Friday, October 20, 2017

The God within

Philip Jenkins writes that he "recently discovered a new word that will be really useful for me in writing about Christian history." Actually the word wasn't new to him but a new usage. I encountered that word too but in the context of political philosophy where it is used to describe those who are "trying to bring about the eschaton (the final, heaven-like stage of history) in the immanent world." The word is "immanentists.," i.e. those that immanentize. Jenkins:
.... To over-simplify, God can be portrayed as transcendent (beyond and above the world, and humanity) or as immanent (within). An immanentist believes that God is entirely or mainly within the individual person, and that idea conditions attitudes to spiritual authority. In this view, the Bible has enormous spiritual authority, but it has to be read in a spiritual and psychological sense, as it speaks to the individual soul. That esoteric doctrine links naturally to a rejection of the Law, antinomianism. Commonly, but not necessarily, belief in the God Within shades into a doctrine of pantheism, the idea that all is holy. ....

On several occasions, I have myself written about people who began with an intense belief in God and Christ as imagined in a fairly conventional way. Over time, though, they develop a more mystical approach, to believe in God as an inner reality, an inner light, so that Christ is within.

You can call them God-Within-ists, or Inner-Lightists; but immanentists is much better, and more accurate. ....

Often, orthodox critics launched ferocious attacks on such mystical and esoteric believers, depicting them as atheists, or as mockers of the Bible, or blasphemers. That is a gross misunderstanding – although historically, the sects that espouse these ideas in one generation often did later gravitate to skeptical and rationalist views. Historically, the Inner Light ultimately did create the pre-conditions for Enlightenment. ....
I was reminded of this, from G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy:
That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. .... Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognized an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners.

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