Saturday, September 29, 2007

a frightening dichotomy

I was just reading this article on ChristianityToday.com, but had to stop short to reread a bit. The rereading, however, only made the analysis more dire, and I admit I'm a bit disturbed now at what I've read. Perhaps the author, a Mr. Daniel Williams, goes on to say something of great inspiration, but regardless I fear he didn't take the time to really examine what he's spoken in indroduction to his 'real point'.
Here's the paragraph that stopped me cold.

A fundamental part of Christian growth depends on teaching believers not only to do good, but also to distinguish between various goods, and to seek the highest good among them. How should we value temporal goods like family, music, politics, literature, art, and sports? On the one hand, we know the joy they can bring us. On the other hand, they often seem like distractions from spiritual life.

I reread this to make sure he really did just put "sports" (and even "politics")in the same category as family, music, literature, and art. Now I, personally, see a bit of repetition in the latter three, but they are indisputably important, as a part of the image of God exercised through us. If you disagree or don't quite catch my meaning, I can only here recommend to you Dorothy L. Sayers's classic The Mind of the Maker or Dick Staub's recent The Culturally Savvy Christian for a thorough look at what art really has to do with our God. However disturbing his placement of sports here is, I'll let it be for now, for, as I said, that's not what struck me in the second go-around.
Instead, this was:

How should we value temporal goods . . . On the other hand, they often seem like distractions from spiritual life.

Do you see the dichotomy(just saying that feels a bit like Where's Waldo? or the end of an episode of She-Ra)? It's right there, temporal and spiritual.

Why this is a problem.
So what's going on here? Or, at least humor me, what does Nance see going on here?
This fellow is identifying two different spheres, for lack of a better term. A, B, and C go into this category, "temporal", while D, E, and F here are "spiritual". Watch long enough, and you'll see the language change to "secular" and "Christian", and eventually "evil" and "good". . . it's a very slippery slope. It's also why the only video game the Flanders kids are allowed play is Billy Graham's Bible Blaster. It's the foundation of us versus them.

Rob Bell, pastor and creator of the Everything is Spiritual Tour, would certainly be appalled at this sort of language. He once said, in a CT article no less, that "we're rediscovering Christianity as an Eastern religion, as a way of life. Legal metaphors for faith don't deliver a way of life." Bell probably doesn't like the legal lingo because it is foundationally contrasting terminology: legal or illegal. There's no in-between.

N.T. Wright also speaks on this very topic quite a bit in his little book Judas and the Gospel of Jesus. Don't think you read Judas and missed this: Wright calls it Gnosticism. He also points to this as an evil creeping up in the American Evangelical community. The "us versus them" dichotomy leads to a sort of escapsim mentality, where one's focus is suddenly only on "going home" to Heaven. This is, Wright would assert, behind the popularity of the Left Behind series amongst Evangelicals, and their near-obessive fascination with the Book of Revelation. From this angle, the ideology is indeed very similar in basics to ancient Gnostic thought, where the Earth and its creator were actually evil, and salvation was escaping the evil world to a good heaven and its good god.

With Bell and Wright both, trying to establish the faith as a "way of life" or just calling a spade and spade, I think the hope Christians is integrity. I don't mean this in the sense of keeping your word or anything so pragmatic, but rather more literally: a Christian whose life is integrated.
Instead of dividing our lives up into departments, temporal or spiritual, we must recall Paul's oft-quoted exhortation: And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17). If this is the case, then everything is indeed spiritual; all of life is spiritual life. And apparently this ought to be the case.

I'm think there are probably two roots for this sort of language finding it's way into a popular article on a popular Christian website. First, we're simply not mindful of this sort of slip of the tongue. I'm sure Mr. Williams didn't reexamine his article before publication to double-check for any neo-Gnosticism creeping in. Pity though. Second, I'm afaird is because this sort of thought is creeping into our worldviews, and is beginning to feel a bit natural. Listen to some popular Christian music with your Gnosticism-radar on one day--you'll be surprised what sort of messages we're encouraging about this 'evil world' and our 'real home'. We forget that God declared all that He made "very good" (Gen 1:31) and that our vocation as Christ's body is to see God's "Kingdom come... on Earth"(Matt 6:10).

So please, Christian, be mindful; don't start slipping into this trap. There is certainly a great dichotomy out there--God and evil--but we are able, with the indwelling Spirit of God, to live lives of integrity, where all is done in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Now if only we could show man where exactly sports properly goes in the priorities of life...

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