Gnosticism, Nicea and Celebrity

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Now that it is official that the kind of questions raised in the third and fourth centuries relative to Trinitarianism are nothing more than the constructs of a bunch of middle aged white guys, it is worth perhaps spending a few moments in methodological and historical reflection.

Methodologically, the telepathic ability to see into the minds of others and discern exactly what they are thinking is a great gift. I am quite envious; if I had it, I would not waste my time on webcasts; I'd be doing some telepathic insider trading and making a small fortune on the Dow. Unfortunately,  I can only judge intentions by public actions which rarely if ever allow me to discern exactly why somebody does something.  The ability to spot false consciousness is an even greater skill, though somewhat vulnerable to the Popperian critique of non-falsifiability.

Historically, one might add that this would seem to indicate that modalism is not the only early church heresy which is enjoying something of a comeback in evangelical circles.  The methodological attributes outlined above were also hallmarks of Gnosticism whose basic strategy was `I have secret knowledge that you do not have but which allows me to understand the world - and even you - in ways that you cannot comprehend.  So you need to shut up and listen to me.'   

Still, let us go back to the fourth century and see how the `middle aged white guy' critique measures up.  Well, at the Council of Nicea in 325, many of the participants were no doubt middle aged -- which Paul in the Pastorals would actually seem to think is quite a good thing in a church leader.  But white?    I suspect they were ethnically more akin to modern day Turks or south eastern Europeans, not that racial categories really meant anything then.  The key category in the fourth century was that of Roman citizenship, not skin colour.

More significantly, of course, had you been there yourself and looked around the council, you would have seen that many of the delegates had body parts missing - an arm here, a leg there, an occasional eye - because they were survivors of the terrible persecutions under Diocletian and Galerius.  Indeed, many had probably lost close friends and family members too.  Thus, the foundations for the creedal doctrine of the Trinity were laid by men who thought doctrine was something for which it was actually worth suffering and dying.  

That someone is willing to die for a cause does not sanctify it; but when you add to this that Nicene orthodoxy has been universally agreed upon as important by millions of Christians of multiple races, nationalities and age profile, through sixteen centuries, surely that should give us pause for thought.  The questions asked at Nicea were important and they were asked by serious men, men serious enough to risk death for their faith.   To dismiss all this with a wave of the hand or through simple lack of knowledge and competence, and to follow this up by playing the race card, is an interesting move.  

But hey, if a bunch of middle-aged American pastors in the Elephant Room tell you Nicea and its delegates -- and all the Christians who have suffered and died to maintain its truth over the centuries -- are irrelevant, who am I to question them?  To do so would surely be the height of arrogance.  Ahem.

Which brings me back to the celebrity pastor thing.    When I raised the issue last year, I was widely derided as talking nonsense and many critics tried to dismiss the notion by conflating public figure with celebrity, pointing to the problems of defining the term, reducing it to trivia such as `Is signing somebody's book or being photographed with them at a conference really that wicked?' or the telepathic/Gnostic insight `The man's just envious that his church is not as big as theirs!'   Indeed, it was made very clear to me by a number of people that I was the problem, not the fetish pastors.   Yet as I stressed again and again, my concern is not ultimately about being well-known or speaking at a conference or two; it is about the big personality pastor who turns into a fetish, and who gains great and widespread  authority and influence by reason of that, without any proper accountability.   Remind anybody of anything that happened recently?

Posted February 1, 2012 @ 8:43 AM by Carl Trueman
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