Defending Constantine For the Wrong Reasons
A short time ago, there were a group of theobloggers who out-right rejected John Milbank’s mourning of the loss of Christian empire. Of course there were a few people to come to his defense, for the sake of being contrarian, like in this instance of Scott McKnight documenting Peter Leithart’s “re-assessment” of Constantine. I know that in the academy, it’s popular to blame Emperor Constantine for this huge fall for Christianity, but I do not buy into that meta-narrative. The impact Constatine had on Christians in his day would be equivalent to a bold politician abolishing the death penalty, with death-row inmates giving her all of their gratitude. We should not blind ourselves, however, to historical facts, and the deep transformation that came with Constantine’s conversion. Whatever we think of Christians and power, I think it would be suffice to say that the Gospel is the primary source of information for how a Christian should live. Indeed, this is not the case for Milbank in his latest article, criticizing John Howard Yoder for not taking his cues from Gandolf, a fictional character from the Lord of the Rings. As I bring out my inner-fundamentalist, I want to scream Prima Scriptura! Milbank’s position does not come as a surprise development. By now, he has become rather consistent in his advocacy of a Christendom foreign to the virtues of Jesus the Messiah and Paul, his slave and apostle.
I really could care less about the conclusions that Milbank conjures at this point; his error lies in his methodology. Call me a traditional Protestant all you want or fundamentalist, but as a faithful Christian, I do not think the first resource Christians need to be looking to, is a fictional book to establish a reactionary realpolitik world-wide. As Roland Boer contended months ago, using a work of fiction for a political theology is just dumb. Theologically, political meekness should be seen as God’s gift to Christ followers in a world where people are educated from their early years to make as many grabs for power as possible, where Ayn Randian ethics of “selfishness as a virtue” are lifted up over self-giving and mutuality.
Okay, I’ll get off my high horse now.