Dematerialization, Idealism, and the Beauty of Cruciformity

A recent reading of book of James reminded me of the human tendency to compartmentalize ideas, beliefs, experiences, and so on, into their own category, and thus separating their integration. This reminded me of a quote in  Screwtape Letters.  C.S. Lewis has the veteran demon write this to his nephew:  “At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls” (Letter IV). Lewis cleverly reveals the integration of the body, mind and soul  – that they are not their own parts, inconsequential of their action towards the rest of the body. The tendency to believe this is to make a grievous error.

James intended to remind readers that faith does not exist without a life of works. Faith and work are two expressions of the same thing: an encounter with the living Christ. Belief and action are not to be separated – to do so would be to live a dematerialized Christianity, and  we tend to do this much more often than we think. We become idealists in our beliefs, yet we neglect to speak to the One who is centre of that ideal. More passion is spent on disagreeing with someones theology/ideology than on seeking and praying to the God of grace. This is a dematerialized faith, one that has glorified ideals at the expense of being with the person of Christ.

Moreover, NT Wright has written much about the problem among Evangelicals who have made the Christian hope one of future dematerialization. The belief is that one day, if you are Christian, when you die, or when the ‘rapture’ happens, you will go to heaven. What most people mean by this, is that their “soul” or their “spirit” will go to the sky and live on clouds, and play harp music with Jesus who is of course the worship leader. Thankfully, this is completely wrong.

Though many factors contribute, this is due to a Christian conception of the afterlife that has been overly dematerialized – a separation of body/soul/spirit. This ideal  demonizes the material world and glorifies the non material; which Wright argues in Surprised by Hope, leads to a tragic disregard for the present creation.  It is an escapist mindset, viewing the current world as totally corrupt and irredeemable, thus placing hope in a disembodied heaven.

The problem is due in large part to a erroneous view of heaven.  Wright explains:

‘God’s kingdom’  in the preaching of Jesus refers, not to post-mortem destiny, not to our escape from this world into another one, but about God’s sovereign rule coming ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.10 The roots of the misunderstanding go very deep, not least into the residual Platonism that has infected whole swathes of Christian thinking and has misled people into supposing that Christians are meant to devalue this present world, and our present bodies, and regard them as shabby or shameful.

Likewise, the pictures of heaven in the book of Revelation have been much misunderstood. The wonderful description in Revelation 4 and 5 of the twenty-four elders casting their crowns before the throne of God and the Lamb, beside the sea of glass, is not, despite one of Charles Wesley’s great hymns, a picture of the last day, with all the redeemed in heaven at last. It is a picture of present reality, the heavenly dimension of our present life. Heaven, in the Bible, is regularly not a future destiny, but the other, hidden dimension of our ordinary life—God’s dimension, if you like. God made heaven and earth; at the last, he will remake both, and join them together for ever. And when we come to the picture of the actual End in Revelation 21–22, we find, not ransomed souls making their way to a disembodied heaven, but rather the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, uniting the two in a lasting embrace.

Heaven invades earth when God enters creation. Additionally, Wright argues that Easter — the celebration of Christ’s resurrection — is what is under fire in this ideal. The resurrection of Christ has lost its centrality in the Christian hope, it has taken a back seat only to be replaced by an escapist longing for a disembodied heaven.

The consequences are detrimental:

What we say about death and resurrection gives shape and colour to everything else. If we are not careful, we will offer merely a ‘hope’ that is no longer a surprise, no longer able to transform lives and communities in the present, no longer generated by the resurrection of Jesus himself and looking forward to the promised new heavens and new earth (36).

Moreover, the wider implication of this dematerialized hope is the “downgrading of bodies and the created order” which we will one day leave behind (37). Wright notes the historic shift during the 18th century, in which “Evangelicals gave up believing in the urgent imperative to improve society about the same time that they gave up believing robustly in resurrection and settled for a disembodied heaven instead” (38).

The focus of Wright’s book is centred primarily on the resurrection – which rightly provides hope for the conquering of death and the future plan to redeem all of creation. Additionally, what I think we require in this very moment is the beauty of the Incarnation.

“The Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14).

Surely, John’s readers would have recognized what John was saying about Jesus: he is God in the flesh.  God always intended that through the story of Israel, God would restore the brokenness of creation. How? By progressively coming nearer to it – bringing ‘heaven,’ the “God dimension” to creation. The restoration of creation would come as God drew closer to it; through the tabernacle, the temple, and ultimately the Temple who is Christ, and now, by the Spirit, by whom  our bodies are made into His temple, and thus through the Church.

The incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection. These are meant to bring restoration to a creation that is under a curse. Not simply a restoration but a fruitfulness and ability to flourish. Like a seed that is planted into the ground, the seed must loose its glory, it must die, for the tree to grow, flourish and provide fruit for the planter. In that way the seed is beautiful and mysterious.

Jesus spoke of himself and his followers when he said, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).

God enters into his own story by incarnating himself, and beckons us – the church – to enter into his story of the  ross, death, burial, and resurrection.

Thus, in this cruciform life – a life shaped by the cross — and by it we begin to behold the beauty of the incarnation; and paradoxically, by embracing the way of the cross, death turns into the blessing of life.

CS Lewis puts it this way: “we do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves.”

