Extra Israel nulla salus

The question in the canon debate is not whether the Church approves–and hence creates–the canon, but whether Israel’s Scriptures approve the church (per Robert Jenson).

The second question is not whether am I saved because I am part of Institution x (which makes mutually exclusive claims from Institution y, both of which damn eternally members in the Set ~{xy} ), but rather “Am I ingrafted in Israel?”

That question gets tricky.  Paul specifically says the true church (leaving undefined at the moment, which he did) is en grafted into God’s olive tree, which identity is Israel.   But he says ethnic Israel has been (temporarily) cut off (sidenote:  regardless of millennial views, how someone can read Romans 11 and not see a future inbringing of Jews is simply amillennialism’s desperate last gasp).

This brings us back to the question of identity:   those who are saved are the in-grafted-into-Israel-ones.  I leave aside questions of eternal salvation at the moment.  Paul affirms a future inbringing of Jews–which will be the catalyst for life-for-the-world.

Corollary:  Communions which are anti-semitic are under a negative judgment per Paul’s comments circa ingrafting.

Corollary 1b: I do not agree with everything the modern nation state of Israel does.  I do not vote Republican.

Corollary 2: Is the Church the New Israel?  I know covenant theologians like to make that connection, and I am sympathetic to some of the conclusions (e.g., infant baptism), and I understand that New Testament writers use OT priestly language in reference to the church, but I hesitate saying that.  While the position isn’t fundamentally wrong, it clouds the discussion and turns attention away from the dialectical purpose of God in history (I know that was a very Hegelian sentence.  I don’t mean it that way): the church is a mystery revealed in these last times, of whom ethnic Israel is jealous, which jealously shall lead to their conversion; which conversion shall be life for the world.

That is the essence of New Testament eschatology.

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Orthodox Eschatology and the Problem of Putin

In a fascinating article by Vladimir Moss, we have a capable discussion of the Orthodox political theorist Alexander Dugin, particularly his relation to Vladimir Putin. Moss’s article is important because it is written by a conservative Orthodox scholar who hates globalism, modernist Orthodoxy, yet has suspicions about Putin’s conservative Christianity. Putin’s annexation of Crimea and his twice-humiliating Obama (e.g., Syria and Ukraine) have forced conservatives to reevaluate their Russophobia and the future of international conservative thought.

I want to build upon Moss’s analysis, with which I mostly agree. My goal is to show tensions in Russian history that Moss doesn’t note and ponder the implications for Orthodox engagement today.

Who is Dugin?

Back in my Russophilic days I was watching Dugin’s career really take off.  Dugin had abandoned the National Bolshevism Party (!!) and started his own Party.  Eventually, he saw that Russia’s future was with Putin and cast his lot there.  My Orthodox friends were emailing me pdfs of Dugin’s books long before they were in print.  I was leaving any form of Orthodoxy at that point so I really wasn’t interested.

Leaving aside Dugin’s own political views, Moss highlights his “eschatological ecclesiology.”  Moss rightly notes that Dugin’s views cannot be understood apart from his Old Ritualist beliefs.  The Old Ritualists separated from the Moscow Patriarch NIKON in the 1660s because they saw Nikon modifying the liturgy (and they were correct–this has huge and embarrassing implications for semper ubique and an always united church).

Old Ritualists see the world as corrupt and expect a future, purifying catastrophe (a common theme among many Christian sects), even sacrificing themselves in the fire.  I hope you make the connection between their own suicidal deaths by fire and Dugin’s call for nuclear war.  It is not accidental.

Dugin’s own analysis of Revelation is bizarre (yet no more arbitrary and subjective than Reformed amillennialism) and while entertaining, largely beyond the scope of this essay. However, it does break down Christian history into three phases: Pre-Constantinian, Constantinian (and later Muscovite) and post-1660 Muscovite.  The middle period is the Millennial Reign and the Third Period is the Age of Antichrist.  This means, as Moss notes, that little good can be seen in the post-1660 Orthodox Church (which argument by the Old Ritualists is one reason I never joined).

Dugin’s analysis is strained when he comes to the Soviet era.  He can’t simply defend it because of its atheism, but he does give it moderate praise.  He sees God’s exercising a strange power through the Soviet world, but that doesn’t bother Dugin since he’s already identified America as the Antichrist (which is odd, given his dating of 1666 as the beginning of Antichrist).

