Paul's Passing Thoughts

The History of Western Philosophy and Its Societal Impact on the Church – Part 1

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on January 30, 2017

The following is part one of an eight-part series.
Taken from John Immel’s first session at the 2013 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny
~ Edited by Andy Young

Click here for part two
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
Click here for part five
Click here for part six
Click here for part seven
Click here for part eight

john immelWe have actually talked many times before about the challenges before us. I understand our obsession. The scope of this issue is vast. It seems a little conspiratorial and a little overwhelming to put it in those terms. When we start talking about Plato and him being a pagan and what John Calvin preached, it starts to come off as if we’re trying to find the boogie man in bad places.

While our challenge is lofty, it is much more personal, because our challenge deals with what happens in the pews. You show up at church, you hear doctrine, you get some people that shake your hand and look longingly into your eyes and say, “you belong.” That is hard to resist. Most people go to church because their kids have a place to stay, or they like the music, and they genuinely like the people. But that’s not where it ends. It is personal because at some point you may have ended up on the wrong side of the pastors. Something happens, it doesn’t matter what, but originally you have been told that you are part of this grand party, and then you find yourself under scrutiny, and suddenly the marketing and packaging is all wrong. You thought you were right to object or to challenge or to just be you, and one day that just was no longer so.

The problem that you have is that you look at your Bible and show supporting references for your objection, but you are told that’s not what that really says, and it really doesn’t matter because you should be submitting to some authority. Suddenly, you look around and life is now insane. All those people that hugged you and said “ye, verily, we are glad you are with us,” have now turned on you in less than a minute. All those friends you had, where’d they go? They have no interest in what you have to say. And the crazy part is the more you try to justify or to explain your position, the worse it gets. Without fail they accuse you of being “defensive”, and of course only “defensive” people are sinners. If you were really humble you wouldn’t dare walk down this line of self-defense.

You look around and you are bewildered. After you wade through the thousand and one emotions that have come out of you in ways that you could not have begun to fathom, you stand back incredulous and wonder, what the heck just happened? “God’s church is not supposed to be this way,” we tell ourselves. And yet here we are, dead square in the middle of a conflict that is almost unintelligible.

Of course these types of experiences within Christianity have been going on for generations. But in our modern age of blogs and the internet, we now have the ability to start comparing notes. Individuals are suddenly able to tell their story about what happened to them, and somebody else will read that and affirm those experiences with their own. As the solidarity among hurt and abused individuals grew, one day we stopped and said, wait a minute, there is a systemic problem here.

This is where we sit within Christianity today. We know we have a conflict, but we haven’t been able to identify the problem. The explanations run the gamut from:

“Doctrines of men” – Well, all doctrines are doctrines of men. God does not come down here, stand up in the public square and start talking. It’s all doctrines of men. Everybody is standing around all the time talking about the content of what they think and proclaiming that in general to the masses. What they really mean is it’s not authentic. If it were true doctrine we wouldn’t have a problem.

“God is testing you” – This one is fabulous. Basically what you are saying is the manifestation of reality is God’s intent. So why then are you seeking to solve the problem? This is how God means it to be.

“All churches have problems” – This a neo reformed classic. They like to pretend that people fussing over the color of the carpet is somehow the same thing as a child being molested and the pastor covering it up and refusing to let the parents go to the authorities. As if there is a moral equivalency.

“We’re all just sinners” – The tried and true “get out of jail free” card. We can’t really fuss and moan about the fact that somebody’s done bad things.

“It’s a failure of ‘polity’” – If you had the right government structure then these bad things wouldn’t happen because we’d have checks and balances, and of course Christians have come to believe that the nature of checks and balances is really designed to restrain our sinful appetites and desires, and so that’s what would make a better government structure that would prevent these bad things from happening, never once realizing that all governments are always in service to a series of values. And so it doesn’t matter the structure you put in place, at the end of the day, if you have the same values, you will continue to govern towards those values.

“If we just had the right people” – Which is ironic considering we assume the problem is the doctrines of men. By definition, if we’re just looking for the right person, what we’re really saying is there is an idealized person out there who somehow magically gets it all right and finally gets to come down from Mt. Sinai and tell us the truth. Well, that’s nutty, because that never works.

The one thing we never challenge is the doctrine itself. There is something wrong with that picture.

