Why Akathleptos?

Why Akathleptos? Because it means Uncontainable. God is infinite. Hence, the whole universe cannot contain Him. The term also refers to the incomprehensibility of God. No man can know everything about God. We can know Him personally but not exhaustively, not even in Heaven.

Why Patmos? Because the church is increasingly marginalized and exiled from the culture.

Why Pen-Names? So the focus is on the words and not who wrote them. We prefer to let what we say stand on its own merit. There is precedent in church history for this - i.e., the elusive identity of Ambrosiaster who wrote in the 4th century A.D.

“Truth is so obscured nowadays, and lies so well established, that unless we love the truth we shall never recognize it." Blaise Pascal

Monday, April 10, 2017

The "Super Spirituality" of Modern Evangelicalism

“How radical a separating wall stands between modern Protestants (in particular) and our common heritage in the incarnational faith of the Middle Ages? I’ve suggested one quite formidable aspect of that wall for evangelicals—our immediatism. But the barrier stretches back much farther in history. In a crucial (quite literally) sixteenth-century moment, a central symbol of the incarnation was removed forcibly from the church. This was the point at which some zealous Reformers went beyond tearing down paintings and smashing statues to take the very body of Christ off of the crucifix—thus (they thought) defending the church against idolatrous images and defending the resurrection. Left behind was (arguably) only an abstract symbol of a judicial transaction.”

This passage was not penned by a Roman Catholic, but by evangelical Protestant Chris Armstrong in his recent book “Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians.”  He effectively argues the incarnation is diminished in much of modern evangelicalism, leading to a serious problem of gnostic super-spirituality. He makes a strong argument. Indeed, it would help explain the mystifying support for abortion among many Protestants, including the astonishing early support from many conservative denominations (i.e., the Southern Baptists - see here.) 

His theme is the incarnation was the central point for medieval theology and offers a solution to one of the biggest problems for contemporary Christians: an anemic view of what it means to be human. He summarizes in the final chapter after examining medieval theology in some detail throughout the book,

“Yes, the incarnation of Christ launches the redemptive plan that leads to the cross, the tomb, the resurrection, and the ascension. But it is more. It is the Creator God entering his creation. And not only entering creation but entering the part of creation that is us. In the incarnation, God experiences us from the inside.

This stunning event exalts two things: first, the humanity of Christ and second, the humanity of humanity, of ourselves. When we really “get” the incarnation, it releases us to live all of life in light of Jesus Christ and to affirm our own humanness—our own materiality, our own affectivity, our own rationality, our own cultural creativity. The incarnation wipes away the gnostic super-spirituality that is a serious problem of modern evangelicalism”

For Armstrong, the incarnation is the linchpin of medieval theology and spirituality, representing the two-thousand-year worshipful, moral tradition of Scriptural exegesis.

I agree the incarnation is unfortunately diminished in much of modern evangelicalism (except perhaps once-a-year at Christmas) leading to a weakened view of humanity. Thus,
  • the longing among many Protestants for spiritual disembodiment at death - i.e., to be "released" from the body. (which ironically is not a normal state of existence for us and only temporary; our eternal destiny is physical resurrection)
  • the de-emphasis on reclamation of the material world leading to its abrogation to the enemy (unlike the medieval Christians who powerfully brought the gospel into the arts, science, music, architecture, etc.)
  • the reluctance by many Protestants to publicly address sexuality (certainly, the apostle Paul was not hesitant)
  • the support for abortion in much of Protestantism
  • the false demarcation between "science" and faith (one serious consequence of course is the now-widespread acceptance of the theory of evolution, leading to questionable "science" and a corresponding loss of faith)
  • the widespread obesity in the church
  • etc.
The semi-gnosticism of modern evangelicalism ironically leads many into the bondage they so desperately seek release from through "super spirituality". Despite this gnostic "super spirituality" on the part of many evangelicals, everyone struggles with at least one besetting sin (usually several), from some aspect of the material creation that is intended as a blessing. A faulty view of the incarnation and its attendant glorious implications leads us into bondage instead of the grand freedom available because of the incarnation. In contrast, the Biblical perspective of the incarnation has astounding consequences.

