Do we Evangelicals focus on evangelism more than social justice and polarise the two because we value the soul more than the body? I have heard people say that as long as people “make the decision to follow Jesus” and their salvation is secure, then that is all that is necessary, even if they have limited water, education, justice, shelter and clothing. Aren’t we saying here that what matters most is the soul not the body? I also wonder about the way that pastoring a church can sometimes be a dehumanising experience. It is perceived that what matters is the spiritual, so the body for example is not taken care of.
A while ago I heard someone say “Christian discipleship is the process of becoming more human”. I remember the phrase staying with me for some time as I tossed and turned it over in my mind. Why was this phrase standing out to me? Usually we hear, “Christian discipleship is the process of becoming more Christlike”, so replacing that with “human” makes the hearer think twice. I think one of the reasons that we might stumble over this phrase is perhaps because when we think about becoming more Christlike, we think of becoming more “spiritual” which is often seen to be in opposition to being human. Being human is usually associated with “the flesh”, sin and failure. Being spiritual is to be holy, godly and separated from the possible contamination of this world. So in the minds of some Christians, being Christlike is more about escape from our humanity and our bodies so that we might be truly spiritual, holy and free from sinful flesh. To say then that Christian discipleship is “a process of becoming more human”, rattles the Gnosticism which sits hidden in the collective sub consciousness of much of Evangelical Christianity.
Gnosticism is an ancient religion which denigrated the material world in favour of the spiritual world. The “lower” world was associated with all things to do with matter and the flesh. The goal was to move towards living in the eternal world where God lived, which included all matters to do with the soul, perfection and spiritual things. Many of the New Testament letters could have been referring to Gnosticism when they referred to the false teachings that abounded at the time. In those times Christianity was susceptible to syncretising with this belief. However, today Christianity in many ways is still tempted by the ancient beliefs and practices of Gnosticism.
I hear it in contemporary and some more traditional worship songs.
I’m thinking of a song which says, “I want to be heavenly minded..I want to be like you [God]”. I wonder what the song writer(s) meant when they wrote that they want to be heavenly minded and that this is what is means to be like God. I suspect they did not mean living as a fully embodied person in the midst of the muck of this world. And I think of Amazing Grace, a beautiful hymn which contains the line “The earth will soon dissolve like snow”. I also wonder if John Newton who wrote Amazing Grace had room in his theology for a restored universe in a material sense, which means that the world will actually not dissolve but rather be renewed. Some of all of this may be due to bad theology or a misinterpretation of Scripture but I do also wonder if there is a Gnosticism revealing itself to some extent which is conveying the message that the world and the flesh do not matter, only the spiritual is of importance.
However, when the apostle Paul said in Colossians 3:2 “Set your minds on things that are above , not on things that are on earth”, he was not advocating a dualistic, gnostic practice for Christians!