane says:

        THANKS, Chaplain Mike.
        Your comment helps.

  5. It is amazing how we humans always seen to manage to muck up a good thing.

    Before Constantine Christians were known in the Empire for “how they loved one another”. And by the fourth century they (Christians) were running the show and started to throw their weight around.

    Of course, the Medici Popes were the absolute worst offenders of this. And it took Luther and many other before him to attempt to get that train back onto the tracks. With limited success, of course.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Before Constantine Christians were known in the Empire for “how they loved one another”.

      Were they? Where is the citation for that outside of how they described themselves?

      There seemed to be no shortage of people who did not like them.

      • I believe that many non-Christians wrote about the Christians in such a way.

        My pastor, who happens to be a student of Roman history, has mentioned that to us. I’ll ask him where he got his info., the next time I see him.

        • been there, done that (formerly rhymeswithplague) says:

          I found the following on a site called sermonindex.net:

          “Behold! How they love one another.”

          One of the most profound comments made regarding the early church came from the lips of a man named Aristides, sent by the Emperor Hadrian to spy out those strange creatures known
          as “Christians.” Having seen them in action, Aristides returned with a mixed report. But his immortal words to the emperor have echoed down through history: “Behold! How they love one another.”

          – Chuck Swindol

      • I have read some recorded instances in which Roman officials commented that Christians seemed to have an irrational tendency toward caring for the poor and indigent. Of course, from the point of view of a pagan Roman arristocrat, such behavior would seem more odd than virtuous. And I’m not aware of any recorded acts of mass violence by Christians against pagans or Jews or competing Christian groups until after Constantine. Actually, it was during and after the reign of Julian (The Apostate) that the Christianizing of the empire took a violent turn. By then, the transformation of the church’s self perception was almost complete: from a congregation of holy martyrs following Christ’s example unto death to the ascendent defenders of God’s Kingdom on Earth. That was a culture war with a real body count.

  6. There is a podcast I am listening to on Ancient Faith Radio, called Paradise And Utopia, by which Fr. James Strickland, a Ph.D. in Russian history, is attempting to trace the idea of Christendom in both East and West. There are already 55 episodes for a series that I don’t believe was supposed to go past 24. His assertion, which makes great sense from an Eastern point of view, is that “Christendom” reached its pinnacle about six hundred years before the rise of what most Western historians think of as the summit of Christendom; the period of the Papal Reformation under the Clunaic popes terminating in the pontificate of Innocent III.

    In his narrative, Father James starts with the very earliest church, the church of the book of Acts, and explains how “classical Christianity” actually represented an interruption of the Kingdom of God into history. He meticulously describes the rise of the liturgical arts, hymnography, iconography, and church architecture in the pre-Constantinian church as a reorienting [the word is significant to Fr. Strickland- it means to look towards the East] of society to the lost Paradise. After the establishment of the Christian Empire by Constantine, Fr. Strickland follows the further development of the Paradaisical theme in Christendom in both the East and the West during Late Antiquity and the so-called Dark Ages. Fr. John touches on Christian attitudes towards marriage, monasticism, the Christian calendar, and late Imperial statecraft as reflections of the restoration of lost Paradise.

    In the second part of his narrative, starting at about episode 30, Fr. John begins his story of the falling away of the Western half of this undivided Christendom. He trots out the usual suspects; Augustine, the Carolingians, the reformers of Cluny, but much more interesting is his assertion that the West very early on began to make the restored Paradise an eschatological destination. It was a place where you went after you died, if you were a good little boy, cleaned your room, did what Nanny said, and didn’t touch other people in rude places. At the end of time, Christ would return and usher all of the good little boys and girls into the restored Paradise and leave all the rude little boys and girls outside where they could endure the deprivations of the demons, which they so richly deserved for their beastly rudeness. Fr. Strickland spends six crucial episodes on what he calls “The Rising Anthropological Pessimism of the West”, and this is where the crux of his argument truly lies. For whatever reason, the Christian East and the Christian West have divergent anthropologies, and this makes Catholicism, Calvinism, and Evangelicalism mostly variations on a theme to the Orthodox.

