There’s a hint of autumn in the air.

Only a hint though, the skyline was draped in haze as I woke this morning, signalling of course oppressive humidity and air that is less than crisp and fall-like.

At least the mercury has dropped a bit.

For those not keeping score, or just not really aware of what I am generally up to (its confusing I know, I lived in Knoxville for 2 years in relative obscurity because people still thought I was either in Florida or New York), here’s a bit of the rundown:

I’m in my 2nd year at Dallas Theological Seminary working on a Masters of Theology (Th.M henceforth) with a focus on academic ministries in New Testament studies (i.e. 7-8 semesters of Greek). Considering that this is a 120hr program, it is very analagous to being in undergrad and doing say a Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in psychology, focusing on clinical psychology (i.e. my undergrad, again for those not keeping score).

I live in the new apartment building on the seventh floor facing downtown. The view makes up for the lack of space, and also adds some aesthetic value to an otherwise drab locale, referring to Dallas, not the apartment building which in in the words of Borat is “Very nice!”

I am back to teaching (which only makes sense if you know that I taught piano and guitar for 4yrs before going to college) with Providence Music Academy, working with 25 or so students, hoping to bump that up to 30 by November.

I go to the Village for church where Matt Chandler is the pastor, subscribe to our podcast if your tech savy enables such an option.

Hmm…what else…

Feel free to ask questions at any point if anything is unclear (which is always a general rule).

So anyway, now for the random thoughts of the day.

There’s a billboard I pass on the way to church (actually there’s a lot of them) advertising a TV show called Dirty Sexy Money.

Honestly, could a title appeal more to the depravity of man than that? I bet its based on a British show called something like “Excrement, Intercourse, and Economics.”

Oh TV…what have you come to? I mean I knew you were a waste of time, and not generally conducive to the development of critical thinking skills or to the encouragement of virtuous behavior, but now you’re just so blatant about it.

Well if the rest of TV goes to pot, at least we can still trust the media to be a reliable and accurate portrayal of the newsworthy events in the world today.

Oh wait…that’s not gonna happen.

Moving on, while I’m sitting here at Starbucks, you should know I’ve drastically reduced my coffee consumption (although Green Tea ingestion has skyrocketed) and thereby my caffiene consumption as well.

So far, no noticeable changes…I’ll keep you posted on any developments though.

I am still as always still reading voraciously, some for school but more importantly for pleasure and spiritual growth and development.

Still rocking out as often as possible, although there is not as much time to compose as I would like. My classical piano skills are slowly coming back to me, so long as I am diligent to practice frequently.

It seems like there’s so much more that I had thought about blogging about, but escapes me at the moment.

So until next time (which will hopefully be within a few weeks or less).

Day 24

August 18, 2008 — Leave a comment

This will probably be a short(er) one.

Not much has happened since the last update, things don’t really develop too fast in Knoxville.

It’s been good to be home, however, surprisingly enough I’m starting to get ready for the drive back.

That’s good at least, I was worried I would feel as ambivalent toward Dallas when it was time to drive home as I did when I left.

I guess time heals all wounds, although I wouldn’t say I was exactly wounded in Dallas.

I did though develop a bit of a heart condition over the last few years that finally came to head on the drive home from Dallas.

And by home of course I mean the drive to Tampa.

My heart had somehow been left in Florida, and I’ve been going back to retrieve for quite some time.

Not realizing though in doing so why it was left in Florida, but then it hit me somewhere between Shreveport and Baton Rouge.

Have I said all this before? I feel like I already blogged about this once.

Anyway, somewhere on southbound I-49, I realized that it was in Florida that my heart had really first been aligned to God’s, and in some way, I had left it there still aligned to His and gone off and done my own thing more or less.

So in going back, the only way to reconnect was to found out how I had lost sight of God’s heart.

This of course led to some soul searching, which led of course to some realizations which I won’t get quite into here, but all the lights slowly started coming back on and the trip to Florida began taking on more and more significance.

Once I got there, and got a good night’s sleep, the process of soul-bathing began.

The process is still continuing now as I awake from my narcissistic tendencies and become more and more aware of God’s presence and His heart, but I feel more alive now that my heart is back in my chest.

I found myself pouring over 1 John with renewed intensity and re-reading the Pleasures of God just to get a better glimpse of God’s heart and know what it means to show that you love Him.

I spent 15 minutes this afternoon trying to take pictures of spiderwebs in ivy while the sun slowly descended behind the line of houses to the west of us and the light hit just right.

I find myself breathing deeper and becoming more and more aware of when zone out and stop being fully present with whoever I am with.

I find myself more sensitive to where God may be leading me throughout the day and who He may put in path. It’s not that I don’t have an agenda anymore, but now I am becoming more and more willing to have it interrupted  when the time comes.

I find when something strikes me as I dangerous and detrimental to spiritual growth I react accordingly, which is why The Shack created a burden in me to at least offer some Biblical insight in response to the ideas set forth in that book.

I know I mentioned I would list thoughts here after my last entry, but the full review of the book that I wrote up can be found here

Hopefully that is helpful in getting to the real issues the book presents, but let’s not digress too much here.

I’m starting to work through reading Visioneering by Andy Stanley and trying to recapture the vision I once had now that the eyes of my heart are slowly opening a bit more and voice is slowly returning as well.

Somehow both of those trailed off when I left Florida after I had finished 2nd year, and it took a few key events and long drive for God to get through to me and help me realize how far I’d gone.

Hopefully now, the drive back this Thursday will be even more productive and I can hit the ground running back in Dallas.

Watch out fall 2008, this time I’m actually gonna be there.

Before diving right in, let’s just set some groundwork and create a bit of a paradigm with which to view The Shack through. After all, paradigms power perceptions and perceptions power emotions (according to Young, pg. 197). Also, since its easier, I’ll from now on I’ll just use the page number, and all references to Scripture are taken from the ESV.

Introduction

The Shack, while primarily a work of fiction, is not written to be simply a work of fiction. Most people may not be aware of this, but Plato only wrote in dialogue form. So while on the one hand, when one reads The Republic, Meno, Crito, or the infamous Apology, or any of his other works, you are reading philosophy, you are also reading literature which presents characters meeting in random places and dialoguing back and forth about certain issues and ideas. Later in his life though, Plato claimed in a personal letter to a friend that he had never written any philosophy. The letter as best we can tell is authentic, so we are presented with a problem. In one sense, he is correct, he never wrote any philosophical treatises and therefore did not didactically teach his ideas through his writing. However, it also would be foolish to assume that Plato just enjoyed creating characters to interact with Socrates and had no ambition of promoting any of his ideas. It’s simply a literary tool at any author’s disposal to use in conveying information.

Carrying this over to William Young, when he says in personal interviews The Shack is primarily a work of fiction, or just a story, in one sense that may be true, but we would be foolish to read it as just a story. The fact that close to 100 pages of the 240+ page book contain various strains of dialogue between different members of the Godhead and Mack lets you know there is more on the author’s mind than simply telling a story. And just as Plato puts words in Socrates mouth in his writing, like it or not, Mr. Young is putting words in God’s mouth in his writing. There is nothing wrong with this in and of itself, but one has to read The Shack with this in mind and ask yourself what it is that the author really saying and trying to communicate through the medium of fiction. One can try to assert that The Shack is simply a story, but there are too many rabbit trails of dialogue about theological and philosophical issues to justify such a statement.

Just a slight side note at this point, anyone who had studied literature, whether English, American, or World, should know that very rarely is anything ever just a story. Some authors are better storytellers than others, but does anyone really believe books like The Scarlet Letter, Pride and Prejudice, Moby Dick, Oliver Twist, The Great Gatsby, The Jungle, To Kill a Mockingbird and many more are just stories? If you do, you have not looked very far into each of those author’s intentions and purposes in writing. I don’t want to project intentions onto William Young, but lets not be naïve and assume he doesn’t have any and that The Shack isn’t trying to convey anything deeper than story about Mack and his issues.

That in mind, I’ll leave the literary angle alone for the remainder of this critique, as when it comes right down to it, this book’s power does not lie in its great storytelling, but more in the emotional appeal it makes to people through the dialogues that take place during the time when Mack visits God. There is a reason this book made it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list, and it is very doubtful that would happen because this book accords so well with Biblical truth. More than likely it accords with something people want to hear, but we will see as we examine it further.

When one reads a book like The Shack, especially if reading in an uncritical fashion, one is probably unfamiliar with the way a book’s content will take root and have an effect. Typically, ideas when presented filter through the mind and are examined before it is determined whether or not they accord with Truth or not. After a decision is made the ideas will tend to stimulate the affective domain as they take root and an emotional response (positive or negative) usually occurs. Following this, the behavioral domain is affected and some type of action occurs (throwing the book across the room, recommending it to all your friends).

