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The Table Video

Craig J. Slane

Logos, Skandalon, and a Christian Scholar's Task

Frances Owen Distinguished Professor of Theology, Simpson University
May 18, 2012

Dr. Craig Slane presents his paper, which looks inside the world of Christian scholarship with his own take on the proper direction of such a task. Dr. Slane’s paper also details an argument for the reconsideration of Justin Martyr’s significance in Church history for the Christian academic doing theology today.


My presentation today has four parts. I would like first to drop out a vexing question. This is one I carry with me in my professional life and then provide a frame for Christian scholarship, the task of scholarship as I presently understand it, at least one aspect of it, and then, the body of my paper will be an argument asking us to reconsider the significance of Justin Martyr. And then finally, I would like to give a couple examples of how we might recognize the logic of expulsion in Christian scholarship.

On a spring morning in 1981, while I was an undergraduate student at Wheaton College, I was departing admin chapel in the usual manner when a gaunt man around 30 years of age, accosted me on the steps outside. He had long hair and he had a life-sized cross strapped to his back.

He was wearing a first century tunic and was heard imploring the college community to repent. He was full of prophetic conviction, animated and earnest, students dodged him as you might imagine, and he was escorted off campus as quickly as school officials could manage. Now, to this young Christian student, it was an occurrence most strange, not unlike the shock of many Americans after 9/11 to learn that so much of the world hates us.

Over and again, as students at Wheaton, we heard chapel speakers praise us for being the best and the brightest. Of course, it wasn’t true but this is what we heard. We felt fortunate to have landed in the citadel of evangelical higher education where faithful servants of God took to their callings with such sobriety. For all I knew at that time, Wheaton was the epicenter of Orthodox Christianity.

So, when an anguished Jesus look-alike confronted me on the steps outside of chapel, I was shocked and bewildered. I had no categories for assimilating what I had just seen. So, I went back to my normal routine. But like lines of poetry, this living symbol lodged itself in my memory and became an important tool in my growing understanding of theology.

I can’t delete the memory of that day when Jesus and his cross were chased from the campus of my alma mater. As I understand it today, the cross on that morning was being used to criticize or deconstruct the very religion that gave it a prominent place, thus my vexing question. What other institutions could also be removing Jesus?

Is it possible to think of Christian scholarship as an institution susceptible to the removal of Jesus? A frame now for thinking about the task. “When the term Christian is used as an adjective, “we can be sure we are reproducing “the habits of Christendom,” says Stanley Hauerwas.

He says this in his book, “The State of the University”. Since nobody wants to represent or reproduce the bad habits of Christendom, perhaps, we should abandon the term, Christian scholarship, and default to scholarship by Christians.

We should wait the noun, scholarship, and downplay the adjective, Christian. Maybe that’s the best we can do. Certainly, it respects the other in our pluralistic space and we could shift emphasis as needed between the common task of scholarship and the particularities that might obtain for the one who does it as a Christian.

I think, there’s much to commend this suggestion actually, yet, two observations. One, the audacious title of this conference makes room for serious reflection on the adjective Christian. Secondly, the bad habits of our Christian forebears should be distinguished from Jesus himself. Indeed, I think Jesus can correct them.

The problem with the term Christian scholarship is not the adjective as such, but the fact that in the opinion of many, this adjective is conditioned so thoroughly by past deployments of imperial power, that the way of Jesus is no longer conjured by the term, Christian. We live in a time of awakening too and reckoning with the triumphal tendencies of our Christian past.

A time when practically every scholar is acutely conscious of the supporting role played by Christian thinkers in the colonial project. Willie James Jennings in his award-winning book, “The Christian Imagination” has shown how Christian thinkers adapted the traditional theology of creation and providence in service of Portuguese and Iberian conquest of the Americas in such a way as to justify the displacement of peoples on the basis of racial hierarchy.

Closer to home, racial hierarchy was played out in the displacement of both Native Americans and Africans. The latter stolen from their land and forced into slavery for 246 years. Shortly after the hope for emancipation, this country entered a stretch of history wherein lynching not originally erases practice, by the way, became a white supremacist mechanism of terror designed to keep blacks in their place.

That place, of course, being the bottom of the hierarchy. The parallels between the crucifixion of a Jewish body and the lynching of the black body are striking indeed as James Cone has shown in his book, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree”. The lynchers were completely oblivious to the fact that they were reproducing the mob who cried out against Jesus, “Crucify him”.

