Family and Spirituality: Monday Monologues, September 23, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a sermon on Family and Spirituality (Español).

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

Family and Spirituality: Monday Monologues, September 23, 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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Family and Spirituality

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Sermon given in Spanish at la Iglesia El Shadai DC, Manassas, VA, September 15, 2019.

Prelude

Good afternoon. Welcome to la iglesia El Shadai DC. For those that do not know me, my name is Stephen W. Hiemstra. I am a Christian author and volunteer pastor.

This afternoon we continue our study of the family in Christ. This past week we reflected on Deuteronomy 6:7  and the necessity to teach our kids God’s commandments. Today we consider the relationship between our spirituality and the family.

Invocation

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father,

All praise and honor be to you for you give us family with whom we can share our joys and sorrow and who give life meaning.

Forgive us when we let our families down and focus more on ourselves than those around us.

Thanks for family meals, vacations together, and all the support that our families offer.

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

Scripture

The text of the day comes in three different verses. Hear the word of God:

“God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27 ESV)

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exod. 20:12 ESV)

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4 ESV)

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Introduction

In what way is the family an important part of our spirituality?

In my last book, Simple Faith (2019, 52-53), I wrote:

What is an infant’s template for thinking about God? In an infant world, mom is the early model of God’s immanence because she brings him into the world and cares for him. Dad’s role as progenitor and provider is less obvious and serves as an early model of God’s transcendence.

Babies see their parents as their first vision of God and it is only with the passage of time that we as young people believe in God directly. For this reason, we have many responsibilities as parents to present a template of God graciously and clearly for our children, as Pastor Julio described this past week.

The Connection with Spirituality

Let’s return to our question of the day.In what way is the family an important part of our spirituality?

Our first verse is the key to this question, as we read:

“God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27 ESV)

Normally today we focus on the relationship between male and female in this verse because of our obsession with sexuality, but this focus distracts from the larger picture here.

Every person, man or woman, young or old, small or big, is created in the image of God, including those in our families (2X).

Our spirituality begins with the work of God in creation and is sustained by the Holy Spirit up to this minute in the teaching of scripture. Consequently, our relationships in the family are important in our spirituality as one of the first things because our families are the first neighbors in the Christian life and we are equal under God as the Apostle Paul wrote:

“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 ESV)

Message

The importance of the family in scripture is obvious because the Bible begins with the marriage of Adam and Eve (Gen 2:22-24), and ends with the wedding feast of the Lamb of God and his church (Rev 19:7-9). But in daily life the blessings of family and its spirituality are most obvious to those that don’t have them (2X).

Our other scriptures of the day are a testimony of this image of God theology. The fifth commandment says:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exod. 20:12 ESV)

The Bible repeats this commandment eight times[2]which indicates its importance. The Apostle Paul reminds us that this commandment includes a promise: 

 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” (Eph. 6:3 ESV)

In the context of Exodus, this commandment points to the Promised Land, but a good relationship with parents is a blessing for every family.

The last part of the family that is frequently forgotten are the kids:

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4 ESV)

As we learned this past week, we need to teach our kids especially two things: discipline and instruction of the Lord. The discipline is important because life has many temptations and distractions against which we need God’s protection and guidance.

Something more difficult arises when we need to teach our kids things that we ourselves never learned. In this situation, we need to learn for ourselves before teaching our kids or, better, we need to learn alongside of them. In my case, ministry to my kids taught me the necessity to do more for the church. In other words, God called me by means of my own kids.

Final Words

In what way is the family an important part of our spirituality? God creates us together as a family and together we learn the way of faith. Amen.

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray.

Dearest father,

Thank you for the blessing of family.

Teach us your ways day by day in our relationships together.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, give us words of grace and hands for service for those closest to us. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen

Footnotes

[1] Exod 20:12, Deut 5:16, Matt 15:4, 19:19, Mark 7:10, 10:19, Luke 18:20, y Eph 6:2.

References

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2019. Simple Faith: Something to Live For. Centreville: T2Pneuma Publishers LLC.

