THE FRIEND THAT STAYED TOO LONG
We are so gullible!
We either sell out to our insular culture or buy
into any historical heresy. We either hustle our cocksure bias or
fall for any bogus spirituality.
All of us!
But the Lord of History has confronted our
gullibility. All the questionable "tools" we’ve used to "prove"
religious "truth" are being challenged by the unchurched world. For
years, churches made "offers that nobody could refuse," but now, the
nobodies are refusing those offers.
"Disallowed" knowledge is exciting the unchurched
but upsetting the churched. "Realities" supposedly controlled by the
church are now controlling the church. And, faded "litmus tests"
that "proved" who was the most "religious" are now being
It’s no surprise, then, that Christian orthodoxy
is totally at risk. Right or wrong, our creeds are like sand castles
being swept away by the tide. Yet, few admit this scandal. Nobody’s
even asking what’s slipping away. And nobody’s even asking why.
A Conspiracy of a Conspiracy
What’s behind all this? What are the historical
juggernauts destroying Christian doctrine? And, who are the
malicious attackers driving a wedge between the church and its
Most recently, we’ve faced "in-your-face" books
and movies like The Da Vinci Code. This hoax, for example,
concocts a conspiracy that hides the supposed marriage between Jesus
and Mary Magdalene. The book spills over with "facts" and
"scholarship," but it is total fiction and "wildly misinterprets"
In short, it is "a murder mystery masquerading as
Already, 44 books try to correct these lies, but
a biblically illiterate public still refuses the church any benefit
of the doubt. Indeed, most readers of the "Code" revel in its
"personal spiritual growth and understanding."3
Even religious scholars(!) welcome the book and
movie. "Most of the time nobody pays any attention to what we do . .
. (but we’re gladly) in demand right now."4 Further,
these stories will "give us more tolerance for diverse opinions
about Jesus."5 In other words, "It doesn’t matter if it
differs from Scripture and biblical history as long as we’re having
This novel and blockbuster movie represent full
frontal attacks on Christian orthodoxy. They resemble the "gnostic"
heresies of early Christianity. Recent discoveries of ancient
gnostic gospels, for example, remind us of those who claimed
"special knowledge" of things "superior" to Christianity. And the
faithless studies of today’s excited scholars simply compound these
Yes, media like The Da Vinci Code seem
like tsunamis. But they are only ripples on the vast ocean of a
Even before these attacks, a new secular
spirituality was ignoring institutional "authority" and rejecting
"absolute truth." Even before these blasphemies, an out-of-church
"faith" was repackaging itself into alternative spiritual currents
and prevailing as the fastest growing "preference" in popular
In other words, people were meeting God "on their
own." Often, spirit-led passions, felt meanings, and out-of-the-blue
transformations touched a deeper call. It was enough in itself. It
needed no "added glory," it needed no justifying doctrine.
Of course, it could also prove shamefully
shallow. And, we see that shallowness in the fringe pop styles of a
fragmented culture and in the "pop religions" of a "religion-lite"
culture. Obviously, these unmapped mysticisms provide no
"anchors"—no accountabilities—no validations—no verifications. . . .
In other words, anything goes!
In worst cases, the knee-jerk "spiritualities"
and unredeemed passions of self-interest, self-centeredness,
self-preservation, and self-pleasure can overwhelm us. And the
seductions of the Other World can evoke the demons of half-truths
and half-lies. As a result, surrogate spiritualities can blur the
boundaries between cult and culture. And bogus bliss can provoke the
reemergence of a pagan world.
No doubt, the heart of this matter is a matter of
the heart. But, somewhere, we hear a cry for integrity.
Technology plays the same anything-goes game. It
has left veritable reality for virtual reality. Virtual Reality (or
"VR") has become an alternative world—a reality beyond reality—a
simulation beyond simulation. A hyper-reality! We see it in "war
games," video games, and flight simulators. We see it in fantasy
lands like Las Vegas. And, we see it in sensory experiences that
even Mother Nature hasn’t experienced.
But VR, in itself, is not bad. After all, all the
arts are "virtual"—in other words, they represent things that are
not there. And, if we could say that VR, art, and metaphor are
virtual synonyms, then we may be "virtual" too. For we’re living
these things. They’re life itself!
