Community

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ“Behold, how good and pleasant it is 

when brothers and sisters dwell in unity!” 

(Ps 133:1)⁠1

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The word for church in Greek commonly used in the New Testament is: ecclesia (ἐκκλησίας;  Jas. 5:14 BNT) The word literally means called out ones.⁠2 The Apostle Paul, for example, writes:

“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” (1 Cor. 1:2)

Paul’s usage conveys the idea of connection through Christ which Bonhoeffer (1995, 226) underscores in writing: “The preaching of the Church and the administration of the sacraments is the place where Jesus Christ is present.” Bonhoeffer’s statement echoes Christ’s own words (e.g. John 6:56).

Priesthood of All Believers

While this idea of the called out ones today evokes the image of a seminary, where everyone is specifically called to ministry, every member of the church is called to faith and ministry. As with Abraham, we are blessed to be a blessing to others (Gen 12:1-3). In this way, we are all priests serving under our great high priest, Jesus Christ, and are able to approach God through him (Heb 7:25).

Although the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is often interpreted narrowly to mean that church members should invite their neighbors and friends to church, the Apostle Peter links this priestly function specifically to sanctification:

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander…As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 2:1-5)

Note how he begins these verses with with a call to purity. Is it any wonder that scripture likens the church to a marriage?

The Scriptural Prominence of Marriage and Relationship to the Church

The prominence of marriage in scripture is unmistakable—the Bible begins and ends with a marriage—suggesting that marriage is God’s idea, not ours (Keller 2011, 13). 

Beginning in the Book of Genesis, we see a couple, Adam and Eve who are just made for each other and whose relationship is more important than the man’s relationship with his family. (Gen 2:24)  This idea that a man’s wife was more important than his family of origin was unthinkable in the ancient near east where siblings, not spouses, were one’s closest confidants (Hellerman 2001, 36).

Jesus treats the creation account of Adam and Eve as foundational in his teaching on divorce and remarriage. From the prospective of advocates of no-fault divorce, he significantly ignores the Law of Moses, which admits exceptions in divorce. If marriage is instituted by God in creation, then divorce cheapens marriage and is obviously not divinely sanctioned. More importantly, the formative aspects of marriage disappear if marriage only survives on sunny days.

Ending in the Book of Revelation, an angel informs us: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Rev 19:9) The church, which was betrothed to Christ on earth, is finally married to Christ in heaven. Because Revelation depicts many pictures of Christian worship in heaven with robes, trumpets, singing, prayer, visions, and processions, the analogy between marriage and the church is most explicit. 

The Formative Characteristics of Marriage

If the church’s relationship with Christ is compared to marriage, then what aspects of marriage are we talking about? 

The Apostle Paul highlights the formative character of marriage in his comments on mixed faith marriages. Paul reports that the believing spouse renders the whole marriage holy for the children (1 Cor 7:12–14). Paul also sees marriage as a witnessing opportunity. Paul asks: “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Cor 7:16) In other words, Paul clearly sees marriage possessing a sacrificial component. 

If marriage is formative, how does it draw us closer to God? At least three examples can be cited.

The first example is that God instituted marriage and commissioned marriage with a blessing and mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion . . .” (Gen 1:28) God created marriage, blessed it, and said it was good—obeying God must draw us closer to him.

The second example is that it starts with an unconditional promise. God is the eternal promise keeper. In marriage we imitate our creator. Making and keeping good promises—even when it hurts—transforms us and draws us closer to God.

The third example marriage is that it makes us accountable. Our spouses know us in the biblical (covenantal) way! Our weaknesses and sin affect our spouses and they tell us. We sin less, in part, because our spouses make us more aware of our sin—a sanctification process that forms us—even if we are not believers! Part of this process is to learn reconciliation skills by practicing them daily. As the Apostle Paul wrote: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:17)

This list of reasons why marriage is formative is especially interesting because God instituted marriage even before he instituted the nation of Israel or sent his son to die on the cross. God is not irrational. He knows that the biggest beneficiaries of marriage are our children. And he loves them as much as he loves us and, of course, as Christians we all God’s children. 

Formation of Character in Community

Just like in marriage, our Christian character is formed in relationship. Our first relationship in life is with our families. In faith, our relationship is with each of the three members of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Reinforcing these other relationships is our relationship with the church. Out of these relationships we develop a Christian identity that, in turn, becomes the basis for how we act.

The postmodern tendency is to play down the role the importance of Christian formation, especially in leadership, because of a deficient doctrine of sin and neglect of the heart. The New Testament treats the heart as a shorthand for the whole person—heart, mind, and soul. Sin begins in the heart and emanates into action. Acting out sin, in turn, pollutes the heart making future sin more likely, which is why the Bible treats sin not as an act, but as an act of rebellion. This polluting characteristic of sin undermines our Christian formation making the formative activities in the church all the more important.

Formed as we are in Christian relationships, our ethics arise from family, faith, and community of faith. As we mature in our faith, we naturally assume a leadership role in each of these domains.

Footnotes

1 Beginning Life Together with this scripture passage marked Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a dissenter in Nazi Germany where the Old Testament was considered un-German and Jewish (Metaxis 2010, 367-368)

2 Outside the church, it is also translated as assembly, as in a meeting of representatives or elected officials.

References

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1954.  Life Together:  The Classic Exploration of Christian Community (Gemeinsames Leben).  Translated by John W. Doberstein.  New York:  HarperOne.

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.

Hellerman, Joseph H. 2001. The Ancient Church as Family. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Keller, Timothy and Kathy Keller. 2011. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton.

