TGP Podcast: Ecclesiastical Dogmatism, Abuse in the Church Pt. 2

 

In this episode we distinguish dogmatism from Dogmatics, discuss apologetics in relation to dogmatism, and relate the ideas of dogmatism, implicit faith, and Christian liberty to abusive systems. Finally, we discuss what Christians should do when confronted with dogmatist systems. The beginning of this episode up until 12:30 discusses philosophical questions related to the idea of dogmatism, the practical facets of Dogmatism, which you may be more interested in, begins at 12:30. Thank you for listening!

Recommended Reading:
Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible
Twisted Scripture
Let Us Prey

TGP Podcast: Ecclesiastical Dogmatism: Abuse in the church 1

This episode features host Aaron Lague, Dirk Petterson, and Patrick Steckbeck. Unfortunately, it does not contain an introduction due to processing problems and the editing is sub-par. Nonetheless, we hope you benefit from the discussion about Dogmatism, particularly in the church, and Dogmatism’s practical outflow in the form of manipulation and abuse.

Solicitude and Golgotha: A Good Friday Meditation

“Care, as a primordial structural totality, lies ‘before’ every factical ‘attitude’ and ‘situation’ of Dasein, and it does so existentially a priori; this means that it always lies in them.”

Martin Heidegger

In the Incarnation, we see the embodiment of God’s solicitude, which is at the center of Who He Is for others — and at the center of who we are, created in His image to be primarily relational beings.

Sin inevitably involves a falling away from this solicitude. So each man becomes an island, isolated and alienated, no longer concerned with the interests of others but only with his own. But to be turned in on one’s self is to slowly implode, spiraling downward into a deteriorating despair that limits vision and prevents awareness.

The man who has lost his solicitude has lost his sense of purpose. He cannot see the threads that unite him to others; he cannot understand the impact of his actions, how the environment is transformed by even the most miniscule of his decisions. He does not see the interconnectedness of the world around him, and his orientation becomes so inwardly turned that even the good he does is tainted with ultimately destructive self-absorption.

By taking upon Himself our nature, the Son demonstrated the fullness of His outward orientation, the fundamental constitution of humanity. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve: His focus outward, His eyes set to serve, His hands poised for the miracle needed to transform the lives of the broken and undone.

This solicitude is seen the most transparently on Good Friday. It is there, on Calvary, that solicitude is exemplified through action, most particularly through sacrifice. But this sacrifice is more than simply a giving up; it is a complete expenditure of self, accompanied by a bearing of an otherwise unbearable weight. What Christ pours out is His own life; what He takes upon Himself is the complete gravity of our transgressions, past, present, and future, borne through the agonizing hours until death steals the last breath from His lungs.

Beyond the atonement secured through His death, what do we learn from the crucifixion? We learn how to restore the fundamental orientation of personhood: solicitude. For Jesus Himself has done this, His own life both a model and the source of strength we require to enter into this state of concern, readily available to us when we ask in faith.

To walk in Golgothic solicitude is to spend ourselves for others. It is to orient our perception of every facet of reality towards the question of how we can utilize our energy, our volition, for the upbuilding of other persons. Solicitude teaches us that all of life is intention and movement, and we were created for that intention and movement to be primarily directed towards others and not ourselves.

Immediately we hear this, and thoughts of self-preservation enter in. We feel weak; we do not have the strength to sustain this kind of life, even if it gives us purpose and meaning. We are aware of the necessity, perhaps even as unredeemed persons: phenomenologically, our consciousness is always directed out from us (even our thoughts exist, in the structures of experience, separate from ourselves). Yet the awareness of our self’s deterioration compels us to retract, to deny the impulse of solicitude.

Yet Jesus tells us — “he who seeks to save his life will lose it.” To seek preservation is to, quite literally, cause the dissolution of self. Here is a universal paradox: that we only become more fully ourselves when we engage in solicitude. An isolated self begets entropy; it prevents growth, which must always be outward, and thus intentional.