Need more endorsement? Then consider this:
Judeo-Christian faith speaks of "nonexistent things . . . as if they
[already] existed" and gives form to the "substance," "evidence" and
"proof" of things we do not see.6 If that isn’t Virtual
Reality—at the supernatural level!—then why not?
Still, seraph and snake live side by side in the
world of VR. So let the "buyer beware." It’s a fluid, ephemeral
world where virtual reality and veritable reality overlap. So-called
"evidence" might be a simulation itself--or a simulation of a
simulation of a simulation. . . .
Anything and everything can be an "authentic
fake"7—a land of malicious make-believe—a dominion of
demons’ dreams—a beguiling, captivating, and enthralling fool’s
paradise. And, as reality becomes less and less important, sensory
addicts live more and more for simulated stimuli—no sense of right
from wrong, no accountability, and no responsibility.
And, when their simulated senses wear off—when
their "fulfillment" remains unfulfilled—when their satisfaction
stays unsatisfied, they’re right back where they started: needing
So VR "travelers" had better "pack" carefully.
And, sooner or later, they had better come home. "Coming home" means
coming back to all those things that hold us together—all those
things that keep us from going crazy—all those "convictions," "credences,"
and "creeds" the world would rather we not have.
We’ve got to do better, surely, than the
scientist who wore snow shoes once he realized he was standing on
A Seldom Told Story
Yet, none of the above suspects have proven the
real enemy of church doctrine. Books, movies, secular spirituality,
and virtual reality may resemble Monsters, Inc., but they’re
not the main problem. So let’s tell a seldom told story:
The early church was vernal and vulnerable. And
attacks of heretical teachings (like Gnosticism) forced crises of
identity—even of survival! The only help came from Greek/Roman
intellectuals8 who insisted on a strict canon of
They were the first to shape Christian doctrine.
Thank goodness for their help!
But Greek philosophy became "the friend that
stayed too long." Increasingly, its philosophers pulled Scripture
through the only world-view they knew. They took the basic phrases
of Scripture and molded them into a systematic and philosophical
whole. They fed "existence" and "truth" through the filter of
formula, analysis, theory and conjecture. . . .
In short, they brought classical rhetoric to the
aid of an imperiled religion.
But these well-meaning friends also brought a
twice-removed "Good News," a distant "idea" of God, and a
disembodied spirit. Christian passions, for example, were considered
"ungodly," a "sign of weakness," even a "source of evil." And,
anything beyond explanation—"mystery," as example—was simply not
part of the equation.
Faith was reduced to the intellectual assent and
"sacred" integrity of the logical mind.
This bending of Scripture into a Greek world is
the story of Western Christianity. And, today, nothing has changed.
We remain more Greek than Judeo-Christian. And our Greek view is
"the very essence of how we know, or can be certain, about what is
true and false."9
It’s the story of a Greek "soul."
Where the Rubber Hits the Road
Shouldn’t the obvious be obvious? Shouldn’t the
church know these things?
Incredibly, we don’t.
Greek world views and Hebrew realities were
dissonantly different. Greek minds and Hebraic consciousness were
profoundly incompatible. Nowhere does Scripture get even close to a
philosophical discussion. And when Jesus said, "I am the truth," His
truth has nothing to do with a logical or systematic theology.
Clearly, the Hebrews knew a different knowing.
They grasped unspoken revelations suddenly and intuitively. They
embraced understandings that come only from "the spirit in a
man"—only from "the breath of the Almighty."10 And, these
understandings were more than "ideas." After all, "What is born of
the Spirit is Spirit."11
So Paul’s warning should come as no surprise:
"Reason without the Holy Spirit . . . is death."12
For this Spirit is not a "theological Spirit."
Rather than the cold abstractions of a remote and unchanging God,
biblical writers encountered the Spirit in every lived and changing
event. Rather than theoretical doctrines devoid of real-life
evidence, Hebrew believers found the Spirit in all personal
encounters—even the chaos and mess that follow fallen people in a
Their "theology" was "where the rubber hits the
Rather than a stoic apathy and a disembodied
wisdom, Hebrew prophets knew a guileless sympathy and an embodied
wisdom. Rather than a cold journey from doctrine to decision, Hebrew
hearts moved from passions to prophecy.
Their feelings and thoughts were the same!
