- Christianity 2017: Reflections on the Protestant Reformation by Tony Equale
Among the many scholarly reflections marking the 500th Anniversary (2017) of the Protestant Reformation, this one is sure to stand out. Scholar, activist, former Catholic priest, Equale makes a carefully crafted historical and philosophical case that the Reformation actually missed its mark. What needed reforming was never really reformed. The problem was not a misunderstanding of justification but "a misrepresentation of the character of 'God' derived from and in turn nourishing a pathological evaluation of human nature." That, he tells us, is "the point" of his book (p. 178).
From Equale's perspective, the God who tormented Luther and who supported the theocratic political structures of European kings and princes (as well as of Roman emperors after Constantine) was not "the Jewish Yahweh that Jesus knew as 'Father'" (p. 5). The loving God of Jesus was "irreparably assassinated" first by "a Platonic matter-spirit metaphysics, coupled to a cosmic good-evil dualism that defined humanity as morally crippled and imprisoned by matter, and 'God' as remote and inaccessible." But, the most influential assassin of Jesus' God was, according to Equale, Augustine with his doctrine of a punitive personal God "who ruled a corrupt humankind, saving some and damning others" and who demanded obedience to both himself and the temporal rulers (p. 178).
Luther's "tower-experience" that saved him "by faith alone" identified the problem of this transcendent, punitive God but did not solve it. Even after his "sola fide" revelation, Luther believed he was just as corrupt and that God was just as wrathful as before; "by Scripture alone" he knew he would not be punished only because of the substitutionary death of Christ. "Luther never challenged that 'God' [Augustine's]; he simply found a way to live with it or vault over it, through faith" (pp. 53, 37, 194). Equale laments that this transcendent, [End Page 470] punitive God "is as solidly in place today for religionists and 'atheists' alike as it was in 1517" (p. 54).
However one might assess Equale's analysis of Luther and Augustine, his own suggestions for how our understanding of God and the human condition can be reformed are both empirical (grounded in contemporary evolutionary science) and inspiring (equally grounded in scripture and tradition). Connecting Aquinas's understanding of the divine as "esse in se subsistens" (being subsisting in itself) and science's understanding of matter-as-energy, Equale concludes that "there is only one 'esse' and it is 'God'" (p. 96). Therefore, "'matter' and 'spirit' no longer refer to separate things. Neither word is valid any longer. What exists is one 'substance' bearing the qualities of both. I call it 'matter's energy'" (p. 227). He concludes that "the only metaphysics that will support Jesus' message [that humans are able to live God's life and love] is some form of panentheism . . . we are 'indeed God's offspring' . . . by nature we 'live and move and have our being in 'God'" (p. 197).
Critical of the reformers, Equale intends here to carry on their still urgent task. His multiple writings, offered outside the precincts of the academy (see https://tonyequale.wordpress.com), deserve a greater hearing and conversation within the academy.