Sunday, October 30, 2011

C. S. Lewis was not a gnostic heretic

"You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body." I recently saw a friend of mine share this quote on facebook, attributing it to C. S. Lewis. According to the internet, a lot of people think this is from Lewis: Mere Christianity, usually. But it's not. Go through Mere Christianity page by page, or any of his other books, and you won't find this anywhere. It's actually a quote from an entirely different book, Canticle for Liebowitz, by an entirely different dude, Walter Miller. I can kind of understand why this would be attributed to Lewis: it's a nice, compact phrase turning a popular notion on its head. It's so deep, right? So true... But it's not, actually. This statement implies a strange separation of the body from "personhood," a notion that the body is something extraneous to the actual person: and this thought is much closer to gnostic heresy than orthodox Christianity. If we let this thought influence us too much, it can begin to dangerously influence how we think and even how we act.

This statement implies that the actual person is the soul. Just the soul. And the body is something extra to the person: take away the body and you still have the complete, whole person. This is completely wrong, and it is addressed directly in the New Testament. The church in Corinth had fallen into gnostic heresy: they thought that the body wasn't important. That was why they had fallen into sexual immorality, "of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans" (1 Cor. 5:1). And they were proud of this immorality, because the fact that they did whatever they wanted with their body demonstrated how spiritual they were: they were so spiritual that they didn't even care what happened to their bodies. I hope you can see what's wrong with this kind of thinking: Paul certainly could. He says, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?" (1 Cor. 6: 19).

So the body, specifically, is the temple of the Holy Spirit. If the body actually was something extraneous to the actual person, that would mean that the Holy Spirit would be inside the body, but not inside the actual person: both the soul (person) and the Holy Spirit would be inside the body. Thankfully, this is not the case, as Paul goes on to plainly state that the Holy Spirit is "within you." Note that I am not saying that "person = body," or "soul = body" or anything like that: the body and soul are both integral parts of a person. In this particular passage, the body is clearly identified as an integral part of a human being, meaning that sexual immorality affects the entire person exactly because it affects the body.

But what about when we die? What about when we are resurrected? Paul addresses this too, also in 1 Corinthians. Speaking of the resurrection, he says, "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body" (1 Cor. 15:44). Even when we die and are resurrected, we retain the body. Surely we won't be resurrected with "extra parts," so to speak: the fact that we are resurrected with our bodies intact demonstrates that the body is an integral part of us. And note that Paul uses distinct plant-seed imagery: the spiritual body comes from the seed of the natural body. Rather, both are instances of the aspect of ourselves that is "body." The resurrected person, as well as the natural person, is not complete without the body.

The vital importance of this idea is seen nowhere so clearly as in the person of Jesus Christ.

That Jesus Christ was and is a human being like ourselves is part of the central tenant of our faith. Paul tells us that "In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col 2:9).  If the body is only a shell, then we see that the fullness of deity dwells in the body of Christ, but not in his soul, which is a strange thought. Going further, if the body is only a shell, than what people saw in the New Testament wasn't the actual person of Christ.

We must say that John was wrong when he says that with his very hands he touched "that which was from the beginning" (1 John 1:1)--we must say that he merely touched the unimportant outer shell, completely extraneous to the actual person of Christ. The actual person of Christ is then shrouded and hidden from us, absent from the entire New Testament, from our entire history. The Word did not "become" flesh but merely inhabited it, wearing it like the cloak of a Black Rider from The Lord of the Rings, its only purpose to give shape to something otherwise totally unrelated to it. Finally, if the body is only a shell, then Christ didn't actually die for our sins: he let the unimportant outer shell die. If Christ did not die, there is no atonement for sins. If only Christ's unimportant body died and was raised, than only our unimportant bodies are saved: our souls are lost.

