Watershed Online

Water Stylesheet

Seeing What's There


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Of all the portrayals of Watershed’s mission I am most fond of the version that reads, "Watershed’s purpose is to enable individuals, in the context of community, to make decisions that lead to consciousness." I like it because it does not create a chasm between community and individual goals, and it emphasizes the importance of making decisions that deeply affect our everyday lives.

Since making that statement, the most significant change in our mission has involved a more precise definition of the nature of the consciousness that we hope to encourage in one another. Initially, we understood consciousness as a Higher Self buried deep within us although obscured by human compulsions and personal idiosyncrasies.

From a philosophical point of view, whether we knew it or not, we were echoing the ancient school of eudaimonism (good daemon or inner deity). Greek idealists believed that human happiness was found by knowing and obeying the dictates of the true self or one’s fate. Life with all its choices was to be conformed to this knowledge of the self beyond personality. Education or therapy involved the unearthing of this self with its divine spark that lay naturally at the center of the human personality. Self-knowledge, it was believed, stripped away the onion skins of our historically-conditioned personality until we arrive at our pure essence.

Beyond the convincing criticism of post-modern personality theories, which question the existence of a changeless core personality and posits a more changeable, socially-constructed understanding of self, at Watershed we have discovered that this perspective on consciousness has theological defects when viewed from a Scriptural point of view. Consciousness, thus understood, results in the creation of what James Fowler calls a golden idol. Placing an extraordinary burden on self knowledge has resulted in an unwitting adoption of therapeutic righteousness as opposed to trust in the grace of God made evident in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Slowly we have come to realize that analysis is not cure nor is knowledge salvation.

Why then am I still fond of the mission statement? Its attraction continues because as individuals-in-community we need guidance. Our perceptions are flawed and require healing. The proof of this is evident in our misperception that the source of new life can be found in ourselves. With assurance we can now confess that we are committed to living within a spiritual context made up of responsible individuals-in-community but we do so not through self awareness but through the transformation of our minds into the mind of Christ by the Spirit of Life.

J.I. Packer’s fourth approach to the Holy Spirit is particularly relevant to our perception of consciousness because at the heart of it is the role of the Spirit in making us aware of things. John V. Taylor has recently revitalized this view of the Spirit and calls it the Spirit’s work of presentation: (Amazon.com: The Go-Between God (SCM Classics): Books: John V. Taylor). Here is Packer’s summary of Taylor’s view:

Taylor sees the Spirit (ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek, each word meaning "wind blowing" or "breath blown") as the Biblical name for a Divine "current of communication" that produces awareness of objects, of oneself, of others and of God as significant realities demanding choices that in some way involved self-sacrifice.

It is by this awareness-choice-sacrifice behavior pattern that the influence of the Spirit,  the life-giving Go-between who operates in and through all nature, history human life and world religion may be known. The awareness of an immediate inkling of meaning and claim is seen as both rational and emotional.

The Spirit's constant work since Pentecost has been to make individuals aware of deity in Jesus so that they will reproduce in their own lives the spirit of Jesus' self sacrifice for sins at Calvary. In evoking the responses for which this awareness calls, the Spirit acts most potently in like-minded groups where all may heighten the awareness of each and each may heighten the awareness of all.

"Seeing what is there" was another way that Watershed used to signify the goal of our transformed consciousness. But Taylor’s corrective provides a much clearer lens than we had in our earlier attempts to describe our hoped-for change of perception. A revised statement could read that "the work of the Spirit enables individuals in community to make decisions in tune with the mind of Christ as defined by his sacrificial life and death."  

As with every other corrective to the Spirit's ministry that he has discussed, Packer looks not only at the strengths of Taylor's viewpoint but also at some of the defects within his account of the Spirit's ministry. The first defect Packer sees is that Taylor emphasizes that the Spirit mediates the word of God as the person of Christ, but according to J.I., he says too little about the words in the Scripture that point to that one Word in Christ. Packer, a leading evangelical conservative, would make such a critique given his belief and his ardent promotion the doctrine of inerrancy.

