Tag Archives: dualism

Material Possessions and Bad Dating Relationships

I recently watched a two-hour discussion between a couple of Christian preachers from a big conference. I’ll leave everyone nameless because I’m less interested in who they were than what they discussed. In particular, at one point they entered into a debate about the way we as Christians need to think about material things. The first pastor (we’ll call him John) argued that the central issue for Americans is that they need to give up their attachment to material things (houses, cars, food, money, etc.). The second pastor (who we’ll call Doug) said this might be true, but that we also had to teach them how to truly enjoy and think about the material things they have, since most of them aren’t called to simply get rid of them. John agreed in principle, but pointed out that this wasn’t nearly as common a problem as over-attachment. Doug argued it’s still an issue because otherwise people are just left feeling guilty about the things they have, after which the conversation moved on to other things.

I have to confess that my sympathies are actually with Doug, but if you’re on John’s side, hear me out. It’s the last comment, that of feeling guilty about what you have, that I think highlights the weaknesses of the simplistic self-denial approach. But first, an anecdote. Continue reading

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Filed under Unsolicited Advice

Gardening and [Censored]

“The very first person who was created to reflect God’s glory to the world was called to be a gardener.”

Or so a wise man I know is fond of pointing out. I’ve reflected several times in the past on the value of vocation, but I find myself ruminating on it again tonight. However, that’s not the topic of this post. Rather, I want to offer some thoughts on a related tangent.

The reason we have such a hard time with the thought that God calls people to do things as earthy and simple as gardening is that we are, for all intents and purposes, material atheists. That is to say, we are deeply disturbed by the thought that God would have to do with the material world – with the dirty stuff of, well, dirt. I was reminded of this recently in an unexpected place. I heard someone present the Bible’s view of sex, highlighting  the deep, covenantal significance of Adam and Eve’s sexual relationship as the first husband and wife. It was as good a theology of sex as I’ve heard, discussing its power and beauty as an enactment of the way people give themselves to each other in marriage.

What got me wasn’t any of that. Instead, it was one person’s response to it. “This is great!” he said. “You’re saying that sex doesn’t just have to be this physical thing, that we can invite God into it and make it something really spiritual and meaningful.”

Now, if you’re wondering, this was absolutely not what had been said. Sex was being held up as meaningful and significant, yes. As a good gift of God and an opportunity to demonstrate your marriage vows to your wife or husband. But none of this was offered as some mystical alternative approach to sex. It wasn’t as if these things became true by saying a prayer or reading some verses. Instead, they already are true. God made it that way. Sexuality, just like every part of our lives, is already spiritual (and physical too!)

Which brings me to my accusation of being “material atheists.” It’s not that we don’t believe in God or anything so crass. We certainly know He’s out there, or perhaps in our hearts… we just don’t think he has anything to do with the stuff of this world. It’s as if it is the bread in a Catholic mass – God doesn’t have anything to do with it until we say the magic words and turn it into something otherworldly (I realize Catholic brothers and sisters won’t appreciate the analogy – I apologize; take it in the spirit intended. Some of you do a much better job of recognizing God’s involvement  in the world around us than most Protestants.) The same becomes true of sex, or work, or food, or conversation. We cannot believe that God is involved with them as they are.

Yet the fact is, eating and drinking and (I’m failing to think of a non-profane and pithy way to say “having sex,” but we’ll just go with that) and gardening are all spiritually-charged activities, one way or the other. We do not have to dedicate a bottle of whiskey or a paycheck to Satan to use it for evil. We simply have to use them in ways that aren’t in keeping with God’s will. In the same way, we don’t have to divorce the ordinary things of this world from their this-worldliness to use them for God’s glory. We simply need to use them as He intends, with thankful worship in our hearts to Him as their creator.

The way to make a flower garden “spiritual” is not to put little crosses between the petunias. It is simply to tend it well, the Holy Spirit in our hearts welling up within us to give praise to the garden’s Lord.

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Missing the Marx

(A note to those interested: I might be blogging a bit this semester after my long hiatus. Stay tuned, but don’t get your hopes up.)

In a recent conversation with several people I go to church with, we ended up talking about the Beatitudes and the priorities of Jesus’ kingdom. In particular, we were discussing what Scripture had to say about the poor. Several things stood out to me in this conversation, and I think their relationship is particularly instructive to Christians wrestling with political issues.

As we talked, some people in the conversation repeatedly said that my position – that Jesus is using such passages to teach the priorities of the Kingdom in that God focuses His concern on and exercises His power through people and things despised and oppressed by the world – was Marxist. I found this ironic on two levels.

First, those of you who know me realize that my political convictions are anything but Marxist. My tendency is rather to sympathize with a Friedman-esque libertarianism that sometimes borders on anarcho-capitalism.

Second, this comparison shows something deeper about the Christian mindset, and this is what I’d like to unpack a little bit. I would argue that the dualism which underlies my friends’ assumptions about this text (it’s about spiritual poverty, it’s about offering the poor “Jesus” in some way detached from their physical needs) actually end up fostering and encouraging the godless, utopian political tyrannies they so despise.

Here’s what I mean. In a robust view of the kingdom it is through the church, indwelt by the Spirit and empowered by Christ’s resurrection, that change comes to the world. Since the church proclaims the gospel, it has the power of God to transform hearts and make the new humanity. Since she worships the God of all creation, this gospel transformation will reach into every sphere of life – experiences, relationships, economics, politics, etc. However, these spheres are all subordinate to Him. I can meaningfully speak into the political sphere because I’m not relying on it to accomplish something. I can long to make it just and equitable and free precisely because I don’t need it to solve all the world’s problems.

When we embrace a dualism that puts the worlds problems outside of God’s concern – when we believe God’s only answer to hunger is that we’ll be fed in heaven and His only answer to injustice is eternal punishment – where do we turn when the brokenness of this world rears its ugly head? If we can’t avail ourselves of the power of Christ, we must make use of idolatrous power instead. This is where Marxism comes back in. It is the dualist who gives license to its claims, because it is the dualist who cannot offer a more excellent way.

I have no need of socialism (or, for that matter, fascism or liberalism or conservatism). The God of Scripture cares for every human need – for spiritual intimacy and forgiveness of sin, but also for hunger and injustice and sex and beauty. None of our petty political deities can compare with Him, and none of their social programs can compete with Him. I still have political convictions, but they are now in proper perspective – as one goal of God’s plan rather than the means to accomplish it.

This is why, in my concern for the poor, I could never advocate Marxism (or any other political -ism). It shares some parts of God’s vision, granted, but it is ultimately unnecessary and counter-productive. God has given us the means, through generosity and love, through the Spirit and worship, and through our possessions and prayers, to address every problem this world faces. Every one of them. The beatitudes teach us that poverty must be addressed, but they also teach us the deeper irony – that the means of healing for poverty will come not from the halls of wealth and power but from what is weak and despised by this world.

A dualistic, “spiritualized” God cannot offer us a better hope than Caesar, but Jesus Christ can.

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Filed under Jesus and the President, Theologia