Chapter 2

 

Rediscovering Joy

“The problem is not only to win souls but to save minds. If you win the whole world and lose the mind of the world, you will soon discover you have not won the world” -Charles Malik

 

  • Christians who are seriously committed to their faith often experience an inner tug-of-war. Most of us absorb the idea that serving God means primarily doing church work. If we end up in other fields of work, then we thing serving the Lord means piling religious activities on top of our existing responsibilities–things like church services, Bible study, and evangelism. But where does that leave the job itself?  Just some way to put food on the table?
  • Modern society is characterized by a sharp split between the sacred and secular spheres–with work and business defined as strictly secular. As a consequence, Christians often live in two separate worlds, commuting between the private world of family and church (where we can express our faith freely) and the public world (where religious expression is firmly suppressed). Many of us don’t even know what it means to have a Christian perspective on our work (more than just no lying or cheating)
  • Ordinary Christians working in business, industry, politics, factory work, and so on, are “the Church’s front-line troops in her engagement with the world,” wrote Lesslie Newbigin.
  • Plato taught that everything is composed of Matter and Form-raw material ordered by rational ideas.
  • The point of Plato’s word picture is that the material world is the realm of error and illusion: The path to true knowledge is to free ourselves from the bodily senses, so that reason can gain insight into the realm of Forms.
  • Plato regarded as Matter as preexisting from all eternity. The role of the creator was merely to impose rational Form upon it. But the preexistence of Matter meant it had independent properties over which the creator had no control; as a result, the deity was never fully successful in forcing it into the mold of the Forms. This explains why there is always some chaos, disorder, and irrationality in the world. In essence, Plato was offering a twofold origin for the world. Both Form and Matter are eternal: Form represents reason and rationality, while the eternal flow of formless Matter is inherently evil and chaotic. This twofold view of origins led to a two-story view of reality, with Form (Eternal Reason) in the upper story and Matter (Eternal Formless Flux) in the lower story. From a biblical perspective, the problem with Platonic dualism was that it identified the source of chaos and evil with some part of God’s creation–namely, Matter. Creation was divided into two parts: the spiritual (superior, good) and the material (inferior, bad). This stands in clear opposition to the biblical worldview, which teaches that nothing exists from eternity over against God. Matter is not some preexisting stuff with its own independent properties, capable of resisting God’s power. God created it and thus has absolute control over it.
  • For Greek thinkers, the most shocking claim Christians made was that God had become a historical person, who could be seen, heard, and touched. Rational inquiry could no longer simply reject the world of the senses but had to take account of history–events in time and space like Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection.
  • Scripture defines the human dilemma as moral–the human problem is that we have violated God’s commands. But the Greeks defined the human dilemma as metaphysical–the problem is that we are physical, material beings. And if the material world is bad, then the goal of religious life is to avoid, suppress, and ultimately escape from the material aspects of life. Manual labor was regarded as less valuable than prayer and meditation. Marriage and sexuality were rejected in favor of celibacy.  Ordinary social life was on a lower plane than life in hermitages and monasteries.  The goal of spiritual life was to free the mind from the evil world of the body and the senses, so it could ascend to God.
  • Augustine embraced an ethic of asceticism [severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence], based on the assumption that the physical world and bodily functions were inherently inferior, a cause of sin. The way to reach the higher levels of spiritual life was by renunciation and deprivation of physical wants.
  • Aristotle’s work represented a serious challenge to Christianity itself, for it presented a comprehensive pagan system that included not only philosophy but also ethics, aesthetics, science, and politics. Some Christians were so impressed they they resorted to an extreme two-story dichotomy–the so-called double-truth theory, where the upper and lower stories were regarded as actually contradictory to one another. For example, Aristotle taught that the world was eternal, while of course Scripture teaches that it was created–and somehow, it was said both are true.
  • Aquinas retained the dualistic framework of Greek philosophy while changing the terminology. In the upper story he put grace (a supernatural add-on), and in the lower story he put nature–not nature in the modern scientific sense, but in the Aristotelian sense of “nature of a thing,” meaning its ideal or perfect form, its full potential, the goal toward which is strives, its telos.
  • The Aristotelian definition that Aquinas borrowed contained a hidden dynamite that was to blow the system apart. Why? Because it defined the “nature” of things–their goal or purpose or teleology–as immanent within the world. That meant the world did not need God, but was perfectly capable of reaching its purpose or full potential strictly on its own, by its own resources.
  • This two-tiered schema of nature and grace proved unstable, and after Aquinas the two orders of existence had a tendency to separate and grow increasingly independent. Why? Because there was no real interaction or interdependence between them. No matter how much icing you spread on a cake, it’s still a separate substance. The things of the world and the things of God coexisted on parallel tracks, without relating in any intrinsic way. 
  • The practical impact of this nature/grace dualism was to reinforce the medieval two-tiered spirituality: Laypeople were thought to be capable of attaining only natural, earthly ends, which were clearly inferior, while the religious elites alone were thought capable of spiritual perfection, defined primarily in terms of performing rituals and ceremonies. Thus, the religious professionals took over the spiritual duties of those deemed unable to fulfill them for themselves–saying prayers, attending mass, doing penance, going on pilgrimages, and performing acts of charity on behalf of the common folk.
