Unio Mystica

My small group recently watched The Truth Project’s eighth lesson: Unio Mystica: Am I Alone? Unio mystica, as defined by Dr. Tackett, is the mystical union between God and man. While many people think that Christianity is primarily a moral, philosophical, or religious system, to the believer it represents “a deep, intimate, and living relationship with a personal creator.” Truly, the bond between the believer and God is beyond human understanding. For me, the question is not am I alone? for I know that God is with me. The question is, how can I explain the glorious union with my Savior?

Dr. Tackett said that the greatest of all the wonders we will contemplate in our study is the fact “that the God of the universe has come to make His dwelling both with us and in us.” It is truly amazing that the Son of God became like a Son of Man to dwell among us. There was nothing glorious or majestic about him. In fact, he was despised and rejected and ridiculed. The Son of God bore our pain and suffering and paid the price for our sins. The incarnation is a mystery beyond my understanding and yet I believe it.

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:2-5

Jesus Christ said mysterious things that were beyond the understanding of the crowds around him, including those who were very religious. Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.

How can this be?

Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

Christ in me, Christ with Me

Even before watching this lesson, I had been thinking about the interesting way that Jesus described his relationship with his followers. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).” “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love (John 15:10).”

The grapevine is a great visual that explains how the believer is one with Christ. We are a branch, an integral part of the fruit producing vine. Yet we can’t produce fruit on our own. If we remain in him, if his word remains in us, he will remain in us and we will bear much fruit.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

In Christ, I am a new creation. The old me no longer lives. Christ lives in me. He gave me the Spirit of truth to be my advocate. The Holy Spirit is in me and with me.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

John 14:16-17

This is the great mystery of my union with Christ. Christ is with me. Christ is in me. Christ is behind me. Christ is above me. For reasons unknown to me, he chose me. I do not understand this unio mystica but I praise God for it.

The Prayer of Saint Patrick

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, 
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, 
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, 
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, 
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, 
Christ in the eye that sees me, 
Christ in the ear that hears me. 

One in Christ Jesus

Another theme of the Unio Mystica lesson is the unity of believers. When Jesus prayed for the disciples, he prayed, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one (John 17:11).” Jesus prayed for people like me who came to believe through the message of the apostles “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”

Christ’s message is a message of unity and inclusion. The old way of excluding Gentiles from God’s promises was replaced with a new covenant. The despised Samaritan became the shining example of what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

Dr. Tackett pointed out that the words “one another” were repeated often by Jesus and the apostles. See also Romans 12:10, Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:16 and 1 Peter 1:22.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:34-35

In my study of The Truth Project, I haven’t agreed with everything that Dr. Tackett says. But on the topic of the intimate, personal relationship between God and man, I agree with him wholeheartedly. There is nothing more wonderful and humbling than the incredible way that God lives with us and in us.

You move us to delight in praising You; for You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You. 

Augustine, The Confessions, Book I

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Sociology: the Divine Imprint?

In lesson seven of The Truth Project, Sociology: The Divine Imprint, Dr. Del Tackett asserts that God instituted certain social systems and imprinted his divine nature on them. Tackett claims to see evidence of God’s imprint on six institutions: the family, labor, church, state, community and the relationship between God and man. In the seventh lesson, Tackett focuses specifically on the family and compares the social order of the family to the Trinity. Is this a valid analogy?

I have been approaching the lessons of The Truth Project skeptically. I am probably more “progressive” than most study participants including the other women in my small group. I guard myself against indoctrination and political propaganda. I am not interested in fighting cultural wars. But I do believe that as long as there is a biblical basis for teaching, there are nuggets of truth for the discerning listener.

The Trinity

Dr. Tackett started the lesson by talking about the God of order. I agree with Tackett that there is evidence of order in the design of the universe – the law of gravitation, the laws of motion, the amazingly ordered process of genetic replication. According to The Truth Project, “amazingly detailed reflections of God’s nature” are also “inherent in the social order.” Is there biblical support for the claim that God stamped his divine order on families?

