Category Archives: Spiritual Life

YALE LOG PART 1

Some of you know that we came to Yale so Doreen could begin to do intensive research on Sarah Edwards, wife of Jonathan.  Most of you know that Doreen’s first book is on the ministries/marriages of Jonathan/Sarah Edwards, George/Elizabeth Whitefield, and John/Molly Wesley.  Doreen’s book is used as a required text by a professor of history and theology at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS).  It is gratifying to hear how the students appreciate Doreen’s hard work.  Here is recent picture of Doreen speaking at DTS.

We usually stop in Dallas on our treks back east.  Our wonderfully encouraging friends, Bill and Helen Reeves, welcomed us into their lovely abode on our way to New Haven, CT.

Our first big stop was in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Doreen’s sister and brother-in-law live there.  I was reminded that we were in the Bible belt when I stepped into the restroom of a Christian bookstore.  I guess several biblical truths could work like “Go…and Make Disciples!”

We made it safely to Yale.  Here is Dr. Ken Minkema, the Director of The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale.  We had a terrific and productive time with him. 

I close this log with a few pictures from one of our study locations.  These are from the Yale Divinity library.

A peek out our window…

 

 

 

 

I AM A MYSTERY TO MYSELF! HOW ABOUT YOU?

I resonate with these words:

“Whoever meditates on the mystery of his own life will quickly realize why only God, the searcher of the secrets of the heart, can pass final judgment. We cannot judge what we have no access to. The self is a swirling conflict of fears, impulses, sentiments, interests, allergies, and foibles. It is a metaphysical given for which there is no easy rational explanation. Now if we cannot unveil the mystery of our own motives and affections, how much less can we unveil the mystery in others? That is, as we look into ourselves, we encounter the mystery of our own, the depths of our own selfhood. As we sing things like ‘Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings within and fears without, O Lamb of God, I come.’ And having recognized the mysteries that dwell in the very depths of our own being, how can we treat other people as if they were empty or superficial beings, without the same kind of mystery?”

The rest is here:

https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/rayortlund/2017/04/25/edward-john-carnell-1919-1967/

READ (SOME) COMMENTARIES LIKE REGULAR BOOKS

https://www.amazon.com/Message-Jeremiah-Bible-Speaks-Today/dp/0830824391

Commentaries on books of the Bible are not created equally.  You have to be shrewd in what you consult.  The better ones come in all different types from the devotional to the technical. 

My favorite ones are those who combine great care with the text of Scripture, are well-written, and offer many connections to our own time and day.  Right now, I am reading one of these kinds of commentaries: Christopher Wright’s terrific work on Jeremiah.  It is part of The Bible Speaks Today series (InterVarsity Press).  Here is something I pondered today:

“The reign of King Josiah was a time of great religious fervent and national resurgence.  It was all very impressive.  But what was God’s point of view?  According to Jeremiah God sees a people who are a disappointment to God, who are being disloyal to their covenant relationship with God, who are already feeling the shock of disasters that foreshadow worse to come, and who are living in brazen denial and delusion.  It is a frightening mirror to hold up to the people of God in any generation, with stark relevance to our own.”  (Emphasis added)

 

DONE WITH CHURCH

Dones are those who still believe in Jesus, but are finished with church.  Here is one perspective followed by my own reflection on why Dones exist and are growing:

An Alternative Theory on the Dones

I sadly know too many Dones. Several have shared their stories with me. Some were in positions of leadership, even serving as elders. Two frustrations predominated:

Lots of talk in church about what one should do (and how), but precious little about why.

There was not a safe place where any and all questions could be asked. People are left alone to marinate in their own doubts and struggles.

SATAN’S STRATEGIES

Satan is not omniscient.  He is clever and I’m sure very observant.  So if he sees how a certain person always goes for chocolate when they are discouraged, he gains some insight. 

Putting your struggles down on paper does not give him any extra power over you because his power is delegated by God.  To use Luther’s phrase, “Satan is God’s dog.”  Sometimes the leash is given more slack, but he never can do more than God allows.  Anything he might “read” on paper he probably already knows by his observations and God’s permissive will.

