Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Monday, June 09, 2008

Danger: Dualism Doubly Destructive

In preparation for the James series I'm teaching this summer here at Bethany, I've been reminded of the powerful distinctions between dualistic and monistic world views. I outlined these distinctions in the introductory section of yesterday's sermon, which you can download here. You can also learn a bit about dualism here.

It's interesting to note that if dualism is a sword, the dangers can be found on either edge of the blade. To the extent that the church has adopted dualistic thinking it has tended to emphasize the spiritual realm at the expense of the physical and natural world. When this kind of dualism saturated cultures, there was no need for exploration of the natural world, and so the sciences fell on hard times, as did art and architecture, as did sexuality and food, and drink. The censure of these revelations and gifts impoverished the church for centuries during the period called the dark ages.

But if one's dualism becomes anti-spiritual, emphasizing the natural realm as supreme over the spirit, a different set of maladies occur; our obsession with the physical reduces people to objects, sex to recreation, beauty to youth, and all men and women to units of production and consumption. This can be seen in various forms throughout the world, and wherever it is in play, the results are ugly. The deformities vary though, depending on the culture - pure atheism becomes so utilitarian as to abolish any notions of personal freedom, while the secular materialism of the west, enjoying the vestiges of a theistic world-view, expresses itself in wanton indulgence. But in both cases, the results are the same, as the soul is stripped bare, beaten down, and eventually silenced, all in the name of freedom.

The middle path; both/and; call it what you want - but whatever you call it, be certain that you are cultivating the importance and reality of both realms, so that you become a person who is able to both taste, and express the life God through physical and spiritual senses. Such a saint is hard to find, but it is through precisely such a life that the reality of Christ will be seen most clearly.


At 10/6/08 08:15, Blogger bunabear said...

My husband and I are visiting an Anglican church fairly regularly. They practice the via media, the middle way. I heard this in a sermon three weeks ago. Their tradition is “an open and inclusive community to root us in the present, in the context of a formal liturgy to root us in the sacred”. Referencing the Welsh poet George Herbert 1593-1633 the sermon continues…. “a balanced, tolerant, measured, honest account of what it feels like to be caught up in the eternal paradox of doubt and faith, of sin and grace.”

Richard, your post reminded me of this and I wanted to share it.

At 11/6/08 10:52, Blogger Nicole N said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11/6/08 11:10, Blogger Nicole N Rienstra said...

I just finished attending a conference called "Envision 08: The Gospel, Politics, and the Future" at Princeton University's Campus. It was basically a group of theologians, activists, and church leaders that identified themselves as "Evangelicals" but rejected the "Religious Right" social and political identity. The dualist dilemma that you just espoused, Richard, seemed to have a key role in the discussions, lectures, and experiences of people at this conference. It was a group of people that wanted to maintain the integrity and role of Jesus Christ in the Christian faith, but wanted to see God’s kingdom furthered here on earth. Of course that is a gross oversimplification of the way these two elements overlap, interplay, and build upon each other, but recent church history paints a general picture of an over-emphasis on the spiritual or an over-emphasis on the material/physical.

The general sentiment of the EV08 conference was to bridge this gap, and there were certainly many excellent and important points raised at this conference. But there were also many points that raised red flags for me. I suspect many of these people were frustrated with the “brand” of Christianity that I often witnessed growing up – a Christianity that had as its main focus personal salvation, personal piety (often a collapse into unhealthy legalism), and a rather narrow political emphasis on gay marriage and abortion at the cost of little dialogue about poverty, AIDS, homelessness, racial reconciliation, etc. And I certainly understand the problems here – Christianity certainly deals with salvation, but it also deals with justice and poverty and service to others.

I suppose the big worry I had at this conference is the fact that “Love” is supposed to solve everything. Over and over again I heard about Christ’s love, and the way he served others, and how the solution to all our racial, ethnic, socio-economic problems, etc. is to just love each other like Christ loved others. But this mentality seems to broach upon an over-emphasis on the material world – yes, Christ loved others and served others. But he also called people into a new and costly way of life. His costly way of life was not the “I’m okay, you’re okay, we’re all okay whatever it is that we’re doing as long as we love one another” attitude. Christ’s love wasn’t always warm and fuzzy; often it was demanding and difficult and required drastic lifestyle changes. So loving others with the end goal of material comfort for all is not the be-all-end-all of Christianity – lots of secular organizations have that goal. Christianity is also concerned with “the cost of discipleship” and the way that we are to encourage and prod and grow one another through authentic discipleship that sharpens our spiritual lives in tandem with our material lives. Shane Claiborne made a very important and much needed statement at this conference: “It’s easy to fall in love with love, but Shalom always had some sense of order.” He said you cannot think people can just get together and love one another and magically fix the world – there has to be some sense of order and structure. And let’s face it: Christ had very distinct things to say about helping the poor and about lifestyle expectations regarding sexuality, the value of life, and our salvation. So yes, Christianity is a “BOTH/AND” situation…and I think that Evangelicals are still struggling to carve that middle road from both the left and the right.

Uh, I apologize for the length of this response…your entry just really got me thinking!

At 13/6/08 14:25, Anonymous kylesale said...


I think you've highlighted a very important issue. It seems that Christian's have fallen prey to letting the left/right divide how we approach the gospel. It seems we've made it an either/or question.

According to the Gospel of John, the Pharisees, in an attempt to discredit Jesus, brought a woman charged with adultery before him. Then they reminded Jesus that adultery was punishable by stoning under Mosaic law and challenged him to judge the woman so that they might then accuse him of disobeying the law. Jesus thought for a moment and then replied, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.” The people crowded around him were so touched by their own consciences that they departed. When Jesus found himself alone with the woman, he asked her who were her accusers. She replied, “No man, lord.” Jesus then said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more.”

I love that Jesus stands up for the woman who is being oppressed by the religious establishment, demonstrating his committment to justice and mercy. But what is often overlooked is his parting statement: "go and sin no more".

Forgive my potential blasphemous paraphrase here but I think He's saying "look, I'll stick up for you against these crazies, but you know that you need to turn away from your adultry".

I think Christ's willingness to intercede on anothers behalf gives him the opportunity to speak truth into their lives. We see in Christ a consistent balance of love and truth.


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