The following is an excerpt from Mere Disciple: A Spiritual Guide for Emerging Leaders (Chapter 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:
- Reality is composed of two separate worlds.
- 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.