Metaxis, Eric. 2010.  Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.  Nashville:  Thomas Nelson.

Community

Also see:

Preface to Living in Christ 

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2018_Character

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Character

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ“You did not choose me, but I chose you and 

appointed you that you should go and bear fruit”  

(John 15:16)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What is a Christian?  

Is a Christian someone who has been baptized and confirmed or is it someone who draws closer to Christ with each passing day? The formalities of baptism and confirmation mark Christendom and the institutional church while the relational act of drawing closer to Christ is often associated with the Jesus (or pietist) movement.⁠1 Mission circles actively debate this question, in part, because formal church membership acts can bring persecution, arrest, and even death.

The Ancient Church

For scripture and for the ancient church, formality or relationship posed a false dichotomy. Jesus invited his disciples into relationship a long time before the church even existed:

“As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.” (Matt 9:9)

Still, even Jesus insisted on some formalities:

“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 10:32-33)

Later on the church’s indoctrination could take years before a new believer underwent baptism, suggesting that baptism was not a mere formality. Clearly, the early church took discipling seriously and engaged the inner life of the disciple beyond the reciting of a few Bible verses and a confessional statement.

Character Versus Personality

In his study of today’s moral dilemma facing the church, Wells makes a distinction between character, which arises from our inner life and virtues, and personality, which focuses on outward appearances. He writes:

“Today, we cultivate personality (a word almost unknown before the twentieth century) far more than we do character, and this is simply the concomitant to the way in which values have come to replace the older sense of virtue…Character is good or bad, while personality is attractive, forceful, or magnetic.” (Wells 1998, 96-97)

In some sense, the “hollowing out of the self” began with this emphasis on exterior characteristics and is exemplified by the rise of celebrities over heroes. Wells notes, citing Daniel Boorstin:

“The hero was distinguished by his achievement; the celebrity by his image or trademark. The hero created himself; the celebrity is created by the media.” (Wells 1998, 100)

The focus on external appearances and the neglect of the inner life are akin to devaluing our experience of God, even if we believe that we take faith seriously. Wells observes:

“If the narcissist classically has a shrunken, fragmentary self, our culture has similarly become hollowed out and lost its core. If the narcissist covers up the emptiness by exaggerated self-importance and fantasies of power, our culture is covering up its hollowness by fads and fashions, ceaseless consuming, and the constant excitement of fresh sexual conquest.” (108)

While someone of strong moral character has no need of “buzz,” personality addicts live for public approval. Pastors are not the ones often guilty of being people pleasers. In Washington, the joke is that most dangerous place to stand is between a particular congressional representative (or senator or president) and the television cameras. 

Looking Beyond Personality 

 In the midst of a culture that constantly shouts at us, it can be hard to hear the still, small voice of God. If the shouting creates a crisis atmosphere that tempts us to ignore our inner life, to abandon our walk with Christ, and to evaluate our worth by secular standards, then our culture forms our character and our number one priority is not God, as required by the first Commandment (Exod 20:3-5). We commit idolatry and our identity lies in our family, work, gender, and other things. 

Identity is critical to Christian ethical practice. Just like fire fighters who run into burning buildings, not away from them, our identities shape our actions. This makes character formation a priority for Christian families and the church. 

Number One Priority

Jesus constantly talked about the heart and loving the right things—his way of talking about character formation and an allusion to the first Commandment—as we read:

“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

For the Hebrew, heart and mind are undivided, components of a unified whole, as we are reminded in the Shema, the Jewish Daily Prayer, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut 6:5) that Jesus repeats in his Greatest Commandment discourse (Matt 22:36-40).

If we act out of our identity, then obviously Christian ethics requires that we strive in our daily walk to make Christ our number one priority.

Footnotes

See, for example, (Gehrz and Pattie 2017).

References

Boorstin, Daniel J. 1962. The Image; or, What Happened to the American Dream. New York: Atheneum.

Gehrz, Christopher  and Mark Pattie III. 2017. The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Wells, David. 1998. Losing Out Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Character

Also see:

Preface to Living in Christ 

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2018_Character

Continue Reading

Living Expectantly

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

Moral confusion pervades postmodern culture. This confusion directly threatens our persons and our way of life. While the Christian starts every conversation about morality with God, we can just as easily begin by observing that morality reflects not only a divine edict but the revealed experience of human beings struggling to make sense of life and survive in a sinful world. 

Normalization of Drugs

While our minds normally gravitate towards immoral sexual activity when moral confusion is discussed, the normalization of drug use probably makes the point even more clearly. According to a recent survey by the federal government:

“In 2014, 27.0 million people aged 12 or older used an illicit drug in the past 30 days, which corresponds to about 1 in 10 Americans (10.2 percent). This percentage in 2014 was higher than those in every year from 2002 through 2013.” (CBHSQ 2015, 1)⁠1

What is the response of the body politic to this serious social crisis? Because most drug use involves marijuana, Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington DC have as of this date legalized recreational use of marijuana.⁠2 This response suggests that, in spite of the negative medical impacts of marijuana use and almost universal opposition from police departments around the country, a majority of voters in these states approve of these legal changes.

Negative Impacts of Drugs

While we might have a “open minded” discussion about the morality of consuming illegal drugs, the criminal activity associated with providing these substances is devastating communities throughout Central American and has led to historically high levels of illegal immigration into the United States in recent decades. The inability of young people and rural people to pass random drug tests has made it difficult for American companies to recruit employees, especially among defense contractors. The flip side of this recruiting problem is that many Americans have systematically precluded themselves from a high-paying job in their chosen field or in their local community because of drug use.