For me, the process looked like this: As I read The Shack I was looking for the ideas the author was presenting (which is the way you are supposed to read a novel) and seeing if they accorded with Truth. I paid a little attention to the literary angle, but was mainly concerned with what the author was really saying. More and more of what was being said did not conform with Truth, whether it contradicted it outright, or more subtly presented half-truths and misrepresentations of either theological systems or philosophical positions and so my response in the affective domain was to more and more dislike the book. Not simply because I didn’t like what was being said, but because what was being said was not true and the protagonist was slowing buying right into it.

I hope you see how this is meant to work. Anytime you read a novel written in first person point of view, you naturally put yourself right into the characters shoes. So if the character is presented with new ideas and he conforms to them, it is very easy for you to do the exact same thing without realizing it, and without critically thinking about what you are being told, especially when the author very slyly puts the words in God’s mouth. As the character’s emotions are roused, so are yours because you are no longer reading the story from without as an observer, you are following the protagonist on his journey and slowly conforming to his thoughts and emotions. It’s a very manipulative tool and as such, you’ll notice that while the Bible is mainly narrative, it is never narrative in this form.

Having my thoughts wrapped around the ideas in The Shack, my emotions aroused in the way that they were, my behavioral response was to assimilate this critique in order to give people a slightly different paradigm to power their perceptions and therefore their emotions (remember these are Mr. Young’s own words), so that they would not be so quick to buy into the theology that is presented in The Shack.

I suppose that is sufficient for an introduction right?

Strengths of The Book

Let’s start with the positive contributions The Shack makes, as there are some. For instance, the depiction of Mack forgiving his daughter’s murderer is very good, and should be a challenge to anyone who has the read the book to let go of the other person’s throat and forgive them, however hard that may be. Also the centrality of Christ (pg. 202 and elsewhere) is very well promoted throughout this book, a foundation of our faith that tends to be something lighter versions of Christianity miss altogether. In addition a good model of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is presented (pg. 113) The danger of lying is well represented later on (pg. 188.) as well as the subjective nature of labeling things good and evil (pg. 135) versus resting in God’s understanding of just what constitutes good and evil. (pg. 136).

In addition, humanity being in relationship and community is promoted very well throughout the book (specifically on pg. 201) and this is well grounded in the fellowship that is inherent in the Trinity. The purpose of the law is well established as well (on pg. 202ff) and combats some of the errors that have crept into Christian thought ever since Paul’s day. In addition to grounding community in the Trinity, Mr. Young does and exemplary job of grounding love there as well as he demonstrates that without a multiple person Godhead, love could really not be possible (pg. 101).

Love

Speaking of love, it is also a major theme in this book, and even that may be a bit of an understatement. Once Mack has been talking to Papa a bit, hardly a page goes by without love being mentioned or used as a verb. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with this, but the question to be asked in light of it is whether or not a Biblical conception of love is being presented, or whether a pop-psychology (in the vein of Carl Rogers and/or some unnamed Christian psychologists) conception is what is being used.

No one would argue with the idea that God is love (1 John 4:8.) however, the impression given by The Shack is that it is His controlling attribute (pg.102). Is this the God that is presented throughout the pages of Scripture? Before you answer, keep in mind, while there is a strong basis for God’s love in the Old Testament (almost always used as steadfast love) there is more of an emphasis on us loving God than the other way around. When thinking of love in the New Testament, 1 John has much to say, but again, the emphasis is on us loving God, not the other way around. This can be seen by simply using an online concordance and searching the words God and Love together. In perusing the results a fairly Biblical conception of what love looks like should emerge.

In doing research of this kind, you may run across something else that has the ability to ruffle some feathers. You will notice there is a lack Biblical support for the idea that humans are created to be loved (pg. 97). That is mainly because this is not a Biblical concept but it a pop-psychology concept popularized by Carl Rogers, and even lightly Christianized by people such as Gary Chapman in his conception of the 5 Love Languages. Maybe one could build a convincing case for humanity being created to be loved, as Mr. Young attempts to do so, but its ability to be compelling rests on how well it accords with what God has already revealed in His Word, not on how well it makes you feel.

Another feel good idea about love presented throughout the book is the idea that love bears no expectations on the other person. In thinking about this just briefly, what is one way you can tell that someone really loves you in a Biblical sense? It’s a leading question I know, but with a little reflection you might come up with the answer that you know someone really loves you when they won’t put up with your crap. People that see through your façade and speak truth into you life demonstrate that they really love and care for you. Not only that, it is the model of interpersonal relationships championed by the apostles Paul and John right alongside the love one another commands. The problem that has occurred in The Shack, is love has been mixed with an unhealthy understanding of tolerance. In the classical view of tolerance, one tolerates the person but not their actions if the actions do not accord with what is right. This is the best way of viewing the way God still tolerates sin in believer’s lives. However a more modern understanding of tolerance switches from the person to the person’s actions and viewpoints and insists that they be tolerated no matter how erratic, bizarre or downright wrong they may be. This view of tolerance is dangerous and one will not find any such understanding presented in the Bible, and in fact will find a God there who does not exhibit that form of tolerance in any way for to do so would compromise His holiness.

In looking at these ideas of love and tolerance, a much more compelling concept is the idea that in bearing the Imago Dei, humans are created to represent our Creator, and as part of that the natural emphasis would be on displaying love, not receiving it. We are meant to reflect glory back to God and find ultimate pleasure in Him for who He is, not the love that He provides. To do that would be to use God as a means to an end, and would ultimately be unfulfilling. This is why throughout Paul’s writings, and even back to 1 John, the emphasis is on knowing God, and loving one another in response to that experiential knowledge of our Creator. “So let us love one another for love is from God and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God (1 John 4:7) and since no one has ever seen God; if we love another God abides in us and his love is perfected in us (4:12), for this is the love of God: that we keep his commandments (5:3). While not placing expectations on each other’s actions, there is a strong sense in the New Testament that simply tolerating whatever someone you love does is not appropriate either. Frankly if we are honest with ourselves, it is only people we are merely affectionate towards that we will tolerate in that way. People we truly love we will confront and rebuke just as God does to us out of His love (think Hebrews 12).

Story Analysis

Moving on to the actual story itself, in a very broad sense, Mack moves from simple affection for God to action motivated by his renewed knowledge of God. In this way, Mack doesn’t really love God at all until he forgives the man that murdered his daughter and until he forgave his own father. No matter what he has said, until he moved from word and talk to truth and deed (1 John 3:18.) he did not really love God at all, he merely had strong affection for God based on his interaction. So taken as a whole The Shack does provide a fairly good model for how knowing God motivates us to love one another and changes our lives and heals out pains. However, the road to get there at least in The Shack is riddled with theological errors and false conceptions about both God and humanity. So while in an overall sense, the message is very good and should be compelling, the means to get there suggest a lot of half truths and downright falsehoods that make it hard to honestly recommend that someone read this book. You would do much better to spend the time studying what the Bible says about God’s love and how that should be reflected in you. Maybe the little theological pitfalls are lost on most readers and only stick out to me after having wrestled through them myself before God and His Word. Or maybe, they are fairly significant, for in believing certain things to be true of God when they are actually not can in some ways be damnable. As could putting words into God’s mouth that don’t accord with Scripture, but at this point, I will that up to you the reader to go back and try to decipher.

Conclusion

So there you have it; that is my overall critique of the message of The Shack. I didn’t particularly like it, some for preferences reasons (like a dislike for the tone and attitude that comes through) but I was generally bothered while reading by the irreverent tone that Mr. Young uses in bringing the members of the Trinity to life (literarily speaking of course) and did not particularly find it in keeping with a healthy fear of the Lord and reverence for His holiness. However more important than the tone were some of the things the members of the Trinity actually said and aside from the many barbed references to both seminary and the church today at large, I found what appear to me to be a good many theological pitfalls in the book. Some of these stick out to me because I come from a differing theological system, and of course I will believe my way is a more Biblically faithful way to understand things, as that is natural of anyone who has consciously worked through what they believe. In perusing this list, you can feel free to disagree, but it is more for reflection than to stimulate arguments. To be honest, I don’t have the time to fully explain each of these and some could be their own full length paper just to dissect and define why they are issues. If something significantly jars you, feel free to look it up yourself and see if what God is saying in The Shack accords with what God has already said in the Bible. If you’d really like to discuss any of them after looking it up yourself, feel free to drop me a line.

