As the West gradually drifts from its Christian roots, how can we reconnect society not just with a personal salvation, but an all-encompassing Christian worldview that reaches every area of life?
In part three of this new series by Joe Boot, Joe looks at how we might reunify the divide.
So far in this series, we have looked at the root of the created order, establishing that all things have been made through the Word, and that the Word has been wonderfully given to us along with creation. However, we have also begun to see how, throughout history, pagan beliefs have infiltrated a truly Christian understanding of creation, instead creating familiar divisions of life that are prevalent in Western culture.
Re-Unifying a Divided Life
How then do we go about reintegrating such a disintegrating conception of life that can produce a debilitating cognitive dissonance and cultural impotence – a view that prevents us from seeing the full scope and grandeur of the gospel? I think we must begin with a recognition of the human heart, as the focal point and root of our whole temporal existence where we stand as an undivided unity before the face of God as image-bearers.
It is from this religious root of our being, the heart, that all the functions and issues of life spring. Human beings cannot be cut up and separated into different ‘substances’ with particular functions abstracted from the full person, some higher (spiritual) and some lower (natural), some earth-bound, others heaven-bound and existing normatively apart from the body. The incarnation and bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus militates against every effort to divide up the functions of human life into substantive divisible ‘parts’ on different planes of existence. We may conceptually distinguish an inner man and outer man (the bodily function-mantle of our total existence; 2 Cor. 4:11,16), fully dependent in every way and at every moment upon the sustaining Word of Christ (Acts 17:28; Rom. 11:36). But there is no independent ‘essence’ of human life, no higher and lower substances or ‘parts.’ The “I” or human ego cannot be identified simply with reasoning, feeling, willing or any other aspect of our existence because these functions all presuppose a deeper unity that transcends them. The “I,” our full human selfhood, the depths of the heart, is God’s mystery transcending the temporal functions of our existence and is grasped only in relation to God who has placed in us a sense of the eternal (Eccl. 3:11). Christians shall one day follow Christ out of the grave (Col. 1:18; 1 Cor. 15:20). And it is the full person that is raised to life (inner and outer man), just as it is the totality of creation which will be released from its subjection to futility, its bondage to corruption (due to sin), when we receive the fullness of our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:19-23).
Next, we must equally resist every inclination to divide up created reality into artificial distinctions of nature and grace that are entirely foreign to the Bible. Our faith rests on the scriptural truth, as Gordon Spykman puts it, “that the mediating Word is the religious lifeline which links God and man together in a life-long, all-embracing covenant relationship of revelation and response.”[i] All of creation in every part is governed by the mediating Word of Christ and in no domain of life (a so-called realm of nature) do we escape the all-embracing covenant relationship we have with Christ in terms of that revealed Word. Indeed, all of life is a religious response to that Word. Reformational philosophy here translates the all-embracing, mediating and holding-power of the Word of Christ in terms of ‘ontic normativity.’ This is simply the recognition of a law-Word for creation that provides a normative and lawful structure for all spheres of life and every entity within creation – it governs the law-conformity of all created reality. As such, Christ cannot be ‘uncoupled’ from a so-called natural realm of factual ‘neutrality,’ an area of creation that can be withdrawn from the sovereign Lordship and authority of Jesus and His written Word-revelation. Christ Jesus, who holds all things together by the Word of His power, from whom, through whom and to whom all things exist, cannot be banished to a supposed upper storey of reality, a spiritual world of ‘grace,’ shunted out of history to a future eternity or imprisoned in the walls of the church institute.
