Monday, April 06, 2009

On Elves, Centaurs, and the Ease of Cultural Eutycheanism

I'd like to follow up on something I said in my review of C.J. Mahaney's Worldliness.

I certainly appreciate the way Worldliness concludes with some instruction concerning how to love the world without loving it—affirming, as it were, that “This Is My Father’s World” and that “This World Is Not My Home”—but I still feel that the world gets a bit short-changed by Mahaney and the other contributors.... The Reformed distinction between the sacred and secular realms can be understood within this framework, with the former referring to heavenly realities and the latter denoting earthly ones. But Worldliness explicitly denies this distinction, with Purswell actually calling for its “demolition.” According to him, the dominion mandate should guard us from being “plagued by the tendency to compartmentalize some aspects of our lives as spiritual, good, and holy and others as unspiritual, unimportant, and amoral” (p. 155). Setting aside his failure to read the dominion mandate through the lens of New Testament eschatology, Purswell’s forcing us to choose between an earthly pursuit’s being either “holy” or “unimportant” is a false dilemma that omits the option of “common.” If art, sports, or cooking are neither demonic nor divine, then there is no reason why they cannot be enjoyed for their own sakes without the added pressure to baptize, redeem, or in some sense Christianize them.
If we "demolish" the distinction between the sacred and secular, it seems to me that all we are doing is allowing the former to swallow the latter, with all of life now becoming holy. The problem here is that the very definition of "holy" is "set apart." Now, if something, whether a place or a day or a vessel, is to be "set apart," there must be something it is set apart from. But if everything is holy, then does this not empty "holiness" of all its meaning?

(Kind of like how for Calvinists God's mercy only makes sense in the light of the doctrine of reprobation, Rom. 9:22-23.)

I really appreciate Chesterton's point about the core doctrine of Christianity, the hypostatic union, involving two seemingly antithetical ideas (the human- and divine natures of Christ) perfectly united in one Person. Jesus wasn't an elf (a non-man) or a centaur (a half-man), but he was at the same time truly Man and truly God. Taking this and applying it more broadly, Chesterton argues that when the prophecy that the lion will lie with the lamb is fulfilled, it will not be due to the lion's becoming lamb-like (which would be brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb). Rather, the lion will retain its ferocity while choosing not to give expression to it at that moment.

What does this all have to do with the sacred and the secular? Well, allowing one to swallow the other is easy, but it's also a kind of cultural Eutycheanism (which, when done in Christology, is heretical). Rather, we ought to be true lovers of the world and true haters of it, affirming that "This is My Father's World" and that "This World is Not My Home" (which, when you think about it, sort of necessitates two kingdoms).

Paradoxical, yes. But what about our religion isn't?