Again, this Truth was an embodied Truth. And, for
that purpose, they shared heightened sensitivities to "felt
meanings"—visceral feelings, heartfelt emotions, ecstatic passions.
Yet, these feelings were not "flaky"—or even subjective. For the
Hebrews discerned the difference between survival biology (what they
called the "flesh") and aesthetic wisdom (what they called the
Without doubt, they recognized the wasteful and
destructive passions of common selfishness—all the phony bliss that
points away from God. But, they also recognized inspired revelations
and felt meanings that were far more than just "feelings." For these
feelings bridged the sensuous and spiritual worlds—much the way we
experience beauty today. In those moments, passions, paradox, and
parables became one—a transcendent transparency that points only to
In short, biblical writers offered self-evident
signs and self-authenticating tests of the vast differences between
"flesh" and "spirit." Though our modern "idea" of faith considers
all "feelings" a sign of weakness, the Hebrews knew redeemed
passions as their source of strength.
Yet, their passions were not passive. Their
promptings remained, instead, powerful motives, flexed "springs,"
and triggered "implosions" that could "kick-start" every moment,
act, and deed. The focus of their faith, in other words, was the
"doing" of their faith where the whole of life became hallowed.
Nothing was a mere "idea"—nothing was a cold
calculation—and nothing was too profane or too trivial.
Clearly, these believers participated with the
Lord of History. And their participation was more than mythology,
more than theology. Their very destiny was bound up in the moment by
moment manifestations of history. Every action birthed ultimate
meanings. Every action launched eternal significance.
It was a reciprocal relationship—a dynamic
reality—a historical drama. It transcended the separation of man
from God. It was the union of eternity and history.
No Place to Go
What, then, will we do with our Greek friends?
Beyond doubt, they fathered our culture!
Yes, the Nicene Creed is beautiful, and I confess
it repeatedly. Yes, the Doctrine of the Trinity is profound, and I
welcome its profundity. But nowhere in Scripture can we find a
philosophical discussion of the Godhead. And, nowhere in Scripture
can we find a 3-part "system" within this Godhead.
That’s OK. Our long heritage of fussy theological
argument doesn’t bother me. I can even live with some of the sad
distortions, schismatic dogmas, and stale codes.
What bothers me is what’s left out—the terrible
omissions of Christianity’s intended themes. When we replace
Scripture with books "about" Scripture—when we prefer the "higher"
goals of official systems, rational structures, and stored
facts—and, when we limit our "revelation" to proposed ideas,
ordained thoughts, or intellectual assent, we lose something far
more precious than what we’ve gained.
We’ve almost completely lost, for example, the
Hebrew notion of "Spirit." For Spirit moves beyond static dogmas.
Intuitive visions outrun legal reasonings. And, personal revelations
lead beyond official doctrines.
Plainly, no theology can disclose God’s
Self-disclosure. No reason can reveal what reason alone cannot
grasp. And, no intellect can analyze Something that transcends
analysis. Our "theology of the Spirit," in other words, does not
even come close to Paul’s "demonstration of the Spirit."13
As a result, we’ve lost the prophetic power of
communion and creativity.
And, that’s not all. We’ve also lost life’s
mission. Creeds that talk only about right "thinking" conveniently
avoid right "living"—raw discipleship—incarnate lives. And, passive
doctrines that push only theological correctness totally ignore
personal actions and the ultimate meanings of our actions.
We "get our ticket punched," but then we have no
place to go.
When we remove an abstract God from history, we
reject the Lord of History. And, without the Lord of History, we’re
left with an aloof and indifferent God who leaves us nothing but
"fate"—immutable and impersonal. No wonder the church can’t figure
out what to do, for fate was the ultimate idea and ultimate destiny
of our Greek forefathers.
Then, obviously, our great theological
"achievements" neglect life itself. For the Greeks tried feverishly
to "cleanse" God of the mud of man, the filth of history, and the
"flesh" of Jesus. That’s the reason their doctrinal "absolutes"
embraced "thinking" to the determined exclusion of "doing" and
"being." And they cut life even further out of the picture with
their needless schism between the "sacred" and the "secular."
So the very things Scripture mentions most remain
missing in today’s Christendom.
Why can’t we see this? Because our culture has
become a racial amnesia—an illusory history—a collective
unconscious. And, inevitably, we get drunk on ethnic pride and a God
created in our own image.
