Category Archives: Worldview

The Transforming Vision (Part Three)

The following is an excerpt from Mere Disciple: A Spiritual Guide for Emerging Leaders (Chapter Two).

This is the third in a series of blogs dealing with dualism and the Christian faith.  Click to read Part One and Part Two.

A Christian Dualism

The outworking of this collision between Plato’s dualism and the revelation of Scripture was that Plato’s higher world of forms was replaced with the sacred dimension of reality, while the lower world of matter became the repository for all things secular.  Then, using the Bible as their guide, Augustine and Aquinas divided elements of reality into either the sacred or secular category, all the while believing this would promote discipleship and strengthen the faith of those they taught.  The result: a Christian dualistic worldview that was little more than a remixed version of Plato’s dualism.

What was the essential message of this Christianized version of Plato’s worldview?  Almost the same as Plato’s: if you spend your life doing things “above the line” and avoid things “below the line,” you will experience transformation and spiritual growth. This made the call of discipleship pretty straightforward, because all you needed to do was busy yourself with sacred (i.e., heavenly/holy) activities while avoiding secular (i.e., worldly/sinful) ones.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “So what? The Bible talks about spiritual things and unspiritual things.  I don’t see the problem with this perception of reality.”

Exactly. That’s the point. The things that pose the greatest threat to us are rarely the things that are obvious.  What makes this worldview so dangerous is that it sounds biblical because it uses biblical themes, terms, and ideas.  But cults do the same thing, and there’s nothing truthful, good, or genuinely biblical about cults.  Just because something sounds Christian or biblical doesn’t mean it is.

Which brings me to my major point: I believe the greatest obstacle to following Jesus as a disciple is this Christian dualistic worldview.  Actually, it’s not Christian at all, and I will therefore be using the term dualism when referring to it from this point forward.

This dualistic worldview is not a slightly inaccurate prescription lens but a completely distorted one.  It’s not enough to call it a faulty paradigm; dualism is a deeply anti-Christian way of seeing and understanding reality.  This assertion may seem strong, but this dualistic view is not compatible with a faith that is shaped by Scripture, because it is built on two faulty assumptions:

  1. Reality is composed of two separate worlds.
  2. These worlds exist in opposition to each other, one being fundamentally good and the other fundamentally evil.

Notice the first assumption:  reality is composed of two separate worlds.  Really?  I think there are different dimensions within God’s creation, but nowhere in Scripture does it even come close to insinuating that the cosmos suffers from split-personality disorder.  Biblically speaking, reality is a unified and integrated creation of God (Genesis 1–2).  While there are mysterious and unfathomable dimensions within creation, the Bible teaches us that all of these dimensions come together in ways that overlap and interlock; they do not exist as distinct worlds with absolute borders and boundaries.

Now notice the second assumption dualism makes:  activities “above the line” (i.e., the sacred world of forms/mind) are automatically good, holy, and right, while things “below the line” (i.e., the secular world of matter/body) are automatically evil, unholy, and sinful.  But is that the case?  Is going to church automatically a holy and good activity?  Is prayer always done in a way that is right and good?  Is sex always a sinful act?  Does my job as a pastor mean that I am automatically more Christ-like and holy than my neighbour who works as an electrician?  The answer to all of these questions is, “Obviously not!”  However, a dualistic worldview forces you to give a very different answer; it forces you to say “Yes” to each of these questions.

Because of the assumptions dualism forces us to adopt, we need to reject it as unbiblical and deeply anti-Christian.  A dualistic worldview—even a Christianized one—is not a worldview that allows us to see reality clearly in order to navigate it faithfully.

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The Transforming Vision (Part Two)

The following is an excerpt from Mere Disciple: A Spiritual Guide for Emerging Leaders (chapter two)

This is the second in a series of blogs dealing with dualism and the Christian faith.  Click to read Part One.

A Brief History of the Western Worldview

Once upon a time, there was a man named Plato.  Plato was a revered Greek philosopher who was the understudy of Socrates, considered by many to be one of the most influential thinkers ever.  Plato was no slouch himself.  His ideas about the nature of reality would shape human thought and much of Western civilization for thousands of years.

