October 19, 2017

Christian Humanism: The Knowledge of God and of Ourselves

hands.jpgLet’s catch up. Several weeks ago, I shared with my readers that I was tossing the label of Calvinist. I said I would always describe myself as a “Reformation Christian” because I share- broadly- the commitments of the mainstream reformers in regard to issues of faith and church. While still a credobaptist, I do believe in the “covenant family” concept that the children of believers are part of the visible church. I affirm the Solas, but have an ecelctic and somewhat troubled relationship with TULIP as used in many quarters of the reformed world. I attempted to be a “Bad Calvinist” for a while, but that didn’t work, as I found myself tied to a stake and doused with gas for saying I wasn’t like many of my “truly reformed” conversation partners.

Instead of some form of Calvinism, I identified myself as a Christian Humanist and introduced the concept in a previous essay.

Therefore, I now call myself a Christian humanist, a tradition that encompasses a vast and diverse tapestry of Christian history, but which also calls into question much of the Christianity of our time. We are increasingly presented with the concept of a God-centered faith that has removed the incarnation from it’s central place, putting there, instead, a kind of ambiguous, tangetial, uncomfortable awareness of human existence, constantly haunted by the tension between the “hallowing” of humanity in the incarnation, and the “polluting” of humanity in the reformed doctrine of total depravity.

It will now become my project, in future essays, to unfold Christian humanism as I understand it, and relate it to the faith of the New Testament and of the Creeds. I invite my readers to join me, to search along with me, to raise issues and questions, but to pray for me as I develop a more honest approach to the one thing we all share and possess with certainty: our humanity, and all the treasures centained therein. Pray that I will be able to help us, as persons made in God’s image, to love God, neighbor and self together in the Trinitarian, incarnational love of Jesus Christ.

In this second of several short essays on Christian Humanism, I will begin to explore what I mean by this concept. This post will explore the question of knowledge as it is answered in Christian Humanism.

In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise, give me Jesus

Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus

When I am alone
When I am alone
When I am alone, give me Jesus

Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus

When I come to die
When I come to die
When I come to die, give me Jesus

Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus,
You can have all this world,
You can have all this world,
You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus

So goes a beautiful contemporary worship chorus recorded by, among others, Fernando Ortega. Such “Jesus centered” devotion has a powerful emotional effect on those of us who are Christians. The longing such a song produces is one simple evidence that Jesus is, at a very deep level, more than just another person, character or relationship. Our deepest feelings of what is real in life are attached to Jesus, so that we can even think of the end of life as a Christ-transformed experience.

If I were to identify myself as a “humanist”, it would be quite a different thing from a “Christian Humanist”. Christianity and secular humanism are great philosophiocal adversaries in the contemporary culture wars. How can something that is avowedly anti-god ever be spoken of as Christian? (I suspect more than a few people would look at the label of Christian Humanist and conclude that the dominant theme is secular humanism, while “Christian” is just religious icing on the cake. Adding a few stories of a nice guy named Jesus helping old ladies across the street makes us all Christian humanists, in other words.)

Christian Humanism is, in fact, not a varnishing of secularism, but a reconsideration of what it means to be “God-centered” in our view of reality. For the Christian Humanist, God-centeredness is a concept that necessarily brings us to the incarnation, to Jesus, and ultimately to the knowledge of ourselves. Therefore, God-centeredness is inescapably humanistic, when the God that “centers” your reality is known only as a human being.

I am convinced that many of those Christians who have most consistently proclaimed the necessity of a “God-centered” worldview have given us, in all sincerity and godly zeal, a collection of distortions, not the least of which is to demote the significance of the incarnation to a place that endangers the character of the Christian faith itself. Despite our claims to be “pro-life,” it appears to many of us that there is a remarkably anti-human component to a great deal of what is called Christianity today.

The question of knowledge is a fundamental philosophical question. It is easy to get lost in its intricacies. Yet, few of us become skeptics about knowledge. A professor of philosophy may teach that we can know nothing, yet he will drive his car home from work according to the information of his senses and the orderly universe presented to him through reason. An eastern mystic may proclaim that life is nothing but an illusion or a dream, yet how many of his disciples will consistently live out such a worldview? I have always found it fascinating that the core beliefs of eastern worldviews tend to undermine the reality of human relationships like marriage, yet such relationships persist in all cultures. Very, very few are prepared to say “We cannot know anything, and what we know cannot be certain.” There is something deeply, desperately serious about our universal sense that the life we have been given is real and dependably true. As a Christian Humanist, I believe this is not an accident.

Human beings live their lives with intense loyalty to the belief that a foundational epistemology of human life comes from our own experience of the the real world. Of course, this doesn’t solve all the problems of human knowledge! But it does mean that as our knowledge of ourselves, as human beings, increases, our knowledge of truth increases. It also means tht human experience, lived in “ordinary flesh and blood,” is a dependable source of truth. With reasonable cautions in place, we can approach the question of knowledge without a suspicion of “tricks” preventing us from knowing the truth.

But how can we know about another person? As humans we can communicate our experiences and our journey in recognizable terms. This is one of the great joys of education. But what about communication and knowledge of what is very different from us? Like God….or a rock?

For example, it is quite possible that rocks have knowledge. It is possible that rocks have vast and sophisticated realms of knowledge. It is possible that rocks have ways of knowing that are completely hidden to me. If I am to consider the knowledge of a rock, it will not be as a rock, but only as a human being considering a rock. My knowledge is bounded completely by my experience of human life. So while I can examine the rock, label it, analyze it, test it, write about it, photograph it and develop theories about it, there is no point at which my knowledge ceases to be MINE and becomes the rock’s knowledge of itself communicated to me.

How could I gain the rock’s knowledge of itself? While there are many fantastic possibilities, the shortest routes are two: I could become a rock. Or the rock could become a human being. Of course, what the word “becomes” means in this scenario is virtually nonsense. There is no concievable way in which either entity could “become” the other, yet remain itself.

At this point, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation come on the scene. Christians believe that God is God, yet all the while eternally being the three persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is a being who is not bounded by “being oneness” as a human or a rock are bounded. And at the core of this mystery is the Christian doctrine of the incarnation, which says that God, in the person of the Son, became a human being, fully and completely, for us and for our salvation, without in any way ceasing to be God. This is the great presupposition of all Christian knowledge, and the key to the meaning of life.

It is of really vital importance that I quickly say that the incarnation is not a method whereby we are instructed on how to know God or how to become God. There is a communication of divine life and nature in Christianity, but this is not what we are talking about in the incarnation, and the incarnation is the heart of Christian Humanism. The incarnation is the crucial way God has chosen to make himself known to human beings. God became a human being. He took a body, a personality, a family, a culture, a history, a brain, a language, a time, and so on. All that is human, he became. All that is human, became- in the person of Jesus- fully God.

Travelling back to our analogy, if a rock were able to become incarnate as a human being, and speak from the perspective of “two natures,” fully being both simulataneously, then knowledge would be possible. Why? Because now “rock-ness” could take on the form, feeling, shape, language and qualities of humanness. Communication and description would be possible. Correspondence of essence and experience would make it possible, to some extent, for a human being to know what a rock knows and what a rock is. Be very clear: apart from this, all our knowledge- true or false- would come from ourselves and we could not know anything outside of ourselves other than as we experienced it.

