c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton: 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

Critique of NT Wright

I have posted below some characteristic quotes by NT Wright, former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, and chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity, St. Andrews. Wright taught Biblical studies at Cambridge, McGill, and Oxford Universities.  He is a popular author and speaker but does not understand the Gospel as he should.

In an interview in Christianity Today in 2007, for instance, Wright said, "Because the great emphasis in the New Testament is that the gospel is not how to escape the world; the gospel is that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Lord of the world. And that his death and Resurrection transform the world, and that transformation can happen to you. You, in turn, can be part of the transforming work. That draws together what we traditionally called evangelism, bringing people to the point where they come to know God in Christ for themselves, with working for God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. That has always been at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer, and how we’ve managed for years to say the Lord’s Prayer without realizing that Jesus really meant it is very curious."

Of course, escape is a completely valid way to conceive of the Gospel message.  It is the very word used on numerous occasions in the literature:

You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (Matthew 23:33 ESV)

But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:36 ESV)

Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? (Romans 2:3 ESV)

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (I Corinthians 10:13 ESV)

While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (I Thessalonians 5:3)

[T]hey may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (II Timothy 2:26 ESV)

[H]ow shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, (Hebrews 2:3 ESV)

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. (Hebrews 12:25 ESV)

The most powerful of human instincts, which all living beings possess, is to survive.  All living things have some form of intelligence that serves that desire.  But human beings, made in the image and likeness of God, are also spiritual beings; therefore, we utilize rational self-interest at cosmic and complex levels to seek our eternal welfare. That kind of thinking is called in the Greek phronesis; it is a learned behavior and required to understand Scripture.  The beatitude of Scripture is that God wants us to maximize our chances of happiness, which ultimately means to live forever with him, which is the first duty of man.  Therefore, God communicates to us the facts as he sees them, calling us to “flee the wrath to come.” (Luke 3:7 and I Thessalonians 1:10)

What must we do to escape?  The first word of the Kerygma (proclamation of the Gospel) is repentance, the reason being the immanent destruction of the world and all the sinners in it, which, according to Biblical prophecy is an essential prerequisite for the coming kingdom.  When we pray for the kingdom to come on Earth as it is in Heaven we are asking for the end of this world and the dawn of the age to come.  Therefore, to enter the kingdom we are called to escape judgment, the sin that causes it to fall upon us, and finally, the proximate causes of sin, namely: the world, the flesh, and the devil.  That’s why the Lord’s Prayer asks that we not be led into temptation but delivered from evil.

A faithful exposition of the New Testament would address these root causes of sin – first, the world, because confusion about the world hinders truly effective Christian ministry and discipleship.  Repentance with regard to the world is detachment (see I Corinthians 7:31 below).

The Christ event is meant to transform us individually, who, like Jesus and in following him, die to the world as the world dies to us (Galatians 6:14) by the renewal not of the social environment but of our own way of thinking about things (Romans 12:1-3).  There is no prospect of our transforming the world because that is not God’s plan.  God’s plan is to destroy this world in favor of a new one, populated by a new kind of humanity, which he is now preparing through Christ, who will return to execute the judgments of God and complete the salvation of his people.  This lack of an apocalyptic vision is the chief weakness of Wright’s thought.  So, let us review what Scripture actually says about the nature and subsequent fate of world as we know it.

This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. (1 Corinthians 7:29-31 ESV)

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (II Corinthians 4:4 ESV)

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14 ESV)

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— (Ephesians 2:1-2 ESV)

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— (Colossians 2:20 ESV)

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinner, of whom I am the foremost. (I Timothy 1:15 ESV)
For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. (II Timothy 4:10 ESV)

In these passages it seems that Paul has no interest in “making the world a better place.”  He conceives of Jesus saving sinners and folding us into a Church.  In the Greek “church” is ekklesia, referring those “called out” of the world.  But what might others say?  Is the Church an ark of salvation, for instance?  It appears so.

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Hebrews 11:7 ESV)

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:35-38 ESV)

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4 ESV)
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly … For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. (II Peter 2:4-5 & 20 ESV)

For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (II Peter 3:5-7 ESV)

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (I John 2:15-17 ESV)

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (I John 3:1 ESV)

Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. (I John 3:13 ESV)

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:1-6 ESV)

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (I John 5:4-5 ESV)

We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. (I John 5:19 ESV)

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.  (II John 1:7 ESV)

That’s enough, or should be enough, to show that the world is beyond hope, doomed, in the power of evil, and that we should not waste our time trying to make it a better place.  Rather, we ought to do as Jesus did, who came to seek and save lost souls, yes, to escape the world, its temptations and entanglements.

