Eschatology

Plato, Epicurus, and the New Testament

What is the importance of Philosophy for the Average Bible Student?

Ancient Greek Philosophy of Plato, Epicurus, the Stoics and rhetoric of Cicero have massive implications for the world of the first century church, the writings of Paul and the rest of the apostles and in particular the Gospel of John.

Greek Philosophy that started maybe even before Judah went into exile to Babylon had been developing and built upon until the time of Christ and his disciples.
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We know well that today the western world has been massively influenced by greek philosophy. Early church leaders such as Philo and Origen were massively influenced by Plato. Some with later Bishop of Hippo Augustine and the 6th century philosopher Boethius who’s work along with Augustus and early church leaders was influential throughout the Middle Ages in Europe until further greek learning continued with the enlightenment and renaissance period.
The explosion of philosophy that was built most heavily upon Greek and Roman learning. Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus among the many to be rediscovered by so many. It was in the 15-16th centuries that western history turned back to the ‘wisdom’ of the Greeks. Perhaps the reason it was so popular was that very nature of Plato and Epicurus’ dualism. Under Platonism the soul or spirit world was always superior. Epicurus set out to disprove the stoics on their eschatology. He foresaw nothing after death as opposed to world destroyed by fire and born anew like the phoenix. Death was nothing to him as expressed in his famous line, Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo (I was not; I was; I am not; I do not care).

His view of anthropological dualism was to exalt the physical over the human soul. Giving credence to philosophy and ethics of characterized by an absence of divine principle. The Epicureans believed in the existence of the gods, but believed that the gods were made of atoms just like everything else. It was thought that the gods were too far away from the earth to have any interest in what man was doing; so it did not do any good to pray or to sacrifice to them. The gods, they believed, did not create the universe, nor did they inflict punishment or bestow blessings on anyone, but they were supremely happy; this was the goal to strive for during one’s own human life.
Epicurus
Epicurean belief is now characterized in the “enlightened” philosophies of modern deism/atheism or humanism. The Platonic belief are now characterized in a large portion of evangelical christianity. The answer is not a stoic attitude of balance. Nor do either of these positions get it right then or now. It is important to realize the nature of these dualisms of man, dualisms or cosmology in order to rightly grasp the NT’s gospel. It is the philosophy of modern evangelicalism and modern humanism that our western students are likely most influenced by in their thinking.

Essentially the essence of Plato and Epicurus lingers on heavily in Christian thinking and throughout any culture that might call itself modern. It has crept along not only through the western world by through the principles of materialism. It has crept up from its Platonic origins into full fledged gnosticism that threatened to permanently distort Christian orthodoxy. Gnosticism was snuffed out and rears its head but Platonic dualism of man and cosmology subtly continues on in christian theology. It was Plato who taught us that the soul or spirit is superior to the body or mind. It was Plato who taught us that the physical world is only a dismal shadow the bright heavenly afterlife. And we believed Epicurus’ eschatology about the destruction of the world by fire. It helps to be able to distinguish Plato and Epicurus from Paul and John. To accept the hebrew view of cosmology, anthropology, and eschatology as something touched, breathed, and created by a personal infinite God who redeemed and recreates things visible and invisible.

At risk of over simplification Plato and Epicurus and their philosophies were prevalent in the time of the original audiences of the books of the New Testament. Their dichotomy of man and cosmos and elevation of either spiritual or material realities does damage to the way we live out our lives in this world. The teachings of Epicurus are prevalent in modern philosophy of materialism and humanism. Plato’s influence is equally prevalent in and around the world of Christian worldview, particular areas of eschatology, anthropology, and cosmology.

If we are aware of these things the gospel would seek to break down then we can find a way to live today without these dualistic views of ourself, of all of reality, and of the future.

Christian Philosophy begins with a good God creating a good world. The good dichotomy is that God is God and creation is creation. But both are good and one is not merely spiritual and the other material. The material is good, it is touched, breathed, or spoken into existence by a good God. Christian philosophy ends with recreation. After man has fallen, though he to was made good, in Gods image, his sin has effected all of nature. The incarnation, inauguration, resurrection, and ascension of Christ reflects his ongoing work of recreation. His new covenant is a new creation the mirrors the first one. Its important then to see that the bible gives answers for the most profound philosophical questions of origin, ultimate meaning, reality, morality, and destiny. Things started somewhere and are going somewhere. And in between we are somewhere and not nowhere. Man made in Gods image has a job. He gets to make, and nurture life. This meaning or purpose given in the beginning is again picked up on in the new covenant. Go and make disciples of all nations. Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all of creation.

