I submit theology has often been derailed by philosophical musings where biblical claims have been made to submit to philosophical categories and this actually ends up altering the biblical content (as is the case with someone like Thomas Aquinas [using Aristotle] and I suspect is the case with someone like Kierkegaard). I don’t foresee how that might happen with what I’m about to do here.
Again, jumping off of Pastor Fisk’s book as well as all other helpful authors, I’ve got what I think is a helpful apologetic approach based on three propositional claims which I have stated very carefully (it is a bit of a reframe of Fisk’s presentation, which I consider highly insightful and valuable). Mankind has always and always will seek to reach three fundamental things:
-Understanding and knowledge of the powerful Mind responsible for the cosmos “out there”. Stated in a more refined way, this desire is also accompanied with the desire to recognize and to understand what is true, the origin and order of what is, what exists.
I will call this the Primary principle.
-Understanding of the kinds of universal behaviors that result in growth, harmony and blessing for human beings. Stated in a more refined way, this desire is also accompanied with the desire for what should be or ought to be, relating to that which is good and beautiful.
I will call this the Behavior principle.
-Happiness for one’s self and those one desires to be found with – family, like-minded friends, and chosen others. Stated in a more refined way, this desire is also accompanied with the desire for long-term, meaningful, and fulfilling pleasures, not only short-term and fleeting excitements.
I will call this the Happiness principle.*
Now, people generally don’t care about thinking for “its own sake” in route to happiness, or fulfillment – that is, apart from living, moving and having our being as the Greek poet (and Apostle Paul) said. We note that the rise of “abstract philosophy” apart from philosophy which is for living is a relatively recent trend in world history. Further, of course there is unavoidable overlap in these imperfect principles (simple categories we can all recognize at some level – notions of “essentialism” need not be brought into this discussion). Also, note that it is true that for some who insist there is no Divine Mind (above that which is purely “physical” or “material” – there are more persons saying this today), what is good, beautiful, and just for example, are “objective” only in the sense that they and others (whom they desire to be found with) choose to insist that they are – which simply means they are not (see here for more). I contend even they cannot ultimately escape the philosophical categories I have set up for all of us.
Most importantly, these three things (and all the action that follows from them) are to be achieved – at the very least in part – through mankind’s own powers and strength – his own moral, rational, and even mystical powers, as Pastor Fisk says. Power and strength are therefore the key things man possesses and that attain “salvation”, however defined. Money and possessions certainly may be seen to be of help here, sometimes going hand in hand with these. Interestingly, all of fallen man is “conservative” in this sense, in that he seeks to preserve, or conserve himself (and those he chooses to remain with and be found with) through his own power… his own willed choices to cooperate with the God or gods he worships. Even if life after death is denied, the choices we make by our own free powers somehow echo in the life to come.
Alternatively, the Christian God, ever “liberal” with His goodness towards all people, overturns everything about this hopeless task – these things are to be ultimately had and understood only through His powerful love – a strength which overturns the world and is made perfect through weakness – in line with the simple and humble forms whereby God chooses to reveal Himself and come to us in His forgiving and transforming words. This grace is first and foremost to be understood not as a heavenly fuel that powers us in our choices, but as the disposition of a loving Triune God towards his fallen creatures – “sinners are ‘attractive’ because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive”. Only in this way is the demonic (led by Satan), death, and the curse of sin (and its manifold manifestations) overcome.
And only in this way are men made whose primary goal is to dwell in the House of the Lord forever – to fully know the joys given by the One who bought them with His own precious blood. Only in this way, are men created who strive and long for their full sanctification in, with, and through Jesus Christ.**
Part III on Monday
*-Some might contend that the Behavior principle and Happiness principle must go together. And yet, for example, while behavior leading to children – and children who are nurtured well – is essential to humanity continuing and flourishing, social historian Peter N. Stearns, in his insightful book on happiness, “Satisfaction not Guaranteed”, points out that in late 20th century polls and surveys couples who decide to remain childless report having the highest levels of personal happiness. Also note that even if the “pursuit of happiness” is seen to be problematic from a Christian perspective (necessarily or potentially), simply desiring satisfaction and contentment for one’s self, one’s family, and one’s neighbor is unobjectionable.
**-As Pastor Fisk notes, there is a “higher level of faithfulness to pursue”, “[the] possibility of finding actual true growth”, and “objective maturity” (Fisk, 210). Of course, it is critical that the pursuit of these things be put in the proper context and understood rightly. His book is a terrific antidote to the false notions that are pervasive today.