The Christian Godhead is triune, three distinct beings united in One: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity is mysterious and difficult to understand. Dr. Tackett spent a few minutes explaining the Trinity, then went up to the chalkboard and attempted to illustrate it. First he drew a big circle. Then he drew a smaller circle in the upper left quadrant of the big circle, which he labeled as the Father. Next to the Father, he drew another circle in the right quadrant and labeled it the Son. Finally, he drew a circle at the bottom of the big circle and labeled it the Holy Spirit.

Tackett spoke about the roles of authority and submission within the Trinity. Jesus submitted himself to the will of the Father. The Son was sent from heaven, not to do his own will, but to do the will of the One who sent him. Quoting from the Nicene Creed, Tackett said that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, which may explain why Tackett showed the Spirit below the Father and the Son.

“But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me.

John 15:26 Modern English Version

Tackett drew a similar diagram next to the drawing of the Trinity and labeled the smaller circles Husband, Wife and Children. He said that the family reflects the triune nature of God. When a couple marries, we say that the two become one. As Jesus submitted himself to the Father, Paul said that wives should submit themselves to their husbands (Ephesians 5:24). Tackett noted that in modern culture, submission is viewed negatively. Jesus demonstrated that it is good to be humble. He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (Philippians 2).

On the surface, Tackett’s comparison of the family to the Trinity seems reasonable. The Triune God embodies the best qualities of a family – union, communion, intimacy and fellowship. The members of a family are distinct but united as one. The concepts of authority and submission are found in the family and the Trinity.

And – this is truly amazing – drum roll, please – there are three persons in the Trinity and in the traditional family! Tackett sees threes all over the place. There are three primary colors. There are three states of matter – solid, liquid and gas. There are three realms – physical, spiritual and social. There are three parts to the atom: protons, electrons and neutron.

What’s wrong with this picture?

When you look more closely, you can see that the Truth Project’s analogy is rather flimsy. In keeping with Tackett’s obsession with threes, here are three problems I see.

1. Flawed Theology. The analogy diminishes the Holy Trinity. There is no real equivalency between children and the Spirit or wives and Jesus or husbands and God the Father. God sent the Holy Spirit to be present with us but the Spirit was with God from the beginning (Genesis 1:2). In his post, Truth Project 7: Sociology (The Divine Imprint), Elliot Ritzema says that Tackett gives the impression that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father. People who believe in subordinationism believe that both the Son and the Spirit are subordinate to God the Father.

When you see Trinitarian relationships in anything but the Trinity itself, I think that you are treading on very dangerous ground, because you are making a parallel that the Bible itself does not make. The Trinity is mysterious, so comparing it to things that we know more about can be helpful at times. But comparisons are only just that: comparisons. When we really start to think of the relationships within the Trinity in terms of relationships within the family, we have diminished the Trinity. 

Elliot Ritzema

2. The Sin Imprint. All of us fall short of the glory of God. While Tackett acknowledges the “pathologies” that result when we disregard God’s plans (e.g. divorce), he doesn’t give enough weight to the sinful nature that is always present, even in unbroken families, even if our behavior doesn’t fall to the pathological level. Many families that appear to reflect God’s divine design have the imprint of sin – infidelity, spousal and child abuse.

3. An absence of grace. The Truth Project draws a line between those it sees as being on the side of truth and those who believe what it calls the “pernicious lies” of our culture. Tackett believes that the reflection of God in the social order is even “more indicative of the heart of the Creator than the marvels of DNA replication…” For this reason, Tackett, sees social order as a focal point of the Cosmic Battle between truth and lies.

I was uncomfortable the whole time I watched lesson seven. In a Focus on the Family sponsored discussion of marriage and families, I expected to hear Tackett condemn current culture, especially gay marriage. Thankfully, in a one hour DVD, there wasn’t time for Tackett to include a “lengthy discussion of the pathologies and issues within each social system.”

I believe that God has sufficient love and mercy for all of us. Tackett’s description of God’s divine imprint on the family leaves out singles, couples without children, and single parent families. Not all are meant to marry and not all are meant to have children.

Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.

Hebrews 12:15, NLT

Nuggets of truth

There are nuggets of truth in lesson seven. It is not good for man to be alone. It is good for all of us to emulate the humility of Jesus. It is good to live in unity and to treat each other with love and respect. I also think that when the traditional family is loving and supportive, it is the ideal social structure for raising children.