As a Christian Humanist, when I look at Jesus Christ, I see two persons, doing two things, and making two realities possible. I see God and a true human being, like myself. I see one who lives a sinless, yet fully human life, and I also see one who takes upon himself the complete reconciliation and mediation of God and humanity. Because of this reconciliation, I have a right standing with God, and I can know God through Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Faith accesses this reality, but God in Christ alone makes it possible.

The New Testament clearly teaches that we come to know God in the person of the God/man Jesus Christ, and we do not know God without this incarnation.

2 Cor 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Eph 4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

John 1:17-18 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (18) No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

1 John 1:1-3 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life– (2) the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us– (3) that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

I believe the New Testament affirms that true knowledge of God is possible through general revelation, but as a Christian, I must caution that this knowledge also comes to us through our human faculties, and is subject to the knowledge that comes to us in Jesus. For the Christian, God is always the God who reveals himself in Jesus. (How often did Jesus say that we were hearing/seeing/watching God in him?) God is not the god of general revelation with footnotes and appendix by Jesus. God is not the God of the Old Testament with a few added facts thrown in by Jesus. God is not the God of the Bible, featuring Jesus as a character. God is the God we meet, hear, and know in Jesus. There is no other God. There is no other truly dependable knowledge of God other than the knowledge we have of God in Jesus.

So as a Christian Humanist, I have a “God-centered” worldview, but I also admit that the truth about the God who is the center of reality comes to me in the person of Jesus Christ, and not in knowledge of God separate from Jesus, in rational inquiry that denies the incarnation as impossible or in mysticism that purports to inflate my knowledge to super-human/supernatural levels. A Christian Humanist may speak of God without speaking of Jesus, but he/she believes that the true God is revealed to us in Jesus, and there is no God who exists apart from or separate from the incarnation.

N.T. Wright puts it very well when he says that Jesus is the human face of God.

Western orthodoxy has for too long had an overly lofty, detached, high-and-dry, uncaring, uninvolved, and (as the feminist would say) kyriarchical view of god. It has always tended to approach the christological question by assuming this view of god and then fitting Jesus into it. Hardly surprising, the result was a docetic Jesus, which in turn generated the protest of the eighteenth century and historical scholarship since then, not least because of the social and cultural arrangements which the combination of semi-Deism and docetism generated and sustained. That combination remains powerful, not least in parts of my own communion, and it still needs a powerful challenge. My proposal is not that we understand what the word “god” means and manage somehow to fit Jesus into that. Instead, I suggest that we think historically about a young Jew, possessed of a desperately risky, indeed apparently crazy, vocation, riding into Jerusalem in tears, denouncing the Temple, and dying on a Roman cross, and that we somehow allow our meaning for the word “god” to be recentered around that point.

We could only ask the kenotic question in the way we normally do, “did Jesus ’empty himself’ of some of his ‘divine attributes’ in becoming human”, if we were tacitly committed to a quite unbiblical view of God, a high and majestic God for whom incarnation would be a category mistake and crucifixion a scandalous nonsense. The NT, on the contrary, invites us to look at this Jesus, the earthly Jesus, the Jesus of Second Temple Judaism, the kingdom-movement man, the ambiguous double revolutionary, the parabolic teaser, the healer, the man who wept over Jerusalem and then sweated drops of blood in Gethsemane, to look at this Jesus and to say with awe and wonder and gratitude, not only “Ecce Homo”, but “Ecce Deus”.

This is Christian Humanism at its best. Our concept of “God” is now joined to the human person we know as Jesus.

Which brings me to the second concept of knowledge important to Christian Humanism: What we know of human experience teaches us about the incarnation, and therefore about God and ourselves.

Again, I return to the assumption that human beings accept their experience at “face value” as being true. Yes, we may argue endlessly about various aspects of human experience. Our interpretation of human experience is constantly at odds with other human beings, but we understand human experience itself as real and dependable. On this, there is remarkable agreement.

Take a Red State Conservative and a Blue State Gay Rights Activist as our examples. They disagree on thousands of things, many of them quite substantial and important. Yet, both love their families. Both know pain, fear, hope, and failure. Both know birth and death, beauty and confusion, loneliness and despair. In their differing grids of what compassion might mean in a particular political situation, they have little disagreement that compassion is a human value. Even as they disagree over abortion or Terri Shiavo, they share a sense of morality that causes them to fight for their interpretation of human existence.

As Christian Humanists, we take this raw data of human experience as vitally significant. It is the raw data of the incarnation of Jesus. It is in coming to know ourselves as human beings that we come to increasingly understand the depths of truth in the incarnation, and the God who revealed himself to us in Jesus. For the Christian Humanist, the data of the human journey in all its various forms, becomes the lines of the drawing that is the incarnation. It is not simply the study of the words of scripture that reveals God, but the close attention paid to all of human existence in the light of the incarnation, that reveals God in Jesus. Our knowledge of human experience, history, culture, behavior, etc. enlightens our reading of scripture. Scripture provides an immediate context, but the entirety of scripture, and the incarnation in particular, points us to a context in all that is human life, experience, knowledge and history.

The warning lights should immediately and rightly come on at this point. First of all, the fall is a very real component of our human experience that is not part of the God-revealed-in-Jesus. The fall has pervaded, distorted and perverted all of human reality. We must take account of the fall as we interpret human experience, and this is why scripture takes the PRIMARY place in our knowledge of God and of ourselves. In its truthful presentation of the divine/human story, it leads us to Jesus, who is the locus of scriptural inspiration and the the truth of the Gospel. In Jesus, we can see glory of God, but also the effects of the fall, and we can hear the Biblical story rightly. The Biblical story navigates the human story with the incarnation as our compass so we do not make shipwreck on the rocks of a naive humanism.

Secondly, the data of human experience can be manipulated. Take one subject of universal human interest: sexuality. The data of human experience could easily lead us to a very different kind of picture of what God has intended for human beings. This underlines the danger of general revelation on the level of human experience. Apart from Christ, and the Biblical authority we find in him, the data of sexuality would take us in contradictory directions, leaving us at the mercy of the postmodern competition for the power to make human language and experience mean whatever we want it to mean.

The Biblical story, therefore, stands in judgement on all other stories, and the incarnation causes us to affirm that Jesus is Lord of everything in human experience. For example, it is entirely plausible that the data of human experience would justify sex outside of marriage, but Jesus gives us his own words, culminating in Hebrews 13:4. Many other parts of the Biblical story tell us what real humanity means, and shows us the effects of sin on sexuality. The Biblical framework of the incarnation affirms what the Christian story teaches about sexuality, and it is not wise, or progressive or compassionate to rewrite the data. The truth will always bring us to Jesus, and to the kind of humanity we meet in him.

None of this takes away, however, the fact that we listen to all of human experience to learn more about that incarnation. We listen to all of human experience as a way of revealing the incarnation that brings us the Good News of God and man reconciled in Christ.

