Ben De Bono's Reviews > Against Christianity

Against Christianity by Peter J. Leithart
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's review
Jan 17, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: theology
Read in January, 2012

I found this book through Goodread's recommendations feature. When I first saw it, I took one look at the title and rolled my eyes. It seemed like it was going to be yet another "we hate religion" book similar to John Eldredge's latest disappointment and a certain vastly overrated youtube video that's been making the rounds lately. The problem with thhose books is that the word "religion" is poorly defined and basically becomes a blank canvas for the author to project onto everything he dislikes about modern Christianity. Naturally that word is then projected back onto the Pharisees so that the author can, through superficial eisegesis, claim Jesus' support for his tirade. Not only do I find this process theologically unsound, but it's also become vastly overdone and annoying. I was in no mood for yet another book like that and was therefore more than ready to pass Against Christianity by.

Thankfully, I took the time to read the description first. It quickly became obvious that Leithart's book is far, far from the mold I described above and I knew I needed to check it out. I do still find Leithart's use of the word Christianity unfortunate and unnecessarily provocative, but unlike others, he does do an excellent job of defining what he means by the word and never once does he go through the eye-rolling exercise of projecting his terminology back onto the Gospels.

Leithart is clearly very intelligent and has obviously done a great deal of research, but this in no way is an academic read. Rather, it reads like a manifesto for exploring the practical implications of the New Perspective on Paul, particularly the work of NT Wright. I couldn't be more excited that a book like this exists. I believe it represents the potential to turn the New Perspective into a movement, rather than just an academic dialogue (for as important as that piece is!) It also represents a critique of evangelicalism that is neither in the emergent camp nor the neo-Calvinist camp. It is a third, biblically faithful approach to moving the Church beyond the failures of modern evangelicalism in particular and post-Enlightenment Protestantism in general.

Leithart argues for things for the centrality of sacraments, liturgical worship, a traditional understanding of baptism, ecumenicalism and, perhaps most controversially, a revival and renewal of Constantinian Christiandom. At each of these points I found myself in nearly full agreement with him. There are some areas, such as his assertion that sacraments are ultimately no more than symbols, that I believe would need further discussion within a potential movement, but this is a wonderful starting point.

Most of all, this book is a call for the Church to be the Church that Christ intended. We are called to be a strong, united, revolutionary church. Against Christianity is a bold statement and one that needs to be heard. I hope and pray this book gains traction. Let the revolution begin
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05/01/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Poteet It all sounds very promising from your review except the "renewal of Constantinian Christendom" part. Does he really call for a return to such a close alliance of church with secular power? Or are you/is he using the phrase to mean something else?

message 2: by Ben (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ben De Bono My understanding is that he's using the phrase not so much to mean an alignment of church and secular power but as a recognition that the Church is tasked with bringing about the Kingdom of God and is therefore not a private matter but very much public. It's an interesting argument and much more nuanced than most arguments, for and against, relating to Constantine. He has another book devoted exclusively to Constantine that I'm looking forward to reading so I can explore his argument more and understand it better.

message 3: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Poteet "a recognition that the Church is tasked with bringing about the Kingdom of God and is therefore not a private matter but very much public."

Yes to the second half of that sentence, no the first half, or at least "yes with serious qualifications." God alone brings the Kingdom. The Church is tasked with witnessing (in word and deed, including deeds of striving for social transformation) to its impending arrival. In so far as the Church is a provisional demonstration of what God ultimately intends and will achieve, ok, we "bring the kingdom." But I get very leery of any efforts to equate human effort with bringing, or even "hastening," the kingdom.

I trust you know this is not an argument with you -- I am glad to hear the book is more nuanced than most re: Constantine. I suppose it is to easy to lament Constantine as all bad for the church (a la Willimon and Hauerwas' "Resident Aliens" - a good book but maybe leads to a romanticization of pre-Christendom). The book does sound interesting and I have duly added it to my "to read" shelves! You pick some good ones!

message 4: by Ben (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ben De Bono I'm always up for a good discussion so no worries at all:)

I think the key phrase in your point is "human effort" and there we absolutely agree. The Kingdom is in no way brought about through human effort. However, I do believe that the Spirit works through the Church to continue the work of Christ in anticipation of the ultimate arrival and completion of the Kingdom. So I would take the Church's task one step further than witnessing but am certainly in agreement that the Church, as a human institution, in no way brings about the Kingdom through its own efforts.

message 5: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Poteet Ben wrote: "the Spirit works through the Church to continue the work of Christ in anticipation of the ultimate arrival and completion of the Kingdom."

I think I've got no quarrels with that formulation. Ah, consensus achieved!

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