The Universe has a serious psychological disorder


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The authors of an essay in Scientific American have couple constitute panpsychism and Dissociative Identity Disorder as a mechanism for explaining the existence of consciousness in the material universe. A fundamental trouble of the materialist worldview is that there is consciousness and rocks don’t have consciousness — so how things made out of powdered rocks and water (human beings) have consciousness presents problem.

One way to solve that problem is to say the consciousness is just a physical property and so my electrons have a rudimentary consciousness. As the authors explain:

Under this view, called “constitutive panpsychism,” matter already has experience from the get-go, not just when it arranges itself in the form of brains. Even subatomic particles possess some very simple form of consciousness. Our own human consciousness is then (allegedly) constituted by a combination of the subjective inner lives of the countless physical particles that make up our nervous system.

This leads to a problem: how then can human beings experience their own center of consciousness? If there is one great consciousness which underlies the entire universe (it is inherent in everything), then how to we explain our individual identities?

This is where Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) helps: One human being can be the locus of multiple centers of consciousness which is known as DID. The same mechanism which permits one human body to have multiple centers of consciousness is the mechanism which permits individual humans to have their own center of consciousness separate from the universal consciousness in all things.

Essentially, the universe has DID and we are one of those personalities.

It should be noted that this is paganism: where the universe is animate. Indeed if you scratch this hard, you end up with tree spirits and water sprites.

How Did Israel Begin to Worship Baal?

The wealthy and powerful nations around her, whom she feared and envied, sought the favour of their gods by pagan devices and seemed to find compensation for doing so. McComiskey helps one to picture how this influence may have emerged in Israel’s life:

It began, perhaps, with something as innocuous as the placing of an image of Baal in a farmer’s field. This is what their Canaanite neighbours did to increase production. It is what people did in this land, and it appeared to work. Gradually the invisible Yahweh lost ground to the baals whom the people could see and handle, whose religion was concerned with the necessities of life more than rigid moral demands. It was the baals, many Israelites came to believe, who fostered their crops and blessed them with children (1992: I:34)

From Ortlund, God’s Unfaithful Wife, p 58

Carl F. Henry — The Countercultural Revolt


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Theologian Millard Erickson once said, “I love Carl Henry’s work. It’s extremely important. I hope someday that it is translated into English!”

The date of Henry’s work God, Revelation and Authority, is important for this essay (and the subsequent essay on the Jesus Movement) because he is analyzing a cultural argument at a particular point in time. Henry published his work in 1976, and so we must understand the status of the culture at that time.

He states the counterculture critique as follows:

Beyond all this, however, and of even deeper significance, was the counterculture’s faulting of the so-called scientific world view which more than any other vision of reality has shaped the outlook of twentieth-century intellectuals. This proud achievement of recent generations the counterculture criticized and caricatured as the grandiose mythology of modern man, the fiction to which Western intellectuals are specially disposed. Not only did countercultural youth opt out of careers in science, but they questioned the indispensability of technocratic science to human well-being, and denied that the secular empirical world view tells the truth about the ultimately real world.

 Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 112.  It is a “radical critique and rejection of the reigning scientific-mechanistic view which reduces reality to the empirically observable.” (113)

It seems that Evangelical Christianity, which is itself a rejection of such a reductionistic worldview would be an appropriate answer for the counterculture. Henry faults Evangelicals for (1) not rightly engaging the cultural arguments and (2) “their hurried call for spiritual decision which often leaps over an effective intellectual confrontation.” (114).

He notes that the counterculture was seeking a “new consciousness” which takes the form of drugs, magic, mysticism. But as Henry notes

Neither the hallucinatory nor the occult can definitely unveil a realm of reality behind the statistical averaging to which scientism is devoted. One will not find authentic human values simply by exhuming the nonrational aspect of man’s nature. The emotionally manipulated irrationalities provide no access whatever to the worth and wisdom of the ages. Appeals to noncognitive levels of personality will not supply the rational guidance without which freedom becomes not only permissive but lawless. No anti-intellectual alternative can in the long run serve the countercultural challenge to technocratic omnicompetence. (116)

In short, the compliant against material reductionism is right, but the response will prove — and history has shown Henry to be right — inadequate as a response.