Now, I have three images with me, the kind of graphic for which I apologize somewhat, but I want to make a point of this because there’s something that we see in these images that people 100 years ago would not have seen. So, there’s the first, and you’ll notice that smiles are prominent throughout the lynching photographs.

And the close up here is the one I want you to notice. Again, the smiles of those people in the front row. Now, I showed these in order to demonstrate that something invisible 100 years ago has become painfully visible today. Why are these lynchers smiling? And why are we offended by the smiles?

These mobs are convinced that their victim is guilty, but our eyes have been opened, we do not see it so simply anymore. We have learned to see a degree of innocence in these victims. And commensurate with that recognition is the recognition too that Christian notions ostensibly received from the Bible remained to play a role in justifying slavery, lynching, and the entire colonial project. Perhaps, you’re thinking, that’s not true Christianity. I heartily agree but I do not wish to brush the malfunction away as if it has nothing to do with us because I think if we examine it, we may find that within the malfunction shows the way to the correction.

As Howard Thurman put it, “The slave undertook the redemption of the religion “that the master profaned in his midst.” And I think, this is a personal impression, but I think that the black experience of the cross is perhaps one of the greatest resources for Western theology in terms of a correction. Okay, my hunch now, moving along, is that Christian scholarship remains here and there, here and there, an unwitting accomplice in the bad habits of Christendom.

These days, Christian scholars are as likely to be lynched, I mean that, of course, metaphorically, as to be lynchers. So, I’m not accusing anyone here of being on a lynch squad. Just three weeks ago, Larry Hurtado and Peter Enns blogged about the shameful treatment of several biblical scholars recently at the hands of their institutions.

But in the intellectual arena of scholarship, scholars do play the role of lynchers sometimes, willing to marginalize and remove their colleagues on what are considered the noblest of grounds, doctrinal purity, faithfulness to mission, and so on. Examples proliferate and for my purpose today, it’s best not to single out any institution.

My own institution might be in the list. It’s a difficult matter, I know, and I will be the first to admit that in my past as a scholar, I have reproduced some of the bad habits that I’m sharing with you today. To be fair, there exists within Christian faith another narrative, a counter-narrative that puts Christianity at the heart of our modern notions of justice and human rights and many other goods as well.

Good and bad are mixed, we all know that. The narrative is complex, but my point comes to this. Since the question of Christian scholarship drags behind it, the complex and often painful history of Christianity itself, a responsible articulation of it must take place in keen awareness of this narrative.

The adjective, Christian, cannot be easily affixed to anything anymore, if it is to be affixed at all. My hope is that Christian scholarships, so long as we agree to use the term would become more attentive to the scandal of the cross. For therein, we have a symbol that is quintessentially Christian and rightly understood potentially corrective.

The cross carries the advantage of a double revelation at the same time that it reveals something decisive about God, it reveals something about the human condition that can perhaps be dredged up in no other way, namely the deep structure of human sin. And this brings me to the thesis I would like to argue for the remainder of this presentation.

By exploring what the cross means anthropologically, Christian scholars may reduce their susceptibility to justify theologically practices of exclusion and expulsion. Now, ever since the apostle Paul, Christian thinkers have done well. We have been duly attentive to what God was doing in the cross. But I suspect we have not contemplated deeply enough what humanity was doing in the cross.

If we could see more clearly the mechanisms by which Jesus was crucified, the old habits of human culture and religion on display in the passion narrative, we might recognize the subtle ways our work as scholars can sometimes move contrary to the gospel. To argue this thesis, I will offer a rereading now of Justin Martyr and the role he plays in the imaginary, to use Charles Taylor’s term, an imaginary of Christian scholarship.

So with that, I move to the third major division of my paper and it is by far the longest. I’ll start with a formal premise, I have seven of them. The standard interpretation of Justin Martyr as I understand it posits a deep continuity between the best thinking of the Greek philosophers and the logos of John’s gospel. What I’m here calling the standard interpretation can be found in the renowned scholar, Henry Owen Chadwick, whose comments I have reproduced for us here so that we can read them together, at least a few of them.

Here’s what Chadwick says, “Of all the early Christian theologians “Justin is the most optimistic “about the harmony of Christianity and Greek philosophy. “For him, the gospel and the best elements in Plato “and the Stoics are almost identical ways “of apprehending the same truth. “Justin’s ground for affirming the positive value “of philosophy is that all rational beings share “in the universal logos of reason who is Christ. “So, both Abraham and Socrates “were Christians before Christ. “So also the noble morality of the Stoics “comes from their share in the seminal logos. “The divine reason who has sown the seeds “of truth in all men as beings created in God’s image. “Accordingly, the philosophers have been able “to read God both in the book of nature “and in the inner deliverances of their reason.”

