Earthly and Transcendent

I have read two things recently that I had negative reactions to, the first incensed me and the second disappointed me.  The first is a blog post entitled “Shamscendence” by a political science professor from Baylor University named David D. Corey in which he responds to an Easter video message from the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the second is a blog post by Dr. Peter Berger entitled “Another inconvenient church affiliation surfaces.”  These two are related since I have the same problem with both.
First, let me say that I do have problems with the presiding bishop’s Easter message.  She does not talk about Jesus or the Resurrection in any meaningful terms, and this simply should not happen from any ordained person’s Easter message, much less the presiding bishop’s.  However, let’s be clear, this is a two-minute video.  Rev. Jefferts Schori is not giving a sermon but a homily, a very pointed and specific message, and no one should be expected to give a complete and thorough take on anything in two minutes.
Corey’s argument is misguided at best and asinine at worst.  Corey accuses Rev. Jefferts Schori of not caring about the heavenly or not putting enough emphasis on the heavenly or transcendent.  In his view, the church that is supposed to be saving people’s souls from eternal damnation should not concern itself with solving those people’s earthly, temporal problems. The Millennium Development Goals[1] are meant to be a way to end hunger, poverty, and preventable diseases, and this is something that the church should not concern itself with according to Corey.
Prof. Corey obviously knows very little about theology but a lot about politics. I think Corey’s real beef is that Rev. Dr. Schori was not endorsing the GOP.  Corey is using “theology” to try and reinforce his political views, and in doing so, he corrupts and destroys that theology.
I want to quote my Biblical studies professor and say, “It’s always a dangerous thing when someone pretends to be an expert in a field in which they’re not.” He was talking about Richard Dawkins, but it applies to David D. Corey.In point of fact, he shows his expertise and his ignorance in the same breath. According to the Baylor University website, Corey’s “teaching and scholarship focus on ancient Greek political thought.”[2] His “essay,” or rant as I would prefer calling it, shows his preference for Plato. The Baylor site says he is working on a book about Plato, actually. Corey is quite willing to call out Rev. Jefferts Schori for heresy.  Ironically, however, Platonism is a heresy that he is quite willing to engage in. When the earthly, human life is sacrificed altogether in favor of the “transcendent,” this is heresy, and it is against the teachings of Jesus.

Disappointingly, Professor Berger engages in the same false belief.  I admire Peter Berger a great deal.  His book The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, changed my views on religion and how faith works in our lives.  However, he makes an erroneous claim in his blog post.  Prof. Berger is writing his blog post about Jeremiah Wright and Liberation Theology, and he claims, “Where are the liberationists and their sympathizers wrong? Very few New Testament scholars would agree that Jesus’ ‘good news’ was a program of social transformation here and now; it was the proclamation of the coming of a supernatural order in which the reality of ‘this eon’ would be totally transcended.”  Of course, Jesus spoke and thought of the coming Day of the Lord a great deal.  Jesus’ teachings are chock-full of apocalyptic eschatology[3] and to claim otherwise would cause Albert Schweitzer[4] to roll over in his grave.  However, to claim that Jesus did not care about the here and now, people’s earthly lives, and was solely concerned with the coming Day of the Lord is to engage in the very same heresy of Platonism that Corey does in his blog post.
Jesus, who says, “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these,”[5] cares a great deal about the lives of people on this Earth and how it is lived.  Jesus, who says “‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me,”[6] is concerned with how people live their lives in relation to others.  The heart of this is found in Jesus’ Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids.[7]  In this parable, the bridesmaids are kept waiting long into the night for the return of the bridegroom.  The wise take oil for their lamps and the foolish do not.  The foolish must go back for oil once night falls, so the wise are invited in when the bridegroom returns in the foolish’s absence.  Yes, the point is the return of the bridegroom, Jesus, and the Day of the Lord that will turn all evil and evildoers on their head, but if we, the bridesmaids, do not keep our lamps trimmed and burning, loving our neighbors as ourselves and doing for the least of these, then it does not much matter.
Corey claims, “Again, the question comes down to what the ‘welfare of the world’ really means. Is ‘welfare’ fundamentally about drinking water and poverty rates, or is there something more—something on a spiritual plane?”  This is a stupid claim, and it makes for very poor discipleship.  What good is it to save someone’s soul only to send them out to die of dehydration, starvation, and preventable diseases?  Absolutely none.  This sort of argument is the nonsense that the rich use to make themselves feel comfortable at night while people starve outside their doors.  The same Jesus who said, “I am the bread of life” also physically fed five thousand people with bread and fish.  The Millennium Development Goals is good discipleship because they are another way of loving our neighbors as ourselves and caring for the least of these.  The Millennium Development Goals are another way for us to keep our lamps trimmed and burning.
The Christian message is one that tells us that “life is more than food and the body more than clothing.”[8]  Transcendence is intimately woven throughout that message.  But the same Jesus who preached over and over again of the Kingdom of God and the Day of the Lord, is also the same Jesus who flipped tables in the Temple because of the injustices done to people through the money changing done on those tables.  Jesus cared intimately for how people lived and the evils and injustices that people had to endure in their lives.  Part of the point of Jesus’ teaching is to prepare people for the Kingdom of God.  To sacrifice all earthly life for transcendence, to say that Jesus ministry did not have a here and now impact, is to miss the Christian message.

[1] This is what Rev. Dr. Jefferts Schori focused upon in her Easter message.  Read more about it here:

[3] Apocalyptic Eschatology is the theological teachings concerned with the end of the world and coming judgment.

[4] Albert Schweitzer was one of the progenitors of the study of the Historical Jesus.

[5] Mark 12:31

[6] Matthew 25:34-40

[7] Matthew 25:1-13

[8] Matthew 5:25


4 comments on “Earthly and Transcendent

  1. willprosser says:

    All, I apologize for the bolded text. I have no idea why it is like this. Nothing I have done has gotten rid of it. If anyone knows why this is, please tell me so I can take it off.

  2. Jim Morgan says:

    Will, enjoyed the post (and the blog). I’m always amazed at how unwilling people can be to understand the world views they are so quick to criticize. Episcopalians (and hopefully many others) have good theological reasons for emphasizing social transformation. Also, nice beard.

  3. Brad says:

    Why is Platonism inherently heretical? I don’t think a blanket statement about Idealism is necessarily helpful. Trinitarian theology itself is re-baked Neoplatonism. However, I do understand the point you are trying to make in conversation with those you are critiquing.

    • willprosser says:

      There is indeed Neoplatonism in early Christianity and in Paul. What I am pointing out is wrong is the sacrifice of the Earthly for the Transcendent. If Platonism is used to say that what we have on Earth doesn’t matter compared the Ideal, then it is wrong. Like most things, it becomes wrong and dangerous when it is taken to the extreme.

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