Christian Humanism will be distinctive in its interest in the broadest spectrum of human experiences. The Incarnation has staggering implications. Jesus entered into the experience of human growth. He became part of a family. He had a psychology and personality. He pondered the questions of science and philosophy. He appreciated art and beauty. He experienced sexuality, pain, temptation and loneliness. Without sin, he experienced failure. He lived in history, used language, participated in politics and economics. The extent of the incarnation’s “ownership” of our human experience is complete. It is a failure of much of Christianity that it has little interest in large areas of human life, instead defining a narrow tract called “religion” and insisting that all significant human experiences happen within that fence.

The church has communicated that prayer is more important than economics, that evangelism is more important than the creation of beauty, that fearing evil is more “godly” than celebration and discovery. The message has sounded forth for generations: Christianity is a religion that despises human experience as hopelessly poisoned. A true Christian abandons the trivial and polluted life of the world for the secure fortress of the church and its interests. Christian Humanism rejects this on the basis of the incarnation.

Christian Humanism seeks to restore the two peaks of God’s involvement with humanity: Creation and Incarnation. It seeks to remove the impression that the Christian faith represents a God who is the enemy of human existence and only interested in heavenly one. Christian Humanism believes that resurrection and the restoration of life to all creation is the eschatological goal of the glory of God.

The echoes of creation’s glory resound in all human life and endeavors. The incarnation of Jesus reminds us that even in a fallen world, human experience has meaning to God. It “fits” with the God who made us and what God made us to be.

Christian Humanism believes that we can truly know God in the person of his divine/human Son, Jesus Christ, who is God, yet is in every way like us as well. Christian Humanism believes that all of human experience can glorify the God of creation and reveal the God who meets us in the incarnation. Christian Humanism rejects the animosity and despair that accompany so much evangelical teaching and practice. It calls on us to be full participants in every part of human existence that we see in the incarnation. If Jesus is the face of God, we recognize one who has become like us, that we might know Him and we might know ourselves in Him.

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” In Jesus, we meet a God who is for us, because he became us, that we might know Him.

Comments

  1. Dinah Clarke says:

    Michael

    I agree with most of this article, indeed it is only what I would call “Christianity”.

    However, you said :

    “The church has communicated that prayer is more important than economics, that evangelism is more important than the creation of beauty, that fearing evil is more “godly” than celebration and discovery. The message has sounded forth for generations: Christianity is a religion that despises human experience as hopelessly poisoned. A true Christian abandons the trivial and polluted life of the world for the secure fortress of the church and its interests. Christian Humanism rejects this on the basis of the incarnation.”

    This is where I disagree with you, true Christianity delights in being human and embraces human experience all the while acknowledging that we are as hopelessly damaged by sin as a human body can be by contracting AIDS – sin is spiritual AIDS, even when it doesn’t show it is there.

    And Prayer is most important, but it should lead to a life of delight in creation, in love of all creatures, especially those created in the image of God, and an ever deepening love of and delight in God (and this is where John Piper’s desire comes in).And all the other things you present as “either/or” should rightly be a matter of “both/and”. True Christianity is seeing this.

    TULIP is actually an accurate description of our human condition … BUT acknowledging that should not prevent a wholehearted agreement with Christian Humanism as you outline in your essay. It is only when our idea of God is too small and rigid that this occurs.

    I will be interested to read what the others say.

  2. As someone from an evangelical background who has made some friends in the Catholic ‘Communion and Liberation’ movement, I found this article really teased out a lot of what I’ve found myself thinking recently. Although I am young and have very little theological understanding to add to this thread, I want to thank you for expressing what has been one of the most liberating aspects of my walk with God in the last 2 years. These friends, and now you, have been showing me how much more there is to ‘the religious experience’ than religion itself.

  3. I found this essay to be incredibly fuzz-brained, iMonk. I would make a point-by-point analysis, but I fear for my brain cells.

  4. Very interesting stuff, Michael!

    It would be interesting to hear how this fits in with any remaining vestiges of Christian Hedonism that you have. That is, is it possible to be a Christian Humanist and be explicitly God-centred? Does the incarnation not give us precisely that option?

  5. Kent Runge says:

    Nice job Michael, welcome to the rolls of the ‘fuzz-brained’. (I’ve chosen not to ‘analyze’ that.)

  6. Michael,
    By the grace of God, I stumbled into your site earlier this week. Your open sharing of your seeking resonates strongly with mine, even though our paths are very different. First thing: thanks for sharing.

    Second thing: your messages (and I’ve wandered all over the site) have clearly triggered a deeper examination of my own positions, beliefs, and this is good. If it’s OK with you, I’ll share some of the backstory with you directly, and you can decide what or how much (if any) of that should end up here.

    Again, thanks for being God’s vessel for inspiring the rest of us.

  7. Steve,

    “I am, to this extent, carrying on the noble tradition of continuing my theological education in public.” -N.T. Wright

  8. i ain’t labelin’. nuh uh, not me.

    i believe.

    no labels.

    i’m like the can without a label, still has god inside whether the outside world knows it or not.

    they may call me “mystery meat”, but i’m no mystery to god. he calls me “mary”.

    and i ain’t labelin’ you, either.

  9. If I remember right, Humanism began as a Christian movement in the late Middle Ages — a re-balancing away from forms of Docetism and “Worm Theology” at the time that exalted God and the spiritual by denigrating man and the physical.

  10. Michael: All I can think to say is, “Nicely put. Niiiiiiiiiicely put.”

  11. fsuchris says:

    Yes, Michael, thank you. I’ve been thinking along these lines for several months. I wish I had more to contribute, but you’ve given me even more to chew on. I look forward to your next essay.

  12. Michael,
    I think it’s great that you are pursuing this, and it is certainly very interesting. You emphasize a lot of things that are worth affirming: that life is good when lived for God by His power, that the Christian life is not one of morbid introspection but of abundant life with Christ (Romans 6:11: COnsider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.)

    I have four questions that I hope will advance (at least my) understanding of what you’re saying:

    (There’s a bunch of them, if anybody can help me out, please do)
    (1) Most of the essay seems focused on how we can have knowledge of God. Are you going to address how we can know in general? Or do you infer from the premise that God became human that our routine, ‘common-man’ intuition about how we can know is, in fact, correct, at least in all but the most obscure cases?

    In other words, why is humanity’s common confidence that sensory data brings ‘real’ information about the world accepted by you as true? Are you even gonna try to stab the matrix/des cartes conspiracy theory of reality, that we’re being tricked, and what we call the world is really just sensory data being fed us?

    (2) I think special care to make sure we are viewing Jesus the way He would want to be viewed is in order. I am not offering this as my final thought on the matter, or to tell you you’re wrong, but: How do you reconcile verses such as Matthew 20:28, which show that Jesus became man with a distinct purpose, with your more vague affirmation of humanity in light of Christ’s coming?

    One fear I have is, frankly, that a vague affirmation of humanity will lead people to think that Jesus is okay with whatever they are doing, as each person interprets this doctrine in light of their own life. By ‘vague affirmation of humanity’, I am thinking of this passage, which follows the NT WRight quote: “It is in coming to know ourselves as human beings that we come to increasingly understand the depths of truth in the incarnation, and the God who revealed himself to us in Jesus. For the Christian Humanist, the data of the human journey in all its various forms, becomes the lines of the drawing that is the incarnation.” I’m not sure what you mean by this. Because you clarify that you don’t mean that we make moral judgments about our lives based on this human data, because we are to submit our conclusions to the dictates of scripture. Since you don’t mean that, I do not understand the benefit of using our human data to understand the incarnation. Please explain.

