Loss of Transcendence - Lesson 14

Embodiment in Community; Soul and Culture

In this lesson, you will explore the significance of embodiment in community, soul, and culture, and how it impacts spiritual formation. You will delve into the theological background of embodiment and its importance in shaping our understanding of community, soul, and culture. Through this study, you will gain insight into the role of community in spiritual formation, the concept of the soul and its connection to the embodiment, and the influence of culture on spiritual formation. By engaging with the material, you will be able to reflect on the practical applications of embodiment in your own faith journey and within your community.

James Houston
Loss of Transcendence
Lesson 14
Watching Now
Embodiment in Community; Soul and Culture

TH730-14: Embodiment in Community, Soul, and Culture

I. Introduction to Embodiment in Community, Soul, and Culture

A. Theological Background

B. Importance of Embodiment

II. Embodiment in Community

A. Community as a Theological Concept

B. Role of Community in Spiritual Formation

III. Embodiment in the Soul

A. Understanding the Soul

B. Soul's Connection to Embodiment

IV. Embodiment in Culture

A. Culture's Influence on Spiritual Formation

B. Engaging with Culture as Christians

V. Conclusion

A. Theological Reflection on Embodiment

B. Practical Applications

  • Explore the loss of transcendence in modernity, examining its historical and philosophical context, defining transcendence and immanence from biblical and historical perspectives, exploring the impact of various movements on theology, and considering responses to the loss of transcendence.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insight into the Greek world's origins of language and culture, the evolution of Greek history and thought, and the differences between Greek and Roman history. By examining the works of Luke as a Roman historian, you will better understand the cosmic and intimate nature of Christian history.
  • The Christian historiographical revolution redefined history as linear and purposeful, contrasting with ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish approaches and profoundly impacting the study and writing of history.
  • In this lesson, you gain a deep understanding of the Dark Ages, the Reformation, and the factors that led to the loss and eventual restoration of transcendence in Christianity.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into the Reformation and Enlightenment's historical contexts, key figures, and events, as well as their impact on society, religion, and the loss of transcendence, ultimately discovering ways to reclaim transcendence in the modern world.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into the loss of transcendence in modern society, its consequences, the role of Christianity in addressing the issue, and strategies for engaging with secular culture and promoting spiritual renewal.
  • This lesson teaches you about Radical Christianity, its importance, and how to cultivate it through deepening your relationship with God, prioritizing spiritual growth, and practicing radical love and social justice in a world experiencing a loss of transcendence.
  • Through this lesson, you grasp the factors contributing to the loss of biblical authority and learn strategies to reaffirm its importance in Christianity.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into contemporary biblical criticism, its methodologies, impact on theology, and learn to appreciate its contributions while recognizing its limitations.
  • By examining biblical criticism and its various forms, you gain insight into how Christians can respond thoughtfully, affirming Scripture's authority while engaging with criticisms and maintaining a commitment to truth.
  • By examining the loss of the soul, you'll understand its diminishing importance in modern life and learn to integrate science and spirituality for a holistic, transcendent perspective.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into classical interpretations of the soul and their interaction with Christian theology, while also understanding their modern theological implications.
  • This lesson equips you with a comprehensive understanding of the embodiment of faith, its historical development, theological implications, and practical applications in the Christian life.
  • By studying this lesson on embodiment in community, soul, and culture, you will learn how these concepts impact spiritual formation and shape your understanding of Christian faith and practice.
  • The lesson on embodiment and self-sacrifice offers insights into the New Testament, emphasizing Jesus' incarnation, the human body as the Holy Spirit's temple, and self-sacrifice as a key Christian virtue, while providing theological and practical applications.
  • This lesson equips you to understand the biblical concept of sin, the factors contributing to its loss, and offers practical steps to reintroduce sin in teaching and preaching for a more complete Christian faith.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into the cardinal sins and their contemporary significance, learning how to identify and combat them in modern society for personal and spiritual growth.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into C.S. Lewis's critique of the loss of transcendence in modern society, his theological perspectives, and his emphasis on imagination in Christianity.
  • This lesson offers an in-depth analysis of the theological differences between Oxford and Cambridge and their impact on the loss of transcendence in modern theology.
  • What then did Lewis write about in The Abolition of Man? The symbol is that the immediate threat is not the abolition of man, but the abolition that there are men without chests. And he means that being without a chest is living two dimensionally and not three dimensionally. It’s not that you just live in space and time, but that you live with space, time and God or, indeed, space, time and morals. And so really it’s simply to live an amoral life. And you begin to lose your emotional life when you live with amorality.

