Friday 6 August 2021

Three errors of traditional Christian theologies

Error 1. An exclusive focus on salvation - when theosis should be the main activity of mortal living

Traditional theology has tended to make salvation a problem, a difficulty, the proper main focus of our mortal lives. When actually salvation is as easy as wanting it and committing to follow Jesus through death into Heavenly life eternal. 

This is clear from the Fourth Gospel (of 'John') - but traditionally Christianity chose to subordinate the Fourth Gospel into a framework provided by Matthew, Luke and Paul.

Salvation is in truth therefore a choice - and that choice is finally made after death; our nature and what we do in mortal life contributes to the outcome of that choice. 

But salvation is not 'a problem', and attaining salvation is certainly not supposed to be the focus of Christian life. Each Christian is meant to have the happiness that comes from hope - and the hope which comes from faith - and to derive happiness and security from his decision to follow Jesus. 

Christians are Not supposed to be fretting and worrying (or despairing) in doubts concerning the certainty of our salvation.  

The proper focus of Christian life should therefore be 'theosis' or becoming more divine (more God-like) - more divine not temporarily in this mortal life; but eternally after resurrection. 

In sum, this continued mortal life exists in order that we may become more God-like after resurrection: that is the reason of mortal life (and why we do not all die as soon as incarnated, while innocent - and before we have a chance to fall into damnation).   

Error 2. Double-negative theology of mortal life - when it is actually an education

Traditional theology has sometimes included theosis, but only in a 'double-negative' context. 

Original Sin is an example of double-negative theology. This posits that damnation (and Hell) is the default for all humans of whatever age, time or place - unless they are saved (by faith, the church, good works - or whatever). The negative is assumed, and Christianity posited to remove that negative. 

For another example of negative theology; Medieval Roman Catholic theology and practice developed the idea that the post-mortal state of purgatory could be shortened and ameliorated by the activities of the living (prayer and other offerings). By the actions of mortal life, post-mortal life would be less-bad - which is what I mean by a double-negative conceptualization. 

This is a negative theosis - we are not becoming better Men with a positive pay-off after death; not becoming more like God - but are alleviating various sufferings imposed by God. 

The nature of mortal life was often conceptualized especially by Protestants in terms of salvation almost-purely (leaving out theosis) - so that by wrong choices in this mortal life would could fail to commit to following Jesus and be damned, or could sin and fail to repent and be damned... 

At the extreme, our eternal state was dictated by our spiritual state at the moment of death - and the rest of life had no effect. Mortal Life was therefore a test; something that could be failed - but not something by which we could be spiritually and eternally improved. 

Such a view of mortal life devalues it into a problem 

But - especially after we have realized that salvation is not a problem - once we want it, and are prepared to do whatever is necessary to follow Jesus after death; then Mortal Life should be seen positively. 

Our mortal life should be seen as potentially incremental and building towards a positive post-mortal outcome. We have experiences (provided for us by God, the creator) - and we may learn (what God intends) from these experiences - and thereby undergo theosis; and become better equipped for a more God-like life after death and resurrection. 


Error 3. Regarding only Men as alive and conscious - when universal consciousness of beings is the reality

This error was already present at its foundation but has become much more severe over the history of Christianity. Until by now, Christianity is assumed to be only about men and women (Men) - human beings; and the rest of creation is assumed to be unconscious, lacking purpose - and most of the world is regarded as 'dead' - i.e. the 'material' world of physics which operates only by deterministic causes or 'randomness'. 

This has led to the present usual idea of Christianity as being almost exclusively about 'morality'; as a moral play acted-out against a backdrop of dead and/or unconscious stuff. 

But the truth is that this is a universe of Beings, who are all - in different ways - alive, conscious and with purpose. The drama of salvation and theosis plays-out for all Beings - in different ways. 

As ancient Men knew, and as human children are born knowing; Man lives among Beings - and all that we know, we know about Beings. 