In the Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering … Wright says, “Our task as image-bearing, God-loving, Christ-shaped, Spirit-filled Christians, following Christ and shaping our world, is to announce redemption to a world that has discovered its fallenness, to announce healing to a world that has discovered its brokenness, to proclaim love and trust to a world that knows only exploitation, fear and suspicion…”

I suppose that if the world ever “discovered its fallenness” there might be hope of love and trust but that is not the Gospel analysis as the passages above indicate with undeniable clarity.  One might forgive an individual that is merely naïve about the nature of the world and its future.  But in the quote to follow we see an agenda.  In Surprised by Hope Wright says, "Hope is what you get when you suddenly realize that a different worldview is possible, a worldview in which the rich, the powerful, and the unscrupulous do not after all have the last word. The same worldview shift that is demanded by the resurrection of Jesus is the shift that will enable us to transform the world.”

I am always suspicious of those that demonize the rich/powerful and link those persons with “unscrupulous” behavior … and then want to “transform the world” … all in one sentence!  I suppose it’s because the carnal poor and the carnal rich look the same to me.  But carnal vs. spiritual is not the primary distinction in the Marxist religion as it is in Christianity.  Christian cosmic and moral dualism is the shift that the death and resurrection of Jesus inspire, not transforming the world.

How might we explain Wright’s error?  I think that the bishop represents a kind-of cultural Christianity that fails fully to embrace the future judgment of God upon the world.  He serves in an official national Church and may be deceived by the historic sanction of European monarchs, Constantine, Theodosius, and Henry VIII, to name the succession.  Calling that kind of political entanglement “a transformation of the world” is highly questionable from a historic perspective.  While the advancement of Western culture was facilitated by the Church and, conversely, the Church provided its major themes and motifs, it is difficult to ignore abuses such as suppression of the Donatists, the Crusades, Inquisition, Indulgences, and the crimes of Conquistadors in the New World.  The Christianization of Roman law and administration counts as wisdom in most cases but it hardly satisfy the Biblical injunction to make disciples of all nations.  In fact the geo-political definition of “nations,” as Wright well knows, is not the New Testament teaching at all.  In Biblical parlance “nations” simply means all kinds of non-Jewish folk.  At one point the Jews themselves became just another “nation” that needed conversion (Acts 4:23-31).

But again, whereas traditional Western society has its problems, new Left Wing political regimes, aided and abetted by the Higher Critical Method in Biblical studies, are in no way a manifestation of Christian morals but are a positive evil in the world, which will suffer the wrath of God for their atheistic murderous thefts and revolutionary outrages against the demonized “rich.”

What we must realize is that Wright not only represents a national Church but a liberal one.  All of Western Europe and the mainline denominations of America have embraced the Social Gospel with its Marxist analysis, defining the kingdom of God in socio-economic terms.  Scripture says, though, “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  (Romans 14:17)  Jesus told Pilate that the kingdom was “not of this world.”  (John 18:36)  Jesus never uttered a word about social justice.  His ethical admonitions, from the Golden Rule to the Sermon on the Mount to the Great Commission to the Law of Love, are a personal and ecclesiastical rule.  Standing before Herod, Jesus might have harangued him about social justice but said not a word, indicating no respect whatsoever for a man that murdered his cousin.  That is what the world always does; and so, we might get a clue – this world is not a nice place and according to Christian prophecy never will be.

I understand the temptation to shoe-horn Jesus into the prevailing ethos of a particular Church group.  But when that group is fundamentally flawed, as is the Church of England and others to which I’ve alluded, one must take a prophetic posture, not necessarily an academic one.  A prophetic posture is not possible unless one understands the eternal divine consequences of bad doctrine and morals.

In Surprised by Hope, Wright misses that mark entirely, saying, “All Christian language about the future is a set of signposts pointing into a mist.”
No, the signposts accurately describe what will happen and several things are quite clear, taken at face value.  Jesus says, for instance that the Gospel must first be preached to all nations (understood as above as all kinds of people) then the end will come (Matthew 24:14).  He also says that there will be astronomical and meteorological events that serve as signs.  He never says anything about the nation-state of Israel but puts forth the rough outline of Christian prophecy in terms of our being both persecuted and effective in spreading his word (Mark 13:11).  The hope he gives is that we will be raised from the dead as he was (I Corinthians 15).  But if some of us are alive at his coming there will be a rapture, as it has been called.  The rapture is not the prelude to a new dispensation, though.  It is merely a practical answer to what happens to us when Christ returns if we are not yet dead and buried:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV)
Finally, there is the fearful prospect of judgment by fire.  We know, of course, that Scripture uses fire metaphorically with two meanings: purification and judgment.  But let us suppose for an instant that some references to fire in the New Testament, especially in Christian prophecy, are meant literally.  With the proliferation of nuclear weapons and missile technology the metaphors morph into credible threats to human existence.  The only thing required to set it off is a complete moral and diplomatic breakdown among nations.  Similarly, one needs only to look at the Moon to see the effects of near Earth asteroids.  We know that some have hit the Earth before.  What happened to the dinosaurs could happen to us!  Additionally, helio astronomers tell us that a massive solar flare could annihilate planet Earth.  Catastrophism is a valid interpretive principle when considering Christian end time predictions.  I will close with three of them:
“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:25-28 ESV)
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 ESV)
They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:4-13 ESV)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Achieving Spirituality

