Tietjen Introduces Kierkegaard

Tietjen reviewTietjen, Mark A. 2016. Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

An important motive for devoting the last six years to writing about Christian spirituality has been the premise that many Christians have lost touch with their spiritual heritage. In more than one denomination, the basic teachings that launched the denomination are no longer given even cursory attention from the pulpit and synchronistic practices are widely believed to be Christian. Faced with a church that has lost its way and offers little help in dealing with life’s challenges, many young people who grew up in the church understandably see no reason to continue attending. In reading about the such issues, one name gets repeated a lot: Kierkegaard.

Introduction

In his book, Kierkegaard, Mark Tietjen writes:

“My goal is to convince Christians as I have been convinced that Soren Kierkegaard [1813-1855] is a voice that should be sought and heard for the edification of the church.”(25)

Merold Westphal, who wrote the foreword, describes Kierkegaard as a prophet who rails against cheap grace and encourages Christians to think of faith as harder to deal with than it is commonly sold in three ways: (1) it is a lifelong pursuit (2) focused on beliefs and actions (3) that takes sin seriously (12-14). A fourth ways arises in that pastors need both to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, where most focus exclusively on the former (17).

Cheap Grace

Railing against cheap grace is today more normally associated with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who may have picked up the idea from Kierkegaard. Bonhoeffer (1995, 44-45) wrote:

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living, and incarnate.”

The Apostle Paul put it this way: we were bought with a price (1 Cor 6:19-20).

If this critique of the church seems harsh, I remember attending an inquirers weekend at Princeton Theological Seminary in 2003. At a closing dinner, the dean asked each inquirer to talk about why they had come. All but about 2 of the sixty inquirers were fresh out of college and typically answered something like this: I enjoyed my youth group in high school and just want to continue that experience by working for the church.

Cheap grace? Yes, because many churches seek out such young candidates for ministry hoping to attract their kids back into the church. Ironically, the church requiring the most devotion from their members often have the highest retention rates among their kids.[1]

Background and Organization

Mark A. Tietjen received his doctorate from Baylor University and is a director at Stony Brook School in New York. He is the former secretary of the Soren Kierkegaard Society and has written another book: Kierkegaard, Communication, and Virtue: Authorship as Edification (2013). Tietjen writes in five chapters:

  1. Kierkegaard: Friend to Christians?
  2. Jesus Christ
  3. The Human Self
  4. Christian Witness
  5. The Life of Christian Love.

These chapters are preceded by a foreword and introduction and followed by conclusions, suggestions for the further reading, and indices.

Missionary to Christians?

In his conclusions Tietjen offers a number of reasons why Christians may need a missionary. The most controversial one might be that some Christians may “have inherited a perverted form of Christianity.”(161) He offers three views of such perverted forms:

  1. The liberal theology view. Traditional Christian views on sin and the divinity of Christ are unnecessary even though Jesus can help us live a more moral life.
  2. The Pelagian view. Grace is overstated and unnecessary because we can help contribute to our own salvation.
  3. The grace-abuse view. Because of God’s grace, we need not practice God’s law or pursue holiness. (56-57)

While one can argue the need for missionaries to the church, the modern and postmodern church appears to have inoculated many to traditional Christian faith. Tietjen refers to them as Christian admirers who fail to take the life of Christ as something to be imitated. Admirers look on the imitator as a: “religious fanatic, Jesus freak, fundamentalist, and so on.” (74) Thus, the Holy Spirit’s intervention, not better apologetics, seems to be required.

Assessment

Mark Tietjen’s book, Kierkegaard, provides a basic understanding of Kierkegaard’s writing and times. Tietjen is well versed in Kierkegaard’s work and offers many interesting anecdotes.

References

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich 1995.The Cost of Discipleship(Orig Pub 1937). Translated by R. H. Fuller and Irmgard Booth. New York: Simon & Schuster—A Touchstone Book.