The central direction of Scripture is the unity and continuity of God’s creation, redemption and kingdom purpose – an all-encompassing Creation, Fall and Redemption of the whole of life. This inescapable revelation is the starting point for both our philosophical and theological activity and not a theological product of human interpretation – it is the motive-force of the Biblical message, the Word of life made manifest to us by the Holy Spirit. The radical character of this religious motive argues Dooyeweerd:
“Can only be revealed by the Holy Spirit, because he opens our hearts so that our faith will no longer be a mere acceptance of formal articles of our Christian confession, but a living faith, serviceable to the central working of God’s Word in the heart – the religious centre of our life … In their radical meaning – as the ground motive of the Word-revelation and the key to true knowledge – creation, fall and redemption are no simple articles of faith; they are rather the Word of God itself in its central spiritual power, directed to the heart, the religious centre of our existence. Confronted by the Word of God in his heart, man can offer nothing, but only listen and receive. God does not speak to theologians, philosophers and scholars, but he does speak to sinners – lost in themselves and reborn as children of God by the Work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. The Word of God…must penetrate to the root of our being and become the central motive-force of our whole Christian life.”[ii]
It is this by this Word-revelation that the Holy Spirit transforms us in the root of our existence (as new creatures) and establishes a new direction of obedience instead of disobedience (apostasy) for every aspect and every expression of our earthly life. This obviously means that it was not just a supernatural gift of grace that was lost at the Fall, so that our reasoning, living and acting in most of cultural life is basically sound as far as it goes, so long as we have the gift of faith to save our souls. Neither can we say that sin and evil reside in some isolated ‘part’ of our being, in the so-called ‘lower’ desires (like the Greeks’ non-divine matter). Rather, the Fall into sin consists in a radical corruption at the root of our entire being that necessitates new birth (John 3:3; 2 Cor. 5:17) – entailing an equally radical restoration and renewal of all life.
Given that the Fall into sin is so total and radical in the heart of man, its corrupting work has penetrated into every aspect, activity and social arrangement of human existence (Matt. 12:34; 15:19). Christ Jesus, as our saviour, healer, redeemer and last Adam, thus claims for Himself the heart He has regenerated by His Spirit for a whole-hearted and life-comprehending service to Himself as King and Lord. As such it is in Christ and His Word that we find the fullness of meaning to our lives in their totality. This means that His restorative kingdom life cannot be restricted to a ‘part’ of the human person, or any isolated terrains of human life such as the church institute and our personal devotions. Rather, it breaks out in marriage and family, education and entertainment, science and arts, politics and law, business and economics. In each of these areas we are led either in terms of the kingdom of light or kingdom of darkness, obedience or disobedience. As Danie Strauss has rightly noted, “It is impossible to speak of a neutral sphere within so-called common grace, where the total antithesis, for or against Christ, does not radically apply.”[iii] In all aspects of life, in every activity, institution and academic discipline we will be for or against Christ.
God’s work of conserving and redemptive grace in Christ is thus manifest in every square inch of creation, His reconciling work active through His body in every sphere recalling us to a response of joyful obedience. This discloses that our lives need no longer be divided, fragmented and disintegrating – one part for God, the other part for the world; one destiny for the body another for the ‘soul’; one life-principle in the family or church, another in vocational and cultural life; one calling regarded as holy and all the others profane; one science as Christian (theology) and all the others secular; one law for Christians, another law for politics; one value for cultural pursuits, another for ‘spiritual’ pursuits; one end for the earthly creation, another for the heavenly. Instead of this schizophrenic picture, the integrating Word of life can reign supreme in each and every area as we walk in faith and obedience praying, ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, one earth as it is in heaven.’
This is what is so important about the living Word – He demands a response in all aspects of life, our very bodies to be presented as living sacrifices as an act of worship (Rom. 12:1). God’s unified Word in creation, Christ’s incarnation and Scripture is directed toward a response in every part of our being and in all our activities. At the deepest level of our humanity, at the heart of our existence, all of life is a continuous response to the Word of God. All the laws and norms Christ Jesus has ordained for creation which stand above us and yet are bound to us, call us to conformity to the Word! The matchless beauty of this gospel is that Christ’s Word is life and His kingdom one of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
The only division of reality that Scripture recognises are the directions of true worship or apostasy – the kingdoms of light and darkness which manifest the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Which spirit will capture our hearts and give direction to our culture and civilization? Our shared goal as Christian believers should be an undivided heart and life, devoted to Christ who saved and redeemed us, unfolding in all things to God’s praise and glory!
Read part 1.
Read part 2.
[i] Gordon J. Spykman, Reformational Theology: A New Paradigm for Doing Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 94.
[ii] Herman Dooyeweerd, Wat is die mens? Cited in Strauss, “Scholasticism and Reformed Scholasticism.”
[iii] Strauss, “Scholasticism and Reformed Scholasticism.”