“What we do when we weed a field is not quite different from what we do when we pray for a good harvest.” – C. S. Lewis.
In the above quote, I think C. S. Lewis is getting at much the same point I have been making throughout these last three blog posts: namely, that we are mistaken when we unnaturally separate that which God has put together. Life is holistic and God calls us to a fully integrated life that incarnates all that He himself embodied during His earthly ministry.
There is much more evidence than what I have presented in support of this point. I could have, for instance, shown that in Scripture the words in both the OT and NT that are used for ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ are often used to mean the whole person, as are the words for ‘flesh’ and body.’ There are nuances and the two are not the same, to be sure. But we have to be careful that we don’t read into these words ideas that never existed in the mind of the writers. In addition, I might have pointed out that Paul had every opportunity to adopt a Platonic separation of the body and soul, and yet he never did. This doesn’t mean that he or Jesus never distinguished between the two, for surely they did. But what they didn’t do was elevate one above the other. I could have also shown how it has been largely philosophical systems, such as that of Plato and Aristotle and their influences on Augustine and Aquinas respectively, that have greatly influenced our theological tendency to exalt one aspect of the human self over the other. I could have given evidence that Christianity, following in the footsteps of the Enlightenment, has come to embody many of the precepts of modernity, precepts that furthered the chasm between the secular and sacred. But my aim, has not been to overwhelm anyone with evidence, but rather to simply help us to see that this holistic notion is in Scripture, and it is there in a pretty major way!
I also want to pause, and point out that this has been a journey for me. It is not something I have arrived at casually or, in some ways, even intentionally. In the course of studying other things (eschatology and church history, for instance) I have sort of stumbled across these things, and then as a result of what I found (more accurately, what others have found and written), I’ve felt compelled to look into this a little deeper. As a result, I am increasingly convinced that the biblical picture is holistic, that when Jesus said, “whatever you did not do to the least of these, you did not do to me,” that he was saying something of extreme importance for the Church about the external aspects of our faith, about the integration of faith and acts of service.
The thing is, and this may surprise you, but my own calling and gifts lie mostly on the proclamation/evangelism side of things. I am primarily a teacher/preacher with a deep interest in theology and apologetics (could you tell?). Those passages of Scripture that most resonate with me are those that show Paul using ‘persuasion’ and presenting arguments and evidence that help convince people of the truth of Christianity (see Acts 17:4; 18:4; 19:8). And yet, that said, I am convinced by Scripture that if my whole ministry, my entire Christian calling consists of nothing more than standing in a classroom and teaching, or sitting behind a computer reflecting on theological meanings, or even standing behind a pulpit on Sunday morning speaking to the mostly already convinced, if my Christian life never gets out into the byways, highways, and alleyways where the broken, the lost and the suffering live and struggle everyday, and if I don’t meet them there with the love of Christ, tending to them in body and soul, then I’ve missed something. I’ve come up short of what Jesus has called me to do. Because all theology is ultimately practical, and all of our faith must ultimately find its way to our hands and our feet, not just to our hearts and heads.
Even as I write this, I recognize how far away I am from this holistic biblical picture at times, and I am convicted. But, my prayer in all of this is that we would all take seriously these emphases in Scripture as we plot our course forward, that we might embody a faith in which preaching the good news and compassionate acts of service become as two cords twisted indubitably together, exhibiting a strength that neither aspect could ever have on its own. May we embody a Gospel faith, a loving and compassionate faith, a proclaiming faith, a teaching faith, a building faith, and in everything a serving faith. So that when the Lord of the harvest returns He’ll find us, as was He, always about His Father’s business.