    After chronicling the “rise of anthropological pessimism”, Fr. John goes on to describe the rise of an alternative Christendom under the reconstituted Papacy after the Schism. As far as Fr. John has gotten so far, he contrasts this “new Christendom” with the older one under the Byzantines, and finds it severely wanting. As of the last published episode, Fr. John leaves us in the Indian Summer of the mediaeval Papacy, in the pontificate of Boniface VIII, he of the Unam Sanctam, just prior to the ascent of the Western nation states, the Schism of the late fourteenth century, the rise of the Reformation and more tellingly, the Radical Reformation, of which, through the ministrations of Thomas Jefferson, we are all heirs.

    It wouldn’t be fair to Fr, John to offer a critique of his series at this time. He isn’t anywhere near finished. I would have liked to have him touch on the non-Chalcedonians and their experience of a Christendom-in-opposition, and for a doctor of Russian history, he doesn’t deal with the Russians very much. But he does point out that for the East, the Constantinian era didn’t come to an end until the deposal of the last Orthodox monarch in 1975. So yeah, Constantine is kind of a big deal. With a single edict, he created both cultural Christianity and its loyal opposition; Really Real Holy Ghost Filled Christianity, whether of the monastic or Free Church variety.

    • Thanks for this, Mule. I wish more of us (including myself) knew our own history better.

      • But looking at the actual history of the Byzantine empire makes me doubt that this man’s assertions are as unbiased as he claims. Church was intimately wedded to the state, and sadly, the Byzantine emperors were notorious for doing an thing they could to gain or keep the throne – very much including the murders of their nearest and dearest. And it wasn’t just one or two emperors who did this – it was commonplace.

        Apart from that, I’m intrigued by his assertions re. Western xtianity’s possible misinterpretation of the kingdom of God, and might well tune in myself. Still, I’m skeptical of any “East is good/West is bad” schema (or the reverse, for that matter), as I think it presuppose far too much.

        But it’s unfair to judge w/out giving the gent a hearing, along w/research of my own.

      • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

        Just out of curiosity, CM, do you think that a Free Church Christendom is even possible? I think that, if Christ tarries, the United States of America will figure as prominently as Rome and Constantinople as a crucible of “what it means to be a Christian”, and Jefferson will be as important as Constantine, although probably not nearly as widely vilified. Nevertheless, St. Constantine is a saint in our church, which gives me more hope than you can imagine. I don’t think anyone will be painting icons of Thomas Jefferson any time soon.

    • “. . . but much more interesting is his assertion that the West very early on began to make the restored Paradise an eschatological destination. . .” I’d like to hear more about that argument–it does not line up with my reading of western theologians. The obligations that Catholics traditionally teach are the responsibility of rulers and subjects play heavily into the conception that we are works based. There is a strong emphasis on establishing the kingdom even now–even though it will not be fully accomplished until the second coming.

      If you look want to look at the historical context, it’s important to remember that a good deal of the social, scientific and educational bedrock of the West collapsed after the fall of Rome. It did not collapse in the Byzantine or Muslim empires until centuries later. I wonder if that “dreaming of paradise as a eschatological destination” was not an artifact of the cultural post-traumatic stress of the West? If it is, it is an artifact that presented itself more clearly in folk-faith rather than the official teaching and theology of the Church.

    • Daniel Jepsen says:

      Thanks Mule. I just downloaded about a dozen episodes, and will give them a listen.

  7. This is an intriguing perspective. Like the rest of you, I’ll have to give it some serious thought.

    My initial niggle, though, is it seems to leave out some things. If the Gospel as preached by the Apostles was very specifically directed towards Greek/Roman paganism, what about the Apostles (and other early Christians) who went beyond Rome’s borders?

    What about Thomas in India? There was never any judgement of the Hindu religious structures. So, if Andrew Perriman is right, what was Thomas preaching to them? (Actually, I’d like to know that anyway out of sheer curiosity, but Mr Perriman’s thesis seems to make it more urgent) What about the Ethiopians? Or the Armenians? Or the Christians living under Persian rule before the arrival of the Muslims? Did these all just skip Point 3 and move on to Point 4 directly in their preaching? And if so, how is that different from what we thought before?

    Perhaps that begs another question. How did the Apostles know that Christendom would be established in the Greek/Roman context, rather than anywhere else? If I recall my history correctly, the Armenians were the first to have their king convert. If that was the short-term goal, why didn’t Christians flock there, or evangelists set up shop there and try and extend that situation to Armenia’s neighbours?