By retreating into an intense subjectivity as a kind of reality — the counterculture left the objective world solely to that which they ostensibly rejected. Irrationality is not a sufficient long-term response to reductionistic technology.

Now here is where Henry made a particularly prescient observation:

Whereas the counterculture may not deplore the technocratic enslavement of reason, the New Left nevertheless demands political liberation from the consequences of the scientific world view and frequently voices sharp disapproval of existing collectivist and capitalist societies alike. Following either Herbert Marcuse or Norman Brown, it often appeals first to the so-called “Marxist humanism” of the early (in distinction from the later) Marx—a contrast many scholars find unjustifiable—and then (in opposition to traditional Marxism) affirms that man’s consciousness determines his social being, rather than that sociology determines his consciousness. (119)

Note that: one’s subjective consciousness may assert one’s social being irrespective of objective consequences. I am what I insist that I am, and, thus, through a transmogrification of nature what I am subjectively must be admitted by others objectively (and inconsistently, because my subjective understanding of your subjective understanding of yourself is illegitimate — your subjectivity defines reality for both of us).

Henry finishes with the observation that Christianity rejects both subjective irrationality and material reductionism.  He refers to our “final faith” materialism and technology as “a form of idolatry peculiar to the twentieth century” (120). Christianity posits and contends for a transcendental reason. He calls upon a Christianity which is well-educated and can articulate its message clearly in answer to the claims of reduction and irrationality.

What Henry did not foresee in this essay was the merger of these two elements into a cohesive whole. The giant technology companies are simultaneously bastions of irrationality, magic, sex and subjectivism.  Lewis’ “materialist magician” has become a reality.

We must realize that a magical — some sort of life force which is “spiritual” and yet firmly captured within the physical universe — nature is profoundly pagan. The idea that the universe is self-generating and that inanimate matter gives birth to life and consciousness is a pagan concept.  While we have renamed the gods, in the end the materialist has moved little beyond Babylon with the exception of having a far more detailed mythology of how the sky created life, and how rocks grew until they fought wars and fell in love.



An Irrational Question (Romans 6:1)


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Romans 6:1(ESV)

 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?

Paul has developed the doctrine that (1) human beings are accountable to God; (2) that humans beings are rebellion against God, and that no good acts can atone for the rebellion; (3) but God has graciously made provision for our reconciliation by giving Christ in our place:

Romans 5:8–11 (ESV)

8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

This then leads to a possible conclusion: If God gets glory by graciously forgiving me of my sin, then would it not make sense to continue sinning so that God can continue to forgive with the result that he will bestow more grace and thus get more glory?

Paul answers the question with the Greek words, “μὴ γένοιτο”. It is difficult to get exactly the correct tone and translation: This is something that could not possibly be true, it is not a possible state of affairs — maybe better: “How irrational!” (I recall reading a book about the translation of the Bible. The author tells a story about translating this passage in a class in Britain. One student “adventurously” translated it, “not bloody likely” — which some of the feel.

Now Paul will provide a number of arguments for why sin is not a possible response to grace. But I want to draw out the sheer irrationality of that question. Sin from grace is reckless, thankless, evil, spiteful, a denial of forgiveness in the first place, illogical, unnecessary — but it is sheer irrationality at heart.

There is a passage in Bunyan’s Holy War which shows the irrationality of sin from grace. We come to a portion of the story where the Prince has retaken the Town of Mansoul, that had been in rebellion and under the sway of Diabolus. The rebel leaders are captured and brought to the Prince:

