The Quest for A Life That Is Spiritual

The story of the quest for a life that is spiritual begins when mankind is created by God. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27, ESV) He creates two humans named and Adam and Eve and gives them a task to bear His image, and to be fruitful and multiply. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:28, ESV) Therefore, this task becomes representative of the task for all mankind to fill the earth with the image of Him. Thus, this task and quest becomes personal for every believer.

This quest is extremely difficult because of the nature of God. He is Holy, which means He is distinct from us in several ways. He is a creator that existed before anything. He is outside of everything else that exists, and is not of this world. He is eternal and infinite, and we are temporal. He is Spirit and we are physical flesh. “…And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2, ESV) God is also loving, just, merciful, gracious, angry, and jealous. He is all these things perfectly at every moment, always; one characteristic never sacrificing another. In being Holy, He has called us to demonstrate these characteristics perfectly, always, and everywhere. This is something we cannot do, yet we strive for it because this is the quest for a life that is spiritual that He called us to live out.

Adam and Even quickly fail at this quest and rebel against Him because they chose to image and exalt themselves. This was the original sin of mankind. The results of this sin is that we live under curse (Genesis 3:16-19) and God’s wrath that gives us over to our sinful desires (Romans 1:18-32). This means we are dead and not able to do anything on our own to give ourselves life. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1, ESV)

Since this original sin, or fall, mankind is repeatedly given a chance to image God and repeatedly mankind fails by seeking out self-exaltation instead of exalting and imaging Him.

One example of this rebellion and consequence is when God sees how corrupt mankind has become and how they have filled the earth with violence. Because of this rebellion, God commands a righteous and blameless man named Noah to build and ark to save his family while God floods the earth and destroys mankind. God saves Noah and his family to start over with the quest for mankind to live a life that is spiritual and gives them the same task to be fruitful and multiply and image God. (Genes 6-9:17) Noah lasted only a few verses and then fails at this too. (Genesis 9:21-24)

God gives mankind another chance, but they rebel again by building the Tower of Babel, specifically designed to exalt themselves. As a result, God decides to confuse their language and disperse them over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:1-9)

Yet God goes not give up on mankind and the quest. God calls Abram to lead the chosen people of Israel to carry on the quest:

“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’” (Genesis 12:1–3, ESV)

Later, God pulls the chosen people out of Egypt and they come to Mount Sinai and God says they will be a Kingdom of priests. “and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”” (Exodus 19:6, ESV) The rule of God upon the earth is now going to be established through Israel to function as a kingdom of priests to bring the other nations forward in imaging God and the quest for a life that is spiritual. Yet Israel rebels.

These are just a few examples and, as you can see, mankind continues to rebel and fail, and God continues to give mankind another chance when He would be so clearly justified in giving up and canceling the quest. However, God sends His Son to come to earth and demonstrate the rule of God on the earth, and what it is really like to image and love God and love our neighbor. His Son lived with mankind in fully human form (and fully God also) and fulfilled the law perfectly. In response, His Son, Jesus, is put on trial for blasphemy and insurrection (accused of leading a rebellion against the rule of Rome), and mankind sleighs Him. The act of God sending His Son to die is an intentional sacrifice and exchange of a perfect man who died for the sins of all mankind.

In this sacrifice, God gave us grace. Grace invigorates us and seats us with Christ in heaven. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—” (Ephesians 2:4–5, ESV)

Yet, we do not like grace because we cannot contribute anything. Grace always comes from superior to subordinate. To accept grace is to say, “I cannot do this without you,” and recognizing we have nothing to contribute because of our sin. There is only one way to overcome the curse, wrath, and death; and this is complete dependence on God and his grace.

