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    painting from old bible

    Christianity’s Third Divorce

    A Review

    By Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig

    September 22, 2014
    • Anthony James

      The review doesn’t mention, so I don’t know if the book mentions, the disturbing rightward tilt of a lot of the Christian church today. This is a huge development which greatly impedes the spread of the gospel amongst those in the center and left. Jesus is counter cultural, and would not (dare I say, does not) go along with the extremes of right or left. But also, that does not mean He is a centrist. There are things that are “traditional” which are not biblical, and vice versa. Matthew 25 is radical, and calls us to radical obedience, in a way that is counter cultural. I wonder where the authors stand on such issues. Matthew 25 certainly is part of the action they speak of, but I think “traditionally” parts of those verses have been pretty well ignored.

    • Brian D Pendell

      Having read this excellent review, I must take sharp issue with the idea of a 'return to tradition' as being the solution to our problems. The first, most obvious answer is that a "Return to tradition" is what Patriarch Kirill and Putin of Russia are aiming to achieve. This means squashing nontraditional churches such as Baptists at home while brutally invading neighboring countries to protect them from the dangers of heretical, western ideas. The idea of a single, universal faith which all Christians must adhere to implies the existence of a bureaucracy charged both with determining what these beliefs are and empowered to enforce those beliefs at gunpoint, otherwise we are no different than the situation where we are now. Heretical churches WILL exist unless suppressed. Because of this, the Byzantine Empire, one of the first Christian states by intention, spent most of its history being riven by one schismatic conflict or another. The iconoclasts. The Hesychast controversy. On and on and on. Nor has a single powerful church always been a boon to the world. Looking at the history of the past two hundred years, in the French Revolution, the Mexican Revolution, the Spanish Civil War the church repeatedly and reliably took the side of 'Christian' despots against the desires and wishes of poor ordinary people. That continued right up to the end of the 20th century in places such as Argentina's "Dirty War". The church was not on the side of the poor and helpless and needy, as Jesus would wish. The church was on the side of the social order it upheld and legitimized. If anything, some of the greatest steps forward for the glory of God were taken by the Quakers, people who were once nearly as opposite a traditional, established church as it was possible to be. Yet before they were corrupted by wealth they showed equality, compassionate treatment of indigenous Americans, divided their wealth among themselves, and set the abolition of slavery into motion in the west. All this time the Catholic church, with a few saintly exceptions, was busy helping the Spanish crown foist both slavery and genocide on South America. There's a reason the thirty years war happened. The outcome of that war, which has given us a degree of peace from religious wars unimaginable in preceding centuries, came from the recognition that the various states and peoples were better off living and let living than trying to impose a single, universal definition of the faith on the entire world. It is only because of this settlement that the United States, originally composed of Puritan New England, Quaker Pennsylvania, Catholic Maryland, and Anglican south could ever have anything like peace. As it is, we have had exactly ONE four year civil war in two hundred years, in no small part because we do not have a religious authority trying to impose a single universal creed. So: I don't see this as a "third schism". I see it merely as an attempt to undo the schism and return us to pre-reformation days when a single church, protected by a single king (for how can you have an all-powerful church in a country built on the principles of free thought and tolerance?), ruled the land. We can see exactly what this would look like in Russia, because it is exactly this kind of return to the pre-1917 Russian Empire that Putin and Kirill are trying to create. To this I say: No thank you. Come up with a better idea. I am prepared to provide links in support of these contentions but they are not allowed in comment. Email if interested.