And thus was the manner of their going down. Captain Boanerges went with a guard before them, and Captain Conviction came behind, and the prisoners went down bound in chains in the midst; so, I say, the prisoners went in the midst, and the guard went with flying colours behind and before, but the prisoners went with drooping spirits. Or, more particularly, thus: The prisoners went down all in mourning; they put ropes upon themselves; they went on smiting themselves on the breasts, but durst not lift up their eyes to heaven. Thus they went out at the gate of Mansoul, till they came into the midst of the Prince’s army, the sight and glory of which did greatly heighten their affliction. Nor could they now longer forbear, but cry out aloud, O unhappy men! O wretched men of Mansoul! Their chains still mixing their dolorous notes with the cries of the prisoners, made noise more lamentable. f199 So, when they were come to the door of the Prince’s pavilion, they cast themselves prostrate upon the place. Then one went in and told his Lord that the prisoners were come down. The Prince then ascended a throne of state, and sent for the prisoners in; who when they came, did tremble before him, also they covered their faces with shame. Now as they drew near to the place where he sat, they threw themselves down before him.

When questioned, they admit their guilt, their inability to make restitution and the fact they deserve death. Then something wonderful happens:

Then the Prince called for the prisoners to come and to stand again before him, and they came and stood trembling. And he said unto them, The sins, trespasses, iniquities, that you, with the whole town of Mansoul, have from time to time committed against my Father and me, I have power and commandment from my Father to forgive to the town of Mansoul; and do forgive you accordingly. And having so said, he gave them written in parchment, and sealed with seven seals, a large and general pardon, commanding both my Lord Mayor, my Lord Will-be-will, and Mr. Recorder, to proclaim, and cause it to be proclaimed to-morrow by that the sun is up, throughout the whole town of Mansoul.

But forgiveness was not the end of the Prince’s pardon:

Moreover, the Prince stripped the prisoners of their mourning weeds, and gave them ‘beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness’ (Isa. 61: 3) Then he gave to each of the three, jewels of gold, and precious stones, and took away their ropes, and put chains of gold about their necks, and ear-rings in their ears. Now the prisoners, when they did hear the gracious words of Prince Emmanuel, and had beheld all that was done unto them, fainted almost quite away; for the grace, the benefit, the pardon, was sudden, glorious, and so big, that they were not able, without staggering, to stand up under it.

Having received grace, pardon, restoration and elevation from their Prince — against whom they willfully and shamefully rebelled — would it not be complete madness to think that further rebellion would be fitting? Rebellion after restoration would be the act of a madman.

If you were to receive a priceless gemstone and then were to take it and fling it into the ocean, you would accounted insane. It would be irrational to destroy great wealth. How much more irrational would it be for the forgiven prisoners to rush back into town and burn it down.  Sin is irrational in at all times. It thrice irrational to rebel against grace.




Bonhoeffer on Christian Unity


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The question of unity among Christians is easily and often misunderstood. It is typically reduced to affectionate or friendly feelings toward people I know who attend my congregation and agree with me a lot. That is the unity of a club — it could easily be the unity of a cult. But Christian unity is Christ:

Christian community means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. There is no Christian community that is more than this, and none that is less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily community of many years, Christian community is solely this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.
What does that mean? It means, first, that a Christian needs others for the sake of Jesus Christ. It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. It means, third, that from eternity we have been chosen in Jesus Christ, accepted in time, and united for eternity.
First, Christians are persons who no longer seek their salvation, their deliverance, their justification in themselves, but in Jesus Christ alone. They know that God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces them guilty, even when they feel nothing of their own guilt, and that God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces them free and righteous, even when they feel nothing of their own righteousness. Christians no longer live by their own resources, by accusing themselves and justifying themselves, but by God’s accusation and God’s justification. They live entirely by God’s Word pronounced on them, in faithful submission to God’s judgment, whether it declares them guilty or righteous

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible, ed. Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Albrecht Schönherr, and Geffrey B. Kelly, trans. Daniel W. Bloesch and James H. Burtness, vol. 5, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996), 31.

Edgar Allan Poe — A Tale of Jerusalem


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This is a strange and wildly ahistorical tale. It speaks of three Jewish temple workers, one identified as a priest, who are upon a battlement looking over the army of Pompey surrounding the city. They have made  deal with Pompey to purchase a temple sacrifice. They let down the money in a basket. The Romans mock the Jews and claim that Phoebus is a true God. The basket become enshrouded in a mist, indeed the entire world outside the city walls seems enshrouded in mist.

