Wednesday, May 20, 2009

One Important Difference Between the Spirit and the Intellect

As much as I have made practical epistemological observations, I have not much delved into Biblical anthropology. Many very good theologians conclude that the human construct consists of two parts: body and spirit. They define the spirit loosely as anything bearing no physical presence. Given that the Bible mentions that humans also have a soul, or mind, then such would fall within this definition.

I consider that any word used in the Bible by one author may not perfectly comport with another author. I would also observe that typically many words carry multiple meanings even when used by the same author. The word translated "spirit" from the Greek texts is "pneuma", also translated by such words as "breath" or "air". It's the root word of modern English words such as pneumatic. It is representative of our source of life. Inasmuch as we might say "he breathed his last", we would associate breath with physical life. But even ancient people recognized an aspect of our life that is substantial rather than merely existential from which our life comes.

The word translated "soul" in the same Greek texts is the word "psyche". It's the word we use in modern English to refer to our mind and is the root word for such as psychiatry or psychology. It likewise refers to the essence of our existence, particularly manifested in the machinations of our thoughts.

The similarity between the two words results in statements in the Bible where the two appear to be used interchangeably. I don't like this argument as a hermeneutical principle. As an example, I could say, "That ball is red." I could say, "That ball is round." Then I could argue that "red" and "round" means the same thing because they are used interchangeably. This is why I'm wary of this hermeneutical argument.

I observe that Paul uses the two words side by side in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 in stating the human construct:

"Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

I also observe that he possibly uses them in 1 Corinthians 15:45 as a distinction between Adam and Christ:

"Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit."

(The word translated "being" here in the ESV is the word "psyche".)

Finally, Paul indicates in Hebrews 4:12 that there is a division between them while indicating a very close link between them:

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."

Given this, I tend to separate them in my understanding but I understand how they can be nearly synonymous. So, while I lean toward trichotomism I'm not dogmatically against dichotomism.

That said, I want to draw a distinction between the two for the purposes of drawing out the difference between theology pursued for cognitive ends and theology apprehended for spiritual ends, for there is fruit in this.

It is good to contemplate the things of God whether these thoughts are simple or complex. My children from a young age asked questions about God that came to their mind. The simplest among us are capable of thinking about God. Our considerations attain greater complexity and sophistication with greater intellect and education.

Between revelation and depraved perceptions we hold all kinds of true and false beliefs about our Creator but it is good to struggle with the knowledge of God. This is why we debate one another over theology and why we must address any blindness we have with regard to the sin of our hearts. But the sin of our hearts is a spiritual matter that affects our cogitations.

Spiritual gifts are abilities that we are given according to the provision of God to build the Church in the name of Christ and edify it. But the fruit of the Spirit is a set of attitudes that are evident in the faithful:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5: 19-24)

Thinking about theology and debating it, while it is a good pursuit, involves the handling of information - the use of the mind. We may have many reasons for pursuing theology. A good reason for pursuing theology is because we love God and desire to know him better. A bad reason for pursuing theology is to justify our sin before God and before men who hold the revelation of God as a high standard for discerning sin. Whether one reason or another is in play is a spiritual matter. So, the activity of our mind is driven by the activity of our spirit.

But I observe those who argue as though they were competing for truth rather than love. While I would say that there is no love without truth and the truth is true whether there is love or not, I would also observe that we cannot understand the truth unless we have love. Therefore, when contending for the truth against unbelievers or those who are weak in the faith, it is imperative that the goal be to draw out spiritual fruit first understanding that not all knowledge is fruitful for this.

As it is, revelation is given to us in the scriptures not for the purpose not of arriving at a perfect understanding of the truth, for we cannot know it perfectly in this sinful world. The purpose of God's revelation to us in the scriptures is to inform our capacity to bear spiritual fruit. Therefore, it can be said that while we apprehend the truth with a spiritual desire to do so, we also gain the spiritual desire to do so by the revelation of God through both the scriptures as well as the Holy Spirit.

I'd like to offer an example of how we are to be informed spiritually by the information from the scriptures we apprehend with our minds and often debate.

One common debate in western culture since the reformation has been with regard to reformed theology. The United States was founded on the hinge of western sociological thought using the Romantic considerations of personal freedom, the Christian considerations of personal responsibility and in reaction to the tyrannical tendencies of the European monarchies that take these personal freedoms and responsibilities away. The problem in western thought is that we have taken the concept of civil freedom and responsibility, infused them into popular philosophies, and allowed them to influence our theological sensibilities.

As a result, theology among western Protestants has become increasingly Arminian-ish. Considering this, the recent resurgence of reformed theology among Southern Baptists has been met with much resistance. The debate often becomes passionate. While I suspect most are motivated by a desire to uphold what they believe is the truth, what has suffered is the way the elements of the debate ought to inform our spiritual fruit-bearing.

I've made this observation before and it's a logical conundrum. However, our attitudes need not follow principles of logic. Is there anything good that should not be attributed to God? Therefore if we do anything good, including come to faith in Christ, then should we not give all the glory to God? Can we say that God does any evil? I know some become angry with God and would claim that he has done some wrong to them, but we should not say that any evil comes from God for he only does good things. Therefore, if we sin, who are we to blame but ourselves? So if we do good, we attribute it to God and if we do evil we assume the blame ourselves.

If we give God the glory for the good we do, then if we follow the strictures of logic, we should likewise blame him for the evil we do. If we assume responsibility for the evil we do, then if we follow the strictures of logic, we must also take credit for the good that we do. However, to follow the strictures of logic as such is to fail to bear the fruit of the Spirit. We do evil against God either way and distort the truth with a false sense of logic by justifying ourselves.

But there actually is no illogic to have the paradox in our attitudes where we credit God for good and assume the blame for evil; for truth, while not illogical, transcends logic. Logic is merely inadequate to fully encompass the truth. So understand as much as you can of God with your mind, but approach him with the fruits of the Spirit.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Are You Helping to Grow Your Spiritual Food?

When we think of being fed spiritually, we often think of reading the Bible, going to a Bible study or Sunday school class, or sitting though a sermon. This kind of spiritual "food" then is information from the Bible. We consider food as that which we take in that contributes to our spiritual health. Let's look at this analogy a little closer.

People need food to live. Without food, they starve. I know people who eat more food than they burn off. They get fat. It's not healthy. It's good to take in information about God, but if you don't act on the information, then it does not contribute to your spiritual health. How then shall we act?

And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” (John 4:4-42)

Paul wrote to the Thessolonians:

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2 Thessolonians 3:6-14)

The idea is that if you want to eat, you have to help work the garden. In the account of the woman at the well, this is a spiritual garden. Inasmuch as we are sent to work the spiritual garden, we are edified by the fruits thereof. If you don't go to work the spiritual garden, you don't gain the benefit of the spiritual fruit of your labor. For fruit contains seeds and nutrients for the seeds and fruit produces more fruit. Therefore, our fruit is multiplied by growing the fruit of others and harvesting. This is the power of the Holy Spirit in the Great Commission: not that we sit in a pew for an hour a week and "get fed", but that we go and work in the fields for our food.

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