Contra Moss, Dugin is correct to note that the “spiritual conformism” of the Nikonite patriarchs is no less revolutionary than the Sovietism of the Church. With exception of Fr. Raphael Johnson, very few American Orthodox have owned up to this problem.  Dugin sees the future Philadelphian Church as a combination of the Old Ritualists, the Moscow Patriarchate, and the ROCA church.  This is problematic, to say the least, since all of these churches have condemned each other for “schisming from the true faith” (this is a huge psychological problem for convertskii).

Dugin’s eschatology allows him to see Putin in a new, monarchical role, especially in opposing America.  There are many aspects of American liberalism that should be rightly opposed, but one gets nervous in reading the nuclear overtones of Dugin’s proposal! The rest of the article is an analysis of Orthodox and Dispensationalist eschatologies, which do not concern us here.

Orthodoxy Today

So what do converts to Orthodoxy say about Dugin’s analysis?  Few likely have heard of them and that’s expected.  However, everyone in America has to face up to Putin’s Russia, whether good or bad.  Some convertskii have pointed out many goods of Putin’s Russia: it refuses to tolerate sodomy and speaks out for oppressed Christians in the Middle East, much to the anger of the Beltway Alliance.

I suspect American Orthodox will break down in several lines on this question. The hard-core convertskii will understandably praise Putin(and by extension Dugin).  They will see Russia as the last bulwark against the New World Order.  The more moderate convertskii, those perhaps enamored with Schmemann, Thomas Nelson Publishing, and Ancient Faith Radio, might find Dugin’s analysis embarrassing.  Yet he can’t simply be dismissed:  if you accept Putin as a normative figure you have to account for Dugin’s influence on him.

Is Putin King Arthur Redivivus?

I used to think he was.  I like him better than Obama, to be sure, but I do not think the future belongs to Russia, no matter if it is secular, Orthodox, or Communist.  Putin divorced his wife and has taken up with a young and attractive gymnast.  Hardly the actions of the leader of conservative Christendom. While Russia’s own situation has improved since the 1990s, it’s future is far from certain.  The abortion, suicide, divorce, and prostitution rates in Russia are abysmal.  Civilizations have been destroyed for far less (Boer Afrika had its problems, but they didn’t have the decadence of today’s Russia, either, yet they were destroyed by the Marxist torturer Nelson Mandela.  Maybe South Africa did sin.  She was formally covenanted to God).

I thought about doing a sociological analysis on Russia’s birth-rate and related variables. I used to have the info for that, but those days are long gone.  I will give a snapshot analysis:

  • While Russia’s energy reserves are formidable, she needs markets. While she has Western Europe by the balls, energetically speaking, her economy is fragile and severe enough sanctions could tip the scale.
  • Even though her birth rate has improved, much of it is from Central Asian Muslims, not white Orthodox Christians.
  • Most importantly–religiously–she does not appear to have the “want-to” to survive.  Though Bulgakov and Dostoevsky could speak in eschatological veins, Orthodox theology is more inward, mystical, and onto-focused; overcoming estrangement. I realize I am speaking in generalities, but history’s bears it out.  Where is the “Protestant” work-ethic–so famous and so maligned–among the Slavic lands?  It was the Protestant understanding of the Covenant and the law of God that allowed them dominion in Europe and the New World.
  • Finally,and I realize few will share my analysis, God doesn’t reward the worship of images.  Civilizations that are built on language and communications are healthier than those built on fetishism.

A Contrast

Even the best of civilizations fall.  If the criteria of success is longetivity, then few will last.  However, we can analyze the nature of their lasting and the religious impulses within it.

Covenanteroes

While I reject as naive those narratives that say the Covenanters produced modern republicanism, the impulses which drove the English Puritans and Scottish Presbyterians did create a New World.  Jock Purves writes,

The United States of America, too, is a great result of the further development of the Reformation in the orderings of the most High.  It might have been settled by the Spanish or Portugese, and therefore, now been as South America, Romish, backward and dark. But in genius and constitution, in its strong depths and grand heights, it is a Protestant land.  This is because of a people, such a people, in moral and spiritual stature incomparable, the finest expositors of Scripture ever known, the English Puritans (42).

Whatever else you say about Protestantism, ask why all of the economic and political developments for the common good in the modern world happened in historically Protestant lands? Whenever there is a crop shortage in Russia, why does it always turn into a catastrophe?  Even under the decimating reigns of the Clintons and Obamas, America hasn’t had that.

