Hollinger Sees Faith as Holistic

Hollinger_review__20200203Dennis P. Hollinger.[1] 2005. Head, Heart, and Hands: Bringing Together Christian Thought, Passion, and Action. Downers Grove: IVP Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

My latest writing project, Living in Christ, focuses on ethics, which focuses on what do in response to our faith. This project could be seen as my life’s finally being written down, but in fact today’s church finds ethics unusually hard to cope with. Some church specialize in great worship with great musicians making a regular appearance; others are way out there on social action being involved in every demonstration at the local seat of government; still others have are deep into theology and invite notable speakers are on a regular basis. Relatively few churches have a lot of young people in attendance or conduct a lot of baptisms, suggesting that the division of labor among the churches is not aiding the evangelistic mission of the church (Matthew 28) and may actually be a hinderance.

Introduction

 In his book, Head, Heart, and Hands, Dennis Hollinger observes:

“Taken alone, thought, passion, and action render a fragmented faith that only further engenders a fragmented self and a fragmented church.” (16)

“The problem is that most believers and Christian organizations or movements have accentuated one dimension to the neglect of the others.” (9)

A fragmented self lacks direction; a fragmented church cannot reflect the image of God in a society wounded by record suicides, drug overdoses, and declining fertility rates and life expectancy.

Holistic Faith in Tension with the Times

The idea that Christian faith is a holistic faith that can transcend the circumstances of society seems today to be a remote possibility in a society conditioned to believe that anything can be achieved through a proper division of labor. In the modern period, economists have taught that dividing up a problem and allocated the different parts to specialists (professions) is the most efficient way to organize research, administration, production, and distribution. Thus, any enterprise that requires a holistic approach—as Hollnger sees faith—runs contrary to the spirit of the times. Is it any wonder that megachurch pastors, thinking like good CEOs, have no trouble with online, radio,/ and television ministries, but routinely have trouble with engendering discipleship?

Interestingly, the same problem afflicted the protestant churches after the Reformation as the balance between theology, spirituality, and action promoted by the reformers melted away in contests over doctrinal purity among the different denominations that evolved in later years (19). The megachurches today share much in common with the cathedrals established before the modern period.

Background and Organization

Hollinger is a past-president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary where he also taught ethics. He graduated from Elizabethtown College, received a Master’s of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a doctorate from Drew University. He did post-doctoral work at Oxford University.[2]

Hollinger writes in ten chapters:

  1. Fragmented Faith and Fragmented People
  2. Christian Faith and the Head
  3. Distortions of the Head
  4. Christian Faith and the Heart
  5. Distortions of the Heart
  6. Christian Faith and the Hands
  7. Distortions of the Hands
  8. Head, Heart, and Hands Together: The Biblical Case
  9. Head, Heart, and Hands Together: An Interdisciplinary Perspective
  10. Head, Heart, and Hands Together: Implications and Challenges (xii)

These chapters are preceded by a preface and followed by notes.

The Biblical Case for Holistic Faith

Hollinger spills a lot of ink documenting weaknesses in the faith caused by fragmentary theology, spirituality, and practice, as he should. What is interesting to me, however, is how the Bible does not make these same errors in neither the Old or New Testaments. This struggle with fragmentation is nothing new. Consider the first passage that Hollinger cites—the Shema:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:4-5 ESV)

Nothing here is left out—heart, mind, and hands—as Hollinger notes (145-146). The most basic prayer in Judaism is holistic and is underscored by Christ himself (Matt 22:37) Combining this holistic passage with neighbor love, as Jesus does, does not subtract from its holistic nature. Hollinger cites a half dozen other passages from the Old and New Testaments, but one other stands out: Romans 1:20-32. He writes:

“If ever there was a passage that brings head, heart, and hands together, this is it. It is somewhat typical to read this text as a chronological movement from false thinking, to wayward heart, to debased moral actions.”(151)

Hollinger sees the ordering as less important than the realization that head, heart, and hands are inter-related and affect one another. In other words, when we sin (hands), we often turn around to justify what we have done (head) and start to believe that our sin is also actually good (heart). How many parents, politicians, and pastors have not opposed homosexuality only to change their views after a child or other close relative has announced that they were gay. This is an obvious example of the interaction between head, heart, and hands in practice.

Assessment

Dennis Hollinger’s Head, Heart, and Hands focuses on the need for the church to engender a holistic faith by linking good theology and heart filled worship with practical acts of service. Hollinger effectively argues this point biblically with supporting arguments from other academic fields, such as education and psychology. This is a very practical, deeply theological text of interest to pastors, lay people, and theologians written in an accessible style.

Footnotes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Hollinger. [2] https://www.gordonconwell.edu/faculty/senior/dennis-hollinger

Hollinger Sees Faith as Holistic

Also see:

Elliott: God’s Emotions Inform Our Emotions, Part 1

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

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Heart Leadership: Monday Monologues, December 30, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a  prayer and reflect on Heart Leadership.

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

To listen, click on the link below:

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

Heart Leadership: Monday Monologues, December 30, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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

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Prayer from a Christmas Heart

LPC_Christmas_tree_208By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Merciful and Loving Father,

All joy and thanksgiving begin with you “for while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

Our hearts need not remain broken for with you, there is hope.

