Plato in Your Living Room
Updated, and hopefully, clarified! –JT
Recently, in a well known address by Paul Washer, he made the following statement in reference to his seminary days:
“….I remember a professor walked in and he started drawing footprints on the blackboard. And as he marched them across the blackboard then he turned to all of us and said only this. “Aristotle is walking through the halls of this institution. Beware, for I hear his footsteps more clearly than those of the apostle Paul and the team of inspired men who were with him and even the Lord Jesus Christ himself.”
To have the thinking of a philosopher as influential as the Word of God in a seminary, well, that’s frightening enough. Yet there is another well known philosopher who has affected the church even closer to home than the seminary. There is a more frightening thought than Aristotle in the halls of a seminary, I think, and that would be Plato in your living room.
Over the years, I have encountered many people who have been unknowingly affected in their thinking by this man. In fact, Plato has so infiltrated the professing, visible church of today it is truly amazing. How so?
Now let me draw on my education as a classical studies student here. Greek Platonism basically holds there are two worlds. The first is a material world you can see, the other is spiritual, invisible.
According to Greek Platonism, this visible, material world is evil. The soul is trapped, it hates the body and longs for the world from which it came. The church father, Origen is considered by many as a student of Platonic philosophy. He took this concept and ran with it, so to speak. But is it biblical? And how has it affected us today?
When you think of a person, what is the most important part of that person? The soul and it’s later destiny? Is that biblical?
John MacArthur has noted: “Now philosophical dualism is basically attributed to Plato. And philosophical dualism dominated Greek thinking….To Plato a resurrection with the body, a rejoining to a body would be like a second hell. So he denied it and Greek culture went along with it. In fact they had a proverb. Their proverb said, “The body is a tomb, I am a poor soul shackled to a corpse.” They thought only of the fact that the body was evil, the body was matter, the body was flesh, it would just die and you would flee away to be united with immortality.”
MacArthur continues: “Seneca, a famous Greek, said, “It pleased me to inquire into the eternity of the soul. Nay, to believe in it. I surrendered myself to that great hope.” Now notice, Seneca believed in the immortality of the soul. We find that all the Greeks did. They didn’t have any problem with the immortality of the soul, it was the resurrection of the body they didn’t believe in. Seneca goes on to say, “When the day shall come which shall part this mixture of divine and human, here where I found it I will leave my body and myself I will give back to the gods.” Now that was the typical Greek view that there was a dualism, that your spirit just went on to eternal life, your body never did. In fact Seneca said the spirit went to be resolved into its ancient element. And its ancient element would be God. “
Now how many professing Christians include in their concept of heaven that there will be spirits floating around, without a body? Many! Such thinking derives from Platonism, this philosophical dualism of Greek thinking.
This Greek thinking has affected many Christians view of the resurrection!
When Paul wrote to the Christians at Colossae, they were being influenced by gnostics, who taught this philosophical dualism, teaching christians that since God is spirit, He is therefore good, yet could never have anything to do with physical matter, and therefore could not be Creator of all things physical, the universe. Why, that would make God the author of evil!
This Greek thinking has affected many Christians view of God, of creation, of the biblical hope of a bodily resurrection, as well as the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
If Aristotle is so prominent in our seminaries, it does not take a great deal of imagination to see how Plato and greek philosophy as a whole has infiltrated our thinking. By adopting various aspects of Greek philosophy over clear biblical teaching, we have arrived at prizing ‘rugged individualism’ in modern America more than Scriptural truth regarding the Church as a community.
The Church is described as a nation, a family. These are communal words. Yet we have adopted the view that not only is it permissable for a Christian to operate on their own, accountable to no one else in the church, but it is condoned if not encouraged in some circles.
Independent parachurch organizations, the emphasis on “freedom of conscience” before God, private confession of sin to God alone, answerable to no other fellowship of believers have all given rise to a self-sufficient, individualistic mentality. Where did the biblical teaching of mutual accountability go?