Plato was a dualist.  That means he believed that reality was composed of two (dual) parts.  Plato came to call these two parts the world of forms and the world of matter.  For Plato, these two dimensions of reality could be differentiated based on whether the aspects of reality found in each were eternal (existing forever) or finite (existing for only a period of time).  The world of forms was the invisible, immaterial, and eternal part of reality.  The world of matter was the visible, material, and finite part of reality.  Because the world of forms contained those things which were eternal (e.g., ideas, concepts, thoughts, the gods, etc.), Plato came to promote this world as superior to the world of matter. The world of matter, after all, consisted of things that would eventually decay and cease to exist (e.g., plants, animals, the human body, etc.).

Plato used the human being as a living embodiment of his concept of a universal dualism, teaching that humans were composed of an invisible, eternal, “higher” immaterial mind and a visible, finite, “lower” physical body.  These two aspects were considered relatively separate and distinct for Plato (and subsequent Greek philosophers), and Plato’s mind/body dualism became a popular way of understanding the nature of both humanity and the larger universe.

From here, Plato took his model and began to plot which activities of life belonged where.  For each activity, Plato asked whether it belonged to the higher world of the mind or the lower world of the body.  Through this process, Plato would come to place all human activity either “above the line” or “below the line.”  Activities associated with the mind were celebrated and promoted, while those associated with the body were discouraged and shamed.  For example, activities like philosophy and education were given a place “above the line” because Plato viewed these as being rooted in ideas (which belonged to the eternal and invisible world of forms).  Activities like farming, sex, and physical fitness were placed “below the line” because they were rooted in acts of the body, which belonged to the finite and material world of matter, and were therefore seen as inferior uses of one’s energy and talents.

Plato’s counsel to all who would listen was to pursue a life that was absorbed in the world of forms (i.e., the mind).  Why?  Because Plato’s worldview assumed activities within this dimension of reality were the higher, eternal ones that held true significance.  To spend time participating in the world of matter was to squander one’s life away.  Why spend one’s life investing in things that will perish when one can invest in things that are eternal and incorruptible?  Plato’s worldview led to a general assumption that doing anything connected with material reality was a second-class option, one that was rarely valuable or legitimate in one’s development as a human being.

Plato’s dualistic worldview became immensely popular.  Many people adopted it as their worldview and took Plato’s counsel seriously.  Plato’s dualism underwent many evolutions and even faced significant opposition,[1] but the basic framework which Plato laid out for describing reality stood the test of time and continued to shape the development of human thought in relatively unhindered ways.

One of the interesting things to note is that some of Christianity’s most significant theologians and thinkers were heavily influenced by Plato’s thought.  Two of the most influential Christian theologians, St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, were sincere and devoted disciples of Jesus who serve as examples here.  After coming to faith they sought to provide would-be disciples with an accurate worldview rooted in the Bible that would promote faithfulness to Christ and his mission.  However, despite their attempts to ground their ideas in the revealed truths of Scripture, Augustine and Aquinas (albeit in different ways) integrated foundational elements of Plato’s dualism into their thinking.   Both of these thinkers were unable to discern the full extent to which Platonic dualism had shaped their own worldview assumptions, and the result was the creation of a worldview mash-up that combined Plato’s ideas and Biblical truths.


[1] Plato’s understudy Aristotle argued that the world of matter was superior to the world of forms.

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The Transforming Vision (Part One)

The following is an excerpt from Mere Disciple: A Spiritual Guide for Emerging Leaders (Chapter Two)

For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil,
there is one striking at the root.

— Henry David Thoreau

The challenges we will encounter as disciples are numerous.  However, the greatest obstacle to discipleship may not be what we assume.  When I ask people what the most significant challenge to faithfully following Jesus is, specific sins and temptations inevitably rise to the surface.  I don’t doubt how much these particular challenges shape the discipleship journey of those I talk to, but the things that pose the greatest threat to us are rarely the things that are most obvious—the “hot sins” (to borrow a phrase of Richard Rohr’s) that confront us and entice us.  Through my own journey of discipleship I’m learning that the greatest struggles have less to do with the things of this world and more to do with how I see the world.