Paul’s teaching and life is in step with this:

“…always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” – 2 Corinthians 4:10-12

“If we have died with him, we will also live with him.” – 2 Timothy 2:11

“I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” – Galatians 2:20

May the Church grasp the beauty of the story of Christ – the incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection, and be intentional about entering into that story not  by idealizing it, nor by escaping the created world, but through lament, prayer, seeking the King, his Kingdom, and his Spirit, to the glory of God. Lord, help our unbelief.

With All Your Mind

Why is it that many Christians today separate the work of the Spirit from the work of the mind? As if any thought of the mind is a product not of the Spirit but of the flesh.

Mark Noll wrote on this subject, calling it the “Scandal” of the Evangelical mind: simply put, that there is no mind. He argues that Christians today, specifically Evangelicals, don’t think ‘Christianly’ about culture the way their Fathers did. By Fathers, I’m referring to the Fathers of Evangelicalism; John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and others.

In my thinking, the Liberal Theology in the 19th century rejected the supernatural and embraced science, humanistic endeavours, and ultimately the mind (and that definitely created a problem, but that’s not my point right now). This liberal theology welcomed the popular consensus that reason was of utmost importance. Maybe it’s a bit of an overstatement but I think in many ways the fundamentalist reaction to liberal theology in the 19th century was one that led to the rejection of the use of the mind, creating a false dichotomy between the mind and the Spirit.

Here’s how:

The wake of the 20th century saw immense supernatural activity amongst Evangelicals, resulting in the birth and growth of Pentecostalism. Being raised Pentecostal, I tread carefully on these waters, but not uncritically. Perhaps the embrace of the supernatural at the expense of the natural became catalytic in the discarding of the mind. (As a side note, this seems to fit perfectly well with a pre-millenial eschatology that longs for an escape from this ‘evil’ world, dualizing God’s “good” creation. I realize that statement opens up a whole other dialogue, let’s forget I said that for now). Don’t misunderstand me here, I believe in the supernatural and I believe that it’s something we can and should seek, but not at the expense of the natural. The supernatural work of the Spirit was never meant to be worshiped, just like the natural (creation, our bodies, etc) was never meant to be worshiped.

Let’s talk about it.

If Jesus asks us to love God with our whole being, including our minds, then thinking (about both God, culture, and the world), should not be considered an action that is mutually exclusive to the work of the Spirit. In other words, the work of the Holy Spirit is not manifested ONLY when something supernatural happens, that is a false dichotomy. God is the God of the natural and the supernatural. Christian’s need to again begin thinking Christianly about culture, about God, and about how they are to engage in the world. Not escaping it, not leaving it, not disappearing from it, but showing the world what it means to be human; this involves the mind empowered by the Spirit.

Jesus; the Sum, the Center

“Jesus is both the sum and center of our Christian faith. In a conversation I was privileged to have with noted theologian Dr. David Wells, he made mention of a very insightful fact. Unlike most religions, Christianity has no place, language, race, or culture that serves as a center to hold it together. Christians share no worldwide headquarters, no common language, no common race or ethnic heritage, and no common framework. The only thing that holds all of Christianity together is the risen Lord Jesus Christ who is alive today.”

Mark Driscoll
Vintage Jesus pg 200 –

Wether you Eat or Drink…

 

I recently heard someone preach on the verse: “whether you eat or you drink, do it all for the glory of God..” (1 Cor 10:31). The preacher went on to say that as Christians we sometimes “dichotomize” our lives. We’ve got the “secular” part of life: being with friends, going out, doing laundry, whatever. And then the “religious (or spiritual)” part of life where we go to church, we have our devotionals, we pray, we seek God. Rightly so, his point was that “dichotomized Christianity” doesn’t really exist.

This is a concept I’ve been thinking and wrestling with a lot over the last few weeks. Most might say that the subject and focus of this verse is “you.” That is true, but let me take it further and add to it.

I want to point out that the end all, the purpose, the goal, the highlight is not about what “you” (and me) are doing… but its about the Glory of God. This tells me much about God’s character, He’s interested in the ‘fine print’ of life. Ever read the Bible and get to a genealogy? Those are kind of boring, but they remind me of God’s attention to detail; to me and you those names mean nothing! But God see’s them and smiles because he knows everything about them.

God’s not so big and great and awesome that he only cares about the “important things” in life, but he’s so big, great and awesome because he see’s and cares about every little thing in every person’s life, that ever existed and ever will. In fact, the day he called Abraham he knew that I would be writing this note today. The day of the flood, he knew that you would be reading this note.

So wether I eat, or I drink, I’ll glorify God because He knows that I’m eating and drinking. But it doesn’t end there. Romans 8:28-29 says that all things work together for the good for those who love God and are called for his purpose. Everything includes the small things…. my conception of this is that God allows EVERYthing to happen so that they become an opportunity for the good, which is to be more like Jesus. It comes down to this: when you pray for more faith, will God just give you faith or will he give you an opportunity to have faith? Or maybe your dealing with patience, like most of us who like to be in control of time. Maybe you can figure that one out and let me know.

I wish I had a proper conclusion to this, luckily its not something I’m graded on… but Jonathan Edwards, an 18th century preacher said “the chief ends of man is to Glorify God; BY enjoying Him.” When all is said and done, all our unpleasant circumstances will still remain unpleasant no matter how much “Christian jargon” we add to it. BUT, there is a peace when we realize that, whether we eat or drink, whatever we do… we can glorify God, because while you are doing your thing, God see’s, he knows, he hears, and he’s setting you up, not to fail, but to succeed in becoming more like him.