    The whole thing does leave some odd questions hanging, questions which under the old perspective had perfectly good answers.

    On the other hand, perhaps I’ve simply not understood it well enough yet. That’s as like as not.

    • Glenn – and the Ethiopians, and the peoples of the Central Asian steppes, and (etc).

      Maybe I’m misunderstanding, and I know that requires some reading on my part. Still, I think the horizons were/are much broader than is suggested by this summary, and completely agree w/your observations re. India and, by extension, the rest of the world.

    • Re. Armenia: given its location, it just doesn’t make for much more than a very small enclave of xtians up in the Caucasus.

      And yes, King Agabus, iirc. Who is likely legendary. Nonetheless…

      • Of course the world was bigger than Rome, but the Roman Empire was certainly dominant in a way that is probably hard for us to imagine. And the book of Revelation does picture it as the Great Babylon that God would conquer through Jesus.

        • Which is a weird conflation of imagery (Revelation).

          As for it being hard to imagine, I’m not so sure we don’t have our own analogues right here and now (America as the world”s policeman and so oin). Not a 1:1 correspondence by any means, but we sdo seem prone to viewing the rest of the world through our own cultural lenses, and were a lot more monocultural than the Roman Empire was.

          • Apologies for typos. Am on the phone, not at a real keyboard.)

          • Well, except that there were no nation-states in the days of Rome. It was basically the only game in town on that level.

            That’s the world that is hard to imagine.

          • It was the only game in town in its part of Europe and western Asia, but elsewhere, I’m not so sure. China, for example, which is the terminus of the merchants’ Silk Route – very much a going proposition at the time of Christ.

            If you mean *modern* nation-states, that’s another proposition altogether.

            • We know that now. Is it possible that the NT simply didn’t have China and India, etc. in view? Perhaps in our mind we think it should, because we have come to think in more universal terms than the authors of the NT, who were dealing with specific historical situations and crises. I don’t know the answer, but I’m trying to think how AP would answer.

          • Alexander the Great wanted to invade northern India; the Gandhara civilization in Afghanistan was remarkably Hellenized.

            Trade routes stretching from the Mediterranean basin to East Africa, the Arabian peninsula, India and China already existed the gospel spread far – and fast – over those sea/land routes. Look at how many different peoples are mentioned ASD being in the crowd that Peter preached rto on the day of Pentecost, or the conversion of the guy from the empress’ court in Ethiopia, or Paul’s prominent mention of Central Asian peoples (Scythians) in Ephesians. Though maybe it isn’t surprising that he, being from a cosmopolitan city that was part of the East-West trade of the day, would mention them?

            I think maybe we underestimate the ancients’ view and knowledge of the world around them, proscribedf though it was.

            • Numo, I think we’re getting away from the main point here a little. AP’s point (and mine) is not that the apostles were ignorant of the wider world. It is that they were writing letters to churches in the Roman Empire who were in a specific historical setting and facing particular historic crises. The NT reflects this constricted historical perspective. That’s not casting aspersions on the ancients, that’s just recognizing the historical context and purpose for the NT writings.

          • Colossians, not Ephesians – my bad! (Though I wonder about the authorship.)

            I honestly don’t want to seem contentious, but would truly love to see how Perriman balances “my kingdom is not of this world” with Constantine. Would be most grateful if you could point me to a source; am wading through material on his blog but haven’t found anything as yet.

            I like much of what he says, but am just not certain about it and comments here are me thinking aloud…

          • CM – I think that the context is clearly *wider* than the Roman Empire, no matter how you slice it. If it were not, why references to people from outside the Roman Empire? Why phrases like “to the ends of the earth”?

            I dunno; again, I think Perriman’s view of history per se is circumscribed by his attempt to force a particular theological template onto it, and that as such, he is ignoring parts of the text of the NT that don’t fit with his argument, along with lots of other scholarship.

            Just my thoughts. By no means do I have this worked out in my own head, but I will say that Constantine sems more like a nightmare to me than any kind of fulfillment of Christ’s kingdom!

        • “And the book of Revelation does picture it as the Great Babylon that God would conquer through Jesus.”

          So, through Constantine, mission accomplished.

          What’s next on the prophetic time clock?

      • D’oh! Not Agabus; not sure where my brain was when I wrote that, although i think there is someone by that name mentioned in Leonid Ouspensky’s history of icons and iconography (also the theology of icons) in the O. Church.

