Friday, May 8, 2009

Peter Leithart on Yoder and the Constantinian Shift

Peter Leithart is on a roll with finding flaws in Yoder, except this time he isn't careful enough. He notes the Yoder admits that the Constantinian Shift started before Constantine and concludes that this undermines Yoder's thesis:

"If, as Yoder claims, the “Constantinian” compromise of the church with the world begins in the second and third centuries; if it begins when Christianity is still an illicit religion, persecuted periodically but savagely; if it begins when the church is still populated by martyrs - is it still a Constantinian shift? That is, is the shift attributable to the church becoming legal, official, the majority religion, the religion of the empire?

Evidently not. Whatever shift there was in the second and third centuries, it has other sources and is evidence (as Gerald Schlabach has suggested) of more general problems of Christian faithfulness rather of the mainstreaming of the church.

Yoder’s acknowledgement that the church was becoming Constantinian before Constantine is not a qualification of his thesis. It undermines his thesis."

Nice try, Peter, but you don't understand what Yoder meant by the Constantinian Shift. Your mistake is actually a common one. This is not for Yoder an historical thesis as in: "Constantine caused the Church to become unfaithful by co-0pting it."

Constantinianism for Yoder is an eschatological heresy which tries to reach forward and pull the future kingdom of God back into the present sphere of history with no regard for the necessity of a still-future Second Coming of the Messiah, thus turning the Kingdom into a human political project. Yoder names the shift after Constantine to give it a handy label, but he is talking about a lack of faithfulness in the Church caused by bad eschatology, rather than trying to give an historical explanation of where this bad eschatology and resulting unfaithfulness came from.

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