As C.S. Lewis said we tend to either give Satan too much power or too little.  It’s tough to find the right balance, but remembering key teachings in Scripture is the best strategy.  And Satanic strategies are what we are not to be ignorant of (see II Cor. 2:11).

MEDIEVAL WISDOM FOR MODERN CHRISTIANS?

Chris Armstrong is a historian who serves as the founding director of Opus: The Art of Work, an institute on faith and vocation at Wheaton College.

The following interview centers around Armstrong’s terrific new book, Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age with C.S. Lewis.

Moore: Many will be surprised to see medieval and modern juxtaposed in such a favorable way. Shouldn’t we Protestants move past the superstitions of the Middle Ages?

Armstrong: Well, I just disagree with the premise. So let me answer this way: The superstitions we need to move past are our own modern ones. I take “superstition” to refer to any kind of magical thinking that makes connections between causes and effects where there is in fact no demonstrable connection. Just one example will have to do here: many still believe, against overwhelming evidence, that rational ideologies will work better than traditional arrangements in the realm of statecraft.

What else can we call this but superstition or magical thinking, when this principle of rational ideology has resulted in 20 million killed in WWI, 65-80 million killed in WWII—including upwards of a quarter of a million annihilated by the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—plus possibly as many as 85M – 100M killed under the Communists’ attempt to rationalize national life? This is just an extreme example of the case made by James Davison Hunter, that the belief that all our public problems will be solved when the right ideas are accepted and acted upon through political process is not Christian and it is not even truly rational—however much we (modern American Christians) want it to be. This, too, is an instance of magical thinking or “superstition.” It is a belief that does not comport with reality.

Now, were there abominable crusades, inquisitions, and thumbscrews in the Middle Ages—an era which believed that our ultimate answers are to be found not in rationalist political ideologies but in the revelations of an invisible God who came to earth as a human and lived and then died and then lived again? Certainly. Did those sinful errors of a society attempting to “live unto God” cause devastation on anything like the scale of modern superstitions such as those named above? No – not even close. And at the same time, the Middle Ages birthed the hospital and all its associated modes of medical charity; the university and its institutionalized pursuit not only of knowledge but of wisdom for living; the framework of what would become the scientific revolution (by individual believers studying to “think God’s thoughts after him”), and so much more that has blessed us even up to this minute.

Nobody’s hands are clean here, but when “superstition” caused more devastation in the hundred years between 1900 and 2000 AD than in the thousand years between 500 and 1500 AD, then perhaps it’s time to go back and study the light of wisdom enjoyed in that supposed “Dark Age.” I would even put it this way: the only reason we haven’t complete destroyed ourselves as a species is that we’re still living on the fumes of medieval wisdom.

Moore: Your book is permeated with the works and insights of C.S. Lewis. When did Lewis become such a formative figure for you? Would you mention a few of the ways his writings have been most influential?

Armstrong: I’ve known Lewis’s fictional works since I was small – my theologian father read them out loud at the table to me and my younger brothers, along with Tolkien, George MacDonald, and many others. His Perelandra deeply impacted my imagination as a young man, and when I became a Christian in my twenties, his Screwtape Letters balanced some of the wilder theories about demons in my charismatic church with the deeper and more insidious workings of our Enemy (his insight that the devil works as much by keeping things out of our minds as by putting things in by whispering in our ears is an important one).

But it was pulling the thread of his medieval understandings that led me into the depths of Lewis’s more explicitly theological and spiritual writings. I’ve found spiritual works such as Letters to Malcolm, Reflections on the Psalms, and A Grief Observed – along with his letters of spiritual advice – to be nourishing for my own spiritual life.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that the primary reason we find Lewis so illuminating for our faith and life today is not that he is a theological genius or a literary master (I actually don’t think either of these thing is true). It is that he made himself a channel of traditional Christian wisdom – a kind of living repository and transmitter of the tradition.

