Fortson and Grams: Bible Limits Sex to Christian Marriage, Part 1

Fortson and Grams, Unchanging Witness S. Donald Fortson and Rollin G. Grams. 2016. Unchanging Witness: Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition. Nashville: B&H Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In 2010 as a seminary student, a pastor formerly associated with my home church wrote a book on his personal ministry to people trapped in a homosexual lifestyle and wanting out. He is a longtime friend and, because his publisher wanted reviewers, I volunteered to write a review. When I later inquired as to whether to publish this review in our presbytery newsletter, I got an icy response. Now eight years later, my friend’s church has long since left the denomination and my home church is in the final stages of leaving. The church’s attitude about homosexuality remains the most important theological question facing our generation and, yet, most Christians, myself included, flinch at bringing up the topic.[1]

In their book, Unchanging Witness, Donald Fortson and Rollin Grams write:

“…our chief concern is with those who identify themselves as Christians. Many contemporary discussions of homosexuality are based on broad assertion lacking substantial grounding in the texts of the Christian tradition. Our book is intended as a resource for those who hold the historical Christian position on homosexuality. What we offer is the combined perspective of a New Testament scholar and a church historian…”(xi).

Rollin is a personal friend and former New Testament (NT) professor of mine who remains on the faculty of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC with a lifelong commitment to reading ancient texts carefully.[2]Dr. Fortson is a professor of church history at the Reformed Theological Seminary, also in Charlotte.[3]

The task of reading church texts carefully is probably easier today than at any point in the past two thousand years. Ancient texts from libraries and churches around the world are now available online to virtually anyone who looks. However, in spite of technological advances and the scholarly horsepower to understand them, ironically biblical illiteracy plagues the church and careful scholarship does not always inform church preaching, teaching, and decisions.

Crisis of Authority

The real crisis, Fortson and Grams argue, is whether the church continues to view the Bible as authoritative. (168, 366) Why? They write:

“Our overview of texts has revealed that the Fathers, Reformers, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox church are unanimous in their condemnation of homoerotic behavior among those who profess Christ as Lord.”(376)

And each of these church groups base their position of homosexuality on the authority of scripture. In particular, their sexual ethic, drawn from both Old and New Testament texts, is summed up succinctly: “The place for sex was understood to be within marriage between a man and a woman.”(189) No other sexual activity, including heterosexual and homosexual sex, was permitted for the Christian, in spite of alternative cultural contexts, desires, and motives. The detailed documentation of this unusual unity of opinion among Jews and Christians in Fortson and Grams book is lengthy (385 pages) and repetitious because little disagreement existed (or exists) among orthodox believers.

In the Reformation, Protestant groups broke away from the Catholic Church over the authority of scripture arguing that the Bible was the sole of authority over matters of faith and salvation. In arguing from cultural experience and mores, liberal Protestant groups have ironically separated themselves from their own reformed tradition and reopened behaviors in the church that first led to the reformation. As Fortson and Grams observe, immoral behavior among clergy, including homosexuality, and the influence of humanism figured prominently in the decision of the Protestant churches to break away. (77-86)

Did God Really Say…

A key argument among homosexual advocates is that biblical authors and early church writers were unaware of consensual homosexual relationships as we see today and, as a consequence, biblical prohibitions against homosexuality were limited in scope to particular concerns, like pederastry (sex between an older man and a boy). Thus, consensual homosexual relationships were not in view, hence not proscribed. For example, Fortson and Grams (18) cite John McNeill (1993, xx) who writes:

“…You [traditional Catholic writers] continue to claim that a loving homosexual act is condemned in Scripture, when competent scholars are nearly unanimous in admitting that nowhere in Scripture is there a clear condemnation of sexual acts between two gay men or lesbians who love each other.” 

Implicit in these arguments is that the Bible did not limit sex to one man and one woman in the context of marriage, which would render such arguments moot by forbidding all other sexual relations. Homosexual advocates therefore start by denying the existence of a Christian sexual ethic and then move on to limit the scope of biblical passages mentioning homosexuality, recognizing that most pastors and Christians will not be able to follow the historical arguments or exegete the Greek and Hebrew on their own. This is the context—reviewing original historical documents and scripture—where Fortson and Grams’ analysis proves most beneficial.

