Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Loosening the Grip 2

Ideas don’t always transform behavior. Another way of saying this is that orthodoxy doesn’t necessarily lead to orthopraxy. Perhaps one of the most obvious examples of the disconnect emerges with racism for it is a sad, sad fact that some profound thinkers have been thoroughly orthodox and incredibly “hetero-praxis” when it comes to racism. But the tools to undo racism can be found in orthodox thinking. In particular, in christology. Orthodox christology obliterates racism. This is how I read the Prelude to J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account.
Question: How important is the Incarnation of Christ to racism?
This Prelude argues that the tools to undo racism can be found in the debate Irenaeus had with the version of Gnosticism at work in Lyons (Gaul). Gnosticism is complex; Ireneaus’s response just as complex. Let me do my best to summarize Carter’s summary of that debate.
First, Gnosticism categorized humans into three classes in a descending order:
the spirituals, who were not related to YHWH or to Israel;
the psychics;
the materialists [hylics].
This categorizing of humans, Carter argues, provides a foundation for racialization and classification of humans.
Second, Gnosticism declassified Israel as the People of God.
Third, Gnosticism declassified YHWH as the Sovereign God.
Carter argues that Irenaeus’ response to Gnosticism profoundly undoes any basis for hierarchy among humans, for disconnecting the Church from Israel, and for delegitimating YHWH as God.
How does Carter see this happening for Irenaeus?
Christology. The drive of Irenaeus is to affirm and assert the utter materiality of Christ in both the Incarnation and his Recapitulation. Furthermore, Irenaeus affirms and asserts the intimacy of the Father with the (material) Son via the Spirit in Creation and in God’s covenant with Israel. Materialization, then, connects God to creation, to Israel, and to the Son.
The moment one affirms these ideas — both Incarnation and Recapitulation — racism is obliterated. Christ becomes material and redeems materality and connects God to materiality. Most importantly, Christ recapitulates the entirety of human material existence:
But here’s what recapitulation does not do: it does not overwhelm or conquer all other nations, languages and generations into a single nation, language or generation, but encompasses and embraces each in that each is found in Christ. In Christ’s material existence then one finds Pentecost embodied. This affirms diversity without violently forcing uniformity or conformity.
All humans and each human then is recapitulated in Christ and this means there can be no grading of humans, no hierarchy.
Racialization of humans and theology, which classifies humans into degrees of worth and which then forms a discourse that legitimates hierarchy, therefore is obliterated in the material incarnation and recapitulation of Christ.
Well, that’s my read of Carter’s Prelude.

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posted October 10, 2008 at 4:59 am

This continues to be a fascinating topic. So, the Carter book turns on its head the notion that somehow, by excluding Gnosticism (including purportedly women writers), the church Fathers engaged in an agenda to impose patriarchy on Christianity. If anything, this reading shows how early, traditional church thinkers tried to keep the church non-hierarchical.
Sadly, as the Civil War and WWII show, humanity has to keep fighting off the fallen tendency to impose hierarchies that destroy groups of people.

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Scott W

posted October 10, 2008 at 5:58 am

Carter’s broader point–of which Irenaeus’ theological reflections on creation vis-a-vis Gnosticism form a centerpiece–is that the worldview of white supremecy is in fact in direct competition with as an alternative accountof the biblical/Orthodox view of creation, while using it to justify its views.

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posted October 10, 2008 at 8:33 am

Very interesting.

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posted October 10, 2008 at 9:22 am

Is it Borg who makes the argument that Orthodoxy is determined by Orthopraxy? Ortho-correct and Dox-worship. It might be said that, in some scary and nebulous way, Orthodoxy is determined by what is right and good in our practice. What we bind on earth will be bound in heave. “They will know you are mine by your fruit.” To say that there is objective Orthodoxy that is complete apart from relationship or community seems to lend itself to prejudices because people then become compared to non-relational and non-tangible standards.
This is a pretty scary argument to make because it opens the door to all sorts of crazy things being believed but I would argue some “orthodox” beliefs lead to some pretty stupid behaviors. Is there a balance between truth and orthodoxy as relational and a strict systematic view of truth?

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tim atwater

posted October 10, 2008 at 10:51 am

“Ideas don?t always transform behavior. Another way of saying this is that orthodoxy doesn?t necessarily lead to orthopraxy.”
Philip Yancey’s chapter on Gandhi in his book Soul Survivor starts with an account of Gandhi going as an inquiring seeker to a South African prayer meeting led by one of the most famous Christian writers on prayer.
He was refused entrance as a non-white…
Yancey then speculates on the possible effects of this intro to Christianity for Gandhi…
What we do and don’t do is ultimately the only accurate way of assessing what we really believe… (and don’t believe)…

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Greg The Anonymous Troll

posted October 10, 2008 at 12:06 pm

My limited understanding of Gnosticism leads me to understand that at it’s core, there are no distinctions at all. Sort of a radical Monism. The distinctions are all on the lowest level and only those who are the spiritual elite “Know” the true nature of reality which is that “All is God”.
“All humans and each human then is recapitulated in Christ and this means there can be no grading of humans, no hierarchy.”
Even though God enters into the Creation and is “recapitulated in the Resurrection and Ascension; There remains a Creator/creation distinction. Even after the incarnation there are Sheep and there are Goats. Unless one wants to embrace universalism, I fail to see how Dr Carter’s Incarnation and Recapitulation reduces (never mind obliterates) racism, which supposedly arises from “Othering”.
The Gnostic challenge was to deny identifying the ultimate reality with the specific and PERSONAL identity of the God of the OT. Irenaeus’ challenge to the Gnostics was to demonstrate that Jesus was both Human/Divine and the PERSONAL ultimate reality who has entered into the material world.