Why the moral concern about drug use? Employers want nothing to do with drug users because drug use impairs mental concentration and is often associated with criminal activity, depression, and suicide. Record drug use is not incidentally associated with a thirty-year high in suicides (Tavernise 2016). Reinforcing this observation, alcohol intoxication is reported in about half of all suicides (Mason 2014, 34).

Christian Ethics

Christian ethics starts with God in whose image we are created (Gen 1:27). In the Old Testament God interacts with his people primarily through the giving of covenants. After a second giving of the Ten Commandments, we find God revealing his character to Moses:

“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)

This description of God’s character provides a context for interpreting the Ten Commandments in the Book of Exodus, but for us as image bearers it also gives us a template for ethical behavior. Jesus endorses this image ethic in the Lord’s Prayer when he prays: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:10)  The Apostle Paul says it even more directly: “be imitators of God” (Eph 5:1)

Later in Matthew when Jesus tells us to love God and neighbor (Matt 22:36-40), we embody this love first by imitating God’s ethical character and then by sharing this character with our neighbor. Remember that mercy, grace, patience, love, and faithfulness all require an object. The obvious object here is our neighbor because how exactly are we to show mercy or grace to God?

Role of Risk in Ethics and Judgment

Circling back to the moral confusion in postmodern culture, Christians are often accused of being judgmental and many are. But judgment and discernment differ substantially. As Christians we discern that most immoral behavior is also risky, suggesting a direct link with how we were created. 

Risk is an expected loss. In a sense, most moral behavior works like the premium on an insurance policy that protects us from a knowable and avoidable loss. Most people hate paying insurance premiums until they experience the loss for themselves. 

If we discern that a behavior places someone at risk of a future loss, we should inform them humbly of our insight, be it from scripture or life experience, and pray that they will not incur the loss or, should it be incurred, that they will turn to God in their loss. Such prayer leaves room for God’s sovereign grace and, if we are humble about it, we may also gain the confidence of that person in dealing with future issues.

Christian Distinctive

What sets Christians apart from others, especially secular people, is that we live, not expecting death, but expecting Christ’s return. Life is not a risk; it is an opportunity to prepare for our ultimate homecoming. We live life taking chances for the kingdom and leaving room for joy, because we know the end of the story is in Christ.

References

Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ). 2015. Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (Health and Human Services (HHS) Publication No. SMA 15-4927, NSDUH Series H-50). Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/data. (Cited: 18 October 2018).

Mason, Karen. 2014. Preventing Suicide: A Handbook for Pastors, Chaplains, and Pastoral Counselors. Downers Grove: IVP Books.

Tavernise, Sabrina. 2016. “U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High” New York Times. April 22. Online: https://nyti.ms/2k9vzFZ, Accessed: 13 March 2017.

Footnotes

1 This citation continues: “The illicit drug use estimate for 2014 continues to be driven primarily by marijuana use and the nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers, with 22.2 million current marijuana users aged 12 or older (i.e., users in the past 30 days) and 4.3 million people aged 12 or older who reported current nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers.” (CBHSQ 2015, 1)

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decriminalization_of_non-medical_cannabis_in_the_United_States.

Living Expectantly

Also see:

Preface to Living in Christ 

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2018_Character

Continue Reading

Preface to Living in Christ

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run,
but only one receives the prize?
So run that you may obtain it.” (1 Cor 9:24)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Christian walk begins with spiritual rebirth (John 3:3). On the Day of Pentecost with the founding of the church, the Apostle Peter described rebirth in these terms: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) The Apostle Paul describes this rebirth differently, saying: “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9) Rebirth is a lifelong transition that starts with repentance, baptism, belief in the resurrection of Christ—our living role model—and proceeds under the mentorship of the Holy Spirit.

Character

Every journey has a destination. As in the Parable of the Talents, Christians live in anticipation of Christ’s return and to hear the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matt 25:21) Success in this context requires that we use our talents to advance God’s Kingdom to the extent we are able. Christian ethics requires modeling ourselves after Christ, striving to undertake our duty to advance the Kingdom, and living in the hope of Christ’s return in glory. In Christ, we live joyfully knowing who we serve and how the story ends.

Community

Although the tendency in our time is to interpret the Gospel as individuals, we live in a community modeled after a Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who live in perfect, eternal harmony. We are never alone in coming to faith, working out our gifts as we prosper in faith, and living in anticipation of Christ’s return. Being created in the image of a perfect and holy God, God himself models in Christ what it means to be good, be emotionally secure, and judge rightly. Our hearts and minds are wholly integrated and because we live in a community that values integration, we strive together to perfect our characters and our talents respecting spiritual boundaries provided by God himself.

Leadership

Part of our own maturation process is learning to live responsibly in community and to offer leadership in our families and the community of faith, and within society, regardless of our talents and roles. Christian leadership is rooted in humility which leaves room in our personal and corporate lives for God’s intervention. For this reason, inner strength, not physical strength, exemplifies the Christian leader because self-confident people are the ones willing to take up the wash-basin and follow Christ (John 13:3-15).

Four Philosophical Questions

The ethics question is one of four questions typically posed in philosophy that must be addressed by any serious spirituality. These questions are:

1.Metaphysics—who is God?

2.Anthropology—who are we?

3.Epistemology—how do we know?

4.Ethics—what do we do about it? (Kreeft 2007, 6)

As an author, my first two books—A Christian Guide to Spirituality and Life in Tension—address the metaphysical question and my third book—Called Along the Way—explores the anthropological question in the first person. My fourth book, Simple Faith, examined the epistemological question. In this book, I explore the ethics question writing not as one with specialized training in philosophy but as one cognizant of the need, both as a Christian and an author interested in Christian spirituality, to have a reasonable answer to the question—how do we act out our faith, especially knowing that we are created in the image of God?