In The Grace Awakening, Chuck Swindoll explains grace this way:

“In order for anyone to stand securely and be at peace before a holy and just God, that person must be righteous. Hence our need for justification. Remember the definition of justification? It is the sovereign act of God whereby he declares righteous the believing sinner while still in his sinning state. It doesn’t mean that the believing sinner stops sinning. It doesn’t even mean that the believing sinner is made righteous in the sense of suddenly becoming perpetually perfect. The sinner is declared righteous. God sovereignly bestows the gift of eternal life on the sinner at the moment he believes and thereby declares him righteous while the sinner still lives a life marked by periodic sinfulness. He hasn’t joined a church. He hasn’t started paying tithes. He hasn’t given up all to follow Christ. He hasn’t been baptized. He hasn’t promised to live a sacrificial, spotlessly pure life. He has simply taken the gift of eternal life. He has changed his mind toward Christ (repentance) and accepted the free gift of God apart from works. Period. Transaction completed. By grace, through faith alone, God declares the sinner righteous (justification), and from that moment on the justified sinner begins a process of growth toward maturity (sanctification). Day by day, bit by bit, he learns what it means to live a life that honors Christ. But immediately? No way.”

This is grace. Grace reigns over us and must reign over us the entire quest because we have nothing to contribute for our spiritual progress.

The prior law of the Old Testament does not even help us on this quest, because the flesh responds to the law with rebellion. Furthermore, the law inflames the disobedience of our flesh.

As Swindoll alluded, the quest for a life that is spiritual does not end with grace or Jesus’ death. God raises Jesus from the dead and He sends the Spirit to create a new people (the church) to continue the quest of being a kingdom of priests to image God. In this we have been identified with Christ in His death and resurrection. This makes sin our master no longer, because that relationship is dead. The new relationship is with grace as our master. (Romans 6) Furthermore, through Christ, we are no longer under law, but under grace (Romans 7).

Yet we still sin because the flesh did not die with us. The flesh is a set of sinful desires that rebel against God. We are not free from the flesh until Jesus comes back and gives us a new body. Until then, we must engage in this battle against flesh (Romans 7:21-25). What delivers us from this is living according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1-11). The Spirit has some primary ministries of use in this battle on the quest: indwelling (the highest level of intimacy that two beings can have – God has given us the Spirit of Jesus so that His presence is as close to us as possible), transforming us to be like the image of Christ, leading us in this battle with the flesh so that we might have deeds that lead towards eternal life instead of death and unrighteousness.

So, it becomes our responsibility to practice certain spiritual disciplines that help us become more and more Spirit lead. Dallas Willard in The Spirit of the Disciplines names a few disciplines in categories of abstinence (solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice) and engagement (study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, submission).

In Desiring the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith argues that the human person is a “lover.” He states, “The point is to emphasize that the way we inhabit the world is not primarily as thinkers, or even believers, but as more affective, embodied creatures who make our way in the world more by feeling our way around it.” This in mind, it is important to have at least a few spiritual disciplines engrained in our lives to help us practice and train our desire to be more Spirit lead. Without them, we do not grow in the Spirit. Smith points out “habits are inscribed in our heart through bodily practices and rituals that train the heart, as it were, to desire certain ends.

The trick is to balance on the tightrope of being disciplined without being legalistic. Legalism is the idea that you need to follow rules to obtain holiness and blessing. This abuses the concept of grace because God says we are already blessed and our performance does not matter. A pure heart does not come from standards, rules, and laws. Impurity comes from the heart.

Thus, the quest for a life that is spiritual still carries on with the same mission of imaging God, but we have been given the powerful gifts of grace, eternal life, and the Holy Spirit to aid us on this quest and guarantee a glorifying conclusion. Said conclusion is being united with God in Heaven, experiencing perfect shalom, for eternity.

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Spiritual Discipline

Over the summer, I was challenged to engage in a daily spiritual discipline for two consecutive weeks, keeping a personal journal of the process. I chose the spiritual discipline of journaling at least one prayer every day for two weeks. Journaling my prayers is something I have always wanted to do consistently. I have done it from time to time in the past, but never consistently and deliberately like I did over the two weeks this summer.

