Friday, February 02, 2007

Tertullian And The Seeds Of The Ugly Side of Christianity

I've been reading Tertullian this week for a Graduate class I'm taking at Lipscomb. I don't usually post this kind of thing, but I thought I'd share my reflection this weeks reading with you, because I was a bit surprised at what I found and how it affected me.

In true postmodern fashion, I’ll tell you equally how I felt about the reading as well as describing what I learned from it ;) . I honestly had the toughest time getting through Tertullian’s writings. It wasn’t because it was difficult, it was because it struck a nerve. There was a noticeable difference in the character of Tertullian’s work (and to a lesser degree in Cyprian’s) as compared to the other authors I’ve read so far in this course. Even when I disagreed with other authors, I was generally surprised to find points of commonality and empathy with them. In contrast, with Tertullian, even when I agreed with him, I didn’t want to because of the character of his work. I admit, as this would seem to imply, that I’m probably not being fair to him. I guess maybe it strikes close to home. In it I see the seeds of an ugliness that has often reared it’s head in our movement and in the wider Christian world (much to our detriment). Tertullian approaches everything as a legal argument. In his “Prescription Against the Heretics”, he approaches heresy as a fever that must be cured with the proper treatment, and (probably to a greater degree) prevented from spreading through the whole body. Thus, Tertullian’s approach is aggressive. He seems to see no point in understanding “the heretics”. They must simply be stopped and countered. He attacks the very idea of questioning (his understanding of) the current establishment and understandings. He goes so far as to make the argument that “Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened” is a one time arrangement and after one has done so, there is no more need to ask, seek or knock. He sees philosophy as one of the main causes of heresy, (which in a sense can be true), but seems thoroughly unaware of his own Platonic leanings. As a matter of fact, that’s part of what bothers me. He seems completely unaware that he has any presuppositions whatsoever. I would further contend that the legal lens he uses to interpret Scripture often distorts it almost beyond recognition to the point that he even describes the Lord’s Prayer as a sort of legal document. Indeed, Christ seems almost unnecessary in his construct, though what one believes ABOUT Christ seems crucial. It is interesting to note, that while Penal Substitiutionary Atonement would seem to fit very well in Tertullian’s framework, he never explicitly or implicitly refers to it (though again, you can see the seeds of it.) I just find it interesting that he has every opportunity to do so, but doesn’t. I also found it interesting that Tertullian eventually joined the sect of the Montantists and later even broke with them to form his own sect. This seems to be the natural outcome of his framework and approach. He eventually becomes a heretic of sorts by rejecting the orthodoxy he once defended and protected.


1 comment:

Paul Evans said...


Awesome site!

Paul Evans