Greece! How the Church Lost the Way
Although I’ve never watched the musical Grease! from the clips I’ve seen I think I’ve been able to piece together the basic story line. Any fans out there will have to correct me if I’m wrong but it appears to me that the story could be summed up thus: nice girl meets bad boy; nice girl falls in love with bad boy; bad boy corrupts nice girl.
Steve Maltz’s latest book How the Church Lost the Way could be called Greece! His basic thesis is that in the early centuries of Christianity: good Jewish faith (Christianity) met bad Greek thought; good Jewish faith fell in love with Greek thought; Jewish faith was corrupted by Greek thought. Maltz argues with clarity, insight and humour, that very early in its history the Christian faith, which was rooted and grounded in the Hebrew Scriptures and a Jewish worldview, was squeezed into a Greek mould. Instead of engaging with and challenging prevailing Greek thought, the church fathers allowed it to influence them.
This is no novel claim. Church historians recognise that at the Councils of the early church, notably Nicea in 325, the presuppositions of the major schools of Greek philosophy were brought to bear on major doctrinal debates. I seriously doubt that the fourth century Arian controversy would have occurred if the church had continued to think “Jewishly”.
In answering Arius, the heretical presbyter of Alexandria, the Council of Nicea defined the relationship of the Son to the Father in abstruse philosophical categories rather than in exclusively biblical terms. Although the Nicean Creed has served as a useful and substantially correct statement of faith for sixteen hundred years, some scholars with impeccable orthodox credentials, like Calvinist professor of philosophy Paul Helm, are now questioning the biblical accuracy of some Nicean terminology.
Like Maltz’s earlier books, How the Church Lost the Way is an easy, even entertaining, read in which he introduces us to, amongst other things, the major ideas of the Greek philosophers, early church history, allegorical interpretations of The Wizard of Oz, the Hebrew language, Jewish methods of interpreting the Bible, the Jewish origins of Superman, a Jewish prayer for going to the toilet and an overview of the biblical festivals! Unlike some others who have dealt with the same subject, Maltz does not claim that the
concepts of the Trinity or hell or the immortality of the soul are pagan, nor does he, as a Messianic Jew, call us to leave our churches and don prayer shawls. The full title of the book is How the Church Lost the Way and How it Can Find it Again. Maltz is not simply tearing-down, he is also concerned to build up. He attends a Christian church and has a passion not only to see Gentile Christians grasp the Jewishness of the Faith but also to see Jews and Gentiles demonstrating the New Testament goal of being "one new man" in Messiah.
In a book of this nature there are bound to be over-simplifications and over-statements and there are bound to be claims with which readers will take issue. Maltz knows this and has set up an online forum where the topics raised in the book can be discussed. I wish this stimulating little book had been around when I was beginning to study theology. But, as they say, “Better late than never”.
How the Church Lost the Way
This article first appeared in the Sept–Nov 2009 issue of the Herald