“… because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Luke 7.21
A Secret History of Christianity by Mark Vernon riffs off the theological insights of Owen Barfield, so-called Last Inkling. Though overshadowed by JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis, Barfield was their most original thinker. He identified three phases in the development of our faith. In the first, pantheistic (everything is God) phase, which ran from pre-history until about 500BC, people and nature are integrated and no distinction is drawn between the physical and metaphysical realms of existence – everything is of a piece. Then Greek philosophy bursts onto the scene while, at the same time, the exiled Jews are having to reimagine their faith, driven out of the Promised Land and divorced from the temple in Jerusalem: this is the second, deistic (God is transcendent) phase, in which people through reflection (Greeks) or force of circumstance (Jews) become aware of a separation between what is material and what is deemed spiritual.
Of course this opened a gap between reality as we know it and what might lie beyond. Into the void steps Jesus “at just the right time”. Jesus reconciles God and creation to the extent that we can refer to this new phase as panentheistic (God in everything). According to Vernon’s interpretation of Barfield, Jesus brings about this revolution of revelation though both teaching and demonstrating that God is not remote but waiting to be encountered in every human heart. If we would open our spiritual eyes and ears and noses, then we would taste and feel God that God is good!
Another socio-political double whammy, this time the Reformation coming hard on the heels of the Renaissance in the middle of the second millennium AD, has reopened the divide. A wedge is being driven between science and faith, the latter being regarded as deluded at best and, in some situations, as dangerous and deserving of persecution. Vernon believes that the time is ripe for reconciliation (again). In his revelation of God within, Jesus also held out the prospect to rediscovering Eden or, to put it another way, he established his credentials as a second and greater Adam/ Abraham/ Moses/ David with the ability to reconcile heaven and earth in a New Creation. It began with his first coming, it will reach completion at his return.
To perceive this and to respond faithfully humanity needs to reactivate our spiritual senses, so that they operate in harmony with our physical capacities. Barfield would say that the key is imagination, which is the willingness and the ability to see beyond what is immediately apparent and then act upon it…