        Historically, it looks like King Tiridantes, in 301 A.D., ftw.

    • I think Mike has done a very good job of representing my argument here, which is basically that I think the New Testament makes much better sense—not least in relation to the Old Testament—if we recognise and work with the historical limitations of its outlook. I simply don’t think the storyline as we have it has reference to or any interest in a mission beyond the Greek-Roman context. That doesn’t mean that the wider context is unimportant. The church in Asia is part of the story of God’s people and needs to be told—but as a continuation of the New Testament narrative rather than as something that is already anticipated in it. The argument is precisely that some things need to be left out. At the historical level, I don’t think Jesus looks much beyond the destruction of Jerusalem or Paul beyond judgment on pagan idolatry.

  8. David Cornwell says:

    A brief response here, maybe more later if my mind works it out:

    I have a difficult time as seeing Constantine as being more than a temporary reprieve. What happened afterward, over time, deteriorated into a compromised and corrupt form of Christianity.

    I do like much of his historical-narrative scheme and think he is on the right track. I’m not sure he has it worked out in its entirety especially in regard to Constantinian sub-narrative. I suppose I’ve been too much influenced by the Hauerwas-Yoder-Mennonite views of history. As I see it, none of this is written in stone and we all see darkly on this side of Judgement.

  9. Aidan Clevinger says:

    Blech. I get the need to historically center the Gospel and the Christian hope, but this, to me, goes *entirely* to far. Jesus was not trying to establish a historical kingdom in the boundaries of literal Israel, still less of the literal Roman Empire – “my kingdom if not of this world.” Yes, it is a kingdom that’s come to earth, but that doesn’t mean it’s a kingdom composed of governments or cities or political issues. Neither Jesus nor the Apostles seem to care about political activism. Christ’s kingdom comes when people are baptized, believe His Word, receive His holy body and blood, and reflect this infinite mercy and love in worship and deeds – whether that happens in the family, the government, the wider community, etc. The problem with “kingdom on earth” talk among Evangelicals, Reformed, and post-Evangelicals is that they don’t have a robust or scriptural theology of the word and sacraments, which are the *real* means whereby God’s kingdom descends among us until the Last Day. Without that, they have to fill up the lack, and they usually tend to do it politically, despite the witness of the NT.

    Also, I hate to be rude, but I’m really, really sick of the line about the Gospel not being about personal salvation. Yes, I agree, it’s about more than that. Yes, I know, we’ve over-emphasized it for the past few centuries. But the Gospel is most definitely about personal salvation, and it is most definitely a universal theological message. “Preach the Gospel to the whole of creation.” “This Gospel will be proclaimed throughout the whole world.” Likewise with the Apostle’s preaching in Acts about salvation and how to receive it.

    I read an article or two on Perriman’s site, and he had one about how the Gospel is not about man’s reconciliation with his creator, an assertion that seems central to his theses here. This is supremely ironic to me, because it indicates that he isn’t interested in seeing the Gospel in its historical perspective, but seeing it in the historical perspective which *he* finds appealing. Has the man read Leviticus? If the Gospel is not a universal message, if it doesn’t speak to personal salvation, if Christ has not reconciled to God all things in heaven and on earth, if He is not the fulfillment of all sacrifice a la Hebrews, if He is not the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, if He is not a hilasterion, a mercy seat, then what is He? Tabernacle and Temple and the cultic system of Israel – all of which were oftentimes very focused on individual forgiveness and reconciliation – is just as much a part of the Gospel’s history as the Davidic kingship, and Jesus is a priest as much as a king.

    For me, it all comes down to the fact that post-Evangelical or progressive authors like Perriman throw the baby out with the bathwater. They see problems of emphasis in current Evangelicalism, and thy want to correct the imbalance. All well and good! But they proceed to do so by introducing a different, equal imbalance, throwing out substitutionary atonement, getting rid of the idea of Gospel as message of personal salvation. The key is not to choose one or the other, but to hold the two together, as the Scriptures do. The Gospel is about the restoration of creation AND about personal salvation; Jesus died as conquering victor over death AND as propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the world; Jesus was concerned with bringing the kingdom on earth AND with imputing [the dreaded word!] his resurrection status to His Christians; Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel AND the fulfillment of the universal Law. It’s not impossible to do this, you know. N.T. Wright does it pretty well. Jack Kilcrease and other contemporary Lutherans are doing it from our tradition with beautiful results.