This is what we learn on Good Friday. The truest self is that self which is constructed from concern, consistently oriented outward to bear the emotional, psychological, and spiritual weight of others. In so doing for us, the God-Man teaches us to do it for others. Only then is our existence restored to reflect His goodness and present His image in the world.


P.C. Joshua Eckstein

Intrigue and Belief

The epistemologies of intrigue and belief are starkly opposed to one another, even when they appear similar and, in some cases, nearly identical. Intrigue involves fascination, an almost-sensuous thrill when one considers the object or the Other. But this fascination is distant — it prevents the object/Other from laying any kind of claim upon the fascinated person. The thrill of the intrigue, the admiration, is enough; one cannot, or does not, go beyond that thrill. Indeed, the longer one persists in fascination, the more one becomes convinced that the fascination is a kind of devotion, a commitment to the object/Other.

-///-

John 3.1-2: Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”

Nicodemus is seen here as an admirer, a fascinated person. He recognizes the divine mission of Jesus, sees the miracles performed by God the Son. The anticipation he experiences upon witnessing these miracles leads him to definite conclusions about the carpenter from Nazareth. “We know. There is no doubt that you have come from Above, and I am fascinated by that fact; I greatly admire you for it, and I will even show you with the praise of my words — no one could do what you do unless God is with him.”

-///-

Fascination grows with knowledge. The more one learns about the object/Other of admiration, the starker that admiration grows, until it reaches, in some cases, a nearly feverish pitch. The desires of a person are stirred up within, thoughts of deep affection cloud the mind and block out other considerations, and the admirer grows in his fascination until, by sheer emotional display, he proclaims himself the most devoted to the object/Other. And those around him without knowledge of the distinction between intrigue and belief agree — that man, he is the most devoted, and he is the one we should strive to be like: for see how fascinated he is!

-///-

John 3.3: Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Jesus knows what is in man, so He cuts through Nicodemus’ admiration and exposes the necessity of the new birth, the first sign of which is not admiration, fascination, intrigue — but belief. Faith is the lynchpin upon which hangs all the thoughts and actions of the new creation, formed and sustained by God. For belief, true belief, does what fascination cannot, what it does not — it reposes its confidence upon the object/Other in the same moment that it recognizes the claim that the Other has upon it — indeed, this reposing of confidence is surrendering to that claim.

-///-

How is it that fascination creates distance between the admirer and the object/Other? When I am fascinated with something, with someone, I must step back to engage in admiration. I must disengage from any form of solicitude, from relating with intentionality towards whatever is at hand. If I display my fascination while relating to the object/Other, there will be in inevitable reaction, and that reaction demands a response, which in turn will provoke another reaction, etc. But when I create distance, I can stand afar off and look on without needing to bother with such exchanges. This is also how I manage to persuade myself that my devotion for the object/Other is real, for I experience it, actually experience it, even if it is never directed towards that which I so greatly admire. But how can one be devoted to something or someone unless this devotion is actually displayed?

-///-

“Passion and reflection,” says Kierkegaard, “are generally exclusive of one another.” And what is intrigue but a kind of reflection — since reflection is self-referential and cyclical, never expressed outwardly towards that upon which I reflect. Thus reflection produces a kind of objectivity, whereby all are made into objects, even the Other — for there is no real, subjective engagement between me and the Other when all I do is admire with a loving but distant gaze.

-///-

And what is faith but passion? For passion is always projected out from the soul; it must find a home elsewhere or it dies, it must hit its mark or it evaporates. When I truly believe in something, or someone, I will repose upon that object/Other, and state with the same certainty as Nicodemus: “I know.” But I will be more certain than he, for I have tested the theory, so to speak, tested it through actually following my devotion to the point of crisis, to the point of surrendering to the Other’s claim. Thus will I dwell in true solicitude with the Other, and thus will I gain true knowledge, beyond the theoretical, for my admiration will be embedded in my experience of surrender.