In Christ we encounter One who is perfectly and fully human, as well as simultaneously perfectly and fully divine. We must maintain the tension between His two natures; the failure to do so can be devastating. Within much of modern evangelicalism, I strongly suspect there is a tendency (because of a diminished grasp of the incarnation) to downplay Christ's humanity in favor of His divinity. 

Key to the incarnation is the theological concept of "divinization". In Christian theology, divinization (deification, making divine, or theosis) is the transforming effect of divine grace, the spirit of God, or the atonement of Christ. It literally means to become more divine, or to become god in some sense. (It does NOT mean to become god as articulated by some modern word-faith adherents such as Kenneth Copeland; Kenneth Hagin, etc.) This doctrine was articulated by several early theologians - i.e., Irenaeus, Theophilus of Antioch, Hippolytus of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr; Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, Maximus the Confessor, Cyril of Alexandria, etc.

Athanasius said that Christ became man so that man might become God, or gods, or divine, or exalted. What did he mean? At least once he felt ``the boldness of the formula'' and clarified in his third treatise against the Arians: ``To become as the Father is impossible for us creatures.'' ``There be one Son by nature...we too become sons, not as He in nature and truth, but according to the grace of Him that calleth, and though we are men from the earth, and yet called gods, not as the True God or His Word.... We are sons, not as the Son, as gods, not as He Himself. '' (Orat 3.19-20; Robertson 404-405). Similarly, in Orat 1.37 he briefly noted that we are children by grace, not by nature. We are like the Son ``not in essence but in sonship, which we shall partake from Him'' (De Syn 53; Robertson 479).

If we cannot be gods by nature or essence, in what way are we to be like God? ``We are as God by imitation, not by nature'' (Orat 3.20; Robertson 405). Jesus did not mean ``that we might be as God,'' but that we should imitate him (Orat 3.19; Robertson 404). ``Albeit we cannot become like God in essence, yet by progress in virtue imitate God'' (Ad Afros 7; Robertson 492). But imitation or moral virtue is only a minor aspect of theopoisis. More frequently Athanasius connects the concept with immortality and, in keeping with 2 Peter 1:4, incorruptibility and impassibility. 

In my personal life, my wife and I are competitive ballroom dancers, both nationally and internationally. While Scripture is explicit that dance can be edifying and even a form of worship (Ex 15:20-21; 2 Sam 6:14; Ps 30:11; Ps 149:3; Ps 150:4; Ecc 3:4; Jer 31:4; Jer 31:13; Luke 15:25; etc.), many conservative Christians condemn it as a "worldly" unspiritual and even evil activity. In fact, ballroom amazingly mirrors the Biblical relationship between husband and wife, i.e.,
  • the man always leads and the woman always follows
  • the dance is never about the man; it's all about the woman
  • the man's focus is on her throughout the dance; he is "serving" her
  • the man is the frame for woman's beautiful picture
  • the woman often has the more technically challenging part but she cannot execute it without the man's foundation and strength
  • "leading" is not pushing and pulling the woman around the floor against her will; it's leading by gentle and precise example with the woman following of her own free will
  • the man and woman have very different parts in the dance, but they compliment each other and move as one
  • because of synergy, the couple produces more powerful and beautiful movement that would be possible by either one of them individually
The more I understand the wonder of the incarnation, the more awestruck I am by the material world that God richly blessed us with and astonishingly chose to enter on our behalf. And incredibly, the only part of creation that God chose to create in His image ... is material. If we lose sight of that, we fail to fully understand what it means to be human, and the astonishing fact that the eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent God freely chose to incorporate humanity into the Godhead forever. Because of the incarnation, Jesus Christ is remarkably now forever fully God ... and fully human.

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