 

 

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Categories: Anthropology, Bible, Context, Cosmology, Culture, Enlightenment, Eschatology, Ethics, Genesis, History, Modern, Modernism, New Testament, Old Testament, Origins, Philosophy, Post-Modern, Renaissance, Society/Culture, sociology, Spiritual, Supernatural, Theology, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Gospel is also a Comprehensive Worldview

Gospel means good new. The good news of Jesus was that he had come to save humankind from their own destruction. Sin is powerful and it was destroying humanity. Not only humanity but the environment. We are now well aware that humanity is not the only casualty of mans depravity. But the whole environment has suffered deeply and waits for restoration, just as man is looking for a time when he will be put right. The good news of Jesus is salvation has arrived.

One of the major problems with mans theology regarding salvation is that it is influenced by Greek or Platonic thinking. Salvation is nearly synonymous with escape. Salvation has become a way of escaping the destruction of the flesh as all flesh seems to be crumbling with all of nature, all or mans environment. Mans theology regarding God and his environment has been fatalistic. This too has its root in Platonic Greek Dualism.  That God will allow the destruction of the earth until all is completely ravaged.  But the good news of Jesus is that he was the ‘snake crusher’ that was spoken of in the garden before all of this crumbling began. He is here to put right what was put wrong beginning in Genesis chapter three. earth-full-view_6125_990x742

The lens by which the Christian views his world is Platonic, or dualistic, or gnostic Christian. We need to remember that the good news is that Jesus coming was in part the commencing of his kingdom. Perhaps not in fullness but in part. That means that not everything had to do with souls being saved for heaven in the sky. But whole people being saved, whole nations being discipled, and the whole earth taking a big sigh of relief. All of creation is one step closer to redemption. Salvation is near not just for the human soul.

Finally, the gospel is not simply a message of salvation; it is a comprehensive worldview. It must not only move around the world, but it must penetrate and transform it.

Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, James and the other apostles did not simply give us a way to do what is narrowly seen today as “theology or doctrine” but they worked in communities to examine the cultural lenses of real people and help them live their lives based on truth that would transform individuals and communities. That is, they did not do “Modern evangelical theology” as we know it but they examined and challenged worldviews. They did this because God’s master plan was being unfolded from Christ, the plan was to redeem ‘whole communities’ starting with ‘whole people’.

The Great commission was to do all of this in the nations. They brought salvation, bot not the Platonic escapism. They brought salvation built on the idea that God had come to earth to transform it and that he came back from the grave to resurrect it. The disciples preached the good news of the resurrection which defied the dualism of the Greek worldview.

Discipling, transforming, and saving humanity begins with a biblical worldview.

Discipling, transforming, and creating communities begins with a biblical worldview.

Stewarding and nurturing nature begins with a biblical worldview.

Jesus’ kingdom coming to earth as laid out in the gospels is only the beginning. But it is the beginning of discipleship, transformation, salvation, of man, his community, and his environment.

What we do now to seek his kingdom will be part of the fullness of the kingdom of God when Jesus completes what he started.

That is part of the idea of the comprehensive nature of the biblical worldview. It has been Gods desire from the beginning to restore humanity, to restore creation, and restore family to its original place. This begins with the first sin, and continues with the coming of Jesus the Messiah, Gods son, initiating the kingdom of God on earth bringing salvation for mankind, for nations, and for all the earth. This will be completed later not with the destruction of the earth and the creation of heaven but with the recreation of heaven and earth.

Thus we begin to think like God about other people, about self, about nature. All of it is valuable and wonderful to God. All of it is in the grand scheme of Gods redemption. So we should treat nature, self, and communities with love and respect because God does.

My examination of western evangelicalism is that we have been very good at spreading the Platonic dualist gospel of Jesus around the world but we have not as often spread the holistic gospel of Jesus’ kingdom on earth as in heaven.

The good news for earth and everyone living on it is that God cares about its groans and pains and will one day restore it.