Christian Perspective

In examining the ethics question, I focus on ethics from a Christian perspective. Here I will not try to justify Christian ethics so much as explain them. At a time and in a place where people scoff at developing a theological understanding of their faith and refuse to teach Christian morality, ethics is almost a lost art in the church. At the heart of the ethical dilemma is the problem that theological principles are in tension with one another and always have been, something that is so obvious that it cannot be overlooked and requires serious discernment. For example, how do you love a sinner who refuses to confess their sin and forces you to pay their consequences? How do you practice forgiveness? Ethics training may not answer the question, but it will help you frame it appropriately for further reflection and future action.

Spirituality is Lived Theology

Ethics is never devoid of a context for acting out our faith, be it character formation within our own lives, being mentored within the community of faith, or learning to assume leadership. It is therefore useful to review case studies of each of these contexts both in scripture and in our present circumstances. If our spirituality is lived theology, then it is informed by our theology and, in turn, our life informs our theological reflection.

References

Kreeft, Peter. 2007. The Philosophy of Jesus. South Bend, IN: Saint Augustine Press.

Preface to Living in Christ

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: http://bit.ly/2018_Lead

Continue Reading

The Better Story

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

How do we know what we know is true?

The end of the modern era spells the end of the modern pretension that we can logically prove that objective truth is knowable and provable. It is not. Because it is not knowable and provable in the abstract, proof requires that truth be knowable and provable to a human audience. An argument must both make sense and feel right in the context of the human condition. In the context of a confusing and dangerous world, who has the best story, one that you can bet your life on?

The Gospel Story

The Gospel story is the story of Jesus’ birth, life and ministry, death, and resurrection. This story is the focus of the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—in the New Testament and of faith statements, like the Apostle’s Creed.

Christianity began in a graveyard with the resurrection. The resurrection could not have occurred without Jesus’ crucifixion and death which was, in turn, associated with his life and ministry. Because Jesus’ life and ministry was chronicled looking back from the resurrection, each sentence in the New Testament should be prefaced with these words: Jesus rose from the dead, therefore . . . Jesus’ life, ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection are the Gospel story.

Christians, like Mary Magdalene, are the ones running from the cemetery to tell the rest of the world that Jesus lives (Matt 28:8).

After the Gospels themselves, the story of Jesus is the subject of many New Testament sermons by both Peter (Acts 2:14–41; 10:34–43) and Paul (Acts 13:16–41).

Context for the Gospel

In Genesis 11:1-9 we read the story of how men schemed to build a tower up to heaven to force God to come down and bless their city. The God who created heaven and earth (Gen 1:1) looked down on this effort and just laughed. These devious and obviously stupid men thought that they could manipulate a god that stood outside of time and space having created both. To prevent further foolishness, God confused them with different languages so that they would not be able to scheme together any further.

Because God transcends the material world and time itself, no physical or metaphysical tower can reach up to heaven.Towers, temples, religions, philosophies, and sciences are all equally vain. God must come down to us; we cannot reach up to him. The story of God’s efforts to reach down to us is recorded in scripture; he himself came down in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (Matt 1; Luke 1). God reversed the curse of Babel on the day of Pentecost with the giving of his Holy Spirit and the founding of the church (Acts 2), the oldest, continuous institution known to humanity.

But this story is not over; the church is not a museum of the past. Jesus points to the future and promises to reunite with his disciples:

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:3)

Because the future is in Christ and we worship a loving and all powerful God, we know that our future is secure. In the midst of the traumas and tribulations of life, our hope is assured.

The Better Story

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: http://bit.ly/2018_Lead

Continue Reading

Postmodernism

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

In his book, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism, James Smith (2006, 26) Describes post modernism as a kind of pluriform and variegated phenomena, an historical period after (post) modernism, heavily influenced by French philosophers, especially Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, and Michael Foucault.  Adding to the confusion, Smith observes that postmodernism does not make a clean break with modernism, but tends to intensify certain aspects of modernism, particularly notions of freedom (Smith 2006, 19-21, 26).

Smith starts with the intriguing premise that the basic ideas of these three postmodern philosophers have misunderstood. When properly understood, postmodern philosophy and the traditional teaching of the church remain compatible.  The collapse of the church in our lifetime can accordingly be seen to lay the groundwork for a revitalization of the church around traditional teaching—once purged of its modernistic thought patterns (Smith 2006,  22-23, 29).  This re-imaged traditional teaching he refers to as radical orthodoxy and has an incarnation focus which takes time, place, and space seriously and which affirms both the liturgy and the arts (Smith 2006, 127).

Jacques Derrida

Smith’s premise that these philosophers have been misunderstood because of weak bumper-sticker summaries of them. For example, Derrida’s misunderstood statement is: “there is nothing outside the text.” (Smith 2006, 36)  The idea that one can simply read a text, particularly an ancient text written in another language, and understand its meaning is to misunderstand the role of language, context, and interpretation. 

While often said to mean that the Bible cannot be read and understood by just anyone, Smith says that this is not what Derrida is saying. Derrida’s point is simply that all understanding of texts requires interpretation—the context and the interpretative community—which implies that there is no such thing as 

objective truth.  Interpretation is always required (Smith 2006, 38-40, 43).