Now, reading through the works of Justin and there are only three extent works, “The First and Second Apologies” and the “Dialogue with Trypho”. One has been impression that Chadwick must be right or least reasonably close to what the second century Christian was trying to say. Yet, I wonder whether that impression originates in part from the fact that the winning proposals for understanding Christ in relation to classical philosophy were worked out on the premise of continuity.

Perhaps, I can best express my concern here with the rapid fire set of questions. Did the powerful articulations given later by Augustine and Aquinas create the plausibility structure within which the standard interpretation of Justin now seems obvious to us, or was it Justin’s early articulation that helped to frame the future projects of Augustine and Aquinas.

Whatever the sequence, do these articulations now resonate together in sufficient force and volume so as to shape definitively our engagement with ancient wisdom? Can we imagine that Socrates or Plato would’ve been any less scandalized by Jesus than Peter, John, or Jesus, or Judas, excuse me. How would ancient philosophers have fared in the nexus of forces playing themselves out in the passion of Christ?

To ask my question another way, how does the cross as a scandal inform our thinking about human wisdom? Clearly, it would be unwise to sever completely the relation between ancient wisdom and Christ, yet how these connect is certainly no settled matter. Now, at this point, you can see that my questions are quickly mushrooming beyond Justin Martyr and you might wonder why I’m interested in staying fastened to Justin at all.

So, premise two is an attempt to say why. Writing before the age of Constantine, Justin’s thinking about continuity is situated in the context of cultural opposition to Christianity, when the scandal of the cross was close at hand in the daily experience of believers. Justin himself is in danger as he writes, quoting from his apology, “Expecting to be plotted against and fixed to Iraq”. Indeed, the most likely motivation for Justin writing at all was probably the martyrdom of Polycarp.

So, any theory of continuity advanced for Christian faith and Greek philosophy on the basis of Justin’s writing must be nuanced enough, it seems, to account for widespread opposition in the cultural establishment. Chadwick located the ground of continuity in the fact that all rational beings share in the universal logos who is Christ, true enough.

But I think, Justin says much more than this in his account and I will attend to that more in a moment. Premise three. Justin’s confidence in continuity between the logos embedded in creation and the logos of God revealed in Jesus Christ is a corollary of his insight that within the created order, there exists a stubborn resistance to reason.

The Stoics, Socrates, Heraclitus, and Jesus, and apparently Justin means to include Christians in his own generation in this list, each met with opposition and hatred for their teaching. Consider this passage from the “Second Apology”, “And those of the Stoic school, since they were honorable “at least in their ethical teaching, “as were also the poets in some particulars, “on account of a seed of the logos implanted “in every race of men and women “where we know hated and put to death. “As for instance, Heraclitus mentioned before “and among those of our own time, Musonios and others. “For, as we have intimated, the demons have always “affected that all those who ever so little strive “to live by logos and to shun vice be hated. “And it is not astonishing that the demons “are proved to cause those to be much worse hated “who live not by apart only from the logos, the sower, “but by the knowledge and contemplation “of the whole logos who is Christ.”

I’ve added special emphasis to the words part and whole here to highlight the symmetrical structure underlying the traditional interpretation. What Socrates has in part, Christ has in whole as the interpretation goes. I’ve also highlighted two additional phrases that point in the direction of my claim. In this passage at least, the link from ancient thinkers to Christ is forged by a common hatred of those who live by logos.

Such hatred reaches its dramatic climax in Christ who by implication is hated wholly. Several parties are on exhibit in this text. First, the human race as such which possesses in some manner a seed from the logos. Secondly, a subset of humans, and Justin thinks they’re rather small, I think, who try to live in accord with what is in them by nature.

And third, there is the climactic figure of Christ who personifies the logos. And then, fourth an incrementalized resistance that seems to move toward Christ who is hated most of all. Now, it’s not clear in this citation how the opposition, those demons, is constituted. Let’s augment it with another taken from the “First Apology”. “For the truth be told, since of all these evil demons “manifested themselves both defiled women and corrupted boys “and showed terrifying sights to people, “that those who did not use their reason “in judging the acts that were done “were filled with terror. “And being taken captive by fear and not knowing “that these were demons, they called them gods, “and gave to each the name which each of the demons “had chosen for himself. “And when Socrates tried by true reasoning “and definite evidence to bring these things to light “and deliver people from the demons, “then the demons themselves, by means of people “who rejoiced in wickedness compassed his death “as an atheist and an impious person “on the charge of introducing new divinities, “and in our case, they show a similar activity.”

