Resisting Dualism: Reading the Bible, Dancing the Faith

      One of the hallmarks of CCO, even if not mentioned as a BHAG, is the intention to teach students to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ and to resist the unbiblical dualism of the material vs. the spiritual. Francis Schaeffer used more classic theological language when he taught against separating the realm of nature from grace. He cried that such sub-biblical assumptions prevent the church from having much to say about the arts and sciences, allows for a misuse of wealth, discourages care for the Earth and, finally, becomes inhumane. Some of us bring up the matter by questioning how students use words like “secular” or “religious.”

      As we learn in Summer Training, these formulations have their roots in a pagan, Greco-Roman philosophy which set the immortal soul in opposition to the bad body. Not what the Bible teaches. Perhaps fighting dualism isn’t a BHAG because it is just too big, too hairy. Or perhaps it is assumed that our commitment to increasing biblical literacy (the most significant of all the AGs) will take care of this ancient heresy, and will inevitably lead us to a robust, relevant religion. As we know, though, many who hold a high regard for the Scriptures miss the implications of the Kingdom; a holistic theology which emphasizes the interconnections between creation-fall-redemption just doesn’t come to every sincere Bible reader. That, of course, is where world-views come in: people read their Bibles (and understand their Christian lives) in light of presuppositions that they often hold a priority. Key verses such as Genesis 1:26-28, Genesis 9:10, Isaiah 58:12, Jeremiah 9:24, Matthew 6:33, Luke 4:16-21, Psalm 8:6, John 3:16, Romans 12:1-2, Colossians 1:16-20, are not understood (or even noticed!) by many Bible readers.

      Attentiveness to the biblical text with its trajectory towards a (re)new(ed) Earth should lead us to greater real world faithfulness, as we shape history, take dominion, serve as salt and leaven. Yet, the trajectory one assumes, that is, one’s eschatology, wiggles its way into the texts themselves and the result is often less than biblical ways of living. More individuals reading the Bible, then, just isn’t enough. We need communal discussion about the Kingdom of God, the Lordship of Christ and the nature of the Bible story itself as it reveals to us God’s intentions for history.

      Reading and discussing together a few good books can help us get our dualistic lenses repolished so that we can see the Scriptures aright. Al Wolters, Creation Regained, of course, is very useful; Calvin Seerveld’s allusive devotional Take Hold of God and Pull is extraordinary (and, as chapel talks at a college, it is especially germane for campus work). Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger traces the theme of God’s desire for justice better than any other resource. If your students use it, they will never read the Bible the same again! Remember Creation by Scott Hoezee is an absolute delight, as it calls us to take delight in the creation God loves so very much. And don’t forget the CCO classic, When the Kings Go Marching In by Richard Mouw. By opening up just one chapter in Isaiah, it makes the compelling case that even pagan cultural artifacts will be in the New Earth!

      Get your students familiar with these books, then dig into the Word. With advanced students, work through the Bible study in the second half of Truth is Stranger . . .. Use a text such as The Progress of Redemption, which traces the coming of the Kingdom from creation to new Jerusalem. Books like Clowney’s Unfolding Mystery helps us see the Older Testament in light of the Christ it points to.

      Although it is quite expensive, Dr. Sylvia Keesmaat, Biblical Studies prof at ICS, has a new text which shows how Paul picks up and reshapes the telling of the primal narrative of ancient Israel: liberation and Exodus. Keesmaat’s book contains truly new insights, and I think her contribution, putting Paul in the broader context of the whole Scriptures, and particularly his covenantal understanding of exodus themes, is going to be taken very seriously. It is called Paul and his Story: (Re)Interpreting the Exodus Tradition. Her work was guided in significant ways by world-class scholar N.T. Wright, who is a friend of the worldviewish work of ICS (and dedicates one of his famous books to Sylvia’s husband, Brian Walsh). Any of Wright’s books would help us understand the Scripture for our times. Remember the Newbegin book which I described last month as a quick overview of the Bible? So, yes! yes! Get into the Scriptures! But do it right, so that we bear fruit worthy of those who understand God’s Word and are caught up in its redemptive Story, covenantal vision and holy mandates.