Jean-François Lyotard

Smith also sees Lyotard’s idea of a meta-narrative as misunderstood in its bumper-sticker characterization. Postmodern critics have trouble with the meta-narrative or big story of scripture—creation, fall, redemption, and eschatology.  Smith disputes, however, that the scope of meta-narratives is Lyotard’s main concern.  Smith sees Lyotard’s main concern being the truth claims of modern use of meta-narratives—science is itself a meta-narrative but falsely and deceptively claims to be universal, objective, and demonstrable through reason alone. Smith writes:  “For the postmodern, every scientist is a believer.” Lyotard is perfectly okay with the idea of faith preceding reason, following Augustine  (Smith 2006, 62-72) and Anselm, who cites Isaiah 7:9.[1]

Michael Foucault

Foucault’s concern about institutional power structures is hard to reduce to a bumper-sticker characterization, in part, because he resists reductionism in his writing style and focuses on tediously pure description.  Smith sees Foucault preoccupied with disciplinary structures, but wonders what his real intentions are.  He talks about two readings of Foucault:  Foucault as Nietzschean and Foucault as a closet enlightenment liberal (Smith 2006, 96-99).  Smith (2006, 102) writes:

“What is wrong with all these disciplinary structures is not that they are bent on forming or molding human beings into something, but rather what they are aiming for in that process.”

Smith sees Foucault offering three lessons to the church: to see “how pervasive disciplinary formation is within our culture”; to identify which of these disciplines are “fundamentally inconsistent with…the message of the church”; and to “enact countermeasures, counter disciplines that will form us into the kinds of people that God calls us to be” (Smith 2006, 105-106).

Weakness in Modern Witness

Smith sees hope in the Derrida’s critique because the modern understanding of the Christian message is itself a distortion of traditional church teaching.  In attempting to frame the Christian message in ahistorical truth statements (God is love), the narrative tradition (God showed his love by sovereignly granting the exodus of the nation of Israel from Egypt) has been lost.  Because the Christian message is contextual in biblical accounts and is interpreted by the church, it meets Derrida’s primary concerns.  Consequently, according to Smith, the church must, however, abandon modern stance and language in order to thrive in the postmodern environment (Smith 2006, 54-58).

When exactly did the church relinquish its internal discipline and why?⁠[2]  Smith (2006, 107) sees communion, confession, foot washing, and economic redistribution as the kind of disciplines that need to be maintained.  A more normal reading of discipline might ask why the teaching of the church—church doctrine—is ignored and no dire consequences follow for those most engaged in the ignoring.

References

Davies, Brian and G.R. Evans [ed}. 2008. Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works. Oxford World Classics. New York: Oxford University Press.

Longfield, Bradley J. 1991. The Presbyterian Controversy:  Fundamentalists, Modernists, and Moderates. New York:  Oxford University Press.

Smith, James K.A.  2006.  Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism:  Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Academic.

Footnotes

[1] In his Proslogion, Anselm writes: “I believe so that I may understand.” (Davies and Evans 2008, 87)

[2] Longfield (1991, 79-91) chronicles changes 1925-1936 in the Presbyterian Church from dropping the five fundamental of faith as ordination requirements in 1925 to changes at Princeton Theological Seminary serving to allow theological diversity within the denomination. These changes also effectively removed doctrinal basis for church discipline, accept in the case of gross error.

Postmodernism

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: http://bit.ly/2018_Lead

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The Banality of Evil

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple Faith“And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.” (Matt 6:13)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the primal experiences in life is the experience of evil, yet in our postmodern world many people work to deny its existence and its ultimate manifestation in the person of Satan. By contrast, the early church routinely practiced exorcism as part of the baptismal service because “The exorcisms [meant] to face evil, to acknowledge its reality, to know its power, and to proclaim the power of God to destroy it.” (Schmemann 1973, 70-71)

Evil Personified

The proclivity to deny evil shows today in our attempts to define it away. We are not born in sin, as Augustine (Foley 2006, 9) argued; we are born basically good and able to live an righteous life. When someone points out an obvious sin, the blame is shifted away (he was poor, disadvantaged, in great pain, and so on). Even Adolf Eichmann employed this defense.

Many people avoid making decisions hoping that they can escape accountability. Hannah Arendt was a German Jew who, having escaped Nazi death camps before coming to America, was asked to report on the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem (1961) for the New Yorker magazine. Eichmann was the German officer during the Second World War who organized Adolf Hitler’s program of extermination of the Jews known as the “Final Solution.” Arendt attended the trial expecting to see a hateful, anti-Semite only to discover that Eichmann was more of a petty bureaucrat, someone unable to think for himself. In the case of Eichmann, the face of evil was that of someone unable or unwilling to think for themselves (Arendt 1992, 97–101).

The Eichmann trial changed Arendt forever. She devoted her life to studying the mind and no doubt out of anguish coined the term “banality of evil,” which speaks to the commonplace nature of evil (Arendt 1976, 3). In some sense, denying the reality of evil is intellectually on par with denying the existence of the Holocaust. 

Sin Defined

Sin and evil are birds of a feather. Sin is a broad term encompassing several related ideas: sin, trespass, and iniquity. 

In the Greek language where it comes from, sin is an archery term that means to fall short of the mark. When we strive, but fail, to do good, we sin. 

Trespass is a legal term that implies the breaking of a rule or law. Driving at 90 miles per hour on a road with a posted speed limit of 55 miles per hour is a trespass.

Iniquity, like sin, can also take a broad meaning but it is helpful to think of iniquity as failing to do something good. Watching someone drown when it is possible to throw them a rope, may not be illegal, but it is an iniquity.

