Worldview

How the OT helps develop the Meta-Narrative for the Coherent Mission of the Church

Metanarrative

So just in case we need another reminder of the purpose and need for the churches ongoing mission here it is. Also by way of introduction we consider the current world views of our western culture. Much of what people believe today is built what might be called a meta-narrative. This is a basically a story. A story that people have been telling for some time. A story that holds significance because it says something about reality and who we are and where we are going. A meta-narrative is a single story that encompasses all the diverse stories and makes them into one story. The Romans and Greeks were great at telling stories and reworking the stories of other peoples into their own larger and more excellent story about reality and destiny. For us the stories we find ourself wrapped up in might be the story of Human Progress. This is an enlightenment meta-narrative that sought to do away with God, and religion, and superstition, and free man so that progress could have its way and we have been on this track for some time now. Often you will here people speak of this anonymous progress or they will speak of religious people as hold it back.

Another common meta-narrative you might here of is the overarching idea that we are all headed towards a better modernization. That is that capitalism, globalization, and better economy will heal all the worlds ills. Countries are buying into this, it is a western idea. Certainly better economy is a good fruit of something going right in a nation. This meta-narrative clashed very hard with Marxism not many decades ago, and today it clashes hard with Islam. These in short are the two projects of world domination of our day. The western ideal and story of global economic progress. And Islam’s story culminating with the rise of radical militants who got everyone’s attention on September 11 2001. The opposing meta-narratives have never more clearly been at such odds then on this day on 2001. So what is the true Christian meta-narrative? We need to be asking that and re-familiarizing ourselves with it because of the onslaught of new ideas and old ideas pressing in on us and especially on the young or new generations. What story are they going to live by? What should be extremely obvious is that Christ is the central part of our story. The gospel assumes the finished work of Christ but also acts as a metonym for ‘the whole story’. So its clear that the churches mission is to get the story out so that people will meet Christ and receive their salvation. I want to focus in on the meta-narrative. In other words how do we tell many stories and still be telling one story.

I wish to submit very briefly an overview of an overview. In case the attention spans are lacking for you readers. I want you to get the meat of this in order to garnish your comments or questions.

There are three biblical thematic trajectories I want to point to.
1. Abraham and the trajectory of Blessing
2. Israel and the trajectory of Revelation
3. David/Zion and the trajectory of Rule

Each of these were singled out by God for a larger purpose. They are individual stories but they do not stay that way. Because the blessing on Abraham, was not just for him but to enable him and his offspring to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth.

Likewise, Gods revelation of himself was not merely for one nation Israel but by choosing one nation God would make a name for himself and reveal himself to the rest of the nations of the earth.
When God chose a people he also chose a place, and eventually he chose a representative from the tribe of Judah who would act as his deputy on earth. David became Israel’s second King and God made a covenant with him. David’s offspring would continue to serve as Gods representatives. Because they ended up failing at this role ‘messianic hope’ grew and the prophets began to speak of one like David, a son of God who would continue to establish Gods rule not only in Israel, on mount Zion but over the rest of the kings and nations of the earth.

So then we see that each time God singled out an individual, a nation, a place, it was for the purpose of extending that blessing, that revelation, that rule of God to the ends of the earth. Its like Gods little seed projects. Because God was seeking not to interfere with his own design of man, making him like himself, with his own will, God developed relationships with real, particular individuals with the universal scope in mind.

Therefore the “mission of the church” is more clearly understood when we identify what Gods mission has been since the beginning. That allows for the “mission of the church” to not just become what we want it to be, or to bend the goals based on what culture says and does. The OT is extremely useful for the church today because it is what makes the ‘mission of the church’ coherent and places it within the much large meta-narrative of Gods mission to redeem all to himself.

None of these roles Abe, Israel, David are strictly speaking missional. They are not sent out into the world to evangelize. But these three strands of the biblical story make the churches mission coherent with the rest of the biblical meta-narrative. They establish the movement from the particular to the universal. The churches mission echoes the ancient biblical vision to serve Gods mission of Redemption. When the world comes under the blessing, revelation, and rule of God.

Some lessons learned is that God singles people out for the sake of others. When God singles us out we end up on a mission and its purpose is the same as that of Abraham, Israel, David, and Zion. By that same toke we should image God singling out places where he rules for the sake of reaching new places and all places.

Comments and questions please. 🙂 Blessings

*** An Area of great credit goes to Richard Bauckham and his book “Bible and Mission”. I read it a few times on a recent trip and thoroughly enjoyed it. You will find many of the themes I have used in his book. I also recommend his other more impressive work “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”.

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Paul and Titus: A model of Transformation

In the Letter to Titus  –  Paul says ‘good works’ a lot. Why?

In light of the book of Galatians, where for to many, it would seem to indicate that works are not of great value for the spiritual life. That by faith and by Grace alone are we enabled to live a Godly life. Works alone then are of no use in ones spiritual life. This is a rough synopsis of only some of the thought coming out of Galatians and the language of Paul.