    3) About halfway through, you say that “the incarnation is not a method whereby we are instructed on how to know God…The incarnation is the crucial way God has chosen to make himself known,” … Please explain the distinction you are drawing, I think it’s important and I just don’t get it.
    If I have completely missed the point, please be patient with me and explain. I am trying to understand what you are saying and to make sure that the conception of the Christian life under discussion is Biblical.

    4) Why is prayer not more important than economics? Can we not simultaneously endorse the rightness and goodness of pursuing endeavors such as economics, while also noting that one of these activities is normative for all believers for many reasons, while the other is a potentially beneficial activity for some? After all, prayer has the abiity to bring salvation; economics has the ability to … be part of the human experience, which can be either God-glorifying or sinful? Perhaps your answer to this question will most clearly explain to me what I am missing.

    And Michael, thanks for writing this.

    Please let me know if I have totally missed the boat. I am trying to understand what you are saying and ensure faithfulness to the Bible in this model of thought. After all, many of our brothers and sisters (including me) read and are influenced by what you write!

    Grace and peace,
    Drew

  13. 1) No I’m not, because I believe all human beings have an intuitive knowledge of the “realness” and “givenness” of human experience, rationality, knowledge. Of course, there are those with altered perceptions, but we have millions/billions of agreed human experiences about the dependable reality of the world in which we live.

    We can debate epistemology all day. It is the most important, and most despairing branch of philosophy. As a Christian, I believe the givenness/reality of shared human experience is affirmed in the incarnation, as the person we meet in Jesus affirms the reality of the universal experiences we all share.

    2) Important stuff. Please follow.

    If the incarnation says that God has revealed himself to us in becoming a human being, then every ounce of knowledge of human experience adds to what we know of the incarnation. We can plunge into any inquiry, any study, any journey, any shared experience knowing that what we learn will further reveal the God who revealed himself as a human person.

    Name a human experience. Can it be separated from the incarnation? (This has nothing to do with Jesus/God) Or does it show us more of the truth of God? When I listen to the story of a person from a different culture and a different journey, stories of suffering or love…am I hearing more about God? Or less?

    God became a human being. ALL we can learn about human beings adds depths to that picture.

    Scripture does set the boundaries and parameters so that we know how human experiences fit in to the truth of the incarnation. It allows us to separate created humanity from sinful humanity. It keeps our focus on Jesus first, and human experience second. But it does not tell us to stop listening, learning and experiencing.

    3) The incarnation does not present us with Buddah: Here is how to become God. It is not an incarnation for instruction. The incarnation IS SALVATION/MEDIATION in and of/itself. It is not an introduction to a way. It is the saving/renewing of all things in the incarnate God who takes all things into himself.

    4)I mean to say that much modern Christianity teaches that human experiences are valuable if they are overtly religious, rather than directed towards human beings. In truth, the incarnation makes economics an activity in which God is glorified, etc.

  14. Dinah Clarke says:

    Michael

    re your reply to Drew ….

    what you do not elucidate (so don’t know if you see it or not) is knowing the difference between a God-centered way of doing all these things (eg. economics) and of a secular, humanistic way of doing them?

    The “doing” is the same …. what is important is the “why” …. what is the end of what you are saying? Where do you want this line of reasoning to lead you?

    Is it for the glory of God, and so that you both know Him better, and so are ever more free to love and serve others?

    Or is what you mean that we should forget about God and just spend our life “doing good things” and enjoying them?

    Delight in God spreads itself into delight in all things.

  15. Dinah…

    This essay was pretty narrowly focused on the issue of knowledge. Is it possible to know God, and how does Christian Humanism approach that question?

    The question of economics, etc is about human activities as revealing the relevance of the incarnation.

    Economics is a human activity in which Jesus participated, therefore it is has something to teach us about the God revealed in Jesus.

    This isn’t an essay refuting Christian Hedonism. I do plan to take issue with the idea that being God centered is done at the exclusion of the core value of human experience, or requires us to despise human experience in lieu of being “religious.”

  16. iMonk,

    I am trying to track with you here. You said that “God Centeredness is done at the exclusion of the core value of human experience.” How is it possible to even interpret “human experience” without a definite God centered approach? Human life itself loses meaning apart from the Creator, does it not?

    Also, I wonder (and I am not being sarcastic) who advocates the despising of “human experience”? I have often told people that eating shrimp scampi is worshipful when viewed in the correct light. How much more basic of a human experience can you get? (Which may be part of your point, I suppose.)

    Basically, my question is who or how is human experience being despised? I think, maybe, perhaps that it comes from the Piper-esque call to get people to stop “wasting time” doing time-wasting stuff. (Whatever that may mean. Again, no sarcasm intended.)

    Finally, I wonder what implications the idea of Christian Humanism has for people who live “pre-incarnation”? (Maybe you have said this somewhere else.)

    Okay, let me just spell out for you what I am thinking. I am thinking that God created the human being. He is behind all human experience. The stars declare the glory of God and God put them there to declare His glory. Human experiences are deeply profound because God made humans to have deeply profound experiences. (To His glory.) However, we do not understand the star’s message at all if we do not look to them with faith in Christ. (Literally, we cannot hear the message until we are given ears to hear it.) Human experience, I believe, is the same. The only way it reaches its full power to speak is when we “learn” the language of faith through the power of the Holy Spirit.

    I don’t think that we are disagreeing, but maybe we are. I just do not understand how “God-centeredness” despises human experience. I believe, rather, that it correctly defines human experience.

  17. Let me say that the knowledge of we have from human experience is general revelation and cannot save. But because it is HUMAN experience it also has the potential to cause us to know Christ more and deeper, because Christ was truly, universally human.

    Think of the following human experiences and how each one gives us specific insight into the incarnation:

    sex within marriage
    survival in a concentration camp
    visiting someone in a nursing home
    being rejected by someone we love
    hunger

    Now…I am hoping to encourage Christians to realize that ALL of human experience touches on the incarnation. The list is really endless.

    What concerns me is two things:

    1) talk of God centeredness that separates God from the incarnation (see the Wright quote). This is a strongly LUTHERAN idea:
    http://www.immanuelevluth.org/sermons/s050522.htm

    2) Viewing human experience only as depraved, rather than accounting human experience as a window to CREATION (Divine purpose) and the INCARNATION (all we learn about God in Jesus.)

    Please be aware that I am not arguing against God-centeredness. I am arguing against the -unfortunately- Calvinistic tendency to talk about God’s attributes and being APART FROM the incarnation. (God centeredness for the Christian is TRINITARIAN/Incarnational)

    As strong a Calvinist as Al Martin refused to preach on the attributes of God apart from Christ. So I only want to be “rightly” centered in the God revealed IN the INCARNATION.

    If you are asking who despises human experience….I am just stunned. Fundamental and Evangelical Christians have despised so many areas of human experience that I don’t know where to begin. It almost seems to me that many Christians have no idea that the significance of the incarnation stretches to art, creativity, economics, politics, psychology, academics, literature and on and on and on.

    Long ago in seminary I heard a debate between two professors on whether Jesus was REALLY tempted, i.e. truly capable of sin. I realized in that debate that there were people who were very uncomfortable with the humanity of Christ, and had altered it into something entirely different than real humanity.