I can only wonder what would have happened if King James I hadn’t murdered Sir Walter Raleigh at the behest of the Spanish Ambassador. Raleigh was talking of settling Latin America.

Only religion can bring life to a land.  I hope and pray that Orthodoxy in Russia stops women becoming Prostitutes and aborting their babies.  But it will take more than 10% of the population.

 

And the gates of Rome will burn

I am not a Postmillennialist, but historicists come close to making me one. In any case, I’ve always wondered about constructing a historic premil eschatology around the basis of historicism. Here is a stirring quote from Richard Cameron,

“LET CHRIST REIGN.” Let us study to have it set up amongst us. It is hard to tell where it shall be first erected, but our Lord is to set up a standard; and oh, that it may be carried to Scotland? When it is set up it shall be carried through the nations, and it shall go to Rome, and the gates of Rome shall be burned with fire. It is a standard that shall overthrow the throne of Britain, and all the thrones in Europe, that will not “kiss the Son lest he be angry; and in his anger they perish from the way.” “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the heathen; I will be exalted in the earth.”

Richard Cameron, ‘Sermon on Psalm 46:10′ in Sermons in times of persecution in Scotland, by sufferers for the royal prerogatives of Jesus Christ, ed. James Kerr (Edinburgh, 1880), pp 457-8.

I never could shake this argument

All Protestants intuitively know this.  However, as some begin to move into Patristics they pretend it isn’t there.   I first came across it in Jim Jordan’s brief commentary on Revelation (which I don’t endorse).  Jordan writes,

Anyone who reads the Bible, climaxing in the New Testament, and then turns to the “apostolic fathers” of the second century, is amazed at how little these men seem to have known. The Epistle of Barnabas, for instance, comments on the laws in Leviticus, but completely misinterprets them, following not Paul but the Jewish Letter of Aristeas. It is clear that there is some significant break in continuity between the apostles and these men.

No argument here.  It’s the next sentence that loses all his readers,

What accounts for this? I can only suggest that the harvest of the first-fruit saints in the years before ad 70, which seems to be spoken of in Revelation 14, created this historical discontinuity. (I’d say the first-fruits Church was the Pentecostal harvest of the third month; we look toward the Tabernacles harvest of the seventh month; note Leviticus 23:22, which comes right after the description of the Pentecostal feast, and may well shed significant light on the problem we have here mentioned.)

That might be true, but you just can’t drop bombs like this out of nowhere and expect people to follow along.  But I digress.  Back to Aristeas.   There are a number of comments that OB didn’t approve on the LXX.  His next point is spot-on.

We ought to be careful, too, in assuming we have a comprehensive picture of the early church. We have a few writings of a few men, many of whom were not pastors and teachers but educated first generation converts from paganism, lay scholars who were engaged in debate.

Anchorites love to appeal to St Ignatios and the fact that he was a disciple of John.  What of it?  What gives you the right to take a mere selection (fewer than 20 pages) of one man’s writing and apply them to the whole church?  This is the crudest of logical fallacies

Ontology is chiastic

Much of my project consists in rejecting the view that there is an entity behind the entity that is the real entity.  When played out in terms of creation and soteriology, this means that deliverance is the overcoming of estrangement (Tillich/Horton) and the rescue from finitude. (I would quote some examples from Orthodox Bridge where they say precisely this, but people would then call shenannigans since it isn’t a scholarly venue.  Fair enough)   A narratival ontology by contrast is dynamic, forward-moving, and is redeemed by the spoken word whose echoes (literally, since sound is the vibration of air) redeem the cosmos.

Another interesting thought:  narrative and covenant are related.  We really can’t know the existence of a covenant pact except in the narrative from which it arises. Have we not also seen that covenant is a category that can also answer ontological questions?  Which model is more relevant to biblical life, participationist schemes or narratival schemes?  Ontologians (forgive the neologism) speak of ousias, overcoming the carapaces of embodiment (Milbank), entities behind the ousia, etc.   A covenantal narrative speaks of blood, cutting, hair, flesh, presence, and genital emissions.   Which model is relevant not only to the biblical narrative but also to real life?

Reformed theology is accused of being nominalist.  It’s hard to see how this is so.  On the other hand, it is not immediately clear why we should favor philosophical realism in its ancient or medieval forms.   The contrast between these two systems allows the Reformed to posit a more robust ontology:  verbalism.   Realism, whether Platonic or Thomist, sees the forms as extra/intra mental realities.   That’s well and good, but at the end of the day the forms are either still in my mind or in Plato’s world above the world. And that’s it.  The Covenantalist sees ultimate reality in the spoken Word.    Imaging Creator Yahweh, our words, whether good or bad, create new situations and new realities.  To be sure, we can’t create physical entities ex nihilo, but the situations are no less real because of that.   In terms of salvation, these spoken realities approach us extra nos.