But even following up with that in his other books it is indexclear that what he means to say and often does with as much clarity. That no amount of good works ever saved anyone. That only by the goodness of Christ has anyone found adoption into the household of God. (Titus 3:5-7)

That said, the emphasis seems always to be on our endless desire to define “Salvation” into a science of belief, and prayer. Making it as simple as possible for us to add to our numbers and feel better about ourselves. If all I need to do is say a prayer, or believe in my heart then many will gladly do it and go on with their lives unchanged. Fortunately and unfortunately for some that is just not a message to be found in the bible.

Paul is quite clearly emphasizing in most of his work the full picture of salvation. It is not limited to the moment when you pass from death to life but expanded to the whole picture if what it looks like when one passes from death to life. Not that your eternity can not be sealed in a moment. Paul emphasis good works in Titus slowing once to point out that good works are possible because Jesus was ‘good’ first in every way. His good works made it possible for the adoption, salvation, cleansing of “us” for the purpose of good works.

In order to know the real purpose of good works at all then you need to know what the two silly words really mean. What are we to think of when we consider the value of good deeds. The only alternative translation might be “Beautiful Works”. This begins to highlight a theme Paul speaks of often. That from the beginning of time man was created for good or beautiful works.

The Garden was the place where man was created and given the task of creating and nurturing life to make more life and even make it better. (Eph 2:10) Good works touches on more then just religious activity like we might be inclined to think it is when we consider Galatians and the “good works” of the Judaizers. But good works of the rest of Paul’s writing often indicates a much larger concept. That good works is about the creative and endless potential of man. Man made in Gods image means in part, that man has infinite potential for creatively living life and giving life. What a massive influence then Paul letter might have with the despised people of Crete, who may yet walk in a new identity full of “good works”. They are not only encouraged to start in the institute of family life, and church life, but also into the public sphere.

Crete is full of bad works. Full of men and women resembling in almost know way the idea that they are made in the image of a good God. In fact quite the opposite is believed and lived by. They reflect the story that has been told about them.

The church needs to find order first, then the family of Christians, then begin to show good works toward to public sphere. Perhaps Titus is a model for community development.

Paul is not just about starting churches, but about starting organized and healthy churches that have healthy families that find creative ways to make whole cities and governments healthy.

Paul’s “Good Works” then becomes another ‘cargo ship’. It is loaded with a whole story of what Good works really is. It is like sin. Sin has a story. Its not just important to avoid sin because its sinful. But because of what sin really is. Sin is actually connected with the idea of good works. Christians have often settled for “not sinning” when they called to “DO, Good Works”. Its not about what we are not doing so much as about what we are doing for the kingdom of God. Titus is a book written to Titus and his community of believers who need to grasp on to the next step of walking out in good works for their church, family, and cities.

Professor NT Wright affirms some of these ideas himself;
“we find, here in Paul, at least the beginnings of an outline sketch of a Christian responsibility in relation to the wider world, rather than an ethic which is concerned only for the ordering of the household of faith. And I am inclined to think that we should read the passages about ‘good works’ in this light as well: just because other civic benefactors are pagans, that doesn’t mean that Christians shouldn’t ‘do good works’ for their wider society if and when they have the opportunity…” 1

“…They are part of the worldview which Paul believes must characterize the Messiah’s people.”

In other words, Paul was not really someone who in his previous life sought salvation without any knowledge of Gods grace or the importance of ones faith. Something else had been going on in Paul. He is seeing very clearly however that in order for the Jews and everyone else to get on with the next step in Gods plan. Only the messiah could accomplish by faith what no other man was able to. Paul knows now that Jesus made it possible for adoption, for others to become obedient sons of God and begin to bring the Messiah’s worldview to earth. The kind of world that Paul wanted found its full expression in Jesus the Messiah and knew this was what the Messiah had actually initiated in his coming.

Titus is instructed to continue the work of establishing the Messianic Kingdom of God. Beginning with elders for the churches on Crete and finding a strong place in the home, then working its way outward to the general culture and the civic sphere of authority and rulers. The transformation of Crete. An Island that had once been the capital of a large and powerful world civilization was being pointed back to their true greatness as a people. That they were made for the purpose of showing the world their many great works.

Really the people of Crete believe that they are descendants of wicked rulers who had sex with beasts and became beasts. That they were put in their place by the ordered civilization of the Greeks. The gods of Crete were rendered weak and pathetic beasts and the people resembled their gods. They saw themselves as inferior to the greeks and their gods of power and might. They were in need of a corrected story. Who is our true God? Who are our ancestors? What is our identity? How do we rebuild what we have lost?

They needed a new story about their God. They need a new story about their ancestors. They needed this in order to really begin to understand themselves. They needed to know how to begin to rebuild. The answer is God in Christ, that their past is full of potential yet tainted by their own sin, that their identity is found in knowing their origin as created in Gods image, and that God wants to begin the rebuilding process inside of them and then in their families, in their community by way of the church and then by way of their relationship with the established system of Cretan culture.

 

1. Excerpt From: Wright, N. T. “Paul and the Faithfulness of God: Two book set (Christian Origins and the Question of God). Page 916”

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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.
images
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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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.

 

 

 

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Biblical Worldview and the Whole Commission

A common buzz word around Christian circles is the “Great Commission”. Many people know of this commission from the words of Jesus in the final chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.

