The church is a non-hierarchical bi-focal (the work and the churches) kind of affair in terms of its outer form. It combines Jewish liturgical practices centered around the Word with Spirit-led manifestations of gifts, praises and prayers with the practice of household hospitality, all of which have their roots in Judaism but all of which have been (or rather are supposed to be) transfigured by the presence of Jesus through the particular gift of the Holy Spirit which He gives.
It is interesting that these Jewish practices have their substructure in ancient Israelite religion but in their superstructure come from the Persian period when the influence of Zoroastrianism was strong. Many of these Zoroastrian features are fundamental to Christianity—in particular its Messianic Apocalypticism. This is late Second Temple Judaism and Christianity, though they use the original framework of Moses and the kings and prophets. These streams were already blending with Hellenistic philosophical traditions to later create their classical forms.
In the West, Roman culture eventually superimposed itself on European Catholicism, but the Protestant Magisterial and Radical Reformations were meant to reject that. The patriarchal structures and legal mentality seemed foreign to the Christian revelation. (Whether they succeeded, well …)
It is interesting now to observe the influence of Eastern religious thought, Buddhism in particular. In a way, both directly and indirectly, its influence has also always been there, especially in the Hellenistic and monastic ethos. But Christianity loses its “type” if it gives up its Zoroastrian base, which is in stark contrast to the purist (Theravadan) forms of Buddhism. Nonetheless, all these help shape the theological understanding of the Christian revelation.
It is this Zoroastrian base that Ken Wilber misses when he opts for a Buddhist and Theosophic framework for an integral spirituality. I have said in the past that he does not see Jacques Ellul’s critique of the world, only Buddhism’s dissection of the soul. Ellul’s critique of the world is apocalyptic and Wilber misses this even in his integration of the cultural and social quadrants. The concept of revelation he also misses (the revelation of the God-Man and an apocalyptic world-view are of a piece), which is not surprising. The Buddhists also miss it, although what they say is true. (They are close, though, since they recognize that the world is an artificial creation of the soul; but they do not recognize that the world becomes a gestalt with a life of its own, as it were.) I think Wilber misses it rather than disagrees with it. It is the third dimension of his two-dimensional axis.
So the Christian form-of-thought is unconsciously and consciously constructed of the vast structures of world-wide human thought, perhaps even including the non-literate cultures of Africa, the Americas and northern Eurasia, which contribute a certain naturalism derived from animism. This is an interesting influence already latent in all the others, and it too is sublated into our grasp of the revelation of Christ. It sort of combines the idea of permeance with personalism, though like with Hellenism its polytheism needs to be overcome. The presence of gods, angels and spirits remains in Christianity, but not quite here—for creation does not emit these, the world does; though the heavens do also have their hierarchy of intelligences different than the principalities of the world. There are two kinds of heavenly hierarchies—that which is “natural” and that which is noetic. What, for example, Native Americans believe—we might say initially—is a projection of the noetic onto nature, though here the noetic is itself a function of the natural and not an alienated “bubble” that comes back to impose itself onto nature. It is as if the natural realm is reflected in the soul rather than the soul simply projecting itself onto nature. This, of course, is animism in its purist and ideal form, divorced of its magical and manipulative tendencies and its fear of the dead (which seems to be a pathological affect of guilt), etc. The personal presence of God shines through nature and is not simply reflected off of it, as it were, and this is perhaps what animism sheds light on. Moreover, it is not just the soul’s individual’s experience of the divine in nature that this is about, but an ecological experience—it is the elements of nature together with the human community as part of it that is reflected upon in humanity as a noetic community (a “world”). This is the “world” in its pristine sense rather than the alienated world of “civilization.”
These five streams of thought help us understand revelation: the original Israelite religion, Zoroastrianism, Hellenistic philosophy, Eastern thought and Aboriginal animism.
Can we include scientism, if we can separate it from Hellenism of which it is the inversion (though Aristotle … ) and Buddhism with which it shares classifying and objectifying tendencies? I think the modern ability to look at the physical or quantifiable world objectively is something new, but what is really new about it is its ability to remove consciousness from the picture, which the most sophisticated science today knows cannot be done (even Descartes knew this). My question is whether it really has anything significant to contribute to the integral structure of Christian thought. What it has enabled is an explosion of technology which has unleashed a spiritual monster. Whether this monster can be put back into its bottle and the bottle recapped has yet to be seen. Theoretically, we may be getting there, but with much resistance; and how long it will take for the public mentality to change about it, who knows? In a way it is just the purification of the magical/manipulative and utilitarian tendency of humanity that has been there from the beginning. It is a side of things that has its place, but it is also a dangerous place because it gives the soul—and the world—tools for which the soul (and the world) is not prepared to use without abusing them and being abused by them. The spiritual usefulness of science will come, perhaps, when it can be sublated with the science of consciousness into a different whole. Right now it is at its critical stage of extension and alienation and the stakes are extremely high. Perhaps we can say that true science has yet to be born (a science that can overcome the illusion of subject-object dualism), and that is why it is not yet ready to be integrated into the Christian form-of-thought, not such as it is at any rate. Like the patriarchy and legalism of Roman culture, it may still in its present form be foreign to revelation. On closer inspection, however, the new shape of science of which we are increasingly aware in the field of physics may well be on its way to the kind of science that will point—in its blindness—in the same direction as the human mind has ever yearned, toward the light of the revelation of Christ.