There were some benefits of practicing this discipline. I found it beneficial to write out my prayers because it influenced me to be more thoughtful and organized with my prayers. Before I started practicing this discipline, I would pray randomly throughout the day and then pray at night before bed. My random prayers throughout the day really were random thoughts or feelings I wanted to share with God on the spot. My prayer before bed at night was supposed to be more robust, thoughtful, and deliberate. However, some nights I would be so worn out emotionally or mentally that I just could not spend the energy on having a deeper, intimate, thoughtful prayer with God. Instead of being deliberate about some things I wanted to talk to him about (that I even have recorded in the “Prayers” section of my Logos software), I would take a shortcut and express one main point on my mind and call it good. Part of me wished I had more time and energy to spend with God, but part of me thought it was fine because He knew what was on my heart without me having to intentionally express it every day. So, when I journaled my prayers, most of the time, it forced me to have a more intentional and thoughtful conversation with God.

The detriment to this became the battle with the Spirit and my flesh and legalism. After a certain point during the two weeks, I did start to have a few “lazy” nights where I was mentally and emotionally drained and could only journal just a main thought and that was it. Sometimes it was as short as one sentence long. One night, I just plain did not do it because I was so tired. What is interesting to me here is I am still not completely certain how to evaluate this behavior. At first, I thought my flesh was winning the battle against the Spirit because I was getting lazy with my spiritual discipline. However, after some of thought, I began to look at it with a different perspective. That was with the perspective of legalism being an influence. I realized that perhaps I was feeling unnecessary guilt because the sin of legalism was rearing its ugly head and making me feel as though if I did not do my spiritual discipline, I was not as Holy or would not be as blessed.

Overall, I think the experience was very beneficial from both points of view though. I think the times I did practice the discipline, I grew closer to God and became more in step with the Spirit because I was being more faithful and opening myself up more to God and to be led by the Spirit. However, I thought it was also beneficial to see how it made me feel when I got “lazy” or the one time I did not do the discipline, and think about how legalism affects my everyday life and the disciplines I do try to implement. So, what I will keep in mind the next time I am intentionally engaging in spiritual disciplines or even noticing myself inadvertently engaging, is how beneficial it can be to be disciplined and become more engaged in God and the Holy Spirit, but also that it is ok if I slack off from time to time because it does not make me any less Holy or blessed. God still knows my heart and His will is still going to happen regardless. I am sure He would still prefer more engagement as any of us would, but He is also not going to force us to practice a certain discipline for a certain amount of time. He gave us freedom and free will, and it is ok to cherish that to avoid the sin of legalism and circumvent the joy, love, and peace that comes with the freedom and free will.

The Flesh, Legalism, and the Holy Spirit

(1) How does the Flesh influence a Christian’s pursuit of holiness and how can the Christian minimize the influence of the Flesh?

The Flesh influences a Christian’s pursuit of holiness because the flesh works directly in opposition to holiness. The Flesh is a set of sinful passions inside of us that is in direct opposition of the law, the Spirit, and where God wants to take us. The Christian can minimize the influence of the Flesh by being led by the Spirit. The Spirit is in opposition to the Flesh and moves the Christian toward God and away from the flesh. The Spirit puts to death the deeds of the Flesh confirming, therefore, we are children of God.

(2) What is the root error of legalism and how does it show itself in the life of a Christian?

The root error of legalism is that it minimizes God’s holiness and supports the idea that you need to follow rules to obtain His holiness and blessing. The way this shows itself in the Christian life is the abuse of grace. Legalism covers grace, because it promotes obedience to receive blessing. Grace says we are already blessed, and our performance does not matter. Standards, rules, and laws fail to make us pure or keep us pure because impurity comes from the heart. A pure heart does not come from standards, rules, and laws.

(3) How does legalism relate to the Flesh?