Evil Defined

Evil is often defined today as the absence of good. When God created light, he declared it to be good (Gen 1:3). The absence of light, darkness, could be thought of as evil—the absence of good without the pejorative inference. But this definition for evil wishes away the problem of pejorative evil.

Viktor Frankl (2008) offers numerous tips to prospective concentration camp inmates during the Second World War on how to survive, such as:

  • Don’t draw attention to yourself from sadistic guards.
  • Shave daily, walk briskly, and stand up straight to look healthy enough for work.
  • Applaud profusely when sadistic guards read poetry.
  • In walking in formation, stay in the middle or the front to avoid those that stumble and the beatings that follow.
  • Offer free psychiatric counseling to guards in need of it.

The key term in this description is sadistic. Evil pollutes those that touch it encouraging further evil. True evil is never simply the absence of good.

The Importance of Purpose

James K. A. Smith offers an interesting ethical insight into the nature of evil—an instrument (or person) is good when it is used with its purpose in view.  When it strays from its purpose, it commits sin and engages in evil.

He asks how one would evaluate a flute used to roast marshmallows over a fire—we would never say that a flute used this way was a bad flute. Why? The measure of a flute is how it is used to play music, not roast marshmallows. Smith (2016, 89) observes:

“…virtue is bound up with a sense of excellence: a virtue is a disposition that inclines us to achieve the good for which we are made.”

Because of original sin, we are not inclined to love virtues and to practice them. Being created in the image of God implies that are on a mission in worship to develop the virtues through ritual and sacrament that match God’s intent for our lives (Smith 2016, 88). 

Satan in the Bible

Satan’s role in tempting us and promoting evil in the world is found throughout scripture. In the Garden of Eden, Satan is pictured as a snake who rebels against God and tempts others to sin by rebelling with him.⁠1 God later advises Cain to be good because, otherwise, sin will strike like a snake crouching at your door (Gen 4:7).

Another important image of Satan is given in Job 1 where Satan is depicted as a ruthless prosecuting attorney in God’s court. Satan’s cruel lies slander a righteous Job. Still, Satan cannot afflict Job without first seeking God’s permission (Job 1:6-12). In spite of Satan’s cruelty, Job remains faithful. In the end, God not only acquits him of all of Satan’s charges, Job is compensated for his losses (Job 42:10).

In the synoptic gospels, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the desert where the devil tempts him.⁠2 Much like Adam and Eve are tempted with food, the devil starts by goading a hungry Jesus into turning a stone into bread. The devil tempts Jesus three times. Jesus cites scripture in response to each temptation. In the final temptation, the Devil’s temptation starts by misquoting scripture, but Jesus corrects the deception and resists the temptation.⁠3

Like Job and unlike Adam, Jesus remains faithful to God’s will in life and in death. Jesus’ death on the cross then fulfills the prophecy of Satan’s defeat (Gen 3:15) and pays the penalty for sin—we are redeemed. Because the curse of sin is broken, the death penalty for sin has been rescinded (1 Cor 15:22). The resurrection accordingly proves that we have been reconciled with God.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus asks us to pray that we not be tempted and that we be delivered from evil. Because Satan must ask permission to tempt us, God can deny that petition and our deliverance is within his power. King David writes: “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” (Ps 16:1) Jesus has promised us that when we turn to him in weakness our salvation is secure (John 10:29).

References

Arendt, Hannah. 1992. Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Arendt, Hannah. 1996. The Life of the Mind: The Groundbreaking Investigation of How We Think. New York: Harvest Book.

Foley, Michael P. [editor] 2006. Augustine Confessions (Orig Pub 397 AD). Translated by F. J. Sheed (1942). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.

Frankl, Viktor E. 2008. Man’s Search for Meaning: A Classic Tribute to Hope from the Holocaust (Orig Pub 1946).[1] Translated by Ilse Lasch. London: Rider.

Kline, Meredith G. 2006. Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.

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

Schmemann, Alexander. 1973. For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy. Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

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

Footnotes

1 For example, Kline (2006, 302) writes about the people of God and the people of the serpent.

2 Mark 1:12-13 gives a brief overview while Matt 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 are longer. The Luke version has the most detail. The second and third questions posed by Satan appear in different order in Matthew and Luke.

3 Each temptation Jesus faces is a challenge facing all Christians, particularly leaders. Nouwen (2002, 7–8) summarizes these leadership challenges as the temptation to be relevant (provide food), to be spectacular (show your divinity), and to be powerful (take charge).

The Banality of Evil

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: http://bit.ly/2018_Lead

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Salvation and Eternal Life

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

A lot of people scoff at the idea that salvation and eternal life are real because of skepticism about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul, for example, writes about the importance of the resurrection for our faith in these terms:  “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Cor 15:14) The resurrection of Christ implies that Jesus lives and will return in the future to bring us home to our true residence in heaven.

The Mechanics of Resurrection

Knowing that the future is in Christ, through faith we know that the future is secure and is good, because we serve a God who loves us and is himself holy and good. Jesus is our rock, as he reminds us:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matt 7:24-25)

But not everyone is convinced. How do we know the sequence of events in our salvation and the path to our eternal life?

The Apostle Paul, who met the Risen Christ on the Road to Damascus, answered this question this way:

“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:10-11)

In other words, I know that I will be raised from the dead because I have shared in Christ’s suffering and death.

Faith and the Soul

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes again this subject:

“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 talking specifically about the nature of the church, but a second interpretation is possible.

