Could you give another example besides the soul for something that is immaterial but not spiritual?
What you're saying about the spiritual not being separate from creation reminds me a bit of some things in John Walton's books on Genesis. He's a professor at Wheaton College, so I'm wondering if there are more evangelicals than you think who may think that way? Of course, He's also an Old Testament scholar, so he would be much more familiar with a pre-modern point of view than your average evangelical off the street....
This is so interesting. I'm taking it all in and am not ready yet to comment intelligently. I want to mull it all over and come back, though. Thank you for taking the time to write all of this out.
Re: John Walton - Interesting - I have one of his books in my "to read" pile. I have seen increasing acknowledgement in most all corners of Christianity that the assumed hard separation between creation and the spiritual bequeathed to us by modernity is a huge problem (certainly Pentecostalism makes quite an effort to overcome this, albeit in a non-sacramental way). And among traditions with a sacramental history it has resulted in an increased focus on recovering a sacramental view. I have noticed an uptick in interest in some kind of sacramental view of creation amongst Reformed-influenced evangelicals (makes sense since the Reformed have a sacramental history and are part of evangelicalism); I've seen a surge of interest in Jonathan Edwards, who worked really hard to fight the material-only mechanistic view of the universe. Mostly this seemed to open up the possibility of a sacramental understanding of sanctification and not justification, but some Presbyterians were trying to get back to Calvin's understanding of the sacraments. But yeah, rightly or not, I don't associate that with "mainstream" evangelicalism.
But it doesn't surprise me overmuch that "evangelicalism as I've experienced it" misses the *possibilities* of evangelicalism. For all that I grew up in evangelical-adjacent Lutheranism and so imbibed several common evangelical assumptions (80s and 90s era), I'm still an outsider looking in wrt evangelicalism. I see more of the most common bits of evangelicalism (and evangelical missteps) than anything else. And all my actual *study* of theology has been within the confessional Lutheran corner of the tradition, as opposed to the evangelical-adjacent corner I grew up in. (Confessional Lutherans hold that, since we Lutherans hold that our confessions, the Book of Concord, are a correct explanation of Scripture, they should therefore *form* our theology and practice, instead of merely functioning as a "stay within these lines" theological boundary.) And confessional Lutherans have a habit of using evangelicalism as a go-to "how *not* to be Lutheran" example, since most American Lutherans are heavily influenced by evangelical assumptions (as was I).
And that can warp one's impression. When we do X, and contrast the practice of X with someone else's X-contradicting practice of A - it's all-too-easy to assume that:
(1) since we practice X *because* it is X, and we do not practice A *because* A contradicts X,
(2) while they *are* practicing A,
(3) they are practicing A *because* it contradicts X. (And we can also end up assuming the reverse, that *we* practice X *because* it contradicts A, and thus warp our understanding of *ourselves* in addition to warping our understanding of others.)
In other words, it is all too easy to define *their* practice of A in terms of how it relates to *our* practice of X. We see the world in X/notX terms, and it blinds us to someone else's A/notA worldview. We interpret them as if they *shared* our X/notX premises, only they contrarily affirm the opposite, notX conclusion; and they likely return the favor, assuming we share their A/notA premises while contrarily affirming the opposite, notA conclusion.
Here's an example: Let's say that I play music in the background in order to establish music as an omnipresent part of our lives. And let's say that you only play music when you and your family can devote their full attention to it, to establish the habit of giving music the attention it deserves. These practices *do* contradict, but they *aren't* opposites of each other. I'm not playing music in the background *because* I'm trying to establish the habit of giving music only half-attention. And you aren't limiting music to when you can give it full attention *because* you are trying to limit music to only a corner of your life. (Those may be unintentional consequences of our practices, but they aren't what either of us is setting out to do.) But it's awfully easy for me to assume that you are *purposely* doing the opposite of what I am doing because you *want* to accomplish the opposite of what I want to accomplish, and vice versa. And that means that while *I* am trying to accomplish a *good* thing, *you* apparently are *trying* to accomplish a *bad* thing, and vice versa. That doesn't really leave much room for seeing any potential common ground between us on this issue, kwim?
(And in reverse, sometimes the acceptance of common ground between us and our different-but-both-good practices doesn't leave much room for considering the possibility that one practice may have more negative unintentional consequences than another - since we are "on the same side", we need to accept everything about each other as of equal value - any substantial criticism is treated as a veiled statement that "you aren't affiliated with me". It's the flip side of being on opposing sides and assuming there is *no* common ground at all.)