"You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body." This statement, fully fleshed out, makes our faith incoherent. It allowed early "Christians" to indulge in blatant immorality because it didn't affect them, only their bodies. It means that John did not touch Jesus, did not see the only Son from the Father: Only his meaningless body was touched and seen. It does away with Christ's death and makes his resurrection meaningless. It destroys our faith. Please stop attributing it to C. S. Lewis.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

They're the same, because the chapter headings say so

If you've grown up in church, you probably know about Jesus cleansing the temple. An account of it appears in all 4 gospels: in the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), it appears after the Triumphal Entry, during the last week of Jesus' life. John, however, puts the cleansing of the temple at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry, immediately following his first miracle. If you were just skimming the Bible, reading the helpful little subheadings the editors of your particular translation have put in, you would see that both were labeled "Jesus cleanses the temple" or "The cleansing of the temple." And you would be excused for thinking that they were accounts of the same incident, that John had merely moved it to make some kind of point. In reality, though, the event recorded in John is vastly different from that recorded by the synoptics, and there is no reason to conflate (combine) the two. It makes about as much sense as seeing the boyhood journey of Jesus to Jerusalem in Luke and identifying it with the Last Supper in Matthew, which is no sense at all.

There are only two reasons to conflate the two events, and neither of them are good. The first is that they are superficially similar: they look the same if you only read the extra-biblical chapter heading. This is not a good reason, and we'll explore this further in the next couple paragraphs. The second is a really strange assumption that Jesus only ever went to Jerusalem for passover once. This is completely incorrect: for Jesus to be a good Jew, and we know that he was, he would have had to take passover at Jerusalem every year. Which means that according to most models of his earthly ministry, he would have taken his disciples to Jerusalem at least 3 times, only the last of which included the palm branches, hosannas, etc. So before we see the chapter headings and assume they're the same, let's investigate the events themselves.

Let's do the synoptics first. Mark gives us the most complete account, telling us that after Jesus made it into Jerusalem after the triumphal entry, it was already late, so the cleansing of the temple occurred the next day, probably in the morning (Mark 11). In all three accounts, Jesus makes reference to Isaiah 56:7: "For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." He also refers to Jeremiah 7:11, which accuses Israel of making the temple into a "den of thieves." So he quotes the same two scriptures in all three accounts. Next important thing: immediately following the cleansing, nobody challenges him. At all. The pharisees are furious with him, but they can't do jack to him: after all, he was just praised as the conquering king from YAHWEH himself. In Matthew 21 and Mark 11, the pharisees wait a full day before coming to him with a question: "By what authority are you doing these things?" Jesus answers with a trick question about John the Baptist, owning the pharisees so hard that the only answer they can come up with is "We don't know." Jesus basically says, "Well, since you didn't answer my question, I won't answer yours."

Now let's look at John. John doesn't connect this with the triumphal entry at all. In fact, he seems to connect it with an entirely different trip to Jerusalem: an earlier one, when people were just beginning to believe in him because of his great deeds (John 2-3). There is literally no hint at all, other than the extra-biblical label "Jesus cleanses the temple," that this is the same event recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Let's go further. Take a look at what Jesus says: "Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade." Again, this sounds superficially similar to what he says in the synoptics, but it is completely different. This is not scripture: it is Christ's own words, unquoted from anything else. It mentions neither a house of worship nor a den of thieves. And this sparks a remembrance by the disciples that isn't found in any of the 3 synoptics: the disciples remembered "that it was written, 'Zeal for your house will consume me.'" Then the Jews challenge him, apparently immediately after he's driven out the money-changers and animals. They ask, "What sign do you show us for doing these things?" Jesus answers, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." This is a completely different challenge, and a completely different answer, than the one found in the synoptics.

Let's review. In the synoptics, the event is explicitly linked to the triumphal entry: in John it is not, and seems to be linked to a different trip to Jerusalem. In the synoptics, Jesus quotes scripture, mentioning a house of worship and a den of thieves: in John, Jesus doesn't quote anything, and mentions neither a house of worship nor a den of thieves.  In the synoptics, it is quite clear that the objections come a day later: in John, it seems to be immediate. The objection found in the synoptics is completely different from that found in John: the answers, likewise, are completely different. So literally every single aspect of the event found in John, except for the extremely broad "Jesus cleanses the temple," differs from the account found in the synoptics. Why would we ever assume that they're the same event? It makes about as much sense to look at Luke 2:41-50, see that Jesus is teaching in the temple, and assume it's the same event as that found in John 12:20-42, because they both take place in Jerusalem when Jesus is teaching and astonishing people.