Importance of the Debate

The silence of most Christians on the question of homosexuality comes at a cost. Since ancient times, a homosexual lifestyle has been known to shorten the lifespan of those who practice it. The CDC reports that AIDS has claimed over half a million lives in recent years[4]and AIDS is only one of the diseases (think hepatitis, social diseases …) transmitted by homosexual sex.[5]Homosexuality also raises the probability of suicide dramatically.

This problem has touched me personally. The pastor who recruited me in graduate school into youth ministry later contracted AIDS and died. If he had kept his marriage vows, he would probably still be with us. The idea that someone in the church recruited him into this lifestyle or inferred that yielding to his desires was okay robbed us of a much-loved pastor.

Assessment

Part one of this review gives an overview of Donald Fortson and Rollin Grams’ Unchanging Witness. Part two will examine their arguments in more depth.

Fortson and Grams provide an important resource to the church and academy on the history of the church’s teaching on homosexuality. This book is of special interest to those new to the debate about the role of homosexuality in the church and those who take scripture as the sole authority for answering questions of faith and Christian living. Fortson and Grams focus on truth-telling. In this context love means accepting people as they are, but caring enough to help them to move beyond their fallen state (John 8).[6]

References

Campbell, W. P. 2010. Turning Controversy into Church Ministry: A Christlike Response to Homosexuality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. (Review)

Gagnon, Robert A. J.  2001.  The Bible and Homosexual Practice:  Texts and Hermeneutics. Nashville: Abingdon Press. (Review, part 1)

McNeill, John. 1993. The Church and the Homosexual, 4th ed. Boston: Beacon.

Footnotes

[1]I bought my copy of Unchanging Witnessin 2016 when it was published. It is timely to review it now two years later because of the travails of my home church with this issue and my research needs in writing.

[2]http://www.GordonConwell.edu/online/Faculty.cfm. https://BibleAndMission.blogspot.com.

[3]https://www.rts.edu/seminary/faculty/bio.aspx?id=91. @sdfortson

[4]http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/basics/ataglance.html.

[5]Gagnon (2001, 473) provides a long list of serious health problems associated with homosexual practice.

[6] Campbell (2010) sees Jesus’ attitude towards the woman caught in adultery as our template for ministry (John 8).

Fortson and Grams: Bible Limits Sex to Christian Marriage, Part 1

Also see:

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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Monday Monologue, Image Theology, May 21, 2018 (Podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I share a Pentecost prayer and a reflection on image theology.

To listen, click on the link below.

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

Monday Monologue, Image Theology, May 21, 2018 (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 at: http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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Prayer for the Holy Spirit

Almighty father,

Praise be to you, Oh Lord, for your infinite wisdom, mercy, and grace.

We praise you because our limits are ever more pressing and our strength too often fails.

For we are weak kneed and our hearts bleed for every vile manner of evil.

We yield to the slightest temptation and bow before idols that our minds churn out day after day.

But we thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts and calm our hearts

and give us the strength needed to walk in your ways.

Be now our constant companion, a helper in our daily struggles.

Grant us peace in this turbulent world and peace in our hearts,

that we may grow to reflect your image more closely day by day.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer for the Holy Spirit

Also see:

Tennant Highlights Five Gifts

Giving Thanks 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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Image Theology

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Who is God?  And what does it mean to be created in the image of God as male and female?

Let’s start with the reference in the Book of Genesis:

“Then God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen 1:26-28 ESV)

The context here is important. We are in the first chapter of the first book in the Bible so every implied by these three verses about what it means to be created in the image of God has to appear in the prior verses. How does the text describe God?

First, verse one tells us that God is a creator who, being eternal, sovereignly stands outside time and space. Second, verse two shows us that God can through his spirit enter into his creation. Third, having created heaven and earth, verse three describes God speaking to shape the form of creation beginning with light. Note the exact correspondence between what God says (“Let there be light”) and what he does (“and there was light”)—God is truthful, authentic. Forth, verse four tells us that God judged to be good and he separated it from darkness—God discriminates good (light) from the not so good (darkness). God cares about ethics.