    But then, I guess that nuance and balance don’t sell boatloads of books. Forgive me for my long-windedness and my cynicism, but I’ve gotten to the point where I’m more irritated by progressives than I am by fundamentalists and evangelicals.

    • With all due respect, Aidan, you have profoundly misread Perriman and cast him unfairly into a lot with “progressives,” which, I assume, means to you that he has some kind of agenda like that of liberal Democrats. Andrew is European, and passionately concerned about the future and mission of the church amidst cultures where Christendom has all but collapsed, and if he has an agenda, that’s what comes through. What I read is a mindset that is focused relentlessly on biblical interpretation. Now you may not agree with his conclusions (I’m not sure I do, either), but I find your cynicism and stereotyping pretty unhelpful. I don’t think this is some progressive blather we can just dismiss, nor is he overtly contentious toward other traditions. I don’t get the impression that he is trying to throw out either baby or bathwater. I find him careful and thoughtful and worthy of attention.

      • Aidan Clevinger says:

        I’ll cheerfully withdraw the cynicism, but I think the points made are still substantive. The Gospel IS about personal salvation, though personal salvation may not exhaust the Gospel. Likewise, the Gospel IS a universal theological message. Likewise, the Gospel is NOT just about judgment or salvation from Israel in the context of A.D. 70, nor did the height of Jesus’s kingdom come with Christendom. The majority of what I said was offering theological counter-assertions to Perriman’s assertions; take away my complaints about progressives, and there’s still a larger critique.

        I do still maintain that Perriman is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. And I do think that he is part of a general trend of baby throwing: there are a great many authors at the moment who, because of perceived excesses in fundamentalism or deficiencies in the NP, go all the way and deny certain doctrinal presuppositions. For instance, people who, because of the historical context of Jesus’s messages on judgment, deny that there is any eternal punishment, insisting that the destruction of Israel in 70 A.D. exhausts the subject of divine wrath. Similarly, Perriman does not merely indicate that the Gospel has *more* to it than personal salvation (as N.T. Wright does), but outright denies that the Gospel is “a universal theological message about personal salvation.” By taking a strong opposition to an unhealthy extreme, he’s gone to an extreme that’s just as unhealthy (in fact, I’d maintain it’s worse).

        P.S. By “progressive,” I don’t mean anything political. Rather, I’m referring to theological progressives (not an official term, one that I made up, which is perhaps the problem). Perhaps there’s another term for the school Perriman represents?

      • Aidan Clevinger says:

        If I were to critique Perriman on a broad scale, I’d point out that the narrative of Israel isn’t something other than a grand, universal, theological meta-narrative. The whole point of the election of Israel was to re-create humanity and re-establish God’s presence among a renewed creation. Israel was supposed to be the priestly representative of creation, and they were the beginnings of a new humanity; the message was given to Israel, but it was intended for all people. Thus, Jesus, the consummation of Israel, is, for that very reason, the consummation of all humanity (Luke’s genealogy makes this point especially well, in my opinion). Furthermore, the primary enemies of humanity were not geo-political, but universal and spiritual: the serpent in the Garden is who the seed triumphs over (Gen. 3), it was transgression that He put an end to (Dan. 9), the devil that He cast out in judgment and overcame by His cross. Salvation from historical enemies simply doesn’t address the real problems of humankind: sin, death, and the devil. If all of the above isn’t a “universal theological message,” then I don’t know what is.

    • David Cornwell says:

      I doubt that most progressives even know of Perriman. Most are more interested in a kind of political program that mostly seems absent of Christ centered theology. They attach themselves to Jesus in a humanistic way, not as God incarnate.

      • Kent Haley says:

        It’s interesting you should say that because that is one of my main concerns with Perriman, and I think it would be a major obstacle to many evangelicals: he doesn’t believe the NT teaches that Jesus us God incarnate. He doesn’t come out and deny the deity of Christ, but he is very wary of using the early creeds as a guide for our thinking about the deity of Jesus and the Trinity. This may be where he takes his historical method too far. Although, I certainly respect his efforts to take biblical interpretation seriously, I think he should be cautious about casting aside the wisdom of the church fathers.

        • Could you cite specific refs regarding what you’re saying about Perriman’s views on the incarnation?