All of us live our lives through a specific worldview, which acts like a pair of glasses[1] through which we see and interpret our world.  Our worldview is made up of our assumptions, expectations, experiences, and knowledge.  It includes everything from our views on fashion to morality to the role of government.  Much of the time we are unaware of our worldview, and we often mistakenly assume we’re seeing things the way they are—that our view is the correct one.  That’s why we all need to step back and make sure that the glasses we’re looking through are helping us to see clearly and not distorting our view of reality.  If the worldview we hold to doesn’t help us see reality with clarity and precision, we’ll find ourselves on a spiritual journey that parallels the children of Israel in the desert—years of wandering with no progress.

Does that feel like your experience of following Jesus sometimes?  You’ve tried hard, but no matter what you do it feels like you’re going in circles and failing to make any progress?  You’re not alone.  When I moved into my twenties, I was sincere, dedicated, and wanted to follow Jesus intentionally.  But I was like someone who had been given a terribly inaccurate lens through which to see the world and my calling as a disciple within it.  I quickly came to the realization that if I didn’t get new glasses, working harder wasn’t going to make much difference.

If someone is trying to get from point A to point B within a city, but they have impaired vision due to a bad prescription, driving faster will hardly be helpful.  They’ll just get lost faster!  Being positive and staying hopeful won’t make much difference either.  They’ll just be the most pleasant, visually impaired lost person on the road!

The solutions to the problems that confront us don’t necessarily come with trying harder, staying positive, or having more faith.  The solutions need to start with finding a pair of glasses that allows us to see things clearly and accurately. If we try to act differently without learning to see differently, we’ll be fighting an uphill battle.  But if we first try to see things differently, new behaviours will naturally follow.

But how do we change our glasses—how do we change our worldview?  We can’t.  Most of the time, a change in worldview is something that is done to us.  It comes during a time when we see, hear, learn, or experience something which is so at odds with our assumed understanding of the world that we are jolted into a new way of seeing.  Whatever the event or encounter is that causes us to see things differently, the effect is called a paradigm shift.  A paradigm is the way we see and understand something.  It’s another way of talking about the glasses through which we see the world.

One of the most significant and far-reaching paradigm shifts in my life occurred during my first year at Redeemer University College.  As an eighteen-year-old who had been a Christian for four years, I was almost completely unaware of the worldview through which I was trying to understand reality and follow Jesus, a worldview that was deeply flawed and full of untruths.  I needed a new prescription—a new set of worldview glasses that enabled me to see reality clearly and accurately—if I was going to follow Jesus in a way that was transformative.  And I got them.

In a small classroom full of people I did not know, my professor of worldview studies, Michael W. Goheen, proceeded to lead our class through a history of Christian theology and philosophy.  Those Wednesday afternoon classes were some of the most powerful of my university career, because they opened my eyes to what I have come to believe is the most significant enemy to genuine biblical faith and discipleship.


[1] I am borrowing the metaphor of a worldview lens from Dr. Albert Wolter’s exceptional work Creation Regained.  For an extended discussion on the topic of Christian worldview formation, I recommend both Creation Regained and The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview by Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton.

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What Do I Believe About Hell?

With Rob Bell’s latest book “Love Wins: Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Has Ever Lived” reinvigorating the discussion surrounding heaven, hell, life after death, and as N.T. Wright points out, the “life after life after death,” I went back into my book Mere Disciple to see what I’d written on the subject.

In chapter three (“Wild Beasts and Angels”), I worked my way through several biblical concepts that I believe Christians need to revisit consistently in order to deconstruct our often flawed assumptions of each concept, and allow the Scriptures to reshape our understanding of each.  Hell was one such concept, and what I was most surprised at was how little I said about it!  Hell wasn’t a focal point of my book.  I was simply trying to get the ball rolling by providing my readers (most of whom would be 16-25) with a jumping off point for discussion and further reflection and study.