So all that to say, I don't really understand evangelicalism from the inside, and I try to keep my statements appropriately humble, though sometimes I forget because evangelicalism's been a close neighbor for so long and so feels familiar - I think I know them better than I do. I am trying to learn to understand evangelicalism on its own terms, though I've a long ways to go.
WRT another example of immaterial creation: the other main category I can think of is that of universals - "what particular things have in common, namely characteristics or qualities", such as truth, goodness, beauty. Namely, what is the nature of those universals - do they exist out there in the world independently or not? Realism says they do, anti-realism says they don't, and nominalism splits the difference. (Nominalism arose in the medieval church in response to the revival of Aristotle and arguably contributed strongly to Reformation theology.)
Realism is basically the idea that reality exists independently of how people see it or understand it. Reality is what it is, regardless of whether we see it as it is. And when it comes to philosophy, realism is the idea that ideas - like goodness and beauty and human nature - are real things that exist independently of whatever anyone thinks of them, or even *whether* anyone thinks of them. Creation isn't just made up of material reality (like our flesh and bones and blood) but is also made up of immaterial reality (like souls and the essence of humanity and truth and goodness and beauty).
However, nominalism rejects the idea of independently-existing immaterial moral essences like goodness and beauty and human nature - general ideas are just human-invented names for things that don't actually exist - only particular, concrete, material objects exist. So "human nature" as its own thing doesn't exist - only individual humans who have some things in common. We might *call* those things-all-humans-have "human nature", but that's just a name we use - there's no *actual* universal "human nature" that all humans *really* share.
Now, the scientific revolution rests on nominalist assumptions, and kind of kicked pre-modern realism's butt - in our scientific, technocratic West, we're all swimming in nominalist assumptions. Is beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or inherent to what is being beheld? Is the question "can I use thing A to accomplish good purpose B?" a strictly *practical* question (will it work), or is it inherently a *moral* question, too (is it *right* to use thing A to accomplish purpose B)? The first answer to each is nominalist, the second one broadly realist.
The original point of nominalism was to preserve God's sovereignty over His creation. Prior to the revival of Aristotle in the 12 and 13th centuries, the medieval church was more Platonic. The connection between creation and the spiritual was something like this:
The material was encompassed and determined by the immaterial and the immaterial was in turn encompassed and determined by the spiritual. You could only understand material creation if you understood immaterial creation, and you could only understand immaterial creation if you understood God's spiritual work in creation. What creation was *for* determined what creation *was* and what it could *do*. Unbelievers, with no understanding of God's spiritual work, were therefore unable to truly understand the whys and wherefores of God's creation.
But Aristotle had a different relationship between the material and immaterial. And the resulting synthesis between Aristotelianism and Christianity looked, to its opponents anyway, something like this (I am unclear how the scholastics themselves viewed it):
Material Creation <-> Immaterial Creation
So you had immaterial creation formed by *both* material creation *and* the spiritual (and material creation as only indirectly affected by God's spiritual work). Unbelievers *could* understand the immaterial purposes of creation, since they were right there, embedded in material creation to be studied. But they couldn't understand the spiritual purposes of God. And to nominalists, this allowed the notions of unbelievers to define what was and wasn't possible for God to do in creation, and thus infringed on His absolute sovereignty. because it limited God to working out His spiritual good in ways that meshed with the inherent immaterial purposes of creation. To nominalists, it made God's ability to spiritually work in creation limited by the nature of creation itself - and thus claimed that God cannot change what He sets in motion, that He is limited by His past actions - which infringed on God's ability to do absolutely anything. And to top it off, since the purposes of creation were possible for unbelievers to learn, God was seen as limited to working in ways that unbelievers could conceive of - which is a false limitation, because unbelievers by definition are unable to understand the ways of God. (Heck, humans in general are unable by definition to fully understand the ways of God.)
So, to preserve God's absolute sovereignty to do absolutely anything in creation He wanted, nominalists gutted the category of immaterial creation:
Material Creation -> Immaterial Creation
Material creation was brought right back under the direct control of the spiritual, while immaterial creation was left hanging off to the side, unable to influence much of anything. Immaterial creation existed in name only, not as really-existing things. (And all the important things that immaterial creation was responsible for ended up migrating eventually either to the spiritual or the material.) But the *nature* of the connection between the spiritual and material creation changed. Instead of the purposes of creation being embedded *within* creation itself, material creation *had* no inherent purpose. Instead, God imposed His spiritual purposes from outside creation onto a creation that was itself inherently purposeless - He could do anything He wanted with creation to accomplish His good goals.
