11.28.2007

the Divine Embrace

Scot McKnight is doing a series on Robert Webbers book the Divine Embrace. This ought to be very good.

Check it out HERE.

Back in June I said a little something something on this book. Check it out Here.

An Excerpt:

"The best definitions for spirituality for my money come from Eugene Peterson. This is from an interview and sums up some of what he writes about in his multi-volume work:

Many people assume that spirituality is about becoming emotionally intimate with God.

That’s a na├»ve view of spirituality. What we’re talking about is the Christian life. It’s following Jesus. Spirituality is no different from what we’ve been doing for two thousand years just by going to church and receiving the sacraments, being baptized, learning to pray, and reading Scriptures rightly. It’s just ordinary stuff.

This promise of intimacy is both right and wrong. There is an intimacy with God, but it’s like any other intimacy; it’s part of the fabric of your life. In marriage you don’t feel intimate most of the time. Nor with a friend. Intimacy isn’t primarily a mystical emotion. It’s a way of life, a life of openness, honesty, a certain transparency.

Doesn’t the mystical tradition suggest otherwise?

One of my favorite stories is of Teresa of Avila. She’s sitting in the kitchen with a roasted chicken. And she’s got it with both hands, and she’s gnawing on it, just devouring this chicken. One of the nuns comes in shocked that she’s doing this, behaving this way. She said, “When I eat chicken, I eat chicken; when I pray, I pray.”

If you read the saints, they’re pretty ordinary people. There are moments of rapture and ecstasy, but once every 10 years. And even then it’s a surprise to them. They didn’t do anything. We’ve got to disabuse people of these illusions of what the Christian life is. It’s a wonderful life, but it’s not wonderful in the way a lot of people want it to be.

Yet evangelicals rightly tell people they can have a “personal relationship with God.” That suggests a certain type of spiritual intimacy.

All these words get so screwed up in our society. If intimacy means being open and honest and authentic, so I don’t have veils, or I don’t have to be defensive or in denial of who I am, that’s wonderful. . . .

This corruption of the word spirituality even in Christian circles—does it have something to do with the New Age movement?

The New Age stuff is old age. It’s been around for a long time. It’s a cheap shortcut to—I guess we have to use the word—spirituality. It avoids the ordinary, the everyday, the physical, the material. It’s a form of Gnosticism, and it has a terrific appeal because it’s a spirituality that doesn’t have anything to do with doing the dishes or changing diapers or going to work. There’s not much integration with work, people, sin, trouble, inconvenience.

I’ve been a pastor most of my life, for some 45 years. I love doing this. But to tell you the truth, the people who give me the most distress are those who come asking, “Pastor, how can I be spiritual?” Forget about being spiritual. How about loving your husband? Now that’s a good place to start. But that’s not what they’re interested in. How about learning to love your kids, accept them the way they are?

My name shouldn’t even be connected with spirituality.

But it very much is.

I know. Then a few years ago I got this embarrassing position of being a professor of “spiritual theology” at Regent. . . . "

11.26.2007

Thoughts on trust, belief and faith.

To Trust. To Believe. To have Faith is a human inevitability. It is necessitated by our finiteness and our situational createdness.

Whether one is to acknowledge that we are a part of a creation...ultimately it is recognizable that the scope of our physical and intellectual abilities are limited by many variables. This certainly provokes the awareness that we as humans cannot help but not know everything completely in an "absolute" sense. Because of our createdness we are dependent upon one another to live, move and be. We cannot grow without the nourishing care and attention of another. We cannot physically thrive without appropriate conditions and we cannot grow in our learning without the assistance of teachers. In other words we cannot do much of anything, if not everything without others.

I think a most fascinating aspect of our human nature is that cognitive development (look at this as academic learning and virtuous enrichment) is dependent upon at least two major contributing determiners; 1) The word (or testimony) of others and 2) Trust.

These two contributing factors are necessary for human flourishing. Without communication (communion;community) we cannot get anywhere in terms of growing in our understanding or knowledge of anything.

The role that the word of others (or testimony) plays in our lives is foundational to our growth. The role that trust plays in all of this is critical. We cannot know anything without trust. We must rely upon or trust our sense of sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing in order to live. The contrary would be ludicrously absurd and would lead toward madness.