Footnotes

[1]A similar phenomenon has occasionally been observed by marketers when the highest priced good is perceived by consumers to be the highest quality—discounting in such cases may actually lower sales revenue. The classic example of this phenomenon is Lite Beer which has frequently sold at a premium to regular beer even though it is essentially made by adding water to that same beer. Part of the mystique is the higher price.

Tietjen Introduces Kierkegaard

Also See:

Top 10 Book Reviews Over the Past 12 Months

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Assurance of Salvation: Monday Monologues, July 15, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a sermon on the assurance of salvation.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Assurance of Salvation: Monday Monologues, July 15, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Pentecost_2019

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Assurance Prayer

Grass

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Heavenly Father, Good Shepherd, Holy Spirit,

All honor and glory are yours because you love us and value our lives more than anyone else.

We confess that we do not deserve this attention and love.

Thank you for the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us a faith that will persist longer than any stress in this life.

In the previous name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Assurance Prayer

Also see:

Prayer for Healthy Limits 

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Assurance of Salvation in Jesus Christ

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Sermon given in Spanish at El Shadai DC, in Manassas, VA July 7, 2019.

Prelude

Good afternoon. Welcome to El Shadai DC. For those who do not know me, I am Stephen W. Hiemstra. I am a Christian author. I live with my wife in Centreville, Virginia.

This afternoon we begin a new sermon series on the assurance of salvation in Jesus Christ. In a world with so much uncertainty, only Jesus Christ does not change or let us down. Today we are going to start with the passage most famous for this subject, John 10, and I will focus on the nature of eternal life.

Invocation

Let’s pray.

Merciful father.

All praise and honor is yours for you hear our prayers, comfort us in our afflictions, and give us life eternal.

We confess that we not worthy of your affections and we thank you for teaching us to love.

Draw us now to yourself. In the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts, illuminate our minds, and strengthen our hands in your service. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

Scripture

Today’s text comes from John 10:27-30. Here the word of the Lord:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:27-30 ESV)

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Introduction

Who knows someone who accepts no responsibility for themselves and is a constant pain in the neck? Unfortunately, for every one of us a different face comes into view. Normally, when I see someone who annoys me, I tell my kids: there goes another person who Christ died for (2X). This is a private joke in my family that gets frequently repeated.

This joke points to a image of Christ that is the opposite of a person who lacks fiber and is, as they say, a free spirit. By contrast, a shepherd is someone who lives with the sheep in the field and protects them from coyotes, wolves, and lions with only a rod and staff. This is respectable work, but it is also dirty and dangerous. It is an image of physical and emotional strength and is our picture of a natural leader.

Who is the perfect image of a shepherd in your life? (2X)

The First Sentence: Intimate

In the first sentence of our text of the day Jesus uses the image of a good shepherd to demonstrate that our relation with him is intimate. He simply says: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Those that are saved listen and follow like sheep. This sentence is interesting because it is laconic—Jesus uses a minimum of words to describe deeply profound concepts—laconic.

In the middle of this sentence is an unexpected phrase: I know them. We expect: they know me. In context, we expect: My sheep hear my voice, and they know me, and they follow me. By means of this unexpected phrase, Jesus makes an important point.

Here we encounter unexpected familiarity—our heavenly shepherd knows us personally. God knows us sufficiently well to call us by name. This inference is credible because in real life, good shepherds call their sheep by name.

The Second Sentence: Secure

In the second sentence of today’s text, Jesus promises eternal life and explains that our relationship with him is secure. He says: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” It is impossible to understand this security without understanding first eternal life. Permit me to focus the rest of my time on this concept of eternal life.

Eternal Life

In his first letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul uses his famous metaphor of the body of Christ. (2X) Listen for the word of God:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body– Jews or Greeks, slaves or free– and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. (1 Cor 12:12-14)

Here Paul is speaking about the nature of the church, but a second interpretation is possible.