Specific Issues

  • Papa denies the separation that occurred on the cross between the Father and the Son, and also has subtly implied they were both on the cross, which is a weighty theological issue to reckon with (96)
  • Papa asserts that humans were created to be loved, however there needs to be direct Biblical support for an assertion like this (97)
  • Modalism (a condemned heresy) is implied, and just in passing (99)
  • The idea of Jesus not using his divine nature while on earth is presented which is a theological issue that does not have Biblical support, but does not have Biblical condemnation either (100)
  • Papa asserts that God cannot act apart from love (sounds good, but is love really the controlling attribute of God’s nature?) (102)
  • Jesus’ affirmation to Papa, it appears to exude a more Rogerian concept of love than a Biblical one (107)
  • In Papa’s discussion of children she is especially fond of, there is the first hint of a different version of tolerance being expressed. It is more fully brought out later on, but the seed starts here, seeming to imply that God is fond of everyone ever created and loves them all just the same (118-119)
  • Papa states she doesn’t need to punish sin as it is its own punishment and her purposes are not to punish it but cure it. On the one hand there is a bit of truth to this, but on the other hand, God’s holiness demands that sin be dealt with and a casual reading of the Bible will reveal that God doesn’t always purpose to cure it (120)
  • An egalitarian model of the Godhead is presented something that is not only controversial because of the implications it carries over to human relationships but is also entirely lacking in any Biblical support. It’s a nice idea, but it is not found on the pages of Scripture, this is one of those areas where it becomes hard to say The Shack is just a story and a children’s story at that (121-122)
  • The idea that authority is a God given institution is denied, to the bewilderment of anyone who has ever read much of the New Testament (think Romans 13 for starters) (122)
  • The infringement on God’s sovereignty begins with Papa asserting that the Godhead works within the systems of man instead the Biblical view of the systems of man being instituted by God (123)
  • A very sketchy view of man’s original purpose is presented as being unencumbered by structure, however a simple reading of the Genesis creation account does not readily give rise to this idea (124)
  • The suggestion is made that God’s purposes will never infringe on human will. This is very sticky ground so I won’t get into too much here. Depending on what Mr. Young really means by this, it could be correct. In a certain sense if you wish to retain human will this strongly, you can use it to defeat both God’s omnipotence and his omniscience, neither of which should be compromised (125)
  • Trust (or presumably faith) is defined as the fruit of a relationship in which you know you are loved. This sounds really good, but it is not a Biblically faithful way of defining trust. Why does this not work? (126)
  • Papa asserts that she is not a “self centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way.” This is a very negative way of stating several things the Bible actually asserts about God, namely that His purposes will not be frustrated, and that He demands all glory and praise and honor (126)
  • The Holy Spirit is pictured as being erratic and unpredictable. A better way of thinking of this might that God’s ways are not man’s ways (128)
  • Jesus tells Mack that to force his will on him is exactly what love does not do, and when worded that way there is some truth to it. However, he then goes on to say that genuine relationships are marked by submission even when your choices are unhelpful or unhealthy. I touched on this earlier, but to get a Biblical view here, replace “even” with “except” and you are more in line with what Scripture teaches (145)
  • The unhealthy view of submission and love is translated into marriage as well. Thinking about this briefly, is that really the view of marriage we find in the pages of Scripture? (146)
  • Jesus denies that his life was meant to be an example to copy. Paul must have misunderstood this idea when he admonished the Corinthians to imitate him as he imitated Christ. I see what Mr. Young is getting at and it is a redefinition of Christlikeness, you can decide whether or not it is a Biblical one (149)
  • An odd view analogy of how God elects people either to heaven or hell is presented, it seems to be an emotional appeal to undermine election, but I could be wrong. Election took place before the foundation of the world as God in His foreknowledge choose some vessel to made for honor and some to be made for dishonor. How inscrutable are His ways and wise are His judgments! I can see how emotionally unappealing election is, however, if you don’t want to believe in unconditional election that is fine, your only other option though is salvation by works (162)
  • The idea that all human are God’s children is presented, rather than the understanding that only the elect are God’s children. Why is this a sticky way of understanding humanity, and what support does it have in Scripture? (163 and in a few other places)
  • The cross is presented as the place where mercy triumphs over justice because of love. This is almost a blasphemous understanding of the cross, can you see exactly why? For starters, God’s attributes never contradict one another so even the idea of one over-riding the other is unfathomable, but aside from that, how does this distort the message of the cross? (164)
  • Sophia asserts that Papa has never used evil to accomplish his purposes. Aside from the places in the Bible that directly contradict this, in light of what was just said above, can you see how ridiculous this assertion is? What could be more evil than the betrayal, condemnation and undeserved beating and crucifixion of the Son of God? And yet what could be a more glorious accomplishment of God’s purposes in redeeming the human race? C.S. Lewis is wise to state that God will use you no matter what in this life, you can decide whether it is as a Judas or a John (165)
  • There are several untenable problems with making Sophia be the personification of God’s wisdom with making her a fourth member of the Godhead. Granted, its just a personification, but it is better to interpret the embodiment of wisdom to be Christ, in whom all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge are deposited (Col 2:3) (171)
  • There appears to be an oversimplification of grace implying that the Christian walk makes no demands of you. This is sort of true, but at the same time not really. Why is that so? (178)
  • We find an unnecessary rant against religion and other institutions, not realizing that the problem is not with religion or with institutions but with depraved people being involved in them. The anger is justified in a sense, but it is being directed in the wrong way (179)
  • We see too instances of “love without an agenda” being promoted. I think we have covered how this is unbiblical, but just thinking about it from a practical standpoint, how does one love without an agenda? Love must be demonstrated through actions and while not necessarily having an agenda, it seems like something more need to be said (181)
  • We find hints of pluralism, but at the same time it may just be referring to people’s past before coming to faith. Looking at it again, this is probably what is meant (182)
  • Again Papa reiterates that she does not orchestrate tragedies, and that she can use them but does not need them to accomplish her purposes. This is an emotional appeal for sure, because not only is it unbiblical, it is philosophically untenable as well. There are a few ways to resolve the problem of tragedies in the face of a good and loving God, but this way does not work without undermining many other facets of who God is (omnipotence and omniscience again). I could write a short essay on this sometime, but not here (185)
  • Omnipotence is undermined a bit further with the analogy of 47 events before someone will hear God (187)
  • Papa asserts that she used Mack’s choices to work perfectly into her purposes, which is somewhat true, but again implies limitation of God’s part in favor of human free will. Maybe I’ll just write the next essay on how that works (189)
  • Implies that humans deserve respect for simply being human, there is some dignity in bearing the Imago Dei, but this seems to distort it slightly (190)
  • Papa claims that her purposes are always and only an expression of love. Unfortunately, again, this makes love to be the controlling attribute in God’s nature, something you won’t find very readily presented throughout the Scriptures. Holiness, yes and that is what gives love its basis, but to boil it down to love is to oversimplify and distort the purposes of God (191)
  • Papa asserts that she has never placed an expectation of Mack or anyone else. This is rather hard to square with most of the Old Testament, as well as command in 1 Peter like “Be ye holy as I am holy.” Papa then goes on to assure Mack that she has never been disappointed with him, which again, is hard to square with the Bible and the idea that sin grieves God (206)
  • Omnipotence is further undermined in exchange for a God that is loving and good. In saying that he did not purpose Missy death, the question remains who did, or better yet, does fate stand at the helm of the universe or does God? While it may be painful to believe that God purposed the death of a loved one, is it not also reassuring to know that God is firmly in control of any and all situations and not only knows what is best for you but will work everything out to your benefit? (222)
  • Presents unlimited atonement, but substitutes forgiveness for atonement. In a sense what is being implied is that everyone has been forgiven of their sin in Jesus death on the cross. I don’t think this is exactly what the Bible teaches about the cross, but I could be wrong (225)
  • Builds a slightly higher conception of human worth than I think a Biblical view would warrant. On the one hand we are important, but that can’t be taken too far either without overexaggerating our value on our own apart from God (235)

These are just things to think through either in reflecting on what you’ve read or to keep in mind before you read. I can’t say I would recommend reading The Shack simply for all the side roads it could take you down, but the overall message if it is near what I described earlier is good, but it is at the expense of distorting the character of God and the nature of love, two things that one must be very sure of having grounded properly in the Bible and not in man’s conception of either.

Day 21

August 15, 2008 — 3 Comments

Watch out Texas

So I’m back in Knoxville finally. At first I started getting excited when I noticed more and more TN license plates.

But then I was like “Oh yeah.”

Later on the next morning when I was sitting at the old Starbucks readings and enjoying the almost Autumn like weather I kept noticing more and more cars with Big Orange T’s and other such car decals.

I started to say to myself, “Man there sure are a lot UT* fans around here.”

But then I was like “Oh yeah.”

Anyway, sometimes being at home can be like a mind drain. While Florida, and oddly enough road trips to upstate New York can have a rather rejuvenating effect, sometimes being home for extended periods can lead to mental and spiritual lethargy.

Some of that may have to do with the fact that lethargy was the general state I was in at home before I left for Word of Life this time 5 years ago.