Legalism can relate to our Flesh in ways. For example, sometimes my Flesh does not want to practice a spiritual discipline because I do not feel like I have the time, or I am too tired, etc. However, I typically end up forcing myself to do it anyway because I feel as though it is something I must do to obtain holiness and blessing. This is legalism directly relating to my Flesh.

Key Terms of Pauline Presentation the Flesh and the Holy Spirit

The ethical concept of the flesh –set of sinful and selfish passions inside of us, in opposition of the law, the Spirit, and where God wants to take us.

Filling of the Spirit –the ministry of the Holy Spirit whereby, in response to the believer’s continued yieldedness, He controls and empowers the believer for sanctification and service.

Walking by the Spirit –the ministry of the Holy Spirit whereby, in response to a believer’s continued yieldedness in accordance with the biblical command, He frees that believer from the control of the flesh and produces the fruit of the Spirit.

Leading of the Spirit –the Spirit puts to death the deeds of the body, confirming therefore, we are children of God and no longer living under the law.

Indwelling of the Spirit –the act whereby at conversion the Holy Spirit makes the believing sinner His permanent dwelling place forever.

Legalism –my effort to obey God by my resources for my glory, undermining both God’s grace and holiness.

Paraphrase of Romans 6:1-14

Using my definitions from my last post, I have written a paraphrased translation of Romans 6:1-14.

Original text:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.

For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace?

My Paraphrase:

What is our attitude to be? Should we remain living under the authority of unrighteousness for grace to increase even more? No way! If our prior state of being under the authority of sin has passed away, how can we still live under that authority? Don’t you know that all of us who pledged our allegiance to Christ and have been made a new person spiritually, have also passed away from the authority of sin, as He did? Because of this pledge of allegiance, we have been spiritually renewed with Christ by the glory of the Father and we have been given a new identity and a new way to live with Jesus.

Since we have been unified with him in the passing of the state of being under the authority of sin, we will be unified with him in this raising of new life. We recognize that our prior state of being under the authority of sin passed away with him so our physical body will no longer be ruled by sin, so that we could escape that bondage. Anyone who has experienced this passing away of the state of being under the authority of sin has been emancipated from that reign of unrighteousness. If we have experienced this passing away of the state of being under the authority of sin with Christ, we affirm that we will also live with him. We recognize that Christ, being resurrected, will never need to pass away again; the authority of sin has no reign over him. He experienced this once for every believer of this, and now his authority and action are righteousness for God. Therefore you too require thought believing you have passed away to the authority of unrighteousness and now live in righteousness with God in Christ Jesus.

Do not let unrighteousness take dominion in your physical body, to make you submit to its desires. Do not allow the parts of your body to be used as tools for immorality, instead allow yourselves to be used by God like you have been given a new spiritual life, and allow parts of your body to be used as tools for morality. The authority of unrighteousness will not have power over you, because law does not rule you. Instead unmerited favor is your authority.

Key Terms in Romans 6:1-14

Next, I would like to take a look at Romans 6:1-14. This is a vital passage that describes our new identity in Christ. To start with, I would like to identify some key terms used by Paul in this passage of Scripture and define them.

Romans 6:1-14:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.

For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Sin – not the individual act of sins, but rather the state of authority, mastery, or reign of unrighteousness.

Continue – remain living under the authority of sin.

Death – the passing of our old man so that we are no longer under the reign or authority of sin.

Baptized – having placed our allegiance to Christ and have been and made a new person spiritually.

Old man – the prior state of being under the authority or reign of sin.

What is Truth?

I recently read True Words by Nicholas Wolterstorff and would like to interact with his article.

Wolterstorff defines truth by saying this: “I suggest that the root notion of truth is that of something’s measuring up – that is, measuring up in being or excellence.” I agree with this because it makes the definition of truth more inclusive and comprehensive. The definition’s inclusiveness and comprehensiveness are what I consider this definition’s significant strengths. If truth is something’s measuring up, there must be a standard of which that something is measuring up to. With this meaning, the context defines the standard to which something is being measured.