In Christian thought, we frequently speak about the soul that today we refer to as our identity. In Hebrew thought, this word soul implies the body, mind, spirit, and the people that we are in relationship with. (2X) When we come to Christ, the Holy Spirit enters our life which is the means by which we come into relationship with God. Our souls change forever. Much like we become the body of Christ (as the church is described), we also become united with God, who is eternal.

Being one with God implies that our identity is now held in common with other believers from the past, present, and future. Because God is eternal, being one with God implies that our identity is also eternal. It is also complete because God knows us just as much internally as externally whereas our family and friends only know us from external things (2X).

Example

For those not accustomed to this notion of a shared identity and the soul, what happens to your identity when your mind becomes taken over by a disease such as Alzheimer’s? Do you stop being a person? Do you lose your identity because you no longer remember who you are? No way. When you encounter a person with Alzheimer’s, their identity is retained by the people around them who care for them, order their favorite meals, and tell their stories to other people.

It’s no different when we die. When we die, our identity is retained not only by the many people who have known us, but, in the case of Christians, by the Holy Spirit, who is eternal. God who created us from dust can easily re-create us complete with our identity, our souls, because we have a complete relationship with God.

Parting Words

In this explanation of eternal life, our relationship with God determines if we experience the assurance of salvation or not. When Jesus said: “no one will snatch them out of my hand.” It is clear that no one can interfere in our relationship with God. But, we must accept Christ into our hearts and give him priority in our lives every day. Everything else has been made possible by the blood of Jesus. (2X)

Amen.

Final Prayer

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, Good Shepherd, Holy Spirit,

All honor and glory are yours because you love us and value our lives more than anyone else.

We confess that we do not deserve this attention and love.

Thank you for the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us a faith that will persist loner than any stress in this life. In the previous name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Assurance of Salvation in Christ Jesus.

Also See:

Value Of Life

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Pentecost_2019

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Permanencia en Cristo

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018por Stephen W. Hiemstra,

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Sermón dado por El Shadai DC, Manassas, VA, 7 de Julio, 2019.

Preludio

Vamos a empezar.

Buenos tarde. Bienvenido a la iglesia El Shadai DC. Para aquellos de ustedes que no me conocen, me llama Stephen W. Hiemstra. Soy un autor cristiano y vivo con mi esposa en Centreville, Virginia.

Esta tarde empezamos un nuevo estudio sobre la seguridad de salvación en Cristo. En un mundo con tanta incertidumbre tenemos solamente Cristo que no cambia y no nos defrauda. Hoy día voy a empezar por el pasaje más famoso de este tema, Juan 10, y voy a enfocar por la vida eterna.

Invocación

Vamos a orar.

Padre misericordioso:

Toda la alabanza y el honor son tuyos, porque escuchas nuestras oraciones, nos consuelas en nuestras aflicciones y nos da la vida eterna.

Confesamos que no somos dignos de tus afectos y te agradecemos por enseñarnos a amar.

Dibújanos ahora a ti mismo. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, abres nuestros corazones, iluminas nuestras mentes y fortaleces nuestras manos en tu servicio. En el precioso nombre de Jesucristo, Amén.

Escritura

El texto de hoy viene del libro del Juan 10:27-30 (NVI). Escuchen a la palabra de Dios. Mis ovejas oyen mi voz; yo las conozco y ellas me siguen. Yo les doy vida eterna, y nunca perecerán, ni nadie podrá arrebatármelas de la mano. Mi Padre, que me las ha dado, es más grande que todos; y de la mano del Padre nadie las puede arrebatar. El Padre y yo somos uno. La palabra del Señor. Gracias a Dios.

Introducción

¿Quien conoce alguien quien no acepta responsabilidad por si misma y constantemente es una pena de la cabeza? Disfortunamente, por cada una de nosotros esta pregunta trae otra cara en vista. Normalmente cuando veo otra persona que me molesto digo a mis hijos—Ahí va otra persona por la que Cristo murió. (2X) Esto es un chiste privado en mi familia que se repitan frecuentemente.  