Family and Spirituality

Also see:

Prayer for Healthy Limits 

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

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Holt Chronicles Christian Spirituality, Part 2

Holt reviewBradley P. Holt.[1] 2017. Thirsty for God: A Brief History of Christian Spirituality. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Christianity is boring from an Eastern perspective because God created us and, in Jesus Christ, provided the means of our salvation—we must simply accept God’s gifts of creation and salvation. The role of pilgrimages to holy places; special clothing or food; knowledge of the divine; and the spiritual disciplines are presumably incidental for Christians. We must merely follow Christ’s example and live it out in our relationships with others. These other activities have entered some Christian traditions, but they often differ radically between groups.

 Introduction

In his book, Thirsty for God, Bradley Holt surveys a wide range of Christian traditions with:

“…a conviction that Christianity is not only Western religion, that the old books are still worth reading, and that Christians are often unaware of the great resources available to them from sisters and brothers of distant times or places.”(xi)

This survey is helpful in distinguishing among more familiar traditions and adding others that are less familiar from years past or from non-Western sources. In this respect, Holt reviews these categories from the ancient church to offer a template—themes—for distinguishing traditions:

“We see in the first six centuries the beginning and development of certain themes in Christian spirituality that are significant to the present day: worship and sacraments, charisms, witness unto death, spiritual disciplines, monasticism, and mysticism.”(59)

If we take the sacraments as an example, the Protestant churches have fewer sacraments than the Catholics and sacraments play a more important role in Catholic services and pastoral care than in the Protestant tradition. Thus, focusing on the sacramental theme, it is easier to distinguish Protestant and Catholic spirituality.

Celtic Spirituality

One aspect of my personal journey of faith in seminary and beyond has been to understand my own history and spirituality better as I learn about other practices. My mother’s family, for example, is Scotch-Irish and rather less than observant in their religious affiliations while my father’s family is uniformly Dutch with strong commitments to the reformed tradition.

When I write:

Myself, when I am anxious at the end of the day, I retire with a good book to my front porch to enjoy a cool breeze, listen to the birds, and watch the sun set through the trees. Here God’s presence comforts me.

such observations seem a bit out of place in the highly rational reformed tradition, but the Celtic tradition is long known for its special fondness for God’s creation. Holt wrote an entire chapter on “Christian Spiritualty and Ecology,”which aptly described a part of my own spiritual experience that remained implicit, not explicit, in my thinking and writing.

One of the many fun facts that Holt offered was that private confession, now practiced by the entire Roman Catholic church, started in the Celtic tradition (79).

The Jesus Prayer

I found Holt’s discussion of the Jesus Prayer most interesting. In English, the most common form of the Jesus Prayer is: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”(97) This breath prayer closely resembles the prayer of the Publican in Luke 18:13: God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”(ESV) The Jesus Prayer is attributed to various monks going back to the fifth century, especially Evagrius, who would repeat the prayer constantly throughout the day (98) following Paul’s admonition to pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:17).

While I have been aware of the Jesus Prayer for many years, its use only became significant to me when I worked in a psyche ward at Providence Hospital. Psyche patients often obsess about traumatic and perceived traumatic events in the past, a problem known as rumination. Because such patients have trouble distinguishing fact from illusion, such ruminations about the past amply their perceived trauma and divert them from thinking more productively about their own present or future. Sister Maureen advised me to instruct such patients to substitute the Jesus Prayer for this negative self-talk and thereby to break the rumination cycle, a kind of cognitive therapy for these patients. It works for the rest of us as well.

Assessment

Part one of this review gives an overview while part two will provide more detailed examples.

Bradley P. Holt’s Thirsty for God provides a thorough overview of Christian spirituality with a rich, annotated biography of significant authors in the field. Western and non-Western authors are discussed. Among the Western authors, Holt is balanced in his treatment of Protestant and Catholic influences. Although he writes for an academic audience, his writing is accessible and informative.

Footnotes

[1]https://www.augsburg.edu/faculty/holtb.