 

 

 

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, Doctrine, Eschatology, Genesis, New Testament, Old Testament, Salvation, Theology, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Incarnation, Death, Resurrection and the End of Christian Gnosticism

mountainflowersI want to begin this blog with a reminder that the bible affirms environmental stewardship and the sanctity of human life. Gods created order in Genesis one and two reveal a God who created man to partner with God in the good care of all forms of life.

The rest of the bible makes a strong case that man not God brings harm to the many forms of life. The fate of man us intertwined with the treatment of all other life forms.  So man not God hurts God created order.

The other biblical reminder is of Gods Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection. His incarnation initiates the redemptive work in nature and humankind. The idea that the all mighty, powerful, creator putting on human flesh transforms our idea of a distorted humanity. He continues this redemptive work when he is killed, buried and then resurrected. He is reversing what Adam had broken in humanity by taking on death, and overcoming it for all mankind. That he would take on the flesh of a sinful race, die, and be resurrected confirms that Gods creation is still worthy of preservation.

We are challenged to be better caretakers of our environment, because God has carried for it, because he created it, because he incarnates it regularly, because he has future plans for its full restoration.

His plans for the future restoration includes the present. Right now God’s Word is to be incarnate in our lives. We are to follow the model he sets, the job he gives in creation, the job he gives, “go make disciples of all nations” and again in Acts “to the ends of the earth”. So all nations, all people, all lands, all of nature is to be touched by people of God bringing reconciliation and trans-formative restoration. His holistic approach reminds us when we attempt to evangelize a man that we treat him as a whole man. We make our appeal not simply in mechanical terms of truth but in the spirit of Love. We are not appealing simply to a soul without a mind or a body. Love means physical emotional connections must be made. When appealing to the mind we must bring some facts, some reason, some absolute certainty. Yes, and the third, man is a spirit and not just a mind with a body. Man is a metaphysical creature.

Just as our appeal is not only to on part of nature, or one nation of people. It is also to all of creation, all of humanity, and all of what is human. Jesus came to bring back to life all that is dead in his created order. trinity-172175215_std

The Doctrine of the Trinity affirms these many beliefs. That God is in some way inseparable from his creation by the three facts; that it is his creation, that he acted by his word to protect and guide the future redemption of all of creation and that he has taken on flesh and entered into creation. That man is made in Gods image affirms the three part of man that are to be redeemed. Non Human nature also bears the mark of trinity in Protons, Neutrons and Electrons. These three particles are the building blocks of all physical substances. Protons have a positive charge, electrons are negative and neutrons are neutral. In the same way we have the basic particles made up of Hadrons, Leptons and Bosons.

So how is it that we can get the trinity right without getting rid of Christian Gnostic attitudes towards creation. So much negativity has been built up towards the natural order. We are ready to see it all come crashing down. We are ready to see Jesus come back and save it all. But why are we not ready to defend the earth, to defend what God made in humanity.

Maybe we need to set our eyes anew on the last book of our sacred library. Maybe Revelation has something to say. For isn’t it this book that many think confirms our fears, that it is all coming down. That when it does then the rescue comes. Why not just hold on until the end, be raptured, be rescued, and forget about trying to make a pathetic effort to fix any of it.

Just as Jesus left it to his church to go into all the world and disciple nations. Revelation 21 reveals the climax of this work. That when Jesus kingdom comes in full the kings of the nations will bring into the kingdom of God the glory and honor of nations. (verses 24-26). How sad it will be for those who simply held on until the end. There will be no glory and honor being brought into the kingdom of God. There will be no part in bringing in the kingdom of God. Discipling nations to walk in holistic renewal, not just their churches, and the souls of people. But whole people,  whole nations, and the whole of creation. Only this work will be brought into the kingdom of God when it is in its fullness.

My friend Ron Smith, says that “The trinity, is a theological hill to die on”. I think I get what this means when I consider that God also has a certain kind of wholeness. We can distort his image to being parts of the trinity. When we do this we are vulnerable further to distorting the parts of man, parts of nature, and the nature of the Christian mission. A single crack in the trinity can wreck the churches witness.

 

Categories: Authority, Bible, Church, Context, CSBS, Doctrine, Eschatology, Mission, New Testament, Old Testament, Orthodox, Salvation, School of Biblical Studies, Theology, YWAM | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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