When Wolterstorff uses the verses John 5:31 and 8:17, he is displaying that “true” is more than the philosopher’s standard sense of ascribing to something asserted. I agree with him because then you must judge what about Jesus’s testimony is being asserted, which can be too interpretive and even nearsighted. If Wolterstorff’s definition is used, then Jesus’s use of the word “true” means his testimony measures up in being or excellence. The words “true” can be substituted in such fashions as follows: “If I bear witness to myself, my testimony does not measure up; there is another who bears witness to me, and I know that the testimony which he bears to me measures up.” “In your law it is written that the testimony of two men measures up.”

In the following examples, the of uses “true” and “truth” cannot even be assertions (John 2:8). In John 3:21 “truth” is an action. In John 4:23, John 15:1, John 17:3 “true” is no longer even actions, it is an adjective. Then in John 3:33, 7:28, 8:26, 14:6, and 17:17, “true” and “truth” are nouns. Wolterstorff’s definition works in each case here as well. “Measuring up” can be an action, “measuring up in excellence” can be an adjective to describe the nouns, and “measuring up in being” can be the noun. Again, some form of “measuring up” can be inserted for every “true” and “truth”. The point here is that each time something is being measured up to a standard, and the standard is different or similar in each context. This definition and way of looking at it provides inclusiveness and comprehensiveness.

This definition of truth is not relativism because as Dr. Glenn Kreider put it “relativism would be the view that everything is true, that all statements are true, that every interpretation of reality is legitimate.” Furthermore, as Richard Rorty supports that there are no relativists because if everything is relative, that is an absolute statement, which means it cannot be relative and nothing would be relevant. Wolterstorff’s definition is claiming that truth is relative to a context. This would be considered contextualization and not relativism.

The only significant weaknesses I can think of for Wolterstorff’s definition is that the standard that something measures up to can often be subjective. So, if not everyone has the same standard, then the “truth” can be different to everyone as well.

 

Relativism and Postmodernism

The self-identified postmodern philosopher Richard Rorty asserts: “Relativism is the view that every belief on a certain topic, or perhaps about any topic, is as good as every other. No one holds this view. Except for the occasional cooperative freshman, one cannot find anybody who says that two incompatible opinions on an important topic are equally good.The philosophers who get called ‘relativists’ are those who say that the grounds for choosing between such opinions are less algorithmic than had been thought.” (Consequences of Pragmatism [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982], 166.) Elsewhere he describes relativism as “self-refuting.” (“Solidarity or Objectivity,” in The Rorty Reader, ed. Christopher J. Voparil and Richard J. Bernstein [Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2010], 229.)

Similarly, literary critic (reader-response) Stanley Fish asserts: “While relativism is a position one can entertain, it is not a position one can occupy. No one can be a relativist because no one can achieve the distance from his own beliefs and assumptions which would result in their being no more authoritative for him than the beliefs and assumptions of others, or, for that matter, the beliefs and assumptions he used to hold.” (“Is There a Text in This Class?” in Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980], 319.)