Spirituality is not necessarily an achievement.  It is a perspective that leads to what it teaches in those that believe it.  Now, it is very difficult to achieve what one does not understand.  One cannot understand any set of propositions that form a perspective unless he is willing to believe it.  As Jesus said, “If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” (John 7:17 ESV)

The spiritual perspective of the New Testament depends on Greek philosophical dualism, which Jesus adopted, adapted, and perfected “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4-5) for the purposes of enlightening his followers (John 1:4-5).  The greatest hindrance to believing that historical and theological fact is a false loyalty, especially in evangelical circles, to the supposed Hebrew background of Jesus – a background that he himself thoroughly rejected (John 8:58-59).  That false loyalty is fueled in recent decades by the seven-age dispensational pre-millennialism of the Late, Great Planet Earth and Left Behind series.  Millennialism is, in addition to being false, a distraction from the primary purpose of the Church, which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  We are not commanded to make disciples of the nation-state of Israel.  We are commanded to make Christians by teaching people to observe all that Jesus said, which we find in the New Testament.  On almost every page of the New Testament we find the suppositions of Greek philosophical dualism, especially in the moral dualism of carnal vs. spiritual living.

But before defining carnal vs. spiritual living it is necessary to remove this major stumbling block of perception.  Therefore, let us accept that the New Testament rejection of all things Jewish is so complete that we find this extremely derogatory passage concerning Jerusalem:

Their dead bodies [that of the Two Witnesses] will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.  (Revelation 11:8 ESV)

The ESV is usually an excellent translation but in the passage above the word “symbolically” should actually be translated “spiritually,” further supporting the claim of a Greek dualistic perspective.

The second greatest hindrance to achieving the spiritual perspective is institutional, denominational Churches.  Again, we are dealing with false loyalties.  And again, we must turn to Scripture for correction so that the door might be opened for true New Testament faith to shine through.  The most obvious is what Paul wrote to the carnal Corinthians:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?  (1 Corinthians 1:10-13 ESV)

Peter likewise rejected his own denomination, Judaism, in order to follow Jesus, whose sacrifice supersedes and replaces those of the temple:

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.  (1 Peter 1:17-19 ESV, emphasis mine)

The third greatest hindrance to achieving the spiritual perspective is our attachment to the world and worldly goods.  Carnal indulgence and excess not only erodes faith in God but dulls our senses concerning spiritual things.  The radical requirements of Christian discipleship simply do not make sense to us if we maintain, again, a false loyalty to our own Christian cultural conservatism.  Yes, historically and theologically we might rightly fight for life vs. the culture of death, capitalism over socialism, for freedom as opposed to big government oppression, and for traditional family values over libertine chaos in society.  We have a divine right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of property-based happiness.  But the mature Christian, having adopted the spiritual perspective of the New Testament, knows that he is called to die to sin and self, the world, and his own life for Jesus’ sake, realizing that he cannot serve God and mammon; so, he holds all things lightly:

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-33 ESV)

Likewise Paul says, “With food and clothing we shall be content” (I Timothy 6:8).  Such verses make sense only from a perspective that says flesh and spirit are fundamentally opposed to each other (Galatians 5:16-17) and that our goal in life is to escape this world and this body to the happiness of eternity (II Corinthians 5:1-10), of which we have a taste by the Spirit for “the kingdom of God is not food or drink but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

Friday, October 12, 2012

Spiritual Warfare

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. (Acts 10:38 ESV)

The spiritual perspective of the New Testament acknowledges the existence of Satan (the devil), his works, influence, and as above, oppression.  Scripture also speaks of the existence of demons and demon possession.  The passage above indicates that Jesus took a therapeutic approach to demonic activity.  That describes the problem of evil as a contagion, the spread of spiritual diseases associated with the devil and that people may be sick in various ways as a result of his evil designs.  We see this same complex of spiritual and physical infirmity in Luke 8:1-3, where it says Jesus “cured” several women of evil spirits.  The pastoral office has been called a curate, refering to the cure of moral and spiritual illnesses.  A healing ministry, including spiritual healing, requires, therefore, compassion, along with the power that the Spirit gives to overcome evil.

