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The church's theology bought into this ahistoricism in different ways: along a more liberal, post-Kantian trajectory, the historical particularities of Christian faith were reduced to atemporal moral teachings that were universal and unconditioned. Thus it turned out that what Jesus taught was something like Kant's categorical imperative - a universal ethics based on reason rather than a set of concrete practices related to a specific community. Liberal Christianity fostered ahistoricism by reducing Christianity to a universal, rational kernel of moral teaching. Along a more conservative, evangelical trajectory (and the Reformation is not wholly innocent here), it was recognized that Christians could not simply jettison the historical particularities of the Christian event: the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, there was still a quasi-Platonic, quasi-gnostic rejection of material history such that evangelicalism, while not devolving to a pure ahistoricism, become dominated by a modified ahistoricism we can call primitivism. Primitivism retains the most minimal commitment to God's action in history (in the life of Christ and usually in the first century of apostolic activity) and seeks to make only this first-century 'New Testament church' normative for contemporary practice. This is usually articulated by a rigid distinction between Scripture and tradition (the latter then usually castigated as 'the traditions of men' as opposed to the 'God-give' realities of Scripture). Such primitivism is thus anticreedal and anticatholic, rejecting any sense that what was unfolded by the church between the first and the twenty-first centuries is at all normative for current faith and practice (the question of the canon's formation being an interesting exception here). Ecumenical creeds and confessions - such as the Apostles' Creed or the Nicene Creed - that unite the church across time and around the globe are not 'live' in primitivist worship practices, which enforce a sense of autonomy or even isolation, while at the same time claiming a direct connection to first-century apostolic practices.

James K.A. Smith
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