An author whose work I admire is Kevin J. Vanhoozer. In his book First Theology, (of which you can read a review of it here at the Faith and Theology blog) Kevin discusses the importance of testimony saying, "the knowledge we gain from others is not inferential but properly basic; in many cases there are no other grounds for a belief." Regarding the justification of ones knowledge he says, "justification in a fiduciary scheme has to do not with "founding" the evidence given by a witness but with trusting it." And, "...our reliance on testimony goes beyond anything that could be justified by personal observation.....testimony is an irreducible form of knowledge."

Moving onward with this is the corollary of trust; the presence of virtue. Virtue widely understood according to the Oxford American Dictionary is a "behavior showing high moral standards; a quality considered morally good or desirable in a person; a good or useful quality of a thing." Vanhoozer writes, "Trust is the virtue of 'knowing when to rely on others and is the revers side of autonomy.' "..."Believe what you are told by others unless or until you have reason for doubting it"..."we are only rational in trusting others who are reliable in showing us the way or in giving us the truth. Most to be trusted therefore are those who are demonstrably knowledgeable or wise"..."Testimony must be tested because there is false testimony" ("You shall not bear false witness" see Exodus 20:16)

All of this serves to highlight the reality in which all humanity finds itself in. The reality that we are communal beings. We do not think independently but rather think within and according to a tradition of thought. Example; in order for one to fully understand the medical field one would have to enter the scientific/medical community and learn its terminology and adopt its framework of thought in order to know. One would have to rely upon, trust in the said communities structures and categories of thought in order to begin learning. From there one within the community can make changes to the thinking via intuition and imagination.

All thought begins within a tradition and community. What develops in the community is a dialogue and a dialectical process of learning and growing.

Great theologians of the past have made the famous epistemological declaration "credo ut intelligam" (I believe in order to know or understand). It can also be read, "I have faith in, in order to understand" or "I trust in order to know."

The writer of the book of Hebrews in the New Testament of the Christian scriptures says the same thing in the passage found in chapter 11 verse 3, "By faith we understand..."

This is a huge thing. This reality of our humanity presupposes that all, everyone, everywhere all the time begins their thinking with faith. That is we begin by trusting, we begin by believing. It is only there that we begin to interpret reality, our surroundings, our experiences and events. What this also tells and says to us as humans is that what is crucial and necessary for us as a global community is that we need to sit and listen more then we do. And listening with humility. We will have to enter the language game and learn from one another in order to effectively communicate to each other.

This does not mean that we throw caution to the wind. Nor does it mean we do not or cannot hold to beliefs with the conviction that it has universal implication. Rather it means that our beliefs if anything cannot be proven by the "scientific method" or the Baconian method which says only that which can be observed and measured is fact and therefore true. This may be the case; but first you have to believe (presuppose) that only that which can be observed and measured is true.

All facts are theory-laden. All theories are essentially exercises of faith.

As Lesslie Newbigin has said, our beliefs will not be "proven" in the modern sense of proof. Only time will tell and give the proof. This is where it makes plenty sense to speak of "knowing" in the category of ethics or value theory as Professor John Frame and other thinkers in the Virtue Epistemology circle suggest.

Because knowing requires the exercising of trust then it surely is inevitable to learn that some people are trustworthy and others not. We can and may doubt the story or information of another because of the questionable character that they exhibit. And one thing is very certain of this; and that is if you doubt the word of one, you will and can only do so because you are trusting and believing in the word of another. Otherwise doubt is not possible. There is no neutrality. There is only antithesis.

The community and therefore tradition that I stand in is an ancient community that takes as their reference point the testimony of certain men and woman in history handed down in a community and written in a text that this confessing community calls the holy scriptures, the christian text or the bible. It is within this body of believers which is called the ecclesia (Greek for "the church") that we confess together our belief in which we understand our world, our lives and the destiny of reality. We confess a reality in which there is one almighty and personal God which the hebrew/christian text calls Yahweh, that has created all things and has entered into our world to restore and renew, to make straight what has been made crooked, to mend what has been torn and to fix what has been broken according to his goodness. We believe that He (Yahweh) has drawn near to us in the man Jesus which the hebrew/christian text calls the Messiah, the Christ; the one anointed, called and brought forth to manifest the image of God and the true image of man.

