Saturday, July 19, 2008

Confidence

In the two centuries between 1600 and 1800, the Church across Europe, America and indeed across the Western world suffered two direct and brutal blows, which shattered its confidence and left it in a crisis of irrelevance. The movement known as ‘The Enlightenment’ (also known as ‘The Age of Reason’) decimated the rational foundation of Christian faith and set forward an alternative vision of God, of the universe and of human existence and life within it. This new vision captured the imagination of the masses and led them as a pied piper into a brave new world that did not need the Christian gospel and certainly not the Church. The Church has yet to recover.

Such a secular movement did not develop in a vacuum; it was over one thousand years in the making, and as strange as it might sound has part of its root system in the Church itself and particularly in the great St. Augustine (354-430). The secular Enlightenment is, in my view, Augustine's stepchild, born of his unholy marriage between Greek philosophy and the definitive revelation of God in Jesus Christ..

In their combination of a sophisticated philosophy with religious aspiration, the pagan Neoplatonists had only one serious rival—Christianity, and, anti-Christian though they were, it was the incorporation of their ideas into Christian theology that ensured their permanent influence on European culture (John Gregory, The Neoplatonists, preface, viii).

The principal figure in the transmission of Neoplatonist thought into Christian theology is St. Augustine (John Gregory, The Neoplatonists, p.177)


It was a long time in coming, but the unconverted reasoning that Augustine allowed into the holy of holies of Christian thought finally came of age in the Enlightenment and broke free from the shackles of Christian authority altogether. Like a child who grew up to abuse his parents, pagan reasoning rose with such considerable force that the Christian vision of God and the cosmos was overthrown and a pagan vision of God and a radically secular world-view took its place.

There and then, the Western Church lost is position, its standing and prestige in the culture around it. We have yet to recover. Since that moment in history, the Western Church has been in survival mode, fighting tooth and nail to get back on its feet and find a place, a legitimate hearing in the larger secular culture. The last 200 years of Western Church history represents a long and frantic attempt to find an acceptable basis for Christian faith, and to establish the relevance of Christianity for human life, in a society that believes it is of little value. At the same time, the Church retreated into itself and its private Sunday spirituality, in a desperate attempt to protect its own turf, hoping that the storm would blow over and go away.

Today as the unwitting heirs of the Enlightenment's revolution, and as the sons and daughters of a saddened and beleaguered Christianity we are spiritually depressed, and light years away from the New Testament's vision of Jesus Christ as the true light of the entire cosmos and of the early Church’s magnificent vision of the Triune God. And we are a long way from the sheer passion and the unbridled confidence and the dreams that such vision stirs within the human soul. And we are a long way from moving out in that passion and confidence to explore the universe, to rethink human existence and relationships, to develop political, economic and scientific, medical, psychological and legal theories in the light of the fact that Jesus Christ, the Father’s eternal Son is the One in and through and by and for whom all things were created and are constantly sustained.

We have lost the fearless, confident boldness, the parrhesia, of the apostolic mind. We have lost, what my friend David Upshaw calls, “the apostolic swagger.” The apostles believed that they had seen the mystery behind all things—past, present and future. They believed that they had come to the heart of the universe itself, to the very secret of creation and of human history. In such knowledge, they set out to inform the whole world, and indeed the principalities and powers throughout the cosmos. They gave their lives in the service of the revelation of Jesus Christ because they knew that the cosmos was bound up in Him, and thus that coming to believe in Him inevitably meant the release of the kingdom of the Triune God throughout the earth and the cosmos.

Jesus performed miracles not merely to prove that he was God, but as the expression of the fact that as the Father’s Son, in and through and by whom all things were created and are sustained, the cosmos was already wired for him, already set up to respond to his every thought and bidding. What would happen, then, if the human race came to know Jesus, and believed in him, and brought its fallen and confused mind to his feet for conversion? What would happen if people threw their hearts and souls and minds into participating in Jesus’ world, and in His life with his Father, and in His anointing with the Spirit? Would it mean disaster for the creation? Would it mean great darkness and chaos? Would it mean evil? It would mean the personal, the corporate, the global, the cosmological manifestation of the kingdom of the Triune God. It would mean that the fullness of the Trinitarian life of God would flower in our humanity and express its goodness across the earth, releasing the great dance of life shared by the Father, Son and Spirit throughout the cosmos. For it is our darkness and terrible confusion that stifles the emergence of the present kingdom.

This is what the apostles knew intuitively in their encounter with Christ. This was the Jesus they encountered and worshipped and served with their lives. This was the Jesus Christ who blew their minds, thrilled their hearts and filled them with hope—and stunning confidence. But compared to the great apostles, compared to the martyrs and the fathers such as St. Irenaeus and St. Athanasius, the modern Western Church has retreated to playing shuffle board in a nursing home—when we have been given the secret of the universe, and the keys of the kingdom of the Triune God. It is time for us see again what the apostles saw, to encounter the real Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, the anointed One, the Lord and light of the cosmos.