There is perhaps two important elements of this commission that I think people miss. So I want to be direct in talking about it cause if your reading I know how easy it is to lose interest in something you might be reading on an obscure blog.

1. Original Context of the Commission

2. The Commission in today’s context.

The Commission in today’s evangelical western context is 200+ years in the making. Something wonderful has happened according to most evangelicals. That is the evangelical missions movement. The Christianity of the 1800’s until this day have been one of extraordinary growth in the way of numbers, and nations reached with the message of salvation and the establishment of a local church. For many the great commission is a call to continue this great work of church planting and spreading the message of salvation with the nations. Is this Jesus’ Great commission? Great Commission

When put into its original context and the passage observed carefully, Jesus’ commission has much more to say about the task of the church.

First of all the Book of Matthew was written primarily to a Jewish audience. Other Gospels had Jewish characteristics but not a strictly Jewish audience in mind. Jesus was addressing the commission to his disciplers and followers and the book of Matthew was addressed to a later audience of Jews.

What does that mean? What does it have to do with how we understand the commission?

Well, In order to put it into the right context we need to know what the task of the Jewish people was. How was Jesus expanding their concept of the task given to them in the Old Testament?

Simply put, the people of Israel had a task of living according to the law of God. This is not to be understood as simply a very rigorous moral code. The Law includes their history of the origins of all of humanity and Israel’s place in the family of human kind. Then they learn their own origin as a nation. They learn of the origin of their specific task as a people with the life of Abraham. Their task is to be a blessing to nations. They learn that they will be able to be a blessing because God speaks to them and reveals the way. Nations around them learn to fear God when they see what great laws the people live by and by what wisdom they have had revealed to them. But in the end they fail to maintain that blessing to the nations. Then God in the Incarnation and following his Resurrection gives his commission anew. His commission for his disciples to bless nations by discipling them is really not to different from before, there is simply a new dynamic because Christ has removed the barrier and initiated the kingdom.

In many respects the “Evangelical Modern Commission” falls very short because we see nations becoming more Christian by ratio, and by number of churches, but we see something private, something that has brought little fruit. Rwanda was devastated after the 1900’s brought the percentage of Christians from 0% to 80% in about 80 years only to see 1 million people exterminated and calamities ensue. Christians fought Christians and little changed on the level of Rwanda’s culture.

There are many stories where the “Evangelical Movement” has boasted of its great accomplishments to plant churches and save souls. Little has been accomplished in the last 200 year by the evangelical missions movement that would seem to have touched on the original context of the great commission.

The great commission is really an extension of all of Gods commissions given to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses & Israel, and David. These covenant commissions remind us that Gods goal is not redemption of souls alone but whole people, whole cultures, and the whole of creation.

What we need to know is the whole picture of Gods redemptive plan. It involved discipling nations and bringing the kingdom as well as the king into whatever communities we touch, baptizing them in the name of the father, son, and holy spirit. Our brokenness in the Christian worldview is due to the last 200 years of our Evangelical Christian theology.

It is a theology that has rejected secular studies, or humanities, for fear of being humanistic, or secular, or a social gospel adherent. There is a real lack of knowledge with regard to creating and nurturing culture. The abandonment of the studies of humanities has created a really big problem for the defense of the Christian worldview. Because for the past 200 years there is little evidence to defend it. There is a reason to defend it and reason to live it. There are enough examples of this, there are also wonderful examples of this before this whole western strand of evangelicalism began to plague the church. In fact it is dominantly an American Evangelical disaster. America as a nation made strong efforts to break with its European past. This was seen in the movement of the church as well. What the American Christian needs is a better starting point then American Missions movement. We obviously need the whole picture of scripture, the early church, the middles ages, the reformations, the Renaissance, the enlightenment, and the birth of the modern era which has all become the foundation for the modern day, evangelical, missions movement.

We need a better worldview, our belief systems as Christians have been infected throughout a long history of influence. Gnosticism and Platonism of the early church gave us our dualistic Greek thinking. The “enlightenment” encouraged us to keep looking to Greek dualism and add to it all the ‘isms’ of Modernity; humanism, scientism, materialism, rationalism, empiricism, Marxism, existentialism Darwinism, est. These worldviews have corrupted and contributed to the Christianity that we have inherited today. Truly, the only way to cure this begins with seeking God and his truth through commitment to study of the scriptures, and through steady increase in the knowledge of history and worldviews. Then one day you might be able to hold up on one hand a christian worldview that is unparalleled to that of all other worldviews because it is not something man made but God given.

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Church History: Recovering Kingdom Heritage

9thSinaiAscensionChristian History begins in Acts with the ascension of Christ. Right before he is seen by his disciples going back into the clouds his disciples ask him, “Are you going to establish the Kingdom of Israel now?” Whenever I read this I laugh out loud. But I also recognize its rich significance. That was a question any person in their sandals would ask. After all that was what it was all about for the Jewish people. They had a great story about their origins as a nation and where it was all heading. For them it was the reestablishment of the Davidic Kingdom. A new era that would surpass all the wonders of Solomon’s Kingdom in all of its glory.

