Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Two Perspectives on Truth

In my last post, I stated Christianity may be divided into to two differing perspectives. For the three or four of you who read here most often and have followed this blog since '07, I don't think what I am about to say will come as surprise to you.

I am thinking about Christianity in its earliest form through the sweep of the past 2000 years into its many varied expressions today. Attempting to reduce that broad topic into two categories may be a ridiculous exercise in over-simplification. Nonetheless, I do.

Perspective number one is the current dominant perspective and is the root of the mainline denominations, as well as the multitude of splintering into a proliferation of sects evident today. Greg, commenter on the last post, divided Christianity into Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant. These primary branches are really a function of one perspective: I'll give it a label--hmmm......well......uh........hour glass icon on forehead......

How about the "Follow God by the Book" perspective. Under such a heading one can trace the development of western Christian thought in which rationales and exegeses are anchored in a temporal view of the scriptures addressing the natural existence within time and space. (Thanks Carey for helping me articulate my thoughts.) Natural here referring to both our fallen natures and our physical bodies. The human experience is described as a living mortal within the confines of a physical realm defined by the five senses of the body and the inexorable passage of yet another day with the rising sun.

This view does not exclude the reality of the spiritual realm nor shrink back from teaching about such topics. Not at all, in fact, the various divisions within Christianity are a function of individuals and groups attempting to find the correct and ultimate understanding of things spiritual as revealed in scripture. Divisions come as disagreements about the spiritual realm surface. Follow-God-by-the-Book folks are continually shaping discussions and deriving doctrines based on scriptural interpretations of God's intended spiritual meanings. Usually followed by a strong expectation that "true" believers will hold to these doctrines. This is done fairly often as an apologetic of thought not intended to undo pagan falsehoods of the Most High God, but against other Christian belief systems deemed as inaccurate on spiritual interpretation or resulting consequences of behavior. In either case, from my observation I assert the critique of another view or of a particular behavior is usually based on assumptions that are created by forming the parameters of thought strictly within the time/space box.

The second perspective has a smaller following, but I think the current exodus from mainline and institutional expressions of Christianity is rooted in either the understanding of the contrasting perspective or the search for its meaning. This perspective might be labeled "Follow God from Within."

The emphasis from this perspective is on having a knowing of the the direction of God's leading from within one's heart. The written word is not ignored, but the primary inspiration for decision-making is from within. This perspective attempts not only to understand God as existent beyond time and space on the earth but to know the human experience within the earth's boundary as an existence joined to limitless God and participating in His eternity even as the body breathes temporarily. Consider Colossians 3: 1-3.

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

There is violence done to meaning sometimes by analysis which pulls parts of the whole open for examination. This delineation of thought here for the purpose of discussion is in some ways artificial. Clearly we Christians live life as some composite of both views. Hence my assertion in the last post that I am not calling one side wrong over the other. Based on Romans 10: 9-10

that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses resulting in salvation.


God knows above and beyond us whose confession is from a true heart and produces righteousness unto salvation. However, this does not alter the idea that there exists two different ways to approach understanding God and walking with Him. The letter kills but the spirit gives life, taken from 2 Corinthians 3:6 is a mainstay of Christian thought and living. Though God is not blocked from reaching the true heart who is within a construct that is based on living to the letter of the written word, I believe an ever deepening relationship with God will develop further and further along the path of living in the moment in union with an eternal God who is not bound by time and space.

9 comments:

craig v. said...

I'm not sure the Follow God by the Book can be blamed for all the divisions (though it certainly has its share). The history of the church is filled with examples of divisions caused by those following an inner voice. Of course, we could say that many of those inner voices were not the result of a true connection with God, but we could also say that many by the book divisions are the result of a failure to correctly understand the written word.

My own (also overly simplistic) division would be between those who can and those who can't live with uncertainty. I suspect many (but not all) divisions are the result of thinking we know what we really don't know (whether by exegesis or direct experience).

ded said...

I would have to agree with your thought that someone from either perspective may be the cause of a division. I like very much your renaming of the two perspectives based on certainty. The whole idea gets muddied by the fact that someone may proclaim anything and not be what they claim. For example, "I listen to an inner-voice," suggesting reliance upon the Lord, but in fact, emotionally only trust myself.