  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into Jacques Ellul's critique of technological society, its consequences, theological implications, and the need for a countercultural response in the face of modern challenges.
  • This lesson guides you in understanding the loss of transcendence, seeking understanding, and retaining hope amidst the challenges of modern society.
  • You gain insight into Jacques Ellul's life, his views on the loss of transcendence, and the influence of his work on theology and society.
  • You will learn about the concept of technique in the modern world, its characteristics, societal effects, and the spiritual implications it holds for faith and transcendence.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into the implications of technique on society, its challenges, and ways to respond from a biblical perspective, ultimately aiming to strengthen human connections and reclaim transcendence.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into the Psalms' structure, types, role in ancient worship, and their significance in modern Christian life, prayer, and spiritual growth.
  • In this lesson, you will explore the role of domestic involvement in the Psalter, its significance in Ancient Israel's worship, and the impact of the Psalms on the community, values, and beliefs.
  • Gain insights into the connection between biblical eschatology and secularity, understanding key aspects and themes while learning to reclaim the transcendent in eschatology.
  • This lesson offers insight into the theological tensions between immanence and transcendence, their impact on modern theology and worship, and the practical steps for reintegrating them into the Christian life.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into the concepts of immanence and transcendence, their effects on theology and culture, and the importance of integrating both for a balanced Christian worldview.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into time and eternity, God's relationship with them, and their impact on human experience and theological concepts such as soteriology, eschatology, and Christian living.
  • Gain insight into Old Testament concepts of time, the role of numbers and patterns, the significance of time in biblical prophecy, and the theological implications concerning God's sovereignty and human responsibility.
  • This lesson provides insight into the New Testament's complex understanding of time, addressing concepts such as the Kingdom of God, the present age, and eternal life, and offering guidance for Christian living.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into the loss of transcendence in modern society and learn how to recover and foster a transcendent view within your personal faith and church life.

This course on the loss and recovery of transcendence in our contemporary culture is, of course, appropriate for all Christians, but, I think, especially for us here in North America, for the political prominence of a Christian religious culture that we’ve had in North America that makes us all the more exposed to the secularisation of contemporary Christianity. 

I’ve just been asked a question about embodiment: can we explore it further than what we’ve already suggested was the attempt of the Desert Fathers? And the answer is yes, that the son of Basil, with his understanding of the embodiment of social community as being an expression of embodiment in Asia Minor, found that his son, who was a brilliant Classical scholar, perhaps the most brilliant of the early Church other than Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, he talks a lot about embodiment. And my colleague Hans Boersma has written a book about embodiment in Gregory of Nyssa. But the multiform ways in which embodiment was recognised by Gregory lacks in present contemporary scholarship another element. Embodiment also involves the whole family. What is the family you come from? What is the influence of that family upon your own sense of faith? And so one of the things that is so beautiful about Gregory is that he recognised that his older sister, Macrina, was embodying faith at a richer level than he was. And so he finds that his fellowship with his sister is vital for his embodiment of his own faith.

And so therefore we now have a whole new concept of embodiment and that embodiment for the Christian can be Christian friendship, that instead of having two pairs of eyes, you have four pairs of eyes and that you have a wider telescope by which you’re looking at the reality of the mysteries of God. And that when you then discover that friendship is so important for the early Church—and we haven’t talked about this at all; we could write another whole course on Christian friendship, which we might do later—it’s to indicate how vital it is in being embodied in the body of Christ that the building block for that embodiment of the body of Christ is the friendship that we share with each other. Well, Gregory was aware then that friendship was crucial and that the friendship of his sister was most crucial. But he also realised, like his friend Gregory of Nazianzus, who was a poet and was musical, that another form of embodiment for the Christian is living in a world of music, living in the melody of harmony, living in the reality of the poetic and that the poetic can be a wonderful expression of embodiment.

In the Bible study that I have been with a group of businessmen since 1973, we meet every Wednesday morning, and one of our members was imprisoned in Shanghai as a teenager because his father was an agent for one of the big trading companies with China. And so for some four or five years, this teenager was in a prison camp where he was not able to communicate anything. I somehow was given guidance by the Holy Spirit to ask him one day John, you’ve never written a poem. Isn’t it time you did? He was a scientist by training, a physicist, so remote from anything to do with poetry, but he started. And so it’s our routine now for three years that we start with John’s poem. What John’s poetry has done is to liberate his soul, to enable him to articulate in the fellowship of love that we are entering into his inner life in this way. And so this is exactly what was the blessing that Gregory of Nyssa had from his friend, that his friend was the poet of that community and that the whole family was in a kind of sense a miniature monastery, but each of them sharing their own gift in their different ways, one with the other.