In Christian thinking, we often talk about the soul, which today we might refer to as our identity. In Hebrew thinking the word soul implies body, mind, spirit, and the people who will are in relationship with. When we come to Christ, we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, which means that we are also from that point forward in relationship with God. Our soul has forever changed. Much like we are one body in Christ (the church), we are also one with God, who is eternal.

Being one with God implies that our identity is now held in common with the people of the church and with God. Because God is eternal, being in union with God implies that our identity is now eternal.

Example from Alzheimer’s Disease

For those of you unaccustomed to this notion of shared identity and the soul,

what happens to your identity when your mind is taken over with a disease, like Alzheimer’s? Do you stop being a person? Do you loose your identity because you no longer remember who you are? Not at all. When you meet a person with Alzheimer’s disease, their identity is retained, at a minimum, by the people around them who order their favorite foods and tell their stories. 

It is no different when we die. When we die, our identity is retained not only by all of the people that knew us, but also for the Christian by the Holy Spirit, who is eternal. God who created us from dust can easily recreate us, complete with our identity, our souls, because we are in relationship.

Salvation and Eternal Life

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: http://bit.ly/2018_Lead

Continue Reading

The Myth of Perpetual Youth

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

The phenomena of adulting may seem like a curiosity of postmodern slang, but it is actually at the heart of a powerful shift in American culture having profound implications for the Christian church. Since the Reagan administration in the 1980s, the American economy has failed to deliver on the “American Dream” for the majority of citizens prompting a search for a new cultural myth to replace it. Unable to deliver an increasing standard of living for everyone—a nuclear family, house, two cars, healthcare, and pension—even though denial continues to be practiced, the “myth of perpetual youth” has increasing substituted for the American Dream. In effect, advertisers have led the way in declaring—don’t worry about not having a spouse, house, car, health plan, or pension—just enjoy being young: age is just a number.

The Christian Family

This increased focus on youth stands in opposition to the Gospel.

One of the defining characteristics of the Christian faith is honoring each individual as being created in the image of God. The Apostle Paul’s writing is particularly clear on this point. He writes:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28)

No ethic group is better than any other; no economic class is better than any other; and no gender is better than any other. But Paul goes further in his household codes:

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph 6:1-4)

He is essentially saying that because we are all created in the image of God, no age group is better than any other.  Neither a new born nor a senior standing at the gates of heaven is better than one another. Christians are to value life stages equally, honor the stage you are in, and not cling to any particular stage as if it were intrinsically preferred. 

In this sense, Christianity is a holistic faith that embraces each stage of life with equal joy. This makes particular sense in a Christian context because our faith is rooted in history. Creation is the beginning and the second coming of Christ will be its end. Knowing the end is in Christ, we can journey through life in Christ meeting the challenges of each stage in life without fear. 

The Allure of Youth

The holistic nature of the Christian lifestyle puts it in direct conflict with today’s youth culture where putting on a big of weight or allowing people to see your gray hair puts you at risk of being shunned and ridiculed. Celebrities in our culture—athletes, movie stars, musicians, fashion models, the rich—all hide their age judiciously and show as much skin as possible to reinforce the illusion that they remain young. The Christian idea that beauty consists of character and appearance in sync runs counter to this obsession with appearance.

Promotion of Inadequacy

While this obsession with youth may seem random, the disfunctionality of remaining an adolescent well into adulthood and encouraging adolescent attitudes about market purchases is a direct consequence of strategies employed by advertisers. Inadequacy marketing directly assaults the spirit of most religious teaching, irrespective of theology, because most religions aid our maturation and help us to contribute to society. Hence, the phrase—the dark art of marketing—is truly dark.

Marketing expert Jonah Sacks (2012, 89) writes:

“all story-based marketing campaigns contain an underlying moral of the story and supply a ritual that is suggested to react to that moral.”

Inadequacy marketing has two basic steps. Step 1 focuses on creating anxiety focusing on an emotion at the base of Maslow’s pyramid, which ranks needs from physical needs (base) to emotional needs (top).⁠1 The advertising moral always begins with “You are not…and plays off of at least one negative emotion: greed…fear…lust.”  In step 2, the ritual proposed is implicitly or explicitly to shop and buy a particular product—pictured as a magical experience (Sachs 2012, 89 and 93).  While not all marketers employ inadequacy marketing strategies, the airwaves are inundated with them daily and the same strategies are employed by authors, film-makers, advertisers, religious leaders, and politicians of all stripes. Advertisers use inadequacy strategies because they work, but an inadvertent result of so much of it is to encourage base instincts and a negative self-image particularly among children and those already prone to suggestion.

Implications

If large corporations find it in their financial interest to keep us feeling inadequate, then the increasing focus on youth in our culture is likely not a random outcome. If people regress to a younger age or never mature beyond a adolescent (teen or preteen) view of the world, what does that imply?

The obvious implication is that an environment is created that mitigates the natural maturation of young people and encourages adolescent attitudes and behaviors. One could speculate that even darker outcomes are possible, such as:

  • Is the increased violence in society a consequence of this immaturity, because adolescents are much less likely than adults to associate their actions with consequences? 
  • Is the growth in anxiety associated with problem that more people have not developed the coping skills required to survive in an adult world? Alternatively, is anxiety among young people to be attributed to the excessive attention from other age groups following their every move and mimicking their behavior?
  • Do the increasingly androgynous tendencies in society (gender confusion) reflect a preteen asexual mentality? Does the tendency towards hypersexuality (or perhaps even pedaphia) reflect a teen mentality being adopted by other age groups?

Clearly, much is at stake in encouraging people to follow a normal pattern of maturation rather than getting stuck in a particular stage in life.⁠2

References

Jonah Sacks. 2012. Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell—and Live—the Best Stories Will Rule the Future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. 