  • Rejecting monasticism, they preached that the Christian life is not a summons to a state of life separate from our participation in the creation order of family and work, but is embedded within the creation order. Whereas in the Middle Ages the word vocation was used strictly of religious callings (priest, monk, or nun), Martin Luther deliberately chose the same term for the vocation of being a merchant, farmer, weaver, or homemaker.  Running a business or a household was not the least bit inferior to being a priest or a nun, he argued, because all were ways of obeying the Cultural Mandate.  This was backed up theologically by rejecting the definition of grace as something added to nature (donum superadditum).
  • The Reformers’ emphatic rejection of the nature/grace dualism was not enough to overcome an age-old pattern of thought. The problem was that they failed to craft a philosophical vocabulary to express their new theological insights. Thus they did not give their followers any tools to defend those insights against philosophical attack–or to create an alternative to the dualistic philosophy of scholasticism [theology based on Aristotelian logic]. As a result, the successors of Luther and Clavin went right back to teaching scholasticism in the Protestant universities using Aristotle’s logic and metaphysics as the basis of their systems–and thus dualistic thinking continued to affect all the Christian traditions.
  • The problem with this secular/sacred dualism is that it does exactly what Plato did so many years ago: it identifies sin with some part of creation (dancing, movies, tobacco, makeup). Spirituality is defined as avoiding that part of creation, while spending as much time as possible in another part (church, Christian school, Bible study groups). This explains why work in the spiritual realm as a pastor or missionary is regarded as more important or valuable than being a banker or businessman.
  • The line of thinking of it being “impossible to serve God by being a man or woman in business” reminds us that Greek perspective is still alive and well, continuing to rob believers of the integrated life God promises.
  • How did John Beckett free himself from this pervasive dualism? Through a new understanding of the cosmic scope of Creation, Fall, and Redemption.
  • No part of creation is inherently evil or bad.  Once we understand this, Christians will never come across as negative kill-joys. While hating sin, we should exhibit a deep love for this world as God’s handiwork, seeing through its brokenness and sin to its original created goodness.  We should be known as people in love with the beauties of nature and the wonders of human creativity.
  • Modern people tend to place morality and science in completely different categories, but for Calvin both were examples of God’s law. The difference is only that humans must choose to obey the moral law, whereas natural objects have no choice but to obey the laws of physics or electromagnetism.
  • Because humans were created to be God’s deputies exercising dominion over creation, their sin had a ripple effect that has extended into the natural world.
  • As Paul writes, “Nothing is unclean in itself” (Rom. 14:14). It becomes unclean only when sinners use it to express their rebellion against God. The line between good and evil is not drawn between one part of creation and another part, but runs through the human heart itself–in our own disposition to use the creation for good or for evil. For example, music is good, but popular songs can be used to glorify moral perversion. Art is a good gift from God, but books and movies can be used to convey non-biblical worldviews and encourage moral decadence. Science is a vocation from God, but it can be used to undermine belief in a Creator. Sexuality was God’s idea in the first place, but it can be distorted and twisted to serve selfish, hedonistic purposes. The state is ordained by God to establish justice, but it can be perverted into tyranny and injustice. Work is a calling from God, but in American corporate culture it is often an addiction–a frenzied scramble for a higher rung on the corporate ladder, a bigger salary, a more impressive resume. In every area of life, we need to distinguish between the way God originally created the world, and the way it has been deformed and defaced by sin.
  • “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart.” -Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
  • In eternity, we will continue to fulfill the Cultural Mandate, though without sin–creating things that are beautiful and beneficial out of the raw materials of God’s renewed creation. This means that every valid vocation has its counterpart in the new heaven and new earth, which gives our work eternal significance.
  • In our work we not only participate in God’s providential activity today, we also foreshadow the tasks we will take up in cultivating a new earth at the end of time.
  • All of creation was originally good; it cannot be divided into a good part (spiritual) and a bad part (material). Likewise, all of creation was affected by the Fall, and when time ends, all creation will be redeemed. Evil does not reside in some part of God’s good creation, but in our abuse of creation for sinful purposes.
  • If we begin with the Fall instead of Creation:
    • Doing this implies that our essential identity consists in being guilty sinners, deserving of divine punishment. Some Christian literature goes so far as to say we are nothing, completely worthless, before a holy God. This excessively negative view is not biblical, however, and it lays Christianity open to the charge that it has a low view of human dignity.  The Bible does not begin with the Fall but with Creation: Our value and dignity are rooted in the fact that we are created in the image of God, with the high calling of being His representatives on earth. In fact, it is only because humans have such high value that sin is so tragic. If we were worthless to begin with, the Fall would be a trivial event.
    • In our secularized culture, starting with the Fall renders the rest of our message incoherent–there is no context to those that don’t know it.
