Posted by: rogermitchell | August 19, 2012

The Fall of the Church CH1: a contemporary conundrum

Chapter One unpacks the background to the contemporary conundrum of why both Christian and secular people feel similarly marginalised but perceive the other to be in a position of power. The chapter briefly covers the meaning of the terms modernity and postmodernity and then discusses the pathway through history to the current paradox in five stages.

The first stage sets out to explain and trace the central role of the subsumption of transcendence by sovereignty to justify the economic, legal and religious domination of a person, family, or social group over the rest.
The second stage demonstrates how such a claim to transcendence was made by the Roman emperor cult in around 15CE. This positions the testimony of Jesus in confrontation with empire, making the gospel the news that God’s governance is not a dominating transcendence subsumed by sovereignty but rather the gift of self-emptying love or kenosis.
The third stage suggests that the embrace of sovereignty by the church in the fourth century was rooted in the mistaken belief that it was the same kind of power that God exercised. It explores how this error displaced the testimony of Jesus and established the subsumption of transcendence by sovereignty as the legitimation for Western law, politics and economics up to the present day.
The fourth stage shows how the enlightenment attempted to throw off this yoke by targeting the divine and the church, failing to see that the problem was sovereignty itself. Hence it was blind to its own dependence on sovereignty to achieve human freedom and both church and secular world continued to embody and compete in imperial power.
The fifth stage shows how the need to protect the contemporary world from the oppressive transcendence of Christendom accounts for a complex feature of the Western mindset that insists on a complete break between modern and postmodern thought and life to sustain hope for peace. The section explains that the subsumption of transcendence by sovereignty has carried the oppression and control and the only real hope is a transcendence free from sovereign power.
The final stage focuses on two seemingly opposite responses to the impact of sovereign power, pentecostalism and communism. It proposes that while each defaulted to a dependence on sovereign power there remains within both the insight into a potential alternative power to sovereignty that might yet break through the dominating system and bring real hope for peace.


  1. The reply under the previous post was meant to be under this one. My mistake.

  2. Equally sorry Roger but I have to agree with John. I am afraid that words such as subsumption and transcendence alone are not words used in a fairly ordinary vocabulary – I am an academic but not in your field and so I would have to check up on the words too.

  3. OK, I’m assuming that it would be obvious that the purpose of the sections would be to explain important words like these. Each word will need several paragraphs, but without understanding them I’m not sure that the new insight needed to explain what’s been going on will ever be properly grasped.

  4. Although I struggle with some of the terminology, I can’t see any easy alternatives. My thesaurus have been little help here! I’m not sure most of us realise how much language itself has developed through time under empire to make some things easier to say and others extremely difficult – keeping things in convenient good order for the ‘order’ in control. I’m not talking conspiracy theories here, just the natural consequence for communication of a particular world order and all the clouding layers of inference and shades of meaning that language and ideas takes on over time and through usage, always consolidating the controlling mythology of the day. Truth that is hidden is not nowhere but lies obscured just under the surface of our usual thinking and vocabulary. So to lay it bare is surgeon’s knife stuff, requiring the careful use of language and the ideas they convey. After all, if it was all straight-forwardly self-evident, there would be no significant revelation to have or book to write – or it would have been seen and written years ago!

    With this in mind, I wonder whether there is a need to unpack some of the language and ideas that are essential tools here through as extended preface or appendix? And, if possible – though I’ve no idea where to start on this – to do this using examples, parallels or parables to help us get a good handle on these key concepts? I thought your airplane pilot example of an earlier post, Roger, was really helpful in getting a good grasp on how you saw the way hierarchy should and should not work. Are there other similar examples to help support the concept and associate terminology needed to unpack this vital message, to make it as accessibly clear without losing the core truth? Just wondering out loud…!

    • Thanks – you are right, I think. It may well be that glossary or appendix will be necessary. But my hope is that through comments like John and Joanna’s I will discover which of the most crucial words and concepts are the most difficult for folk. This way I can make sure that the book unpacks them in a way that can be readily understood.

  5. Maybe I am being awkward here but I don’t feel that God’s revelation is all that difficult. It is as plain as creation itself, not wrapped up in mystery per se but cloaked by ignorance and not looking beyond our noses. I believe there is a way of communicating what appears complicated very simply, it is trying to grapple with the ideas that is complicated, when we really understand what is trying to be said then often the simplicity of the systems can be told to a child.

  6. This might be slow, but is this what you are trying to say in Part 1

    “The first stage sets out to explain and trace the central role of authorities, both civic and church authorities to co-opt the magnificence of God to justify the economic, legal and religious domination of a person, family or social group over the rest of society.?”

    • The trouble with ‘co-opt the magnificence of God’ is that it can leave us thinking that the magnificence of God is in some way a suitable justification for domination. The ‘subsumption’ word carries the idea of invading and changing the whole idea of God. And I think the word magnificence still carries traces of hierarchy and domination for some folk, although may be not for you. But thanks for the attempt at putting stuff more simply. It serves to indicate the the complexity of trying to communicate simply! In the end all communication is relational. People need to meet Jesus for themselves. The satanic purpose is to mystify the simple by stealing the inner heart of words about the deep things of God, creation and humanity. To subsume them with another spirit. This is what ‘the subsumption of transcendence by sovereignty’ refers to. Hence the need for the whole first stage of chapter one to explain and unpack it!

      • I understand what you are saying from the point of view of unpacking something. The problem is that you have to catch people’s attention first. The title of my thesis was “Wild boar: Friend or foe? Examining the conflict of wild boar management in Erglu Novads” I knew that if I put the second sentence first then no one would read it, it had to catch the attention before I could unpack the issues. A popular book has to do likewise and starting with the complicated and unpacking it, will lose the intended audience straight away. Not many people have the persistence to push through with words, no matter how important they are or appropriate they seem.

    • Thanks for the advice on getting people’s attention. But obviously I am not thinking of calling the book “The subsumption of transcendence” or making those the introductory words. There will be an introduction and lead in of a more attention getting variety! And encouragingly there’s loads of interest in the book and that’s what’s motivating me to get on with it!

  7. Instead of all this talk, let’s just Crown Him with many Crowns, since He is the Lamb upon the Throne …. oh, wait…..erm …..

    • Actually, Matthew, I think the image of the Lamb upon the throne can really help our understanding of how love and sovereignty square up with each other. It’s quite a remarkable picture if you think about. The timid, abused, sacrificial and sacrificed Lamb sitting on the royal seat of not just the king, but the King of Kings, in the highest place of all authority and power. For me the Lamb absolutely re-defines the throne by sitting on it – if you see what I mean! In other words, the classic picture of the throne in all its ceremonious and sanctimonious grandeur is in effect defiled by the bloodied Lamb – forever scandalising the coercive idea of hierarchical power, since it is that kind of power that caused the Lamb’s suffering. And visa versa: the Lamb is reconfigured as the one to be ‘crowned’. The throne elevates the paschal Lamb to the highest place, effectively proclaiming that sacrificial, poured-out love is the ultimate expression of Sovereign power. Put simply, love is the fullest expression of what sovereign power is really all about. I don’t know if that helps. If you want a fuller explanation of this, I posted one in a response in this blog in April this year.

      • Thanks a bunch. A strong correction not to throw the baby out with the bathwater!

  8. Thanks Phil, so very helpful as usual. In the end the story’s own metaphors turn out to be the best ones!

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