Some of you have experienced this tumult. You started looking for answers, and you’ve heard all of these points belabored in endless cycles – if we loved more, if we prayed more, if we prayed louder, if we prayed quieter. Finally you heard somebody say, “No, it’s not any of that. It is the doctrine.” You heard a man named Paul Dohse say, “No, it’s the doctrine.” You heard a guy by the name of John Immel say, “No, it’s the doctrine.” That’s the problem.

And it’s not just a problem. It is EVIL!

That one is a big one for a lot of people, because they want to sustain some kind of moral equivalency between doctrines, as if to say, well, it’s got some good ideas, but, you know, there are some things here that are good, and these guys aren’t all bad from top to bottom. And so we want to parse it out. We don’t want to take a position on the content of what they teach. The doctrine is evil. It is fundamentally and substantively hostile to human existence.

But this leads people to a serious problem. If it is the doctrine, if Calvinism is error, [gasp!] how can that be so? It’s orthodoxy. This is what the church has believed for 500 years, or at least the Protestant church. We would like to pretend that we’re different from the Catholics, but hey, how can you debate orthodoxy? Reformed theology is sacred. John Calvin and Martin Luther, are you kidding? They are at the base of God’s left hand, right beside Peter, James, and the other guys. How can you possibly begin to challenge who these guys are? The reformation, my goodness, if it hadn’t been for those guys we’d all still be Catholics. And those dastardly Catholics, my goodness, they’re just corrupt, and the Pope is of the devil.

Anybody ever heard that before?

Then you have to ask yourself, if that is the problem, if the Reformation is not what we’ve all been told that it is, and the people at the top of the intellectual food chain are not who we’ve been told they are, then we have to ask the really hard question; why has this happened?

Here is my challenge to you. Take a look in the mirror. You are the reason this happens. It isn’t any more complicated than that. Now you might say to me, but isn’t that what everybody else has told me? Everybody else told me that I was a sinner and that I was the reason there was this conflict. Yes, but this isn’t for the same reason.

To understand what really happened we need to start at the beginning. But before we can start that the beginning, people must take responsibility for the content of their own mind. I will bet money that very few people have ever heard a preacher say that before. A preacher might tell you to “think”, but maybe not so much. Here’s the thing. Paul and Susan Dohse and I can detail for you the list of doctrinal failures. We can detail all of the root issues and all of the spiritual manipulations. I have been thinking about these issues for almost twenty years of my life, so I have the ability to do this. But until you personally are committed to the content of your own mind, your own life, and your own purpose, nothing I say here will matter.

Here is why.

heads-sandAt the end of the day, if you’re not willing to take responsibility for the content of your own mind, your worldview exempts you from everything that comes after that. You have capitulated. You have tossed up your hands and said, oh well, it’s not that big of a deal. At some point you’ll let your brain go tilt, you’ll shrug at the complexity of the world, and toss up your hands in surrender, and insist that Jesus’ message is just simple. All this “brainy” stuff is just added torture for your peaceful soul.

This sounds like a “churchy” answer. You will console yourself for a while, evading the reality that you are letting other men fill the blanks of your own mind. Eventually you will find someone else that will take up the cause of organizing your life yet once again. And not too long after that you will be confronted with the very same spiritual tyranny, the very same social conflicts, the very same church dynamic.

But maybe this time it’s worse. And maybe this time, the spiritual/church tyranny is actually joined with political power. Somehow the guy in front of the pulpit managed to get himself elected to office. And now, not only does he have a body of doctrine, but he has guns.

In Christianity we have failed to understand that government is force. Polity is force. When people start talking government, when people start talking about passing laws, what they are really saying that what they are entitled to do is force you, to compel you, to bring violence against you to bring a desired outcome. And then tyranny will have been joined with political power. And liberty will be dying under its assault.

What will you do then?

The options are very limited because you have already abandoned self-directed thinking. The only thing left will be a wail and a tumult of gnashing of teeth that men are just sinners and who can save us? You will toss up your hands in despair, retreat into some church where the intellectual barricades rule over the doors and you can fortify against the evil.

This all sounds very grim. That course of non-action is a dead end, and it has only one outcome. And that outcome is, you deserve what you get.

You are the reason tyranny happens, from top to bottom, throughout history. Not because you are a wretched old sinner who fails to submit to authority. The reason your interpersonal church relational problems happen is because you refuse to reason, because you refuse to be an independent mind, because you refuse to be an individual.

Now, how many people does that statement make nervous?