Talk about full circle, but then again, that’s just one of the many ways irony seeps into my life.

For instance, this time last year (mid August) I couldn’t wait to leave Knoxville for Dallas and did so on Monday of this week in 07.

This year, I couldn’t wait to get out of Dallas, not because it was bad, but it was time for a change of scenery) and after and extended week in Florida, found myself returning to Knoxville on Monday of this past week, almost a year to the day of my initial departure.

Also, how weird is it to only see your home during certain specific times of year? In my case, those are late summer, Thanksgiving/Christmas, and early Spring.

You find yourself depending on the trees to get your bearings, as they are either in full green, just dead, or about to bloom again.

This of course is one way in which Florida is superior as the landscape is always alive and gives you no hints which month it is in paradise, but I’d rather not digress too far into what I’ve had to depart from.

Moving on…

It seems like there was much more intended for this post when I started thinking it out on Tuesday. Unfortunately since then, I’ve been a bit scatterbrained, but the fight for clarity is back in full force and will continue until the transition back to Dallas and the fall semester is underway.

Sorry, that wasn’t really moving on, it was more rehashing.

Moving on for real…

I started reading The Shack (oh snap!) yesterday. I’m sure I’ll let you know what I think of the philosophy Mr. Young is trying to persuade us of through his literary endeavor. I’m just now getting up to the part where Mack goes to the Shack (where hopefully no Dr. Suessery occurs)

So far, one thing I have noticed.

Whether or not you like The Shack, that is one thing, but just after reading the first chapter, I thought about looking up Mr. Young’s address in order to mail him a copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, so that his future writings might not be so poorly constructed and unnecessarily wordy.

So there you go, point number one, whether or not you like what The Shack says, from a literary perspective, its not a very well written book. If you want to know why, read Elements of Style for yourself, or something more readable like Stephen King’s On Writing (the second half, not the first half which is mainly autobiographical).

While this may seem like an ad hominem attack on both a book and an author, I didn’t say anything yet about the message of the book. I am merely pointing out that when someone speaks of how good The Shack is, its mainly an emotional response to the content, not a declaration of fact concerning the structure and nature of the book itself.

Maybe its too easy to see through this facade of a plot Mr Young is using to set up a story that can explicate his views on God, but it is not a well conceived of story and it is thus far not well put together grammatically or structurally.

However, I’m just 100 pages or so into it, so we’ll see how my thoughts progress as I read, but I thought it might be more manageable in bite sized pieces.

And now I’m bored with this blog and have lost any further trains of thought so that makes me think it might be lunch time.

Until next time.

*When I say UT, I am referring to the University of Tennessee, which is the original UT, having been founded in 1794, long before the Republic of Texas had become a state (in case you were wondering, University of Texas was founded in 1883 almost a century later). Anyway, if it were not for 30 or so Tennessee Volunteers (including Davy Crockett) that ventured down to the Alamo at San Antonio and not only fought valiantly to the death but subsequently inspired others to pick up their arms and fight for freedom, well Texas might still be part of Mexico. Nobody sent more volunteers to down to the Alamo than Tennessee, so basically, Texas, you owe us one. Hang your hook on that you silly Longhorns.

Day 13

August 7, 2008 — 1 Comment

Dear faithful reader,

For starters, who are you? Aside from not yet realizing your identity, I feel I have let you down in missing my monthly update in July. I know you were probably crushed from the weight of not knowing what I had been up to, but if you can find your heart somewhere within your collapsed ribcage and inside it, find space to forgive me, I would appreciated it.

Beyond that, today is in fact day 13 of my month long sabbatical. If you can do the math (don’t forget July had 31 days), you can figure out both when it started and also when it will come to an end. The first week was spent in Dallas with my parents, and me playing tour guide and showing the wonders of the DFW metroplex. Since that is not an entirely complex process, we also took in San Antonio and Austin in rather adventurous day 4 of the previously alluded to sabbatical.

On day 6, after my parents experienced the wonders of Chipotle, they skipped town and I proceeded to pack up and get ready to split myself.

You have to read that last line with the proper inflection in order to understand what I mean, its like there’s a short pause between and ‘split’ and ‘myself.’

Try it again.

See?

Anyway, day 7 involved my most epic road trip to date. Honestly it’ll be hard to top by an other man-penguin driving team. A little over 1200 miles in less than 18 hours, Dallas to Tampa driving from before dawn until after dark. Also, no stops over 20mins. And no more than one stop per 200 miles driven.

If there were a gauntlet here in this Starbucks, it would be lying (laying?) in a sorry state on the floor.

Speaking of sorry states, I think a Mooney just walked by outside. I would explain just who these followers of Sun Yung Moon are, but it’s entirely irrelevant to this particular blog post.

It was just worth mention because it was happening real-time as I was typing.

Just like the Coheed and Cambria concert happening across the street at Jannus Landing right now.

But again, irrelevant.

So anyway, day 8 and 9 involved waiting on my soul to catch up with my body, and once said adjusting took place the real vacation began to unfold. Lots of refreshing interaction with friends old and new, lots of reading, and lots of soul satisfying nourishment straight from the hand of God.

Days 10, 11, and 12 each had their own distinct flavor, but not a lot of geographic movement, mainly because my car had been unfortunately clicking a bit too often instead of starting up normally. Come to find out the wire from the battery to the started had experienced a falling away of sorts that involved a lot of corrosion.

Problem solved and hence the drive today down to St. Pete for a bit to enjoy the idyllic downtown area, and the further south to Venice to enjoy both Manasota Beach and Canopy Road.

However a thunderstorm had been forming and then loomed off in the distance threatening to infringe on my lighting for proper photography so I cut the beachtime short (also to avoid deep frying my insides) and then headed back to St. Pete to catch the Sunshine Skyway in the late afternoon sun that glistens ever so invitingly off Tampa Bay. I suppose at this time my lighting is dwindling into dusk and the rush hour traffic has diminished enough to drive back to Word of Life, so I think I’ll do just that.

But not before I use the bathroom.

Oh water, you get out of my bladder.

Life: Its Happening

June 10, 2008 — 1 Comment

It all started as a line from Anchorman in the infamous Death of Baxter scene with Jack Black.

Jack Black asks Ron Burgundy what’s something he loves, which among other things (Scotch, etc.) turns out to be Baxter his beloved dog, who gets personified much like Wendell can and does.

Since Ron had inadvertantly caused Jack to wreck his hog, destroying the only thing he loved, so Jack Black takes a suspiciously rag-doll looking Baxter and kicks him off the bridge, uttering the now immortal line…

Oh yeah? Well now that just happened.

Which brings us back to life (yes, there is a slight double meaning here).

In coming to Dallas at the beginning of the school year, it was hard not to have some conceptions of what it would be like, call them expectations if you’d like, but whatever they were, they were there (or here I suppose).

Now after a year of school, some good and some bad (by bad I mean boring, not poor quality)…

Times, they are a changing (which to the clever is another Anchorman reference).

Not drastically of course, but the perception of school is shifting to one that is more akin to be described  as full time life and part time school instead of full time school and part time life.

It’s time to start living a little more and schooling a little less.

For instance, I went into the library today for the first time in over a month.

Why? Just to check e-mail and then proceed to retrieve a package.

Obviously this is just a minor example of a more subtle paradigm shift in mindset, but the library used to be a rather frequent haunt (erroneously called the “nating grounds” but that is the subject of an entirely different sort of blog).

The shift started when I flew back to Lynchburg to walk in my college graduation at Liberty and successfully carried on a conversation with a lady on the plane without ever mentioning that I go to school.

Some of the pieces might not have completely connected, but the conversation laid the groundwork the realization that I had more to talk about with people than simply being a student and eventually led to re-thinking just what I am doing in Dallas and

Am I just going to school here, or am I carrying out life here?

If the former, then I should probably take more credit hours than I am and possibly commit a heftier summer schedule next year (heftier than nothing though does not take too much).

But if the latter, then maybe I should focus less on school and more on making connections and being involved in the “normalcies” of a what life is like when one is not in school.

Then more I thought about it, the more I realized I was strongly attracted to option (b.

Now one may argue that you should focus on school as much as possible while you are there, and sacrifice other things.

However, this is just nonsense (in my humble opinion at least).

In my experience, (sorry to base on argument on experience, but it happens) I have generally learned more outside the classroom than in it. Call it the homeschooler’s fallacy, but at any rate, if I really wanted to learn more, I would just simply skip class altogether (which I actually did in my NT Introduction class, and only read through the notes the day of the final. I got a 89 and a high A in the class. Go figure).

It would seem the more reasonable approach is to seek to establish a properly balanced life that is intent on learning, whether through the externally organized scaffolding of somewhere like DTS, or through one’s own intellectual pursuits and interests.

