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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 "disproved."

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 canon?

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" early Christianity.1

In short, it is "a murder mystery masquerading as historical truth."2

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 fun."

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 heresies.

Yes, media like The Da Vinci Code seem like tsunamis. But they are only ripples on the vast ocean of a dangerous journey.

Surrogate Spiritualities

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 culture.

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.

Alternative "Worlds"

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 another "fix."

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 literally nothing.

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 Scripture.

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 fallen world.

Their "theology" was "where the rubber hits the road."

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 "spirit").

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 God.

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 agendas.

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 "orthodoxies."

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 attention.

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 procedures.

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 divine deliverance.

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

ENDNOTES

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 http://www.the-next-wave-ezine.info/issue89/

2. TotheSource Newsletter, May 3, 2006, http://www.tothesource.org/5_3_2006/5_3_2006.htm

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 http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/

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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperreality

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"

http://johnharmstrong.typepad.com

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." http://dickstaub.com/




Future Church Administrator