Moore: We Evangelicals seem to think spirituality mostly means non-material. What kinds of things can we learn from the medieval age about the tactile nature of Christian growth?

Armstrong: There are two ways modern Christians tend to approach living in our bodily, material reality. One might call these the super-spiritual and the materialist ways. They are in some senses opposite, but we fall for both of them. The super-spiritual way is to see spiritual things as higher and better and more important than material things, and therefore to find all our life’s value in what we see as the spiritual realm. In this mode, we understand Sunday worship to be a holy time, where we connect with God in all his truth, beauty, and goodness. But the ordinary, Monday-through-Saturday world in which we live as parents and workers and neighbors—we can find very little meaning or value there.

The materialist way is the way in which we live largely for material pleasures and material accumulation. We may not seriously believe that “he who dies with the most toys wins.” But we are quite capable of working long hours to ensure that our families have all the comforts of middle-class life, while falling into subtle idolatry of our suburban lifestyles, and our regular vacations, and good schools and future good salaries for our kids. Oddly enough, this materialism devalues the material world just as much as the gnostic approach. Because, as Augustine taught (and he was the premier theologian for the entire medieval period), when we treat material goods as ends in themselves, we disconnect them from their true value and meaning in God.

The medieval way stands against both of these: Its sacramental approach to the material world understands both that material stuff is not evil and meaningless, and that it is not our ultimate end and fulfilment. Instead, the material has the glorious function of pointing us to the spiritual – to God. God meets us in nature, community, work, art, science. So to live authentically as Christians, we must live in our bodies and our worlds gratefully and with wonder and openness to God working in the midst of it all. This is sacramentalism. And on this point, as on so many others, we may find real help in medieval faith.

Moore: Notre Dame historian Brad Gregory lays much blame at the feet of the Protestant Reformers for things today like our rabid individualism. To what extent, if any, would you agree with him?

Armstrong: I don’t go all the way with this argument, but I will say this: I don’t see how we can avoid the conclusion that the Protestant suspicion of tradition inserted a theological and ecclesiastical crowbar between revelation and community. And that led straight to the radical Enlightenment’s insistence that if we want to know who we are, who God is, and how we can live well in God, our only reliable guides are our own individual reason and experience. If that is really true, then we must believe only what our individual reason and experience teach us, and never the wisdom of our own community, or the wisdom handed down through past communities (which is what the word “tradition” means).

What modern, Enlightenment-influenced Christians don’t fully grasp is that if they really believe that, they must now dismiss not only such “medieval” doctrines as the Trinity, transubstantiation, and the atonement of the God-man for our sins, but also the entire canon of Scripture. For that canon was both formed and passed down in and through human community—as led (the church has always believed) by the Holy Spirit who Jesus promised would come after he left, to “guide us into all the truth.” The ball of individualism did indeed start rolling in the Reformation, and now it’s crushing all in its wake. We’ve even reached the point where evangelical seminaries figure they can do without a full-time faculty member in church history to help future ministers connect their people to the Christian past! (No, no personal bitterness or bias here!) And conservative evangelical radio personalities seriously argue that if you read church history or study the tradition, you are endangering your salvation (seriously, I’ve heard it).

Moore: You helpfully correct several misunderstandings Christians have today. One in particular for us Protestant Evangelicals is the important role of the Church’s tradition. Unpack that a bit for us.

Armstrong: I think I’ve just started to answer that, but I’ll add this:

In the book I treat this whole question of evangelical anti-traditionalism with more nuance than I can do here – but I sum up my argument in the term “immediatism.” By “immediatism,” I mean that evangelicals have long believed that the only thing that really matters to us as Christians, in the end, is that each of us can go directly, individually, to the throne of God. Because the ultimate arbiter and authority in our religion is the reasoning of our own individual minds and the experiencing of our own individual hearts, we believe we don’t need time-honored liturgies, doctrinal statements, or church polities or disciplines. We believe we don’t need to read past theologians to interpret and understand the truths God communicates to us in Scripture.