For some, maybe the best approach is to focus intently on school and nothing else while they are enrolled.

But this could hardly be generalized to be the best approach for everyone.

As I’ve now come to realize for me, it clearly is not the best route to take.

So here’s to living more intensely,

To chasing more sunsets,

To staying up til the sun rises,

To driving aimlessly in search of new vistas,

To connecting deeper with others,

To creating art in worship,

To changing lives,

To living.

Just when you thought I fell through a worm hole in the library…
The semester put up a good fight, but in the end, after an unnecessarily brutal thrashing, I took it to its grave.
Here lies Spring 2008. January – May. Laid to rest next to its predecessor, Fall 2007, who incidentally did not put up quite the fight in being vanquished.
So that in mind, training for Fall 2008 has already started, which I hear makes Spring 2008 look like an 11 year old boy who can’t punch his way out of a wet paper bag.
This should make things interesting.
Teaching has been going great, its much nicer having a job that is both enjoyable and rewarding, and that you actually received extensive training to accomplish.

It makes you feel like your degree was worth something.
That and not being allowed to quit piano lessons upon reaching adolescents.
This fall promises to be a more ideal state of existing as both teacher and learner simultaneously, without the mode of being know as “pool serviceman.”
Oh the mere refreshment that thought entails.
Anyway, today has been a good day, most of it spent in the area where the new picture above was taken (Cooper St. in Arlington).
I could go on for hours about the symbology of such a picture, but it’s pretty self explanatory, and fits much better with the blog title (which Chelsea received 1000 cool points for knowing it came from a Porcupine Tree song title).
The genius of it was not immediately apparent to me when I took it (mainly because I was in moving traffic) but now looking at it up close it typifies, my life for the next 3 years (hopefully no more, possibly less).
So anyway, there you go.
Summer reading is now in full swing, as is Starbucks hopping, poolside napping, showering more than once a day, and the infamous third set during workouts.
Not to mention the revival of an almost dead social life.
I know you thought human contact was beyond me, I mean in many ways my robot heart cannot love, it can only devour highly technical books and the spit the contents back out in a slightly more understandable way, but surprisingly, I do actually strive for maintaining meaningful relationships.
I’ll leave with the take-a-way of a conversation with the infamous Brian Bain that took place over burritos (what else?) at FreeBirds.
In reference to a journal entry from that guy that died in a bus somewhere in Alaska (watch Into the Wild, or better yet, read the book as Brian would say) we both concurred that happiness to be complete must be shared.
I mean why else would I blog on here to who knows who actually reads this thing if it weren’t for the need to express what I think and experience in my life in a way that brings it to completion?
I think you get the point, I’ll go for brevity for once.
Bottom line, life is meant to be lived in community, specifically the community of believers that is the Body of Christ.
So happiness and joy are really not solitary events, completion arrives with sharing.
That in my mind, by next blog will probably go over all the shows I’ve gone to alone in the past 4 years.
Oh where to start…

 

“Speaking of simplicity,” said a now facetious Martin, “How does this impact your understanding of the Incarnation?”

Vasiliy smiled, realizing the absurdity of using “simplicity” and “the Incarnation” in the same sentence, but not missing a beat simply said, “It makes it quite easier to understand actually.”

“How so?”

“Well since you don’t have anywhere to go yet, we might as well dive right in,” said Vasiliy, “Let’s go back to our model.”

“Alright,” said Martin, “Let’s”

“If we have a model of man as being the union of a spirit given by God to a human body, and that union results in a soul that produces physiological and psychological effects as manifested in the heart first, then the central nervous system and then the brain, what would seem to be the implications for God coming in the flesh as Jesus?”

“That the second person of the Trinity who was pure Spirit, came into union with the human body in Mary’s womb and resulted in the person Jesus Christ,” said Martin, “Which sounds acceptable at first, but then sounds suspiciously like Apollinarianism.[i]”

“Historically a condemned heresy because it seemed to impinge on Christ’s humanity, right?”

“Right, but on this view, how that conclusion be avoided?” asked Martin, “It would seem if Christ were simply the Spirit that animated a human body, something is missing.”

“Well let’s clarify further to avoid that conclusion,” said Vasiliy, “If I understand Apollinarius’ argument correctly, he argued the Logos, or Second Person of the Trinity was not only the image of God, but was also the archetypal man possessing human nature in His pre-existent form, something Gregory of Nazianzus understood to mean that the flesh of Christ was pre-existent, and thus on that interpretation rightfully rejected.”

Pausing, Vasiliy continued, “On the other hand, I have understood Apollinarius to mean that the Logos contained perfect human personhood archetypically in his own nature, and as a result of assuming a human body the Logos brought the attributes necessary to ensure a complete human nature.[ii]”

“So you would hold that the only missing component of Christ’s human nature prior to the Incarnation would have been received with the union of His divine Spirit with a human body?”

“That’s correct, and I think this ties my interpretation of the Incarnation strongly to the Imago Dei, as human nature is not so essentially exemplified in having a body, but in being a person one is uniquely able to reflect God’s nature in relation to others,” said Vasiliy, “So it would follow that the Second Person of the Trinity, prior to the Incarnation, already possessed the properties necessary to exemplify human personhood, He only lacked a body to manifest them through.

“And by taking on human flesh, His divine Spirit fused with a human body  and resulted in a soul that could be said to contain both the human and divine nature?”

“That’s exactly right,” said Vasiliy, “In my mind, this model relieves many of the tensions implicit in other understandings of human psychology that have to postulate in one way or another two minds in Christ, have trouble making sense of how it all fits together, and end up assigning a condition to our Savior that would be considered pathological if it were anyone else.[iii]”

“So to avoid that, you would hold not just that a mind adheres in a person, but that it adheres in the soul that is the resultant of having a spirit in the body?[iv]”

“I think that is accurate to say, especially if one sees the spirit as enlivening the body itself, giving rise to a soul that then works through both the heart and brain, the physiological organs from which mindedness arises.”

“I can see how this is a more attractive model for you,” said Martin, “But it also seems to imply Christ as having only one will, since you would say that a will probably also adheres in a person.”

“I would say that, and I believe your apprehension may come from recalling the monotheletism heresy, condemned at the Third Council of Constantinople in 680,” said Vasiliy, “However, orthodox Christology as defined at the Council of Chalcedon and more importantly as defined in the Scriptures, does not mandate that Christ have more than one will or mind for that matter.[v]”

“You know your church history very well don’t you?” said Martin, “I barely have all the facts straight from the early church myself and I’m a seminary student.”

“I also have quite a few years on you and come from a tradition that played a significant role in developing those creeds, so its been rather important for me to understand as much as I can about what was taught and what was condemned, either rightly or wrongly so.”

It was right about this juncture in the conversation that the ever so friendly captain spoke once again over the intercom, alerting everyone to the news of the impending final descent into DFW, and of course, thanked them for choosing to fly the friendly skies.

“It looks like we’d better wrap this pretty fast, I wouldn’t want to leave any dangling loose ends,” said Martin.

“That would be for the better, let’s see if I can tie everything off before we get lost in the frenzy of opening overhead compartments and the anticipation of the line into the breezeway,” said Vasiliy, “But first to answer you actual objection about Christ having only one will.”

“Yes, that one,” said Martin.

“Following from our model, in which minds exist in a one to one ratio with persons, or souls, Jesus could only have one mind,” said Vasiliy, “Although, in His case, the divine mind of the Second Person of the Trinity, once operating through a human body and human consciousness became simply a human mind, at least in the way that we are using the term ‘mind’ and the way that most other people do as well.[vi]”

“Which you would say is not merely a human mind, but nonetheless a fully human mind?”

“I would apply that distinction to Christ’s personhood, or soul if you will, as a whole,” said Vasiliy, “Christ in the flesh was fully human, having everything that a human would have, except for a human spirit, and since a soul is not something you have, but something you are, Christ became one on our behalf so that nothing would be unassumed, and therefore remain unhealed.[vii]”

“So, synthesizing here a bit, you are saying that by virtue of becoming a fully human person, the Spirit of Christ then operated through a human body and therefore a human mind and human will, in the end, fully regenerated all three?”

“I think if this model could have explained it that clearly, or at least couched it in those terms several centuries ago, it might have very well escaped any condemnation of heresy.”

“Or at least you hope so, right?”

“I do,” said Vasiliy, “I really feel this model is faithful to the relevant Scriptural data about humanity and certainly is faithful to the understanding we have of Christ from the New Testament writings.”

“From what I can see, I would agree with you,” said Martin, “But I certainly want to study this further to verify it for myself.”

“Speaking of that, I can recommend a few books for you,” said Vasiliy, “Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective is a great place to start, but I also would recommend The Logic of God Incarnate, by Thomas Morris.”

