Here is a list of three deadly myths that I believe weaken the Christian faith and in turn the witness of Christ’s followers in the world today.
Myth #1: Private vs. Public Faith.
Before the Enlightenment (18th century), it was understood that faith was a public matter. There was little distinction made between what was of social, economic, political or religious concern. In fact, the main distinctions in the ancient world were “holy and profane”. Nevertheless, this distinction did not lead to a disdain of all things “earthly”.
One understanding of faith is “our deepest convictions about what is good, beautiful and just”. Another has to do with how we understand the true nature of human flourishing. Christians believe that obedience to God and love for one another creates the best conditions for human flourishing. Darwinian naturalists suggest that objective meaning and purpose do not exist and that human flourishing is to be understood in terms of the survival of the fittest.
Atheists come to the political arena with their deepest convictions about the nature of human beings and the meaning of life. Should Christians leave their profound, spiritual convictions at the door when it comes to talking about how we should live together in God’s good creation? I don’t think so.
Myth #2: The False Dichotomy of Platonic Dualism.
The Greek philosopher Plato (c. 428-347 BC) taught that there existed two worlds: the world of shadows and the world of forms or ideas. The argument goes like this: everything that exists in our physical world is a lesser version of a greater yet non-physical reality in the world of ideas. When early Christian theologians began mixing Platonic philosophy with Christian theology, the argument changed: earth is a fading place that is a lesser version of heaven, the true and spiritual reality.
In Platonic philosophy, earth and heaven never meet. The physical is bad and the spiritual (the non tangible, spirit-filled) is good. This greatly influenced Christian thought but it took on flesh in the teachings of Gnosticism – something that the Bible unequivocally condemns as false teaching.
Hebrew cosmology teaches us about a good creation filled with the presence of God. The New Testament teaches us of Jesus Emanuel, God with us in the flesh. Not only does Jesus become human, but He ascends into heaven with a gloried human body. This is inconceivable in Platonic thought. While most Christians have not given into completely to Gnostic thought, many Gnostic overtones play a part in our misunderstandings of the Christian life and are greatly connected to the third myth in our list.
Myth #3: Jesus Came to Save Souls.
The Gospels are not primarily about what Jesus did so that we might be saved. The Gospels continue to tell the story of redemption that began in Genesis chapter 1. God, since the very beginning has been literally moving heaven and earth in order that we might participate in the love and communion of the Trinity. Jesus does not come out of the blue, He was not a back-up plan after a cosmic failure in the Garden of Eden – He is the promised and long-awaited Messiah who would bring redemption not only to the children of God but also to creation itself.
When we view the Bible simply as a manual to “get right with God” or to understand “how to be saved”, we miss the rich story of a God who loves us and who works within history to redeem what is rightly His. Did Jesus come to save souls or not? Most certainly Jesus came to save; that is the meaning of His name.
But Jesus came to save people, not just their souls. Jesus was greatly concerned for people, not just for their spiritual wellbeing. You see, Jesus did not buy into Platonic dualism. He was true to Old Testament teaching about the nature of human beings who are made in the image of God. He healed the sick, returned sight to the blind but not only as a confirmation of His divine status as Messiah. In fact, Jesus was not the only one doing these kinds of miracles – others who performed such miracles did not claim to be the Son of God.
Jesus healed the sick and gave sight to the blind because this divine restoration of what was damaged by sin is part of a cosmic plan to bring redemption to all of creation. His words and deeds announced the inauguration of a Kingdom that would never be shaken. Jesus cared for people’s souls because He cares for the whole person. This myth is one of the most dangerous because it leads to a dismembered, unembodied spirituality – one that does not reflect the earthly concerns of Jesus’ ministry.
In future posts, I hope to flesh out some of these concerns and explain why these myths influence the way Christians think and act in our world today.