November 10, 2011

The Individualist Accident (Medievalism)

Ken Schenck's continuing posts on Scot McKnight's King Jesus Gospel have been really engaging so far.  Told ya they would be.  In the latest installment.. well, you should really go read it for yourself.  (Menu: Here!)  I'll just begin here with my major takeaway, so far.

Ken's last post made me realize how directly the Medieval Church was responsible for influencing the Protestant message into emphasizing individual salvation. Now, I've long recognized Catholic Individualism.  For one thing, when all of Europe became evidently "God's Kingdom", what else was there but to get everyone into heaven?  For another, the emphasis was good marketing AND good governance.  How do we make sure all these ignorant, filthy peasants keep the faith?  Talk up the next world!  And how do we make sure these disenfranchised, poverty stricken peasants remain good subservient citizens?  Threaten them with the next world!

At least in protestantism, to some degree, it turned more positive:  what began as a method of control and abuse ("Be good, peasants, or you won't get to heaven") was unconsciously adopted/retained as the context of the new proclaimed liberty ("be graced, peasants, and you will get to heaven").  Incidentally, the loss of that stick may be one reason protestantism had so much trouble maintaining stability in governance, itself.

At any rate, all ninety-five of Luther's Theses (last I checked) were about how wrong it was to "sell" individual salvation.  The purpose of that mindset is what infuriated Luther, but the form of that thinking was never rejected by Luther's mind, and that's fascinating.  Scot McKnight can blame Luther and Calvin for increasing the blatant emphasis (in their written Confessions) on individual salvation, but it's not as if L&C were thinking their 'new' thoughts in a total vacuum.  The Medieval emphasis had arisen for very practical reasons (though I admit I've probably oversimplified somewhat, above), and that basic situation hadn't changed one bit, despite all the new visioning.

Below Ken's post, I wondered if Scot was going out of his way to avoid the appearance of Catholic-bashing, but this morning I think, perhaps Augsberg & Geneva were simply more convenient ways to make Scot's case a bit more objective, and that's probably valid.  Of course, it could also be true that Scot just doesn't see things this way.  I may have to find out.  (Once again, the more I engage with a review of a book, the more likely I am to wind up reading the book itself.  Go figure.)

Finally, this all reminds me of NT Wright's IBR lecture in Atlanta, and Michael Bird (responding) comparing "kingdom" language in the early fathers, versus the lack thereof by the time of the reformers.  My question at that time was to wonder why any Medieval powers would have written words about "kingdom" for any reason?  When God had seemingly already conquered the world, politically, what else was there to be talking about?  And so, the focus, quite naturally, turned to individual salvation.

To be clear, I'm all in for avoiding the appearance of Catholic bashing.  I just don't think Luther & Calvin are really ultimately to blame.  And when we talk about Medieval Catholicism, let's be clear, we're also talking about a very different organization in many ways than the RCC that stands today.  But let's also be clear...

Evidently, there is something at work in the systematization of religion, on the massive scale, which eventually cannot help but to process believers on an individual basis.  Call it the precursor of the factory-model, perhaps, but it's absolutely systemic.  To increase the scale of doing business, one absolutely must create efficiencies.  It is no accident that today's mega-churches are the place where believers are most likely to wind up with a totally individualized church-going experience.  When you consider practical dynamics, the mega-churches can hardly do otherwise.

Think upon these things...

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