I "credo ut intelligam" in the ecclesia. I think, live, move and have my being in progessive motion within this story, within this belief. In this I under-stand. My confidence relys upon the virtue of one man attested by this community; Jesus. My confidence is in the wisdom of this God and His Christ. The proof of my belief resides in His character and in His word that what he says, what he promised will come to pass.

In this I live, hope and wait.

We all think within a community of thought, a tradition of thinking. What is your community and tradition? Who is your reliable and authoritative witness in whom you trust?

"The reliable or authoritative witness becomes a conduit of rationality."
- Kevin Vanhoozer (a fellow communitarian)

The Patient

(If above song title does not play click the title on the music player on this blog)

If you have your audio turned on while visiting my blog you should be hearing the song by the artists known as "Tool" entitled, "The Patient."
This is one of their songs that I truly feel and identify with. And if you listen to the song and read the lyrics I am sure you can too.

The fascinating thing about Tool is that their lyrics can be and usually are very cryptic and ambiguous. I like this. It leaves much for the imagination to dwell upon.
This song has a very poetic way of communicating the reality of our human condition and the necessity for humanity to be in community in order to thrive and flourish.

The lyricist likens a longing, a search, a yearning for and/or a bout with a unique struggle to a vampire that drains the life blood from him. He also testifies to the reality that he often feels like giving up in this life. He confesses his hope, against hope...and realizes that "If there were no rewards to reap,
no loving embrace to see me through this tedious path I've chosen here,
I certainly would've walked away by now."

The lyricist also is very honest with the real fear and bi-polaric experiences of feeling like he needs to or just wants to give up waiting and holding on while in the midst of it still saying I will hold on.

The paradox of life for sure. A unique reality of living by faith.

My favorite part is when he repeats...and it cries soul through and through, when he says, "I must keep reminding myself of this..."

Something which "the patient" may and do identify with. At least for me and my wife we do.

The Patient

A groan of tedium escapes me, startling the fearful.
Is this a test?
It has to be. Otherwise I can't go on.
Draining patience. drain vitality.
this paranoid, paralyzed vampire act's a little old.

But I'm still right here, giving blood and keeping faith. And I'm still right here.

But I'm still right here, giving blood and keeping faith. And I'm still right here.

I'm gonna wait it out

If there were no rewards to reap,
no loving embrace to see me through this tedious path I've chosen here,
I certainly would've walked away by now.

I'm gonna wait it out

If there were no desire to heal
The damaged and broken met along this tedious path I've chosen here,
I certainly would've walked away by now.

I still may. And I still may.
Be patient.

I must keep reminding myself of this...

If there were no rewards to reap,
no loving embrace to see me through this tedious path I've chosen here,
I certainly would've walked away by now.
And I still may. And I still may. And I still may.

I'm gonna wait it out.
I'm gonna wait it out.
Gonna wait it out.
Gonna wait it out.

"Letter about those pesky Calvinists" at Jesuscreed

Yours truly offered their two-cents on #(26).

This is really good conversation. Comments (#42 #45 & #46) are especially good.

Below are two very good comments that have some heavy substance to them...

#54: "hey Julie #53, I agree with you. There are a lot of cultural issues with Christians, the church and with the Reformed crowd. I would have extend that to other groups in addition to the reformed folks … I think there is a whole cultural mindset with the religious right that comes off as angry and judgmental and causes secular people to back away.

There seems to be a lot of social or cultural pressure right now on people of faith to go one of two directions: to either harden their positions and become defensive and argumentative with anyone who disagrees, or 2) to become very disillusioned with the church, Christianity and religion in general and to drop out and follow a private faith. I find myself leaning heavily in the second group. These are troubled time we find ourselves in."