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Perhaps your religion doesn't allow you to accept that..."

I've been watching Bones lately: your standard forensic crime investigator show with just enough uniqueness to make it genuinely enjoyable to watch. The main character is the ultimate empiricist and materialist--she believes in what she can see, touch, or otherwise experience with her physical senses, and nothing else. Talking to a devout Muslim, she mentions a friend in a morally wrong relationship and says condescendingly, "Perhaps your religion doesn't allow you to accept that." Oh, how free she is, unfettered by religion! She is ruled only by science: she knows what her senses can tell her, and nothing else. Except... not really. There is no sensory experience which tells her that murder is wrong and that murderers should be punished--and yet she has based her entire adult life on that premise. This is the fatal flaw of science, which goes unrecognized only because so few materialist scientists are as free from "religious morality" as they think.

Science enables us to preserve and prolong life far beyond what was possible only 100 years ago. It enables us to enforce law, to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. It allows us to speak to loved ones from far away, even see their faces: each achievement seems more impossible than the last, and more impossible to surpass: and yet it always is surpassed. It is truly marvelous what our species has accomplished. But looked at from another perspective, science is practically useless in isolation. Science discovered penicillin, and told us what it cured: but it is unable to tell us why anything should be cured. Science enables us to save the life of a burn victim and ease his pain, but is unable to tell us why we should do either. Science has taught us how to identify a murderer from a single drop of blood: but science is unable to tell us even why murder is wrong or why we should punish those who do it. Science cannot tell us why life is better than death--it cannot even tell us why truth is better than lies. Science cannot even defend itself.

And none of this has been realized yet by the "enlightened" scientific community only because they are not as enlightened as they think. That murder is wrong is not seen as something to be proved or disproved: it is one of the most basic assumptions of almost everyone. If ever a materialist were to seriously question it, he would realize that there is no scientific basis for it.
He may say, "But it is unjust!"
     What do you mean by "just?" You destroyed religious morality: to what sense of justice do you appeal?
He may say, "Alright, not 'unjust,' per se, but... what if everyone behaved that way?"
     Well, what if they did? It's not unjust, is it?
"But society would disintegrate!"
     And what if it did? Why is it better that it should not? Explain to me, using science and empiricism, why it is better that society should not disintegrate.

Now I realize that there are moral, ethical scientists. I know there are various boards and committees devoted to maintaining sound, ethical scientific practices--like preventing harmful experimentation on humans, for one thing. But this sense of morality, this belief that it is somehow wrong to inject people with something when you don't know what it will do, has nothing to do with science--it has everything to do with the old-fashioned, "religious" morality that materialist scientists are trying to get rid of. . If religious morality is ever completely eradicated, there will be no scientific morality to replace it. All sense of morality, of right and wrong, comes from a sense, conscious or unconscious, that there is something else besides this world full of bags of skin and bones and chemicals in the brain. Because if that is all we are, if that is all there is, then there is nothing wrong with harming or destroying such a thing. There is no such thing as "wrong" at all. It is not better that society should endure than that it should end: there is no such thing as "better." There are no more judgement calls. There is not even a reason to practice science: if there is no "good" or "bad", then Truth cannot be better than lies. And this is the great utopia to which we are being led: this is the promised land of scientific materialism.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Loving Father

Many people like to point to the Old Testament and say that the God of Christianity is only one more angry god of ancient times, cruel and proud and bloodthirsty. To say that the God of the Old Testament is an angry God is only fair, after all: it seems as though the Lord's anger is often burning at at least some portion of his people (Ex. 4:14, 2 Kings 23:26, Isaiah 5:25, and those are just 3 results from an internet search). But there are lots of angry gods in the various mythologies of the world. There's Bacchus, who so clouded the mind of a woman that she killed her own son and stuck his head on a pole and paraded it around the city. There's Moloch, who demanded child sacrifice. There are the countless gods of bloodstained altars, whose temples ring with the screams of the unfortunate chosen. All of these gods, as well as the God of the Christians and the Jews, could be fairly called "angry." But it is only the Christian God whose anger is that of a father spanking his child for running out in front of a car. It is only in Christianity that the flames of divine anger are fueled by the fiercer and more fiery flames of divine love.