Come, Holy Spirit.

4 comments:

AmyC. said...

Baxter,
Hello! I found your Blog page off of a comment Kent Burgess posted on "The God Journey" Forum (www.thegodjourney.com).

Wow! I appreciate giving the history of the Christian Church. I believe Church is all believers around the world, not a building, a program, etc. As well, Darin Hufford, has a lot of similar background of how the church developed into the religious/legalistic/institutional-minded system it, unfortunately, has become today. You can check out his Articles at www.darinhufford.com.

I look forward to reading more of your posts here on your page. Feel free to drop me an email anytime, too.

~Amy :)
www.myspace.com/amyinsurprise
www.freebelieversnecklaces.com

John Geerlings said...

For years, well for most of my life I have been sincere in what I believed, yet have come to discover to my horror that sincerity may be a false reality that has me living out of performance and the things that are seen. "Sincere" has two meanings. One is to believe that what one is doing is right. (Doing what is right in ones' own eyes. This could also be expressed as good intentions instead of being in harmony with God.) The other meaning is to be genuine, real and deep as opposed to counterfeit, phony and caring more about making a good impression than real quality (shallow). It seems we get into trouble with the "doing" or "feeling" aspects of sincerity, but would do well with the "being" aspect.

God is the truth, the way and life and communes in His “being” in His kingdom as one Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The efficiency of this is that this truth has overcome the world and has given a way into the sincere family birthright for all humanity. We are all included, not in a sincere relationship that can change with our own whimsical judgment of right or wrong, but in an eternal “being” reality, who is Jesus, that has come alive in all of us. It is Christ in us the hope of glory, the author and finisher of our faith. Without Him we cannot even believe!

If this is not enough the most phenomenal work in the here and now is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is He who will convict or convince all humanity of this completed reconciling work; of forgiveness to all, right standing to all and how He has judged our insatiable appetite for judging each other.

I believe that God is exactly where He desires to be as He weaves the intricate design of His tapestry in the 21st Century. He is the God of “I am”. The head is not disconnected from the body even though the body may be battered and bruised by its accepted illusion of Greek and Enlightenment Bios thinking, a self induced sincerity. Before the dawning of a new day, the darkness is always the greatest.

Zoƫ thought, purpose and action will bring all humanity to its knees in the dispensation of the times. We have not thrown Him a modern or post-modern curve ball that has made Him strike out. He has eternally embraced the creation, humanity and the cosmos and He has completed the work of adopting a family, it is done. Space-time allows the Holy Spirit to bring us all into brokenness so that the wrath of God, our own darkness, meets His love in the person of Jesus. All of humanity has been gripped by the Father in Jesus by the Spirit.

Being in His grip is not something that I generate, it is Him in me that shakes and rattles me in His timing so that I may progressively become more acquainted with Him, knowing that He knows all of me. This freedom is incremental. If this holds true for me it is also truth for all whether they believe or not. I do know that as, the reality, renovates my mind I find that my own walk is lagging behind my own talk.
I thank God in reforming all of us in His timing! It seems that now is a new time of reformation and it is better to give a word of love than a word of our own sincere correction!

Anonymous said...

Your excellant comment was a good finish to a recent course I had on The Consequences of Ideas. Especially how, after, the Reformation when people like Hume, Locke, Descartes, and others who were in one way brought up in a church, began to move away from the church and G-D. davidp

Paul said...

Thanks for your careful thoughts...I love this topic!! I appreciate John_Greerlings comments and would like to extend them a bit. I agree with John, of course, in that God is not surprised by our modern world. In fact, I can see God's finger prints in us as we as a society explore post-modern thinking. I wonder if the rebelliousness of PoMo against the premise of 'objective truth' (an outcome of Enlightenment) reveals our God given desire for Him (who is spirit...really a mystery). Relative truth is one potential hypothesis as outcome to the PoMo rebellion, but I wonder if 'final participation' posited by Owen Barfield (lawyer, philosopher and friend of CS Lewis), isn't another.

Barfield proposed a progression for all of human history. Humans began with what he called “original participation.” In this first phase, we saw the entire world as being connected to us, with gods in the sky and in the bushes. This is the enchanted world that Shakespeare commented upon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
In the second phase, we pulled ourselves outside of the rest of the world and became dispassionate observers of it. You might call this “non-participation.” The planets weren’t gods; they were rocks orbiting the sun! Plants weren’t green because of their own whim—we wouldn’t wake up and find that they’d decided on blue. This was the post-Enlightenment world that Barfield lived in, and that those of us in the West lived in until only a few decades ago.
But, Barfield said, human history is heading for a third and ultimate phase, which he called “final participation.” Here the two worlds come together and hardheaded rationalists will reconnect with a universe that’s alive and personal.
I'm sensing here in Boston that we may be entering this final phase as I see more awareness of spirituality and openness to a living God!

Found your site, by a web search on perichoresis... a fun new word describing the Trinity I've recently heard.