If we had time, we could talk about how unlike the church of the first 1800 or so years – really, including the earliest Protestant churches too – this modern “immediatism” is. But let me cut to the chase: if we are to live well as humans in relationship with God and each other, then we simply do need communal wisdom, both modern and traditional. For we are irreducibly social creatures whom God meets in an irreducibly social way.

From infancy, we are helpless without the love and nurture of others. A human child cannot survive as recognizably human without community (viz: feral children and the Tarzan story). And when God (who is himself a Trinity – a community) wanted to show himself to us, he did not do so through a mere communication of rules and principles to be understood and practiced through individual reason applied by individual will, nor through a mere mysticism to be experienced in the cloister of our hearts and savored in private. He did so through a relationship with generation upon generation of people-in-community – first, as the invisible God in special covenant relationship with the community of the ancient Israelites, and then as the visible God who became Immanuel, the Incarnate, embodied One—living and healing and teaching among the community of first-century Judea, sharing every inch of their humanity.

Thus the kind of individualistic religion we practice in the evangelical movement is inconsistent with the very nature of revelation – the kind of communal God-experience and God-understanding that the Old and New Testaments describe, and the ways that that communal God-experience has been handed down and studied and lived ever since. We are communal beings, and therefore God does business with us through community – and when the community transmits that God-experience and God-understanding from generation to generation, we call that “tradition.”

Moore: What are three things you hope your readers take from your book?

Armstrong: Alright, I’ve been going on too long in answering your other questions, so I’ll be brief here:

  1. There is such a thing as medieval wisdom.
  2. We need to reconnect ourselves to it.
  3. S. Lewis is a very good model and guide for how to do that.

There, how’s that?

DON’T MEMORIZE SCRIPTURE…

I am a big believer in memorizing Scripture.  It is one discipline I’ve kept at for forty years now.  I am deeply grateful for wonderful models who valued the importance early on of hiding Scripture in my heart.

So is my subject line a joke?  Yes and no.

Many people tell me they just don’t have a good memory so memorizing Scripture is tortuous.  To quote Bob Newhart, I tell them to “Stop it!”

Rather, meditate on Scripture.  Keep chewing on it.  Divide up the phrases.  Mull over individual words.  By doing so, you will begin to have passages memorized.

So don’t start out by trying to memorize.  Meditate frequently.

But do review what you have memorized.  Review is crucial.  I know many people who have memorized even long passages only to lose it later on because they made no time for regular review.

LITURGY, THE BIBLE, AND CHRISTIAN GROWTH

https://www.amazon.com/You-Are-What-Love-Spiritual/dp/158743380X?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0

James K.A. Smith (aka Jamie) writes with insight and verve. He is a deep thinker who wants us to know that there is more to life than thinking. More on that in a moment.

I’ve read four of Jamie’s books: Letters to a Young Calvinist (reviewed here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/06/15/david-g-moore-i-guess-im-not-a-calvinist/), Desiring the Kingdom, How (Not) to be Secular, and his latest, You are What You Love (YWYL). YWYL is designed as a more accessible version of Desiring the Kingdom, but I found both worth reading.

There is much to appreciate about the project Smith calls “cultural liturgics.” Smith has sniffed out a pervasive and naïve notion at least among American Christians: the idea that thinking alone is adequate to form us in the way Christ intends. Smith’s concern here is well founded as one can find many examples of Christians who once stuffed their heads with Bible knowledge only to find themselves now burned out, disillusioned, and adding to the growing numbers of self-proclaimed evangelicals who seek to work out their salvation autonomously. There is no doubt that Bible knowledge alone does not make one a Christ follower. Jesus warned the Jews to not confuse knowledge of the Scriptures with knowing Him (Jn. 5:39,40).

Smith forcefully argues that Bible knowledge alone is not enough. Some believe he falls prey here to a false dichotomy in correcting this error. I think that charge is unmerited. Smith gives some explicit disavowals to the contrary. Also, the body of Smith’s work makes clear that he is no anti-intellectual. Something else must be afoot rather than simply advocating a simplistic either/or option of head versus heart.