I want to push thinking for us all to recognize that something about God demands that we suspend, to a degree at least, what we think we know and allow ourselves to trust in what He does know that is not fully available to us. This level of Him which is not ours is a function of the fact that our cognitive understanding is tied to the time/space box.

This is all part of His design, I think. It creates a paradigm where to truly "know" Him within the confines of our limits, requires that we suspend judgments built on intellect and rest alone in His goodness, His sufficiency, His control. To do so affects decision-making, causing a shift from intellect to the heart as the inspiration for thinking and choices.

When humans attempt to reduce God to rational understandings that are "proven" by scripture, we enter a level of self-righteousness that is completely outside the spirit the Father establishes for us to know.

This self-righteousness creates a culture among us of religion that shapes decision-making according to the constraints of the religious culture as opposed to the reality of a living Spirit of Love with whom we are first and foremost in relationship. This shift may be subtle but over time ti brings death to the "spirit" of all involved.

It is easy to identify institutions as the culprit. However, the dynamic involved easily affects any group, even those committed to being different from institutions. Though institutional dynamics are strong, this is really just a large symptom of the problem. The real problem is we want to be able to rely upon ourselves.

The solution is to honestly rely upon our God. However, as Carey pointed out our God is outside time as Creator, inside time as Savior. There's the rub; can't get my mind around it. Everyday we are challenged to suspend what our mind tells us even as we understand using our mind as a tool inside this time and space condition.

My goal is to see my heart free to love a kingdom love, because it trusts only in His thrust and initiative for my human moment of time.

I cannot do it alone, as you have so often pointed out. I may only come into this fullness through the workings of a community of believers. And if that be true, then the factions of "Christianity" become all the more clearly an affront to the Father and His Son, whose great plan of redemption established something that requires unity.

craig v. said...

Great response ded, you've written some beautiful thoughts and written them well. It's a good reminder (not that I need one) of why I keep reading your blog.

I agree that our lack of unity is an affront to God. It's also an embarrassment before the world. How can we claim to know the God who is love when we fail at and even accept as normal our lack of love for one another. What's the best course for us? I haven't learned very much in my 54 years of life on this earth, but one thing I have learned is that I have to start with my own part in the problem. I have to remove the log in my own eye before I can see clearly enough to do anything really productive. This doesn't mean the problem is only me. There's much that needs to be changed and far too much that is wrong in the church. It means that self criticism is the way forward.

What's my part? I'm not listening.

postmodern redneck said...

Until the Pentecostal and charismatic movements of the last century, the nearly universal view was that the Holy Spirit speaks ONLY through the written Word. I have some problems with that view--when you stop and think about it, it puts human beings in the position of telling God how He is or isn't going to work (and one thing I've learned about God over the years is that He is not real cooperative about staying in people's boxes).

Yet even though that view of Scripture was nearly universal, the divisions went on and on, because all too often Christians failed to distinguish the written Word (the actual words of the Bible) from their interpretations of those words. Our interpretations are not divinely inspired, but most of us too often act as if we assumed they were. I'm afraid too many of us are so fond of certainty that we manufacture our own certainty at times. We need to keep a little humility and let God be the final authority on what the Bible means, and thereby accept a level of uncertainty. Yes, I may have some views about End Times or Creation/Evolution or something else, but if after death or Christ's return (whichever comes first) if I find out God didn't do something the way I thought He did, I am not going to blow my top and stomp out of Heaven over the issue.

I do think that Word and the inner voice of the Spirit may be likened to the two front wheels of a car: if it really is the Spirit, both wheels will be going the same way, because God does not contradict Himself. However, John wasn't kidding when he said, "Believe not every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are from God." And I think we are at some risk of listening to the wrong spirit both in regard to both the inner voices and the interpretation of the written Word.

The written Word has the advantage of being an objective thing you can compare to; both an "inner voice" that contradicts Scripture and an interpretation of one Scripture passage that doesn't fit the rest of the Bible must be be taken with a grain of salt, or maybe a couple of pounds of salt.