God later describes his ethical character in detail to Moses after giving the Ten Commandments a second time:

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, the LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exod 34:6)

God’s self-disclosure was important for understanding how to interpret the Ten Commandments, should questions arise, but it also underscores the creation account providing insight into whose image we are created to reflect.

Going back to Genesis 1:26-28, two aspects of God’s image are highlight in our own creation description. We are created by a sovereign God who creates us to participate in his creation in two specific ways: we are to “have dominion” over the created order and we are to “be fruitful and multiply.” How are we to accomplish these things? Following God’s ethical image, we are to be discerning of the good, merciful, gracious, patient, loving, and truthful. 

Although God created animals prior to Adam and Eve and they were also commanded to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:22), they could not reflect God’s ethical image and God did not give them dominion. 

At this point in Genesis, God also intended us also to share in his eternal nature. However, before God conferred immortality on us, he posed an ethical test. Would Adam and Eve reflect God’s ethical nature?

The test came in the form of a command:

“And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, you may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen 2:16-17)

Satan tempted Adam and Eve to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and they ate. Because Satan had done this, God cursed him:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen 3:15)

The “he” in this verse is singular and points to a future redeemer (Job 19:25), who Christians identify as Jesus Christ (John 1:1-3). After this point in the narrative, God cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden where they were subject to the curse of death. We thus see that the original sin of Adam and Eve separated us from the Garden of Eden, eternal life, and fully reflecting the image of God.

Jesus underscores this image theology in several important ways. First, he is revealed as the ethical image of God with God during creation:

“He [Jesus]was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John. 1:2-5)

Second, Jesus uses image theology in teaching prayer to his disciples: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:10) In this phrase, the word, “kingdom,” is a commonly used circumlocution to avoid referencing God directly, which in the Jewish faith was considered too holy to be used in common language. In the Old Testament, for example, we often see the term, Lord (adonai in Hebrew), used instead of God’s covenant name, YHWH, often pronounced Yahweh.

Third, just like Jesus asserts God’s sovereignty over heaven and hell in his death on the cross, the disciples are commissioned to assert God’s sovereignty over the earth after the ascension. Right before he ascended, Jesus said:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

This parallel ministry is also discussed in John’s Gospel: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) In other words, the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”, is not an incidental footnote in Jesus’ ministry or a latter addition to the text as some allege, it is a direct consequence of the image theology in Genesis 1. Likewise in the Apostle Paul’s writing we see a dichotomy between a putting off of the old self and a putting on of the new self in Christ (Eph 4:22-24), as we are transformed by the image of the living God.

 

Image Theology

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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Brueggeman’s Prophet Imagines What Might Be

Review of Walter Brueggemann's Prophetic ImaginationWalter Brueggemann. 2001. The Prophetic Imagination (Orig Pub 1978).Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The defining characteristic of Christian groups lies in their hermeneutic method—how they read and interpret scripture. The rampant scholarly innovation in hermeneutical methods in our time accordingly represents not only a search for truth, but also, as a deconstructionist might observe, also represents a power-play, both a rejection of past verities and a diversion of consciousness. The nature of this competition and its implication for the church appear veiled to most Christians because such cultural influences operate at the presuppositional level of our thinking—it’s just the air we breathe.

Introduction

In his book, Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann enters this field of inquiry from the unlikely perspective of an Old Testament (OT) scholar. Most hermeneutic innovations today start with defining a new Jesus and discount much of what came before—that was then; this is now—is the common refrain. Brueggemann breaks the norm by developing an important OT theme, the conflict between Moses and Pharaoh, and demonstrates how this theme has continuing relevance in the role and voice of the prophet both in the OT and NT, even now.

Moses and Pharaoh

Brueggemann sees the conflict between Moses and Pharaoh as a paradigm for interpreting much of the human conflict in scripture and conflict in the church today. Moses stands out from other historical figures because he engages Pharaoh in an ideological struggle. Pharaoh rules over the people of Israel with numbing work and unpreceded prosperity, masking the reality of Hebrew slavery.

