Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Christian Understanding of Man – Part One

Before I move into a discussion on the doctrine of anthropology, I want to discuss what I am talking about when I talk about the “Christian view” of man. What I mean by that the Christian view of man is the view that Scripture takes of man. And the view that Scripture takes of man is the view that God takes of man. And the view that God takes of man is the only correct view to take of man. There is no alternative opinion of man that is true. Any view of man other than the one set down expressly in Scripture is a false view. In this post I am going to briefly review some philosophical views of man and examine how much what passes as Christianity in modern culture borrows from these false views of man and how that behavior impacts much of what is passed of as modern Christian belief when in fact it is actually the cloaked views of pagan philosophy.

The one common theme that runs through every view of man in pagan philosophy is autonomy. Pagan thought has a very elevated opinion of the independence and capabilities of human nature. Man is viewed as the highest of all forms of living intelligence. There are no beings known to man that are more intelligent than man. In pagan thought, God did not create man in His image and His likeness. For most people, the bizarre theory of evolution is a settled and reasonable explanation for the existence of man. However, as we shall see, a purely naturalistic explanation of the nature of man produces not only unsatisfying explanations for why man behaves as he does, but it also leads to very disturbing conclusions about human experience in the natural world.

The reason I point the reader to the subject of the nature of man is due to the consequences that such a misunderstanding has on Christian thought. Because many evangelical churches bought into the naïve view that doctrine doesn’t matter a few years ago, they subsequently stopped teaching it in their communities. They began focusing on “practical things” like parenting, relationships, getting promoted, the power of positive thinking, and so forth. These subjects eventually crowed out the basic tenets of Christian doctrine to the point that in many cases, we see people that claim to have been saved for 10 and 20 years who cannot even articulate the gospel. That is a frightening state of affairs. One basic doctrine that has been almost entirely neglected is anthropology, or the doctrine of man. As a result, evangelical Christians have given very little thought to the subject of the nature of man. What is man that God is mindful of him? Not only does no one seem to know; no one seems to think it is very important and even fewer seem to care.

Modern evangelicals have adopted an entirely pelagian concept of human nature. The ramifications are profoundly significant for the Christian gospel. Concerning the doctrines of grace and sin, freedom and predestination, Louis Berkhof writes, “Their importance can scarcely be overrated from the point of view of practical Christianity. Their bearing on the work of redemption is even more directly apparent than that of the Christological questions.” [Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines, 127] A misunderstanding of the condition of man can result and usually does result in a serious misunderstanding of the work of Christ and the gospel that He proclaimed. And so we see this misunderstanding of the gospel emerging in the writings of men like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Doug Paggit and blogs like Ben Cory, Rebecca Trotter, et al.

From the beginning man was created in God’s image and his likeness. Man was responsible to God, from the start, to reflect or mirror God’s image in his world and back to God. God created man so that man would glorify God in His entire being. As a creature of God, man is unavoidably obliged to God in every way. Man’s entire existence should consist of the multifarious ways in which he honors God with his mind, his actions, and the work of his hands. Whatever man does, he should do so that God would receive all the glory and all honor.

As sad as it is, this is not the way that many evangelical churches represent humanity today. Rather than remind man of his total dependence on God, many modern evangelicals have discarded a biblical anthropology for one that is philosophical, pagan, and out-and-out sensual.

Man was created good, according to the revelation of Genesis. Man was perfect, as God had created him, both Adam and Eve. But as the account goes, man was presented with an alternative to complete submission to God in his ethic, his epistemology, and his metaphysic. Satan offered man independence. There was another path that man had not explored. Man could continue to think as God thought, honoring God in his thought life, live according to the divine commandment, acknowledge his own finitude and seek to honor God in all that he does or he could replace God with his own self. Satan offered man a philosophy that was antithetical to God’s command and purpose for man. The promise was that man could know thing about reality apart from God. Man would not have to rely on God for everything. Man could determine for himself his own destiny. Man could, in essence, live autonomously. Man chose the autonomous lie and brought upon himself the wrath and curse of God.

Man became a natural enemy of God, having become spiritually dead. Jesus said that the world hated Him. Paul said that unregenerate men are sworn, passionate enemies of God. Men are dead in their trespasses and sins. There is no one who seeks after God on his own. There are none who are good, not even one. Man did not just make a bad rational choice when he believed the serpent. He made a devastating and irreversible spiritual decision that only God could redeem. So far as man was concerned, the fateful decision in the garden destroyed his ability to do anything that would commend him to God from that point on, absent God’s intervention. John informs us that light shined into the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not because the deeds of men are evil. Men prefer darkness rather than light. Scripture tells us that the minds of men are blind, ignorant, and held captive by Satan. Indeed, man is in a very miserable and hopeless condition. He cannot rescue himself and not only that; there is nothing in him that would make him worthy of rescuing. There is nothing to which fallen man can point that would make him worth redeeming. This is a very hard pill for modern men to swallow in light of the pagan philosophy and idolatrous psychology that has been ingrained in our minds. Nevertheless, it remains that such is the teaching of Scripture concerning the condition of man. Of course, this points us to the fact that no view of man is complete without a correct view of hamartiology, or the doctrine of sin.

The modern trend is to ignore any supernatural or spiritual components bound up in man’s decision to sin. Many of these evangelical leaders give the entire notion of sin a wink and a nod at best. But as far as serious ramifications, well, there are none, not really. A brief survey of where we are today should help us understand that 1) modern evangelicals do not understand the nature of man and 2) they do not understand the metaphysical impacts of sin.

The modern evangelical gospel is not the gospel that produces life from death. Rather, it is a gospel that simply helps you make sense out life, helps you think more positively, makes you a good parent and better spouse. It is all about your happiness and sense of purpose and meaning in life. To be a Christian is simply to make a rational move toward Christ. There is no message of repentance, no threat of eternal torment, no emphasis on the holiness of God or the sanctification of the believer. The phrase “born again” has been completely abandoned because most of the young modern evangelicals don’t even understand it and that is because they have never experienced it. Pagan notions around the nature of man and reality have been mixed with Christian theology to the utter destruction of biblical competence.

Because Christians do not understand the nature of man, they do not understand the nature of the gospel. This is why we have people “in the church” trying to convince us that “gay Christian” is a possibility. It is why people like Rebecca Trotter, Ben Corey, and Rob Bell are trying to convince us that the church was wrong about hell for the last 2,000 years. Because they do not see the wickedness of sin and of the nature of man, they debase the holiness of God. These people actually believe that Christians can have gay sex, commit fornication, and deny the status of Scripture as God’s word and still enjoy a relationship with the God that their actions reveal they hate. You see, if you read the writings of these modern folks enough, the truth comes out. They don’t like God. Just read anything they write about the Old Testament, about divine judgment, about the rebuke of sin and you will quickly realize that these people actually do not like the God that is revealed in Scripture. To them, that God is nothing more than the projection of men living in an ancient, unsophisticated, bloody culture. God is nothing more than a projection of their own culture. The real God is more like these modern evangelicals. More like, well, their culture. Essentially, modern evangelical writers are actually guilty of the projections of God they accuse the biblical authors of.   

My next post will provide a very direct and simple survey of the New Testament descriptions of human nature so that you will be able to see for yourself exactly what biblical Christianity teaches about the nature of man and has for nearly 2,000 years.

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