Now, the modern world doesn't really seem too keen on the whole "spanking" thing, anymore. But to go to my original example: a stranger won't care that some kid ran out into the street. Or if he does care, he won't be angry at the child. The parent, though... the parent will be furious at the child. Because of love. The child carelessly endangered his life, and the parent will speak harshly to the child, even spank the child, in a frantic effort to get him to understand that you do not run out into the street. It's dangerous out there.

This is the God of the Old Testament. This is the loving parent of an unruly, foolhardy child, who loves to not only cross the street without looking but actually engage in a game of hopscotch on the freeway. This is the God who laments that "Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me... Israel does not know, my people do not understand" (Isaiah 1:2-3). It is punishment, yes, even angry punishment: but it is punishment with a goal, an aim, and motivated by love. There is not one life at stake, nor one family: the entire people is at risk, and every mistake made, every child-sacrificer taken in, every false god not driven out, is a threat more deadly than any car. "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." And yet Israel fails to get the message. We fail to get the message. And we make mistake after mistake, long after any earthly parent would have given up in despair. And yet God remains, both to ancient Israel and to us, the loving father who is angry at his children, and punishes them, because he loves them so much more than they know.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


One of the main complaints against the Church today is that it is intolerant: intolerant of other beliefs, intolerant of other lifestyles, intolerant of anything that disagrees with it. To this accusation, any self-respecting Christian should gladly plead "guilty." However, the Christian should also point out that, in calling us out on our intolerance, the accuser is himself being intolerant. We say, "You shouldn't do 'x'." The world says, "Oh, you shouldn't say 'shouldn't,' that's being intolerant." And this would be hilarious if the world got the joke. Anyway... you guys know this: this is Logic 101. The real point of this post is to say that tolerance is only the world's garbage version of something Christ had and the Church should have in abundance: love.

For some weird reason, the world sees the two as the same thing, or at least closely linked. They think that if you loved someone, you would be tolerant of their beliefs--if you are intolerant, that is proof that you do not love them. I have frequently seen people say that Christians should act more like Jesus--stop being so intolerant and show some love, you know? Alright, let's see what Jesus did. John 8: the pharisees bring a woman guilty of adultery to Jesus. Jesus blasts the pharisees, right? The pharisees were being intolerant, and Jesus wasn't having any of that! Just look at what he says to the woman: "I do not condemn you." See? Jesus is being so tolerant of the woman's "alternative lifestyle." (Note: this was sarcasm. I only say that because sarcasm is difficult to transmit through text). Read the very next words: "Go, and sin no more." By saying that, Jesus is being intolerant of her lifestyle of sin. He is not going to tolerate it. We do not see "tolerance" from Jesus: neither do we see the hateful garbage that certain "churches" spew on a daily basis. Instead, we see love.

And love is not some sort of crappy, lukewarm "middle ground." Love is fiery and passionate and active and moving--it seeks to change the bad and preserve the good, because it knows that the bad really is bad, and the good really is good. Jesus does not condemn the woman, because she has repented: but he immediately follows up with a command to sin no more. Love must include both of these sentiments, or else it is not love at all. Love is an active combination of acceptance of the person and rejection of the sin--and both acceptance and rejection must be extreme, even fanatical.

I wasn't going to say this, but I feel that this note demands it. Right now, in our fallen world, love has an integral, necessary counterpart: hate. Just as we are commanded to love people, we are commanded to hate what is evil. We cannot love people without hating sin. If we try, we will forget hate, and soon we will forget love. And there will be only silence as we sit and quietly tolerate our world, quite literally, to death.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Who will go for us?

 In Isaiah 6, Isaiah relates a vision he has of the Lord in the temple, attended by seraphim. This vision is absolutely packed with meaning: The glory of the Lord fills the temple, the foundations shake with God's voice, and there is even an anticipation, a glorious anticipation among the unclean people of Israel, of atonement for sin. Towards the end of the vision, Isaiah tells us, "And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?'" And it is here that we find even more meaning.