          I certainly am having difficulty w/his insistence that xtianity reaches its apex in this-earthly power (among other things).

          • Kent Haley says:

            You could go here: http://www.postost.net/2010/06/did-jesus-claim-be-god

            or here for a whole list of his posts on Jesus: http://www.postost.net/category/tags/jesus

            He main emphasis is that the NT teaches that Jesus is Lord, rather than Jesus is God. I agree, his beliefs about the incarnation would be a problem for all branches of the church. However, given his interpretive methods, I don’t really think he is trying to persuade Catholics, EO, or other branches of traditional Christianity. I actually enjoy reading his posts – he makes many good points, and at the same time frustrates readers coming from orthodox perspectives.

          • Thanks!

            Knowing this, his ideas make more sense to me, and remind me a bit of some of John Dominic crossan’s. (Who I like, regardless of agreement or disagreement w/him.)

          • Kent – I kinda think Perriman might be frustrating to historians/students of history.

            Just a wild guess 😉

        • Btw, the lack of support for belief in the incarnation isn’t just a problem for evangelicals (if true in this case). I, too, wonder about the way he seems to skirt around the creeds..

    • Aidan, thank you for your comments—and for withdrawing the cynicism. You make some important points.

      I think I would agree with you that “Jesus was not trying to establish a historical kingdom”. His aim was to establish God’s rule over a historical people in a historical context in relation to the nations which from Egypt onwards had opposed the rule of God.

      But I am arguing against the dehistoricizing of the kingdom idea that you describe when you say that “Christ’s kingdom comes when people are baptized, believe His Word, receive His holy body and blood, and reflect this infinite mercy and love in worship and deeds – whether that happens in the family, the government, the wider community, etc.” That’s all true, but it misses the narrative context given us in the New Testament and in scripture as a whole. That at least is my contention.

      Jesus and the apostles were not interested in “political activism” as we understand it. But that does not mean that the gospel which they proclaimed did not have “political” implications. It is entirely about which God ruled in the ancient and on what basis. This seems to me to be the main thrust of the gospel; personal salvation, in the different contexts of first century Judaism and the pagan world, comes as a consequence to that. This does not mean there is no such thing as personal salvation. It means that something else is driving the New Testament narrative.

      I don’t regard this as throwing the baby out with the bathwater. On the contrary, I think this is a matter of retrieving a baby that the church threw out a long time ago when it found it had no further need for the Jewish narrative.

      As regards Jesus’ kingdom and Christendom, I would say that Jesus has been seated at the right hand of the Father since the resurrection, having all authority and power for the sake of his body. But when read historically the New Testament appears to be part of a strong storyline going back at least to Isaiah which is expected to culminate in the victory of YHWH over the nations which have for so long opposed his people.

      This has nothing to do with what I find appealing. Frankly, I think we will find it much harder to proclaim a “political” gospel of this sort—to make sense in our secular world of the central New Testament claim that God has made Jesus Lord—than to persevere with the traditional focus on the eternal destiny of individuals.

      I am not arguing against atonement. I am arguing that in the New Testament this is secondary, and that it is framed by Israel’s story, not immediately or automatically a matter of universal significance. I strongly affirm penal substitutionary atonement in that light.

      I think Tom Wright does it well up to a point, but I don’t think he carries the hermeneutic through consistently. If Jesus’ teaching presupposed judgment on Israel in concrete historical terms, I see no reason why Paul’s teaching should not have presupposed judgment on the pagan world in concrete historical terms.

      I don’t sell boatloads of books. I wish I did.

      Your comment about denying “certain doctrinal presuppositions” seems disingenuous. Why should doctrines be presuppositional to the interpretation of the text? The presuppositions for the New Testament are given by historical context and literary (i.e., scriptural) precedent.

  10. I read a lot at p.ost in the early 2000s, as I was trying to make my way through the wilderness. Being so indebted to N.T. Wright for a C1 Jewish (historical) view of things, there is much about Perriman’s work that is intriguing, and viewed through the historical lens alone it does make some kind of sense. I think he makes some points that need to be considered.

