Saturday, December 20, 2008

Essential Virtues

I have been reading through Jim Berg’s new book, Essential Virtues: Marks of the Christ-Centered Life, and came across this compelling quote:

The world system, primarily through the media, desensitizes people – including God’s people – to biblical universals while enticing them to an endless pursuit of particulars. Not only are they desensitized to the universals of truth, goodness, and beauty, but they are also robbed of the very habits of heart and mind necessary to even reflect upon universals. A believer saturating his life with entertainment cannot concentrate on his Bible without feeling great boredom and restlessness. He does not have the humility nor the mental discipline to do so. Consequently, he neglects his Bible and the solid preaching of the Word and fills his life with entertaining distractions made possible by the electronic, connected age in which we live.

This analysis appears to be right on target. If that is the case, then our churches and youth groups are filled with bored believers, all but incapable of sustained concentration on spiritual things. As a father, I need to be careful regarding the habit forming pull of our media-driven culture and the devestating effects that it can have on both me and my children.


At 2:33 AM, OpenID Duncan said...

Thanks Andy! What was Berg talking about that led him to pick up on this universals/particulars disparity?

I'm not sure if he had it in mind or not, but there's an interesting parallel in the development of medieval scholasticism with what he said. I'm shooting from the hip right now here with what I remember from recent class notes, but basically you could say that scholasticism degenerated as it lost its early focus on the universals and began to dwell upon particulars.

That probably doesn't make a lot of sense by itself, but maybe I can come back in the next few days with more (or maybe I'm just seeing a parallel that doesn't really exist!).

At 5:45 PM, Blogger Andy Efting said...

Berg refers to the eternal as universals and the temporal as particulars. He uses an illustration regarding Plato, who believed that "the meaning of life was to be found in examining the universals," and Aristotle, who "believed the meaning of life was to be found in studying the particulars -- the individual, visible components, the 'stuff' of life." Berg says both are important but that the Bible gives the priority to the universals or the eternal. People tend, however, to evaluate the temportal/particulars without considering the eternal.

At 1:39 AM, OpenID Duncan said...

Huh, OK... That makes sense, and that's definitely the root of the historical context too. I guess I had forgotten about Plato and Aristotle in all my reading about the medieval scholastics lately (which is terrible, since Plato and Aristotle were what the scholastics talked most about!)

As far as the scholastics went, there were roughly 3 schools or periods. This is probably a broader generalization than I even realize, so don't take it too far.

The first, the "Realists" (ca. 1050-1150) approached philosophy this way: “I believe in order that I may know.” Faith preceded knowledge. Anselm was part of this movement. Then, from my class notes: "Plato held a transcendental realm in which ideas, emotions, and attributes exist independent of perceived reality. Christians took this to mean that there is a reality to the idea that there is a transcendental, supernatural realm of ultimate reality. This was the idea of the Realists. Ultimate reality relies on the existence of concepts that exist independent of individual acts. There is a thing such as love apart from the act of love."

The second group/period was the "Conceptualists" (1150-1300). Finding principal expression with Aquinas, they taught "I know therefore I believe." They emphasized human reason more than the Realists did, although they still thought faith to be important. They believed that universals exist in particular things. This means that Plato’s transcendental realm is no longer the emphasis. The idea of chairness or treeness is embodied in the chair or tree itself. The idea of goodness is embodied in the deed, thus making theology much more terrestrial. The idea was that through human reason alone anyone could be convinced to believe in God.

The third group, the Nominalists (1300-1500), were more "postmodern" in their approach. They divorced faith and knowledge into separate spheres. Truth is what you make it, not some absolute value. There is no objective standard that reigns over all. Some nominalists even rejected the Trinity. This became important when you came to the Reformation because the dominant school teachers (William of Ockham) were nominalists.

Most of that is from my notes, which are still rather sloppy. It's interesting to me that Berg's point is somewhat illustrated by the results produced by the various schools of scholasticism. Those who emphasized the universals over the particulars produced more that we Protestant evangelicals can appreciate than did the nominalists or the realists.


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