But I do believe it is possible to learn to hear God better over time, from both sources. We have to seriously try to learn this, and do it consistently over time, not just assume it is a once-for-all thing. As one of my theology profs taught, Justification is an event, Sanctification is a lifelong process.

ded said...

craig v., I am with you 100%. When all is lived out inside the box, I can only effect holiness on earth by submitting myself more fully to God.

postmodern redneck, ...which makes your practical advice so right on: But I do believe it is possible to learn to hear God better over time, from both sources. We have to seriously try to learn this, and do it consistently over time, not just assume it is a once-for-all thing.
All I can say is "Amen!"

Carey said...

1.) to ded, you're a reformer in the tradition of Martin Luther. Good luck! Don't think yourself into a corner.
2.) to craig, I like your point about uncertainty. In my book, Uncertainty=humility. And also, self-criticism=uncertainty. The world calls it being open-minded. We Christians tend to dismiss that because we associate it with liberalism. I don't. For me, the only liberal, or infidel, is a person who does not acknowledge Jesus' resurrection.
3.) to postmodern redneck, thank you for writing this: "Yes, I may have some views about End Times or Creation/Evolution or something else, but if after death or Christ's return (whichever comes first) if I find out God didn't do something the way I thought He did, I am not going to blow my top and stomp out of Heaven over the issue." (lol)
4.) Since postmodern redneck mentioned "death or Christ's return," it reminds me...those two scenarios could quite possibly be the same event. What difference does it make. The effect is the same either way: I leave this world and go to join him in heaven. This ambiguity is something he consciously used to get our attention. In fact, there may be more ambiguity in all of his teachings than we are willing to admit, and that's why his followers have been disagreeing about so much for these many centuries.
5.) If disagreement arises in you now, refer to the uncertainty principle in point #2...

ded said...

Carey,

I am not too worried about thinking myself into a corner. Done that several times, and the Father is very faithful to reveal what I have done. ;^) Usually with the help of the likes of you, Steve and craig v.!

I want to worship in spirit and truth. I want to think consistent with Truth. I think I will end up living out of the box and all other cornered theologies. From such a place a freedom, may we all be more useful to meet His ends in these End Times.

If we learn anything together, may it always be what is useful to others, and may what others need from God to find their way free from all corners and boxes of this human experience be articulated about God faithfully and clearly by us who know Him!

Carey said...

Hey, ded, thanks for not taking my little corner joke too seriously. You know me well enough.
Thanks for leading us in our quest to "learn anything together..."
Food for thought: Some people like boxes. Not me, of course, or you, obviously. But those saints who appreciate the comfort of boxes, corners, rituals, predictable routines, etc--those dear saints populate what we refer to as the "mainstream." And guess what, they outnumber us. It's always been that way. Rejoice! He loves us all.

Anonymous said...

To me, this brings back the example of our father Abraham who had no written text to go by. As we all know, he is named in Hebrews as our supreme example of faith (his faith being credited as righteousness). But it's interesting to think that all he had to go by was the voice of God within. Abraham's only exterior prompting by God (IIRC) was one, single angelic visitation when he went to sacrifice Isaac - and the 3 mysterious visitors of Gen. 18 if you believe them to have been angels. That's pretty scant for a lifetime of 175 years! So, in other words, most of Abraham's leading by God was internal rather than external.

Fast forward to the 19th Century and you have a certain Danish Christian philosopher deeply troubled by Abraham's "inner voices" and by the whole idea that God would call a man to sacrifice his own son - seeing as in the religion that grew from his obedience human sacrifice was so strictly prohibited (so why would their founder have tried to perform it?). This Dane, Soren Kierkegaard, explored (wrestled, more like it) with this in his famous work "Fear and Trembling." His conclusion, summed up, is that Jehovah God reserves the right to "telelogically suspend the ethical," but that's another topic of discussion!

But we have God's Word to guide us and the inner witness of His Holy Spirit to lead us (Christ in us - the hope of glory). I think everyone here would agree that when we receive something "within" which contradicts the Word "without" we vehemently reject it. Scripture must trump inner voices, otherwise we'll end up with more Jim Jones' and David Koresh's.

Greg in Mexico
http://suppliants.blogs.com