    OTOH, there are problems with the historical-critical view of scripture. Fr Stephen Freeman has written about history and interpretation of scripture, the latest post being “History and the Gospel” on 27 August. In it he writes, “I do not suggest that it is inappropriate to ask historical questions of the gospel text or of anything in Scripture. But I do suggest that the gospel will not be particularly found in the answers to those questions (such as they may be). The distance created in the historical search removes the reader and hearer from the immediacy of the gospel itself.” I suggest reading the whole post and his comments. His latest, “Hidden in Plain Sense” is also very good, and germane to the discussion. Sherrard (see below) also makes the point that, though history is something that is valuable to study, Christianity is not simply a “historical faith” – if it were, there would be little or no sense of its revelation from God.

    Secondly, Aidan above brings up something that I don’t think AP pays as much attention to as he should, which is how the Jews of Jesus’ day understood the meaning of their cultic practices. One simply must factor this in to any “historical” view, and Wright does so. The practices and their meanings have been detailed by Margaret Barker (British Methodist, whom Wright has cited in his Christian Origins bibliography) in several books on the temple ritual. A friend of mine has excerpted some of Barker’s book chapters and papers here:
    http://jbburnett.com/theology/theol-ltg-ot-roots.html

    CM, I hope you have time to sample a few of the articles. It’s fascinating stuff, esp if one is acquainted with the EO Liturgy.

    Numo (and others), you might be interested in Philip Sherrard’s “The Greek East and the Latin West” (there is another book by another Orthodox author, Andrew Louth, with the same title, but comes at the subject from a different angle). Sherrard, a historian and linguist, examines the roots of both traditions, esp coming out of Greek philosophy, how they differ, and how that affected the subsequent history of both. It’s not a long work, and it’s very readable, but it is a bit thick. He is biased toward the East – he was an Orthodox convert back in the ’50s – but he is critical of Byzantium, too. The main thing he points out viz. “Christendom” is that because of its theology, the East had a built-in system of checks on the emperor and imperial power that the West didn’t have. The reason the East had the difficulties it did is that people ignored or sidestepped these checks, for various reasons. I think it would bring something wider to your studies.

    Dana

  11. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

    1. The “Gospel” is not a universal theological message of personal salvation, but must be understood as a message intimately connected to the historical circumstances in which it was given.
    I don’t understand this. It sounds like saying something without saying something.

    2. Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom was a message of judgment and salvation for Israel in the light of the pending crisis of 70AD.
    Salvation from what? Do any of the Johanine writings fit into this scheme?

    3. The apostles’ gospel was a message to the nations that God had made Jesus King and would, through him, bring judgment and salvation to the Greek-Roman pagan world, which reached its climax in the establishment of Christendom.
    So separation of church and state is, essentially, a bad idea? God’s judgment and salvation are ministered through a government?

    4. There is an ultimate day of judgment and salvation coming which will inaugurate the new creation.
    That’s ok, no one else knows what to do with eschatology either.

    5. The church is now witnessing the collapse of Christendom, which is prompting the church to reevaluate how to be a faithful eschatological community of mission in a post-Christendom world.
    To be fair, one could replace “collapse of Christendom” and “post-Christendom” with any historical event and this statement would be true.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “1. I don’t understand this. It sounds like saying something without saying something.”

      Perhaps it just sounds like double speak to you and me because the statement does not make us angry. There are many people to whom I would not dare make such a statement.

      “2. Salvation from what?”

      Welcome to the linguistic quagmire that is Eschatology.

      “3. So separation of church and state is, essentially, a bad idea?”

      This seems like an over-reading. The establishment of Christianity could mean simply the widespread adoption of the Christian religion. Note, of course, that once something – anything – becomes widespread, especially if it becomes culturally dominant, some degree of entanglement with the state is *inevitable*.

      “4. That’s ok, no one else knows what to do with eschatology either.”

      Ditto. 🙂

      But I have to admit that taking many of the prophecies and placing them in the past – as a done deal. Correct or not it has a very pragmatic appeal. Maybe I will have to hear less pure local-contextualized ignorant speculation about them. Maybe. One can dream.

      “5. The church is now witnessing the collapse of Christendom,”

      Do you not accept that The Christian Age is in its twilight?

      “which is prompting the church to reevaluate how to be a faithful eschatological community”

      I can’t help but feel, at least to some degree, that eschatology has stood in the way of Christianity being a “community” at all. Instead it became a set of proper beliefs to be acknowledged.

      > To be fair, one could replace “collapse of Christendom” and “post-Christendom” with
      > any historical event and this statement would be true.