But then Jesus was so patient with his friends. After he makes them aware that they are not to know the time or periods they were asking about he speaks of the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. He spoke of a time when they would begin in Jerusalem, being filled with the spirit, they would bring that same message Peter spoke at Pentecost, and the same spirit that fell, to the ends of the earth.

The beginning of the church saw multiple types of persecution. They were as Christ spoke of in Matthew 10, to be dragged into the synagogues and before the government of Rome. This persecution lasted long into the 3rd century until the conversion of Constantine. The shift that took place may be understood by referring to the early church as the apostolic age, and then from Constantine until the fall of Rome as the Imperial era of the church. There were various blessings and damages done by this new era of the church. The church benefited from the ceasing of persecutions and began gathering for important decisions about the nature of heretical text and sacred inspired text that the church used from the earliest times. Given that these gatherings of Bishops began in the time of Constantine the major consensus was that the large amount of Gnostic text had been something done within the lifetimes of those present at the gatherings. Gnostic gospels distorted the eyewitness accounts of those 1st century apostles who recorded and shared the message of what they had seen and heard. These early gatherings did not give the church the bible, they merely guarded what for centuries had already been regarded as authoritative and true accounts of historical eyewitnesses.

conThe untold stories of the Cannon Communities of early Christianity are now being hijacked by the resurgence of gnostic belief in pop-culture movies and books. Common people have begun to get their education of history from the History Channel, Youtube videos, facebook timelines. New Gnostic text are constantly being discovered though near not as often as apostolic texts. The new finds are published and added to the growing “evidence” for a new narrative about the origins of the Christian faith. That story begin told can be summarized as something beginning with Constantine, who is responsible for the growth and widespread popularity of Christianity because he made it so by his own conversion and the subsequent conversion of the entire empire to the new faith. Actually this is not true. If anything his conversion and acceptance of Christianity may have been more of a political move to protect his own power. The growth trend happening in the apostolic age was reaching its height by the time of Constantine. Also his conversion may also begin to be seen as something sincere. But lets not get overly sidetracked with Constantine.

When Rome fell the church did not. It remained. So even if Constantine did help get the church going, (which is a garbage theory) It was not dependent on the state. Many of the the damages brought about by the imperial church effected the church negatively throughout the middle ages. However the new era of the church was not “dark” as many have suggested. It most obviously can not be seen as “dark” simply for the sake of Augustine of Hippo who lived in the 3rd and 4th Centuries of the church. He was influenced heavily by the monastic movement that began before his time, as a response by those who despised the new damages done by the Constantine era of imperial power behind the church. Augustine is just a bit of glue aiding us to see the benefits of the devote monastic communities. But then on the other side Augustine is the rise of medieval education. Augustine is really a primary origin point for the creation of Universities as we know them. It was not the Greeks, though they did schools.  No lasting universities give evidence for any actual universities existing and Greek and roman times.

Saint_Augustine_PortraitNot only did men like Augustine, influenced by the monastic communities begin to have a profound effect on the development of European culture. But “the high church” can also receive some credit. They were not always corrupted by power and greed. The monastic communities had occasional victories in the church at large when men like Gregory the Great were elected Pope. The church began as early as the 5th century seeing many reforms. If anything the Reforms begin here rather then the 14th century. Even the reformer John Calvin recognized Gregory as a good Pope. These illustrations point out that this new era was again, not something “dark”. Though it had its share of issues, calling it “dark” robs us of understanding that it was the church that assisted all of Europe in recovering their own multiculturalism lost under the Roman empire. No longer were peoples creativity bound by a ruling elite who sucked up all the production of the lower cast. Rome had fallen, along with it the ruling elitists. Feudalism is often looked as evidence of a “dark” era rather then an era of state rebuilding and individual progress.

This bring us up to about the 10th & 11th century. The bridge between the early medieval period and the later are the events of the  Muslim Empire and the Christian Crusades. The rise of what many Christians regard as the cult of Mohammed did not shy away from its involvement in the state. The expansion of the Muslim empire came by force and had stretched deep into Spain before the Europe’s response. Of course in order to get Europe to respond at all some campaigning needed to be done. Petitions had already been sent to Rome for aid to be sent to those seeking safe access to the Holy Land. The desire for Christian tourism or pilgrimage was very common and encouraged. Just as it is today very important to many Christians to one day go to the place where God was made incarnate. There was a flurry of responses over the following centuries. Again, Europe was not a centralized government as it would have been under the Roman empire. It was necessary for someone, somehow, to promote the war against the Islamic empire before it took control of all of Europe. The church was at that time the most centralized source of public influence and took it upon itself to organize feudal Lords, Barron’s, Kings, and Knights to take up the call to defend Europe and reclaim territories as far as the Holy Land. It is unfortunate for the Christ-like reputation of Christianity that the church needed to use its influence to help organize armies to go up against the Muslim Conquest.

There were no doubt troubling elements within the church of the middle ages. Though this era can not either be refereed to as dark because the situation as a whole was very dark and called for a drastic step for the sake of all of secular Europe. Though it is often referred to as the “Christian Middle Ages” most common people remained pagan and superstitious. There also at this time remained a devote remnant. The era of the Crusades was not simply Europe vs. Islam, but Church Tradition, and Papal Authority vs heretical movements such as the Waldensian’s or Catharians. These “heretical groups” were also on the receiving end of a holy war influenced by the power of the church to organize armies. All of these events are unfortunate for the reputation of the church as something following the example of Christ. Though Europe’s response to the growing Islamic Invasion has found justification by many.

