by Stuart Gathman

Can Christians Learn from non-Christians?

Thursday January 19, 2006

Can Christians Learn from non-Christians?


Can any Good Come from Harry Potter?

Harry Potter is "pagan" in the sense of classical mythology, but with mythic elements taken from more than just the Greek and Roman cultures.

The debate throughout Church history was not over whether Christians should dabble in the occult (that is clearly forbidden), but whether Christians should read non-christian (i.e. pagan) literature (which might contain occult references since some pagans do practice it). To this day, there are Christian circles where only literature written by Christians is considered acceptable reading. (And Christians like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkein don't count because their stories have witches and wizards.) Forgive me if I address any in such circles that might be reading. This will be painfully obvious to some, and perhaps disturbing for others.

In a real (though probably not deliberate) sense, this (Christian stuff only) is a denial of essential doctrine. Before the Fall, Genesis tells us that "God looked on everything He had made, and saw that it was very good." Man was created in the image of God. As Calvin puts it, after the Fall, "the image of God is effaced but not erased." So, to claim that man can permanently overcome the evil inclinations of our hearts by natural means is an error, and as foolish as claiming that we can overcome entropy. (Perpetual motion machines, anyone?) But to say that the unconverted (non-christian) is incapable of any good at all is equally an error, and just as foolish.

The idea is as impractical as it is doctrinally unsound. "Man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." We can look and listen and make judgements, but only God knows the true state of a persons heart. How are you going to know whether the author of a book is truly converted (started by God on the process of overcoming spiritual entropy/death)? Furthermore, sanctification (the process of reversing spiritual entropy with the supernatural help of God's Spirit) is a long process. How long after a person is converted must you wait before their works are safe to read? Surely, when a new convert makes mistakes, you give them grace (cut them some slack), "for love covers a multitude of sins". The Apostle Paul calls for the same grace to the unconverted. We are not to associate with or even eat with a man who claims to be Christian but is immoral. However, the same does not apply to the unconverted (I Cor 5).

And why stop at reading? Must all products you consume be produced only by Christians? Is an unsaved pagan incapable of making a good sandwich? The Apostle Paul said, "All things are permissible, but not all things are helpful." If the sandwich looks yummy, but the kitchen looks like it would likely flunk a Health inspection, you should probably pass on the sandwich. If you have diabetes, you should pass on the candy. If certain literature is making your walk with God more difficult, you should avoid it. But that doesn't mean that others might not benefit from it.

Posted 1/19/2006 at 6:32 PM

pagans homeschool, athiests drive cars, satanists go to the grocery store - i really like your pov- refreshing to see some balance out here.
Posted 1/19/2006 at 7:20 PM by Mommy

About your comment: I read the long one...and the short one...and found the long one more enlightening! I had a good friend who was a philosophy major in college and he was always talking about the fact that postmodernism is not the anti-Christ that some people seem to think it is. I like your explanation of how just because we don't always hear correctly doesn't mean we can't communicate. Its the whole "now we see as in a mirror darkly, but then we will see face to face" (that may not be an exact quote, but its from I Cor. 13) thing.

I think what I was meaning about two different kinds of truth was really that there are two different definitions of "true". One being the everlasting Truth by which we mean that we can be completely sure of it. The other being the "true/false" kind of true meaning really "correct" rather than "true". It really is what you said about the source from whom we get our information. Real truth comes from God. Correct information comes from text books (sometimes!). But in the end, I guess, when we call something correct that isn't True we end up just making an approximation. "Well, I don't know if its absolutely true, but its the best I can do."

Well, I think I'm starting to babble, but thanks for your comment! :)

Posted 1/20/2006 at 12:12 AM by catheirne
Hey Eric, I responded to your comment on my sisters journal, hope I wasn't to harsh. Further, your interpretation of Calvin above is simply wrong. He is emphatically of the opinion that no one can do any good apart from Christ working in them. Yes he believes in 'vestages' of the image of God left in people, but these only lead to evil, in the same way that in his writing the sense of the divine does not lead to knowledge of God, but rather leads to idolatry. He says in the introduction to his commentary on Genesis that 'there is nothing, apart from Christ, in which we are not necessarily deceived'. Lewis on the other hand disagrees with Calvin on precisely these points. But then again Lewis, as he himself frequently admits, is not a theologian, but a classicist.
Posted 1/31/2006 at 9:18 PM by Jamescrocker
Sorry about the misnaming Stuart, everything else I said I still stand behind though.
Posted 2/1/2006 at 12:47 AM by Jamescrocker
ps. I just read this entry. I like the way you make it seem so clear and obvious. Good explanation! 
Posted 1/20/2006 at 12:14 AM by catheirne
I am not particulary impressed by Calvin. But he had to admit the image of God to avoid outright heresy - hence the quote. I'll side with Jesus, Paul, Aquinas, and Lewis. I am not advocating the Pelagian heresy - that if only you fan those vestiges of good hard enough you might be able to save yourself. Nevertheless, those vestiges of good are still just that - and objectively so. Filthy rags they may be - but made of real cloth that was originally created for beautiful garments.

Calvinism emphasizes a persons final destination. But you need to realize that we live in time. Everyone around you is moving toward that final destination. The all important thing is what direction you are moving in - not where you are at right now. Appearances can be deceiving. That respected church elder may have inherited good morals - but if he is not "one of the elect", he is decaying slowly and inexorably toward the demonic. Sometimes this comes to light in our world. That pagan may have inherited a total lack of morals - but his desire for good (itself a gift of Grace to the elect) is leading him (or the Hound of Heaven is chasing him) slowly and inexorably toward faith in Christ. See my Xanga article on the "Gospel of Desire". The biography of Samuel Morris is an excellent modern example of "be true to the light you have, and He will give more light". Conversely, for "a hearer of the Word, and not a doer", "even what he has will be taken away and given to another".

The bottom line is that a theory about "true good can only come from true Christians" is completely useless - if only because you can't know absolutely who is a true Christian until judgement day.
Posted 2/19/2006 at 9:51 PM by CustomDesigned

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