Este chiste punta a una imagen de Cristo que es oposite de la persona que falta fibra o es, como se dice, un espíritu libre. Por contrario, un pastor es alguien que vive con las ovejas en el campo y les proteja de coyotes, lobos, y leones solamente con una vara y cayado. Este es trabajo respeto, pero es también sucio y peligroso. Es una imagen de la fuerza física y emocional y nuestra pintura mas básica de un líder natural.

¿Quien es la imagen perfecta de un pastor en tu vida? (2X)

El Primare Frase: Intima

En laprimara frase de nuestro texto de hoy Jesús uso la imagen de un buen pastor a explicar que nuestra relación con el es intima. El dijo solamente: “Mis ovejas oyen mi voz; yo las conozco y ellas me siguen.” Los que han estado rescatado oyen y siguen como ovejas. Esta frase es interesante porque es lacónica, Jesús uso pocas palabras a describir conceptos muy profundos—lacónica.

En medio de esta frase es una fase inesperada: yo las conozco. Escuchen a la frase otra vez: “Mis ovejas oyen mi voz; yo las conozco y ellas me siguen.” Esperábamos que dijera: me conocen. En contexto esperábamos: Mis ovejas oyen mi voz; me conocen y ellas me siguen.” Por medio de esta fase inesperada, Jesús hace una punta importante.

Aquí encontramos una familiaridad inesperada, nuestro pastor celestial conoce nos personalmente. Dios nos ama suficientemente a aprender nuestros nombres. Esta inferencia es creíble porque en la vida cotidiana, buenos pastores conocen sus ovejas y llaman las por su nombre.

El Segundo Frase: Seguro

En lasegunda frase de nuestro texto de hoy Jesús prometa la vida eterna y explica que nuestra relación con el es seguro. Dijo: “Yo les doy vida eterna, y nunca perecerán, ni nadie podrá arrebatármelas de la mano.” Es imposible a entender la permanencia de la vida eterna sino entender primera la vida eterna misma. Permítame enfoque el resto de mi tiempo por este concepto de la vida eterna.

La Vida Eterna

En su carta a la iglesia de Corinto, el apostal Pablo uso su famosa metáfora del cuerpo de Cristo (2X). Escuchan a la palabra de Dios:

De hecho, aunque el cuerpo es uno solo, tiene muchos miembros, y todos los miembros, no obstante ser muchos, forman un solo cuerpo. Así sucede con Cristo. Todos fuimos bautizados por un solo Espíritu para constituir un solo cuerpo —ya seamos judíos o gentiles, esclavos o libres—, y a todos se nos dio a beber de un mismo Espíritu. Ahora bien, el cuerpo no consta de un solo miembro sino de muchos. (1 Cor 12:12-14)

Aquí Pablo es hablando sobre la naturaleza de la iglesia, pero una segunda interpretación es posible.

En el pensamiento cristiano, hablamos frecuentemente sobre el alma la que hoy día se refieren como nuestra identidad. En pensamiento hebreo, la palabra implica el cuerpo, mente, espíritu, y la gente con quienes tenemos una relación. (2X) Cuando llegamos a Cristo, el espíritu santo viene en nuestra vida, por medio que venimos en relación con Dios. Nuestra alma cambia para siempre. Mucho como somos un cuerpo en Cristo (como se describe la iglesia), somos también uno con Dios, quien es eterna.