As a result, Christendom is losing its influence.
And our Christian "apologists"—religious "persuaders"—are becoming
increasingly known for their insincere techniques and weighted
In 1966, the world announced that "God is Dead."
Now we know what’s really dead.
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture
that you fit into it without even thinking.14
Falling in Love With Love
Ironically, the postmodern world needs orthodoxy
more than ever. With in-your-face heresy and anything-goes
spirituality, the world is getting "curiouser and curiouser." So
already we hear a cry for "Truth" with a capital "T," an unspoken
plea for bedrock foundations, and an openness toward new and radical
Caught among such forces, history proves that our
theology will change. Today’s conflict mirrors, for example, the
same forces that confronted the Second Century church. Then and now,
a crisis of identity and the urgency of survival demands our
We’ve got to get it right!
"Getting it right" requires a new integrity of
the Spirit. We must learn, for example, the difference between a
craftsman and an anointed artist—dazzling skill and a moment of true
power—the intelligence of the mind and the wisdom of the heart. And,
within this new integrity, we must learn the difference between
inspirations and doctrines—dialogues and monologues—anointings and
Yes, the Word will always remain the Word, but we
will find a new "substance," "evidence," and "proof" for the Word.15
And, along the way, we won’t need to parody ancient Hebrew
culture—we won’t need to re-Hebraize Christianity. We will
rediscover, instead, the pristine Truth within a former culture.
Will there be a place for scholars? For
doctrines? For orthodoxy? It certainly seems so! For we still need
informed honesty and disciplined scholarship. We still need to
understand what we’ve understood. We still need the secure comforts
of a grounded knowing.
Yet, something new is happening. We are
rethinking thinking. We are discovering new ways of meaning what we
mean and new ways of signifying what is significant. For the first
time in history we are being offered the integrity of the spirit as
well as the integrity of the mind—a combined excellence with new
credibilities and more profound certainties.
Hopefully, we will get beyond our built-in
embarrassments and finally discover that insight always comes before
insightful opinions—that aesthetic truth always emerges before
conceptual truth—and that the "wisdom of the heart" always precedes
the intelligence of the mind.
Yes, we will always need a balance between
"orthopraxy" and "orthodoxy"—between faithful "flowings" in the Holy
Spirit and mature underpinnings of the Holy Spirit. But we must
still return to our Source, over and over. . . . In other words, we
can only comprehend when we are comprehended.
Does this mean that "doctrine" and "orthodoxy"
are not quite the right terms? Maybe so.
In the meantime, today’s scholars will continue
their search for integrity. They will find new ways to speak
credibly about the incredible. They will point with new boldness to
the veracities of their experiences. And—in their piercing
discernments—they will finally fall in love with Love.
This Spirit-birthed age is birthing new spirit!
It’s a creative mutation driven by God. It’s not a doomsday, it’s a
We are being "reintroduced" to God.
"Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find
himself a widower in the next."16
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
1. Dr. Harold Attridge, Dean of Yale’s Divinity
School, quoted in Stephen Shields, "The Da Vinci Code and a Hunger
for Something More," Next-Wave Ezine
2. TotheSource Newsletter, May 3, 2006,
3. Last year, pollster George Barna reported that
53 percent of U.S. adults who finished the book said it had been
helpful in their "personal spiritual growth and understanding."
4. Gail Streete, quoted in Jeffrey Weiss,
"Scholars debunk facts in a work of fiction," Seattle Times
5. From an interview on National Public Radio.
6. Romans 4:17, NIV & AMP; Isaiah
46:10, AMP; Hebrews 11:1, KJ & AMP.
7. Umberto Eco, quoted in "Hyperreality," Wikipedia
8. Early examples include Irenaeus of Lyons (ca.
130-200) and Tertullian (ca. 160-225).
9. John H. Armstrong, "Advancing the Christian
Tradition in the 3rd Millennium"
10. Job 32:8, NIV.
11. John 3:6, AMP.
12. Romans 8:6,7; AMP.
13. I Corinthians 2:4, AMP.
14. Romans 12:1, 2; The Message Bible.
15. The definition of "faith." Hebrews 11:1.
16. William Inge, quoted in Dick Staub, "Ancient
Faith. Pop Faith."