And this changed the nature of humanity's relationship to creation, too. Being God's stewards of creation means doing God's will in creation. When God's will was inherent in creation, that meant using creation as it was meant to be used. But once God's will was imposed from the outside on a purposeless creation, then we too did His will by imposing our wills on a purposeless creation to accomplish His good purposes. Under nominalism, nothing within creation tells us how creation should be lived in - only God's divine revelation can tell us.
And then, per Charles Taylor in A Secular Age, nominalism and scholasticism's autonomous material creation, both Christian, combined to form a worldview quite antithetical to Christianity:
Material Creation | Spiritual
This kicked off the Scientific Revolution - the material world could profitably be studied in itself, regardless of what spiritual purposes may or may not exist, because nothing about those spiritual purposes would or could change the nature of material creation. Ever since Christians have been fighting to keep/regain the primacy of the spiritual and the ability of the spiritual to affect the material, but in practice, this often is reduced to accepting an inherently purposeless, spiritless creation, while maintaining that 1) God and His outside-creation spiritual purposes *do* exist and *should* be lived by, and 2) God reserves the right to intervene spiritually in His material creation in order to change its usual course at any time. This concedes almost everything - it *accepts* the materialistic view that the "usual course of things" inherently *excludes* all things spiritual; it accepts that "the usual course of things" are things that happen *without* God - that the usual way of the world is to be *without* God. And as those materialistic assumptions give the spiritual very little to do in our daily lives, it's hard to maintain the primacy of the spiritual. And I do think those assumptions affect most Western Christians, sacramental and non-sacramental alike, to a greater or lesser extent - it's in the air we breathe.
The gutting of immaterial creation, and the resulting migration of things from immaterial creation to either spiritual or material, changed the nature of natural law. And this is pretty important, because a lot of Christian ethical teaching has been based in natural law. Christians have generally held that natural law is written in creation and so is knowable to an extent by everyone. Scholasticism tended to see natural law as written into immaterial creation. But when nominalism followed by the scientific revolution gutted the category of immaterial creation, the only categories that were left were spiritual or material.
So for natural law to be written into creation, it would have to be written into *material* creation - and therefore be discoverable by *science*. Which is quite a change from the based-in-an-objective-immaterial-creation morality of virtue ethics. For quite a while Christian and non-Christians alike sought to ground morality in scientifically-discoverable material facts - MacIntyre calls this "the Enlightenment Project" - but ultimately it failed philosophically, and the results of that failure have been extending into everyday life. And one of the impacts is that *Christian* morality - inasmuch as it is rooted in a scientifically-determined-material-only "natural" law - is rooted in a fiction. And a fiction that people are increasingly coming to realize *is* a fiction.
One of the main points of MacIntyre's After Virtue is how what he calls "emotivism" (*not* the same thing as "emotional") is a direct result of the failure of modernity to ground morality in anything. Per MacIntyre, emotivists are people who believe there are *no* objective moral standards, and so all moral judgments are nothing more than covert expressions of personal preference. Most emotivists take this to be a fact about the inherent nature of moral judgment: just like we moderns say with certainty that no real witches were ever burned throughout history because there are no witches to be burned in the first place, emotivists say with confidence that no one in history has ever appealed to a real, objective moral standard in defending their moral judgment because there are *no* objective moral standards in the first place.
But MacIntyre's point is that while emotivists *are* seeing something that is really there - that modern Western moral judgments *do* embody this mismatch between how a group of people make moral judgments (as if they are based on rational, objective criteria) and what those moral judgments are actually based on (feelings and attitudes) - they are *wrong* when they declare that the features of these *particular* moral judgments apply to *all* moral judgments everywhere. In fact, MacIntyre’s “After Virtue” is a book-length argument that the modern loss of objective moral foundations is not universal but historically contingent.
I really appreciate MacIntyre here, because he offers an alternative between "upholding objective morality in general requires me to believe that *my* practice of it is still good" (an increasingly untenable position) and "rejecting objective morality in general because *my* practice of it is bad" (a common overreaction to a personal lack of foundation in beliefs). Aka, it gives me the space to acknowledge that there *is* some truth to observations that many *contemporary* Christians and Christian churches (including me) do indeed suffer from hollowed-out beliefs (including moral beliefs) - beliefs that claim the status of objective, rational truth without any sort of objective, rational foundation – but this doesn’t have to mean that there *never was* any sort of objective, rational foundation for Christianity, only that that foundation has been lost to many of us contemporary Christians. You can realize that you and your tradition are (currently) lacking in important ways and decide that the problem is with you and your tradition’s *current* understanding of Christianity, instead of deciding that the problem isn’t with you and your tradition’s understanding of Christianity, but with Christianity itself.