Alister McGrath states this about postmodernism “Reason is to be seen as a contextual and relative affair, defined in relation to the prevailing narratives and power structures of a society or institution.” Although he says reason is a relative affair, I do not think he is intentionally drawing a parallel between postmodernism and relativism. I think the charge that postmodernists are relative persists, because both points of view challenge the idea of having a black and white, right and wrong view of everything in existence. Postmodernism challenges the idea that human reason is absolute and universal, and challenges the weight of metanarratives. That does not automatically translate to every idea is as good as the next one. Richard Rorty states “Relativism is the view that every belief on a certain topic, or perhaps about any topic, is as good as every other. No one holds this view. Except for the occasional cooperative freshman, one cannot find anybody who says that two incompatible opinions on an important topic are equally good. The philosophers who get called ‘relativists’ are those who say that the grounds for choosing between such opinions are less algorithmic than had been thought.” Given that he is a self-identified postmodern philosopher, I think this supports my point. Even though postmodernism challenges the idea that human reason is absolute and universal, it does not make any sense for every belief to be as good as every other. If that were true, there would not be a point in believing anything; and everything would seem pointless. Yes, postmodernism supports the idea that beliefs can be contextualized and relative, but that is not the same thing as every belief being as good as every other. Furthermore, taking the position that “every belief on a certain topic, or perhaps about any topic, is as good as every other” is an absolute itself. Therefore, Rorty says the view is “self-refuting and is an impossible position to hold.” On top of that, it would still separate relativism from postmodernism because postmodernism is opposed to the idea of any absolutes.

Postmodernism in “The Lion King”

Watch this excerpt from “The Lion King”.

This excerpt is provided as an illustration of postmodernism and includes numerous explicit Christological allusions and images. Whether or not those images are intentional or not, they are there and they are clear.

Right away, you get the idea that there is good news being proclaimed. Whether it’s the loud voice shouting the good news, or it’s a visual sign. Regardless, the animals are all reacting by shifting their attention to something in the distance and immediately heading toward the good news. This depicts the shepherds reacting to the good news of their Savior being born and following the North Star to the newborn. You can see that they are heading the same direction in packs of their own breed. They are acting in community by traveling together and helping each other out a bit along the way, with concern for the “other”, which are characteristics of postmodernity. The way they are caring for one another can be seen in the way Christians are to love their neighbor. There is even overlapping of communities when all the different breeds come together along the way and at the face of the mountain. Just as in Christianity, Jesus came for all people, not excluding any breed or race. On top of that, their communities are overlapping at the face of the mountain is also a characteristic of postmodernity and Christianity, in that Christians are accepting of other breeds and cultures and often overlap.

The lyrics of the opening song also display postmodernity.

“From the day we arrive on the planet

And blinking, step into the sun

There’s more to see than can ever be seen

More to do than can ever be done

There’s far too much to take in here

More to find than can ever be found”

This excerpt is characteristic of postmodernity because it could be perceived as rejecting of the idea of the need for an ultimate foundation of human knowledge and is skeptic about anyone’s ability to know everything.

It goes on to say:

“It’s the Circle of Life

And it moves us all

Through despair and hope

Through faith and love

Till we find our place

On the path unwinding

In the Circle

The Circle of Life”

This also supports the view of postmodernity, considering the previous lyrics, because it again rejects the idea of modernity trying to explain life with reason and rationality. The lyrics acknowledge that there is a truth of the “Circle of Life” that can be accepted and understood without having a comprehensive explanation of any “master story” of life. This also supports the idea of having faith seeking understanding.

Once all the animals have arrived at the mountain, you can see more imagery of Christianity. The good news the animals were heading towards is greeted by the father lion, who alludes to Joseph (in this context and God, The Father in others). The baboon who greats the father lion could symbolize the wise men. Then you see that there is a lion cub, who alludes to Jesus, being held and nurtured by the mother lion, or Mary. The way the scene is set, you can see the imagery that this lion cub is born of royalty and will someday be the king of that land. All the animals of the kingdom celebrate this. Just as Jesus became the King and was celebrated by his followers.

Towards the end of the scene, the father lion takes his son to the top of the mountain to look over all the kingdom and tells him that one day his time will end and the son’s time begins. This is an image of Christianity where God, The Father, has ruled throughout the time of the Old Testament, and then when Jesus is born and grown of age (in the New Testament), The Son’s reign begins. Even when the father says the kingdom is “everything the light touches” and excludes “the shadowy place” (and the introduction to the character Scar earlier) indicates that there is some tension of good and evil, just like in Christianity. Then as they walk among the kingdom, the father lion tells his son that “everything exists together in a delicate balance” and that everyone is to be respected. This again portrays community and care for the “other”, which are characteristics of postmodernity. He ends the scene by saying that we are all connected by the great circle of life. This can allude to Christians all being connected by the Holy Spirit.