Ser uno con Dios implica que nuestra identidad es ahora se tiene en común con otros creyentes del pasado, presente, y futuro. Porque Dios es eterna, ser en unión con Dios implica también que nuestra identidad es ahora eterna. Esa es también completa porque Dios conoce nos tanta interna como externa, donde nuestra familia y amigos conocen nos solamente de cosas externa. (2X)

Ejemplo

¿Para aquellos de ustedes que no están acostumbrada de esta noción de identidad compartido y el alma, que paso a su identidad cuando su mente es ocupada por una enfermedad como alzhéimer? ¿Dejas de ser una persona? ¿Pierdes tu identidad por rasión que ya no recuerda quien eres? ¡No señor! ¡No señora! Cuando te encuentras una persona con Alzheimer, su identidad es retenida por las personas a su alrededor que los cuidan, ordenan sus comidas favoritas y cuentan sus historias por otras personas.

No es diferente cuando moriamos. Cuando moriamos, nuestra identidad es retenida no solamente por tantas las personas quienes nos conocían, pero también, en caso del cristiano, por el Espíritu Santo, quien es eterna. Dios que nos creó del polvo puede recrearnos fácilmente, completar con nuestra identidad, nuestras almas, porque estamos en una relación completa con Dios.

Por Fin

De esta explicación de la vida eterna, nuestra relación con Dios determina si nos permanecemos en salvación o no. Cuando Jesús dijo, “ni nadie podrá arrebatármelas de la mano,” eso es claro que nadie puede interferir con esta relación entre nosotros y Dios. Pero, debemos aceptar Cristo en nuestros corazones y da lo una prioridad en nuestra vida cada día. Todas las demás fue hecho posible por la sangre de Cristo. (2X) Amén.

Oración

Vamos a orar. Padre celestial, Buen Pastor, Espíritu Santo, Toda honor y gloria es tuya porque tu nos amas y valoras más nuestras vidas que nadie. Confesamos que no merecemos esta atención y amor. Gracias por venir durante la vida y sacrificio de Jesucristo. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, danos una fe que permanecerá ya mas que cualquiera estreso de esta vida. En el precioso nombre de Jesucristo, Amén.

Permanencia en Cristo

Also See:

Value Of Life

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Pentecost_2019

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Top Ten Posting on T2Pneuma.net During the Last 12 Months

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Annual Review

It is helpful for authors to review the types of writing that their readers are drawn to from time to time. Knowing your audience is useful for gauging what to write and the themes that most resonate. The attached table displays the posts most often read on T2Pneuma.net during the past twelve months.

The results this year are eye-opening. The most read post is a Spanish study of John 17. Three of top ten posts are Bible studies written in Spanish—none of the Bible studies were written in English. The only post written in this period is a eulogy for a friend and colleague—Dale Leuck. All the other top posts—book reviews–were written years ago, which suggests that they were subjects Googled by complete strangers, not regular readers who might be expected to return to more recent postings of interest. Many of these reviews were also popular in years past (see link below).

Six of the top ten posts are book reviews. The most read review featured a book on homosexuality in the Bible. Another review focused on theology. Two focused on family-systems psychology and three focused on Christian spirituality.

Conspicuously missing from this list are any of my Sunday prayers, Friday reflections, podcasts, or sermons. The primary change in my posting during the past year was the addition of my Monday Monologues podcast that clearly doubled my weekly traffic during the year, but did not yield a top ten posting. Because most of my sermons are delivered in Spanish, these were my only new postings in Spanish over the past year, but likewise did not garner a top ten posting.

I would love to hear from you. What were your favorite posts and why?

Me encantaría saber de ti. ¿Cuáles fueron tus publicaciones favoritas y por qué?

Thank you for your support.

Top Ten Posting on T2Pneuma.net During the Last 12 Months

Post Title

Views

  Last year Last month
Juan 17: La Oración de Intercesión 188 5
Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 1 184 4
2 Corintios 9: El Don Espiritual de la Generosidad 179 21
Stone and Duke Encourage Theological Reflection 131 28
Friedman Brings Healing by Shifting Focus from Individuals to the Family 126 8
Gálatas 2: Judios y Gentiles 105 10
In Loving Memory of Dale Joseph Leuck 104 0
Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God 97 12
Nouwen Describes Leadership Challenges 96 1
Benner Cares Spiritually Through Dialogue—Part 1 81 1
7/1/19

References

 Benner, David G. 1998.  Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Friedman, Edwin H. 1985.  Generation to Generation:  Family Process in Church and Synagogue.  New York:  Gilford Press

Gagnon, Robert A. J..  2001.  The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press.

