Monday, January 3, 2011

Gene Robinson: Montanist Heretic

When the history of the 19-21st century is written centuries from now it will treat a heretical movement named Liberal Protestantism (which by then will no longer exist as a major force) not very kindly. To get an idea of the ways it will be viewed, one can look at past heretical movements such as Gnosticism, Montanism, Arianism, etc.

I suspect that there will be strong evidence for treating the late 19th to 21st centuries as a period in which there was a great revival of Montanism. Texts like the this article by Gene Robinson in The Washington Post entitled "What Does the Bible Really Say About Homosexuality? Reading Texts of Terror." For a fuller analysis, I recommend the blog, The Reformed Pastor, which has an extensive analysis of this article here.

But I just want to give you the money quote from Robinson's article:

One final and important note: I do NOT believe that God stopped revealing God's self with the closing of the canon (officially sanctioned as "holy" and official) of Scripture. Some would argue that God said everything God needed and wanted to say by the end of the first century of the Common Era (a less condescending way of referring to that time since the birth of Christ). They would posit a God who, when the scriptures were "finished" bid the world a fond farewell and went off to some beautiful part of God's creation (the Bahamas, Patagonia, Nepal?!!), leaving us to our own devices, given that everything had been said that needed to be said. I don't believe that.

In John's Gospel, which is largely made up of the conversation Jesus has with his disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus says: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth." (John 16: 12-13a) I take this to mean that Jesus is saying to the disciples, "Look, for a bunch of uneducated and rough fishermen, you haven't done too badly. In fact, you will do amazing things with the rest of your lives. But don't think for a minute that God is done with you - or done with believers who will come after you. There is much more that God wants to teach you, but you cannot handle it right now. So, I will send the Holy Spirit who will lead you into that new Truth."

Clearly, Robinson does not believe in the doctrine of the sufficiency of holy Scripture, based on the first paragraph. He believes in continuing revelation, as the Mormans, the Unification Church and numerous heretical cults throughout church history have done.

In the second paragraph, he misinterpret and twists John 16 in an embarrassingly amateurish manner that would disgrace a first year Bible college student. (Remember, he is supposedly a bishop in the Church of Christ!) He equates his "new Truth" with Jesus' words "he will guide you into all the truth." Nothing in the context of John 16 suggests that the Holy Spirit would do anything other than make the teachings of Jesus increasingly understandable. As for "new truth" that would contradict the clear teachings of the Holy Scriptures of both Testaments, there is no hint of any such thing.

Only a biblically illiterate church made up of postmodern people who are used to thinking illogically could possibly be impressed with such sophistry. But, of course, that describes liberal Protestant churches quite accurately and, I am very much afraid, many Evangelical churches as well. The level of thought people operate on when they accept immorality such as homosexuality as all right is appalling low. Read Robinson's article and you will see what I mean. To think that some Evangelicals are led astray by such pablum is sobering and a cause for fasting and penitence by everyone who is a teacher in Christ's Church.

6 comments:

Peter W. Dunn said...

This is not particularly fair to the Montanists, who would have been appalled by Robinson's behavior and his doctrine. Also, after the passing of their prophetesses, one of the criticisms of the Montanists was that they did not have an abiding prophetic voice in their movement, which the orthodox church of the period believed would continue. Moreover, the Montanists were ultra-rigorous in their application of fasting and other forms of asceticism. In all likelihood, Robinson is more like some of the gnostic heretics, particularly those with a moderately libertine bent. The Nicolaitans of Revelation come to mind--they knew "deep things" (cf. Rev 2.24) and they had no problem with conformity to the culture--through the eating of idol meat and fornication.

Craig Carter said...

Peter,
Point well taken. But that is ironic, isn't it? Comparing these modernists to ancient heretics is unfair - to the heretics!

More seriously, of course liberal Protestants have no historical link to the ancient Montanists. The only point of comparison is that both were open to new prophecy. In a culture like our's it is hardly surprising that the new prophecy would be libertine in content.

Colin Kerr said...

On the other hand, any religious group which bases itself on ecstatic suggestions (in this case on the feelings of homosexualists)soon devolves into that sort of thing personified by Robinson. Montanists are just a generation or two away from Nicolaitians, or what have you.
Another thing they have in common (Liberal Protestantism and Montanism) is a narrow focus on one or two issues to the detriment of the Faith as a whole. That's always disastrous.

Peter W. Dunn said...

I guess Colin, your comment makes me react even more strongly than with Craig's initial comparison. For, while the Montanists based their distinctive views on ecstatic prophecy, Gene Robinson is claiming the Holy Spirit as a pretext, and I doubt that his views are based on ecstatic anything. It is more that he comes rationally to accept accommodations to culture and then blames this decision making upon the Holy Spirit (this is terribly close to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in my view--for if attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to the devil is blasphemy, then so is attributing the work of the devil to the Holy Spirit)--but ecstatic prophecy where people are seized by the Spirit and speak forth plays no apparent role among liberal Anglicans, to the best of my knowledge.

The Montanists did not devolve into Nicolaitans or the like (chronological problems aside) but remained by the end of the second century sufficiently orthodox in their teaching that Tertullian came to embrace the New Prophecy (as Montanism was called in the second century). For Tertullian, it was their rigor that attracted him. It was not a libertine or even a moderating, culture accommodating sect. Apart from Tertullian's embrace of the New Prophecies, his orthodox credential remain intact and his writings, even those written after his acceptance of the New Prophecy, were preserved.

I think we are confusing the issue if we compare Montanists with Liberal Protestants--with the exception perhaps of certain Vineyard types who sometimes combine libertinism and ecstatic prophecy. And in one more respect, the Montanists differ from Gene Robinson. Today, Robinson, Spong, Ingham et al. claim their authority as bishops, and get very upset if the Bishop of Rwanda or someone else crosses into their jurisdiction. In the second century it was the authority of the bishops that protected the church from heresy. The Montanists caused trouble for the early church not because of unorthodox theology, but because of the weight they placed on their prophecies and because of their unwillingness to obey the authority of the bishops. So I guess in some ways I feel sympathetic to the anti-episcopal tendency of the Montanist movement, being myself Anglican: I say we must obey God and the Holy Spirit and not wicked bishops like our Toronto bishop who just ordained a lesbian to the priesthood. But clearly, our need is to depend even more upon the direction of the Holy Spirit, for our bishops have become disobedient.

Peter W. Dunn said...

I guess Colin, your comment makes me react even more strongly than with Craig's initial comparison. For, while the Montanists based their distinctive views on ecstatic prophecy, Gene Robinson is claiming the Holy Spirit as a pretext, and I doubt that his views are based on ecstatic anything. It is more that he comes rationally to accept accommodations to culture and then blames this decision making upon the Holy Spirit (this is terribly close to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in my view--for if attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to the devil is blasphemy, then so is attributing the work of the devil to the Holy Spirit)--but ecstatic prophecy where people are seized by the Spirit and speak forth plays no apparent role among liberal Anglicans, to the best of my knowledge. (part one)

Peter W. Dunn said...

sorry craig, the server told me that the comment was too large. So I tried breaking it up. Please go ahead and delete this comment and the previous one (labeled part one).