While they wait, they moan that they shall lose their positions and their service. Finally, something of weight is felt on the basket and they begin to haul.

They pull up the basket and cannot make out what it is until it is quite close. They at first each think the Romans have provided something wonderful. Only at the end do they realize their error, they have been hauling up “a hog of no common size”:

Now, El Emanu! slowly, and with upturned eyes, ejaculated the trio, as, letting go their hold, the emancipated porker tumbled headlong among the Philistines, “El Emanu — God with with us — it is the unutterable flesh!”

The historical details are all wrong. The Jews of the city have nothing in common with the actual human beings of this time — who would have been far more sophisticated and understanding of Romans and their customs. The men speak of a world 1,000 years old (for the most part), the Romans are not even contemporary with Rome of the time (beyond their contempt). The Romans come across as powerful and crass.

Yet, that “fault” actually helps to make the point of the story: First, the men of the City are described as extraordinarily outwardly pious. They seem obsessively so as a matter of pride. Their concern as they wait for the basket is for their own position.

The men are then abused of their hope: they are to be put out of their positions. Their poker is “emancipated” (which is a nice comic touch in this instance).

The effect of the story is a parable how the prideful men — who gave the temple money to  their enemies — are then surprised that their enemies have treated them so. They consider whether the Romans (“worshippers of Baal” among other inaccurate descriptions), are generous, fickle or merely conducting good business.

In the end, it is a story of foolish men who misplace their trust, waste their treasure, and are rewarded with injury.

The tale is a parody of a popular novel from 1828, Zillah, a Tale of Jerusalem, by Horace Smith (1777-1849). Poe incorporated whole phrases and sentences from Smith’s story: “Poe’s story is more than a parody; it is literally a collage of snatches of the Smith novel, cut out and pasted together in a new order. Read immediately after Zillah, it is very funny. Read without Zillah it is merely a puzzling and even offensive anecdote” (Levine 352).

I have not read Smith’s story, and so I cannot comment on the parody.

For the text of this short story and notes on the allusions and references in the story, see here.

The Rise and Fall of Logical Positivism


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[Henry wrote] the six-volume God, Revelation and Authority. GRAis still the most sustained theological epistemology by any American theologian. It deserves to be read more than it is, but it is not easy to read. Theologian Millard Erickson once said, with a twinkle in his eye, “I love Carl Henry’s work. It’s extremely important. I hope someday that it is translated into English!”

Carl F. Henry, God Revelation and Authority, Vol. 1, pp. 96-121

In this essay, Henry reviews the challenge of logical positivism to the Christianity, and Christianity’s responses. First, he defines the challenge as follows:

What they especially affirmed, rather, is that statements about the supernatural simply cannot be regarded as factual, that religious language lacks objective cognitive validity, and that assertions about God are meaningless nonsense. Logical positivists applied the terms meaningless and nonsensical not simply to demarcate statements about nonempirical reality, but also to belittle all but empirically verifiable statements as cognitively vacuous. They held that cognitively meaningful propositions must involve empirical observations that lead either to their acceptance as true or their dismissal as false.

 Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 97.  While there are serious nuances to the the basic propositions about logical positivism, it essentially was a claim that only matters which were empirically verifiable were “true”.  To say that “Murder is wrong” might be interesting, but it was not “true”. Since ethics could not be true, God seemed even more difficult a matter. 

To respond to this philosophical challenge, Christians undertook various tactics.  Henry notes that Evangelical Christians do not deny verification, we admit to its existence and importance. “Instead, it presses the question of what epistemological tests are appropriate to every indicated object of knowledge.”

John Hicks asked the question about the public nature of verification: how many people have to verify a proposition for it to be true?  The incontestably public nature of Christian truth claims will not become universally acknowledged until the Eschaton.  But logical positivism rules out any future verification.

