Sunday 28 April 2013

Super-correctness versus continuous revelation


This assertion is based on my experience, as well as my understanding of history.

In my brief time as a Christian I have tried - at times - to give my allegiance to a bottom line - whether scripture, reason, tradition etc  - and found it almost immediately impossible.

It seems that a living religion cannot exist on such an abstract basis but must be 'believed' in the sense of lived; which means that there must be communication with God and revelation at a personal level - simply in order to sustain scripture, reason, tradition.

Most obviously, because disagreements on interpretation always come to the fore, and cannot be resolved on the basis of anything other than interpretation - yet interpretation is shaped (almost wholly) by motivation such that it turns out there is ambiguity everywhere (in scripture, reason and tradition); such that when any church is cut-off from continuous revelation, the corruptions of the world will supervene.


And I was taught by reading Fr Seraphim Rose, as well as seeing for myself, that 'super-correctness' is no answer at all, but makes matters worse.

Super-correctness effects scripturalism (leading to line by line Biblical literalism and legalism), reason (leading to scholasticism) and tradition (leading to micro-level arbitrary ritualism and lifestyle rules).

Super-correctness leads to a particularly dangerous form of fake Christianity - prideful, zealous, punitive, negative, life-destroying, tyrannical and evil. It has everything that is Christian except the one thing needful: love.

Super-correctness is easy to perceive in other people, but very difficult to combat without advocating dilution, weakness, and 'liberalism'.


What passes for modern Christian 'devoutness' (and is advocated by reactionaries) is, unfortunately, very seldom otherwise than mere super-correctness.   


I think there is only one robust defence against on the one hand apostasy and backsliding into secularism; and on the other hand superficial and prideful super-correctness - and that defence is a living faith, a faith of frequent contact with the divine and in receipt of continual revelations.

The major mainstream branches of Christianity are mostly divided between a majority of apostates and a minority of super-correct - and the real Christians are trying to live off their glorious histories (I have tried this myself - tried to be a Prayer Book Anglican, in effect, to live from written history); but this won't work - or at least it won't work for very long, or in the face of difficulties.


I think that effective Christianity from now will absolutely require to aim for, and organize around, a direct personal contact with a personified God.

That requirement to subjective-ize the objective is (I think) the characteristic which is shared by all significantly large and thriving types of Christianity.

(It follows that what cannot be so appropriated by an individual must not be put at the centre of their faith - only that which they feel can be and ought to be a rock.)

Of course this is not enough - and by itself or when too dominant this is excessively individualistic, creates schisms, weakens and destroys churches - but I think Christians must be open to, indeed insist upon, a personal appropriation and experience of the Gospel, of the main tenets of their faith.


And it is clear that cool, detached, playful intellectualism can be a very significant barrier to this; which is why - in the modern world - intellectuals and intellectual activities are almost always anti-Christian in their effect (whatever their intention).



Nathan said...

From what I can tell, this post is on the right track as to what Christianity must be - a (human) relationship with Christ. Have you ever read any Kierkegaard?

Bruce Charlton said...

@ Tried, but he didn't speak to me.

Wm Jas said...

The Mormons of course agree with you on this, as I mentioned in our recent discussion of the concept of "testimony." An excellent example of this idea of "appropriating" gospel truths via personal revelation can be found in the late apostle Bruce R. McConkie's speech "The Purifying Power of Gethsemane." Speaking of the life and death of Christ, he says:

In speaking of these wondrous things I shall use my own words, though you may think they are the words of scripture, words spoken by other Apostles and prophets.

True it is they were first proclaimed by others, but they are now mine, for the Holy Spirit of God has borne witness to me that they are true, and it is now as though the Lord had revealed them to me in the first instance. I have thereby heard his voice and know his word.

(I've given you this quote before. I repeat it here for the benefit of your readers, who may also be interested in my post on a Mormon taxonomy of revelation.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - Yes, you and your brother Luther helped a lot in clarifying this for me (Thanks!).

I think that this phenomenon underlies much of the success of the 'born again' type of evangelical Protestant denominations, and perhaps even more so the LDS church where the need personally to appropriate, serially, all the core aspects of doctrine is made a matter of continuoal attention (and is assumed to be cumulative, as an aspect of 'theosis').

I suspect this is also an aspect of the very rapid recent expansion of the pentecostalism style of Protestantism - but I don't really know much about that topic.

In other words, since the traditions of mainstream Christianity have been broken (and they really are broken, all of them) for most people to develop a strong (living, resilient) Christian faith requires a degree of personal appropriation which was not necessary in 'Christian Societies' of the past, or when there was widespread access to Holy people as interpreters, advisors and mentors.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

...which means that there must be communication with God and revelation at a personal level

This happens with sacraments and prayer, indispensable to each other. Even theology and philosophy are best developed in thinkers who are also saintly people. Most of scholasticism was a decadence compared to St. Thomas, but not all of it. If you look at the right places, reason is satisfied while faith is not deformed, lost or threatened.

jgress said...

"Continuous revelation" strikes me as a dangerous term, at least if you are a traditional Christian who believes that everything we need for salvation was delivered to the Apostles.

It is possible for saints since then to receive hidden knowledge, so-called private revelations, but these never reveal new doctrines, but only particular revelations about the destiny of some individual or nation, or particulars about the end of the world.

But you are absolutely right that mere intellectual assent is not enough. The true faith must be lived daily. Don't make it too personal, however, since Christianity is also a communal faith; it's about the faithful worshiping and working together as much as it is about private prayer and struggles.

John Hinds said...

"God does not think, he creates. God does not exist, he is eternal."

Soren Kierkegaard.

I'd agree with that and come down against the idea of the anthropomorphic deity as an attempt at ownership.