Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Defending Constantine

 Bring It On

We have been reading with appreciation Peter Leithart's Defending Constantine: The Twilight of and Empire and the Dawn of Christendom (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2010).  The issues raised give fuel to to the fires of reflection.

The question of Christendom is one every serious Christian should ponder.  The issues are not easy; solutions are not facile.  The fundamental question is whether a time and realm of regnant Christianity is possible and feasible.  Many--the majority, many would say--answer in the negative today.  They believe that a cultural dominance of Christ over human culture and civilisation within history is impossible.  They believe that this has never been God's intention.  They hold to a kingdom beyond human history.

There is, in addition, a vast host of Unbelievers who believe that an ideal Christian kingdom beyond human history is irrelevant, and who emphatically agree that such a construct has no place within human history.  These Unbelievers find themselves in close accord with the anti-Christendom brigade of Christians. 

Against this background, Constantine and the beginnings of the first Christendom (312 AD) are seen as both a terrible mistake and a perversion of Scriptural teaching.  Leithart would say, "not so fast."  He writes:
I have found that, far from representing a fall for the church, Constantine provides in many respects a model for Christian political practice.  At the very least, his reign provides rich material for reflection on a whole series of perennial political-theological questions: about religious toleration and coercion, about the legitimacy of Christian involvement in political life, about a Christian ruler's relationship to the church, about how Christianity should influence civil law, about the propriety of violent coercion, about the legitimacy of empire. (Ibid., p. 11.)
We have much to learn from Constantine and what is known as Constantinianism, both positive and negative.  The issues raised are those that roil us today whether we like it or not.    We cannot afford to dismiss Constantine and walk away.

We have no doubt that a second Christendom will emerge in global history.  Some are arguing that it will almost certainly be in the Southern Hemisphere.
What Philip Jenkins calls the "Southern churches" look to be forming the "next Christendom".  . . . If the South is forming into a new Christendom, it is important that it learn from both the successes and failures of the first Christendom.  Northern Christians  will be irresponsible if we have nothing more to say than, "Don't try it.  It went badly last time."  (Ibid., p. 12.)
 It is only by thinking carefully about these things that we will be able to say, "Bring it on" if, indeed, a second Christendom does emerge.  

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