    • We will not be able to explain Redemption–because its goal is precisely to restore us to our original, created status.
  • Today, as we address the biblically illiterate Americans of the twenty-first century, we need to follow Paul’s model, building a case from Creation before expecting people to understand the message of sin and salvation. We need to practice “pre-evangelism” using apologetics to defend basic concepts of who God is, who we are, and what we owe Him, before presenting the gospel message.
  • For Protestants, it’s also possible to tilt in the opposite direction. Some groups weight Redemption more heavily than the Fall, leading to the doctrine of Christian Perfection or Holiness–the idea that we can become completely holy in this life (e.g. Wesleyan and Nazarene tradition of “entire sanctification”) The error here consists in holding that Redemption overcomes the Fall completely in this life. The Bible teaches that sin will not be completely conquered until Christ returns.
  • Picture the world as God’s territory by right of Creation. Because of the Fall, it has been invaded and occupied by Satan and his minions, who constantly wage war against God’s people.  At the central turning point in history, God Himself, the second person of the Trinity, enters the world in the person of Jesus Christ and deals Satan a deathblow through His resurrection. The Enemy has been fatally wounded; the outcome of the war is certain; yet the occupied territory has not actually been liberated. There is now a period where God’s people are called to participate in the follow-up battle, pushing the Enemy back and reclaiming territory for God. This is the period in which we now live–between Christ’s resurrection and the final victory over sin and Satan. Our calling is to apply the finished work of Christ on the cross to our lives and the world around us, without expecting perfect results until Christ returns.
  • Paul expressed the proper balance by saying we have a powerful spiritual treasure but it is held in fragile, breakable jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7). This side of heaven, we should strive to live with all three elements held in balance: recognizing the created goodness of God’s world (Creation), fighting the corruption of ongoing sin and brokenness (Fall), and working toward the healing of creation and the restoration of God’s purposes (Redemption).
  • Throughout history, Christianity has seen the rise of various radical, utopian movements that rejected ordinary life, rooted in the creation order, for the sake of some supposed higher spirituality that would be an anticipation of eternity.  The error here is to assume that the order of Redemption destroys the order of Creation. And the antidote is to realize that Redemption is intended not to demolish God’s good creation but to fulfill it.
  • Our entire being is involved in the great drama of sin and redemption. There is no aspect of human nature unaffected by the Fall, no independent realm known by a spiritually neutral reason. Indeed, it’s a mistake even to think of reason as neutral, in the sense of being independent of any philosophical or religious commitments.
  • The nature/grace dualism implied that we need spiritual regeneration in the upper story of theology and religion, but we don’t need intellectual regeneration in order to get the right view of politics, science, social life, morality, or work. In these areas, human reason is treated as religiously neutral, and we can all go ahead and accept whatever the secular experts decree. It should come as no surprise, then, that this dichotomy led believers to accommodate with the world in these areas.
  • Because the Protestant Reformers did not craft an alternative philosophy to scholasticism (as we saw earlier), many of their followers slipped back into the same medieval nature/grace dualism. We see the effects today when Christians assume they can attend church and Bible study on the weekends and then, during the week, simply accept whatever concepts and theories are current in their professional field. In practice, the notion that reason is religiously neutral means that secularism and naturalism are often promoted under the guise of “neutrality.” They are presented as objective, rational, and binding on everyone, while biblical views are dismissed as biased private opinions. This equivocation has created enormous pressure on Christians to abandon any distinctively biblical perspective in their professional work. One Christian philosopher goes so far as to insist that it would be “wrong” to apply biblical principles to his work: “I have, myself, definite religious convictions: but I would consider it entirely wrong to make them intrude as tacit presuppositions in the actual process of analysis I undertake.” This scholar has clearly acquiesced to the idea that intellectual work can be autonomous of religious or philosophical commitments. The effect of such a stance, however, is that Christians will abandon the world of ideas to the secularists. They will fail to see that secularism is itself a philosophical commitment–and that if they don’t bring biblical principles to bear on various issues, then they will end up promoting nonbiblical principles. It is impossible to think without some set of presuppositions about the world. This illustrates why it is crucial for Christians to understand the ongoing pitfalls of the nature/grace dualism–so that we can break free from faulty thought patterns and open our whole lives to the transforming power of God’s Word.
  • A genuinely biblical theology must keep all three principles in careful balance: that all created reality comes from the hand of God and was originally and intrinsically good; that all is marred and corrupted by sin; yet that all is capable of being redeemed, restored, and transformed by God’s grace. 
  • The biblical message is not just about some isolated part of life labeled “religion” or “church life.” Creation, Fall, and Redemption are cosmic in scope, describing the great events that shape the nature of all created reality. We don’t need to accept an inner fragmentation between our faith and the rest of life. Instead we can be integrally related to God on all levels of our being, offering up everything we do in love and service to Him.

This post contains quoted and paraphrased passages of Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey.

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