The Church’s Most Regular Occasion of Apostasy

Robert Jenson, in his magnum opus Systematic Theology, makes a provocative statement about Marcionism in the course of describing the biblical God:

We will begin with the confession of the God of Israel, in view of the predominantly gentile church’s perennial temptation to evade it. The temptation was early overcome dogmatically, with the rejection of Marcion, but it remains the church’s most regular occasion of apostasy. When the church has fallen to it, even partially or ambiguously, the result has been mere replacement of her God by some numen of the momentarily surrounding religious culture; even Marcion, who wanted to proclaim a God altogether unknown until he appeared in Jesus, in fact produced only a usual piece of late-antique mythology. (43)

In a footnote on this comment, Jenson further elaborates:

Von Harnack, Marcion, 33, wrote that Marcion’s about the new religion “contrasts… with the backwardness that is unable to free itself from the Old Testament.” Von Harnack published his book in 1924; such views were common in German academic theology of the time, in which the pastors and teachers were educated who in their generation would indeed overcome this “backwardness,” and thereupon find God in Blut und Boden. That the victims then offered to this particular idol were the Jews themselves gives this instance of the apostasy a unique artistic perfection. But the apostasy is no less complete in worship of the God/dess, which likewise requires rejection of Israel’s Scripture. (43n4)

I’m inclined to agree with Jenson here; of all the ancient heresies, it seems like Marcion’s division of Jesus from the God and scriptures of Israel is one of the most frequent and insidious in my context. FWIW.