Day Twenty-Two - Created to Become Like Christ

With this chapter Mr. Warren begins discussion of what he considers to be the third purpose of human life. He expresses this purpose as, “You were created to become like Christ.” (p. 169, 171) This is a very noble-sounding ideal, and it seems to speak well for Christianity, since it holds up Christ-likeness as the proper goal of human life. But in reality this expression bears the subtle seeds of corruption. The idea that we must become like Christ implies that we begin from a posture short of that ideal. Stating that we were created for the task of this becoming then implies that our posture short of Christ-likeness was our original condition. The truth, of course, is markedly contrary to this. In reality we were created good and perfect and Christ-like, and fell from this original estate into an estate of sin. Our task of becoming Christ-like is not a challenge to become something greater than our original estate, but is the ministry of sanctification whereby God works His grace in us to recover something of what was lost.

But, are we not being too hard on Mr. Warren? Perhaps his expression, “You were created to become like Christ,” was worded with consideration only of alliteration and concision. Indeed, in his elaboration does he not cite Genesis 1:26 to the effect that we were created good and perfect in the image of God? (p. 171) And does he not acknowledge that the image of God in us “…has been damaged and distorted by sin”? (p. 172) And further, does he not warn his readers most sternly and truthfully that in all their becoming they never will become gods? (p. 172) It is quite encouraging to encounter these glimpses of orthodoxy. However, these glimpses are incongruous with Mr. Warren’s overall thesis, whereas his expression “You were created to become like Christ” as worded is quite at home with the bulk of his remarks. This expression brings with it the subtle corruption of humanism rather than the faithful construction of orthodoxy. Its weakness cannot be attributed to the inherent limitations of jingoism, but accurately implies a principle of humanism that is at work in the essential message of this book. In order to demonstrate how this is so, it first is necessary to explore the humanistic origins of the being vs. becoming tension.

The humanistic outlook has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy. From the earliest days of Greek civilization, philosophers struggled with the inner tension of human experience expressed as “being vs. becoming.” The idea of being implies something static vs. the perpetual flux of human experience. This discrepancy tended to suggest that human experience had no true contact with reality. Eastern thinkers, who were developing at this same time, accepted this suggestion, and the Eastern mindset soon matured into what we now know as Buddhism. The distinctive of ancient Western philosophy was a loyalty to the instinct to accept human experience as somehow connected to the reality of things. Thus, the challenge for the Greeks was to account for the discrepancy between being and becoming - between the static order that must characterize any intelligible concept of being, and the constant flux that undeniably characterizes human experience. Since they were unbelievers, who did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, the Greek’s foolish heart was darkened and they became futile in their speculations. (Rom. 1:21, 28) Thus, they assumed that the human mind could interpret reality - including the reality of the human self - without reference to anything outside the self. This perfectly describes God’s status vis-à-vis reality. He exhaustively interprets reality without reference to anything outside Himself, which He does precisely because He created reality to be what it is. “It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves.” (Ps. 100:3) In sin the humanist pretends to do what God actually does. This is the essence of idolatry: denying the authority of God to define and to interpret all of reality, and ascribing this authority to another who is not God. Not only is such speculation sinful, it also is an intellectual dead end. The best that humanist Greek philosophy could do was to propose that the human experience of being vs. becoming was analogous of the essence of being itself. This view supposed that being was a continuum ranging from non-being on one end to absolute being on the other, with the human mind and the world of its experience falling somewhere in between.

Ours is not the first era in which expressions of Christian orthodoxy have become corrupted by humanistic elements. The Ancient “church fathers” were at many points influenced by Platonism. The “Scholastics” of the Middle Ages were heavily influenced by Aristotelianism. The Ancient and Medieval Creeds and Confessions were heroic efforts to purge these influences and to restore to the church a truly orthodox confession. In our day we see the influence of humanism no less and our task remains to struggle against it. The subtlety of the task is amplified by the fact that modern “liberal” theology has learned how to apply the vocabulary of orthodoxy to the being vs. becoming scheme of humanism. “Creation” in this scheme of things refers to the “essences” that make one instance of being higher on the scale than other instances; “Sin” means being low on the scale of being; and “Redemption” means raising up on the scale toward absolute being. True Christian orthodoxy stands completely opposed to this scheme even though orthodoxy is expressed utilizing the same terms. A truly Christian idea of these things is that “Creation” means that God exists outside and independent of the world of our experience and has brought it into being by His power and will, including the human being, to whom He has given to bear His image; He does not exist at the extreme end of a “scale of being,” but is uncreated Being over-against the created being of His own device. “Sin” means that we willfully have broken the law and covenant of God, and so have come under His judgment and wrath; all aspects of our nature are corrupted in sin and with us all of creation has suffered corruption. “Redemption” means that in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ God has made atonement for our sin; in His grace He works in the hearts of His people to confess the truth of all these things.

