In 1943, C.S. Lewis wrote a pamphlet, later published under the title The Abolition of Man. In it he referred to a book the contents of which he found utterly repelling. Regarding the authors of the book, he affirmed, “I shall have nothing good to say of them”. Being a man of decency and kindness, Lewis examined the book’s content at length, but said of the writers, “I propose to conceal their names. I shall refer to these gentlemen as Gaius and Titius and to their book as The Green Book.” He promised his readers, however, that the book did exist, and that he had it on his shelves.
Like Lewis, I also have come into contact with a book the contents of which I find utterly repelling. It is full of lies, mistakes, half-truths, and distortions. It breathes a spirit of pride and arrogance, as it examines the faith and practice of Protestants, Roman Catholics and Orthodox (that is, pretty much everyone) and finds them all mistaken, misled and damaging to authentic spiritual life. It involves throughout a hermeneutic of historical suspicion, for it takes for granted that the Church Fathers were half-pagan men who distorted and paganized the Christian Faith. (That the basic tenets of Roman Catholicism were wrong is taken for granted, as it is in most partisan Evangelical Protestant writing.) Much of the blame for pretty much everything in the Church is laid at the feet of the Emperor Constantine, whom the two authors regard as essentially pagan (his mother Helen does not come off much better, but is described as “most noted for her obsession with relics”). Everything characteristic of Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and classical and revivalist Protestantism is denounced and jettisoned. I found the hubris involved in the project completely breath-taking.
Also like Lewis, “I propose to conceal their names”, and shall refer to these gentlemen as Valentinus and Marcion, and to their book as The Red Book. (In this I am admittedly motivated not so much by the kindness that motivated Lewis as I am by a reluctance to publicize the volume in any way.) But I also promise you that this book exists, and that I have it on my shelves. (I am filing it in the “Cult” section of my library. It is nestling comfortably against Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.)
One thing nice I can say about Valentinus and Marcion. They appear to be quite sincere. They are doing their best to question anything that to their mind distorts the true Christian Faith, and are prepared to jettison most of their own Protestant heritage as quickly as they have already, like most Protestants, jettisoned the Roman Catholic heritage. They are striving to question long-standing presuppositions, however entrenched these might be in Protestant praxis. But the one presupposition that they do not seem to question is the one fundamental to all fundamentalists—namely that the New Testament gives us a blue-print for how to “do” church, and that we should follow it slavishly today.
That is, Valentinus and Marcion have rejected the notion (probably without knowing it) that the New Testament is rooted and situated within the flow of history. Any development that took place after the last New Testament document was penned is simply rejected out of hand as dilution and distortion, as a paganization of the pristine Faith. Thus they pretend that they are still in the first century and try to reproduce its practices. Even here they are not self-consistent, for if they really wanted to reproduce the ecclesiastical life of the first century and “do church” like they did then, they would not refer to the New Testament as an authoritative body of literature, for the concept of a “New Testament” (i.e. the canon) was a much later development. They would not even read from the four Gospels, for the churches to whom Paul wrote did not read any of these Gospels, since they had not yet been written. The stories of Jesus circulated then as part of an oral tradition (Acts 20:35 preserves a fragment of this oral tradition, one which did not make it into any of the four Gospels). Rejecting the principle of valid and divinely-led development is therefore not “on” for the Christian, for use of the New Testament canon presupposes it. We can have confidence in the Church and the developments that it eventually accepted. Christ promised that He would guide His Church into all truth (Jn. 16:13), and there is no suggestion that the promise had an expiry date. When Christ said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church (Mt. 16:18), He didn’t add, “at least not until the beginning of the second century”.
In future posts, I would like to examine The Red Book more thoroughly, even as Lewis examined The Green Book—and not simply because the book needs an answer. It doesn’t really. If one committed oneself to answering every idiotic critique of the Faith, one would never have time to sleep. But I would like to examine it because it by examining its mistakes, fallacies, lies, and half-truths, we may come to understand the truth of our Orthodox Faith more fully.