4.12.09

Carey and the combination of the Biblical and the Classical

Carey writes about how in religious thinking much is inherited from Plato. The philosophical tradition is more spiritual than that of many religions. More so even then Christianity. Platonic spirituality - Aristotle bristled against this. Aristotle disliked the forms of the world in nature being differentiated from the 'other' world. Aristotle points to the world to understand god, as does Genesis - the physical is good. But Christians and Jews can at times embrace this and also at times want to escape it in that they point away from the physical and yet God declared this good and so there is a tension there. Is Platonism more spiritual than Christianity. There is very little detaching ourselves from the world in Christianity so it is not essentially Christian to seek our divorce from nature, the world and the body.



History - God revealed something to us in history, embodied.

Plato says our realm is transient and shadowy and we escape this when we leave the cave. But God doesn't create a universe of such splits.

Plato's sun which takes us into the light can be worshipped for being beautiful but we do not entertain a personal relationship with this entity.

How does Plato's idea differ from the image of a personal Yahweh. Israel worshipped a God so involved with the people of Israel. He responded, he changed. He became embodied. (See Placher)

But the philosophers of Greece spoke of an unchanging agent. This is what has happened in Western intellectual history.

What are these Greek philosophers reacting against? They are reacting against the fickleness of the gods. This has polluted their understanding of the Christian scriptures. In the pagan attack, the philosophers believed that the Christians had anthropomorphised the divine.

So the apologists (Justin Martry) etc made an account of God and the world to explain Hellenistic thinking. The original world view - the correct interpretation is God's.

See A Radical Orthodoxy by Stephen Shakespeare.

John Millbank Head of Theology at Nottingham University says it is about going back to the classical origins of theological thought. Behind it all is a platonic idea about existence.

James Smith believes that we shouldn't give Plato such a prominent role. Philosophy is too world and body denying.

Grenz describes how humans are given to Platonic dualism. He is probably the first philosopher to think in these terms of a split. The Greek myths did not have a strict dualism of body and mind, it was more complicated. you would go to Hades and a shadow existence at the end of a life. There is no strong dualism in the old Testament, you go to Sheol, a shadowy place. There is something in common between the philosophers and the church's interpretation of the New Testament in the sense of leaving this earth for a transcendent existence in Heaven.

Platonism is a way for the mind and the rational order of things in a world whose order is not apparent. The search is a call away as it contemplates the reality of the universal - as immortal soul, he flees the body to where ideas exist and do not change but are permanent  God is the name of the explanation of the rational order.

Socrates' pacification of those who are concerned as he lies dying from drinking hemlock, entails him arguing for the soul being riveted to the body and it will be a relief for him to leave it - this material world. 

In pastoral ministry we will enagage with the platonic split of the body and the soul. They will believe that the Spirit of their loved one has departed and they are only left with the shell, we will hear nothing of the redeemed body and the new heavens and the new earth.

Recommended reads:
Resurrection by Kevin J Madigan and Jon D Levenson

Resurrection by NT Wright

Where do we find the idea of the resurrection of the dead? 

Where does the idea of the resurrection come from? It is not something borrowed from Greek thought as is suspected. It is a reality of the Bible and not Greek thinking where there was no resurrection. Being dead in the world of Homer is a dark and gloomy experience, says Tom Wright, the descent into Hades is into a shadowy place and there is horror there as people are consumed by fire and trying to tether ever-fleeing souls. Jesus spoke of Gehenna so that people would choose 'the light' - was he speaking into a world who needed these pictures so that they could understand life without God in images that they understood?

What does all this do for our grasp on New Testament truth? It certainly upsets any concrete notions of a literal truth. A place where we might burn and suffer after death because we are not in Christ? What does it do to this thinking?

The idea of a bodily resurrection is negated and instead we are left with a dualistic split if we do not follow carefully enough the New Testament.

Origen's cyclical scheme envisages the training of the fallen spirits in a physical world who are going to be brought back into unity by their contemplation of the divine and their escape of the body. How much has Origen been influenced by the Greek world view.

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