This brings us to the dawn of the “Reformation era”.

Many wonderful characters illuminate the 14th-16th century; Jan Hus, John Wycliffe, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Ulirch Zwingli, and a good many more. There men of the reformations fought valiantly for the minds and lives of Europeans. Their influence is massive, so much so that when people think of church history these names are often the first that any good protestant would think of.

Ijohn-wycliffe-oprea-nicolaef you are Catholic however then these names, though they are known, are not hero’s. After all they themselves were not successful in bringing a reform to the Catholic church. When the protestant movements began to break forth from the church the Catholic church went on later to make some necessary reforms. But the reformation era was crucial.

What was at the core of the motives of men like Luther, Calvin, Hus, Wycliffe, and Zwingli was to see scripture in a place of higher authority then tradition or papal authority. It becomes clear when these human authorities of mans tradition and mans hierarchy become corrupt that something else needs to be the source of authority. For the reformers it was not their version of truth, or in other words, their own traditions regarding scripture. The work of Luther, and Calvin did later become tradition that led to later schisms with the Lutheran and Reformed churches. But for the actual lives of the reformers, their aim was to see the church with the bible at the center, and Christ’s sacrifice at the central event of theology. No further mass was needed to bring propitiation for sin.

The reformers did more for Europe then challenging the church and creating the protestant movement. Their influence in the church touched much more then the church itself. Remember that the church was for more engrained in the public life. The church had in fact helped to rebuild the entire civilization of the west after the fall of Rome. So the reformers challenge of the church was in part  the beginning of a reform to the state. Overlords and Kings began to face new challenges. If the people of Europe were willing to see the hierarchy of the church challenged and its influence undermined by scripture then maybe following the OT model, Kings and overlords could be challenged with the rule of Law.

Retracing our steps we can see that the church was a growing and thriving source of education and social reform capable from the earliest days of the church to step out and lead a broken civilization. The middle ages saw many such advances, the whole modern enlightenment principle of ‘human progress’ was already in full swing long before the “enlightenment” or “modern era” began. In fact the whole idea of moral or human progress was not something disconnected from those who could be considered religious. The church faced the challenge of helping rebuild Europe, and they gave it universities, science, many new technologies, the rule of law, capitalism, implemented democracy, and abolished slavery. All of this developed long before the enlightenment or modern era.

What many Christians do at this point in their grasp of history accept that the reformers did a great thing and now we move on to today and try to implement their passion for truth in our own pursuit of it. But that would be to dismiss the enlightenment altogether as something that does not have any effect on the modern christian mind. It is however, very important to realize that we moravian_sealare all children of the enlightenment. Much of what we may think is common sense is actually accepting for better or worse what began in the enlightenment era. I have already written a good deal on the enlightenment. But here I wish to show how the church behaved in the modern era. Early on among the Lutheran community there developed another schism. Just as many Philosophers such as Descartes, Hume, or Kant had discussed the importance of reason as a means of discovering truth versus experiment so the Lutheran community did. The early schism was an attempt to get away from the head and into the heart of things were man may touch and feel his way toward the truth of God. This lead into the Moravian and eventually Wesleyan missionary movements and churches. These movements also saw schisms on the issue of public versus private outer-workings of the faith. Not only that but the modern era working all around the church was more and more scary for those who drowned themselves in theology but had nothing to say about the new work of Charles Darwin. The church had turned inward and became a private sphere only concerned with theology, gospel, and saving souls for heaven. They lost touch with bringing the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. The missions movement has been massive and the world is being evangelized with the message of salvation for eternity in heaven. But not here on earth, not bringing sense to the mess we are facing here and now. The current missions movement and evangelicalism we find ourselves in today has also developed another schism. Instead of working to convince men and women of the soundness of our gospel we have bought into trying to entertain, give a good speech, and proclaim the gospel and call it a day. There is very little persuasion in our proclamation.  And today we have a kingdom of God theology where our faith is all heart and no head, all private and not public, and all proclamation and no persuasion. We fall short because we have given in to the modern tide and have a fractured Christian inheritance.

Knowing history may help us begin to recover what true nature of Christ centered Kingdom living is. It is not something in the heavens we might one day escape to, nor is it a utopia on earth were man is the center of all things. But it is Gods redemptive rule of all of his creation.

 

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Existential Dualism: A Crash Course

plato_cmAs soon as we humans feel like we know something, it becomes known. It is not unknown. It is removed from the unknown category and placed in the known category. Unless we are talking about God or other deity. One, because most don’t believe “they” or “it” really exist and two, if we are willing to believe it may exist, it is still something unknowable. It is not something we can really place in the known category. It is mystical. Just as in science, what is unknown remains somewhat of a mystery, until it is known.

All this to say its is fascinating how we as humans, separate things into the categories of known and unknown, or known and mysterious. Or natural and supernatural. Material and metaphysical. For Christians there is what is sacred and what is secular.

