Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Spirit Well. Day Three of the October 2012 CSFF Blog Tour

The Spirit Well, by Stephen Lawhead
Day Three of the October 2012 CSFF Blog Tour

One of the intriguing developments of Quest Three is the appearance of the Zetetic Society. Cassandra Clarke, a paleontologist working on a dig in Arizona in her pursuit of a Ph.D., is drawn into the world of ley travel and ends up in Damascus, Syria, circa 1930s. Through a poster she becomes aware of the Zetetic Society who promise they can help those who are ‘lost, lonely, and looking for something to believe in.’ Fascinating how that seems to describe Cass. All the more so since the posters cannot be seen by everyone, only by those who are ready and willing to see it.

There are three striking personalities associated with the Society: Brendan Hanno, Mrs. Rosemary Peelstick, and Tess, though the latter comes in rather late. Brendan and Rosemary eventually get around to explaining the mission of the society in earnest. Here is a rehash of the dialog which I have stripped of its beauty, rhythm and homeliness:

Brendan: “It is not too much to say that the future of humankind may depend on the work of the society. We are engaged in a project of such importance to humankind that its success will usher in the final consummation of the universe. . . Our aim is nothing less than achieving God’s own purpose for His creation.”

Cass: “And what purpose would that be?”

Rosemary: “Why, the objective manifestation of the supreme values of goodness, beauty, and truth, grounded in the infinite love and goodness of the Creator.”

Brendan: “Human beings are not a trivial by-product of the universe. Rather, we--you, me, everyone else--all humankind is the reason the cosmos was created in the first place.”

Cass: “I am familiar with the anthropic principle. The theory that the universe was designed to bring about human life--that the universe exists not only for us but because of us.”

Rosemary: “We go further. We extend the principle to say that the universe was conceived and created as a place to grow and perfect independent conscious agents and fit them for eternity.”

Cass: “Human beings, you mean.”

Rosemary: “Yes, dear--human beings.”

Brendan: “What is the aim, the purpose for such an elaborate scheme? [It is] to promote the formation of harmonious communities of self-aware individuals capable of knowing and enjoying the Creator, and joining in the ongoing creation of the cosmos.”

Cass: {Confused, uneasy}

Brendan: “The Omega Point is. . . the point at which the purpose of the universe is finally and fully realised. When the universes reaches the point where more people desire the union, harmony, and fulfilment intended by the Creator, then the balance will have been tipped, so to speak, and the cosmos will proceed to the Omega Point--that is, its final consummation. The universe will be transformed in an incorruptible, everlasting reality of supreme goodness.”

Cass: “Heaven?”

Rosemary: “Yes, but not another realm or world. This world, this universe, transfigured--the New Heaven and the New Earth. It will be a place of eternal celebration of God’s love and goodness where we will live and work to achieve the full potential for which humanity was created.”

Cass: “Which is?”

Rosemary: “Human destiny lies in the mastery of the cosmos for the purpose of creating new experiences of goodness, beauty, and truth for all living things.”

Brendan: “And extending those values into the rest of the universe at large. You see, the universe as it exists now is but Phase One, you might say--it is where living human souls are generated and learn the conditions of consciousness and independence. The ultimate fulfilment of the lives so generated, however, will only be found in the next phase of creation--a transformation we can hardly imagine.”

There are some things I really like about this. One is that the purpose of the creation (in part) is that human beings might know and enjoy the Creator. The other is the corollary to that, that this knowing and enjoying will take place not in another dimension of which we have no point of contact, but in this world, this cosmos--albeit transformed.

But virtally everthing else is wrong. Before I appeal to scripture, let me say that I do so because the Society apparently does. The reference to the New Heaven and New Earth is from Revelation 21, as well as 2 Peter 3:13, Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. And as we will see, Brendan cites Saint Paul.

