Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Asia Minor Debacle

Leithart writes, concerning a question which has long troubled me; we'll call it the "mystery of Asia Minor"?

One of the themes of Jenkins’s The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died is that Christianization is reversible: Churches die. How to account for it?

Jenkins He cites on Payne Smith, a Victorian scholar, who wrote in the introduction to the works of John of Ephesus that “the young Mahomet, repelled in his first inquiries by the idolatrous aspect which Christianity outwardly bore, was rising to be the instrument of God’s just anger against the Eastern Church. For the picture which John has drawn for us . . . of the narrowness and bigotry, the fierce strifes, the want of self-restraint, the injustice and cruelty and utter absence of Christian charity, which characterized all parties in his days alike, make us feel that the times were ripe for punishment.”

Jenkins observes, “Obviously, such opinions carry little weight for most mainstream Christians today.” Call me “a modern reader of literal inclinations” or a non-mainstream Christian, but I fail to see why Jenkins is so skeptical. Suppose we just lopped off the divine dimension of Smith’s explanation: Would internecine conflict among Christians, bigotry, injustice and cruelty be a sufficient explanation for the failure of these churches? Or: Would it be a sufficient explanation if we noted that the churches of John’s day failed entirely to live up to the demands of their professed Lord, that they were hypocritical, that their actions belied their proclamation that Jesus had come to renew human life? Why does adding the theological dimension make this explanation less weighty?

Jenkins characterizes this style of explanation as an “Old Testament perspective.” He should read Revelation 2-3 again.

posted by Peter J. Leithart on Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 1:23 pm

The question of idolatry obscures things somewhat, for Leithart, here. There is clearly (at least) a symbolic connection between the Reformation and Islam (as Oswald Spengler has trenchantly pointed out in his Untergang des Abendlandes, Vol. I & II). This doesn't minimize the fact that government endorsement had somewhat compromised the Gospel by the time of Mahomet.

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