What is perhaps even more fascinating is that people have not always thought in this way. In the west it seems we learned it and inherited it from our ancient Greek and Roman ancestors. But then for hundreds of years the use of Greek philosophers like Plato were only study by a few. Until we reach the “Enlightenment” and we owe a great deal of our modern thinking to that era.

It was the existential philosophers Kierkegaard, Sartre, Jaspers, and Heidegger who continue to expound on the destructive nature of dualistic thinking. They went further then simply placing the spirit world above and the physical world below. They determined that logic, and reason belonged below, and non-logical, non-rational above. And if you wanted to find meaning in life you needed to have a non-rational existential experience. Something that would be explainable in human terms. Something no man would ask you about if they had too achieved such an experience. I simple nod of the head would mean that both were initiates and have had their 98937experience in the beyond that gave their life meaning. However if you were so committed to only using rational logical thinking, you would then be forced to live your life without any real meaning. All of this came primarily by the way of the Danish Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. He is the father of modern existentialism for both the secular and the religious thought.

Thus for Christians effected by dualistic existential thinking. We have placed ourselves unknowingly in the above category for that is were faith resides. Void of reason and logic we are constantly at war with everything else below the line, we do not speak the same language of those below and they do not speak our language.

For the beginning of the modern era, man was very optimistic about his logic and reason. Men could proudly call themselves logicians and rationalists. Until perhaps we reach the two world wars, beginning in 1914-1918 and again in 1939-1945 and then a shift began to take place ever moving us toward the post-modern negative perspective on human logic and reason.

It is actually accurate to say that before the enlightenment Christians engaged regularly with logic and reason as well as faith. In fact scholasticism of the middle ages was full of faith in reason. The nature of Christian faith in human reason was perhaps better founded then that of Kierkegaard because from the beginning Christians new of both natures of the human mind, 1) that it was made in the image of God and therefore had limited potential, and 2) that man had fallen and human logic and reason on its own was not to be trusted. Out of this dual understanding of human potential for reason came forth a system for keeping rationality and human discovery in check. The sciences were developed out of this skepticism and optimism of human potential for future human reason and discovery.

But back to the enlightenment and Kierkegaard, Christianity suffered a strong blow, and they did not hit back. Instead Christianity accepted its place in the above category. Logic and Reason in the sciences and and just about every other field of study and inquiry became something regarded as secular. If you wanted to be a good Christian then you stayed out of that stuff and engaged in theology.

Meanwhile, for all of those people who are now in the below category have either become very sad, or very desperate. Not everyone will just give up, though many do. Some however will attempt about anything to find meaning in their tasks. This leads many to take the “leap of faith“. Since they are convinced that to find meaning their can not be logic or reason involved man will take the leap. He will believe in Love against all doubt that love is real. Or he will go to church, and say the prayer, even though he feels like a fool. Or he will begin using strong drugs as many have done specifically in order to reach the needed experience that will finally give life meaning. There is a great many things that man, though he is not optimistic about his own reason any more, will seek an experience.

The tragedy is of course that man might actually be able to know something that gives his life meaning. Many no doubt may read this and say, “No! I don’t think that way, there are many things that give my life meaning.”  And to that I would say, “wonderful, I believe you.” See I am not convinced Kierkegaard was right, nor Plato. I believe that there are things that both that man may experience as well as know something that is real and give meaning to their life.

Love for family, and friends for instance is something, and it is not nothing.

God is something and not nothing.

I am something and not nothing.

I am convinced because there is something we can know about love, people, self, God and there is a real way in which experiencing all of these things gives meaning and purpose. I do not need to take a leap of faith. My Faith, I believe, is rooted in logic, reason, and experience.

Though many today will say that there is no meaning to life their experience reveals that there is meaning to life. Just as if some may say there is no such thing as Love, an experience changes that. Again, part of the tragedy is that when real man has an experience even with drugs he is experiencing something and not nothing. One experience with love proves with reason that love exists and provides some level of meaning in the universe. That is why I say that faith and reason are not separated, they share an important relationship for the fullness of the human experience.

 

* Something and not Nothing. This is something Francis Schaeffer says a lot in his book, “The God who is There”

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Pluaralism & Sexual Orientations: A Moral Roller Coaster Ride

bildeThe past week we have been on a post-modern moral roller coaster ride.

World Vision recently embraced new policies that honor same sex relationships within their organization only to reverse their decision days later for the sake of the poor across the globe. My wife and I are regular supporters of the organization and we are happy to learn that the donations will continue coming in for all the good work WV is doing across the globe.

I wish to weigh in on this in such a way that may provoke thought and discussion over the nature of human morality. Obviously in our pluralist culture we may wish to say that we should treat people well no matter what their sexual orientation is. That is culturally, the correct answer. To answer otherwise would make for ones self, many new enemies.

On the other hand are the religiously devout immoral in their imposing religious agendas on others in this pluralist era?

In consideration of the whole World Vision drama people are asking, what is more immoral?

Is it it more immoral to be a homosexual?

or

Is it more immoral to consider homosexuality immoral?

And if we want to be good pluralists, we are forced to say that both are in fact immoral but it would be immoral to pass judgement on the immoral. But my question was which is more immoral. I did not say that those who consider homosexuality to be immoral are to also be passing on judgement. But maybe there is a such thing as using your good judgement to make the case that homosexuality is actually immoral.