The Necessity of Existentialism: A Brief Primer

Existentialism. The mere mention of the word conjures in the mind, for many, a nebulous picture at best and a negative, disjointed system of philosophy at worst. On the popular level, the term has been hijacked to represent a peculiar kind of solipsism that lauds navel-gazing and flights into fancy. One only has to glance, for instance, at various subreddits dedicated to the supposed discussion of the subject to find (spiked)-soda-driven ramblings composed at 3 am about the inevitability of death. The responses usually offered to these woe-is-me soliloquies are dreadfully boring: repackaged bites of Epicureanism indicative of our current cultural malaise. “Life is meaningless, so just go out and experience as much pleasure as you can, as long as you don’t harm others.” That’s the takeaway. The problem is that it’s not existentialism.

In Protestant circles, the understanding of existentialism is hardly better. Søren Kierkegaard, often considered the father of the movement, is misrepresented and even maligned by significant Christian leaders of the past half-century. Francis Schaeffer blamed him for helping the culture plunge into despair (1). Al Mohler declares that, if you follow Kierkegaard’s line of thought to its conclusion, you’ll abandon the Gospel (2). Gary Habermas seems to think that Kierkegaard believes the historical validity of the Resurrection does not matter one way or the other (3). Even R.C. Sproul, who takes a more positive approach to Kierkegaard’s thought, argues that his anti-systematic approach causes problems for theology (4).

My purpose here is not to go toe-to-toe with these theologians (5) or try and wade through the popular (mis)understandings of existentialism on a wider scale. Instead, what I’d like to try and contend is that an existential understanding of the world, and especially of our current milieu, is both vital and necessary for thinking Christians. For that reason, we need to understand what existentialism argues for, because only then will we see its necessity and only then can we respond to criticisms and misunderstandings.

But first, perhaps, a disclaimer. There is definitely room for criticism to be leveled at the agnostic side of the existential coin: thinkers such as Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre, who dismissed even the concept of God in forming their philosophy, furnish serious gaps in their ideologies as a result. They have to be wrestled with on different grounds. Still, some of the fundamental concepts of even these “secular” thinkers are worth examining and can indeed provide particular insights into our modern condition. If God can use donkeys and roosters to speak to humans, then certainly he can use Nazi sympathizers and liberal Frenchmen.

If we were to boil down existentialism to two essential postulates, they would be as follows: A) Truth is subjective; B) the individual is the decisive thing. In one sense, these are two sides of the same coin; but the emphasis falls in a different place for each, and we would do well to analyze them in turn.

A). In what would arguably be considered the magnum opus of existentialism, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Kierkegaard states that it is impossible to create a system for existence because “system and finality correspond to one another, but existence is precisely the opposite of finality” (6). What this means is that to systematize something is to treat it as closed, complete, and capable of detached analysis. When we do this with anything — from the simplest of phenomena to the most complex of ideas — we objectify the thing-at-hand. By holding it out from us and analyzing its parts, continuously turning it within the prism of the mind, we become observers and admirers — but we cannot become personally engaged with whatever it is we are examining. Clearly, this is impossible with existence, because we are in the middle of living — we cannot step outside of ourselves and become observers of our lives unless we end up abstracting our thought to the point of absurdity.

Truth, Kierkegaard contends, is the same way. It is “subjective,” not in the sense of moral relativism, but in the sense that it must be lived in and related to with all the intense experiences of existence, not objectified and treated like a faraway object. It must “become” true for us through personal appropriation, for only then will it operate as Truth in our lives.

Put another way, Truth must be primarily related to with passion as opposed to reflection. That is not to say that there is no place for reflection vis-à-vis Truth, but when the primary mode of relation is reflection, we inevitably objectify it. We become scientists and scholars who treat the world, and God, as massive objects to be analyzed but never engaged: “The existing individual who chooses to pursue the objective way enters upon the entire approximation-process by which it is proposed to bring God to light objectively. But this is in all eternity impossible, because God is a subject, and therefore exists only for subjectivity in inwardness” (7). If we would properly relate to God, to Truth, then we must do so subjectively.