This is not just a question posed at this time, in this place, to one particular person. This is the driving question behind the story of redemption. This is the question that results in the prophets, judges, and kings, as God, again and again, sends messengers to a sinful and rebellious people, calling for them to return. This the driving question behind almost every act of God.

This question tells us a lot about the character of God and his attitude towards us. First, the question itself is based on a presupposition: that God will send someone. And why does God want to send someone? To call his people back to him. Then we ask: why does God want to call his people back to him? Have they not forsaken the Lord, and despised the Holy One of Israel? Do they not exalt the work of their hands over the Lord?

As Isaiah (and even our own experience tells us), indeed they have, and indeed they do. And the "normal" reaction, or should I say the "human" reaction, would be to do as Caesar does with Christ--to wash one's hands of the matter, and say, "I am innocent of their blood." The human reaction in the face of such utter faithlessness and scorn would be to leave us to our own devices, helpless and hopeless, until we meet our just and deserved death.

How fortunate for us, then, that our Lord is "God, and not a man." So the Lord stands above the earth, looking out upon a wicked and foolish people--and he asks, as if merely talking to himself, "Whom shall I send, and who shall go for us?" Whom shall I send to this wicked people, to call them to repentance? Whom shall I send, to remind this foolish people that I am the Lord, the Holy One of Israel? Who will call this people back to me?

This is the divine reaction to faithlessness: Love, going to greater and still greater lengths to call his people back to him, where they can be safe and happy once more.

And it is to greater and greater lengths. We see the prophets, the judges, the kings, as God involves himself with these mere humans, these created beings made of clay, who consistently and consciously revile and deny him. Again and again God calls to them, pleading with them to return. And after all this, after Moses and Samuel and David and even after Isaiah himself, there is still only a broken people, unwilling and unable to return to God.

And we can imagine the scene, outside this created world, outside time itself, as the Father sees all that is come to pass among his created children. He sees the people killing themselves with their selfishness and their pride and their sin. And then,with His divine voice echoing through eternity, He asks, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And in that timeless space there are the visions--visions of the one who is despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. A man smitten by God, afflicted, crushed, wounded, oppressed, stricken, cut off from the land of the living. Darkness and an agonized scream from a cross.  And with that hoarse scream of pain and terror still ringing in our ears, we can hear the voice of the eternal Son of God, saying, "Here I am; send me."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Crown

Check out 2 Timothy. This is the last letter of Paul that has been preserved. As Paul awaits execution in a cold, damp cell (note his request for a cloak, and for Timothy to come before winter: 4:13, 21), he says to Timothy, "I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come." Is Paul defeated? Has he lost hope? By no means! He continues triumphantly, "I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day." As he shivers in his cell, he is comforted by the knowledge that he has conquered. Not only has he conquered, but in conquering he has earned his crown.

 Note that I am not saying he earned his salvation. I am saying that after his salvation, his actions, the manner in which he lived his life, have made him worthy of receiving special recognition, possibly above and beyond that which may be considered "normal." In other places, Paul emphasizes the role of the Lord in our every day life: Galatians 2:20 is a good example of this, where he says, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." However, there are other places where he emphasizes his own role and responsibility in life, such as this passage in 2 Timothy. He says, "I have fought... I have finished... I have kept the faith." These are things he has done. Additionally, when speaking of his crown of righteousness, he does not say it will be given to him by the God of Grace. That would imply a crown he did not deserve--it would be a pure gift. Instead, he says it will be awarded to him by the God of Righteousness. He emphasizes God's role as a righteous judge, who weighs the facts and judges appropriately. The crown is awarded to Paul, in the same way that medals are awarded to war heroes: they have earned them, and in that sense they are not gifts.

This should make a difference in how we live our lives, I think. We are not mere actors moving listlessly through a pre-determined script, where the actor playing the hero will receive the fake crown for having pretended to do something. Paul tells the men of Athens that one of their poets was right in saying that in God we live and move and have our being. We live, we move, and in doing so we have the choice of whether to finish the race or fight the good fight. Even if we fall, we can get back up, and if we drop our sword, we can take it up again. We are warriors, soldiers of the cross, and God has given us obstacles to conquer, allowing us to be like Christ even in victory and conquest.

"The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne." Rev. 3:21