Additionally, this world belongs to the devil, who offered all its riches and powers to Jesus in exchange for worship, which Jesus refused to do (Matthew 4:9/Luke 4:7).  This world is Satan’s realm and prison and asylum (1 John 5:19).  He is called the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4) that “blinds the mind of unbelievers.”  This makes us all extremely vulnerable because of environmental issues that must be considered.  All around us are temptations and pitfalls.

Year ago when I worked on a difficult and dramatic counseling case with Fr. Mancini of Malvern, Arkansas, who was an official exorcist in the Roman Catholic Church, he taught me the difference between a psychiatric disorder and demon possession. Malachi Martin's HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL and M. Scott Peck, a psychiatrist, in PEOPLE OF THE LIE, also speak about the difference. In fact, an exorcist must eliminate all other explanations for aberrant behavior before going to work to treat a demoniac, who in the end must want and seek deliverance. One thing that Fr. Mancini said, for instance, is never to underestimate the depth of human depravity, which often looks like something from hell.

Neither can we dismiss the extent to which human ignorance affects our life, relationships, and society.  But one of the ways the devil oppresses us is by capturing and infecting our intellect with doctrines of demons (I Timothy 4:1), of which I will name a few:



Unitarian Universalism


The Higher Critical Method


The Social Gospel



Double Pre-destination


The Prosperity Gospel

I mention these because they are so prevalent, even in the Church, and most of them enjoy an academic reputation, especially in what Harvey Cox calls the secular city.  Some are liberal doctrines and others evangelical.  All are base-less fallacies, completely without merit in their foundational premises, according to Scripture and reason.  As with other forms of captivity one must be willing to set his mind free for God.  Jesus said, for instance, when he was noted for not having any formal education:

My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. (John 7:16-18 ESV)

This blog is not about the last days but the following passage reveals how the devil works though falsehood and what might be the cure for it:

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 ESV)

Paul said that we should be aware of the "wiles of the devil" (Ephesians 6:11). Where better to hide, for instance, than at the highest levels of a Church and among those that deny the devil’s existence? How better to mislead folk than to quote Scripture along with lies?  How better to further sin than to say in the most pious way that God doesn’t see us do it?  John wrote, for instance:

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. [8] Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. [9] No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. [10] By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:7-10 ESV)

Once they gain entry and take over the thinking of an individual the *ideas* of that individual can become a doctrine of demons.  Those *ideas* are then passed on to corrupt and distract from the wholesome and saving doctrines of the Lord, which we have in the New Testament, which is the apostolic witness. No one is truly ordained of God if he or she does not abide by the apostolic witness, for the anointing does not rest on those that are heretics and apostates. But the truly ordained of God, who follow the New Testament without doubt or mental reservation, are able to take power and authority over the haunts of the devil. Demons tend to react in fairly consistent ways, with rage for instance, when challenged.  Being disembodied spirits, demons need willing persons, social systems, and institutional power to accomplish their evil designs.  So, when exposed as liars, they engage vicious forms of counter-attack, drawing upon powerful psychic, social, and institutional resources to maintain control of occupied territory, of the mind or heart or will.  Yet, behind the alien personality manifested is one for whom Christ died.

Throughout the world the Church Militant is on the march against strongholds of the devil, despoiling Satan of captives, setting them free.  The promise of Christ is this, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church, which is the pillar and bulwark of truth (I Timothy 3:15).  Therefore, a refuge for us is a Church that avoids error, which preaches and teaches sound doctrine.  Individually, as soldiers and servants of God, we must love and believe the truth, and with courage follow wherever it takes us.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Social Gospel vs. Christian Compassion

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  (Romans 14:17 ESV)

There is a vast difference between the Social Gospel and Christian compassion.  The first is carnal and the second is spiritual.

The Social Gospel is a Marxist economic analysis and agenda dressed up wrongly in kingdom of God language.  It depends on cobbling together a coalition of aggrieved classes of people to create either a revolutionary army, a cadre of political agitators, or a voting block that functions to re-distribute wealth according to non-traditional criteria.  Usually wealth is gained by work, craftsmanship, service, worthiness, inventiveness, managerial ability, artistry, excellence, productivity, or inheritance.  But the Social Gospel says people have the right to an abstract “fair share” (Peter Singer) for the simple fact of breathing.  It is collectivist, statist, coercive, and does not work, does not achieve the stated goal.  But it does empower and enrich those that promise stuff to one person by using another person’s money.

The Social Gospel fails because it is naïve.  It expects selfish people to have compassion on a grand scale.  But common sense tells us that the circle of compassion is best expressed and experienced in the smaller social circles of family, friends, and local community.  Even on the smaller scale we find that true compassion requires re-birth in the Spirit, a circumcision and softening of the heart by the love of Christ.