Gilbert.,Roberta M. 2006. The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory:  A New Way of Thinking about the Individual and the Group.  Front Royal (VA):  Leading Systems Press.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. 1975. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. New York: DoubleDay.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. 2002. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company.

Stone, Howard W. and James O. Duke. 2006. How to Think Theologically. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Top Ten Posting on T2Pneuma.net During the Last 12 Months

Also See:

Top 10 Book Reviews Over the Past 12 Months 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Pentecost_2019

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Interpreting Life: Monday Monologues (Podcast) 20190708

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will pray and reflect on Interpreting Life.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Interpreting Life: Monday Monologues, July 8, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Pentecost_2019  

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Prayer for the Sleep Deprived

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty and Loving Father, Lord of the Sabbath, Blessed Spirit,

All praise and honor be to you for you taught us how to rest even though you yourself never grow tired of work or of us. For you know that tired people cannot love you or their neighbors.

Forgive us for forgetting your good example and caring law. Remind us gently of our oversights and failures, but keep our families and friends safe from our neglect while we tarry.

Thank you for your patience. Teach us to honor you and your law rightly. May we grow to be good examples of a balanced life to those around us.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, guard our careers and our self-esteem as we dial back on our work, our activities, and our frantic use of time to practice Sabbath. May our work obsession and stress addiction no longer rule our lives.

In Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

Prayer for the Sleep Deprived

Also see:

Prayer for Healthy Limits 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Pentecost_2019

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Interpreting Life

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

One can argue that a defining characteristic of the postmodern era is uncertainty, captured in the popular expression: “The only constant is change.⁠1” This uncertainty is compounded by a lack of consensus on basic values and the rapid pace of changes in technology and social conventions.

Postmodern uncertainty is also in sharp contrast with the stability of traditional society where tradition informs every important decision in one’s life—what gender roles we follow, who our friends are, who we marry, what profession we take up, and who and how we worship. Life has meaning in a traditional society because when we accept this guidance, we are rewarded with status and honor. 

Postmodern culture questions tradition and focuses on the individual who is responsible for every imaginable decision with little or no guidance. If we succeed as postmodern individuals, we are fully employed, have a medical plan, and can buy stuff, but we have no guarantee of status and honor because the culture’s standards keep morphing. Thus, anxiety has become a defining characteristic of the postmodern era.

The Indeterminacy Problem

Postmodern anxiety and uncertainty point to a more general problem of indeterminacy that is more typically masked when we act on consensus.

If you think that postmodern anxiety is a myth or an exaggeration, how do you respond to sleep deprivation? At one point, I got anxious and depressed. What was wrong with me? As I thought things through, I realized that my depression typically occurred on Saturdays. Then I realized that I was not depressed, I was tired from a long week. A good Saturday afternoon nap each week did away with my “depression.” I had interpreted my own physical condition incorrectly. Clearly, our attitude about the little setbacks in life can make all the difference in the living of it.

Indeterminacy arise in statistics because we know that correlation does not indicate causality. In theory, many causes can explain a particular correlation so a theory is required to suggest the cause of an observed correlation. Otherwise, the relationship can be entirely a random association.⁠2 If sunspots are associated with weather on earth, what explains this relationship?⁠3 The Rorschach (inkblot) test provides an interesting application of this indeterminacy problem (Smith 2001, 205-206). When a psychiatrist shows a patient a random inkblot and the patients sees patterns in the inkblot, the patterns arise from preconceptions of patient being imposed on the inkblot. Does the patient see angels or demons? Naked women or monsters? These preconceptions (or random associations) provide insight into the interior life of the patient that are hard to track any other way.

