Generous Orthodoxy  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

David Brooks, Pelagius, and "Celtic spirituality"

It never ceases to amaze me that David Brooks, who is Jewish, seems to understand the Christian faith better than many Christians do. In today's New York Times, he might as well be instructing Christians about how their own faith has taken a wrong turn. He clearly prefers the biblical, Augustinian, even Calvinist tradition about fallen human nature to the present tendency which views humanity with cheery optimism. He wonders why we are surprised when "good" people do bad things, like the staff sergeant who shot women and children in Afghanistan. We have learned that the sergeant had "anger management training" at an earlier point in his life. It takes a lot more than "anger management" to undo the impulses that lie under the surface of human personality.

I knew that "Celtic spirituality" was somehow going down the wrong path, but I didn't know just how far until someone recently gave me a book, Listening for the Heartbeat of God, by J. Philip Newell--a former Warden at Iona Abbey. I really did not know that anyone would deliberately and enthusiastically try to rehabilitate Pelagius over against Augustine , although it is obvious that the Pelagian streak permeates the church everywhere. In Newell's recommendation of Pelagius, the world is not fallen, and human nature is basically good--having been made in the image of God. In other words, the story of Adam that Paul tells in Romans 4 never happened--so why should we need a crucified Savior?

It is amusing to read in Newell's introduction that he is grateful to the senior pastor of St. Giles in Edinburgh, Gilleasbuig Macmillan, even though Macmillan has chastised him about "the tendency to romanticize Celtic spirituality." I've had the same experience of being co-opted by someone who wanted to claim me for another version of biblical interpretation. In the spirit of the Augustinian position, I readily admit that I also have no doubt tried to bring people into the camp of the fallen who did not want to be there! In any case, good for Gilleasbuig Macmillan.