Christian compassion as Jesus taught does not think in geo-political or macro-economic terms.  There is no passage of Scripture where Jesus tells government to act with compassion.  He once stood right in front of Pilate, Herod, and then Pilate again … and never said a word about the poor.  When the people wanted to make him king by force Jesus refused and chided them for only wanting bread (see John 6:15 and 25-7).  The New Testament simply does not have a materialistic supposition about human happiness.

Now, some are confused about this.  Nearly all the liberal mainline seminaries teach the Social Gospel and like to quote one passage in the Bible.  The Parable of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25:3-46 says that “nations” will be judged by what they do to “the least of these my brothers,” speaking of needy folk.  But “nations” has been a bad translation of the Greek word ETHNOS.  It does not mean nation-states but merely non-Jewish people.  Elsewhere ETHNOS is translated “Gentiles.”  Notice, further, that the analogy says the Judge will “separate people one from another,” referring to individuals.  It’s obvious from these observations that we each will be judged individually for the compassion we show or fail to show toward our neighbors.

A lawyer once asked Jesus who was his neighbor.  Jesus told about the Good Samaritan.  This is found in Luke 10:25-37.  Jesus used a method of spiritualization to re-define for the lawyer who is a “neighbor.”  It is not one that lives next door or down the street.  It is anyone we encounter that has a need that we can meet.  The priest and Levite that walked by the needy man may have rationalized that this man was not their neighbor in the traditional sense.  But the Samaritan had compassion.  Jesus and the lawyer concluded together that if we see a need we are the neighbor!

That is the spiritual Gospel of Christian compassion.  It is roll up your sleeves and help compassion.  It is human compassion not some structural, theoretic, and institutional compassion that requires only that we write a check, carry a sign, or vote our conscience away, though I would never tell anyone how to vote or what to do with their time or money.  My point is that true Christian compassion thinks ultimately in terms of God’s specific calling upon our lives to be aware of the needs of those around us, those that we personally and directly encounter in real time and space.  It is the compassion where human beings see tears in each other’s eyes.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Spirituality Means Zeal for God

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:13-15 ESV)

                Since Augustine the Western Church has been anhedonic.  That means failing to enjoy life and the gifts of God associated with physical pleasure.  Augustine, being a Manichaean that was not fully converted, assumed all physical pleasure was a dangerous sign of sin.  It’s true that the moral tenor of Christianity is decidedly not Hedonistic.  The New Testament speaks of Christian morality in the words of Stoicism, for instance, which says happiness derives from virtue.  But virtue in the ancient world was defined as the golden mean between excess and deficiency.

                As a corrective to Augustine we might point to some things about Jesus.  His first sign was turning water into wine at a wedding.  He said that he came to give life abundantly (John 10:10).  On the third day he arose; he did not stay dead but rose up to enjoy the joy for which he suffered (Hebrews 12:2).  He knew what the Old Testament said:

                You make known to me the path of life;

                                in your presence there is fullness of joy;

                                at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

(Psalm 16:11 ESV)

But there is an exception to this rule, which the life, death, and resurrection of Christ teaches us, and which necessitates the dualistic, cross-bearing, spiritual perspective.  We must advance the Gospel with zeal (not moderation).  We are called to bear faithful witness and always speak the truth in love, whatever the temporal consequences might be.  The Pauline passage above, Galatians 5:13-15, does not say the opposite of flesh is anhedonia but to love and serve, and fulfill the law by doing so.  If we live our life consuming things in this “consumer society” then our moral sensibilities become dull and we end up consuming everything in sight, including each other.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Spirituality Depends on a Dualistic Perspective

Spirituality depends on the philosophical dualism that is the suppositional basis of the New Testament.  It is on nearly every page of the Christian scriptures.  Dualism can be roughly described by the two general categories of good vs. evil.  In fact, that is the primary difference between Western intellectual traditions, of which Christianity is the perfection, and Eastern monism, which says that it’s all the same.

Good and evil branch off into other objects that are opposed to one another.  In time I hope to identify them all and provide the references in a larger work.  There are dozens of dualisms and hundreds of verses.  But for now I will show a few and one passage that supports it.  One verse proves each duality true but might leave the impression that it is a passing remark.  Believe me, the number of dualistic verses, along with historical evidence, means that Jesus, his disciples, and the early Church were predominantly Hellenistic – that is, they used philosophical terms (like form and substance) to convey the Good News of God’s love in Christ to a non-Jewish audience.

According to New Testament dualism, then, the definition of spirituality means to develop a personal habit and lifestyle of choosing between good and evil.  It does not mean to be doe-eyed, ethereal, overly religious, one with the universe, or otherwise strange in appearance, language, manner, or affect.  It means simply to gain clarity and choose well.  Admittedly that is difficult to do sometimes so we need each other, the word of God, and all the other the means of grace that God provides in Christ.