When God created reality - God created Beings - and Beings are what God created - God did not create merely dead/ unconscious/ inert stuff

A corrected Christian theology

When these traditional errors are corrected we can realize firstly that - for those who have become Christian, and chosen to follow Jesus through death to resurrection as their primary commitment - this mortal life is mainly about theosis. Secondly that this theosis is positive - which means that the lessons we learn in this mortal life have a positive benefit for our post-mortal, Heavenly life. And thirdly that the drama of our mortal lives is enacted in a living and conscious world of purposive Beings - most of whom are not human.  


Pangloss said...

"and Paul". Paul is all about how to live the Christian life. "Not I, but Christ (in me)". Being reborn means having two natures: Adam's and Christ's. When a person is not reborn, he only has Adam's nature which cannot please God, and which nature cannot be fixed either. We need to live out of this second man whilst we still have the first man in us. As John the Baptist says in John 3:30: "He must increase, but I must decrease". Watchman Nee's The Normal Christian Life and Miles Stanford's The Green Letters are good introductions to what Paul wrote on this. Without Paul's letters we would barely know how to live a Christian life. Take his letters away and apart from indeed the Fourth Gospel, the New Testament by and large is a Jewish book.

Bruce Charlton said...

P - Well, yes - but I am saying that is mistaken; that's the point of this post.

If Chapters 1-20 of the Fourth Gospel really were written by a disciple of Jesus shortly after the events described; then it ought to be the basis for understanding what Jesus said and wanted from all Men for all time.

Whereas at some point it was decided to give priority to later secondary interpretations by non-eye-witnesses, and ideas of how the institutional church should be organized.

Pangloss said...

Bruce, if you discard direct revelations from Christ through the Holy Spirit, to Paul and John (Revelations), sure, as you believe it is: the closet in time and space to the events, the more reliable. Yet this is a historical/temporal approach, not a spiritual one. I am mot mistaken. Paul received a special ministry. Particularly because he did not meet Christ during His time on earth, he was able to show us Christ as seated on the right hand of the Father. Which is the current situation.

Bruce Charlton said...

@P - Well, it is not history - but different people make different *spiritual* assumptions. And they are assumptions - but assumptions should be backed by individual revelation/ personal intuition. I believe that we should acknowledge that *that* is how they are validated - and not by secondhand authority.

Francis Berger said...

All the points you make are spot on, but I am particularly drawn to the first error you note. Traditional concepts often reduce the purpose of life to the "negative" of being saved from something, without really focusing on the plain fact that life should also be "for" something.

Salvation is necessary; it lays the foundation for theosis. To serve its deeper purpose, a foundation needs to be "built upon". Otherwise, its function is limited and not fully utilized.

Grey said...

What tradition? Plato and Aristotle are protoevangelion, and Christian theology has normally followed one of them or the other. In Platio an objects ideal is its spiritual aspect. In Aristotle there are different types of anima or soul, and it is not unique to humans, though humans possess a unique type of soul. Aquinas expands that to a universe of beings of pure intellect which are clearly conscious.

For one and two a deeper understanding of theosis/sanctification/perfection is needed: A perfect society does not have imperfect people. Call that negative if you want, but it's nearly a tautology. Salvation IS Theosis. To be saved is to be part of the Kingdom. To a Christian Salvation is something that did happen, is happening, and will happen. The dispute about purgatory (or celestial toll booths) can be reduced to this: does God somehow perfect is instantly at death or is there more work to do after this life?

The purgatorial view makes this life matter more, not less, because our work now is carried over to then.

Either way none of this is 'suffering imposed by God'in any traditional church worth its salt. He is with us every step of the way making the arduous road to trancendenence as easy as it can be made.

The Lewis/Tolkein 'ever further, ever deeper' view of after death Theosis is quite beautiful. I believe the prayers of the living can help with that journey, but that doesn't mean that journey is suffering. Indeed purgatory is explicitly not punishment.

I think what you are calling traditional theology is contemporary theology. It is not the tradition of Luther or Aquinas or Finney or Crysothomom or any major tradition setter I know of.