  18. Michael,
    I’m looking forward to your post on God-centeredness. I’ve been hoping to see some more detail on your perspective on Piper for a while. As a newly married man, I’m reading ‘Don’t Waste Your Life’ with my wife right now. We’re seeking to set up the patterns of our life to bring the greatest glory to God. So these discussions are not academic to me.

    I have some follow-up questions. These are about your responses to my prior questions (2) and (3).

    (2) About human experience giving knowledge of the incarnation:

    What biblical purpose does this serve? Sanctification? Growing in knowledge of God?

    Whatever purpose it serves, please provide a Scriptural case (feel free to just cite verses) to back up the idea of using the analysis of humanity to learn about Jesus (God). Why not just use the Scriptures? If the Scriptures are sufficient for what we need to know about Jesus (God), why look outside them?

    (3) “The incarnation is salvation/mediation in itself.”

    I agree, at least I think I do. I agree that Jesus “came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:28).

    Was the incarnation *only* about propitiation/atonement/thesaving of souls/the ministry of reconciliation?? Was the rest of Jesus’ ministry all conducted with that end in sight?

    Did Jesus come to celebrate creation (the world, humanity) or to celebrate God? Is this a false dichotomy?

    Did Jesus pour his passion and life into sociology, philosophy, economics? Or into the Scripture?

    These questions all get at the same point. If Jesus came, lived the perfect life, and either (a) taught others to be explicitly God-centered, or (b) lived an explicitly God-centered life in the fashion that you seem to me to be rejecting, Michael, then Christian Humanism seems to fall apart.

    I do not wish this to grow antagonistic — if I’m contentious to the point it tempts you to anger, please let me know and I’ll shut up. I found your first responses very illuminating. Thanks for your time.

    Grace and Peace,
    Drew

  19. Well, first of all Drew, please don’t set me up as the adversary of Dr. Piper and his many fans and students. I’ve written much in praise of him.

    As to why I am not arguing from the scriptures…..what am I avoiding in the scriptures? I am talking about the single greatest message of the scriptures: The incarnation. I am certainly not trying to sell some “new or novel” teaching. I believe the reformed confessions are reliable guides, but I do believe we need a renewed emphasis on creation/incarnation, and not simply an emphasis on depravity.

    What purpose does it serve to encounter any human experience as a display of the incarnation? Well…how about do everything to the glory of God? Which, to many evangelicals means, “Here’s a small list of what can be done to the glory of God. Everything else is worldly.” Why do the majority of my Christian students want to be worship leaders and not doctors or accountants or architects or writers or businessmen? Because these vocations have not been related to Christ. Yet in the incarnational life of God, all these callings are part somehow related to Jesus.

    Seeing human experience as a portrayal of the incarnation and therefore as a way of knowing the God who revealed himself in Jesus seems the most natural thing in the world, once we accept that the incarnation means human life and the life of God are not strangers by design or hopelessly divorced from one another.

    -Our salvation comes not from what Jesus did, but from Who Jesus is. As the incarnate son of God, everything Jesus is and does is for us and for our salvation. He is our salvation. He doesn’t make it possible. He is it. Jesus is the salvation of a ruined universe. He is the one mediator between God and man because he is God/man.

    -Jesus came to reveal God in the analogical way we most understand: being one of us. The word “celebrate” doesn’t really fit for me. He said that in him, heaven and earth met. In him, God and man are reconciled.

    ->Did Jesus pour his passion and life into sociology, philosophy, economics? Or into the Scripture?

    Ask what each of these callings involve? Did Jesus create a new community? Did he involve himself in the social world of his time? Did he ask and answer fundamental human questions? Did he deal with money, and teach about its place in life? Did he run a business? And of course he studied and lived the scriptures.

    ->If Jesus came, lived the perfect life, and either (a) taught others to be explicitly God-centered, or (b) lived an explicitly God-centered life in the fashion that you seem to me to be rejecting, Michael, then Christian Humanism seems to fall apart.

    Who is rejecting God centeredness? Not me. Read the Lutheran sermon linked above. What God do we know apart from the incarnation? And what do we know of the incarnation of God as a human being if we don’t know ourselves?

    I am calling for the talk of God-centeredness to be about the God/man Jesus, and not about the God of detached theology.

  20. I apologize if I misconstrued something you said. I certainly did not mean to. Please let me know if I do so again in the future.

    I think I am beginning to see the main part of what you are getting at, and I should let it sit for a while before responding, because in my life I do not conceive well of doing all things to the glory of God. I am like your students. So thank you for the correction.

    But on the issue of salvation. If something Jesus did was not necessary for our salvation, why did Paul say that all “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Why “propitiation” if Jesus as a whole is in some way salvific? Why did Jesus pray in the Garden that he would not have to drink the cup (the wrath)? These things seem to be in Scripture because a specific act of Jesus, namely bearing the wrath of God while on the cross, purchased our salvation. You can deride it as the ‘economic’ model, but it seems to be what the Bible teaches.

    Might respond to the part about all life lived for the glory of God later. Meanwhile, bed is beckoning … i love Saturday morning sleeping.

    Grace and peace,
    Drew

  21. >You can deride it as the ‘economic’ model, but it seems to be what the Bible teaches.

    Deride? I’m not deriding anything.

    I don’t think I am on shaky ground to say that Jesus IS our mediator from all eternity, and that the specific acts of his earthly life, however we understand them, stand under his eternal status as the second person of the Trinity.

    I don’t have any problem with propitiation, etc. as language to understand Jesus on our terms.

  22. My apologies, wrong again about what you said.

    I read a vague reference you made to Capon somewhere and assumed I knew what you meant. Just read your longer essay about transactionalism. Must say I agree.

    Oh, and I didn’t mean that you’re an adversary to Piper. I meant that you engage his work critically, i.e. you analyze how what he writes affects Christians. That is useful because it helps me examine my heart for sin and/or incorrect beliefs that my sinful heart picked up from misinterpreting something Piper wrote. Not many other people engage Piper in that way, it’s a rare thing to agree with the theology and proclaim the dangerous effect the words can have on people. So I appreciate that.

    OK, really, bed now.

  23. Thanks for the dialog. Hopefully, it will be helpful to other readers. Peace.

  24. Brian C says:

    There is a lot of good stuff in this essay and I am still thinking it all through. Also, I really appreciate the commentary between Drew and imonk. It really filled in some blanks in my thinking about this-thanks.

    I was especially glad to see some of the details come out in regard to the “God-centeredness” comments in the essay. Specifically, to have you (imonk) explicity state that you aren’t arguing against God-centeredness but, rather, for a better understanding of it. Enjoying our human experiences in a way that honors God is essential to holding God at the center of our world. Jonathon Edwards would have agreed too, I think. He wrote that when he viewed nature it was to experience God’s beauty in creation and he could bow down and worship God as a result of seeing that beauty (my bad paraphrase).

    Also, being a professional student 🙂 I am sensitive to the disdain many Christians hold for “non-Christian” education and academics. Jesus is the Lord of all truth-the truth in the Bible but also the truth in an English book or a math book. Anywhere good, honest learning or work is being done by His people, I think Jesus is pleases and can be glorified. So many people set up a dichotomy between sacred and secular and it doesn’t exist. Our human experiences outside the sanctuary can be just as worshipful and those inside it.