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Wayne Park

posted October 10, 2008 at 12:17 pm

The Incarnation was the greatest cross-cultural act ever undertaken. It bypassed quaint tokenisms and multicultural talk to become the true model of trans-culturalism.
Gnosticism at heart was exclusivist and elitist – the very things that perpetuate oppressive racialized structures.
The funny thing is, I’ve found better tools to dealing with racism from heterodox theology as opposed to orthodoxy. For instance, reformed theology has a strong individualist approach to sin which does well in the realm of sanctification and holiness, but limits the scope of sin to what is managed by personal responsibility. Any talk of sin that is systemic, racialized, corporate and larger than the individual smacks of passing the buck. Blaming society. Shirking personal responsibility.
The thing is, society is complicit when it comes to racism, oppressive structures, even global economics. The fact that the global market is collapsing because of Wall St. America proves this.

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posted October 10, 2008 at 1:26 pm

Good theology a remedy for racism : The Daily Scroll

[…] Especially a sound view of Christ, according to J. Kameron Carter, the author of Race: A theological Account. Scot McKnight comments on the prelude to Carter’s work: “Carter argues that Irenaeus? response to Gnosticism profoundly undoes any basis for hierarchy among humans, for disconnecting the Church from Israel, and for delegitimating YHWH as God.” […]

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Scott W

posted October 10, 2008 at 3:08 pm

Carter does not make the argumant that Irenaeus’anti-Gnostic Christology reduces or obliterates racism. In this Prologue his point is that Gnosticism, in its unravelling of the Israel from Jesus,and YHWH from material creation,opened the door for the hierarchical anthropological understandings which can (and did!) lead to the emergence to the racial imagination as a theological phenomenon. Positively,he is trying to make the point that inasmuch as the process of constructing the edifice of race was theological and the theological moves Irenaeus made in his Christological reflections contra Gnosticism was analagous to what certain African American Christians did in the 18th and 19th century in articulating a Christology which was embedded in the history of Israel and covenatal and non-racial,as an antidote to the faux Christian racialized accounts at play at the time.Both were constructive theological responses to similar theological dynamics. The fact that Carter has made this connection is a testament to the brilliance of his deep and profound theological and philosophical analysis, something that characterized the stream of Eastern Christian theology, from Ireanaeus to Athanasius and the Cappadocians to Maximus the Confessor but which does not characterize much of what is superficailly characterized as “orthodox”.That critical spirit of really getting at the heart of what is the nature of the Christian claims are in terms of the a particular controversy,from theology to social implications is something that they understood,just as Athanisius did with Arianism.But not us!

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Greg The Anonymous Troll

posted October 10, 2008 at 4:51 pm

Scott W:
Thanks for taking the time to respond as I understand you are busy.
You said: “Carter does not make the argument that Irenaeus?anti-Gnostic Christology reduces or obliterates racism.”
My comment was directed at the assertion in the main post that: “The moment one affirms these ideas ? both Incarnation and Recapitulation ? racism is obliterated.”
As I said; I just don’t see it there or how that is particularly helpful in fighting racism for reasons already stated. I can see how the example of the Exodus would have a somewhat less opaque appeal and more direct application to the issue of slavery as would the letter to Philemon. What I am waiting to see is how Christian theology today is so riddled with racism that it requires a complete rethinking. Frankly; so far there is far too much reading racism and racist motives into every little statement and action (When it is not there) for my liking, but I am willing to entertain specific examples. Happy Thanksgiving weekend to all the Canadians.

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posted October 10, 2008 at 4:54 pm

You made good summary of Carter on Irenaeus. I loved that chapter/prelude! :)

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Scott W

posted October 10, 2008 at 7:08 pm

I did address your assertion:I think Scot’s overstated this point,as it had to do with the Prologue,even though in substance it’s an accurate.
Unless I misunderstand how you use the term “racism” I think you are setting up a straw man which Carter,as a very sophisticated and careful scholar, eschews.I’ve addressed what he’s actually trying to do:a historical,philosophical,sociological and political analysis of the development of white supremeecy as a theological phenomenon.What you refer to is just the tip of the ice berg of a much larger and pernicious phenomenom, a worldview.

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Mike Mangold

posted October 10, 2008 at 11:27 pm

I’m not sure, in a practical sense, that the Incarnation obliterates racism. If Christ is the fulfillment of the Law, then how does that perpetuate the belief that the Jewish nation established the concept of a “master race?” This is vis-a-vis Andrew Young and his role in the United Nations.
Even more practically, this last May we went to Georgia on vacation. Like good Christians, we attended a church service one night where the pastor preached about the “sin” of inter-racial marriage, quoting Scripture left and right like no one’s business. Perhaps this is merely one consequence of copying-and-pasting verses of the Bible a la Frank Viola in order to concretize a pre-established view.

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