How many of you cringe at the notion that you should be more individualistic? How many of you think that having “ego” is deviant sin? How many of you equate being individualistic with “selfish”. How many of you equate selfishness with the greatest expression of moral failing?

what-if-i-told-youWhat if I told you that your reaction to self and “selfishness” and individuality and ego is by design? What if I told you that despots and tyrants throughout history the world over have specifically set out to persuade all of humanity that the problem is always the individual, and the only solution to the problem is sacrifice?

Disturbing thought, right?

So now we get to think. I need to bring you up to speed on some basic thoughts that most people have never heard before.

The Gospel According to John Immel, chapter 3:1-3

  1. All people act logically from their assumptions.
  2. It does not matter how inconsistent the ideas or insane the rationale. They will act until that logic is fulfilled.
  3. Therefore, when you see masses of people taking the same destructive actions, if you find the assumptions, you will find the cause.

Here is the underlying logic.

Verse 1 – Assumption + logic = action.

Verse 2 – Faulty logic, erroneous rationalizations, are still ideas that flow from one to the next, until they get to an outcome. That’s important. Just because something is “rational” doesn’t mean it’s not wrong.

Verse 3 – Mass action + destructive outcomes = common premise.

I want you to see the specific relationship between actions and ideas. I submit that man, as a rational, cognitive being, is specifically designed to operate from this standard. What makes man utterly unique in the world is his ability to cognitively and rationally approach the world. He is the only creature that does not automatically by nature adapt to an environment. The exact opposite is true. Man must adapt his environment to himself, and the only way he does that is by reason.

Once you understand that the nature of man’s existence requires him to integrate ideas, then it becomes amazingly simple to understand that the integration of ideas is what he is always after. He’s always trying to figure out how to take his ideas and put them together.

Unfortunately, most people have a big basket in their head, and they toss in this idea and that idea, and they shake it all up, and from time to time they will pull an idea out of this basket and decide, this is a good idea, and then they will act on it. It gets a little dangerous when they start pulling out two or three ideas. It doesn’t matter if they are mutually exclusive, they will try to force them together. They then look at the world, and it still makes no sense to them. Never once has it occurred to them to go back and check their premise; what is your assumption?

This study is called philosophy. Of course when I say “philosophy” in the context of Christians they immediately think of Paul’s major condemnation of “vain philosophies”, and they start to tune out because they think they have an intellectual “get out of thinking free” card.

Disciplines of Philosophy

– Metaphysics

– Epistemology

– Ethics

– Politics

These four studies drive all of human existence. The nature of existence is called metaphysics. How we know what we know is called epistemology. How we value what we know is called ethics. And how we interact with people is called politics.

Each of these disciplines of philosophy is a function of the previous one, forming a progression of thought. What you assume about man’s existence will ultimately impact what you believe man can know. What you believe man can know will ultimately impact how you think he should ethically act. How you think man should ethically act will ultimately form your government structure.

We can debate endlessly about the issues that create the problems within the church or fixing those problems with the right government structure, but government structure is always in service to ideas. This is the reason why. Politics is at the end of a philosophical progression of thought that begins with a metaphysical assumption.

Philosophy is the broad study of how man integrates his ideas. It is how we know what we know. It is where ideas come from, their objective value, and how those ideas impact our human interaction. With this in mind, you can grasp the implication of what I’m saying in the Gospel According to John Immel:

The Gospel According to John Immel, chapter 3:1-3

  1. All people act logically from their assumptions.
  2. It does not matter how inconsistent the ideas or insane the rationale. They will act until that logic is fulfilled.
  3. Therefore, when you see masses of people taking the same destructive actions, if you find the assumptions, you will find the cause.

This is why when you go to church you end up in the exact same spot. You find masses of people taking the same action. If you find their assumption, the roots of their ideas, you will find the cause of their actions.

So my goal last year at the 2012 TANC Conference was to introduce the systemic nature of human thought; to illustrate how this system dynamic impacts human action. Without this mindset it is almost impossible to understand what is happening. To be sure, without this intellectual tool, no specific doctrinal discussion will matter. It won’t matter how much we dissect sanctification, justification, and the centrality of the cross. It won’t matter how many scriptures we stack up in service to our pet doctrines. It won’t matter how much we rail against misplaced church government.

Ladies and gentlemen, that has been done over and over, council after council, synod after synod, internecine fight after internecine fight. And yet the church is a slow-motion train wreck of tyranny and counter-revolution. If you make even a cursory study of the evolution of Christianity from the mid-second century to about 1200 it is a laundry list of bloodshed and tyranny and counter-revolution.