      Our task is to help folk replace a narrow-minded and culturally disengaged pietism (or an open-minded and slippery liberalism) with a radically orthodox Christian worldview which is doctrinally sound, bearing fruit of social transformation. Besides understanding the Bible better, another way is to rethink what we mean by “spirituality.” We can reject the dualistic view of the immaterial soul not by resisting our culture’s fascination with soul-work, but by reforming it, working with it. Some Pharisees, you know, just throw out our culture’s new-agey, cosmic talk of soul stuff, and end up seeming (in the name of good doctrine) nearly soul-less. Rather, exactly like Paul on Mars Hill, our strategy is to affirm the seeker’s search and point them to the true God, His character, and the nature of His world.

      Next month I’ll review a book which will help us become more soul-full, without falling into super-spiritual dualism or neo-pagan mysticism. Get ready for a fun one, as I will describe the brand new Leonard Sweet, SoulSalsa, which is a sequel to his cultural critique, SoulTsunami, and its follow-up for church leaders, AquaChurch. The largest metaphor in Salsa is that discipleship is learning to dance. (Salsa, as everyone under thirty knows, is a dance. We older folk might first think of it as a condiment.) His first suggestion for learning this soulsalsa dance step, is to “Mezezah your Universe.”

      In other words, everything we touch can be marked and received as the sacramental presence of God: our homes, our cars, our date books, our laptops or pagers. All are places which reveal Christ’s saving work and the Spirit’s empowering presence. Biblical spirituality is not about energy or the psyche (a la Oprah spiritualities), nor is it world-denying monasticism or a disembodied “inner” life. It is all about God and us in God’s world, accepting everything good life has to offer, despite the heart’s tendency to idolatry. It is all about cultivating practices of what Jubilee keynoter Ken Heffner called “holy worldliness.”

      Again, good books help us develop our relationship with God without falling into an inwardly-focused spiritual narcissism. For starters, read the truly incredible chapter on the physical body in Dallas Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines. Next, see Richard Foster’s wonderful chapter (“Praying the Ordinary”) which captures much of the heart of Brother Lawrence’s “practicing the presence of God” in Prayer. Pick up nearly any Eugene Peterson book you have around and hear him talk about prayer and politics and molecules and taking out the garbage. No dualism in that guy’s vision! Reread Os Guinness’ powerful chapter four of The Call, “Everyone, Everywhere, Everything,” or lovely chapter 22, “Patches of Godlight.” Recall his story of the Dutch priests locking the lay people out of the church so they could serve the Lord in the marketplaces (Chapter 19, “Locked Out and Staying There”)! Turn near the end of Marshall’s Heaven is Not My Home to soak in his teaching on the physical resurrection and the creationally-based nature of worship. For those really needing to dig in, get Embodied Prayer by Celeste Snowber. In keeping with the Hebrew view, she argues for an embodied soul and a body-oriented view of prayerfulness. In Reformed Spirituality, PC(USA) writer Howard Rice explains how, for Calvin, prayer was quite often linked to work in the public spheres of politics and law.

      Which takes us to Len Sweet. In a postmodern world, everything is as zany as it gets, we are as busy multi-tasking as we can be, and even our candy and soda choices seem geared to extreme experience (seen a sexy Dr. Pepper commercial lately? Talked to a school kid about super-sour Mega Warheads?). Hot-wired postmoderns (although the old-school button-downs, too) need God. They need life, as only God can give. They need an experience with the Christ. They need to dance with that Truth, in powerful, celebratory, passionate, creative and communal ways. Sounds like a multi-faceted, non-dualistic relationship with the Lord of the good creation. Sounds like a soul salsa.