    Brian C.

  25. I haven’t had time to ‘digest’ all that is written here, but it is lighting up a lot of my Truth Seeking buttons. This is extremely interesting. I plan on reading and examining all of this over the next few days.
    One thing I wanted to say though, was that one of the practical applications that this may address is the ‘disconnect’ I have seen between many of my fellow Believer’s sincerely held beliefs and how they live their daily lives. I have seen some very loving, deeply devoted Christians who do not seem to have strong sense of how those beliefs effect and work themselves out in their daily lives and in all the various aspects of human experience.

  26. iMonk,

    I have enjoyed your answers and this discussion. However, I am still wondering how this Christian Humanism affects your understanding of Old Testament saints. That is, how Abraham and company could have attained such a deep knowledge of God since they lived in pre-incarnation history.

  27. I’m not following you very well. Those before Christ received general revelation, historical revelation and prophetic revelation. But if the Bible tells us anything, its that all these knew there was something major missing. The “longing” of the OT saints to know the Holy One as one can only know an incarnate God is fundamental. I won’t run the texts. It’s just there. The OT is the illustrations, the children’s sermon, while the incarnation is the final word.

    What they knew of God told them they did not know him as they were meant to know him. Read Hebrews 11. “The died in faith, looking forward…” Read the passages that say the OT law was a shadow of good things to come. Read Hebrews 1:1-4. God spoke inadequately in the past, but now has spoken finally in the incarnation.

  28. iMonk,

    Let me be a little more clear on my thoughts. First of all, it is not my goal to, in some way, understate the magnitude of the Incarnation. What I am attempting to explore is how the Incarnation has fundamentally changed how we understand God.

    This is not easy thinking, and since I am discussing thoughts that are still forming in my head, I may say something stupid. Oh well, if you lived in my area you could come over and have coffee and save me public humiliation. But alas, the humility will do me good, and perhaps it will help others avoid poor thinking.

    Having written my apologies, I will tell you what is bothering me. First, I do not think that Hebrews, or any other Scripture, indicates that God spoke inadequately in the OT. I do not anywhere see that Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and company seem less “in the know” than me. 1 Peter 1:10-11 seems to indicate that they did know of the Incarnation, and what they were waiting for in Hebrews 11 was not “new” so to speak, but a fulfillment of what they knew must come to pass. Messiah had always been spoken of in human terms. In Gen. 3:15 he is the woman’s seed. In Gen. 12 he is Abram’s seed. In Gen. 49 he is a king from Judah. In 2 Sam. 7 He is the seed of David with an eternal kingdom. In Daniel 7:13-14 he is “the Son of Man.”

    Besides, in Hebrews 11, were not the people looking forward to “promises” plural? This doesn’t seem to state that they were only looking forward to the Incarnation. (Think of Adam, Moses, Abraham, Enoch, etc…did they have an “inadequate” or “unfulfilled” relationship with God? Was their experience incarnatnional?)Further, they knew God well enough that they could anticipate an incarnation and a literal ruler of a literal kingdom.

    To say that the OT is “the children’s sermon” to me is just poor and an inadequate way to describe what it contains. That’s like saying Tolkien’s “Return of the King” is the final book, so it’s the best book and the others leading up to it are trivial. Why do we need a “Return of the King”? What is the Ring of Power? Who is Isildur’s heir? What’s a nazgul? (I hope this illustration helps.) In the same way, the OT very specifically teaches about the character and nature of God and man so that when the Incarnation happens some were anticipating the event and knew why it was necessary. (Simeon, for example.)

    Finally, I could just as easily make that it is not the Incarnation only that teaches us about God, but God’s Holy Spirit. You can’t learn anything about the God-man apart from the Holy Spirit. You would probably agree with that as well. Of course, the Holy Spirit teaches me through human experience by correctly interpreting my experiences, but that is the only way that it could be. I am, after all, only human. So even without an incarnation I could only understand God on human terms.

    I have a lot of thoughts going through my head on this. So, I’ll give you a chance to let me know what you agree/disagree with. Maybe I am having trouble with this because I have not personally experienced the type of disdain for human experience that you are talking about, or I have ignored it as incosequential. I am not certain. Hopefully, you will find some of my thoughts helpful or at least easy to refute if they are in error.

  29. At this point we’ve run into a ton of presuppositions that separate our two positions substantially, so I’d counsel abandoning any efforts to agree with me.

    >I do not think that Hebrews, or any other Scripture, indicates that God spoke inadequately in the OT.

    So the OT revelation -pre-Jesus- is
    adequate to know the Gospel? Leviticus is adequate to know the Gospel? Pre-Jesus?

    You have to fit the incarnation into the picture. It’s pretty hard to read Hebrews 1:1-4 and not come away with the sense that Jesus was the “final” word that was spoken uniquely in the Incarnation.

    Joh 1:14-17 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (15) (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”) (16) And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. (17) For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

    If the plan of redemption is like a play, and the OT is the first act, it can be evaluated as a play within itself, and our Jewish friends would say it tells the whole story. Do Christians agree with that? Christians have usually said there was a second act that is all about the Incarnation. Everything in Act Two states that the Old Covenant is fulfilled, abolished and replaced by the New Covenant centered in Jesus. If you are arguing that the Old Testament revelation was true, I agree. If you are arguing that it was adequate, without the Incarnation, I disagree. The OT believer looks FORWARD in faith to what was promised, i.e. Christ, who was a hope, but not yet a reality.

    Personally, I do not believe any competent Jewish scholar can be found who would support the idea that the Hebrew Bible properly understood, teaches that the Messiah will be the incarnation of the Trinitarian God. You endorse a Christian reading of the Old Testament with full knowledge of the incarnation available to anyone in the OT alone. I don’t see that in the OT, or in the Gospels, or in the NT or in Paul. The Incarnation, and its results, were according to Paul, a mystery revealed in Christ.

    That God would send a Messiah to his people was certainly part of the OT. (Though again, I think it is a bit much to say Abraham, etc had a “Christian” reading of the text. What is Jesus explaining to the disciples in Luke 24? Something they could have known before his life/death/rez? Should they have known the Trinity in the OT?)

    I believe the sending of the Holy Spirit is part of the work of Jesus, and not separate from it. Acts 2:32-33.

  30. iMonk,

    Okay, I’ll let it go then. But I just want to say in closing that Jesus -rebuked- the disciples in Luke 24 for not believing the Scripture (Hebrew Bible) revealed him. He called them foolish and slow of heart, and he was an excellent scholar of the OT, too, I might add. And a Jewish one. But this would quickly move away, I think, from your point and turn into a nature of the OT discussion.

    And yes, I do believe that you can get the gospel from Leviticus. However, I would be quick to add that Leviticus is not a “book” per sae, but a part of a book called Torah. Read in the context of Gen, Ex, Num., and Deut, then yes, Messiah is the entire point of Torah.

    That’s it for me, I’ll just wait and see if I can better understand what you are advocating through future posts.

  31. kelty broadstone says:

    iMOnk you quoted “I am, to this extent, carrying on the noble tradition of continuing my theological education in public.” -N.T. Wright

    I would add the attending difficulties of doing this. We cannot hear your sighs, chuckles or see a raging eye, but I am well aware of my own. Blogs still lack this humanness which you are so earnestly trying to express in relation to Incarnation.