People today forget that Egypt, like the United States today, surpassed other nations with its abundant food supply, a product of innovative irrigation unknown in most of the ancient near east. Remember the temptation of the Israelites in the desert:

“We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”(Num 11:5-6 ESV)

Remember also that Jacob brought his family to Egypt originally because of drought in Israel (Gen 42:1-2; 46:4). Pharaoh offered the people food and security as slaves; Moses offered them an alternative reality that included freedom from slavery. Corporate America, the government, and, all too frequently, the established church all try to offer much the same thing today.

Solomon

Ultimately, Brueggemann argues, Moses’ theology proved too radical for the Israelite people. Over the course of time, worship left the Moses’ tabernacle, a tent where access to God was freely open to all, and entered Solomon’s temple, a house devised to regulate access to God. The sovereign God worshipped in the tabernacle became a domesticated God managed by priests. And Solomon taxed and enslaved the people as much or more than Pharaoh, his father in law. Solomon’s taxes so burdened the people that when he died, the kingdom split when his heir threatened to raise taxes even more (1Kgs 12).

The Prophet

Freedom from slavery starts with a transcendent God, who hears the cries of His people. But how can people know to cry out to God when they have been satiated with the food and wine of kings? Brueggemann sees:

“The task of prophetic ministry [as] to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture…”(3)

The prophet must teach agnosticized people how to cry again. The problem is not unlike teaching a co-dependent person how to stand on their own two feet or convincing a drug addict to go straight.

The prophetic voice, according to Brueggemann:

“…is not carping and denouncing. It is asserting that false claims to authority and power cannot keep their promises, which they could not in the face of the free God.”(11)

This is the prophetic model of Moses as he confronts Pharaoh during the ten plagues, but “the real criticism begins in the capacity to grieve because that is the most visceral announcement that things are not right.”(11)

Where is God?

Although Brueggemann cites Jeremiah, known as the Crying Prophet, extensively, the model of people crying to God and God providing them a deliverer is a central theme in the Book of Judges. For Brueggemann, God is a transcendent, listening God who hears the cry of his people and acts. He is also a God who is not bashful in putting his thumb on the scale for the poor in their conflict with the rich. If Brueggemann’s insight seems far-fetched, then consider the second Beatitude:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”(Matt 5:4 ESV)

Who feels blessed in grief? In the context of the conflict between rich and poor, comfort in grief appears subversive—comfort that only God can provide. Hearing such words from Jesus, which echo Isaiah 61:1-3, suggests that Brueggemann’s Jesus both plays the role of an OT prophet and uses words that speak at a presuppositional level to undermine the dominant culture, most remarkably the Roman empire.

Assessment

Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imaginationis perhaps his best-known book, one of over a hundred published works.[1]He is a retired seminary professor and much-sought-after speaker. Although a darling of liberal Protestants, his analysis could easily be recast in more covenantal terms and appeal to Evangelicals.

The role of a covenant lawsuit prophet, for example, is to remind OT kings of their obligations under the Mosaic covenant—no Marxist dialectic need be evoked—as Brueggemann’s prophet. And his focus on the conflict between prophet and king does not interfere with the usual paradigm of salvation history—creation, fall, and redemption. Rather, it points to the failure of the Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7) and the need for Christ.

I enjoyed reading The Prophetic Imaginationbefore seminary, but only understood it some years later on a second read. For anyone up to the challenge, I recommend it highly.

[1]http://www.WalterBrueggemann.com/about.

Brueggeman’s Prophet Imagines What Might Be

Also see:

Sabbath Rest as Cultural Firewall by Brueggemann 

Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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Monday Monologue, Availability, May 14, 2018 (Podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I share a Mother’s Day prayer and a review of Robert Wick’s Availability.

To listen, click on the link below.

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

Monday Monologue, Availability, May 14, 2018 (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 at: http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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Mother’s Day Prayer 2018

Hazel Hiemstra in 1954
Mom and I, 1954

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for my mother

who brought me into this world, raised and encouraged me.

Thank you for your ongoing presence and encouragement.

Be especially present in her life today.