      True. But that doesn’t make it an irrelevant question.

  12. CM, it would be nice if Perriman would either affirm that you have summarized his thought fairly or show where he thinks it falls short. In my view you are very good at presenting others’ views that you may or may not agree with. Most of the time when I read theology I am looking for anything that I would consider wrong, and this because it makes me better define what I consider right. With me this is an ongoing process in constant revision. I hope you will continue to follow Perriman’s work because he seems to think outside the box and that is usually helpful.

    So far in this very limited presentation and without having studied the man’s work, as with some others the main thing that strikes me is that he seems to either be ignoring the whole Eastern wing of the church with its huge history, or is unaware of it. Which doesn’t make sense. Not fair to draw conclusions without reading the man’s writings, but I’m not about to invest that time for no apparent benefit. Looking forward to more on him.

    • Charles, I think that Mike has done an excellent job of summarizing and explaining my views.

      I’m not sure what your concerns are regarding the Eastern church. My basic argument about New Testament eschatology is that it should mostly be read in historical terms, so that what the churches of the Greek-Roman world was an outcome in which persecution was brought to an end, they were vindicated for their faithful witness to the Lamb, and Jesus was confessed by the nations as Lord, bring paganism to an end, to the glory of Israel’s God. That happened when the empire converted to Christianity. What happens next is beyond the horizon of the New Testament except that there remains the conviction that the creator will finally judge all creation and the last enemies will be destroyed.

  13. One of my primary problem with Perriman’s schematic for understanding the history of Christianity is that it is accessible only to intellectuals, or those with intellectual tendencies, and is completely untranslatable into terms that the average citizen of modernity or history could even begin to understand. If Christianity is a religion not only for and of intellectuals and educated people, but also for the masses, and as such should be comprehensible to the average person across time, then this diagram of church history fails miserably.

    My other main problem with it is that I don’t believe that it reflects the self-understanding of the Church in the first five centuries of its history, and I doubt that the Church Fathers would identify Perriman’s views as their own. I think this is major argument against the credibility of Perriman’s views.

    • Correction: Many in the first centuries would have agreed with Perriman that with Constantine the millennium had arrived, but they would have disagreed strenuously that the gospel they possessed was only meant as a message of judgement and salvation for Israel, and was only to be limited to the Greco-Roman world, rather than being spread across all the world (otherwise, why did they bring the gospel to the Celtic world so early, by the third or fourth century, and what of the laudatory legends about Thomas going to India?), and they would have strongly disagreed with Perriman’s chirstology, as evidenced in the Creeds were defined in those centuries.

      • Robert, I disagree that it is only accessible to intellectuals. If ordinary first century Jews could understand and tell their story—Abraham, Egypt, exodus, kingdom, exile, imperial oppression: think of Stephen’s speech in Acts, for example, or Paul’s sermon in Antioch of Pisidia—I don’t see why ordinary Christians today shouldn’t be able to do so. We just need to learn how. It’s not rocket science.

        There are certainly those who saw the conversion of Rome as the fulfilment of New Testament expectations regarding the kingdom of God—Lactantius, Eusebius, for example. But I also accept that as early as the second century the Jewish political-religious narrative about kingdom was giving way to a universalised narrative about redemption. This was an inevitable and necessary development and I don’t quibble with it—I would make the same point about Trinitarian orthodoxy. What I am trying to show is that if we then turn the process round and restrict scripture to the later perspective, something very important gets lost.

  14. The following is an exerpt from F. C. Burkitt’s introduction to Albert Schweitzer’s “The Quest of the Historical Jesus”, circa 1919:

    “Our first duty, with the Gospel as with every other ancient document, is to interpret it with reference to its own time. The true view of the Gospel will be that which explains the course of events in the first century and the second century, rather than that which seems to have spiritual and imaginative value for the twentieth century. Yet I cannot refrain from pointing out here one feature of the theory of thoroughgoing eschatology, which may appeal to those who are accustomed to the venerable forms of ancient Christian aspiration and worship. It may well be that absolute truth cannot be embodied in human thought and that its expression must always be clothed in symbols. It may be that we have to translate the hopes and fears of our spiritual ancestors into the language of our new world. We have to learn, as the Church in the second century had to learn, that the End is not yet, that New Jerusalem, like all other objects of sense, is an image of the truth rather than the truth itself.”