People speak of the love of Christ as if it were the only element of the character of Christ Christians were to imitate. Jesus speaks often of this kind of moral judgement. That is not something that we seek because we are left to ourselves in this world to determine our own version of morality. But our judgement is to determine what is right and what is wrong. Many things are permissible but not all things are beneficial.

Maybe then we can say with the Apostle Paul to the present issues of our day, “many things are permissible culturally, or naturally, but not all things are beneficial.” This line comes in reference to consistent biblical concept from Genesis that man in all of his humany-humanity is prone to choices that are not beneficial for his life, his health, the health of others, the future world of the next humanity. Are we to accept our present sickness and not look for a restoration and a completeness. This line from the apostle Paul is part of the answer to these moral challenges.

Is wrong wrong because it offends ‘the conservative right wing” or is it wrong wrong because it is actually not beneficial for the world of tomorrow’s?

The church is learning to accept what is beneficial from post-modern culture. Modern Evangelicals would never give in to the pressure to accept what is being accepted in today’s culture. But post-moderns are learning to be okay with people making choices for themselves even if the church feels they are wrong choices. But that is exactly the point. The church (that can actually call itself the church) will not give in to pressure that says, “these choices people are making are right because they love each other and they love God”. It will still be a wrong non beneficial choice.

So for me, I’m okay with my friends and family making their own choice in their sexual orientation. I will not shun you. I will not quote scripture at you. But I will believe, and if asked, I will say, “the choice your making is not going to be a beneficial one. In other words it wont be healthy. Granite you may find some happiness, you may have companionship, but you will miss the benefits of the life God intended for you to have had you made the tough choice that is right.” That opinion I will not force on you but if you have to ask, that is my belief. Truth be told, I’d rather not have to say any of that. I would like to display what I think would be the most Christ-like thing, that would be to spend more quality time, and share a deeper friendship with you. I love you.

The problem with most Christian theology on the issue is that people would prefer to make their standards clear in order to not be mistaken by other evangelicals as an advocate for homosexuality. So I make a point here not to engage heavily in all the bible verses one might wish to throw at this issue. I’m not interested in that in the least.

I’d rather be a friend, and go have a drink with the ones who’s choices are non-beneficial. The problem with theology on the topic is not that it is wrong. It is that it is theology. Theology does not help people wrestling with choices, passions, temptation, and Love. It helps to have someone who is not pretending to love them from afar. It helps to have a person to share that drink with, and to share their love with, and to speak of passions and temptations and choices.

So I challenge me, and I challenge you, do not love from afar, and don’t love with your theology. I appreciate good theology. But in almost every relevant case, theology is at its finest when it is acted upon. When people are treated as whole people or at least people that might one day be whole.

 

*** I will be monitoring comments for this post. Appropriate comments will be allowed. By rules of general fairness towards humans on both sides of the argument.

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Evangelicals: Are we merely speaking to ourselves?

wpid-wp-1395868938417.jpgFrancis Schaeffer explains in the first chapter of his first book, that there has been titanic shifts from the old medieval era into the modern age. Philosophers were the first and are typically always the first to speak of this shift and to accept it. Then it can be traced into art, music, and then the general culture. Then the sub-culture holding off the longest against the tides of modernism are the theologians. Though those to have had their day and the shift has made its way into theology.

As we consider this shift we also may be considering the shift into the Post-Modern era. This shift has begun and taken affect in the sub-cultures of Philosophy, Art, and Music, as well in the general culture. We can also see its effect in theology as the church begins to ’emerge’ from its modern, and/or pre-modern nature.

The-God-Who-Is-There(1)Schaeffer’s point in the first chapter of his first book, is that if we do not understand this shift in the culture, academia, art, and theology then when we speak we may only be speaking to ourselves. We are like the ostrich who buries his head in the sand thinking he has hid himself from the danger and is soon devoured by the lion. We have shrunk deeper into our own circular thinking, safe inside the bubble of our own theology. This is Darrow Miller description of the evangelical community following the enlightenment, and the emergence of Darwinian Science and secular humanism in western culture. While evangelicals might assume they are above the line of despair they are fooled. Their optimism for theological worldview is wounded by its inability to engage in what has been deemed secular culture, secular philosophy, secular arts. Theology itself has fallen below the line of despair, it is as Ranald Macaulay says, a one-legged Christianity.

These assessments of Christian faith and its inability to relate to culture is because we have made our faith something private, not appropriate for public life. We are in large part responsible for this style of wounded Christianity.

Another analogy for modern evangelicalism is, the museum. Instead of being an active soldier who defends and goes on offensive to fight for the aims of the superior the evangelical community is like a private museum. Evangelicals have lost ground to this modern tide because of their inability to defend the gospel at the forefront of the spheres of life as well as their failure to think and act as an educated person, understanding and at war with the tide.

We need to get better. We simply need to begin fixing what we have screwed up. I want to conclude this post by recommending a few Christian figures I believe have been getting this right. I think that the next step is outward, into unfamiliar fields of study and discussion. Philosophy, Science, Sociology, History, Art, Music, and the general culture.