I believe the Christological imagery of this film has significance because, for those who aren’t familiar with Christianity, they are introduced to part of the narrative probably without expecting to, or perhaps without even realizing it. For those who are already Christian, or are familiar with the Christian teaching, this imagery serves as a good reminder of the characteristics of the Christian narrative: God, Jesus, community, caring for one another, good, and evil.

Defining Postmodernism

The term postmodernism is often used but seldom defined. I hope to clarify its meaning. I hope to define postmodernism and culture and discuss the role culture plays in my theological mind, and discuss specific ways that theology/ministry is contextualized in a postmodern world.

Jean-Francois Lyotard is credited as the first author to present the term “postmodernity” in his book Postmodern Condition in 1979.  Lyotard positions postmodernism as a cultural shift following the Enlightenment period.

Alister McGrath’s cites Martin Heidegger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Hans-Georg Gadamer as figures who influenced the philosophical foundations of postmodernity. McGrath states that the underlying theme of these authors is “their rejection of the need for an ultimate foundation of human knowledge by recognizing that philosophy rests upon commitments whose truth has to be assumed and cannot be demonstrated.”[1]  This was a shift  away from the Enlightenment and instead arguing that not everything can be completely understood by humans through our own information or demonstrations, but instead that there are certain things that can be committed to be supposed to be correct. In other words, the overview for modernism is “understanding seeking faith”, while the overview for postmodernism is “faith seeking understanding”.

McGrath goes on to proclaim, “the Enlightenment had tried to legitimate itself by telling a story of how its thinkers overcame ignorance and superstition thanks to their appeal to reason.”[2]  Postmodernism turned from this and challenged the idea that human reason is absolute and universal, and that “metanarratives are merely narratives that have secured influence through power structures.”[3] The idea from Enlightenment that truth is something that can be collectively understood and rationalized is challenged and is no longer favorable with the turn of postmodernism.  Postmodernism supports the thinking that reason and truth is not something that is collectively understood and universal in all contexts.  Postmodern thinking promotes a high degree of cynicism and skepticism, particularly about anyone’s ability to know universal truth.  Truth is redefined and applied and interpreted in different contexts.  Postmodernism pushed for more contextual and communal thinking.  Furthermore, postmodernism promoted the outlook of life with a more holistic view and that everything is connected.

Another way I think of this is that our own human knowledge is filtered through our own lenses.  Our filter or lens is created from our own experiences and settings.  This I agree with.  Just like there are many different definitions of success in the modern world, based on experience and setting.  Someone in an affluent area may define success as a having a career with a six-figure salary and a big house.  While others, in a different area, may define success as simply having a paying job.  The underlying attributes might be similar, yet the specificity of the definition is different.  This is an example of how postmodernism can be viewed as having an impact on culture.  There is not necessarily an absolute and universal definition of success.

Another example of this, in my own life, is the education system.  Going through school, I was only taught one view when it came to the history of the earth and humans.  The theories of The Big Bang and Evolutionism were the only views taught, with no mention of alternatives.  To me, this implies they are absolute and universal truths.  When at best, they are only theories that some, not all, believe are true.  These theories are what I accepted as truth early on because I was not consciously aware of any alternative.  I had been taught aspects of Genesis, Noah’s ark, and the global flood in church; but not enough to completely understand the implications and context, considering Creationism and how it opposed The Big Bang and Evolutionism.  The school system wanted us to trust and accept The Big Bang and Evolutionism where universal truths.  Postmodernism would argue this truth was the product of those in power and should not be trusted. Postmodernism argues no external authority should be trusted.  Now that I am old enough to have found information on my own and studied each of these views further, I am now strongly leaning towards Creationism, rather than Evolutionism.  This is a personal example of another agreement I have with an affect postmodernism has had on our culture.  I support the argument for why metanarratives and external sources may not be worth trusting.  My view is not necessarily one of distrust, but I am going to do my research on alternative thoughts before I form my own opinion or pick a side.