I agree that we are not just (a modifier Smith wisely employs on many occasions)“thinking-things” or ‘brains on a stick.” Smith’s view seems to be that formative liturgies are primary while biblical knowledge, essential as it may be, takes a subordinate role of sorts. He writes, “We learn to love, then, not primarily by acquiring information about what we should love but rather through practices that form the habits of how we love.” (Emphasis his)

The examples Smith gives in YWYL to demonstrate that biblical knowledge is hardly adequate for the best Christian formation are ones that sadly glut the evangelical landscape. Granted, there are many pathetic examples of ministers investing an almost magical power in acquiring biblical knowledge, but here is where I have questions. It is easy to see the foolishness of making biblical knowledge alone magical, but that begs a question of sorts. Is biblical knowledge acquired in only one way? That is, do all Christians believe that mere intellectual apprehension of biblical data is the proper way to learn Scripture?   Smith’s monolithic description of gaining bible knowledge does not consider the myriad of ways, including the healthy ones, where Christians interact with God’s Word.   Yes, we have many bad examples of a simplistic notion that learning the Bible better can automatically make one mature. However, there are Christians who come to the Scriptures with reverence, submission, and a genuine reliance on the Holy Spirit. Proper Bible knowledge is meant to lead us to the person of Christ. Smith never engages with these possibilities. Categorizing the place of all biblical thinking in a monolithically negative manner dismisses what ought to be delved into much further. David Morlan writes in his own review of Smith’s proposal that “he deals with generalities and stereotypes of churches, not actual people and actual churches.”                                                                                              

I would argue there is more of a both/and dynamic with thinking and formation rather than formative liturgies being primary. II Corinthians 10:3-5 and Romans 12:1,2 along with a more integrated/holistic anthropology (which keep the intellectual tethered to the affective) also move in that direction. The latest neuroscience from folks like Antonio Damasio shows that there is more talking going on between the so-called right and left halves of the brain than we previously imagined. I therefore find Smith’s regular refrain that we love things before we know why or that “virtue isn’t acquired intellectually but affectively” unpersuasive.

Smith claims that our “primary orientation to the world is visceral, not cerebral.” In my own discipleship ministry with men I first cover trusting God when suffering intersects one’s life. I take the men through an in depth study of Habakkuk. It is heavy biblical input while candidly working through issues of sorrow, grief, and the important role of lament. I don’t find it possible or prudent to separate the so-called visceral from the so-called cerebral. New Testament scholar, Patrick Schreiner, voices a similar concern: “I still personally wonder if the picture Smith paints is actually too neat. Maybe the process of theological anthropology is too complex to break down into humans primarily being this or that. Because isn’t the intellect a part of the body’s and heart’s process of desiring”?                                                      

Jamie Smith makes all of us think more deeply about the Christian faith. I for one have benefitted from his gifted pen, even, and maybe especially so, when I disagree with him.                                                                                                                                                      

[I am grateful to Jamie Smith for his quick response to my questions. I am also appreciative for Dennis Okholm and Scot McKnight taking the time to interact with me over the role of liturgy in spiritual formation. I alone take responsibility for the views expressed in this review.]

NO LONGER IN KANSAS

Some early reflections from a new course/writing project:

There are three things I’ve noticed about Christians who keep growing: They are teachable (you could say humble), pain has caused them to wrestle more honestly with the Christian faith, and they are curious/hopeful that there is much more to the Christian faith than what they presently experience.

To those of us in teaching positions we must have these qualities as well.  Dr. Howard Hendricks liked to say, “You can’t impart what you don’t possess.”  And Dr. Luke wrote, “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.”  (Luke 6:40)  Do you want people to embody the same virtues which characterize your life?

Those of us who teach need to work hard at saying things clearly and in ways that fire the imagination.  Thomas Paine’s approach in Common Sense reminds us of the former, while writers like Chesterton and Lewis help with the latter.