The significant thing that Peter says about the new heaven and earth is it is where righteousness dwells. It is not so for the old heaven and earth. Paul says that the whole creation is groaning now because of the death and corruption that descended upon everything when Adam sinned (Romans 8:22; Romans 5:12), and it awaits the day when it will be delivered from this corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God, Romans 8:21. Revelation says that nothing will enter into the new creation that will defile it.

What is missing in the Zetetic Society’s eschatology is that the end point is not simply the betterment of humankind, but its rescue from sin into a sinless world. That is what Paul’s eschatology is all about. And it will not take place at a tipping point where mankind seems to wake up and realize its purpose. Mankind will not do that precisely because of its deadness in sin. Men, women, and children are deaf of ear and blind of eye to their sin because they are dead in it, Ephesians 2:1. Man on his own will never wake up to anything spiritual. If he does so, it is only of God’s doing, and it is always a waking up to his own sinfulness and God’s condemnation because of it. He is awakened to a heart-rending awareness of his sin and loathes it. He is aware of God’s mercy and grace in the sacrifice of Christ for his sin, and flees to it. None of this is in the Zetetic Society’s eschatology, anthropology, soteriology, or cosmology.

Brendan appeals to the references of “our guide” Saint Paul, that our conflict is not of flesh and blood, but with “the spiritual hosts of evil arrayed against us in the heavenly warfare.” [p 302]. How much better it would be if Brendan and the society listened to everything their guide had to say.

The Society smacks of universalism. . . it is difficult to see any sign that it is not.

“Human destiny lies in the mastery of the cosmos for the purpose of creating new experiences of goodness, beauty, and truth for all living things.”

That statement sounds like one out of a universalist’s handbook. One of the key passages the Christian Universalist appeals to is 1 Cor 15:22, For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. That reference is in the middle of an exposition by Paul that reveals exactly how the so-called Omega Point will be reached. A proper explanation of that text not only refutes universalism, but also corrects any notion that there is a tipping point.

The Zetetics sound more like an eclectic cult than a Christian society.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for kindly providing a copy of The Spirit Well for review on the October, 2012 Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour.


  1. More thoughts on the theology of the series.


    I'm big on symbols and quickly identified the Spirit Well as a symbol for God, perhaps even for Jesus. And now at the end of the book, as Kit is leading Mina to the place where he expects to access the Spirit Well, they find a tree. A tree? Is this the Tree of Life, or perhaps the tree that symbolizes Christ's crucifixion?

    In other words, I don't think Mr. Lawhead is done yet, and I don't think he'll come out and tell us what to believe about the mysteries of the universe ,,, or, multiverse, in this story. Instead, I think he, being the kind of author he is, will show us. I already thought he did in the scenes with the Spirit Well. I don't know how else to understand the beauty, serenity, and wholeness Kit experienced, let alone the resurrection of Arthur's wife.

    Of course I could be wrong. Maybe the "fountain of youth" is nothing more than a fountain of youth. I guess we'll have to wait and see. ;-)


  2. Thanks, Becky.

    I'm not making any judgments on Mr. Lawhead's theology as the Zetetic Society is part of a story that he's building and not necessarily reflecting his views.

    But if the eschatology of the Zetetic Society turns out to be the winning eschatology in the end, that is a horrific problem for a story that is supposed to be fundamentally Christian-- it just isn't biblical, and it ignores the most basic truths about human nature, sin, and redemption.

    But, we'll see... Mr. Lawhead is a brilliant writer and I can't wait for the next installment.

    As an aside, I gave him only four stars; probably should be four and a half, as opposed to The Monster in the Hollows, which I gave five. Five for me requires the work to be worthy of classic status. The Monster was all that. The Bright Empires series - extremely well written, brilliantly developed, but, for me, it doesn't resonate with one's innate 'love of the story' as did The Monster in the Hollows (all of the books in the Wingfeather Saga for that matter).

  3. Maybe the Zetetic Society will get shaken up and put on a better path theologically. I did like them (though perhaps it was more the idea of them--not the new-agey part so much as the possibility of time-travelers trying to do good for God). But I agree with your "cultish" concerns.