Wednesday, July 15, 2009
I have been writing a section of my thesis today on the Soul. This was a topic which interested Augustine through his whole life. He blazed the way in the West towards a spiritual view of God and the soul - managing to reject the Stoic view which dominated philosophy, that all which exists must be physical. After several years in the sect of the Manichees, he also managed to shrug off their idea that the soul contains sparks of the divine imprisoned in a body.
Once Augustine managed to conceive the possibility of a non-physical soul, he began to find ways to make sense of scripture.
With his famously hierarchical view of the universe, Augustine represented God as being above the soul, and the soul above the body. So, God gives life to the soul; the soul gives life to the body.
This enabled him to argue that the soul is immortal, but only in a certain manner of speaking. It is immortal in that even when it is dead, it can give life to the body. It is mortal in the sense that it dies when not enlivened by God.
All of this meant that Augustine could preach about the rather grotesque image of bodies walking round the place, animated and inhabited by dead souls:
‘The soul is able to die, it is able to be killed. It is certainly immortal. Look at what I dare to say – it is immortal and able to die. That is why I said that it is immortal in its own kind of way.’ s. 65.3.
‘So wonderful a thing is the soul, that it is able to give life to a body though it is itself dead. So great a thing is the soul, so excellent a creature, that it is able to enliven a body though it is itself dead.’ s. 65.6.
‘The soul is dead without God. Every person without God has a dead soul. You mourn the deceased: mourn rather the sinner, mourn the wicked, mourn the faithless.’ s. 65.7.
It makes for a hauntingly disturbing sermon illustration, which Augustine seems to have played up as he acted out the situation of asking somebody to try and prove their soul is not dead!
People worry that Augustine's highlighting of the soul as the true reality of a person denigrates the body, or was overly Platonic. Taken in isolation from the rest of his theology this is an understandable concern - but it should be remembered that alongside the above doctrine, Augustine argued strongly for the physical actual resurrection of the body. When he parted company from the beliefs of his day, he did so with verve. Am writing about the resurrection tomorrow.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
I was speaking with an elderly woman a few days ago, and asked her how she became a Christian. There were lots of interesting things to reflect on in her story, which involved traveling round post-war Europe, educating her children and the death of her husband.
She was very enthusiastic for the Lord and thankful for the good news of salvation through Christ. When she came to explain the details of how she was told the message of Christianity, I pressed her for more details on what convinced her to become a Christian.
Her answer was - 'The man who talked to me about Jesus was so clearly not trying to sell me anything. He was just talking about reality.'
I think we try to sell the Gospel too much these days. The Gospel is indeed more credible when those who believe it, appreciate that it is reality.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Here is a sermon I preached on Genesis 32 recently, at Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge.
The passage is one of the more mysterious ones in the Old Testament - it poses several challenges to the preacher: How to preach the Gospel from it, the legitimacy of character examples, the need to outline Jacob's earlier life - and the sheer strangeness of the scene. God wrestling with Jacob; I learned a lot from studying the passage.
We enjoyed visiting Eden Baptist. Sermon is at link below:
Genesis 32: Wrestling with God
Friday, July 10, 2009
We have been reading Romans past two days - it has been on my mind as I go about daily business.
As a result a thought occurred to me-
On the train I noticed a number of older academics attending a conference in Cambridge celebrating Charles Darwin. I have no idea what the conference stated or taught, but it was clear from their conversation that they as individuals celebrated the fact that Darwin legitimised their atheism.
It seems obvious to me that Darwin is regaled and hailed as far more than a scientist - he is seen by many as a revolutionary theologian who has disproved the existence of God. Having read his writings I know that he did no such thing, and the praise of him has much of the spirit of Psalm 2 about it - 'let us throw of our chains....'
However the ongoing 'debate' about atheism/theism and Darwin/creation legitimises assumptions that run contrary to Romans 1.
The long and short of it is this. As I listened to the conversation about atheism on the train, I realised that the 'debate' has made many Christians engage with secularists as if said secularists are unsure whether there is a God. There is need of evidence and a debate - we think.
However Romans 1 teaches that not only do all people know there is a God - we also know how he feels towards us. We know that he feels angry. This point, that we know God is angry, is one I do not believe is taught or preached widely today. Our friendship evangelism, courses, invite events, publicity efforts etc seem calculated to win people already very inclined to think God feels warmly towards them and will help out with life when they are polite enough to make time for him. They do not seem aimed to rouse and awaken those who harden themselves to the fact they know - they have offended God and he is angry with them.
Ironically, the suppressed knowledge that God is there, and is angry at us, is a very plausible explanation for the excessive regaling of any thinker who we think gives us justification to disbelieve God's existence.