Pity those who have no confessor, for whom every day is gray and every night brings terror and guilt and shame.

In confessing Jesus is Lord and releasing our sins, our hearts can rejoice and be filled with praise.

Thank you, Lord, for Christmas! May we celebrate the birth of the Christ childthe unwanted baby born in poverty and obscurity who saved the world.

In the power of the Holy Sprit, may we be ever ready to share your Gospel of love for the healing of hearts and minds.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer from a Christmas Heart

Also see:

Prayer for Healthy Limits 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/XXXmas_2019  

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From the Heart

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

Christian leadership often begins with a broken heart. In Mark’s Gospel we read:

When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. (Mark 6:34)

How do you react to seeing friends and family trapped in needless sin and pain?

Moving the Heart

The call to action in many of my essays starts with citing statistics on suicide, often a result of despair and loss of hope. For me, suicide is personal because I lost my first best friend as a kid because his father shot himself to death and the family moved away. For those of us able to experience joy because of the hope we have in Christ, suicide is needless because it indicates a lost opportunity to share the joy we have. What moves you to take action?

Technical and Adaptive Change

Heifetz and Linsky’s (2002, 14, 18) distinguish technical from adaptive challenges. In a technical change, authorities apply current know-how to solve a problem while in an adaptive change people with the problem must learn new ways to solve the problem. A technical change typically requires nothing more than additional budget while an adaptive change requires an entirely new approach, often the need to change not things but ourselves.

This distinction between technical and adaptive changes is helpful because making technical changes when adaptive change is needed is the classic bureaucratic ruse to show progress in an organization sliding downhill. Grabbing for “low hanging fruit” is safe and permits the manager to petition for increased budget without asking for other sacrifices or convincing anyone to change how they approach their work. In a church context, this is like the annual appeal for members to bring a friend to church as a response to declining membership.

The Aging Congregation

Adaptive changes are required when something fundamental needs to change. Consider the aging white congregation located in what has now become an Hispanic or African-American neighborhood. I tell my kids—you better get used to making new friends because when you get older your old friends have a nasty habit of dying off. Asking members to invite a friend to church is probably not going to stimulate a lot of new members at this church. An adaptive response might be to plan holding events for the new neighbors—something harder; something riskier. Christian leaderships often requires difficult heart work before any real action can be taken.

References

Heifetz, Ronald A. and Marty Linsky. 2002. Leadership on the Line:  Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

From the Heart

Also See:

Value Of Life

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

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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

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Smith Engages the Hebrew Heart, Part 1

James K.A. Smith, You Are What You LoveJames K. A. Smith. 2016. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, Grand Rapids: Brazos Press.(Goto part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

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) and decidedly not simply emotions that come and go. 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.

Introduction

In his book, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, James K. A. Smith opens his preface with an enigmatic statement:

“This book articulates a spirituality for culture-makers, showing (I hope) why discipleship needs to be centered in and fueled by our immersion in the body of Christ.”(xi)

The word, spirituality, signals an interest in applied (or practical) theology; the word culture signals a long-term focus moving from the church to society; and the phrase,“immersion in the body of Christ”,signals an interest in worship, particularly the sacramental aspects of worship where God is the principal actor and the rituals date to the first century church.

Work of Christ

For a Christian theologian, unpacking this agenda requires an interpretation of the work of Christ (the metaphysical question) that shows up immediately:

“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)” (2)

Hebrew Anthropology

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.

Background

James K. A. Smith[1]teaches philosophy at Calvin College and writes for Comment magazine. His doctorate is from Villanova. He is the author of many books, including Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism:  Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church, that I reviewed previously. Smith grew up in Ontario Canada.

Smith writes in seven chapters:

  1. You Are What You Love: To Worship is Human
  2. You Might Not Love What You Think: Learning to Read ‘Secular’ Liturgies
  3. The Spirit Meets You Where You Are: Historic World for a Postmodern Age
  4. What Story are You in? The Narrative Arc of Formative Christian Worship
  5. Guard Your Heart: The Liturgies of Home
  6. Teach Your Children Well: Learning by Heart
  7. You Make What You Want: Vocational Liturgies(ix)

These chapters are preceded by a preface and followed by a benediction, suggested readings, acknowledgments, notes, and an index.

Part one of this review gives an overview of Smith’s work; part two will go into his arguments in more detail.

Assessment

James K. A. Smith’s You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habitis a deeply theological reflection on the formative aspects of Christian ritual and worship. Those familiar with prior work on spirituality and worship will find his analysis compelling and better integrated for a topic often offering divergent pieces and perspectives. Those unfamiliar may find reason to attend a more liturgically-oriented church respectful of the bells and smells. In any case, Smith is an engaging author and his writing is cogent and accessible.

References

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

[1] http://jameskasmith.com.  https://calvin.edu/directory/people/james-k-a-smith.

Smith Engages the Hebrew Heart, Part 1

Also see:

Smith Engages the Hebrew Heart, Part 2 

Smith: Speak Postmodern to Postmodern People, Part 1 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Holy_Week_2018

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