Be that as it may, here is a partial list of New Testament dualities:

Good vs. evil: Romans 12:9: Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. (Romans 12:9 ESV)

Spirit vs. flesh: For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:17 ESV)

Light vs. dark: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5 ESV)

Mind vs. body: For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:22-24 ESV)

Real/true form vs. shadow: For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. (Hebrews 10:1 ESV)

Heaven vs. earth: If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? (John 3:12 ESV)

God vs. the world: You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4 ESV)

Righteousness vs. sin: Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Romans 6:13 ESV)

Freedom vs. slavery: So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. (John 8:31-34 ESV)

New vs. old: But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:6 ESV)

Christ vs. the lawless one: And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:8 ESV)

Life vs. death: But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7 ESV)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Re-forming the Church

I’ve been recovering from surgery lately subsequent to a boating accident that nearly killed me years ago.  I am reminded of my theme that the body, though wonderful in its recuperative powers, is the weakest and most problematic of our parts.  As Jesus said, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

It’s impossible to emphasize too much in this day and age how the New Testament is based on Greek philosophical dualism.  We cannot appreciate as we ought the miracle of the Incarnation or God’s condescending love toward us without first positing the enmity between flesh and spirit.  “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” says Paul (1 Corinthians 15:50) and:

Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8 ESV)

That being said, I had an interesting conversation with my surgeon last week.  We agreed that there must be some form of intelligence that operates in our bodies on the cellular level and in knitting together damaged tissue.  In other words, our body is not a machine but a living organism in which, as Paul, again, notes, the various parts are intricately linked: the church, or Church, or both, depending on your ecclesiology, is the body of Christ.  In a play on words Paul speaks of each individual Christian being a member of the body.  So just as the physical body has a way of mending itself there must be a way for individual Christians to know what the larger community of believers needs, working as a whole.

That intelligence comes to us through the Spirit and expresses itself in words that we must communicate to each other in preaching, teaching, prophecy, administration, and fellowship.

This is what I am hearing.  I do not trust the emerging church movement.  I think the appropriate word is the reform of existing structures.  The surgical procedure I just endured was called a revision.  The doctor worked on the leg that I have.  He said to me, “Dr. Lhowe had to play the hand he was dealt and I had to work on what was presented to me.”  Both doctors did a wonderful job.  I would almost want to use that word, revision, because I expect great things as a result of this painful procedure.  But historically we know and understand that the Church is in constant need of re-form because of the tendency of the flesh to be weak, sinful, and corrupt.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Who Are the Spiritual Ones?

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. –I Corinthians 3:1

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. –Galatians 6:1

These two verses provide a three-fold and extremely useful answer to the title question.

The first part of the answer can be expressed like this.  A spiritual person has a spiritual perspective, that is, knows the difference between carnal and spiritual, and dedicates himself to learning about and pursuing spirituality.

The second part is an extension of the first.  It is developmental.  If we were to divide the ages and stages of our life into distinct growth categories we’d come up with the same analogies used elsewhere, such as the love chapter of First Corinthians, chapter 13, which says children think like children and adults think like adults.  John speaks of it in three stages, children, youth, and adults (First John 2:12-14).  Hebrews 6:1 speaks of growing in our doctrinal understanding, elementary vs. mature.  The spiritual person, therefore has grown and developed over time, reaching maturity, characterized by fruitfulness.

The third part, more closely related to the second passage above, tells us that the spiritual ones have achieved enough moral purity to correct those caught in sin.

All the categories of thought here are related, though, because the New Testament, spiritual perspective is that the flesh is the seat and occasion of sin, and a constant struggle or cause of conflict.  Even the “spiritual ones” are cautioned against falling into the very sins they try to correct!  But he caution does not negate, dare I say it, the strong moral position from which one might correct another.

To reiterate how the categories of perspective and moral victory work together let us look at one more admonition of Scripture that might help us as we earnestly and diligently pursue spiritual formation, I Corinthians 14:20:

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The "Crucial" Issue in Spiritual Formation

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. –Romans 8:12-17 ESV

Christianity is a vastly different religion from all others and even the one that came just before it, Judaism, based on the Law of Moses.  The Faith of Jesus Christ is vastly different because it is based on philosophical dualism, flesh vs. spirit.  Ours is a spiritual religion.

In the beginning God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, “for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17 ESV).

Then in the salvation historical scheme of things he rescued a covenant people from slavery in Egypt and gave them a law, saying, in effect, that they must choose to obey or perish (Deuteronomy 30:11-20).

Now in the Christian dispensation the Lord raises the stakes; he tells us that if we live according to the flesh we will die.