In my opinion Packer's critique is muted because he emphasizes a doctrinal side-issue upon which he and Taylor disagree -- biblical inerrancy. Packer, nevertheless, affirms the core of Taylor's argument about the Spirit, "I have no criticism of Taylor's key thought of the Spirit is the divine go-between who presents realities, compels choices and evokes sacrificial responses."

A second defect involves Taylor's Christology, which Packer considers somewhat watered-down and nebulous. Packer comments:

"(Taylor's) own references to the Spirit making us aware of Christ, while centering admirably on the Jesus of history, failed to lay stress on Jesus' present reign and future return, his constant intercession for us, the reality of his friendship now, and the Christians sure hope of being with him for ever. The effect of these omissions is to dilute radically the meaning of awareness of Christ."
 Packer disagrees with Taylor’s statement that:
"It does not matter whether the Christ who fills our vision is the historical Jesus, or the living Savior, or the Christ of the body and the blood, or the Logos and the Lord of the universe, or the Christ in my neighbor or in his poor. These are only aspects of his being.  In whatever aspect he is most real to us, what matters is that we adore him."

Packer concludes:

"In the last analysis, it does matter how we habitually think of Christ; our spiritual health really does depend in great measure on whether or not our vision of him is adequate. For to know Christ is not just to know his cosmic status and earthly history; rather it is to know his benefits - that is, to know how much he has to give us in his character as messenger, mediator, and personal embodiment of the saving grace of God.

But if your vision of Christ himself is deficient, your knowledge of his benefits will of necessity be deficient too. Again, rather than affirming the connection between the indwelling of the Spirit and the adoration of Christ in the subjectivity of his follower."

Unfortunately, Packer desires a full scale Christology before he is doctrinally satisfied with Taylor. Granted, it is inadequate to believe that the Spirit points to Christ if our understanding of Christ is seriously flawed but Taylor's examples are aspects of Christian Christology that have been meaningful to many. Before he died, Taylor wrote a book that may partially satisfy Packer's desire for a more comprehensive Christology, called The Christ-Like God.

I find it helpful to take Packer’s defects of this perspective, along with most of his critiques of imbalance, as warnings rather than something intrinsic to each emphasis on the Spirit’s work. Packer is correct to urge believers to test their Spirit-inspired perceptions with the Christ revealed in Scripture and as discerned in spiritually practicing communities.

One of Packer’s most insightful, densely packed, comments and one that speaks to the heart of some of our misperceptions of Spirit consciousness says,

We find folk who do in fact think that the Spirit's central and characteristic work is just to enhance awareness [perception] as such, so that any heightened state of consciousness, whether [Christian, Hindu, cultic, ecstatic, mystical] aesthetic (being sent my music, sex, poetry, sunsets, drugs), or idealistic (as in passionate patriotism, romance, or devotion to a group or cause), is, so to speak, the Spirit's signature.

We meet others who, forgetting what nature and Satan can do with the inordinate instincts and represented reasonings and sick fantasies of mixed-up specimens of fallen humanity like ourselves, equate the Spirit's moving with inner urges (pushes or pulls) as such, especially when these are linked with visual and auditory images (visions, voices, and dreams) that come suddenly and strongly and recur insistently.

We run across yet others who claim that to make folk realize the mystery of their own individuality (personhood) and that the worth of other persons and the demands of truly personal relationships, is the Spirit's essential work which he carries on among humans of all religions and of none.

Our subjectivity needs to be tethered to God-in-Christ lest we misperceive what the Spirit is calling us to. Sometimes this is risky business and requires much more than literalism or psychologism; it requires that we filter our decisions through the prism of Christ and our fellowship with him. I prefer Taylor’s standard of an attitude of adoration as the litmus test rather than Packer’s emphasis on the words of Scripture but, as in all spiritual things, it is not one or the other but both.

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