    There is a quote I have been trying to remember by Karl Barth, which expresses some of my own thoughts about myself and all of us in general, perhaps other readers can quote it more accurately but here goes,

    ” . . .as against that man wants only to judge, he thinks he sits on a high throne but in reality sits on a child’s stool cracking his whip and pointing his finger in frightful seriousness while nothing happens that really matters.”

    This, according to an old prof of mine, was taken from letters between BArh and Bultman, collected by bromiley.

    I appreciate your honesty. Your thoughts seem to be a bit muddled, and therefore probably reflect more accurately the reality of our own lives. Our syntax here is so effecient, but exegete my life and well . . .

    I do feel a concern, which some others probably feel. I fear coming off like Fred Flintstone or some other barbarian, in my criticism, but your thoughts seem to echo a certain “generous orthodoxy” which I have great difficulty.

    Nonetheless, I resonate with your concern about community. Nothing ever happens in a vaacum, we’re fooling ourselves on this otherwise. The writer of Hebrews writes at least five warnings which individual Christians take as reason to sweat, “impossible to bring again to repentance”. Yet, the writer addresses the community of faith here, the individual in relation to the community, and “they” are warned not to have evil unbelieving hearts like “them”, that is,the community/congregation of Israel.

    I mentioned to my brother recently (who is a born again-again calvinist,i.e. he finally began seeing certain things in scripture) that this “reformation movement” thing is making itself much easier to critique and criticize, nameley, because of the yahooist. Oh well, Jonathan Edwards suffered as much during his own Great Awakening.

    I am not convinced your new label helps. I think, at least for myself, I will continue with the same, yes worn-out labels, and make do. And yet, it may, if only to clarify these things.

    No, you won’t find any new truth, but i hope you will challenge us with the old things we have been too lazy to read and study and worse put into living.

    I’ve been thinking about your regret at having posted some of the perrenial issues involved in Calvinism etc. and etc. yet, this never changes. Part of being this faith community is this repetition, the saying again and again, and saying it better sometimes and saying very badly sometimes, yet always saying it again for this generation and those who follow until Jesus comes back. Then we’ll really get the Incarnation. I can’t wait!

    Grace and Peace

  32. Dinah Clarke says:

    Michael

    That was interesting, you said :

    “This isn’t an essay refuting Christian Hedonism. I do plan to take issue with the idea that being God centered is done at the exclusion of the core value of human experience, or requires us to despise human experience in lieu of being “religious.” ”

    But what has being “religious” have to do with being God centered? To me it would be directly at odds with it.

    When one is “God-centered” then being “religious” does not enter your thoughts, because you are too busy delighting in God.

    I wonder why you think Christian Hedonism works against enjoying God in all things (including economics)?

    Is it possible to know God? …. isn’t that the purpose of the Incarnation (according to Hebrews – as you yourself say in a later post)? But knowing God was always possible Â… however then as now, it depends on God making this possible.

    I have found that the more I concentrate on God Himself, the more I “see” Him in other people, and in all that He has made. Often, you “feel” God’s own joy in things ….. a good example is in the story of Eric Liddell, remember, when he says about his running that he feels God’s joy?

    So in my experience, the more God-centered I am the more capable I am of both enjoying everything else, and also of serving.

    Has this not been your experience?

    Dinah

  33. Zachary says:

    Three things to say:

    1) There is much good material and thought in this column and discussion.

    2) I find warnings about Docetism interesting in a column that contains a statement like: “As a Christian Humanist, when I look at Jesus Christ, I see two persons”. Viewing this in the context of two full sentences this still reads like two persons in one man. I’m guessing this is unintentional.

    3) In Christ dwells the fullness of the Godhead. Amen. But what you have written is that Jesus is the totality of God’s self revelation. What about “I am YHWH your God who brought you up from the land of Egypt”? First, it isn’t hair-splitting to ask what Jesus was doing ca 1450 BC; such sloppiness has lead to both ridicule and gross misunderstanding of the Trinity. Secondly, much of this article seems to be discounting a large portion of our God’s Self-revelation. The Gospels record little on idolatry, the role of priest, and other “Old Testament” concepts. We need to be taught enough to understand the message of Good News; without the fundamentals God laid down before the Incarnation, the Gospel of the Kingdom easily degenerates into the platitudes of Joel Osteen.

    I appreciate what you have been doing, but I have to raise some questions.

    Peace and Victory,
    Z

  34. iMonk,

    The concerns that Dinah and Zachary expressed are what I was attempting to point out in my discussion of the OT. They are just more articulate, I think.

  35. Califander says:

    Michael,

    What you are trying to communicate already has a word. It is “Theosis” which means, to put plainly, “Becoming the human being we were created to be.” We were created in His image to be of His likeness.

    I was going to try to explain more, but here is an explanation far better than anything I could have written. I have given the website but also copied the main points of the article.

    http://www.geocities.com/verseoftheday/theosis2.html
    By Fr. Anthony M. Coniaris

    X Theosis: Our Potential
    Orthodox theology calls the potential for which God created us: THEOSIS. Don’t be frightened by this word. It’s really a very simple concept, namely, the core of the good news of Orthodoxy is that we are called to share in the very life of God.

    Salvation in Orthodox theology is much more positive than it is negative. It means not only justification and forgiveness of sins; it means also – even more so – the renewing and restoration of God’s image in us, the lifting up of fallen humanity through Christ into the very life of God. Christ forgives us and frees us from sin and death that we may proceed to fulfill our potential, which is to become like God in Christ and to share in His life.

    Christ came to save us from sin to participate in the life of God. In other words, we are saved from sin for theosis, which is our great potential. Jesus came to earth to tell us:
    X”You give Me your time, and I will give you My eternity.
    X You give Me your weary body, and I will give you rest.
    X You give Me your sins, and I will give you forgiveness.
    X You give Me your broken heart, and Ill give you healing.
    X You give Me your emptiness, and I will give you My fullness.
    X You give Me your humanity, and I will give you My divinity.”

    X Theosis: Positive Aspect of Salvation
    Theosis is the positive aspect of salvation. To describe theosis we can us the following words:
    X transfiguration of man,
    X putting on Christ,
    X restoration of the image of God in us,
    X restoration of communion with God,
    X participation in the life of God,
    X participating in the kingdom of God,
    X incorruption,
    X receiving the Holy Spirit,
    X becoming temples of the Holy Spirit,
    X ascending to the throne of God,
    X being by grace what God is by nature.

    X Theosis is…
    To describe further what our potential – theosis – is, we can say the following:
    X Jesus came to lift the fallen all the way from the gutter of sin to the throne of God in theosis.
    X Theosis is what God wants for us who are created in His own image: to become like Him in whose image we are made.
    X Theosis is a personal sharing in the life of God through faith, prayer and the sacraments.
    X Theosis is the rich potential God has placed in each baptized person.
    X Theosis is the name for the process of salvation, initiated in baptism, by which we are Christified, i.e., united to Christ and changed into His likeness.
    X Theosis is the transfiguration of our life-style, implying concern for our neighbor, mutual sharing, love, stewardship of ourselves, our possessions and of the earth.
    X Fr. Georges Florovsky wrote, “Theosis means no more than an intimate communion of human persons with the living God. To be with God means to dwell in Him and to share His perfection.”