With the new religion comes a new understanding of God himself.  The Old Testament, for instance, says that Abraham saw the Lord (Genesis 17 and 18), and that Moses saw God’s back from the cleft in the rock (Exodus 33:23), and spoke to him face to face in the tabernacle as God dictated to him the legal code of the Hebrews (Numbers 12:68).

But the New Testament says, in support of the new dualistic religion, “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18, 5:37, 6:46, and 1 Timothy 6:15-16).  One cannot see spirit.

Of course, it does not stop there but the unseen spirit-nature of God is a critical piece of information to absorb if we ever want to understand the radically new religion that came into the world with Jesus, who died on the cross.

The cross is the key to understanding Christianity and our call to discipleship.

The traditional evangelical answer as to why Jesus died is that he paid for our sins on the cross vicariously as the Lamb of God.  The good and holy Biblical word for it is "propitiation."  That is true as the apostolic witness attests in full:  Without Jesus we Gentiles do not have a sacrifice for past sins because we were not given the temple sacrifices like the Jews were given.  It is the sins of "the world” that Jesus takes away.  But that is not the whole story.  If we stop there then we might miss the whole counsel of God.  He calls us to join him on the cross against the flesh, which is required to die in order that our soul may live, “for if by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body, we will live.”

The paradox is this: if we live according to the flesh we will die spiritually; but if in the name of Jesus we put the flesh to death, figuratively speaking, then the spirit lives.  In other words, we gladly and willingly submit to the sentence of death already passed upon our carnal existence.  That is the strange and unusual way that we live as Christians, in self-denial, making us a peculiar people, because it seems to go against the survive and thrive instinct.

So, the cross is not an altar per se.  It is an instrument of execution.  The Romans executed malefactors on their crosses.  Spiritually speaking, that is, from the perspective of the Spirit, the flesh is the crooked thing about us that has committed crimes against the spirit.  Jesus came for two reasons, “for sin” and to “condemn sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3).  The first instance is the cultic, propitiatory sacrifice but the second is how we appropriate it in the way of the cross.  The way of the cross is the condemnation of sin in the flesh because it is mortification of the flesh itself, which houses sin.  No flesh, no sin.  Get rid of carnal desires and you get rid of reasons to sin.

Can we have the one without the other?  Can we have Jesus’ sacrifice for us without presenting our bodies a living sacrifice for him (Romans 12:1-3)?

New Testament probably does not split between judicial pardon and death to self.  The very heart and nature of our religion is at issue in answer to this question.

We may see the answer in Jesus himself, the author and pioneer of our Faith.  Jesus needed no judicial pardon or sacrifice because he was without sin.  But the commandment of the New Dispensation, to live according to the Sprit, applied to him and so he became obedient with his flesh unto death.  Why?  If he had not he could not have been “saved” because salvation, as defined by New Testament dualism, is to be delivered from “this body of death” in the dualistic understanding (Romans 7:24).  That is why Jesus is the “way, truth, and life” and we cannot get to the Father without him, that is, by his cleansing blood and his example of the “way” of the cross.  Early on Christianity was called the “Way” precisely because it was a way to live and find salvation (Acts 9:2, 18:25-26, 19:9 & 23, and 24:22), not a belief system only.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Our Quadripartite Nature, Spirit

The integration of human personality (integrity, health, wholeness, wholesomeness, Shalom, salvation) depends on this aspect of our nature, the highest, which is spirit.

For purposes of illustration let us say that spirit is the “silver cord” that runs vertically through every part of us.  Imagine attached to the lowest end of this cord is the body, like a heavy stick of wood, say, a quarter hewn piece of oak firewood.  From it the cord runs upward to the heart, which can be likened to a red balloon Valentine, full of emotion for what it likes and dislikes, loves and hates.  Now, some hearts are small, shriveled up, hard, dark, and misshapen.  But we imagine the vibrant, warm, beating, and colorful soul of a Christian, whose heart is aflame with the love of humanity, like the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Next our cord runs through the mind, which is like a steel trap.  It captures and subdues beasts of the forest in order to subdue them to the benefit of Man.  But no, that sounds cruel.  Some dedicate their minds to that: to lie in wait, conceiving evil things for fellow creatures, ready to snap, pounce, find fault, judge, argue, and condemn.  But that is not the proper use of the mind.  A more gracious image is to see the mind for its best imaginative qualities, like a pure mathematical equation, suspended above the log and the flowery heart, 2+2=4 in a titanium sculpture of Florentine script.

From there the silver cord runs skyward, up and out of sight and to unseen reaches, into the heavenlies.  The mind has words for the spiritual realm but always speaks by analogy, approximation, and abstraction, symbol, and similitude.  Jesus taught in parables, for instance, arguing from the known to the unknown because that is the best we can do to describe the wondrous mysteries of God!  But spirit is the part of us that connects with God, if we have God.