My suggestions for doing this are to start with literature and biblical worldview. Educate yourself. Address false dichotomies of sacred and secular.

Use these authors, read their books, find their audio and video lectures online.

C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, N.T. Wright, John H Walton, Rodney Stark, Vishal Mangalwadi, Darrow Miller, Francis Schaeffer. Study Philosophy and its history, study the history of science, study history.

 

 

 

 

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“Enlightenment” Myth

enlightenersOne of the most fascinating areas of the ‘enlightenment’ myth is that while the primary figures of the enlightenment, Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, Gibbon, and Hume -all being literary men and not scientists felt they could use scientific revolution as proof that there had been a great enlightenment, once the church had lost most of its influence.

The odd reality is that the primary figures of the scientific revolution were actually religious men, both protestant and catholic; Kepler, Galileo, Copernicus, Descartes, Newton, and Pascal.

Both the scientific figures as well as the enlightenment literary men of philosophy mentioned about have had a massive influence on the way that all western people think. There are in effect three groups of men who had a massive impact on the western modern man. 1) The group of men associated with the scientific revolution, 2) those associated with the enlightenment, 3) and finally those who sought to reform the church.

Scientific_Revolution_-_ThinkersIf you want to understand the modern-western world you need to start with Reformation, Scientific Revolution, and Enlightenment. Reformations and those men who fought continue to remind us today that the church had some problems and needed to address them. The Scientific Revolution represents the climax of medieval scholasticism and is a symbol of the outgrowth of Christian Doctrine, Evidence that the Medieval Period was not “Dark”. Enlightenment therefore represents to some extant the secularization of western civilization. Reformations did not initially seek to separate church from state. The Scientific Revolutions as well was not something detached from Christian scholarly vocations. It was the hard work of many to see not just the church separated from state but God separated from reality.

Here it is in an even more simple form.

1. Reformation heavily influences Church and culture

2. The Christian Middle Ages launched the Scientific Revolution

3. The Enlightenment primarily sought to remove God, Church, and Religion from the realm of state, science, and education.

reformers-wall-close-upOvertime the work of enlightenment figures has been effective. The reformed church has gone on to see many more reforms, and many more schisms. Science has gone on as well and continues grow. But along side science and the work of Darwin some have sought to deify the science. Thus today we have, science, and Scientisim. The belief that science and technology can find and hold answers for all people. Nothing else is needed. Though Science continue to thrive as a wonderful service to our humanity.

This should be alarming not only for Christians but for all westerners. The inherited civilization need not be completely secularized. The trouble is we believe a completely different story about the middle ages, and the negative effect of religion. This story, or narrative has been compounded by the literary figures of the enlightenment. They created influential narratives about the previous era that we have all believed. I have off hand mentioned the figure David Hume who was one of the first to reject the existence of miracles. For many the non existence of miracles is common sense. It is common sense because these enlightenment figures had a massive impact. And many were not even scientists. They were philosophers who commented on science and religion.

So am I saying then that our modern era is due to Christian beliefs alone that the modern era blessings have all begun with reformations, and middle age integration of faith? I will take some more time to unwrap my answer to that.

guns-germs-and-steele-diamondLet us consider the influential work of Jared M. Diamond, “Guns, Germs, and Steel”. Just the other day my good friends were referring to this important work. I believe that this is only part of the answer. Many have set out to explain the rise of the west to simply materialistic origins. That is in essence a large part of the work of Jared Diamond, and William McNeil. These theories including other agricultural theories for the rise of western civilization are only a product of the secularization of culture. They are part of the truth. Social Scientist Rodney Stark, in his book devoted to the reason for western success, narrows it down to four categories.

1. Faith in the progress of Christian Theology

2. How Faith in progress translated to technical, and organizational innovations, many fostered by monastic estates.

3. Thanks to Christian Theology, Reason informed both political philosophy and practice to the extant that responsive states, sustaining a substantial degree of personal freedom, appeared in medieval Europe.

4. The Application of Reason in commerce, resulting in the development of capitalism within the safe havens provided by responsive states.

So Rational theology leading to technical and organizational innovations. Rational theology informing the state affairs bringing a greater level of personal freedom culminating in the rise of capitalism. 400000000000000078274_s4

The views of represented by Stark then add another dimension to the understanding of the Triumph of the West is that not merely having access to steal, ships, and good soil. But we should be asking, “Why did westerners excel in shipbuilding, steal work, and farming?” These are in fact the many areas were faith in rational theology lead to faith in innovative progress.

The climax of the middle ages is not only symbolized by the scientific revolution but also by the triumph of reason, rationality, and an integrated faith culminating in the rise of metallurgy, technology, better agricultural practice, and capitalism.

Shocking that medieval Europe believed in reason, rational thought, faith, theology, bringing about innovation, science, technology, new systems of commerce, agriculture, and a political system that provided commoners with greater levels of personal freedom. It becomes very obvious that without many of the enlightenment figures who sought to secularize the state, culture, and education – we would still have all of the many freedoms and innovations we enjoy in our modern era. We do not owe our modern experience solely to those enlightened men of France but also to medieval Europe and the Reformers.

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