    XSaved For Theosis
    Christ the Savior came to redeem us from sin that we might proceed to acquire the gift of theosis which He offers us by grace. Salvation does not end with the forgiveness of sins; it begins there. It is at baptism that our journey to God, to theosis, begins. Salvation is not only a matter of “Are you saved?” It is also a matter of “Are you being deified? Are you growing in Christ?”

    We are saved from sin for theosis. “Original sin,” said Fr. Georges Florovsky, “was not just an erroneous choice… but rather a refusal to ascend toward God.” Salvation is an ongoing process that leads from initial salvation in baptism, through sanctification, and on to “deification by grace.”

    I humbly submit this for you to ponder and let us pray for one another as we each continue our “theosis.”

    In Christ.

  36. joel hunter says:

    Califander, your comment has reminded me why I love coming back to Plotinus in my studies. But even more, the Apostolic and Cappadocian fathers, who (re-)ennoble the body. We Protestants are so busy defining ourselves by what we are not, that our doctrine all too often retains the negative to the near exclusion of the positive.

  37. Tim Peplinski says:

    Michael,

    I don’t know exactly how I found your site, except by accident. I stumbled across your humorous reflections on Catholicism (A Papist’s Life for Me) and was amazed at how penetrating some of your insights were, sometimes downright unnerving. I then explored your website, and became extremely interested in your comments about “Christian Humanism”.
    I am a “hedging Catholic”, so to speak. Born into the Catholic Church, I had a strong evangelical conversion at college. I got to know many evangelical friends and experienced a sense of frustration, about the lack of this in my prior religious experience. Eventually, I took a class on Historical Theology and a history course on the Reformation. Ironically, my two most favorite periods within Christendom are the Reformers and the Medievals, particularly the Philosopher-Theologians.
    I heard about Christian Humanism of course, Erasmus, facts about Luther, Calvin. I got exposed to Thomism, and the writings of such Catholic luminaries as GK Chesterton (Everlasting Man) and Dorothy Day. I also got glimpses of it in some Evangelicals, particularly Chuck Colson and Phillip Yancey, Ravi Zacharias. Of course, don’t forget CS Lewis 🙂
    What amazed me is how similar some of the problems seem within our two different traditions. You seem to be reacting against the narrow Biblical literalism, the Biblical-Know-Nothings so to speak, within some elements of American Evangelicism. What has driven me insane is a growing Catholic Calvinism within the American Catholic Church. In large part it is a reactionary movement against Vatican II excesses, and an attempt to deal with Modernity mostly by condemning it. It also does a lot to try to draw in Evangelicals into the Catholic Church, but not for really good reasons. Scott Hahn would be the easiest example, and some “converts” I knew at Notre Dame who still scare the Hell out of me.
    What I noticed was a false “theo-centricism”, an attempt to have pure faith and Tradition, but in a sense that really would drive out the Bondmaid’s Son, a religion that would have no room for the God-Man. It seemed to me, as a Catholic, that a lot of the good coming from Vatican II they would turn away, repeal. It definitively, from my experience at Notre Dame, did nothing to draw people closer to Christ. More often than not, it pushed people away from Him, creating Screwtape’s kind of Christians.
    Next Fall I am going to do Graduate Studies at Boston College, probably in Medieval Philosophy. Your comments about Christian Humanism have given me much to think about, a way of understanding my faith that leaves open the necessity/possibility of Mere Christianity. Ironically, I think this is exactly what the Universal Church, Catholic and Evangelical, might really need the most. We have become so God Honoring that we have lost sight of Man, that the ultimate way to glorify the Father is through restoring His fallen world, restoring Man to the Garden of Eden so to speak.
    I think this might point me in the right direction on my spiritual journey. It is so nice to stumble across Christians who actually have the courage to believe in a Human God. I always wondered why certain authors, figures, whether Catholic or Protestant, seemed to be truly Christian while others were distortions, Christian but not Christlike. I never could figure out why it so transcended ecclesiastical boundaries, why Mere Christianity seemed so true, but so elusive. Maybe Christian Humanism is the reason why.
    I wish you the best of luck and will try to keep you and your website in my prayers. A lot of Evangelicals are tired of the Bible and just want Jesus, but they are not really getting Him. In some ways, I feel exactly the same, just tired and fed up with the Church. I would appreciate your comments I defintively think you are on the right track. God bless you and keep up the hard-skin, you’ll need it 🙂
    Tim

  38. The HUMAN PARADIGM

    Consider:
    The way we define ‘human’ determines our view of self,
    others, relationships, institutions, life, and future.
    Important? Only the Creator who made us in His own image
    is qualified to define us accurately. Choose wisely…
    there are results.

    Many problems in human experience are the result of false
    and inaccurate definitions of humankind premised in man-
    made religions and humanistic philosophies.

    Human knowledge is a fraction of the whole universe. The
    balance is a vast void of human ignorance. Human reason
    cannot fully function in such a void; thus, the intellect
    can rise no higher than the criteria by which it perceives
    and measures values.

    Humanism makes man his own standard of measure. However,
    as with all measuring systems, a standard must be greater
    than the value measured. Based on preponderant ignorance
    and an egocentric carnal nature, humanism demotes reason
    to the simpleton task of excuse-making in behalf of the
    rule of appetites, desires, feelings, emotions, and glands.

    Because man, hobbled in an ego-centric predicament, cannot
    invent criteria greater than himself, the humanist lacks
    a predictive capability. Without instinct or transcendent
    criteria, humanism cannot evaluate options with foresight
    and vision for progression and survival. Lacking foresight,
    man is blind to potential consequence and is unwittingly
    committed to mediocrity, averages, and regression – and
    worse. Humanism is an unworthy worship.

    The void of human ignorance can easily be filled with a
    functional faith while not-so-patiently awaiting the foot-
    dragging growth of human knowledge and behavior. Faith,
    initiated by the Creator and revealed and validated in His
    Word, the Bible, brings a transcendent standard to man the
    choice-maker. Other philosophies and religions are man-
    made, humanism, and thereby lack what only the Bible has:

    1.Transcendent Criteria and
    2.Fulfilled Prophetic Validation.

    The vision of faith in God and His Word is survival equip-
    ment for today and the future.

    Human is earth’s Choicemaker. Psalm 25:12 He is by nature
    and nature’s God a creature of Choice – and of Criteria.
    Psalm 119:30,173 His unique and definitive characteristic
    is, and of Right ought to be, the natural foundation of his
    environments, institutions, and respectful relations to his
    fellow-man. Thus, he is oriented to a Freedom whose roots
    are in the Order of the universe.

    Complete message at Homesite. jfb

    Christian humanism is an oxymoron because no man can serve two masters. selah

  39. Bob Thune says:

    Michael, just wanted you to know that your insightful posts on Christian Humanism led me into researching and writing a graduate paper on the subject for my RTS degree program. I was fascinated with the depth of this idea throughout church history. I am convinced that the concerns of Christian humanism are exactly what the church needs to recover in order to thoughtfully engage the culture of the 21st century. Thanks for pointing the way.

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