Others, such as John Wilson insists that knowledge of God is true and verifiable, but not in the manner sought by the logical positivists: however, this verification is personal not public and empirical to all. Henry then thoughts the push-back on this idea. Logical positivism is looking for sensory data, something coming through the retina, not the mind.

But there was another means of responding to logical positivism: What if its basic proposition of verification was faulty?

Equally important was the question whether the positivist methodology could bear the weight of all the intellectual traffic that was detoured its way. It makes little difference what lies on the other side if the bridge we are compelled to take is sure to collapse before we cross it. Instead of acceding to positivist demands, the far more discerning course—dictated by the inherent requirement of evangelical beliefs and by the nature of the real world—was to expose how implausible as the test of meaning was the positivist theory of verifiability.

Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 102. Soon, others besides theologians responded to logical positivism’s demands for verification.  The verification principle was doomed to failure, because it could not bear the traffic. Indeed, it was self-stultifying:

It became increasingly apparent, moreover, that to insist, as positivism did in its earliest formulations, that metaphysical assertions are unverifiable in principle and therefore cognitively vacuous was self-defeating and self-destructive. The demand for empirical verifiability of truth-claims did much more than downgrade to unverifiable speculation those theological and philosophical affirmations of a metaphysical nature that were distasteful to the positivists. For on this same basis—namely, the indispensability of empirical scientific veriftability—all statements about ethics (ought-assertions), including statements affirming universal human rights or requiring integrity in scientific research and experiments likewise become mere speculation. Not only all theological and ethical statements, but all statements about past historical events, because empirically unverifiable, are shorn of truth-status. Assertions about past memories or about present subjective psychological desires and intentions lose cognitive validity for the same reason. The fatal blow lay in this, however, that on positivist premises not even the basic positivist thesis—that only empirically verifiable statements are true—could be cognitively accredited, since it too, was empirically unverifiable. Logical positivists were convinced that they had leveled statements about God, sin and salvation to sheer nonsense; now they found themselves at the mourner’s bench, lamenting the death of their very own dogma. Theologians had been accused of speciously presuming to have knowledge about an invisible spiritual world. Now positivists were indicted of arbitrarily vetoing all metaphysical assertions except their own unverifiable epistemological bias.

Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 110–111. Translated into English, this is the point: Logical positivism tried to reduce all meaningful, true statements into statements which could be observed by the senses [including instruments] or could be logically deduced from such observations.  However, that rule cannot be true on the basis of Logical Positivism’s rule: You cannot see this rule in nature, nor is it a logical deduction from such observations. Therefore, logical positivism cannot be true.

An interesting note in the essay is the discussion of atheist Anthony Flew who abandoned his atheism prior to his death.

Religion Meddles in All Matters


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[As with everything, I reserve the right to correct this argument; it is like most things here, a draft]

In his history of early Christianity, Rodney Stark noted the following conclusion of those who have studied the mechanics of conversion (that is movement into some religious group to the point of identification):

By now dozens of close-up studies of conversion have been conducted. All of them confirm that social networks are the basic mechanism through which conversion takes place. To convert someone, you must first become that person’s close and trusted friend. But even your best friends will not convert if they already are highly committed to another faith. Clearly, these same principles applied as fully in the first century as in modern times.

Stark, Rodney. Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome (p. 13). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.  In a recent interview, sociologist Harvey Whitehouse discussed the concept of a “fused” identification with a group — a level of relationship with the group which explains as an “intense form of cohesion”.  Both of sources explain that the beliefs of the group become more important to the members after they join the group.

Whitehouse notes how rituals will introduce a person into a group and make them “fused” with that group.  (There is the interesting tone of the article, in which the interviewer and the interviewed both seem to think themselves beyond this primitive act of belonging to some group; perhaps I am wrong, but the tone is there.)  But why is this so? That Whitehouse concedes, “No one really knows.”

The fact that there is a sociology and mechanism by which one enters into a group and that such a pattern seems to be independent of the actual core commitments of that group (Whitehouse notes, “Fusion in football and religion really isn’t very different.”) could lead one to conclude that religion is thus arbitrary.