(Recommended reading:)
Horton, Michael, Four Volume Series on Covenant
Leithart, Peter.  Brightest Heaven of Invention, pp. 223ff

In Practice

  • A participationist model will approach the Lord’s Feast asking how the elements change.  A covenantalist will ask is this not a manifestation of the joy of the kingdom and of Yahweh’s victory?  A covenantalist approach let’s Yahweh feed us and isn’t worried about the elements changing our ontological status.
  • A participationist model is vertical.  It is more interested in the Forms and in moving to a higher degree of finitude (which will ultimately be overcome).  A covenantalist is horizontal:  it is focused on the in-breaking of Yahweh’s kingdom in history.  I understand that the anchorites speak of Kingdom in their eucharistic services.  That may be so, but it is ultimately dwarfed by a focus on what the elements do.  Incidentally, this is the real value of what the word “rite” really meant.  When Yahweh spoke of signs, it usually meant “sit back and watch this.”  It meant Yahweh was acting mightily for his people’s deliverance.

Nota Bene:   is not the idea (oops) of Sign eschatological?  It points to the final reality but is not the final reality; yet, the final reality is in some small way present in the sign.  Never lose the tension between the sign and the thing signified, for that tension is in its essence eschatological.

On signs and sacraments

One of the liturgical side-effects of the FV movement was to look into the sacraments and see what is being “done.”  Traditional theology had seen the sacraments as signs and seals connected by a sacramental union (and incidentally, only Reformed theology can truly maintain this balance and tension.  Other traditions which collapse the sign into the thing signified can no longer speak of signs at all).  The sign points to the thing signified.  Leithart and others have suggested that a better model is seeing the sacraments as “rites.”  A rite does not mean what we usually think of when we hear the term.  Rite as it is originally meant is a meeting place of God’s action.  So what do we make of this?

We must be very cautious in rejecting the “sign-model.”  The divines knew what they were doing. Losing the sacramental union between sign and thing signified opens the door to practices like paedocommunion.  On the other hand, the Lord’s Supper is indeed a kingdom feast.   Maybe this is where sign-terminology is helpful:  the Supper points to the ultimate eschatological feast.   It is not fully identical with it, which no one will deny (unless he is full preterist).  Yet the kingdom is really present in a sense.  Perhaps this sheds model on the phrase “sacramental union.”   Further, the kingdom-feast model moves the talk away from “substances and accidents.”  Even when Romanist scholars try to work transubstantion around eschatology, they end up conceding the debate to Protestantism.

I think the sign-model should be retained provided we add several explanations.   “Sign” in the Bible usually means watching God’s mighty action in such-in-such a place.  A possible exception might be Romans 4, but even then I don’t think Paul is using sign in the later Augustinian sense.  We should retain “sign” with perhaps a healthier emphasis on the older Hebrew connotations and with a practical understanding of the value of a sacramental union between sign and thing signified.  The rite-model makes more sense with the Supper than it does with baptism.  I know many have used it with baptism, but I don’t see any advantages it has on this front over sign-model.

Narrative’s rewiring ontology

Second Corinthians 3
Paul makes a number of important parallels and contrasts (from Peter Leithart’s Deep Comedy, 23-24):

  • Old                                                                                                 New
  • Letter                                                                                            Spirit
  • Tablet of Stone                                                                            Tablet of human heart
  • Kills                                                                                               Gives Life
  • Ministry of condemnation                                                        ministry righteousness
  • Glory                                                                                            Surpassing Glory
  • Veil                                                                                                Veil Removed
  • Minds hardened                                                                          Minds softened
  • Slavery                                                                                         Liberty

Keeping in mind the Adam-Christ parallel from Romans 5 and 2 Corinthians 5, Paul is saying that from Adam to Christ “death reigned,” but with Christ life was, if you will, “pumped into the world.”  With the resurrection of Jesus eschatological life has entered the world.  Throughout the prophets the promise of the Spirit was always connected with a new humanity.

The gospel entered the world telling a new story about history.  For the pagan world, death was ultimate and tragic.   The gospel “re-wired” the laws of death and nature