“We had to read part of Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective in our class,” said Martin, “I never got around to reading the rest of it, but maybe I’ll check it out.”

“I can’t say I agree with everything , but the chapters by Fred Sanders and Donald Fairbairn give a good overview of the development of Christology, while the chapter by Scott Horrell is a great defense of the social model of the Trinity that even I can appreciate from my tradition,” said Vasiliy, “I also think the chapter by Garrett DeWeese gives a fairly similar model of the Incarnation to the one we have discussed.[viii]”

“I’ll definitely give those a good reading,” said Martin, “But before we actually hit the ground, what are some of the implications of this model, I mean, what difference does it make?”

“That’s probably the best question,” said Vasiliy, “And always necessary to provide an answer for, so going back a bit, as we understand more adequately the God that we love and serve , our first response should be one of reverent worship.”

“And in doing so, can reflect back to God the love He has put in us by His presence, right?[ix]”

“Very much so,” said Vasiliy, “Also, our model of course has theological implications too.”

“I can think of one right off,” said Martin, “It would seems that Christ was able to assume everything human in order to heal it all, except for a human spirit, which supports the idea that it is regenerated on an individual basis.[x]”

“In my understanding of theology, everything must be tied very tightly to soteriology.” said Vasiliy, “And I think it is best to understand the early church councils as having that in the forefront of their minds as they sought to explain their Christology and defend that our salvation was possible. [xi]”

“Which it would not have been unless God found a way to come down from heaven and become a man in order to live the perfect life and die as a sacrifice for our sin.[xii]”

“That’s correct,” said Vasiliy, “So in seeking to explain that, they continually asked what the Bible said about our salvation and what implications it would have for the One who provided it.[xiii]”

“We kinda worked in a different direction though,” said Martin, “Asking what is a man, and then clarifying what that would mean about Jesus, but I guess in going a different direction we still must come back to how that impacts our understanding of soteriology.”

“Somewhat,” said Vasiliy, “What we really did was ask what is a man in order to understand what Jesus would have had to become so that we then can understand  how it is even possible for man to be redeemed in order to join into divine fellowship.”

“Oh ok, that makes better sense than what I just said.”

“Not to be too pastoral for you, I realize that as a seminary student you hear your share of chapel messages and probably have a preaching class of some kind as well.”

“Not yet, but I will soon,” said Martin

“Well to bring this all together, perichoresis and all,” said Vasiliy, “From a biblical point of view, we were never meant to be independent of God. Being human necessarily involves relationality, and that aspect of human nature certainly derives from the relationality inherent in the three persons of the Trinity. True humanity then, involves both fellowship with God and dependence on Him for life itself. Looking at Jesus, a person whose humanity actually subsisted in the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, and whose life was purely derived from utter dependence on the Trinity as a whole, He was certainly not a less than human person but was in fact the most fully human person to ever walk the face of the earth.[xiv]”

“I’ve never heard it phrased quite like that,” said Martin, “So living a life in utter dependence on the Trinity by being indwelt by God and participating in the divine fellowship through worship is really not in any way less human, but clearly is the most human way to live.

“Scripture is amazingly consistent in tying thoughts like this together,” said Vasiliy, “Think of how this understanding of humanity ultimately finds expression in the creation of the church as the body of Christ.[xv]”

“Functioning as one body, yet deriving its dependence on the person of Christ and the Trinity as a whole, right?”

“Very much so,” said Vasiliy, “Do you feel like your understanding of yourself as a human in relation to the Trinity is more grounded now?”

The words had not left Vasiliy’s mouth before they were greeted with the ever welcomed feel of making contact with land after being airborne for so long.

“You know what?” Martin smiled, “I think it finally is.”


[i] The following discussion of Apollinarianism and the concepts that can be drawn from it while still remaining faithful to what the Scriptures testify of Christ is adapted from J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 608-12., DeWeese, “One Person, Two Natures: Two Metaphysical Models of the Incarnation.”, Donald Fairbairn, “The One Person Who Is Jesus Christ: The Patristic Perspective,” in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective, ed. Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2007).

[ii] If Adam, prior to the fall, perfectly reflected the image of God, one has to wonder what more the Incarnation would have to entail for Christ to become the Last Adam besides simply His taking on human flesh and all its constituents. From a Biblical survey of the data relevant to what human nature is (see Saucy, “Theology of Human Nature.”) it appears that human nature is grounded in the image of God, and therefore manifested through an embodied person. Christ simply had to become an embodied human person, and our model, that entails joining His divine Spirit to a human body untainted by sin (which is transmitted by the male see fascinating discussion in Custance, The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation 176-192.) and enliven the resultant human person.

[iii] I would concur with John Macquarrie (John Macquarrie, Jesus Christ in Modern Thought, (London: SCM, 1990), 166-67. Cited in DeWeese, “One Person, Two Natures: Two Metaphysical Models of the Incarnation,” 132.) on this point and have trouble attributing something to Christ that would be pathological in anyone else (two minds/two wills) unless Scripture either made it clear, or our understanding of humanity demanded it. From this model, it does not.

[iv] From what we have expounded upon above, it should be clear that consciousness is most closely associated with the soul, and while we will not try to nail down a concept of mind here, it could be thought of as being comprised of the senses and consciousness, both aspects of the soul. See Seebass, “Nephesh.” And Saucy, “Theology of Human Nature,” 31-34, 41-43.

[v] Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 601,11.

[vi] The idea of the voluntarily constrained divine mind simply operating as a human mind once His Spirit was coupled with a human body comes from DeWeese, “One Person, Two Natures: Two Metaphysical Models of the Incarnation,” 145.  This makes much better sense of the kenosis spoken of in Philippians 2, as Christ humbled Himself by taking on the form of a servant, which on the model presented above entails operating through a human mind and will.

[vii] This is Gregory of Nazianzus’ maxim, used in opposition to Apollinarianism and later invoked against monothelitism, following from an understanding that wills are grounded in natures. However, from the model above, wills belong to persons, so Christ necessarily could have only one will for He was only one person.

[viii] Actually, it’s very similar. The model is essentially a synthesis of Arthur Custance’s writing on the nature of the soul, with the basics of the model outlined by Garrett DeWeese.

[ix] Romans 5:5, depending on how one interprets the genitive ‘theou’ in ‘ha agape tou theou,’ this verse either states that it is love for God that is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, or it is God’s love itself poured into out hearts. In either instance, the verb form is a perfect tense, indicating that it is a completed action for the believer once the Holy Spirit has been given, but the effects are to be continuous in nature.

[x] This accords as best I know with my understanding of soteriology from undergraduate, however, I will not take the class here until next spring, so please forgive the lack of diligent research in supporting this one point.

[xi] Although I am still personally debating how much I follow this axiom, it and the following idea are taken from Fairbairn, “The One Person Who Is Jesus Christ: The Patristic Perspective,” 92-93.

[xii] Ibid., 109.

[xiii] Ibid., 92.

[xiv] Slight more Trinitarian expansion of quote found in Ibid., 109-10.

[xv] This idea was not originally apparent to me, but was pointed out by Brian Bain during lunch one day (5/2/08 roughly 1145am in Mitchell). In Acts we see the model in Genesis replicated very intentionally. There was a “body” of humans gathered, who were then enlivened by the breath of God in the coming of the Holy Spirit and the resultant creation was the Body of Christ as a functional “person.” One could probably drop the quotation marks here and simply see how as we are the church, Christ is person who manifests himself through the body of believers, just like a soul manifests itself through the physical body. He is truly the head (i.e. source) of all the activities that the church carries out, and as believers we are standing as one giant person in juxtaposition to the giant person of fallen man that has Adam as its head and as a body of unbelievers is enlivened by the spirit of Satan (this latter idea comes from Arthur C. Custance, Man in Adam and in Christ, vol. III, The Doorway Papers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 181-88.). In this very sense, we intimately participate in the divine nature as God Himself makes expression through us as parts of His body. Perhaps, if it were possible to unite and add all believers in the world together, one would find the person of Christ still wholly present in the world today (Custance, Man in Adam and in Christ, 186-87.).

“Thinking of my personhood being grounded in the Trinity,” said Martin, “How does that establish an understanding of human nature?”

Seeing the gears turn like this made Vasiliy smile, “We trace our grounding of humanity in God back to Genesis 1, where God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image,’ so that would seem the best place to start.”

“So man as a person is reflective of the image of God?”

“Your identity as a person is only known in relation to God,” said Vasiliy, “And only as you know more of Who you image, will you understand yourself more.[i]”

“I see,” said Martin, “The more that I truly understand God’s nature, the more I will understand my own, and the more I understand the persons of the Trinity the more I will be able to understand just what it means to be a person.”

“Your understanding is picking up speed,” said Vasiliy, “What other questions do you have?”