However, the fact of a mechanism does not tell us “why” (as Whitehouse acknowledges) rituals have an effect upon people. He can only see that they are useful to help form an identification with a group.

If Christianity is true (and I hold it is), then it must and can explain why this mechanism exists:  Human beings were created for worship. When this worship is misdirected, the mechanisms for this worship will continue be active and fasten upon the wrong object. As Paul says in Romans 1, having abandoned worship of the Creator, human beings worship the creature. Rom. 1:25. Therefore, one can worship God or football.

That the mechanism misfires (such as when a person joins a dangerous cult and thereafter engages in crime), or overcharges something which does not deserve the attention (look at your social media and see the people absurdly over-invested in sports, entertainment or politics to the point that it becomes their identity and they reject other forms of cohesion, such as family, in favor of a political party), merely proves the importance of the biblical command, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

James K.A. Smith, in his book Desiring the Kingdom, argues that these mechanisms which form our identity are the mechanisms which direct ourselves and make them meaningful (in one direction or another):

a philosophical anthropology that recognizes that we are, ultimately, liturgical animals because we are fundamentally desiring creatures. We are what we love, and our love is shaped, primed, and aimed by liturgical practices that take hold of our gut and aim our heart to certain ends.

Smith, James K. A.. Desiring the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (p. 40). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. The “liturgies” are the  “rituals” which Whitehouse noted created the cohesion of the group.

Now, when we think of these liturgies, we must be careful not box them up to some special place — like a church. Political idolators have very few temples to attend. Sports only take place a limited number of times a year and yet adherents can be consumed in the off-season. The rituals or liturgies are all around us all the time.

As Richard Sibbes writes in The Spiritual Man’s Aim, “Religion meddles in all matters.” While he is referring specifically to Christianity as “religion” (and the word “meddle” in the 17th century did not indicate a busybody, but rather involvement with), his proposition is more broadly applicable: that thing which is our religion, that matter which forms our most basic commitments and gives us an identity in relationship to others will invest itself into all matters of our life.

A person who is nominally connected to some identity, such an occasional religious adherent may live a life utterly inconsistent with his religious pretensions. Such casual hypocrisy is everywhere realized. But there are other commitments which formative and which that person will not violate. When it comes to commitments and communities (if you will) which are the de facto positions of that society, the commitments will appear effectively invisible to the adherents. They will likely seem themselves as members of no group and “fused” with nothing other than their reason and individual existence.

It also then true that one’s relationship to the group will be critical to maintaining one’s position with the group — the de facto position of the broader society will create a sufficient gravity to pull one into the primary cultural commitments (the liturgies of the broader culture have the advantage of being everywhere always present; you could make a Marxist argument for reification of sorts).

When it comes to the Christian life, the presentation of Christ to the world in the life of the Church is the Church’s apologetic (as Francis Schaffer rightly said), and must be thereafter part of the process of maturation:

The invitation implicit in this story is not simply to an individual relationship with God (though that is one implication). The invitation is to become part of the new people of God, the bride of Christ. It suggests a spirituality with a much more communal orientation. Here is a spirituality in which we grasp the amazing dimensions of Christ’s love “together with all the saints” (Ephesians 3: 18). We model and embody God’s love for one another (1 John 4: 12). I have a relationship with God because we have a relationship with God. There are persons of God because there is a people of God.

Chester, Tim; Timmis, Steve. Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community (Re: Lit Books) (p. 149). Crossway. Kindle Edition. And:

We need to create church cultures in which it is normal and expected for everyone lovingly to confront and persuade everyone. As William Lane says, “The avoidance of apostasy demands not simply individual vigilance but the constant care of each member of the community for one another.” 2 Sin is deceitful (v. 13). It never presents itself as sin. It creeps up on us, camouflaged and reasonable: “Of course you have a right to be angry after what they did.” “Of course you ought to sleep together since you’re planning to get married.” “Of course you should have a drink with that man— you need some of the appreciation your husband never gives you.” Often we are the last to notice its deceit, but others can and often do. That is why being part of a gospel community is so vital.