Throughout Justin’s writings, the demons play a host of pernicious roles. They’re associated with mythology, they are fermenters of violence, deceivers of Adam and Eve, and so on. But the role that I want to lift up in what follows is their role in promoting myth or mythology. So, premise four, as simple as it gets.

Myths obscures logos. Without getting tangled up in the question of demons as discrete personal forces, that could be a long detour, let’s draw our focus once again to the emphasized phrases in the text that I showed. When Justin says they called them gods, he means to suggest that the demons have by fear and deception succeeded in their quest to be recognized as deities. I suggest we have in this phrase a clear allusion to mythology.

Interestingly, the root of the Greek word mythos is mu, meaning to close or to keep secret. Mu is the stem of a word like mute as in to mute the voice as well as words like music and museum. In Greek tragedy, the muses remember the past fondly and heroically not because they’re so interested in truth but because they are the agents themselves of mythological remembrance, and myth is the foundation of culture. So, by the repetitive calling attention of myth, in a sense, they surround truth with a fog.

The demons thus pull off the mother of all allusions, allusions. Conscripting religion as an ally in the attempt to obscure logos. Under this arrangement, devout and pious people become the best patriots. They are convinced that they are friends of the state, friends of the good but all the while, they’re helping the demons keep their secret. Conversely, those who seek logos appear to be irreligious, deniers of the good, and even atheists.

So, I think the mythological connection here in Justin is worth mining a bit. Those who align with logos over and against myth are likely to meet with violence and expulsion. By camouflaging myth and religion, the demons concocted the perfect antidote to logos as we have seen but then, along came Socrates, who tried to bring these things to light. Like early Christian martyrs, the victim Socrates was accused of atheism because he questions the absoluteness of myth.

Unable to bear the exposure of their secret as I’m imagining the narrative of Justin here, the demons collude against Socrates. They reassert the existence of their gods and they preserve the order of Athens. The majority report will surely come down as a success, a divine deliverance from the seditious Socrates.

But the minority report says that these powers are in error set against the truth. It will be instructive here to recall Justin’s report about Socrates having rejected the explanation of Homer and the poets. After making this point, Justin adduces the words attributed to Socrates in Plato’s “Timaeus” that it is neither easy to find the father and maker of all nor having found him, is it safe to declare him to all? And here I think the antithesis is put in the sharpest possible way, myth versus logos.

So, on the reading I’m trying to give here of Justin, what Justin is trying to unveil is a massive scheme of deception and resistance. He personalizes this when he calls that resistance demons. I don’t think we need to follow him at this point. It doesn’t matter to the argument so much. We can remember Jesus’ words from the cross that these people who put them to death don’t know what they’re doing. In a certain sense, there is an ignorance built into the quality of sin, doesn’t have to be thought of as demonic forces.

But I think Justin notices the situation in which the world is caught. Unfortunately, and I’ll say more about this in a moment, Justin does not see the rationality of myth itself and that will create a flaw in his interpretation. My sixth premise goes as follows and here you should get a pretty good idea of where I’m headed. Precisely, as the rejected and expelled logos does Christ connect meaningfully with certain of those who came before him.

Once we work expulsion into our thinking about logos, our reading of the first chapter of John’s gospel goes in a slightly different direction. Instead of landing on those opening verses which read very much like a creation cosmology, our attention moves along to sayings like the following, “The light shines in the darkness “and the darkness did not overcome it “or again, he was in the world “and the world came into being through him, “yet the world did not know him. “He came to what was his own “and his own people did not accept him.”

John’s gospel explores the historical expulsion of the logos in the story of the man born blind in chapter nine who is driven out by Jewish leaders because he has told the truth about Jesus. It’s explored in a heated dispute between Jesus and those who claim to be children of Abraham at the same same moment that they are trying to kill Jesus in John 8.

Ultimately, of course, it is explored in the passion itself. By focusing on resistance, Justin helps us to see what many readers of John’s prologue miss. “The Johannine Logos” is an expelled logos and as such brings to light a serious problem, a defect in the order of human reason. Whereas most interpreters of Justin want to move straight away to his statements of continuity between Greek philosophy and Christ, I want to underscore that we are not dealing with continuity of thought, pure and simple, but rather a continuity forged in resistance to logos.