Here’s what I wrote:

Hell.   The word hell comes from the Hebrew word Gehenna, which was a literal place located in the valley of Hinnon on the southwest slope of Jerusalem.  In Jesus’ day, it was used as a garbage dump, and it smouldered with continual fire.  At the time, some Jews used it as an image for the place of punishment after death.  Jesus’ own usage, however, does not simply localize hell to a reality after physical death, but builds upon the image to warn of the possibility of one’s life becoming a living hell through the pervasive, poisoning influence of sin.

In fact, I believe Jesus’ primary intent in his usage of the term hell was to teach us what we can expect our lives—in this world—to look and feel like if we pursue anti-God (i.e., sinful) ways of living.  Jesus’ references to hell (e.g. Matthew 5:22, 29; 10:28; 12:33) are not just an apt metaphor for describing God’s final judgement against those who reject His offer of rescue; they reveal that our lives can become a “hell on earth” if we fail to turn away from sin and its crippling, destructive power.

It’s clear to me that expanding the idea of hell from simply something that kicks-in after death, to a state that we can experience a foretaste of now was (and still is) very important to me.  I believe Jesus’ teachings aren’t simply “extra credit” for those who are saved; they are guidance on how to experience a foretaste of heaven–and New Creation–now (through God’s grace, love, and forgiveness of course!).  Conversely, to ignore or reject Jesus’s life, teaching, and ministry is to reject that which has the power to hold hell at bay in our lives.

My growing understanding of Jesus’ first century Jewish context forced me out of my superficial understanding of hell as an eternal destiny for those who stood outside of God’s saving power and grace.  I didn’t reject this understanding of hell, but supplemented it by bringing a more holistic, Jewish, and biblical emphasis that pushed the immediacy of hell into our lives now.

In this view, it’s possible to touch heaven or hell here and now based on how we respond to Jesus.  “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (John 1:4).  Hell is what we’ll experience (in successively greater degrees) as we reject and turn from Jesus.  Heaven is what we experience (in successively greater degrees) as we embrace and follow him.

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Porn and Junior High Culture

New York Magazine has a series of articles exploring the effects of pornography in their latest issue. All of the articles are interesting to read, although most contain explicit language and highly sexualized content–be warned.  The lead article “They Know What Boys Want” is a very sad but important read for everyone, but especially parents of junior high students.  The article looks at the effects of a “pornified” junior high culture and how girls in particular are paying the price for the normalization of porn amongst teens.

Some “highlights” from the article:

Of the dozens of kids I interviewed over several months and in various neighborhoods around New York every one of them said he or she had seen “inappropriate material” online, sometimes accidentally through pop-ups or Google searches, sometimes not. There’s no doubt that some kids, and even some schools, remain far more sheltered than others. But the average age of first exposure to Internet pornography is widely cited as 11.

This is the paradoxical fear of many heterosexual 14-year-old girls: that the Internet is making boys more aggressive sexually—more accepting of graphic images or violence toward women, brasher, more demanding—but it is also making them less so, or at least less interested in the standard-issue, flesh-and-bone girls they encounter in real life who may not exactly have Penthouse proportions and porn-star inclinations. (“If you see something online, and the girls in your neighborhood are totally different, then it’s, um … different,” one 14-year-old boy tells me.) This puts young women in the sometimes uncomfortable position of trying to bridge the gap.

Samantha, 16, flashes her dimples. “You can learn a lot of things about sex. You don’t have to use, like, your parents sitting down with you and telling you. The Internet’s where kids learn it from, most of the time.”

This article emerged from interviews with teens living in New York City, but I doubt that any of the realities and issues discussed are much different in other contexts. The pervasive influence of pornography is creating a social environment where the mores of sexuality are rapidly changing and leading to a very dehumanizing view of sexuality.  The article seems to suggest that while young men are victimized by pornography’s corrupting influence, it’s the young women who suffer the most.

As a father of two girls, articles like this hit close to home.  How do I wisely prepare my daughters for the techno-sexual realities they are inevitably going to face?  How do I help instill within them a biblical framework that emboldens them to reject these dehumanizing influences while at the same time avoids the temptation to vilify sex in and of itself?  What role can the church play in helping to prepare both students and parents for this brave new world?

Lots of questions.  Few answers.  It all seems very daunting to say the least.

But I’m up for the challenge, and I hope other parents and youth workers out there are as well.  The children and teens in our lives deserve our best efforts when it comes to this complicated and harrowing issue.