Chester, Tim; Timmis, Steve. Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community (Re: Lit Books) (pp. 150-152). Crossway. Kindle Edition:

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Hebrews 3:12-13 (ESV).

In the Christian life, we have often seen how one first breaks with the church and then with the doctrine. There is a moral break, and then there is an intellectual “explanation”.


Now it is precisely here where Christianity must be clear that the relationship is not ultimately to one-another: the true “fused” relationship is with Christ:

Jesus’ call itself already breaks the ties with the naturally given surroundings in which a person lives. It is not the disciple who breaks them; Christ himself broke them as soon as he called. Christ has untied the person’s immediate connections with the world and bound the person immediately to himself. No one can follow Christ without recognizing and affirming that that break is already complete. Not the caprice of a self-willed life, but Christ himself leads the disciple to such a break

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, ed. Martin Kuske et al., trans. Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss, vol. 4, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 93. Bonhoeffer elsewhere explains that our relationship to one-another is a relationship to one-another in Christ: you and I related to Christ and thus to one-another.

And so, the observation of these sociologists describe something which was already inherent in Christianity: the need for a worshipping community, the Church to bring people into fellowship and to bring about maturity. As John writes in his first epistle:

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

1 John 1:1–4 (ESV)


The priority of life over intellectual adherence may sound odd or even wrong to a Christian, because Christianity is a religion of a very definitive doctrinal commitment (although many call themselves Christian without any commitment to any proposition). We must admit that the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to create the Church. Yet, what does that Word command?  Love God and love your neighbor (and yes the nature of the love is carefully laid out, it is not a vague emotion).

Jesus says that our love for one another will be both admission to the world of our being disciples of Jesus and a verification of Jesus’s claim to be Messiah. As important as doctrine is, we are not saved to become theologians (although all have a duty to be theologically sound, as this is necessary for maturity); we are saved for good works.  Eph. 2:10

It is in the worshipping community that we come to understand the full depth of Christian thought and life. It is a thing which can only be rightly understood on the inside.

And, it is also the case that only the Holy Spirit’s operation on a person is sufficient to make that person find the Christian life and commitments sufficiently desirable that they will make the commitments and investment to become part of the Body of Christ. That is why “Church” mechanisms which rely upon attraction and flash and look little different than the attraction of a musical act or a sports team do not create actual Christian conversions. It may create an adherence to some local congregating group with the word “church” on the door (but often not); but it cannot create a member of the Body of Christ.


The Spiritual Chymist, Meditation XXXI


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Upon the Shadow of a Man




How absolute as well as general is David’s assertion, Surely every man walketh in a vain shew, or image [Ps. 39:6]: leading an imaginary life rather than a real life: fleeing away as a shadow, rather than abiding as a substance. 

How shall I therefore fix a meditation upon the shadow of a shadow? Or hint ought that may be useful to any man, which grows only from so slender a principle as a shadow? And yet, if it be there which Lorinus says, that the art of imagery was first learned from a due observation of those resemblances and proportions which the shadow bears unto the body; why may not some moral considerations be suggested unto us from the different motions, opposite variations, sudden vanishings, which every man may daily behold in his own shadow? 

Are not these genuine thoughts for a man to conceive that it is with him and with every Christian as it is with those who walk with their faces towards the sun, the dark shadow behind them; but when they turn from the sun, it forthwith changes its place comes before them. When they travel with their facts to the Sun of Righteousness, their paths are full of light and comfort; but when they turn from him, what dark images of death. What ghastly apparitions of hell and destruction go before them every step they tread. Yea, the further they wander from God, how does their terror increase, and their fears multiply, which are stretched out like the shadows of evening, until at length they be swallowed up in the black darkness of night? 

O that the apostates would think of this, who after they have set their faces towards heaven do again turn them towards hell; who, after they have known the way of righteousness depart from the holy commandment delivered uno them.

