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

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.