To Justin, might the evidence that compels him to align a segment of Ancient Greek philosophy with Christ lie in the consistently hostile treatment of those who try to unmask deception. As logos incarnate, Christ may embody in full what rationality Socrates had in part as the standard interpretation asserts, but is that the best way to describe Justin’s vision of continuity?

By stressing continuity of logos over continuity of resistance, the traditional interpretation overloads Justin’s part-whole dialectic with more rationality than it can bear, in my opinion. What if the truth of the part-whole paradigm lies in a partial versus complete unmasking of mythology?

So, I imagine Justin to be saying something like this. History has always had its truth seekers, a hated minority of the persecuted standing in discontinuity with the prevailing opinion of culture vulnerable to prevailing powers and subject to unjust expulsion and death.

Plato, Socrates, and Jesus stand together in this lineage of persecution in such a way that Jesus’ ordeal and only Jesus’ ordeal reveals definitively what was going on before. Jesus is like the midday sun. blazing directly overhead leaving no shadows. The scheme by which these demons held the creation and bondage has at last been fully revealed.

The line of resistance has progressed to its logical end which is nothing other than the cross, the hidden rationality of the logos. If I’m correct, Justin is giving a philosophical version of that speech Stephen gave before he was stoned.

Sifting Jewish history, Stephen showed how Jesus’ death fitted together with the persecution of the Jewish prophets that came before. “You stiff-necked people,” he says, “you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit “just as your ancestors used to do.” Unfortunately, Justin did more than strike a parallel here. He rendered Jews as uniquely guilty for the expulsion of Christ and suppose that God had therefore visit upon them occurs.

And that brings me to my final premise, one that exposes, I think, a flaw in Justin’s otherwise helpful narrative of resistance. Justin seems not to appreciate that expulsion participates in a formidable rationality. A logos that conserves violently if need be the structure of human institutions by fending off the logos that that destructs that order. Justin sees rightly that the fraternity of resistance is at bottom a fermenter of violence, but for him, this can only be an opposition to reason itself.

If Justin had noticed that what happens in the case of Jesus only repeats what happens in cultures more universally, that they preserve themselves in times of crisis by locating victims, he could’ve rescued himself from his anti-Semitism, I’m guessing. When a society encounters differences that threaten to destabilize it, and does throw it in the catastrophic episodes of violence, it responds akin to the logic of vaccination. It meets out a smaller dose of violence in order to prevent a calamitous outbreak.

Admittedly, this rationality as I’m calling it, this logos with a small l possesses little creativity. It does not innovate or suggest a new state of affairs, there’s nothing praise-worthy here, nothing like the optimal functioning of the created order. Indeed faced with God’s desire for a new creation, this rationality must eventually breakdown.

Nevertheless, there is a rationality to expulsion and I’m afraid that this rationality continues in the world that we experience today, still plays a vital role in consolidating human cultures and subcultures. It is long been recognized that on the surface, Jesus’ death is more or less identical to the dying and rising gods of mythology who give cultural unity and vitality to their worshipers by means of sacrificial violence.

Heraclitus saw this connection when he said that Polemos or war, here, I think, we could translate it violence, was the father and king of all things, and that opposition is good, everything originates in strife. There exists a cultural logic not to be confused with divine logic, by which the stable structures of human life are created.

Violence is generative and it is necessary or so it seems. To victims, of course, violence may appear as chaos, injustice, pain, the end of life, but to those who survived, violence transmutes into a new experience of unity, identity, and salvation. On the way to war at Troy, Agamemnon’s troops cannot sail because the god Artemis has stopped the wind, so, as Euripides has it in Iphigenia. By the revelation of an oracle, Agamemnon must peace Artemis with the sacrifice of his daughter. Here we have differences that threaten Greek identity.

It’s Greek versus Trojans. Heroically, Iphigenia agrees to her own sacrificial death in order to allow her father’s men to sail and save Greece. And here we see the kind of good that comes from sacrifice in mythology.

Now, compare that story of Iphigenia to the events surrounding Jesus’ death. Jerusalem is crowded with passover pilgrims, Jewish passions for a messianic deliverance are rising to fever pitch, Roman authorities are on high alert, ready to crush any impulse that looks like insurrection, Jerusalem is in trouble because of the crowds’ aspiration for Jesus who just might be the expected Messiah, he’s recently raised Lazarus providing some material evidence for the liberating possibilities that lie ahead, differences are on display, Romans versus Jews. And in this situation, the high priest, Caiaphas, suggests that it would be better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed, John 11.

