Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Danger of the New Monism: Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 4c

The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 1
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 2
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 3
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 4a
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 4bThe Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part c
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 5a
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 5b
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 5c
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 6
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Complete Series


What follows is a series of posts regarding the New Monist movement which combines neuroscience with theology and argues that science has "proven" we have no soul.  The problem I have with such a suggestion isn't just the challenge it presents anthropologically, but soteriologically. How does denying the existence of our soul affect our understanding of the gospel? That's one of the questions I hope to answer.  This debate is another example of the challenge that science can present for Christian theology.


Monistic Gospel
Part 3

The language of social justice and incarnational ministry is for the purpose of discussing the kingdom of God. Dualists, in Rynkiewich’s assessment, centers on conversion “and planting churches where they do not exist,” but a monistic understanding of mission emphasizes “the expectation of the kingdom shift [as] the church’s [priority] to [activity] which somehow anticipate[s] a ‘new heaven and a new earth.’”[14]

Dualism focuses only on the individual – save your soul in order to get to heaven – while monism includes not just the individual but also “the community, the land, and the environment.”  “Missionaries with a dualistic view of the material and the spiritual,” he argues, “have found it difficult to imagine the connections between these three individual persons.” As a result, it is up to Third World theologians who are forced to “make up what is missing in mission theology,” that is, “a concept of self that includes more than the individual.”[15]

This is the language of dust. In Gen. 1-2, man is made out of the dust of the earth and has always been connected to the earth. Rynkiewich argues that “the biblical relationship between persons, land, and environment is clear,” from the cursed earth in Gen. 3 to “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23), “not the escape of our souls from our bodies (Col. 1:19-21).”[16]

Dust is central to Rynkiewich’s understanding of mission (and thus salvation). Unless we proclaim a message of dust, we are not proclaiming the biblical message of salvation. In a world of economic recession and other social and political issues, what ought the Christian community look like? “In this theology, dust, community, and person are inseparable. Each person lives, or refuses to live, as the incarnated Christ would have lived in that place and time. Dust, person, community, and relationship with God are inseparable.”[17]

Dust implies relationship. We are connected to both the material world and even to God who created us out of the dust. The Christian hope, then, is the redemption of the dust “through Christ’s resurrection from which comes the promise of our resurrection.” As a result, in this life, the Divine Dust – Jesus Christ – becomes the example by which we are to model particularly in His life and ministry.  Rynkiewich finds the center of Jesus’ life and ministry in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”[18]

All of this forces Rynkiewich to ask the question, “What does this mean for mission?” Are Christians called to proclaim a message or embrace? Is the job to “impart words, knowledge, and creed,” or is it to be incarnational? Did Jesus Himself not become flesh and dwell among us (John 1:14)? It is the latter that he prefers and is driven by his monistic theology.[19]

In the end, perhaps Rynkiewich sums up his argument by suggesting that in light of recent developments of neuroscience and its implications about the makeup of human nature, perhaps we have found “that we have been ‘wrongly angled’ in our proclamation of the gospel.”[20] Instead of speaking in individualistic instead of communal terms, the church has “wrongly angled” the gospel. Instead of focusing on the soul instead of the holistic body, the church has “wrongly angled” the gospel.

A wrongly angled the gospel. That is the critique the new monists have of substance dualism. Strong words for a debate over anthropology.


[14] Ibid., 141.
[15] Ibid.
[16]  Ibid., 142.
[17]  Ibid.
[18]  Ibid., 143.  He then adds, “The dust taken up into the Trinity (that is, the ascension of Jesus) completes our hermeneutic circle from creation to the restoration of all things.  It is this mystery of communion with the triune God and with God’s community (other people) that we lost when the Protestant Reformers decentered the Eucharist.”  Ibid.
[19]  Regarding the incarnation, he writes, “The incarnation involved God coming to humans in a recognizable form so that those who embrace the message may ‘have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ’ (1 John 1:3).  It is an embrace that god wants to give us, so that we may embrace each other and complete the circle.  The limits of reason as a method are found in relationship.  We do not reason relationship; we are not dealing with an ‘it’ but with ‘I AM WHO I AM.’” Ibid.
[20]  Ibid., 144.
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