Martin thought for a minute, trying to assimilate his thoughts on personhood, but could only come up with a structural question

“How do you conceive of the whole dichotomy/trichotomy problem?” Martin asked, “You know, in light of what you seem to hold about the heart playing a part in your consciousness.”

“Ahh, I was wondering whether or not you would broach this subject,” said Vasiliy, “From my perspective on the issue, I find that the heart’s ability to play into my consciousness helps explain my experiences further, however, as far as relating it to the psychology of man, I do not designate it as one of the components in the discussion, but would rather say it is an avenue that the spirit manifests its presence within the body.[ii]”

“Oh ok, so what are the components on your view?”

“Essentially, I conceive of man as having a spirit and a body,” said Vasiliy, “The heart as an organ, as well as the brain, being a part of the latter.”

“Then what about the soul?”

“This is where I would diverge slightly from theories you may be familiar with,” said Vasiliy, “I conceive of the soul as being the resultant of a spirit being united with a body, not necessarily a ‘thing’ in its own right, that is, it only exists when those two components are in union.[iii]”

“Interesting,” said Martin, “How did you come to that idea?”

“Mostly from my own studies in the Scriptures,” said Vasiliy, “I had the privilege of spending a long winter up in New York, not long after I became a believer, just reading the Bible over and over again and predominately built my theological understandings from that total immersion.”

“I guess there’s not too much else to do through the winter months up there, right?”

“That’s partially true,” said Vasiliy, “But in any case, starting in Genesis 2:7, it would seem God created a body for Adam, gave him a spirit, and then called the resultant union a soul, and it just seems through the rest of the Old Testament that soul seems to refer to what a person is rather than what a person has.[iv]”

“I had never thought of that quite like that before.”

“It is really a fascinating way to proceed, for if you trace the threads throughout Scripture, you find passages that use the word soul make sense if you conceive of it as standing in metonymy for the whole person, not necessarily a part of the person,[v]” said Vasiliy, “Also, thinking of the soul’s existence as being tied specifically to the body, that is, requiring a body to function fully, makes sense of even more, especially such passages that talk of the soul being satisfied with meat and drink.[vi]”

“How is it tied specifically to the body?”

“I believe the possession of a soul is coterminous with having a central nervous system, and to segregate man from the animals that are spoken of in Genesis as also possessing a soul[vii] I would say, man receives a properly human spirit given by God to a human body,[viii]” said Vasiliy, “And if the human heart is the possible contact point where the spirit is received, we have an interesting  confirmation of our theory, as physiologically speaking, the functioning of the nervous system depends on the blood, something actually confirmed in Leviticus, where it says that ‘the life of the flesh is in the blood.’[ix]”

“But is that viable, I mean, do the others doctors you work with give credence to that sort of theory?”

“On the whole, we tend to proceed with caution in nailing down where the spirit comes into the body, and a good many of my colleagues do not share my religious convictions in the slightest, much less have this kind of theological pursuit driving their understanding,” said Vasiliy, “But those of us who do have convictions, and those who at least open to the possibility, tend to unanimously agree that if the spirit made contact somewhere in the physical body, it would be in the heart.[x]”

“This is a lot to really digest, I’ll have to look into it for myself, but your thoughts on this are really fascinating.”

“Well I hope you will, before we part ways I’ll give you a few books that could start your search for definitive answers.”

“That would be pretty sweet,” said Martin, “So just to clarify part of all this, your basic idea is that the soul doesn’t exist on its own, but it emerges when a spirit and a body are united, correct?”

“Essentially, yes,” said Vasiliy, “Maybe an illustration will help you visualize it better.”

“Alright”

Vasiliy reached into his pocket, producing a key chain with two colored discs on it, one yellow, the other blue.

“Let’s consider that this yellow disc represents the body, and this blue one represents the spirit.” Saying this, he slowly slid them together so that the perfectly overlapped one another.

“Now that they have been unified, it now appears to be a single green disc, which on my analogy, is the soul,” said Vasiliy, “Whatever can be said of either the spirit or the body, could readily in Scripture be attributed to the soul, since that stands for the whole man, and in fact, that is what we see.[xi] Considering the soul to result physiologically from the presence of a spirit in the body, from my perspective, makes sense of both my work as a cardiologist, and my faith as an Orthodox believer.”

“That does make things a lot clearer now, I like your analogy with the colored discs.”

“I’ve found that it helps whenever I try to explain my understanding of human psychology,” said Vasiliy, “A little simplicity can go a long way toward clarifying one’s ideas.”


[i] Robert L. Saucy, “Theology of Human Nature,” in Christian Perspectives on Being Human: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Integration, ed. J. P. Moreland and David M. Ciocchi (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 20.

[ii] While not pursued here, in a metaphorical sense (and also the Biblical usage), the heart is the fountainhead of behavior and is really the avenue through which the spirit manifests itself in the physical body, and is thereby the primary organ through which the resultant soul functions (Ibid., 41.) The heart could be thought of a component, and physiologically a case could be made for it being where the spirit enters the body (think of the unity of the cardiovascular system, there is a reason why doctors prefer to transplant hearts and lungs together rather than either in isolation), however, it is not the heart per se that is a component, but the spirit which enlivens it and gives rise to the soul as we will see below.

[iii] The following discussion is mostly adapted from an essay entitled “A Fresh Look at the Meaning of the Word ‘Soul'” appearing in Arthur C. Custance, The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation, vol. V, The Doorway Papers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 260-91. But was independently verified through researching other sources such as H. Seebass, “Nephesh,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef  Fabry, trans. David E. Green, vol. IX (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1998). And Edmond Jacob, “Psuche: The Anthropology of the Old Testament,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Friedrich, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. IX (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974). And Saucy, “Theology of Human Nature.”

[iv] For a more thorough treatment of this idea, see Seebass, “Nephesh,” 497-519. Looking at the meanings of this word that is usually the Hebrew word behind the English word ‘soul,’ it seems the soul is most intimately connected with the idea of breathing and senses and therefore the very essence of the person, and is therefore not a component per se of that person.  Of the meanings listed, Seebass notes that the OT usage requires some level of harmonization of the possible options. In order they are: throat/gullet, desire, vital self/reflexive pronoun, and individuated life.  In commenting on translating the word as soul over and against throat/gullet or desire, Seebass asserts that it is not simply the need for nourishment or satiation involved but, the whole person as soul is thought of  as a figure of joy in life and vitality. None of these elements it seems should be confused with the idea of spirit that is woven throughout the Bible elsewhere, and while the words may seem to be used somewhat interchangeably, it is doubtful that that is truly the case. Saucy notes that many times the words are used in an aspectival sense rather than a substantival sense (Saucy, “Theology of Human Nature,” 31.) This makes sense and has more intrinsic explanatory power when perusing the Old and New Testament usages of nephesh and psuche respectively. Turning to the NT, in gathering background for psuche, we also have confirmation that nephesh properly accords with a man’s total nature, for what he is, and not just what he has (Jacob, “Psuche: The Anthropology of the Old Testament,” 620.) Looking further into actual usage of psuche in the New Testament, it is primarily connected with the man as a whole and is the first instance of physical life (Eduard Schweizer, “Psuche: The New Testament,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Friedrich, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. IX (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 639.) Following from this, one can see how ‘life’ can be thought of as being possessed by an individual (think of Jesus’ use of saving/losing the soul) but it is certainly not a component of a man, it is simply the resultant of a human body made of dust being enlivened by the breath of God (i.e. a spirit). The other usages listed for psuche all point to the person as a whole, or different aspects of the person as a whole. In distinction to the use of spirit (pneuma), the soul is capable of being slain, persecuted or hated (Schweizer, “Psuche: The New Testament,” 654. ). While the spirit can be thought of as standing for the whole man as well, it always presents man in special aspect. Psuche, more closely tied to the heart (kardia) which has an emphasis on the will and conscious inward participation, is connected very essentially with physical life, but it is not identical with it. It seems very appropriate in light of all of this to follow the outline we have already set up that being that a person consists of a human body enlivened by a spirit given by God and results in a soul.

[v] This is probably sufficiently grounded in the above quotations, but just by way of a more contemporary explanation, the great emphasis upon man is as a living being, and while it may used for various aspects of a person, the underlying thought is of the actions or characteristics of the person as a holistic entity (Saucy, “Theology of Human Nature,” 38-41).

[vi] See such passages as Dt 23:25(24), Isa. 29:8, 55:2; Prov 16:26, 27:7; Hos. 9:4. For more see entry under “Desire” in Seebass, “Nephesh,” 505-08.

[vii] Genesis 1, in the original, in v. 20, 21, 24, & 30 the word nephesh is used of animals first, before being applied specifically to man. See Custance, The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation, 270.