Another distinct way postmodernism challenged critical thinking, was the way text was interpreted. Alister McGrath claims two methods of thought developed with the new postmodern method to written word:

  1. Anything that is written will convey meanings which its author did not intend and could not have intended.
  2. The author cannot adequately put into words what he or she means in the first place.[4]

This shift in thinking has significant implications on the Christian approach to interpretation of Scripture.

McGrath notes Frank Kermode and Harold Bloom confronted the notions of “institutionally legitimized or scholarly respectable interpretations of the Bible.”[5]  These ideas became highly questionable during postmodernism and Stanley Fish’s shift introduced the idea of “interpretive community.”[6]  This shift in thinking supports the idea that interpretations are more up to the reader, and even leads to communities being formed around different interpretations of the text.

Another distinction of postmodernism is the affect it has had on systematic theology.  As indicated with the attitude towards meta narratives, anything involving “systems” is questioned, along with the idea of anything having any absolute meaning within theology.  Thus, everything is open to your own interpretation. McGrath notes that Mark Taylor develops some postmodern ideas about theology as such: “Taylor argues for the elimination of such concepts of self, truth, and meaning. Language does not refer to anything, and truth does not correspond to anything.”[7]  This doesn’t even support the idea of pluralism, which claims there are multiple ideas about what is truth.  What Taylor says eliminates truth altogether.

His viewpoint sounds to me like you can believe whatever you want about anything because there is either no right or wrong and we can all agree to disagree about anything. This is absurd.  If this were true, there would be no morality and no order.  Everything would be chaos.  For example, if there is no truth and language does not correspond to anything, what would traffic look like?  What would be the point of traffic signs?  Everyone would be running stop signs, speeding, and there would be complete chaos that would put everyone in danger.

If we look at this Biblically, John records a statement from Jesus about truth: John 18:37 (NIV)

“’You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.

Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’”[8]

Therefore, truth does exist, and it is absolute and universal in this context.

Another major characteristic of postmodernism is the concern for the “other”, which is evident from the rise of liberation theology, black theology, feminist theology, and gay theology.  The thought is, before postmodernism, these groups were not recognized enough and postmodernism promotes the acknowledgement of these “other” groups.

The real irony of the postmodern views of highly questioning systems, meaning, and meta narratives is a system, meaning, and meta narrative in itself.  Even claiming that there is no absolute and universal truth is an absolute and moral truth in itself.  The very things postmodernism is questioning, it is creating.

Although I believe that there are some truths in Christianity that are meant to be absolute and universal (such as creation, the fall, substitutionary atonement, The Trinity, Jesus being fully divine and fully human, Jesus being the Son of God, inerrancy of the Bible, etc.), my view of postmodernism is that it is a healthy movement because it helps us all to open our minds to diverse ways to look at truth.  The ideas of having multiple truths or the idea of rejecting all universal truths, I would disagree with.  However, I would not be surprised if this postmodern turn has brought people closer to Christ because they are able to believe in Christ without having to agree with the same absolute and universal truths that I believe in.  To me, if someone is becoming closer to Christ, that is progress.  One cannot be expected to go from 0 mph to 60 mph in a heartbeat.  Everyone must start somewhere with their beliefs, thoughts, and understandings; and we do not all have to agree on everything.  Just as I have started studying at Dallas Theological Seminary so I can learn more about what I do not already know or have not thought about God, and knowing I may not agree with every viewpoint of every professor; others must start with some knowing and believing and progress at their own pace on their own path as well.

[1] Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2017), 64

[2] Ibid., 64

[3] Ibid.

[4] Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2017), 64

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2017), 64

[8]  The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.)