Wednesday, March 01, 2006

He invades history to meet us

In earlier posts I've argued that the flesh-Spirit dualism in Paul is not meant as a contrast between the human and the divine or the material and the immaterial. Rather, at his resurrection Jesus moved from a fleshly mode of human (bodily) existence to a Spiritual mode of human (bodily) existence in a way that anticipates our own destiny as the people of God. The importance of this understanding of the resurrection of Christ cannot be underestimated, as even the last post on resurrection and the Lord's Supper indicates.

It may be helpful at this point to back up a bit and discuss the fundamental biblical framework into which this understanding of flesh and Spirit fits... It is best to do this by contrasting the biblical view with its main alternative in the world of the New Testament, Greek dualism. George E. Ladd, an evangelical scholar of an earlier generation, described the common Greek view in this way. (All quotes are from Ladd's The Pattern of New Testament Truth, pp. 39-40.)
Greek dualism is that of two worlds, the visible and the invisible, the phenomenal and the noumenal, becoming and being, appearance and reality. Man belongs to both worlds by virtue of the fact that his is both body and soul or mind. "God" can only be known by the control of the bodily appetitites, that the mind may be free from the material pollutions to contemplate the divine realities. Finally, the soul must escape from the wheel of bodily existence to return to the divine world where it really belongs.
In other words, human beings are themselves an incompatible mixture of the material and the divine. The whole point of existence is to cultivate the divine and rational part of our being by controlling and eventually escaping the material and bodily side. You can see how easy it would be understand flesh and Spirit in that way. Flesh is the material part we need to get rid of. Spirit is the divine part we need to protect and nurture.

But we can't understand flesh and Spirit in this way if we wish to remain true to the biblical (and Pauline) vision. Here's Ladd's description of that view:

The Hebrew view is not a dualism of two worlds, but a religious dualism of God versus man. Man is God's creature; creation is the realm of God's constant activity; and God makes himself known and speaks to mean in the ebb and flow of history. Man is not a bipartite creature of the divine and human, of soul and body; in his total being he is God's creature and remains a part of creation. Therefore, the redemption of man and the redemption of creation belong together.
Isn't that amazing? Creation and bodily existence isn't something we're trying to escape so we can "go to heaven," as if that's some sort of Spiritual existence outside of time and space. Rather, God deigns and delights to work in creation and in creatures like us to accomplish his purposes. Indeed, he has done so in a consummate way in our resurrected Lord.

Ladd concludes his comparison of the Greek and biblical views in this way:

In sum, the Greek view is that "God" can be known only by the flight of the soul from the world and history; the Hebrew view is that God can be known because he invades history to meet men in historical experience.
He invades history to meet us where we live--in time and space. And we look forward to his doing so in a climactic way at the Second Coming of our Lord. More on that anon.

Click here to read the rest of the post...


At 7:13 AM, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

Glad to see you're continuing to develop the implications of your earlier posts on flesh and spirit in the New Testament. Just yesterday in Dr. Gaffin's Acts & Paul class we were discussing why Jesus said to his disciples that it was better that he go away so that the Spirit might come. By the Spirit, the physically resurrected Jesus can fulfil his promise to be "with us" in our flesh "always, even to the end of the age."

At 11:05 PM, Blogger Steven W said...

NTW does a good job on this in Simply Christian. It is so important, especially for us Americans still tangled up with dispensational ideas.


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