To put this into “church speak”, church history is an endless cycle between legalism and revival. Revival in this instance is nothing more than the return of life, to revive what is actually dying, and the body politic continues to die because it keeps cycling through these same tyrannical ideas. But we have never broken out of the cycle because we have never understood the method underlying the madness.

“All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what they cannot see is the strategy out of which victory has evolved.” ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The tyrants and the mystic despots of the ages have been winning because we have never once challenged their assumptions. In the 21st century we are once again rolling through a philosophical cycle that has repeated itself over and over in history. This cycle is of course why Christians are living through ever-increasing manifestations of abuse.

People are confronted with the same tyranny that our forefathers set out to resist. As of now, the only real response has been to toss up our hands and look mystified at the stars. We know we are impotent. We remain impotent, caught in the cycle of doctrinal fight, church splits, and human tragedy. All we can do is wail about human depravity and mumble feebly about needing more faith. Pray harder. Sacrifice more.

Blah, blah, blah.

I tell you the truth, the answer to why this is happening is as easy to diagnose as the common cold. But the first thing we must do is dare to take responsibility for the content of our own minds. Mystic despots have ruled the world with portents of disaster for anyone with the ambition to live life beyond the substantive, beyond the mediocre.

Here’s where you come in. Autocrats rely on being able to compel outcomes because no one opposes their ideas. Tyrants only succeed when men refuse to think.

In then next session we are going to learn how tyrants have been so successful at waging war against liberty. Put on your thinking caps. We’re about to jump into the deep end of the pool.

~ John

Click here for part two
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
Click here for part five
Click here for part six
Click here for part seven
Click here for part eight

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. John said, on January 30, 2017 at 4:13 PM

    This article has tested my thinking faculties; I will give you the results later.

    From an early age, other people think for us, which is okay, I guess, until you reach the age of six.

    But this fine piece by John Immel reminded me of something that was posted over the weekend regarding the upcoming “Conference of Liars and 500-yeard-old Fables.” On its website, TGC says this, “The Protestant Reformation, unleashed by God in 1517…”

    Who said that? Why did anyone believe that? More important: With all the information and thinking people around, why does anyone today still believe that moronic statement? Why has no one challenged it recently, I mean, ferociously and calling it the lie from Satan that it is? (Except you guys, but I’m talking big scale). You see, calling it something that “God” supposedly unleashed (as though it was some kind of rabid tiger in a cereal box) immediately lends some “divine status” to it. As I said yesterday; my backside. God had nothing to do with the Reformation.

    The doctrine is the problem. And yes, the doctrine of Protestantism is EVIL.

    Looking forward to the rest of the series, but my mind is already protesting because it will need to think again (the very thing it was made to do. Typical).


  2. Lydia said, on February 5, 2017 at 7:49 AM

    “How many of you cringe at the notion that you should be more individualistic? How many of you think that having “ego” is deviant sin? How many of you equate being individualistic with “selfish”. How many of you equate selfishness with the greatest expression of moral failing?”

    This one is HUGE! I mentioned individualism the other day and the response by a few was that I was promoting the “cult of Ayn Rand”. I had to laugh. Can you imagine thousands of Howard Roarks in lockstep? But that is what any thought of individualism descends into. They see the very idea of individualism as being anti God. I don’t think the concept of self governing can exist and maintain without individualism. I think that has proved itself to be true if anyone is paying attention to assumptions. You see, I need for the government to force me to prove I bought health insurance to big brother IRS because I am not wise enough to make good choices. People just give away their liberties under the guise of being “unselfish”. It has worked as a political tool! Shaming by despots!

    I was also regaled with tyrants like the CEO at Sears who is having the employees read Rand. My first thought was it is because there is so little current literature out there on anything to do with self-governing and individualism. The worst that can happen to the dying Sears is employees will decide to own their own business and get out of a dying one. Because they are “selfish! ! Ha ha.

    “what-if-i-told-youWhat if I told you that your reaction to self and “selfishness” and individuality and ego is by design? What if I told you that despots and tyrants throughout history the world over have specifically set out to persuade all of humanity that the problem is always the individual, and the only solution to the problem is sacrifice?”

    Exactly. It is selfish to seek to better yourself and your lot in life. That is restricted to the ruling elite who know best for us. Which is why the concept of self governing is almost dead.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s