[viii] See Eccl 12:7, Zech 12:1, Num 16:22. Clearly, from several Biblical passages, the Spirit that man receives comes from God directly.

[ix] Leviticus 17:11, also, the word life is nephesh in the original, so it could possibly be rendered, “the soul of the flesh is in the blood.” This is tends to tie the existence of the soul’s manifestation in the body to wherever blood is flowing. Genesis 9 tends to also confirm this idea by stating that “the life (or soul) of flesh is in the blood,” which is why it is wrong to shed the blood of another. It should also be noted that feeling (or consciousness) disappears rather quickly in any part of the body that loses blood flow. This does not conclusively prove the hypothesis, but definitely supports the idea.

[x] Childre and Martin, The Heartmath Solution, 260-61.

[xi] Custance, The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation, 269-70. The illustration comes from this author as well, I am not that clever on my own.

“So where we?” said Vasiliy

“I think we were about to talk about what concepts are affected by your starting point in explaining the Trinity.”

“One step at a time,” said Vasiliy, “First let’s talk about God as Trinity.”

“We still both agree that God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each being fully God, and that there is one God,[i] right?”

“Of course, we share the same basic understanding of God, such as three divine persons, person in this sense being a center of self-consciousness existing in relation to others.[ii]”

“So in starting with the persons rather than the nature, how does that play out?” said Martin

“In Greek philosophy, which predominated in the East, one first considers the agent, and then moves to find the nature, we think of nature as the content of a person, so we emphasize the person,[iii]” said Vasiliy, “And we would think of nature as the set of attributes that are essential to an individual’s belonging to a certain kind,[iv]which is usually exposed after knowing more about that person.”

“So I suppose philosophy in the West, which I guess might be what, Latin?,” asked Martin, ” It would work the opposite direction, considering the nature first, and then the agent?[v]”

“Correct.”

“That makes sense, which I think explains why you could be accused of slipping into tri-theism rather easily.”

“True, but as you know the Scriptures repeatedly affirm the three persons as God[vi], yet also that there is one God,” said Vasiliy, “We can relieve some of the tension of with the concept of perichoresis[vii], without also completely losing some degree of divine mystery.”

“I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around that one,” said Martin, “I mean I remember discussing it in class, but by that point in the semester I was having trouble rising to that level of abstract thought.”

“That’s certainly understandable,” said Vasiliy, “But let me try to explain it briefly in a way that might make better sense to you.”

“All I remember is that it had something to do with some kind of mutual indwelling of the members of the Godhead.”

“Very well,” replied Vasiliy, “I assume that you covered the Biblical basis for the concept,[viii] so I’ll just try to explain how I’ve come to understand it.”

“Yeah, I don’t doubt its legitimacy,” said Martin, “It’s just a clear understanding that eludes me.”

“In a rather roundabout way, seeing how this could be illustrated within your own self could broaden your understanding of the idea.” Pausing briefly to gather his thoughts, Vasiliy then continued, “In my discipline, a new field of study emerged in the early 90’s known as neurocardiology, pioneered by a man named Dr. J. Andrew Armour, who taught at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.[ix] He found in his research that the heart contains at least 40,000 neurons, as many as are found in the various subcortical centers in the brain, or in other words, the heart has its own nervous system, a veritable ‘brain in the heart’ as they have called it. From a neuroscience perspective, it certainly does qualify as such, and because of that, its elaborate circuitry allows the heart to learn, remember, and even feel and sense. This information is communicated to the brain, just as the brain communicates to the heart, and there is in a certain sense, from an individual’s conscious perspective, a mutual indwelling of the two centers of thought within your body so that you cannot always distinguish between where your thoughts and feelings are exactly originating.”

“That’s pretty incredible,” said Martin, “I’ve never really studied anything along those lines, but if the research supports those kind of conclusions, that’s a really fascinating find.”

“My theory is that if there are two centers of thought and feeling within your body, which are distinguishable in function but united from your conscious perspective, that would provide a framework to being able to understand how the three divine persons can be separate, yet somehow united into a unified Godhead.”

“That’s pretty hard to grasp, but I think I’m starting to see it a bit more clearly,” said Martin, “It sounds like a good model, although the separateness of the heart and brain might be hard to completely establish.”

“There are still areas that need further refinement, as it is by no means what one would think of as an empirically validated scientific fact that the heart can think, but the research that keeps surfacing points strongly in that direction,” said Vasiliy,  “From my standpoint though, it is a workable theory that at least prima facie, seems plausible.”

“I can buy that,” said Martin, “So you would maybe draw from that, if it were true, that we are in a certain sense, I guess you would say, perichoretically structured?”

“You could draw that inference from this data, but it might be better to base it on the Scriptures first and then come back to this.[x]”

“Oh ok, well I guess the best evidence for what you would call a perichoretic structure in humans is the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of believers found in John 14:17,” Martin replied, “It would seem we are designed to be inhabited by another.”

“That’s a good start, but what do you find in the rest of that chapter?”

“What do you mean?”

“In verse 20, Christ tells His disciples that He is in the Father and that they are in Him, and that He is in them,” Vasiliy said, “Doesn’t that sound like Christ indwelling the believer as well?”

“You know, you’re right, Paul speaks of that rather often,[xi] and wouldn’t two members of the Trinity point to the possibility of God the Father being involved as well?”

“That’s exactly what you find in verse 23, where Christ says, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with them.”

“Which at least implies in some sense the Father indwelling believers as well,” said Martin, “and given the tightness, I guess you could say, of the Trinity, all three members need to be involved in every action, especially entering into relation with the believer.”

“And from my tradition, the whole relationship is perichoretic as well as we are able in some sense to participate in the divine energies of God, thus as each member of the Trinity mutually indwells the other, so does the believer have opportunity to be indwelt and to dwell in the divine.”

“The mere thought of that is awe-inspiring,” said Martin, “And extremely humbling as well, to think that we not only have God living inside of us, but are able in some sense able to live in God.”

“I would hope that we never lose sight of that,” said Vasiliy, “But now that the idea of being perichoretically structured is grounded in its proper place, how does that fit with what we were discussing just a minute ago.”

“I think I see where this is going,” said a slightly hesitant Martin, “But let me know if I’ve got this right.”

Vasiliy just smiled.”Certainly.”

“From what you said, it would seem there are already two centers of thought or feeling adhering within our one, unified conscious existence, and by being indwelt by another, namely God himself, that would make a total of three centers of thought within our mindedness, a perfect mirror image of the Trinity manifested within humanity once in the right relation to God.”

“I’m not sure that I could have phrased it in a much better way,” said Vasiliy, “Does the concept at least make a little better sense to you?”

“Not only does it make more sense, in a round about way, it makes more sense of myself, not just God.”

“Well given that your personhood is ultimately grounded in the Trinity, that’s precisely what should happen as you grow in your knowledge and relation to Him.”

Martin thought about this for minute, trying to piece it all together and then of course, the questions began to emerge.


[i] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Bible Doctrine, (Leicester, England: Intervarsity Press, 1994), 226.

[ii] J. Scott Horrell, “The Eternal Son of God in the Social Trinity,” in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective, ed. Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2007), 52.

[iii] Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1976), 58.

[iv] Garrett J. DeWeese, “One Person, Two Natures: Two Metaphysical Models of the Incarnation,” in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective, ed. Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2007), 141.

[v] Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, 58.

[vi] Throughout the Gospels Jesus claims equality with God the Father, especially radical are His claims in John, including His claim of oneness with the Father in 10:30. By placing Himself in the same realm of being as God the Father, Jesus was clearly aware of not only His own divinity, but His co-equal status with the Father. Concerning the Spirit as well, support can be found in: Matthew 28:19; Acts 5:3,4,9; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

[vii] “…the personal interpenetration of each member of the Godhead in the other – each inviting and indwelling…” Horrell, “The Eternal Son of God in the Social Trinity,” 59.

[viii] John 14:8-11,20,23; 15:4-7; 17:20-23,26

[ix] The rest of the information about neurocardiology comes from his works: J. Armour, “Anatomy and Function of the Intrathoracic Neurons Regulating the Mammalian Heart,” in Reflect Control of the Circulation, ed. I. Zucker and J. Gilmore (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1991). And J. Armour and J. Ardell, eds., Neurocardiology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994). Cited in Doc Childre and Howard Martin, The Heartmath Solution, (New York: HarperSanFransisco, 1999).

[x] The following discussion is adapted from J. Scott Horrell ST 102 Class Notes, Chapter 14 The Trinity and Missio Dei, 5 (which itself was the oral text from a message delivered at Dallas Theological Seminary Mission Conference, 2006).

[xi] Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 1:27, 29, 3:11,16; Paul also speaks of the Father dwelling in believers corporately in Ephesians 2:22 and being filled with the fullness of God in Ephesians 3:19.