The idea that the purpose of our “creation” is to “become” like Christ fits into the humanist scheme and does not fit into the Christian scheme. Regardless of the employment of certain vocabulary such as “creation” and “sin,” the basic idea presented in this chapter is that one of the main purposes of human life is a process of becoming. Mr. Warren has given himself seven chapters to develop this idea and the current chapter consists mainly of introductory remarks. Is the being vs. becoming humanism of Mr. Warren’s formula to be attributed merely to the imprecision that necessarily attends alliterative jingoism, or does it truly reflect the basic ideas that lie at the root of his thinking? The remainder of the current chapter provides some clues.

Rightly he exhorts his readers, “God’s ultimate goal for your life on earth is not comfort…” (p.173) This is most true. The Bible has only derision for those “whose god is their appetite.” (Phil. 3:19) But Mr. Warren goes on in his statement to declare that he considers “character development” to be God’s ultimate goal for life. He reiterates this thought later in this chapter. “Much confusion in the Christian life comes from ignoring the simple truth that God is far more interested in building your character than he is anything else.” (p. 177) Of course, there is no doubt that character development is very important. There are a lot of things that are very important. But, it actually distorts the place and the importance of things like character development to elevate them to the “ultimate goal for your life.” His meaning is unmistakable: character development is the most important thing. The trouble is that Mr. Warren has the habit of seizing upon a very important thing and trying to make it the most important thing. The result is that we end up with a whole series of “most important things.” There evidently is one for every occasion. Back on page 125 he told us that “relationships are what life is all about,” and are “…what matters most in life.” And before that he told us on page 70 that loving God was the most important thing. “Nothing else comes close in importance,” he said. But, even prior to that, on page 30, he told us that, “Nothing matters more than knowing God’s purposes for your life, and nothing can compensate for not knowing them.”

Encountering so many “most important things,” depending upon what page you are reading, exhibits not merely confusion. In essence it exhibits the dialectical mode of thought that is characteristic of humanism. The humanistic attitude denies that God exists outside of our temporal “scale of being” and that He speaks with ultimate authority concerning the nature of this being. Humanism then supposes that the human mind is left to itself to speak of being the best it can. But, it cannot succeed. It cannot pronounce concerning what is the “most important thing,” for once having so spoken, another important thing will rear its head with a rival claim to ultimate importance. If this claim is honored in the humanist mind, then there only will be another rival claim. There is no end to it. Contrary to this, Christian wisdom identifies the most important thing in human life via the revelation of God in Scripture. Wise and learned men of the church met in what is called the Westminster Assembly and published in 1646 what is called the Westminster Catechism. This Catechism declares the Christian and biblical truth that “The chief end of Man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” This is a biblical truth that may be seized with singlemindedness. No other rival “most important thing” ever will come along to challenge its place. For over 350 years the church has not improved upon this expression of biblical truth. In this work Mr. Warren attempts to speak on the same subject, but ignoring the Westminster expression he enters into the dialectical tension of humanism and as a result he ends up with a whole handful of “most important” things.

The basic humanism of Mr. Warren’s approach also is exhibited in his synergism. He assures us, “You cannot reproduce the character of Jesus on your own strength.” (p. 174) This indicates a positive trend. Our strength is wanting. We are disabled by sin. It is necessary that the power of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit should transform us. But, as his discussion continues we find that in fact Mr. Warren intends to couch our power in tension or correlation to God’s power. In a sense, he ascribes a superiority to our power over God’s power. He says, for example, “We allow Christ to live through us.” (p. 174) “We must cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work.” (p. 174) “The Holy Spirit releases his power the moment you take a step of faith.” (p. 174) “Obedience unlocks God’s power.” (p. 174) “God waits for you to act first.” (p. 175) All of this fits into the being vs. becoming scheme of humanism and not into the Christian scheme. The humanist “god” is the absolute being at the ultimate end of the scale. The humanist task is to approach unto this “god.” The humanist does not pretend that he has everything within himself to achieve this, but he holds the key to unlocking the process. The humanist “god” may be very wise and powerful, but his power is locked. It takes the will of the humanist to “release” it. Such a “god” must wait upon human initiative. There is so much this “god” could do in the life of one who struggles to raise himself up on the scale of being, but he is unable to do it until and unless the humanist should “allow” it.

In stark contrast to this, Christian truth proclaims that the human heart is desperately sick in sin (Jer. 17:9) - that in fact the sinner is dead in his sins (Eph. 2:1). God must come in His own initiative and make us alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:5). It is He who has begun a good work in us (Phil. 1:6), and He also shall bring it to pass (I Thess 5:24). The effort that we make toward godliness is not in process of achieving a new nature, but is motivated by the new nature already bestowed upon us in Redemption (II Cor. 5:17). The power is God’s, the initiative is God’s, and all the glory is God’s. Obedience, Bible study, character development, etc. are not techniques for raising ourselves up on a scale of being, but are the obligations of our new nature in Christ. No one can block, lock, or inhibit the power of God in human life. He does not need us to “release” it. There certainly is a psychological reality to the experience of maturation and becoming like Christ. But the Christian truth of this experience is that the redemptive power of God is the beginning of this and not the outcome of a process. Let us press on to the coming days of this discussion to see whether perhaps Mr. Warren steers us back toward orthodoxy.


Blogger Beyond The Rim... said...

Scott, keep up the good work.

10:29 PM  

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