    • John Kennedy

      They care about the wrongness, but do they give a darn that the real corruption is a religion of white conservative evangelicals that seem to care nothing about the rise of the Billion class, lack of health care, racism, 330 firearms, etc. They would not know "othodoxy' a generous orthodoxy if it smacked them on the rump. And is not about some Phariseesic right belief, it's about caring about the right things. You can believe in things you don't care about, but you can't care about things you don't believe in. Exactly what period of the Church had right belief? The Middle Ages, without of it's corruption? Put a date on the example. Jesus came and said, in essence, "you have heard it written in Scripture ........., But I tell you forget that old orthodoxy......turn the other cheek, forgive...... Don't be a Pharisee live a radical love like Jesus. Parish Pastor Retired Cop from the Hood. Austin, Texas

    • Brian Dolge

      I am always happy to hear about people talking about the need for the church to make a conscious stand against the un-Godly and therefore inhuman values of the modern world. And then I weep with shame and loss when they start talking about sex and never about economics. We are told: "it’s difficult to imagine a harder sell to the average millennial Christian than Saint Augustine on sexual morality"; how about this one: "Sell all that you have, give the money to the poor and come follow me." The modern world's disordered view of sex is not a stand alone monster, it is an obvious outcome of treating people as just another commodity in a universal marketplace. We are taking the easy way out if we tell ourselves that abortion is more important than racism, because it is easy to say we do not benefit from abortion, but few of us white folks can still deny the gifts of our privilege. Where are all the "pro-life" protesters when a black baby is murdered in his 63rd trimester, helpless against the poverty and hopelessness which has been his second womb? Does the church need to return to it's roots? Indeed it does, maybe we should start with this: "Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, And love your neighbor as you love yourself"; then remember that this quote leads to a story of spendthrift compassion shown to a despised and helpless enemy whom the righteous had passed by.

    • Nicole Solomon

      I may be completely wrong, but l don't think God's word can even be neatly boxed into one book to the exclusion of anything else (don't misunderstand me--the Bible is a vital key to OUR ability to comprehend an all-powerful, omnipotent, and Eternal God of the universe). But l cannot say that while in thought and prayer to God l haven't heard a song play with a direct response, or that in passing l haven't seen a billboard screaming out an answer, or a coworker describing the last football game detailing the next moves one needs to make, and most favorite of all, l can't say that the "crack-head" pan handling for change doesn't speak directly to you as if God's angels themselves are not in disguise. If l can experience this, then maybe l can comprehend what is meant in Psalms 19:1-4 and Romans 10:15-21. If only l can experience God in the way HE wants me to, then l might experience verse 10:18 in its entirety...

    Deep Church Rising: The Third Schism and the Recovery of Christian Orthodoxy by Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry (Cascade, 194 pages)

    For a modestly sized book, Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry’s Deep Church Rising surprises with its broad historical imagination. The authors pose an urgent question: how is Christianity to cope with a world increasingly hostile to its message and mission? They suggest that Christians’ polarized responses to that question will lead to schism, the third in a series of schisms to have divided the Christian world. The first was the “Great Schism,” the splitting of East and West that divided the church into its Greek and Latin branches. Then came the Protestant Reformation, further fracturing Western Christianity. And while these two divorces are still keenly felt, Walker and Parry argue that a third is on the way – one that positions apostasy against orthodoxy, and in so doing cuts within branches and denominations rather than between them.

    Walker and Parry – both seasoned theologians – detect the early symptoms of this third schism among Christians who have fallen under the influence of “versions of modern Christianity which, although modern, are not Christian.” These weakened strains of Christianity, they contend, undercut a trinity of truths without which the faith can’t endure: right belief, right worship, and right action. The result? They see a growing tendency within all Christian denominations to view religion as basically private and personal, a matter of individual therapeutic preferences rather than a response to objective truths. There’s a corresponding quickness to re-imagine Christian ethics in ways that force the faith into compliance with a utilitarian world. For example, Walker and Parry note that “more than a few liberal Christians take it as obvious that a pregnant woman has a straightforward right to choose whether or not to carry her child to term.” And this is only one of many disturbing shifts away from historical Christianity – the authors do not meditate long on others, but they are not hard to imagine.

    Taken together, these developments have sowed confusion as to what it is that Christianity teaches. The “family resemblance” left over by the first two schisms is therefore seriously threatened by this third.