So embodiment is very much larger than just simply saying that I have my body and I have my soul and I seek to relate with you. That’s very narcissistic when it comes to it. One of our arguments that we are tracing is that every culture has given us new cultural filters by which to understand the soul, or to misunderstand the soul. And so when we come to the Renaissance, especially [the High Renaissance, we discover that this is a period that we associate, of course, with people like Dante 00:06:05] and the High Renaissance of Florence and we’re looking at the riches that the Venetians had brought with trade from the Levant. So it’s a culture of wealth. It’s a culture of commerce. It’s a culture of the business world.

And so the playwright Ruzzante in his Most Ridiculous Dialogue, one of his plays, has a dead man reporting that there are two paradises in the world beyond: one is for those who live an active, virtuous life and therefore deserve to continue to be served with good wine and to dine well and do whatever they want to do because they deserve it. And then there’s the second paradise for the saints, who, in their abstinence, in other words, the older medieval monastic community world that goes back to the Desert Fathers, they don’t eat and they don’t drink. In other words, Heaven is now split into two dimensions and you go into which dimension you started with. And what wins in the Renaissance is that you can see this in all their pictorial representation. So you have in the foreground of many of these pictures a paradise of delightful fruits and exotic plants. And then there’s the skyline view of a celestial city with gold in its pavements and precious stones that form its perimeter. You’re entering into a paradisal state where it’s paradise that’s all important and the purpose of your soul keeping is to arrive in paradise.


And then, of course, there is that divide with Hell. So it’s a divided realm because it now is three-dimensional. And the question is you have to climb out from the dangers of hellfire up a ladder of virtues, the seven virtues, in order to escape from the purgatory of the pit. And then there’s another ladder that goes from the paradisal world of the millennial world, the kind of world that we had in dispensationalism, a kind of romantic extension of the good Earth that we’re now living on: you go up another ladder to the higher ladder of the New Jerusalem.

Well, this kind of dichotomy, of course, is what Dante is fighting against. He had a metanoia that changed him from being a worldly merchant and a worldly politician to being a pilgrim. And in his escape from the inferno, he is now giving us a completely different view of Satan and of the life of the Christian because of his own metanoia, his radical change of experience of life. He’s now homeless. He’s now exiled. He’s now a pilgrim. So all that old imagery has been cleansed from him, totally radically changed by the events of his metanoia before God. So where does he see Satan? The inferno is not a fiery furnace; the inferno is an ice-locked lake. And Satan is imprisoned in his ultimate narcissism. That’s a very different view. Hell is the self that’s isolated in the self for the sake of the self. It’s the condemnation of our narcissistic culture—that’s Hell. Well, you see, that’s a different imagery altogether. And the soul is therefore aware that the soul is the self for the other, not for oneself. And so we enter in our counterculture today as Christians by realising that the path of the individual that becomes self-contained is the satanic temptation and its ultimate reality is hellish. Hell is modern America. That’s a new way of looking at it, isn’t it? And Satan is that great beast that is frozen in itself. So what we’re realising is that, of course, every period that goes through different circumstances interprets the transcendence according to its context, according to its circumstances.


Some of you may be fascinated by Hieronymous Bosch in his painting of The Last Judgement of 1505. It’s terrible the way he depicts it all. Because you see a ship arriving to the seashore and that ship is navigating through all the enticements of the culture to seek the city of God. But why is all his engraving and painting so horrendously hellish? It’s because he lived in a culture of intense fear. And what was the origin of the intense fear that echoed from 1347 right through the next two centuries? It was the Black Death that wiped out a third of the population of Europe that was the fear that dragged on and so everything was interpreted in terms of that terrible event. And today, we’re becoming almost like Hieronymous because our whole world is today gripped by fear. We interpret everything around us by fear.


And I’m writing actually a book with a neuroscientist Ted George and the whole theme of our study is that we’re living in a culture tyrannised by fear. In fact, he may get a Nobel Prize because as the top neuroscientist responsible for understanding addiction he sees that the basic source of addiction is the diversionary pleasure to take our minds away from fear in a momentary pleasure. And that’s where we get addicted. We get addicted to a drug. We get addicted to drink or sex. And all these forms of such profound negative addictions are all motivated in the lower thalamus where is located the basic emotion of the human being, which is fear.

So this theme is something, therefore, that we cannot trace—we haven’t the time to do so—through all its different narratives, but it’s very difficult for any of us to escape from our own culture anymore than we can escape from our own times and not recognise that this whole dynamic of transcendence is always profoundly affected by the culture that we live in.

So perhaps we can have another break now before we come to the conclusion.