Therewith, he trips the mechanism of expulsion whereby Jesus becomes a sacrificial victim offered up to solve a regional crisis. So far, Iphigenia and Jesus are caught in a similar plight except that unlike the victims of pagan mythology, Jesus cannot be swept away permanently. A resurrection follows his death, giving rise to a new community which begins to bear witness about this victim, about his innocence in particular, that he was wrongfully accused and unjustly killed, a sense we get also in the servant hymn of Isaiah. From a Roman perspective, I think the sacrifice has gone completely wrong. “A secret wisdom was at work here,” says Paul, “none of the rulers of this age understood it “for if they had, they would not have crucified “the Lord of glory. “So what appears to be just another instance “of cultural violence that fits the old mythological pattern “radically mutates into a thorough criticism “of that pattern itself. “The spirit of God is responsible “for this revelation”, as Paul.

Thus Jesus was an altogether different sort of victim even if his martyrdom is carried out by an old universal logic. Now, I don’t think we can blame Justin for missing the rationality in the way myth and expulsion function but if he had been able to see it, I think, he would’ve organized somewhat more clearly a conflict in the order of reason itself.

So then, let me read, it’s not a lengthy conclusion, but it is two paragraphs, two slides, and then, I will try to make some application of this idea and open for questions. The expulsion of The Johannine Logos fits a pattern of human behavior structured by sin.

As an expelled logos, Christ maps Socrates and others along a trajectory of progressive revelation, but that does not constitute harmony between Christianity and Greek philosophy. What it reveals most clearly is how entrenched opposition to the divine logos can be. Justin was not as clear on this point as he could’ve been because he failed to explore Christ’s death as a collision between two kinds of logos.

Nevertheless, he kept in play the scandal of the cross more than his interpreters have recognized. I submit that Justin situates the Christian scholars’ task as follows. The Christian scholar will explore simultaneously continuities between Christ and human wisdom and discontinuities implied by the scandal of Christ’s expulsion. Awakened to expulsion as a characteristic mark of sinful existence, Christian scholars what exercise caution when providing theological justification for expulsion. In his failure, these of the Jews, Justin became a prime example of how easily Christians can defect from

The Johannine Logos to its competitor. Expelling Jews from the Christian narrative, Justin repeated the very mistake he accused Jews of making in regards to Christ. And in a striking way then, Justin’s sin encapsulates the bad habits of Christendom. Now, recognizing the logic of expulsion in Christian scholarship, this could go on for a long time so I’m gonna limit myself to just two examples.

As Tom noted when he introduced me, I am deeply connected to the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Society and have functioned on the board of that society here and there. We have a situation in a society right now which I find to be rather interesting and I hope I’m not airing dirty laundry in saying this, but Eric Metaxas’s book, some of you, no doubt, have become familiar with this book, it’s very popular, introducing a new generation of readers to Bonhoeffer, has met with a lot of very harsh criticism in the Bonhoeffer Society.

Now, you know, part of the cynic in me says, that this is because Metaxas is selling so many copies of his book, and no other scholars selling anywhere near that many copies of their book on Bonhoeffer, so maybe they’re jealous, maybe it’s professional jealousy.

But we had a special session at last year’s American Academy of Religion, and the topic for this section was Metaxas’s book on Bonhoeffer. And there were three papers presented and all of them, I mean, there was an attempt to be restrained, but all of them went after Metaxas and his understanding of Holocaust history and more particularly for his conservative ideological interpretation of Bonhoeffer.

Now, I have to admit, as a scholar, I guess, I can to admit that I’m a scholar in Bonhoeffer studies, I do find Metaxas’s book to be problematic in some ways. Metaxas says Bonhoeffer is a courageous hero who stands up to an unjust tyrant and that lends itself to a certain kind of rightist political ideology.

You don’t find much about Bonhoeffer’s pacifism, for example, in Metaxas’s book and you don’t find out that he’s involved in the ecumenical movement very deeply. Things there are very important actually in the Bonhoeffer narrative. So, Metaxas has been selective, I admit that. But I noticed in this set of papers that, of course, Metaxas was not present, and so the question was raised from the floor, “Did anyone invite Eric Metaxas to come to this session “and to give a response?” And you could hear a pin drop. Nobody had even thought to invite Eric Metaxas, right? In other words, had already been, in a sense, expelled from this group of scholars as a nonentity, a nonissue.

His interpretation was beyond the pale and he wasn’t gonna be brought in even to hear a discussion about his book and be given a chance to respond. So, I think, there’s a good example of how in subtle ways, scholars can align themselves and expel certain points of view. And then, back to this issue of expulsion in evangelical institutions. I do think we have a bit of a problem here. It’s not that every expulsion is a sin.