    Deftly tracing the roots of the cultural context that has produced the third schism, Walter and Parry take the reader on a whirlwind jaunt through early Christianity, the medieval period, the Enlightenment, and through to modernity. Though this excursion might leave some readers dizzy, it serves a necessary purpose. By drawing on thinkers ranging from Augustine, Tertullian, and Anselm to Locke, Kierkegaard, and Kant, the authors are actually modelling their suggested solution to the third schism: a return to tradition.

    It’s the care with which Walker and Parry issue their call that makes Deep Church Rising so persuasive. “Deep church,” a phrase borrowed from C.S. Lewis, refers in part to “a common historical tradition of belief and practice that was normative for Christian experience.” That is, “deep church” means a set of truths about belief, worship, and action which remains constant for all Christians, everywhere and always. These truths, the authors argue, are the stars by which we can set our course, regardless of where we find ourselves in human history. It so happens that much of Christianity’s best charting was laid out before the modern era, by Augustine, Aquinas, Gregory, Irenaeus, and other teachers. Walker and Parry point out that the reasoning of ancient and pre-modern Christians was not (as is now often suggested) rooted in superstitions and cultural norms long past their use-by date. Far from being a product of sociological accidents, tradition is the fruit of the apostolic church’s journey through history.

    While the authors admit to being “traditionalists or primitivists of sorts,” Deep Church Rising is not anti-modern. Rather, it declines to accept modernity as the standard by which Christians should define their faith at all, whether pro or con. “It should go without saying,” they write, “that [a Deep Church sensibility] is no threat to science, only to scientism, the ideology that all truth claims about the world can be assessed by the sciences.” The answer to modernity isn’t to collapse backwards into the lifestyle of a bygone time, but rather to develop a robust Christianity that is both orthodox and capable of grappling with today’s problems.

    In true traditional fashion, this begins for Walker and Parry within the church herself. Their concluding two chapters suggest how this might look: through renewed attention to teaching the faith (“Recovery of Catechesis”), and through a deepened reverence for the Lord’s Supper (“A Eucharistic Community”). They describe the “Eucharistic community” as the hub that gathers all Christian doctrine together; here we gather to share in “a meal for the time between times; to taste the life of the age to come.” Reflecting on the Eucharist allows Walker and Parry to do three things: to expose the “gospel amnesia” that has corroded Christian orthodoxy; to remind us of the strong, elegant theology that modern Christianity has largely forgotten; and to sketch out the ecumenical project they have in mind for the future. This chapter beautifully illustrates the authors’ vision of belief, worship, and action as indivisible.

    Walker and Parry don’t hold out the false hope that the trajectory of secular thought will be interrupted anytime soon. Yet they refuse to give up any ground, even when that means taking deeply unpopular positions – it’s difficult to imagine a harder sell to the average millennial Christian than Saint Augustine on sexual morality. Like the ministry of Christ itself, the quest to recover a deep church is demanding but not violent, hard but not merciless – its essential purpose is the achievement of unity. For the authors, this means a unity with multiple layers: of the present church with the tradi­tion that precedes her; of today’s schismatics with orthodox believers; and of the whole body of Christ brought into communion through the Eucharist.

    Readers interested in a renewal of orthodoxy and a clear-eyed vision of what a deep church might look like will be grateful for this thickly argued and rewarding book. It includes two helpful appendices: an essay on the Nicene Creed and a critique of fundamentalism. The authors do not hold to a literalist reading of the Bible, nor do they believe that such a “neutral” or “obvious” interpretation is even possible. But their defense of a broader-minded interpretation is compelling, and – thanks to the authors’ commitment to taking scripture seriously and traditionally – may pleasantly surprise readers with more literalist convictions.

    With its richness of detail and wide-ranging theological vision, Deep Church is a fine book to read slowly. It’s also well suited for reading in discussion groups – there’s plenty here to fuel much-needed conversations.

    old painting of saint with Bible
    Contributed By ElizabethStokerBruenig Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig

    Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig is a writer and blogger born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas.

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