“The Marcions Have Landed!”

“Often nothing seems to earn the scorn and derision of others more than the suggestion that more psalms should be sung in worship.”—Carl Trueman

Marcion of Sinope (ca. 85-160 A.D.)

Marcion of Sinope (ca. 85-160 A.D.)

I imagine that many first-time visitors to our church who come from mainstream evangelical backgrounds leave after the service with these impressions:

“Strange! It felt like a Roman Catholic service, with a Votum, Reading of the Law, Confession of Sin, Assurance of Pardon, Gloria Patri, Doxology, Benediction, and Three-Fold Amen. Why read the Ten Commandments, which didn’t make me feel loved? Why do they read from the Old Testament (and they read long passages)? Why do they sing Psalms? Why do they teach and preach the gospel instead of gleaning moral lessons from the Bible?”

Dr. Carl Trueman, Professor of Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA, thinks evangelicalism has been heavily influenced, not by well-respected, eminent theologians such as J. I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, Albert Mohler, or D. A. Carson, but by …

Marcion of Sinope in Pontus (modern-day Black Sea region) who lived ca. 85-160 A.D.

To understand why Trueman argues in “The Marcions Have Landed!” that evangelicalism has been invaded by the Marcions, let’s take a quick look at who this man was. Most of what we know today about him come from the pen of a staunch opponent, Tertullian, and from the historian Hippolytus who says that he was pastor of the church in Sinope. Marcion’s teachings were heavily-influenced by Greek dualism as evinced by his belief in a great divide between the cruel, arbitrary creator God of the Old Testament and Jesus, the loving God of the New Testament. Since Gnostics believed that all matter is evil and the only good is the immaterial or spiritual, Marcion as well likened Old Testament God to the evil Gnostic demiurge, the creator of the universe, and believed in a docetic Jesus who merely appeared to be human. Thereafter, Marcion formed his own canon of Scripture, rejecting all of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament except portions of the Gospel of Luke and ten of Paul’s epistles. Because of his heresies, Marcion was excommunicated by the church in Rome ca. 144 A.D.

Trueman lists three areas in which he sees Marcion’s “most profound influence” on evangelicals. First, concerning the emphasis on “love” to the utter neglect of the whole counsel of God, Trueman says,

Thus, when I hear statements from evangelical theologians such as ‘God’s wrath is always restorative’, my mind goes straight to countless OT passages, the Bible’s teaching about Satan, and NT characters such as Ananias and Sapphira. There was not much restoration for any of these folk—or are being swallowed alive by the earth, consumed by holy fire and being struck dead for cheating the church actually therapeutic techniques intended to restore the individuals concerned?

And when leading evangelicals tell me that penal substitution is tantamount to cosmic child abuse (don’t laugh—this is seriously argued by some leading evangelical theologians), I’m left wondering whether I should sit down and explain the doctrine to them, or whether I should merely tell them to go away and grow up. Do they really expect the church to take such claims as serious theological reflection?

Where’s the evidence of this obsession with God’s love? In ludicrous statements such as: “God loves everyone.” “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” “God is good all the time.” “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.”

Second, Marcion is king when churches neglect, ignore, and even reject outright the Old Testament:

As evangelicals we can often err by focusing purely on the straight doctrinal teaching of the letters in the NT and the great passages in John’s Gospel. An NT scholar and friend once said to me that he thought the average evangelical’s life would be pretty much unaffected if the whole Bible, except for the Gospel of John and the Letter to the Romans, simply disappeared. Hyperbole maybe, but probably not by much. We need a solid biblical theology—not one which downgrades everything to the level of economy at the expense of ontology but one which takes full account of the central narrative of the Bible and seeks to do justice even to those bits of the Bible we don’t like.

Evangelicals have no idea that Jesus had an extremely high regard for the OT, not only because he was a Jew, but most importantly, because all the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (all OT books) spoke of “things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27) and “that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). As Trueman says, without the OT, we have a naked NT, “As the OT is the context for the NT, so the neglect of OT leaves the NT as more or less meaningless.”

Third and last, the absence of psalm-singing in the worship service, the focus on emotions and on God’s love, and the belief that “the most pressing and dangerous worship issue is clearly that people sing too much of the Bible in their services,” is Marcionite:

Moreover, often nothing seems to earn the scorn and derision of others more than the suggestion that more psalms should be sung in worship. Indeed, the last few years have seen a number of writers strike out against exclusive psalmody. Given that life is too short to engage in pointless polemics, I am left wondering which parallel universe these guys come from, where the most pressing and dangerous worship issue is clearly that people sing too much of the Bible in their services. How terrifying a prospect that would be! Imagine: people actually singing songs that express the full range of human emotion in their worship using words of which God has explicitly said, ‘These are mine!’ Back here on Planet Earth, however, there is generally precious little chance of overloading on sound theology in song in most evangelical churches as the Marcion invasion is pretty much total and unopposed in the sphere of worship. Yet I for one prefer Athanasius to Marcion as a patristic thinker and, in his letter to Marcellinus, he gives one of the most beautiful and moving arguments for psalms in worship ever penned (available at www.athanasius.com/psalms/aletterm.htm). It is a pity more have not taken his words to heart.

Trueman concludes:

So what will be the long-term consequences of this Marcionite approach to the Bible? Ultimately, I think it will push ‘the God who is there’ back into the realm of the unknowable and make our god a mere projection of our own psychology and our worship simply into group therapy sessions where we all come together to pretend we are feeling great … As our reading, our sermons, and our times of corporate worship neglect and, sometimes, simply ignore the OT, we can expect a general impoverishment of church life and, finally, a total collapse of evangelical Christendom … We need to grasp once again who God is in his fullness; we need to grasp who we are in relation to him; and we need teaching and worship which gives full-orbed expression to these things—and this will only come when we in the West grow up, ditch the designer gods we build from our pick-n-mix Bible where consumer, not Creator, is king, and give the whole Bible its proper place in our lives, thinking and worship. Think truncated thoughts about God and you’ll get a truncated God; read an expurgated Bible and you get an expurgated theology; sing mindless, superficial rubbish instead of deep, truly emotional praise and you will eventually become what you sing.

In a Facebook group of Filipino pastors, someone made this conclusion: “Bottom line, the Old Testament is Law, and the New Testament is Grace.” When I pointed out that that is Marcionite, someone else commented, “Marcion has done the church a great thing.” The Marcions have indeed not only landed, but are alive and well on the evangelical planet.

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