Though many years have passed between us,

may each and every day be a blessing.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

may she continue to walk with you

and serve you as well as she has served me.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Mother’s Day Prayer 2018

Also see:

Giving Thanks 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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Limits to a Cognitive Approach

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Epistemology takes seriously the question of how we know what we know and the field of inquiry assumes a cognitive approach to learning. The presumption is that human being are essentially rational and that faith itself is a rational undertaking. The Bible suggests, however, that this cognitive approach has two important limitations when we discuss faith.

Creation Influences Thought

The first limitation arises because we are created, male and female, in the image of of a triune God.  Being created to live and reproduce in families implies that we experience the world in community. Much as we want our independence, our thoughts, feelings, and language are not entirely our own. 

Even more so, being created in the image of a triune God differs from being created in the image of a unitary god. The Bible portrays God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—a complete community in the godhead, as Jesus references after the Last Super:

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26 ESV)

In imaging a triune God, we image a community, something we can neither fully embody nor understand. Unlike a unitary god, which is fixed, stable, and offers mostly an opportunity for self-projection, a triune God is dynamic, alive, and changing.

In particular, the language we speak shapes our perceptions of reality in fundamental ways, not the least of which is that it reflects the culture we live and worship in. Our attitudes about gender, work, faith, and many other things are embedded in the words that we use and do not use. We are not alone in this world even in our own thoughts and feelings—we carry our community with us wherever we go. This is, in part, why words can never fully reflect our actual thoughts or feelings.

The Hebrew Heart

The wholly confusion that dominates the church today is rooted the Greek dualism that pervades western thought. While Greeks distinguished mind and body, Hebrews did not. The Hebrew mindset saw mind and body as different parts of a unified whole, whose center is the heart (cardia). Stroking emotions and teaching the head neglect the heart that responds principally to ritual. Neglected hearts see no reason to become disciples or attend church. The church then finds itself full of confused thinkers and traumatized emoters who ridicule and neglect ritual leading to even more neglected hearts. Wholly confusion naturally leads then to holy confusion.

This confusion of where our faith resides, in our hearts not our minds or emotions, implies that the cognitive approach cannot fully inform our faith. As theologian James K.A. Smith writes: 

“Jesus is a teacher who doesn’t inform our intellect but forms our very loves…His ‘teaching’ doesn’t just touch the calm, cool, collected space of reflection and contemplation, he is a teacher who invades the heated, passionate regions of the heart. He is the Word who ‘penetrates even dividing the soul and spirit’; he ‘judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart’ (Heb 4:12)” (1)

Inherent in this statement is the Hebrew view of anthropology cited above—note the two references to heart. What Greek would talk about “the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”? Drawing attention to this anthropology, Smith asks: “Do you ever experience a gap between what you know and what you do?” (5) If he had the rational mind in view, no such gap would exist but, of course, we all experience this gap. 

This line of thought leads Smith to observe: “What if you are defined not by what you know [the mind] but by what you desire? [the heart] (7) If our desires are reflected more in our actions than in our words, then this Hebrew anthropology leads us immediately into an inconvenient discussion of ethics because our hearts are not lily-white clean as our words. It also forces us to discuss how we know what we know (the epistemology question) because our hearts are not so easily persuaded to follow even our own thoughts. Suddenly, much of the New Testament language sounds less churchy and more informed by an alternative world view, one decidedly not Greek and unfamiliar in American culture.

The Cognitive Theory of Emotions

In his work on emotions in the New Testament, Matthew Elliott (2006, 46-47) outlines a cognitive theory of emotions that “reason and emotion are interdependent.” The alternative is to argue that reason and emotion are independent of one another, a key assumption of the therapeutic gospel because emotions are believed to rule our lives. Elliott notes that the God of the Bible only gets angry on rare occasions and his anger (or wrath) is focused on examples of when people have disobeyed the covenant or expressed a hardness of the heart, as in the case of Pharaoh (Exod 4:21).

Clearly, we cannot talk about thinking independent of feelings and we cannot think entirely independent of the communities that we reside and worship in. We need to proceed to treat them as interdependent, complicated as that might be. Still, as best we can, we need to understand better how we know what we know before we can even talk about our faith.