Books that I found helpful re: the changing nature of morality:
Well, MacIntyre, for one. After Virtue was mindblowing, as I said. He has some sequels that are in my Great Unread that answer questions raised by After Virtue: Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, and Dependent Rational Animals. He has a new book out that is supposed to provide a capstone summary of his work on virtue: Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity that is reputed to provide a good one-volume summary of his thought, though I haven't seen it in person.
Charles Taylor's A Secular Age is more on the changing nature of the relationship of the spiritual to creation. It's epic in both scope and length . Its goal is to describe why it was that belief in God was the default in 1500 Western Christendom, while now in the West *dis*belief in God is the default. I haven't finished this one yet. I read the first hundred pages probably four times - it's where he describes what it was like to see the world as a medieval Catholic in 1500 - and I read it over and over till I could *feel* what he was describing. Then I took those medieval assumptions and read the Lutheran Confessions in light of *them* - instead of in light of my modern assumptions - in order to better understand what they were saying and responding to. James K. A. Smith has a book that summarizes and comments upon Taylor's book: How Not to Be Secular, which I've read and enjoyed. I quibble some with Smith's take, but it is an accessible, helpful introduction to Taylor.
David Wells has a four book series on the effects of modernity on the church: No Place For Truth, God in the Wasteland, Losing Our Virtue, and Above All Earthly Powers. I'm only in the first one, but it's been packed with great stuff. He also has a more popular, summary book of the above quartet: The Courage to Be Protestant, but I've not seen it.
In a more popular vein, I really enjoyed Nancy Pearcey's Saving Leonardo. It's an analysis of various artists and artistic movements that looks at how their work embodied what they believed. And it also works as a survey of the dominant beliefs from Kant till today and how artists lived them out in there work. I found the introduction a little too strident for my tastes, but the analysis was excellent.
In a different vein, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr was a wonderful look at the ethics of technology - how every technology has a view of how the world is and how humans are embedded in it.
There are tons of other books - many are in my Great Unread - I have probably a half dozen books that analyze how we got from pre-modernity to modernity alone - but I'm trying to stick to books I've read or mostly read. I'm going to throw in two exceptions here, though. One is The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher. I'm just in chapter four, but it's a readable, accessible intro to the broad threads of the above books, plus it spends most of its time proposing *solutions*. The other is Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry, Hans Boersma. I have it, but I'm still working through his scholarly work on sacramental ontology (which is awesome). But it's a popular presentation of a sacramental view by an evangelical. (He has a new book on Scripture as Real Presence that is going on my to buy list.)
Also, virtue ethics people here have recommended these three books as a trio:
(1) C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man - explains the problem (lack of virtue) and why it's a problem
(2) Joseph Pieper, Leisure as the Basis of Culture - explains the solution philosophically
(3) David Hicks, Norms and Nobility - explains how to put the solution into practice wrt education
I've read (1) several times and loved it (didn't truly follow his argument till the third time through, though), and I'm partway through (2) and appreciating it. ((3) is languishing still among the Great Unread.)
Hope all the above helps and isn't too overwhelming :shifty. (I've now spilled over 10,000 words on this thread :yikes.)
Really quick (too late ), I agree with pp that one's view of sin is important - it's one place where I strongly differ from medieval scholastics and it does change my metaphysics relative to theirs (and also relative to modernity).
Plus another theological difference that affects a sacramental view of reality is an analogical vs univocal view of the relationship between human qualities like love, truth, etc and God's possession of the same qualities. Sacramental people tend to have an analogical view - humans and God are radically different, and so describing God using qualities that are in creation (love, etc) is only an *analogy* to what God is actually like. However, a univocal view of those qualities means that there is no difference in *kind* between human love and God's love (for example), but only in *degree* (God's love is infinitely *greater* than ours, but it looks like ours). (Nominalists tended to have a univocal view of universals, which contributed to their view that how those universals appeared in creation necessarily defined how those universals existed in God.) Anyway, an analogical view maintains a huge gulf between the *nature* of God and creation, which paradoxically allows for a closer union between God and creation without subsuming God into creation (pantheism). A univocal view erases some of the differences in essence between God and creation, and so it has to impose a greater metaphysical distance to maintain the innate difference between God and creation.
Edited by forty-two, 13 October 2017 - 03:10 PM.