#58 In the final analysis, I guess what I’ve found amongst my acquantences who are “neo-Calvinists” (or fundamental, hyper, or whatever other word you want to use to describe this current phenomenon of Calvinism), is the lack of safety I feel around them in being able to openly dialogue about or explore questions about God. Why don’t I feel safe around them? Because of the very real threat of being perceived by them as if I’m not “really” a Christian. Too many times in the past when I’ve wanted to openly talk about questions, or if I’ve stated positions that aren’t perfectly in line with their theological understanding, I’ve suddenly found myself on the receiving end of being witnessed to. The first time it happened was a shock.

I can stand theological disagreement. That’s fine. I don’t believe two thinking people are ever going to be 100% in perfect agreement with each other over every fine point of theology. But when you disagree with some one (i.e., a neo-Calvinist) who then questions your fundamental saving relationship with Christ, that’s when it gets scary and where honest conversation stops. In some ways, this is the style of a cultish environment, is is not? A cult wants to force-feed you its established doctrine, wants to hear you resite it vermatim, and doesn’t want you to think it through like a mature adult.


#63
Perhaps the movement described in the above comments (mostly negatively) does tend to be somewhat strident in its attitudes; most new movements tend in this direction. However, I think the reason why the new Reformed group likes to talk about specifics in theology and debate it is because for too long Evangelicalism has been too shallow in its theology. A ubiquitous “mere christianity” ruled (and in many places, continues to rule) the church. Now, there is a place for “mere christianity” but in excess it is harmful and fails to nourish Christians. The new Reformed movement is concerned with deep theology, mostly in the propositional and expositional sense. This is diametrically opposed to the Emerging Church tendency, so perhaps it also explains why there is hostility between the two trends. Interesting that this should be so, when both groups came out of the same source and were reacting to the same thing in Evangelicalism.


#65 responding to #63 #63 - “ubiquitous ‘mere christianity’ ruled the church…”? hmmm…. I don’t remember that ever being the case … I think that might actually be a good thing. I tend to remember a much less charitable form of evangelicalism ruling the church…perhaps because it was more vocal.

The basic thing here is that boils down to do we love? or not? 1 Cor. 13 is pretty clear about the prioty between correct doctrine and agape, as is 1 John. In the midst of current uncertainty and globalization, people are making choices….some feel more secure in choosing theological correctness over love … others may choose a different path. The question is which way is Jesus going?


#66 Ben Wheaton, of course, Calvinists think they are right, Julie thinks she is right and I think I am right.

The different I see with the strident Calvinists (and I think the problem the original author of this post is having) is that they cannot entertain the thought that they might be wrong. Personally, I think Calvinists might be right in how they interpret scripture. I might be very wrong. The little I know of Julie, I think she accepts that she might be wrong.

But dialog is very difficult when one side demands that their way is the only way. This conversation stopper is certainly not limited to Calvinists, but in this post, I think that is the problem. I have no issue with someone holding an opinion and arguing in favor of it, but I have a problem when someone says I cannot be a Christian unless I agree with their rather limited view of God and Scripture. I will not, however, demand they agree with me.

When give and take becomes take and take, dialog breaks down and you may have to part ways. I would not ask them to leave because they are Calvinists, but I would consider asking them to leave if they think only Calvinists can be Christians.

11.03.2007

Spider



Scroll down and mute the music player in order to watch this video and get prepared.

the gods aren't angry



Rob Bell will be at the Murat Centre on Friday November 30th, on his "The gods aren't angry tour."

Rob Bell is a very good speaker/communicator. He is preaching pastor at Mars Hill, Grand Rapids, MI.
I believe Rob has a gift of contextualizing the gospel to contemporary hearers. If you have never heard him speak or read any of his two books, Velvet Elvis and SEX GOD then coming to this would be a very good introduction.

His engagement is " Part anthropology, part history, part deconstruction - this is new material that Rob hasn't taught before, exploring how humans invented religion to make themselves feel better."

Any interested folk? Tickets are $17. I am gonna try to get D and I to go. Anyone want to come along?
I will not be coordinating ticket purchases. You must get them on your own. I just want to get the word out.

Maybe we'll see you there.

The Reason for God



If you can, get this book when it comes out. Timothy Keller is a fine presuppositional analyst and teacher. He has a great gift for contextualizing the message of the Bible to "modern/postmodern" ears.