Footnotes

1 Sacks (2012, 130) lists Abraham Maslow’s needs as: physiological (base), safety, love and belonging, self esteem, to self actualization.

2 This ts a theme of a popular song: U2 – Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emFUtuotHL4).

The Myth of Perpetual Youth

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_Trans

Continue Reading

Resilience of the Gospel

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

The history of conversions to Christianity has a surprising number of staunch critics of the Gospel that after examining the biblical evidence (sometimes without any witness other than the Gospel itself) admit their own errors and profess faith in Christ.

Even though the final stages of their decision process is often idiosyncratic, many go through a period of deliberation extending over years, suggesting that coming to faith has emergent properties (the product of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts) that are not easily explained.

If the criteria for accepting evidence in the postmodern era focuses on who tells the better story, then these conversion stories provide substantive evidence that the Gospel is indeed one of the best stories around.

The Apostle Paul

The pattern set by the Apostle Paul is emblematic. The Book of Acts introduces Paul, formerly a devout and highly educated Jew known as Saul, as a key instigator in the stoning death of Stephen (Acts 7:58). As a prosecutor of Christian converts from Judaism, we can surmise that Saul’s only evangelists were Christians being dragged off to prison and, likely, killed (Acts 8:3).  And Saul was not just another prosecutor, he was infamous among disciples, as we read:

“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1-2)

But even this prosecutor was not beyond salvation. On the road to Damascus Saul met the risen Christ and was blinded by the experience. He was then led by hand to Damascus where he refused to eat or drink anything for three days. On the third day, God appeared to a disciple named Ananias instructing him to visit Saul. Knowing  Saul’s reputation, Ananias objected.  Nevertheless, Ananias visited Saul, healed his blindness, and baptized him. Within days, Paul began preaching that Jesus is the son of God in the synagogues and learned that his former colleagues among the Jews were plotting to kill him. Paul escaped Damascus by being lowered at night over the city walls in a basket (Acts 9:3-24). 

Paul’s conversion changed his life from chief prosecutor to Christian evangelist (that is, wanted criminal) within no more than a couple weeks. Paul’s conversion story made a big impression on the church, which we know because the author of the Book of Acts, Luke, repeated the story three times (Acts 9, 22,  26) and because many Christians never got over their fear of Paul because of his role in persecuting the church (Acts 9:26).

Confession

Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430 AD)  began life as a wealthy pagan son of a Christian mother who as a young man had a son by a concubine. Fond of partying, sexual immorality, and keeping questionable company, he confessed of robbing a neighbor’s orchard just for kicks and giggles. When at age 32 Augustine finally came to his senses, he confessed his sin to God in private, as he reported:

“Such things I said, weeping in the most bitter sorrow of my heart. And suddenly I hear a voice from some nearby house, a boy’s voice or a girl’s voice, I do not know, but it was a sort of sing-song, repeated again and again, Take and read, take and read.” (Foley 2006, 169)

Augustine borrowed a book of scriptures from his friend, Alypius, and opened it randomly coming to this verse:

“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.” (Rom 13:13)

Convicted immediately of his sexual sin, he took this passage as a word from God to him personally and went to his mother to announce that he was a Christian (Foley 2006, 160).

Hounds of Heaven

Having lost his mother at an early age and being dispatched to various, questionable boarding schools thereafter by his father, C.S. Lewis became a bitter young, philosophical atheist. Nevertheless, Lewis writes using different metaphors about God’s pursuit of his soul. For example, he writes:

“But, of course, what mattered most of all was my deep-seated hatred of authority, my monstrous individualism, my lawlessness. No word in my vocabulary expressed deeper hatred than the word Interference. But Christianity placed at the center what then seem to me a transcendental Interference. This is my business and mine only.”(Lewis 1955, 172)

and

“And so the great Angler played His fish and I never dreamed that the hook was in my tongue.”(Lewis 1955, 211)

But for Lewis the metaphor that he highlights most obviously is that of a divine Chess master in two separate chapter titles: check and checkmate (Lewis 1955, 165, 212). What metaphor would appeal to a scholar and intellectual? Lewis writes of returning to faith in 1929, when he was 31 years old (Lewis 1955, 228).

Taking Stock

Other stories of conversion abound. Among the most dramatic stories are those of Muslim converts who have grown up knowing really no Christians at all, but drawn for some reason into studying the Bible and becoming believers. Or consider the story of atheist and journalist with the Chicago Tribune, Lee Strobel (2016), who, after learning that his wife had become a Christian, sets out to prove Christianity is a hoax and ends up becoming not only a believer, but also an evangelist and pastor. Or how about Rosaria Butterfield (2012), who, as a leader among lesbian feminists, set off to write a research paper on the Christian Right only to come to faith and become a pastor’s wife.

The template for these conversions is often hostility to the Gospel, deep study of it, and a final ah-ha moment—often unexpected—when the decision for faith takes place. This template suggests that the Gospel story is compelling, but it requires serious reflection and the journey of faith is unique to the individual.

References

Butterfield, Rosaria Champagne. 2012.  The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert:  An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith.  Pittsburgh:  Crown & Covenant Publications.

Foley, Michael P. [editor] 2006. Augustine Confessions (Orig Pub 397 AD). 2nd Edition. Translated by F. J. Sheed (1942). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.

Lewis, C.S. 1955. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. New York: Harcourt Book.

Strobel, Lee. 2016. The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Orig Pub 1998). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Resilience of the Gospel

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_Trans

Continue Reading