Psycho-Madness - Part II
Christianity without the cross is just another vapid philosophy. Philosophy literally means “a love of wisdom.” In modern use, the term refers to any process of organizing thoughts and ideas within some established framework. When Western culture thinks of philosophy, what is foremost in mind is Greek philosophy.
Terminology, techniques, and categories developed in ancient Greece became the standards by which later philosophical discourse was conducted. As a result, virtually all questions of truth, ethics, worldview, and morality are still discussed using the basic principles of Greek philosophy. The merger of Greek philosophy also affected modern Judaism through Moses Maimonides; in Islam by Ibn Rushd, also known as Averroes; and Roman Catholicism via Thomas Aquinas.
Many central beliefs of Christianity are in direct opposition to Greek philosophers—such men as Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle. The apostle Paul, who often debated Greek philosophers (Acts 17:18), also indicated that the gospel of Christ was “foolishness” to the Greek (I Cor. 1:23). In that sense, it would be fair to say that Greek philosophy has not influenced Christianity. Greek philosophy is not literally a source of Christian belief or a meaningful influence in the spiritual beliefs of Christians. At the same time, the systems, or methods, with which Christians teach, discuss, and understand biblical truth have been deeply affected by Greek philosophy.
Early Church Mixture
We may observe that the prevalence of certain philosophical methods greatly influenced how early Christians presented their faith but not necessarily what they preached. The lines became blurred when the message became either less important than the method, or was placed on equal footing with the method in presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ. For example, Augustine compared a Christian’s use of Greek philosophy to Israel’s use of gold taken from Egypt during the exodus. Like any physical tool, he argued, philosophy was capable of being used either rightly or wrongly. Philosophy might have been developed by an ungodly culture, Augustine contended, but it was ultimately just a set of techniques and terms, entirely useful in defending the truth. Augustine’s influence on the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformers cannot be ignored. His influence is viewed by many as authoritative and his name often quoted to settle theological disputes.
As time went on, Christianity spread to a larger audience and involved more sophisticated discussion. The trend of relying on philosophical discussion continued. Greek philosophy remained a dominant force in Western thought, and so Christian theology continued to develop its structure and terminology by using this framework.
The age of Scholasticism lasted from about 1100 AD to approximately 1600 AD. Scholastic universities awarded degrees in philosophy, theology, Roman law, ecclesiastical law, and medicine.
Scholasticism is the term given to a medieval, philosophical movement that combined Roman Catholic theology with the philosophies of more ancient writers such as Augustine and Aristotle. Early scholars sought to apply logic and reason to theology and to create a web of distinct truths that, when compared to one another, show truth to be an internally consistent whole. The same process can be seen in many modern academic, systematic theologies of today. For example, it was Thomas Aquinas who attempted to reconcile faith and reason.
We can further say that scholasticism did more than preserve ancient philosophies. It interpreted them by systematically discussing the problems and conflicts they exhibited to form a comprehensive, coherent view of truth. This analytical process helped shape the identity of the Western church and European thinking. Many modern scholars were influenced by the methods of scholasticism—philosophers such as Rene Descartes, John Locke, and Benedict de Spinoza, to name a few.
Although we dealt with this in previous articles, it is essential that we revisit it here to show how philosophy, reason, and mysticism have been cohesively bundled in the modern church.
The concept of Christian mysticism attempts to elevate experiential knowledge, with an emphasis on spiritual growth. Christians do have what might be called mystical experiences. A believer being filled with the Holy Spirit is a mystical experience. This is not the result of mystical practices but a sign of the Holy Spirit at work. However, the modern charismatic movement has borrowed Greek thought, scholasticism, and mysticism by placing its emphasis on dreams and visions, feelings and experiences, and new revelation. It is possible for God to reveal himself through dreams and visions today; however, we should be careful of the subjective nature of our feelings and experiences and not hold them in authority over God’s Word. All experiences must line up with the Word of God. God will not contradict himself. Rather than seeking out mystical experiences, we should involve ourselves in the things that God has revealed to us by His Word. For example: “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).
Greek Thought and Purpose Driven
Aristotle focused on an inductive approach to knowledge—a way to describe something that leads to something else—while his predecessor, Plato, attempted to argue from universal, logical truths toward specific applications. Aristotle emphasized the use of observations to build knowledge of universal truths. This is consistent with Aristotelianism’s intense focus on practical matters rather than abstractions. Aristotle’s approach drew heavily on the idea of purpose, especially via the analogy of a living organism. His approach to philosophy presumed that certain faculties are inherent in the soul just as much as certain attributes are inherent in various kinds of animals. Later philosophers would use his idea of purpose to find meaning in life.
Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy is based on an existential analysis (a conscious perception and experience over unconscious motivation and drive in the search for meaning), focusing on Soren
Kierkegaard’s “Will to Meaning.” Frankl believed and taught that our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life, i.e. purpose.
Rick Warren would write, “Focus on your purpose and not your problem.” He would further write, “I’ll never forget reading Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning”* There is strong evidence that Frankl and his logotherapy greatly influenced Warren, as evidenced in Warren’s writings and “purpose driven church” book strategy and “purpose driven life” movement.
The idea of the end justifying the means has become the mantra of many modern philosophers, including Rick Warren. Worldly philosophical methods are incorporated in the church to reach the lost. Notwithstanding, the process of reasoning has replaced preaching. Instead of “thus saith the Lord,” you will hear instead, learn how to ____! Prayer is being replaced with the practice of mystical techniques, as we previously discussed in past articles dealing with the disciplines, found in books such as Celebrate the Disciplines by Richard Foster, also taught by Dallas Willard.
Next month we will look at other streams of philosophy that have infiltrated the church under the cloak of psychology.
*Daily Hope with Rick Warren - October 6, 2019