I’m pleased to be clear on that. There are statements of faith, there are confessional orientations that have to be honored and sometimes people do drift beyond them and need to be held accountable, but in many, many cases, there is no due process for the people that are expelled from these communities.

And I think that signifies that something like the logic of expulsion is at work in the community when there’s not a fairness in this particular regard. And I can’t help but think of God’s words to Cain. Sin is looking at the door, the logic of violence or expulsion is like they’re looking at the door, and its desire is for you and you must master it. I think, these cases, though they can be protracted and painful are test cases for whether we live by The Johannine Logos or whether we live by the logos of violence.

But maybe, this will briefly, another example. When I was in graduate school, I took a lot of courses at the University of Chicago, though I matriculated at Lutheran School of Theology, and my adviser was an old UFC guy, and I had taken courses at the Catholic Seminary on Augustine, course with Martin Marty and Brian Gerrish and he was fine with all of that. But one semester, there was a course that interested me, a Trinity Seminary in Dearfield. So, I said, “I’d like to go out to Dearfield “and take this course.” Silence, right? No interest at all in support. “Why would you wanna do that? “Are you sure you want to open up “that particular point of view? Here in the estimation of my adviser, the evangelical voice clearly had been expelled from scholarly consideration. So, it works both ways, it works in our communities. I think, we can induce lots of examples where the logic of expulsion is at work in scholarship.


Man: So first, I just wanna thank you for the talk. I thought your approach looking back in history where we’ve seen other times a Christian scholar’s facing issues of what it’s like to be a scholar is very fascinating and I think, it would be really fruitful. I guess, my question is maybe simple. What do you mean by expulsion?

You started with pictures of lynching. I thought, that’s not expulsion, that’s extermination. You could’ve showed us other pictures in which, of course, blacks were expelled from. So, what does it mean to expel? What do you mean by this?


I think, in the ancient societies, expulsion generally means death, by stoning, very common, or by a tribe surrounding a person and sort of ushering them off a cliff. No one person has responsibility for it and this is part of our anthropological past, it seems.

So, expulsion, if we’re thinking about ancient times is literally expulsion by death. But I think it’s possible to think more metaphorically about expulsion, right, not death, but removal from community.

Maybe that’s the way I mean it today. Taking someone out or taking them out of a particular community. I suppose that, I loved the way Al Platinga answers things with degrees, right? There are degrees of expulsion, grades of expulsion. and we will probably have to survey several levels of meaning here but I’m asking us not to think necessarily about death obviously.

Lynching is a extreme form of the kind of thing that I’m talking about. In many ways, Christianity has already won a victory in the Western world. It’s opened our eyes to victims and we realized that it’s against public opinion now to make victims. You could no longer stand, right, at a lynching and smile for the cameras.

Nobody can do that anymore, not in American culture. So, it seems to me that our sensibilities have been transformed duly by the scriptural texts so that we are checked in our impulses for those more extreme grades of expulsion, but we still do lesser forms of expulsion, metaphorical forms all the time.

George: Craig, thank you very much for a very creative and thought-provoking rereading of Justin Martyr. I wonder what you think his version of the Christian narrative might have looked, what it would’ve looked like if he hadn’t expelled the Jews? Suppose, he had included them as objects of violent rejection and it’s really interesting that he goes to figures like Socrates and Plato and there’s an invisibility of the Jews, but suppose he had seen more continuities between Jesus, the Jew, and the Jewish people as the objects of expulsion.

If Justin had done that and I don’t mean this in any cutesy way, but he would’ve born the scandal of the cross in a tangible way because there would’ve been many other people, I suspect, George, who would’ve led the interpretation about the Jews in another direction. but I think he was so close. This is why he’s interesting to me.

He’s so close in his logic about persecution and resistance to have broken through to a position, it seems to me, where he would’ve checked himself with his anti-Semitic impulses and the fact that he didn’t seems all the more tragic given that his thinking already moved logically in this direction so far as I can see.

So, what it would have looked like, I mean I don’t know, but I’m suspecting that the history of racial problems in the west would’ve been mitigated in some way. One of the prevailing thesis about Christianity and race is that our treatment of the Jews as in other and our expulsion of the Jew as a racial entity, you see, was a kind of precondition for the treatment of other racial groups so that the loss of this Jewish consciousness gave birth to virulent forms of racism which Christianity tacitly supported in colonialism. I think, it would’ve been different but just how it would have gone, of course, is open question.