Telling a Faithful Story

The anxiety and uncertainty of postmodern society presents the Christian leader with a kind of cultural inkblot test. How can leadership successfully navigate through this perilous test?

One answer can be taken from my earlier comments on the book, Crucial Conversations, where I noted four stages in a dialogue: presenting facts (see and hear), telling a story, feeling, and acting (PGMS 2012, 110). They observe that once emotions take over actions get locked in. The formation of productive stories presents the last best chance to channel a dialog towards useful action. Crafting a vision for the church is an important starting point.

An infinite number of stories can be told, but not all comport well with the facts or are organizationally helpful. Three kinds of unproductive (clever) stories—victim, villain, and helpless stories—arise that are usually counter-productive (PGMS 2012, 116-119).⁠4 More productive is to tune into the church’s history and to compare it with other faithful churches or stories from the Bible.

Example of Barnabas

The story of Barnabas comes to mind when I see many churches in action. In his book, Becoming Barnabas: The Ministry of Encouragement, Paul Moots (2014, 2-3) writes:

“The ministry of encouragement is the art of leading and supporting others in the discovery of their own spiritual gifts and call to discipleship…We can become a Barnabas…encouragement allows the congregation to shape its ministry around its strengths rather than to base its work on some model derived from another congregation’s story, another pastor’s experience.”

Notice the role of story in this description. Each of us and each congregation has its own story of its Christian walk that deserves to be honored and built on. Herein lies our spiritual gifts and our strengths in ministry.

Encouragement is at the heart of the multiplication of gifts and church growth (Moots 2014, 6). It stands in contrast to the usual concept of discipling that implicitly (or explicitly) defines discipling almost exclusively in a teacher-student role and seeks more to replicate than to strengthen. At the heart of encouragement is respect, much like Barnabas clearly respected Paul. Imagine what might have happened had Barnabas attempted to fashion Paul into a mini-me version of himself?

In Hebrew, Barnabas literally means “son of the prophet,” but Doctor Luke gives it a metaphorical translation: “son of encouragement.” Interestingly, it is a nickname given to Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus (Acts 4:36). Would that we all be remembered in such a way.

References

Greene, William H. 1997. Econometric Analysis. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Moots, Paul. 2014. Becoming Barnabas: The Ministry of Encouragement. Herndon: Alban Institute.

Patterson, Kerry Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler (PGMS). 2012. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. New York:  McGraw-Hill.

Smith, Houston. 2001. Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief. San Francisco: Harper.

Footnotes

1 Ironically, this expression is attributed to Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 – 475 BC) who actually said: πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει (everything changes and nothing stands still). https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Heraclitus.

2 Statisticians frequently talk about the problem of inferring causality from correlations, but they seldom write about it because it undermines a lot of popular, but spurious statistical procedures. Greene (1997, 816) provide a review of the problem in discussing a statistical procedure called Granger casualty, a kind of statistical work around.

3 Superstition can be defined as a random association being confused with a particular causality. If seeing a black cat is a bad omen, exactly how does that relationship work?

4 Claiming victimhood means accepting no responsibility for what happens next or even offering to help turn things around. The same is true for pointing a finger at a “villain” or claiming a lack of power to change things.

Interpreting Life

Also See:

Value Of Life

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Pentecost_2019

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Robinson Captures Iowa Psyche

Marilynne Robinson. 2004. Gilead: A Novel. New York: Picador.[1]

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

My clearest memory of November of 1974 when I returned to finish out the last two years of college at Iowa State University involved the need to learn the fine art of conversation. When offered a bar or cookie and a cup of coffee, one had to respond with a lengthy discourse on topics roughly summarized as small talk. This would not be gossip, nor items fit to appear in the Oskaloosa Herald, but mostly glimpses of life to acquaint those present with family matters missed due to the passage of time and travesty of distance. No one out East tutored me in coffee time etiquette 1.0 so for this class, required for graduation, I proved a slow learner.

Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead,takes the form of a lengthy letter from John Ames, a third-generation congregational pastor, to his son. Ames is dying of a heart condition at the age of sixty-seven while his son, the only child of a younger second wife, Lila, is still a preteen.

Gilead, Iowa

Gilead is an unincorporated town in southwest Iowa just south of Fontanelle along route 92 in Adair County. I last drove through this region in 1982 on a trip from Oskaloosa, Iowa to Omaha, Nebraska while I was researching beef packing plants for my dissertation. This area left two distinct impressions on me. First, between Indianola and Omaha along route 92 one could find no McDonald’s restaurants, my measure of an area’s poverty. Second, along the way, I had to stop to round up some pigs that got loose from a local farm—I never did see the farmer—and had wandered into the road.

For purposes of the novel, Gilead’s location put it close to the Missouri state line where Ames’ grandfather had participated in partisan fighting leading up to the Civil War. West of Gilead is Nebraska, but west of Missouri is Kansas Ames’ grandfather later absconded and died. Ames’ father also left Gilead to retire in the South. The fact that John Ames faithfully remained in Gilead and retired as one of its pastors speaks to his grit and the strength of his faith.

Poverty

My father’s hometown of Oskaloosa, population 10,000, has not grown in a generation and occasionally appears on television as a location kids grow up and leave. Oskaloosa, with its McDonalds, high school, hospital, and indoor mall, is a big city compared to Gilead. Abject poverty is a theme in the book and Gilead remains a metaphor for poverty.

Robinson makes many references to this poverty. One that sticks in my mind is: “I am old enough to remember when we used to go out in the brush, a lot of us, and spread out in a circle, and then close in, scaring the rabbits along in front of us, till they were trapped there in the center and then we would kill them with sticks and clubs. That was during the Depression and people were hungry.”(198)

Robinson’s gift as a writer arises in her ability to paint one word picture after another.

John Ames Boughton

Another important theme in Robinson’s writing is the relationship between John Ames and his best friend’s son, John Ames Boughton. The best friend, a local Presbyterian pastor who grew up with John Ames, is normally just referred to a Boughton, but the son is also called Jack. As suggested by his name, John Ames Boughton has a father-son relationship with John Ames and is estranged from his biological father.

He plays out the rebellious pastor’s kid (PK) role virtually his whole life. For example, we read:

“His transgressions were sly and lonely, and this became truer as he grew up. I believe I said earlier that he did not teal in any convectional sense, but by that I meant he stole things of no value except to the people he stole them from. There was no sense in what he, unless his purpose was to cause a maximum of embarrassment and risk a minimum of retribution.”(182)

As a teen, this kid impregnated a local girl and later in life he took a black woman as his wife. Perhaps his worst sin was not being available when his mother and father died.

Ironically, this rebellious PK is so polite that strangers, including his future wife, assume he is a pastor. John Ames refers to him as a son and the boy refers to Ames as Papa. This odd relationship seems like a counterpoint to Ames himself, who never played out the PK role and remained a faithful pastor in the face of much adversity.

Assessment

Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead,is an engaging read that won the Pulitzer Prize. I picked up the book as a summer read because I have spent a lot of time in Iowa and heard that Robinson taught at the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop.[2]The conversational style of Robinson’s writing reminds me of that of my own grandparents and their siblings in Iowa. Some may not catch all her biblical and theological allusions, but for me they added a depth seldom seen in Christian literature.

Foonotes

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilead_(novel) [2]https://writersworkshop.uiowa.edu.

Robinson Captures Iowa Psyche

Also See:

Meredith: Robots Gone Wild

RPC Sharpens Shorts; Gets Buy 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Pentecost_2019

 

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