How many ‘one another’ passages are there in Scripture? Love, encourage, rebuke, reprove, correct, pray, confess sins to, ….all to one another. And the list goes on and on. Beloved, we have strayed so far from the Biblical idea of a church family, it’s difficult to know where to begin!
The Gospel involves far more than forgiveness of sins and going to heaven later on, as glorious as those truths are. It involves now. And the Church is not to be driven by individualistic, private thinking. We are a spiritual and physical, visible, social order, a community that can be seen, touched, felt, shared economically within itself and opposed by the enemies of Christ! Don’t listen to Plato. Get him out of your living room, out of your head.
The Kingdom of Christ has been established. It is you, if you are in Christ. It is not pie-in-the-sky, it is not ‘when we all get to heaven’, it is not “I just want out of this body,” it is right now, and your body is good!
Modern evangelism stresses the ‘saving of the soul’, yet the Bible teaches a person is both body and soul, and the body is good! In fact, the body is so good, that Jesus rose bodily from the dead and promises us the same thing. Thank you Plato, for confusing so many.
John Stott stated that a person is a “body-soul-in-community.” Stott is right.
The church is not a long line of invisible, individualistic IPOD/I-Phone holding lone-rangers. It is a social community, of visible members of a social structure that is countercultural to the world outside of Christ. It can be seen, and it is far from evil, as Plato suggest. Eternity does not begin when you leave your body, it has already begun! Let us be who we are now!
Bottom line, your faith is not private! You’re relationship with God Almighty is not just between you and He. Who told you that? You’re eternal destination has been changed and you desire to keep it to yourself?
You’re faith is not just between you and God, it is not private. How can we possibly be salt of the world if we stay in the proverbial shaker and tell others to stay out of our beeswax? You are accountable to me, and I to you, and we both to our Lord and Master!
I’m aware, so very aware this touches on church discipline, and mutual accountability, and so many other very important truths. But this is, at least, a starting point, and I hope to address these other issues later on, Lord willing.
Interesting post and some good considerations.
However, I must object to your overall tone. You paint with much to broad a brush. First of all, this plays into the whole notion that Christianity was somehow corrupted by Greek ideas. Of course Christian theology and philosophy have had interactions, but that has been for its ultimate advancement, not its downfall. Some platonic ideas were influential in Christianity in very positive ways.
You also cite a Church Father who has been much abused for his platonic philosophy. Origen was first and foremost a Christian of deep faith, and never a heretic by intent. His speculation was only centuries later to be declared out of bounds. There are plenty of other Church Fathers who used platonic philosophy in great ways while rejecting its extreme dualism.
Finally, it strikes me as very strange that you begin this by being very negative towards Aristotle whose philosophy later allow the Church (men such as Thomas Aquinas) to formulate theology which did a much better job of incorporating the physical and spiritual realms.
First of all, thank you for your input. Lord willing, I’ll improve on my communication and ‘brush strokes’.
The reference to Aristotle was mentioned in the Paul Washer quote, and if the philosophy, or ‘footsteps’ of Aristotle are heard or held in regard more than the Word of God, it would indeed be frightening. Is it even possible for true Christianity to be ‘corrupted’? No, I don’t think so, no more than the true Church, imperfect, yes, but always repentant. It was never my point to disparage the study of greek thinking, only to remind us all that the Word of God takes precedent over even the greatest thoughts of men, including Plato. As for Origen, I do not think he was a heretic, but it is indisputable that he incorporated philosophical dualism in his writings. I merely pointed out that there are many who consider him to have been a student of platonic philosophy, and there are. You make a good point that many of the church fathers rejected extreme dualism.
As for your final point, again, Aristotle is not the issue. To emphasize Aristotle’s thinking within a Seminary to be on par, if not overshadowing the inspired, inerrant, and absolute sufficiency of Scripture…is! Again, thanks for the input!