When things go wrong in families, children are hurt. When Flash, a tattoo artist, tells his story, it’s really hard to hear. His mother wasn’t a mother; she was a monster. I will never forget the night my mom told us that she and dad were getting a divorce. I was twelve. I prayed to God pleading with him to keep them together even though the marriage was not a good one. My prayer was not answered. By the grace of God, we got through it and I learned something about love and forgiveness.

If I were to draw a diagram of the family, it wouldn’t be a single sphere. It would look like Olympic rings – interlaced spheres of different colors. Every family is different. Many families struggle to get it right. We’re all connected. We should look out for each other so that no one misses out on the grace of God.

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Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

The importance of remembering

The subject of lesson six of The Truth Project is history, one of my least favorite subjects in school. Even if American history or world history do not capture my interest, I realize that the past provides important lessons. As the philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

A firm grip on the past

The Truth Project stressed the importance of keeping a firm grip on the past. Some people engage in historical revisionism, defined by Dr. Tackett as rewriting the past to accomplish a particular agenda. As an example, Tackett compared the actual Mayflower Compact, in which the signers gave glory to God and stated their desire to advance the Christian faith, with a revised academic version that left out any references to God.

When Dr. Tackett discussed historical revisionism, I immediately thought about the dangerous practice of denying the historical record, for example, denying that the Holocaust really happened. While historical revisionism can refer to a legitimate reinterpretation of history, that type of illegitimate historical distortion is called historical negationism.

If you want to embrace a worldview based on truth, you must have a firm grip on reality. You can’t deny the realities of the past, whether good or bad, whether they support your agenda or not.

The importance of remembering

The word “remember” is central to The Truth Project’s message about history. God told the people of Israel to remember things that happened long ago. Through his word and through the things he has done, God reveals his sovereignty and his purpose for mankind.

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
    I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.’

Isaiah 46:9-10

Moses spoke about remembering what God has done (Deuteronomy 8) and the consequences of forgetting him. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands (verse 2). If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed (verse 19).

Remembering the past allows us to see the hand of God at work in our lives in a way that we may not fully appreciate in the present. I remember that God provided for me in my time of need. I remember that God led me through my own wilderness journey. I remember how he remained faithful even when I wandered. I remember how he used challenges to test me and humble me and bring me closer to him. He taught me that I do not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3).

The Big Story: His Story

When you have a biblical view of history, you appreciate God’s larger story. You simply can’t understand your place in this world and your reason for being without seeing how you fit in His story. God has a plan for mankind and a plan for individuals. Even when it seems like everything is falling apart, God is in control. Through his word, God reveals man’s responsibility to his Creator and to his fellowman. God gives life purpose. God gives life meaning.

When you don’t see how you fit in the big picture, you are in danger of becoming myopic. You are in danger of not learning and growing from your mistakes. You are in danger of becoming too proud, too self-sufficient and too self-centered.

Remember the Lord your God. He makes known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.

The Truth Project’s Battle Against Science

My Bible study group recently completed the fifth lesson of the The Truth Project, Science: What is Truth? Prior to watching the lesson, I was skeptical because many Christians seem to be anti-science. Dr. Del Tackett acknowledged the skepticism in the audience. He admitted that scientific investigation is a valid way of ascertaining truth. Then he asserted that man has exchanged the truth of God for a lie (evolution). Although he made some valid points, in defending one view of creation and categorically condemning another, he threw out the baby with the bathwater.

The apostle Paul said that though what may be known about God is plain to all of us, man has exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Tackett argues that man has transformed straightforward scientific inquiry from a search for truth into a philosophy that excludes the Creator; central to this anti-God worldview is Darwin’s evolutionary theory.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Romans 1:20

Before I get to the rather antagonistic claim that The Truth Project makes about people who believe evolution is true, I want to summarize some of the good points.

The Work of His Hands

Dr. Tackett started out with David’s beautiful psalm about the heavens proclaiming the work of God’s hands and revealing knowledge of his creation.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
   their words to the ends of the world.