The Bible tells us about the spiritual realm.  It says, for instance, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).  We see in this passage that the spiritual realm contains not only God, Jesus, and the angels, but also the devil and his minions.

The question for us in spiritual formation is who has the other end of our silver cord “up there,” so to speak?

If evil forces are tugging on our spiritual chain several things could happen, all of them bad.

It is natural that the log of our body touches the ground.  I will boldly say that the Buddhists are correct about the need to be “grounded.”  In this also Freud is right.  Mental health depends on accepting our body and basic physical needs.  As long as we understand the difference between what we want and what we need there should be no problem.  Jesus instructs us to pray, for instance, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  That is a humble prayer for the lowly aspect of being.

That being said, the evil forces, if they are in charge of our lives are likely to drag us through the mud.  All men suffer but there are two kinds of suffering, noble and ignoble.  The difference between the two is the cause of suffering or the cause for which one suffers.  Jesus’ suffering and death was noble on both counts.  Many people sacrifice their bodies in worthy pursuits, from putting food on the table through hourly wages or contract labor, to spending long hours in study, deliberation, or management, to military personnel giving themselves in battle to defend us.  But the indignity of moral compromise is not God’s will for the body.  We are not meant for the gutter or sewer but that is where our bodies may be found if we give our members over to sin and self-indulgence.

Likewise, if an evil force controls the spirit, the heart and mind may follow the body in tragic descent.  We sometimes “look for love in all the wrong places,” for example.  Or we might try to “feel better” by the abuse of substances.  Our hearts may, therefore, fall into a depression, no longer visible above ground, and our minds entertain dirty thoughts.  The carnal mind calculates angles and devises strategies to get what the depraved body and wayward heart “want” rather serve its proper role of finding, serving, preserving, and representing truth.  One of the most frightening things to realize is that the mind can “go,” if we live “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.”  Satan has practically won if he can drag our minds under.  The first recorded words of the devil came in the form of a question, attacking Eve’s mind, “Did God say …?”  The clincher for Eve in the decision to partake of the forbidden fruit was a false conclusion, “It was desirable to make one wise.”  In other words, she believed propositions put forth by the devil.

It is axiomatic that every feeling of the heart and every action of the body has an idea behind it.  The carnal mind has bad ideas.  The spiritual mind is full of good ideas and beautiful truth.

But another tactic of the devil is to lift us up too high so that we are detached, above it all, arrogant, prideful, haughty, and self-righteous.  In this state no one is good enough for us so we do not love anyone with our whole hearts.  Our minds become overly ambitious; we imagine vain things, refuse to submit to legitimate authority, rationalize failures, and make excuses.  To those too high and mighty the Bible says, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

But another thing might happen, which is very confusing, both to ourselves and to those that observe our behavior.  Did you ever cast a fishing line to discover that the baited hook, cork, and sinker were all jumbled up, tangled, and out of order?  Of course, we think, no fish would fall for that mess!  In the famous words of a brilliant politician and mini-messiah, who wants to save the planet from its fever, “What’s up should be down and what’s down should be up!”

All these spiritual ailments, too high, too low, cyclical, or out of sorts, may result from the influence of evil spiritual forces jerking us around, that is, if we eliminate any medical or psychological diagnoses.  For our purposes in spiritual formation we must assume a normal and ordinary soul that wants to grow in the Lord.  This is how we do it: by righteous living, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines communicate to the spiritual world who is your Lord and God.  Let the universe know to whom you give your spirit.

If we choose God and maintain our relationship with him this is what happens: by the Holy Spirit our spirit, and thus our entire being, will be lifted up from the miry clay, or lowered to the fertile soil, whatever we need, for as Scripture says, “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away” (James 1:9-10 ESV).  Likewise, all will be put in its proper place; we are held steady and secure by God, our Father:

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. –Romans 8:15-17 ESV

For the Christian, then, spiritual does not mean being one with the universe because the universe contains evil.  It means to choose God and his holy ways, thereby sending shock waves up our silver cord, to continue with the analogy, causing the evil forces to take their filthy hands off us.  Spiritual means to be comforted, empowered, instructed, and ultimately led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14).  It is by the Holy Spirit that God speaks to and communes with our spirit.  The messages of the Spirit will first come to the mind, become intelligible there.  That is why Paul says, for instance, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).  Likewise, when Jesus rebuked Peter about the way of the cross he said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23 ESV).

How we think about things is the greatest variable in spiritual formation.  But the directions we receive from above, from God’s Spirit through our spirit, in guidance and direction, will be confirmed by the whole of our being because spirit runs through and affects every aspect of our personality.