References

Elliott, Matthew A. 2006.  Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament.  Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic and Professional.

Smith, James K. A. 2016. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press. 

Limits to a Cognitive Approach

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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Wicks Seeks Availability Deepens Faith

Robert Wicks, AvailabilityRobert Wicks. 2000. Availability: The Spiritual Joy of Helping Others. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the more interesting definitions of the soul is that it encompasses who we are and who we are in relationship with, including God. This definition differs significantly from the Greek division of the person into body and spirit or, body, mind, and spirit. It also differs from the Freudian division into id, ego, and superego. When we talk about the three movements of the spirit, popularized recently by Henri Nouwen (1975), into polarities within, with God, and with others, we converge on this ancient notion of soul. Loneliness can accordingly be accurately described as an affliction of the soul, while frankly psychologists have really no conceptual basis for even describing it because it is relational, not part of the person.

Introduction

In his book, Availability: The Spiritual Joy of Helping Others, Robert Wicks describes his book’s theme in these words:

“…the more we can remove the blocks to an appreciation of who we are and who we are becoming, the truer we can be in our response to the Gospel call to serve others and God. We must be available then to ourselves so that our relationships can flow out of a healthy attitude and a clear awareness of our motivations.”(3)

While Wicks cites many passages of scripture, the one that comes to mind for me in reflecting on this book, the story of Bartimaeus, he does not cite. It reads:

“And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside … And Jesus stopped and said, Call him … And Jesus said to him, What do you want me to do for you?”(Mark 10:46-52 ESV)

What celebrity stops for a random person in a crowd, one of the invisible people? Yet, time and time again, Jesus made himself radically available to strangers.

Being Available to Ourselves

If loneliness is an affliction of the soul, availability enlarges and heals the soul; it is a gift (1). Wicks writes:

“Availability to ourselves increases along with availability to God and others because there is a unity in being true to oneself, others, and God.”(39)

Wicks clearly believes that being available to ourselves is the key to unlocking this gift. Note that in writing his book in eight chapters, four are devoted to being available to ourselves (half the book) while only two chapters are devoted to being available to others and two to God (v).

Wicks focuses on being available to ourselves in terms of recognizing our uniqueness and limits, being willing to forgive ourselves in failure, cultivating self-awareness, and developing emotional and mental clarity, avoiding defensiveness.

Being Available to Others

Being available to others can be easily described, but it is an area fraught with confusion. Wicks writes:

“Being available to others is not just giving time, money, and effort. It is also not endlessly worrying about others so that our personal tension rises to the point that we are overloaded and have no energy to care about anything or anyone anymore.” (40)

Obviously, burnout is a real possibility. I have seen pastors experiencing anxiety attacks, running around trying to do everything, and being subject to temptations that would not normally afflict them, had they honored their own limits.

Being Available to God

In his discussion of being available to God, Wicks makes an important observation:

“When we play at prayer, rather than open ourselves up to listen, it is we who are truly not available to God.”(95)

When you pray, do you do all the talking? God answers prayer, sometimes quite quickly, but we need to be listening. He goes on:

“…if there is a key to understanding the problems of availability and appreciating it as a gift, this key is contained in our seeking unity within and without by placing ourselves continually in the presence of God: to relax, to sit, to learn, to work, to contemplate, to do everything in the presences of God.”(102)

When I am restless or distracted in prayer, I find it helpful to pray a centering prayer. For me, Psalm 8 centers me and helps me to separate myself from my own busyness. My own restlessness often makes continuous prayer during the day hard.

Assessment

Robert Wicks’ Availability: The Spiritual Joy of Helping Othersis short and easily read—a seminarian’s delight. Its brevity is disarming and masks the profound influence that this book had on my thinking early in seminary. After reading Wicks, I meditated on the story of Bartimaeus and Psalm 8 for years. Perhaps, you will too.

References

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

Wicks Seeks Availability Deepens Faith

Also see:

Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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Monday Monologue, Authenticity, May 7, 2018 (Podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I share a prayer of lament and a reflection on authenticity.

To listen, click on the link below.

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

Monday Monologue, Authenticity, May 7, 2018 (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 at: http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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