Can you hearts endure those dismal spectrums that you shall continually behold? Will you not, like the hypocrites of Zion, at length cry out, Who shall swell devouring fire and everlasting burnings? [Is. 33:14]

O that the children of light and of the day would consider this, what great changes are made in their estate and comforts by the aversions from God? Have they not cause to say and wish as Job did, O that I were as the daies when God preserved me, when his candle shined upon my head. [Job 29:3]

When his favor was like the sun in the zenith which casts its beams directly, as that it makes no shadow at all. Surely they will find that the shades of sin are far more dismal than the darkest nights of affliction; and that unless the light of God’s favor, which like the sun on the dial of Ahaz has gone down many degrees, do return back again as many [2 Kings 20:11]; they cannot, like Ezekiel, have any comfortable assurance that they shall live and not die.

O Lord,

Therefore, hold up my goings in thy paths

That my footsteps be not moved

And let me always be rather as those who faces are towards Zion

Though I go weeping, 

Than as those who turns he back upon thee

And consider not that their steps go down to the chambers of death.

The Spiritual Chymist, Meditation XXX


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Who is the favorite of heaven, with whom the high and lofty one, that inhabits eternity, will dwell?

Upon the Palpitation of the Heart

The pearl which is in the oyster is a disease, in the cabinet is a jewel of rich value, and in the ear an ornament of an orient beauty. And such a thin is the trembling or palpitation of the heart; in the body it is a sad malady, in the soul it is a heavenly grace: They who are afflicted with the once, seek earnestly to the physician for a cure; and they who want [lack] the other, importune God to obtain if form him as a blessing when once they know the excellency and worth of it.

Who is the favorite of heaven, with whom the high and lofty one, that inhabits eternity, will dwell? And to whom will he look with an eye of protection, with an eye of grace and delight? Is it not to him that is of a contrite heart and that trembles at his word? [Isaiah 66:1-2]

Who is the best saint on the earth? Is not he who uses most diligence to work out his salvation with fear and trembling? [Phil. 2:12]

All duties are best done with this holy trembling. Prayer and confession of sins are never better made than we imitate those penitent of Ezra who sat trembling in the street of the house of God. [Ezra 10:1] The Word is never more awfully received [received with a sense of awe] as the will and command of a great king, than when received as the elders of Bethlehem did Samuel, who trembling at his coming. [1 Samuel 16:4]

O methinks I cannot without wonder read how Paul lived among the Corinthians, in with fear and much trembling, as sensible of the weight of his ministry. [1 Cor. 2:3] And how they again received Titus, Paul’s messenger, with the like affection, not entertaining him with costly banquets, with court-like salutation, but with fear and trembling, which is the highest respect that can be shown to the doctrine of Christ. [2 Cor. 7:15]

Yea, the Suppoer of the Lord itself, thought it be a feast of love in which, who is all love is the chief and only dish, that a soul has to feed upon, is best celebrated with a divine trembling, which may correct our joy and keep it from degenerating into a carnal mirth.

The sparkling rays of light which are reflected from the polished diamond are much beautified by those tremulous motions which the eye behold in the stone: and so spiritual joy receives no little addition of luster and sweetness by the mixtures of trembling that appear in it.

How great then is the folly and wickedness of the sons of Belial [Deut. 13:13], who scoff at the awful [full of awe] behavior which any exercise in the service of God? As Michal did David’s dancing before the ark [2 Sam. 6:20], as if it were nothing but pusillanimity [cowardice] which would beseem children, better than Christians, who startle often at their own groundless imaginations.

But are the angels cowards which tremble in the presence of God? Is it anything unbecoming them who continually stand in his presence to express a fear of him, as well as love unto him?

How then can it be indecent for worthless creates to serve the great Jehovah with a holy awe and fear of his Majesty?

O God,
I am conscious unto myself
How little all my duties have been intervened with this divine grace.
I have prayed before thee,
But not trembled,
I have not feared thee
The Great Law-Giver,
Nor trembled at they commands.
I have heard often of thee by the hearing of the ear,
Yet I have not abhorred myself.
And therefore, I humbly beg of thee
That thou wouldst help me to sanctify thy name in my heart
And to make thee my fear and my dread;
That so I may neither abuse they mercy
Not yet provoke thy justice.