B) Building on this idea is the second side of the coin: the individual is the decisive thing. This is not to say that institutions and systemization have no place at all, but they do not take primacy in the world or in experience. What matters is each person as an “individual alone before God.” It is here that man is forced to take decisive action in a particular direction, here that man can examine himself and his relation to the truth: in his individuality, and not in his role as part of a whole, not in his vocation or the abstraction of himself. What existentialism does is force each person to the point of crisis where, stripped of all other considerations and categories of thought, the individual must confront the reality of him/herself vis-a-vis eternity.

Even a cursory examination of the Scriptures would prove the validity of this philosophical view. One only has to consider the countless narratives in the Old Testament in which God presents Himself to His people in the role of a powerful Rescuer and Judge, who reveals Himself in fire and cloud and descends to the mountain to speak with mere men. One only has to think of how individuals are always the focal points in the story of salvation in both Testaments, of how God, when He becomes man, calls and speaks directly to individuals. The Gospel of John, for instance, revolves around Christ’s encounters with single persons: Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the man blind from birth. All of these either fall down at His feet in worship (appropriate the truth subjectively) or cannot understand what He is saying/demonstrating (because they have objectified the truth).

So, then, where does all of this leave us? If we agree with the central tenets of existentialism and are able to see how they are beneficial for thinking Christians in today’s society, in what sense can we apply them and influence our praxis in holistic, permanent ways?

The first step is in recognizing how Truth is meant to operate and, as such, how juxtaposed modern conceptions of Truth are with this notion. If Truth is indeed meant to be related to subjectively, this means that objective modes of thought are secondary in importance; of course we must know what we are pursuing, what is true and what is not, but merely knowing what is not enough when the accent is and should be placed upon how. What this means is that Christians should be beacons for passionate living in a society that is becoming increasingly more oriented towards perpetual spectatorship. The proliferation of various entertainment media, the ubiquitous presence of social media and the emphasis in daily life upon utmost efficiency is, effectively, robbing people of volitional development and an awareness of this need for passion. As Christians, we can demonstrate with our words and our actions that Truth can only be pursued with the concreteness of passion, with a perpetual orientation towards the infinite, rather than a sort of bystander mentality that bandies about spiritual ideas and little more.

The second tenet of existentialism is of equal importance, and in some ways is even more necessary to emphasize. The massive networking of social media and the recent vitriolic push for political involvement in the past couple of years have moved to cement the idea of the crowd as tantamount to progress and true enlightenment. Over and against this demonic notion stands the truth of the individual, who — breaking away from those discordant voices — can find wholeness and fulfillment in escaping despair and reposing in the authenticity of true personhood as established by God. Such a pursuit will, of course, require a deep, even agonizing examination of the self that most are not equipped or informed to conduct. Yet without this stripping away of externalities and focusing upon the self, without breaking away from “the crowd” and learning to discern and subjectively analyze the threads that make up the self, we will, at best, live half-lives devoid of true fulfillment and predicated upon counterfeit ideas that will slowly infiltrate the framework of our persons. Only in the existential pursuit of “authenticity,” of passionate striving for truth, will we learn to live as God the Father purposed when He fashioned man from the dust of the earth and filled him with the breath of life.

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(1) Christianity Today –  “Why We Still Need Kierkegaard.”
(2) World Magazine – “Albert Mohler: Far Side Christians.” 
(3) The Resurrection of JesusA Rational Inquiry by Gary Habermas. Pg. 186.
(4) Ligonier Ministries – “Pessimistic Existentialism (pt. 4).” 
(5) Their misconceptions are worth noting, however, because Kierkegaard was a devout Christian, and it is from his faith and because of his faith that he derived many of the “first principles” of existentialism. It becomes very easy to misread Kierkegaard if one does not know this. Judging on some of the statements of the abovementioned theologians, one has to wonder how much of Kierkegaard they’ve actually read, or if they’ve borrowed snippets of quotes of quotes from dubious sources to draw their conclusions, which are so off-base they’d be worth laughing at if they weren’t so reputationally damaging.
(6) A Kierkegaard Anthology, ed. Robert Bretall. Page 201.
(7) Ibid. Pg. 211.