(If your eyes glaze over reading this, just hang with me, I'll bring it home)
Anyone who knows anything about history and doctrinal development knows that Roman doctrine, particularly after Aquinas, relied heavily on Aristotle. Aristotle, it is said, reasons from man up to God, and in pondering how the human can possibly relate to the divine, posits a heirarchy of beings (one can see why it so resonated with Catholicism --think of those medieval pictorial representations of the universe with God at the top, man at the bottom, and a bevy of intercessors and mediators in between).
But, at least Catholics are honest. The Western mind was a Protestant mind --that legacy is slow to die. Even if it has died out in academia, it still permeates the understanding of the average person, even if he's never taken a philosophy course, and knows nothing more of Plato than his name. Plato, it is said, reasons from God down to man, and the central feature of his school of thought is dualism. Dualism discounts the physical world --sees it as a shadow (at best) or a deception (at worst). The early church had to contend with dualism --it's why Paul got laughed at on Mars Hill. The last thing a Greek wanted in the afterlife was a disgusting body, with all its filth and limitations. But, perhaps even more difficult was the ingrained but opposing ideas that either the body was nothing, and so no deed in the body could affect the real you, and you could therefore be as immoral as you wanted, without affecting your soul (libertinism), or the body was in its very nature evil so all physical pleasure was therefore evil (asceticism). So, in the early church, you get the detestable rites of the Gnostic sects, or Simeon Stylites on his pole for decades. The saddest conclusion reached by Plato-drinking Christians was a denial of the resurrection, so pointedly refuted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.
We have to admit, the Scriptures posit some duality --there is a distinction between body and soul. Traditional Christian theology (though some challenge it now) teaches an intermediate state --a time when body and soul are separated. We are quick to note that this is an unnatural separation, and not one that God intended originally, nor will such a state go on everlastingly. We are meant to be bodies and souls together. The body and the soul are two different things, but they are friends, not enemies.
Essentially, the problem of Plato is that he (and we) make enemies out of things that are supposed to be friends. Body and soul are meant to be together. I don't think that evangelicals of the Reformed stripe would argue that point, but the presupposition sneaks its way into other nifty arguments --any time we put in opposition things that ought to hang together, we are channeling Plato. Things like:
- should a church be concerned about doctrine or about saving souls?
- Should Christianity be more an affair of the head or the heart, more about reason and belief or emotion and love?
- should a church be concerned about teaching or the poor?
- Is truth or love more important?
- Which is more destructive: lust or greed?
- Is emotion or reverence more appropriate for worship?
How can we in the church escape our Platonic captivity?