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We Are All Immigrants

The following reflection is an important one during this (U.S.) Thanksgiving holiday, especially in light of the debates that are occuring in both the United States and Canada related to immigration laws and reforms to the immigration system:

“Yahweh and the prophets repeatedly warned the Jews never to forget their own former status as foreigners in Egypt.  It is into this history that Jesus is born and becomes an immigrant in a foreign land himself along with Mary and Joseph in Egypt (Matthew 2:15).  It is astounding one-sidedness, and even chosen blindness, that allows pious Christians to forget and ignore this.

A Christian by identification with Jesus must by necessity identify with those that he called ‘blessed’ by at least four different standards (Matthew 5:3-6, 10).  He told us that if we did not ‘welcome the stranger’ we were ‘cursed’ (Matthew 25:40), and yet, this has had almost no effect on the typical Christian’s attitude toward outsiders in almost all countries. 

I have little patience with people who call the USA a Christian nation when I see our attitude toward the very poor who are doing all the hard jobs that we are unwilling to do. Such self serving hypocrisy will meet a firm judgment later, and deserves our judgment now.

‘Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.’  (President Franklin Roosevelt to the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1939).  Remember, the Pilgrims we Americans celebrate on this National Day of Thanksgiving were immigrants, too!”

~ Fr. Richard Rohr, A Lever and a Place to Stand (CD) and Contemplation in Action (book).

We are all foreigners, and we are all called to show hospitality.  We are all strangers, and we are all called to welcome and bless.  We are all immigrants, and we are all called to build community–and hope–with our neighbours.

 

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Mere Disciple eBook Available Now!

Mere Disciple eBook Available for Kindle
Mere Disciple eBook Is Here!

Hi everyone,

Some exciting news! Mere Disciple: a spiritual guide for emerging leaders is now available through Amazon’s Kindle store and the Apple iBookstore–and it’s only $4.99!

Don’t own a Kindle?  No worries.  You can read the Mere Disciple eBook through a variety of free Kindle reading apps for the iPhone, PC, Mac, Blackberry, iPad, and Android! Just download your free app, and then purchase the Mere Disciple eBook from the Kindle store here.

Got an iPhone/iPad and want to purchase directly through Apple’s iBookstore? It’s easy. Go to Apple’s app store, download the free iBooks app, then launch iBooks. Just do a title search for “Mere Disciple” or an author search for “Jeff Strong” and download the book to your Apple device.

Alternatively, you can purchase an ePub version of Mere Disciple through Lulu.com here.

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More Teens Becoming “Fake” Christians

More Teens Becoming Fake Christians
More Teens Becoming "Fake" Christians

CNN posted an interesting interview with Kenda Creasy Dean about her new book Almost Christian. In her book, Dean argues that how the church currently engages the youth culture amounts to little more than a do-gooder, self-help “Christianity” that is utterly failing to captivate the hearts and lives of youth.

The article (found here) is excellent and reinforces what I’ve been saying for years: youth ministry isn’t working. It’s time for ministry that focuses on identifying, challenging and empowering emerging leaders within Christ’s church to come into prominence.

How does “emerging church ministry” differ from “youth ministry”? Head over to https://www.meredisciple.com/downloads.htm and grab the free PDF article “The Future of an Illusion” for my thoughts.

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Is faith irrational, sub-rational, or super-rational?

In scanning through some Youtube videos for a sermon a while back, I came across a channel produced by Word on Fire, a Catholic ministry spearheaded by a priest named Father Barron. I watched several of their videos, and really, really enjoyed them, especially the ones that took modern movies and explored their themes from a biblical perspective.

One of my favourite videos is Fr. Barron’s response to Bill Maher’s mockumentary “Religulous.” Actually, Fr. Baron doesn’t spend too much time cutting down the movie’s “arguments.” Instead, he focuses his efforts on exposing the problems with Bill Maher’s underlying assumption that religious belief is fundamentally irrational.

The entire video is worth watching, although it’s Fr. Barron’s reflections on the relationship between belief and reason (starting at 5:31) which are really rich and insightful.

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