Psalm 19: 1-4

Tackett presented a compelling case for intelligent design versus randomness. He asked us to imagine the likelihood of forming two lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet by randomly dropping Scrabble tiles on a tabletop. Of course, you would also have to imagine that mere chance could account for the tiles having letters on them.

Tackett asked the important philosophical question, why is there something rather than nothing? We all know that we can’t create something from nothing. But I believe that there had to be an ultimate beginning, an ultimate source of all material and living things. Christians believe that God is the ultimate source; the Latin phrase creatio ex nihilo refers to God creating something from nothing.

My favorite part of the lesson on science was a video that illustrated the activities of the complex “machinery” within cells that converts DNA into specific types of proteins. I believe that DNA is undeniable evidence of an intelligent creator but my appreciation of the complexity of genetic codes was enhanced by seeing an illustration of the intelligent processes of transcription and translation. How in the world can this sophisticated design be the result of chance?

The Truth Project’s Battle Against Evolution

The Truth Project teaches that there is a cosmic battle between God’s truth and the lies of the world. On the subject of science, Dr. Tackett claims that Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory is central to an atheistic philosophy that excludes God as the creator.

The lesson guide summarized Tackett’s message about science as follows:

…fallen man ignores the plain evidence of objective scientific inquiry and promotes the atheistic philosophy of evolutionary theory primarily because he is determined to do as he pleases without answering to a higher authority.

The Truth Project, Science: What is True?

After making this generalization about people who believe in evolution, the lesson guide goes on to say that if group participants are uncomfortable with this claim, it is “precisely because it hits so close to home.”

Dr. Tackett used an inflammatory quote from atheist C. Richard Bozarth (“evolution destroys utterly and finally the very reason Jesus’s earthly life was supposedly made necessary”) to support his claim that evolutionists are antagonistic towards anyone who questions whether evolution is a theory or a fact.

Dr. Tackett spent much of the lecture presenting The Truth Project’s arguments against evolutionary theory, which are primarily based on the concept of irreducible complexity and on the lack of fossil records.

Critical Thinking Under Attack

Before I watched the lesson on science, I was aware that the Truth Project has been criticized for indoctrination. Still, I watched the science videos with an open mind and found some positive points. I can understand why Dr. Tackett throws out the claims of atheists like Bozarth. But he also throws out the critical thinking of people of faith who disagree with his beliefs about evolution.

After I watched the lesson on science, I was curious about why people have issues with TTP’s teaching on this subject. I read a critique from a rather snarky mathematician/attorney. I can understand why Dr. Tackett ruffled his feathers but his response turned me off. He ridiculed Dr. Tackett and said that if your degree is in business management (like Dr. Tackett), you have no business refuting evolution. I have an MBA but that doesn’t mean that I can’t comprehend scientific concepts.

Dorothy Boorse, a Professor of Biology at Gordon College, wrote a review of the TTP’s lesson on science that was both respectful and comprehensive. She says she wants to heal “the rift people perceive between science and Christian faith.” There are a wide range of views in the Christian scientific community and Boorse would have liked to see these views presented. Tackett discussed only extreme views, which present a false dichotomy between worldviews. He dismissed evolution but did not provide a legitimate alternative. He also defined and used words incorrectly. Boorse notes that evolution makes no philosophic claims. It is not a worldview that denies the existence of God. That would be scientific naturalism or materialism.

A Christian blogger, Elliott Ritzema, came to the same conclusion about the science lesson on his blog, All is Grist. While he agrees with much of what Tackett says about science, in attacking evolutionary theory, Dr. Tackett has “chosen the wrong bad guy.” The battle should be against scientific naturalism.

I think that Del is right in many of the things that he says about science, but he has unfortunately chosen the wrong “bad guy.” The bad guy here is not the theory of evolution, which, as I mentioned, many Christians who work in the sciences believe in. No, the bad guy is scientific naturalism, which says that the only real things are the things we can examine through science. This is the worldview that needs to be addressed.

Elliot Ritzema, All Is Grist

Another concerned Christian created a website called The Truth Problem, addressing his concerns with the entire TPP video series. The site includes a Science Fact Check and provides links to other Christian points of view. In Creation & Evolution – A Case for Inclusivity, he makes the point that we should be “humble and open-minded especially towards Christians who take the Biblical creation account metaphorically.”

Although I have been critical of Dr. Tackett myself, I like him. We’re on the same side, though I suspect he would throw me out with the bathwater too.

The Pernicious Lie of the Prosperity/Success Gospel

As I get ready for work in the morning, I often see a Joel Osteen commercial in which he says, when you humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, in due time, he will exalt you (1 Peter 5:6). Joel Osteen is known for preaching the “prosperity gospel” and for that reason alone, I steer clear of him. But while staying in a hotel, I watched a few minutes of his Sunday service and saw how easily Osteen misleads people with what is also known as the “gospel of success.”

In a Huffington Post article, Pastor Rick Henderson called out Osteen and Joyce Meyer for The False Promise of the Prosperity Gospel.

The Prosperity Gospel is much like all other religions in that it uses faith, it uses doing good things to leverage material blessings from God. Essentially, use God to get things from God.

Pastor Rick Henderson

Henderson’s article includes a link to a ten-minute video of Pastor John Piper explaining why the prosperity gospel is abominable. To explain why this false teaching is spiritually dangerous, Piper repeats Jesus’s warning about how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. (Jesus also said that you cannot serve both God and money – Luke 16:13).

How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.

Luke 18:24-25

The Apostle Paul wrote about how destructive it is to chase after wealth because the love of money often leads to temptation. We should be content if our basic needs are met.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.

1 Timothy 6:6-9

Piper says that those who believe in the prosperity gospel are confused about the timing of the blessings promised in scripture. The truth is, Christians face trials, persecution, pain, suffering, failure, and poverty in this life. Heaven is our eternal reward for a righteous life.

In the few minutes that I watched Joel Osteen’s sermon, he said that while there is nothing wrong with being a cheerleader for other people, you should be your own cheerleader because you have God-given talents. This sounds innocuous; I credit God for my abilities. But cheerleading the self is not consistent with the real gospel. And it is clear to me that Osteen has a self-serving and not a God-serving reason for pushing the success gospel. In his book, “You Can, You Will,” he offers to teach you how to reach your potential.

There is a winner in you. You were created to be successful, to accomplish your goals, to leave your mark on this generation. You have greatness in you. The key is to get it out.

Joel Osteen, promoting his book “You Can, You Will” on Facebook

The Truth Project’s lesson guide on anthropology says that some Christians “may have difficulty accepting the idea that ‘self-fulfillment’ and the call to ‘follow your heart’ are inconsistent with a Christian worldview.” Dr. Del Tackett says that “self-actualization” is a “pernicious lie.” He criticized Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs because self-actualization is depicted as the highest human need.

I say that the prosperity/success gospel is a pernicious lie. I think that Pastor Hariton Deligiannides would agree. In writing about Osteen’s cult-like influence, Diligiannides said that Osteen feeds his audience’s egos, scratches their itching ears (telling them what they want to hear), and covers up the true condition of the human heart.

Adam Blosser also calls out Joel Osteen as a false teacher because Jesus made it clear that his followers would be persecuted for their faith. Jesus said, you will be persecuted but you will be rewarded in heaven.

Osteen’s message is built on the power of positive thinking. If we will remove any semblance of negativity from our lives and focus only on things that are positive, then we can live lives that are victorious and successful. The clear problem with this message is that it ignores the reality of Christian persecution and suffering around the world.

Adam Blosser, in Why I call Joel Osteen a false teacher

Peter said that when you humble yourself, in due time, you will be exalted. I don’t know what Osteen has in mind when he quotes Peter’s verse about humility but I do know that my study Bible says Peter wrote to offer encouragement to suffering Christians. When I read about humbling yourself, I have in mind Christ’s humility (Philippians 2:5-11).

Even though Jesus was in his very nature God, while he walked on the Earth as a Son of Man, he did not exalt himself above us. Instead, he made himself nothing. He took on the nature of a servant, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, washing dirty feet. He was obedient to God, even to death on the cross! And after he lived a life of service and humility, God exalted him to the highest place – at His right hand – and gave him a name above all names.

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