Heresy is best understood in its History.
The beginning premises of the story, The Celestial Railroad, invites the reader to go with the narrator to the Celestial City upon the ingenuity of public transportation—the railroad. Although this journey is not new—for those who have read Paul Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the roadway to heaven is not an easy one, but by the promises of the narrator’s guide, Mr. Smooth-It-Away, the reader goes on an elongated journey through all the vast cities which Christian was warned not to partake, only to find himself, along with the narrator on the boat to destruction.
Herein lies the moral: progress is the fastest road to hell.
Even while Mr. Smooth-It-Away possesses rightful knowledge of the train’s true destination, it becomes a shock to both the narrator and the reader to find their way to the celestial city is missed by miles due to shortcutting orthodox belief. Rather than take the proper means to get to the heavenly city, the train of progress becomes the cheap place of refuge until one realizes its futility.
Which is exactly Nathaniel Hawthorne’s main point.
Although he was raised in a Unitarian household, this published work functions as a reflection of his true attitudes toward the upbringing of his childhood and the many problems coming from the world of Progressive Christianity. Of course, this work in contrast to others clearly direct what many clearly miss—from Keven Swanson’s Apostate to even the off-beat reviews one could find on goodreads.com.
Published in 1843, the theme of this story predates Darwin’s The Origins of the Species by twenty-six years and predates the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversies by almost a century, meaning the whole concept of the authority, authenticity, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture was an ongoing debate between the Unitarians and the Reformed—a relatively hot one. Insomuch so that Hawthorne jumped into the debate with a story riddled with satirical jabs at the movement which came from the long-held convictions and influences of the work Pilgrim’s Progress.
And if there are those who believe NPR has the right to encourage a white populace to ‘decolonize our bookshelves,’ to listen to minority voices, let it be known minorities share as much authority on Unitarian Liberalism as Teletubbies share on operating a Chik-fil-a.
Enter Pete Enns podcast.
Apart from criticizing the latest statement on Social Justice & the Gospel because the Bible does not concisely reflect those statements, Mr. Enns rightfully points out there is a form of willful isolation and a bunker mentality on these major issues, especially in the world of inerrancy, alleged inconsistencies, and the LGBTQ question. Although writing on the subjects are necessary, it should be noted Mr. Enns wishes for Christians to do a more robust theology as he mentions on his podcast.
“I see a willful isolation from larger and older conversations on these issues. I see a naivete and even an ignorance of the beautiful depth of the history of Christian theology and contemporary Christian theology. Let me be clear: when I say naive and ignorant I am not being in any sense insulting of anyone because I am naive and I am ignorant of a good many things….the kind of isolation I see here from the larger conversation, making believe it’s not even there is inexcusable. There can be no dialogue here, only a bunker mentality, where all that is needed is apologetics—which is the stated purpose of the Gospel Coalition: to defend the Christian faith against the weak minded, people who disagree, who think differently.”
With this regard, one should note that Mr. Enns and myself are in complete agreement on this premise viz., fundamentalism does not take interest to preach and discuss theologically from an intellectual point of view. Christians are not prone to do independent reading or researching or even cross-checking the claims that are threatening the very helms of inerrancy. Most of the work done in this series is something Christians should be able to engage with—at length.
However, as Mr. Enns does not suggest nor understand, that the intellectual engagements were not foreign concepts to the fundamentalism. As matter of fact, the Unitarians have had their difficulties with engaging with the general public because ministers had often challenged their particular points in the faith, which not only surrounded on the topic of the Trinity, but the very heart of the debate itself—Scriptural Inerrancy.
Granted, out of the basic research performances done through Google Books, there does not seem to be a publication going back to the 16th Century discussing the subject, which would put the claims mentioned in this series at odds with historians, but that does not mean the subject was not hotly debated. The main reason(s) why there would be no such publication to exist would be under the following reasons: (1) Unitarianism was not formally organized until the 18th Century—most prominent Unitarians had no formal organization up to this point, (2) Unitarianism was hotly persecuted, which included the forbidden use of publication—no such writings would be allowed to be circulated, and (3) Unitarianism did not fully gain ground until the founding of the United States of America—something which allowed them to be a formal movement across the country.
Although various writings do profess beliefs that would be well accepted and recognized within Protestant Christianity, it should be noted these Christians were regarded as ones who held onto their faith from a rationalistic point of view. In other words, the basis of their doctrine was not held with regards to what the Scriptures revealed—to the contrary, all views were held on if these teachings demonstrated reasoning. Regardless if the Scriptures made a clear-cut case for the exclusive teachings like predestination and original sin, if these doctrines did not appeal to the human mind, they must be discarded.
And this is the portion which Mr. Enns does not seem to be well-aware of concisely.
That is why what ‘we have here is really a failure to do theology.’
As Mr. Enns continues,
“Theology is all about being in conversation with the world around you and saying how does God want us to respond to this world around us….that is a sacred responsibility that Christians have. That is what doing theology means.”
With this in mind, Mr. Enns wants people to realize that at the end, “true Christian theology is not a canon theology, a defense of a theological canon or system,” but a “necessity and biblically speaking a creative act, not simply an act of reiteration. I think that’s our calling to be creative.”
Full stop, rewind, and let’s play it again.
If ‘doing theology’ is about ‘being in a conversation with the world around us’ and ‘our calling to be creative’ not to put up a ‘defense of a theological canon or system,’ then the answers Christians give to the people around us are not going to be the same. While some theological creativity remains an important developing factor to give theology a fresh look, the concept itself is not going to make situations any better for individuals who want to be theologically consistent.
That is the point to systematic theology.
In an a-systematic theological point of view, private judgments, ideas, and values remain supreme while consistency and standards remain relatively subjective.
That is what Unitarianism championed.
This is not new.
But what this oftentimes does lead to—for most—is a smorgasbord of competitive religious views that are not in line with Orthodox Christianity. In fact, what one does get is a cacophony cohort of ideas that do not resemble a Christianity with diverse opinions, but one that resembles a gallery of products coming from the idol factory.
To be continued…
Read the rest of the series at the following links: