Thursday, December 09, 2004

Sister Mary Elephant Explains It All For You

Now, claasss!*

*(For those few in this audience old enough and deranged enough to remember Cheech & Chong when they were only available on LP's)

Getting more questions than can be answered in Haloscan, so something new and/or different. Either a continuing thread, or a frequent addition: attempts to answer your questions. And the first one is:

Are adherents to one or the other understanding of these covenants, (new, old), specific to Catholicism or Protestantism, or do these beliefs also split within each tradition? I'd get the feeling Catholics would be more, er, catholic as far as the beliefs that are to be held concerning this issue- or would that be wrong also?

"Covenants," here, meaning the "Old" covenant, or "Old Testament," and the "new covenant," or "New Testament."

Let me say right off that my Hebrew Scriptures ("Old Testament") professor in seminary told us one thing first, and hammered it in: the Hebrew Scriptures are not the prelude to the New Testament. So the dichotomy between covenants is, essentially, a false one. But it's also an old one. Goes back as far as the Gospel of John, where John's community (the people the gospel writer wrote for, whoever he was) were anxious to separate themselves from the Jews (who had already separated themselves from John's community; John's "people" were thrown out of the synagogue; that much is clear).

Is it more Catholic than Protestant? "No," is the short answer. Although Cyrus Scofield (a Texan, by the way), came up with a scheme he called "dispensationalism." Basically, he divided history into eras, or "dispensations." That's one radical end of the idea of "old" and "new" covenants.

Christianity has more or less seen itself, throughout history, as a "new" covenant, to separate itself from Judaism (and set itself above, let's be honest). Is it valid? It isn't widely supported anymore by "liberal" theologians (which means those who defend the idea are "conservative," only because they're upholding tradition).

The Social Gospel

Somewhere in here, somebody asked about the Social Gospel (sorry, it's getting hard to keep track). This was, put simply, the idea that the basiliea tou theou (the "kingdom of God") was not apocalyptic, but present now, and would transform the world by it's presence. It was an attempt to give moral leadership back to the church in an American society riven by the Civil War and Reconstruction. The greatest proponent of the Social Gospel was Walter Rauschenbusch, in his book Christianity and the Social Crisis. The harshest critic of the doctrine was Reinhold Niebuhr, in his book Moral Man and Immoral Society. The doctrine came to be identified with the perfectability of humankind (which would lead to the clear and unambiguous presence of the kingdom of God on earth). Niebuhr assailed that argument as completely unrealistic, given the nature of human society.

Okay. Take five.

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