Man: Hello, Deuteronomy contains several instances of you must purge the evil from among you, and I’m wondering what do you think of the transition between that time where they even touched something unclean or did something that was bad that seemed more outside of them, it would contaminate.

Whereas us believers, we can touch lepers, we can interact with prostitutes and it’s okay. Perhaps, you need to be more clean inside but with the Holy Spirit, maybe we have that ability but I just like you to comment on that.

Yeah, ritual purity and identity often, of course, go together hand in glove and you’re raising a very funny issue and that is to what extent does God sponsor the violence that we find encoded in the Hebrew text.

Now, I guess, I’ll speak openly about that in a general way and then, I’ll try to circle back and answer your question. I think, that the Hebrew text is a text that’s conflicted from within, and I don’t mean conflicted in a negative sense, like a can’t make up its mind, but conflicted in this sense that there is an attempt to get beyond the notion of sacrifice. The notion that you could sacrifice an animal legitimately is an improvement, I would suggest, on sacrificing a human being, which we know was part of the ancient Near Eastern tradition in surrounding peoples and even Israel, of course, was it the Valley of Ben Hinnom, where reverted to this practice over time.

Okay so, human sacrifice and animal sacrifice, and then in the profits, it seems to me we get this consciousness that God, at the deepest levels, is not so interested in these blood offerings and sacrifices. He wants obedience, God wants something deeper out of his people. So, I think, the text moves in a certain direction, in other words.

One, in which the whole narrative helps us to contextualize the question that you asked about Deuteronomy. Now, the other part that I wanna say and this one is more specific is that, and I know that in an evangelical setting, this probably puts a foot on dangerous ground, but there is some reason to believe that those accounts of violence, these extreme accounts of violence that the ritual purity and especially with respect to the conquest of Canaan are highly exaggerated and stylized, right?

Some people suggest that they may not even have happened. I read a book recently. Philip Jenkins suggests this in his book, recent book about the sword. Based upon archeological evidence, and of course, the problem with that is you only get the evidence you dig for, you can’t dig everywhere.

So, it’s not may be the best to argument possible. But I do think that there was a tendency in a certain period of Israel’s history where it had already fallen into syncretic practices to then emphasize all the more, you see, in the way these texts are redacted, emphasize all the more the need for otherness and separateness purity motif. So, I think, that’s the best I can do to speak to your question.

Man: Thank you for a very provocative paper. My question is to ask you to think again about continuity from a different angle, from an example that you chose. I’m puzzled by the the particular way that you frame Euripides’ play, Iphigenia in Aulis, as a counter narrative to the Christian story. I would note three things about that play.

First, I think, the myth that it’s based on in the first place, itself expresses horror at what is done to Iphigenia. Second, even if that’s not true, certainly Euripides’ way of writing it in the play expresses horror at what’s done to her. And third, it’s the first half of a two-play cycle. In the second play, Iphigenia among the Taurians, she is restored to her family, she comes back from the dead as far as they can tell in a way that confounds what they had known and even though she’s not at first recognizable to them in her new form.

Is that a different version of the play or is that–

Man: It’s a second play that–

It’s a second play.

That finishes the story. It’s a cycle.


Man: So, that might suggest a rather disturbing continuity with the Christian story, disturbing for our ways of thinking about the difference between Creeks and Christians.

Yeah, now, of course, I used it as a way to accentuate the differences not as a congruence between the two.

After you read it.

So, I guess what I’m thinking here and you must know the play and it’s context much better than me, so you’ll have to tell me whether this is a responsible interpretation but I’m thinking that many Christians are so reticent to think about the Christian story alongside of myth because myth has become for us a kind of, for many of us, a dirty word, right, a competitor word, that we have missed part of the deep significance of the gospel narrative which is that it does speak very deeply into this mythological consciousness, and maybe this is part of the reason Christianity found such a resonance with ancient peoples, is because of this correspondence.

And yet, and here’s where I think, I hesitate to say Nietzsche is helpful, but, I think, Nietzsche’s insight that we have in the Christian understanding of the cross something very different than is present in the myth of Dionysus, for example, is to me a wakening, right? We don’t have simply a conflating of two different, I’m sorry, I conflation of myth and logos. We have something very different going on and Nietzsche didn’t like it.

So, I would like to try to parley your observation into a point, if I could, that Christianity needs to consider much more carefully its relationship to mythology, and I’ll just leave it at that because the particulars of these versions and acts of the play, I did see it once in person in Canada, but I don’t know who saw all three acts to be honest with you.

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