Holt Chronicles Christian Spirituality, Part 2

Also See:

Top 10 Book Reviews Over the Past 12 Months

Other ways to engage online:

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

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Holt Chronicles Christian Spirituality, Part 1

Holt reviewBradley P. Holt.[1]2017. Thirsty for God: A Brief History of Christian Spirituality. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I began writing about Christian spirituality in 2013, I was deeply frustrated with the church’s superficiality and lack of interest in theology. My seminary professors strived to teach me the pastoral arts and how to read and interpret the Bible, but as my relationship with God deepened, I wanted to know still more. Ultimately, my writing helped to address some of these concerns and to share what I learned with others. Still, my soul doth pine for more.

In his book, Thirsty for God, Bradley Holt shares similar concerns:

“…a conviction that Christianity is not only Western religion, that the old books are still worth reading, and that Christians are often unaware of the great resources available to them from sisters and brothers of distant times or places.”(xi)

The depth of Christian spirituality is often lost when pastors focus almost exclusively on the double love command (love God; love others; Matt 22:36-40) reaching out primarily to “seekers” rather than addressing the deeper spiritual yearnings of the majority of their congregation. Holt describes this yearning as: “the living water of God fresh and sparkling and pure”, a thirst (5)

What is Christian Spirituality?

The word, spirituality, often conjures up the image of an exotic Eastern sect where adherents dress funny, chant strange phrases, live in communes, and find religious excuses to use drugs. While it has been years since we last observed such people hanging around airports handing out pamphlets, this backdrop has spoiled many people’s images of spirituality.

Holt reminds us that the root of spirituality is the biblical word, spirit, that in Hebrew (ruach) and Greek (pneuma) means breath or wind (6). Holt sees three uses—capacity, style, and academic discipline—but goes on to cite the Zondervan Dictionary of Christian Spirituality definition: “Christian spirituality is the domain of lived Christian experience.” (6-7)

Perhaps more interesting, Holt see biblical spirituality comprised of four basic relationships: “relationships to God, to self, to others, and to creation.” (31) In my own writing I have followed Nouwen (1975, 20) in focusing on the first three so the fourth attracted my attention. The relationship with creation is, of course, highlighted in Celtic spirituality’s attention to nature and the life and witness of Saint Francis of Assisi who was known to preach to birds and animals. Creation has more recently come up again in discussions of environmental concerns.

Background and Organization

Bradley P. Holt is a professor emeritus at Augsburg University, where he also studied as an undergraduate. He is a graduate of Luther Theological Seminary and received his doctorate at Yale University. Holt writes in ten chapters:

1.    What is Christian Spirituality?

2.    The Bible and the Four Relationships

3.    The Beginning of a Global Community

4.    The European Era

5.    Protestant and Catholic Reform

6.    The Modern Era

7.    The West Since 1900

8.    The Non-Western World Since 1900

9.    Interfaith Spirituality for Christians

10. Christian Spirituality and Ecology (ix)

The chapters are proceeded by acknowledgments and an introduction and followed by an afterword, appendix, and several indices.

The Spiritual Side of Creation

Creation formed perhaps the most interesting aspect of Holt’s treatment of spirituality, who writes:

“God intends humans to care for the earth, not destroy it, and that an exclusive other worldly focus on salvation in Jesus can distract us Christians from our responsibilities to the creation.” (264)

Although I have devoted the past six years to writing about Christian spirituality, this point escaped me, but not because I was unaware of his point. For me, it was an idea that simply occupied another room in mind, not labeled spirituality.

One of my earliest and most enduring influences was Henry David Thoreau’s Waldenwho begins:

“When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner to civilized life again.”(Thoreau 1960, 1)

He goes on to explain:

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce to its lowest terms…”(Thoreau 1960, 62-63)

The idea of a Spartan existence, which he immediately related to reformed spirituality paraphrasing the Westminster Shorter Catechism,[2] always had a special appeal to me. Exposed to the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden and to Thoreau, I have always implicitly associated creation with spirituality.[3]⁠ However, it took a recent reading of Holt (31) to remind me of my own spiritual roots in this regard.

Assessment

Part one of this review gives an overview while part two will provide more detailed examples.

Bradley P. Holt’s Thirsty for Godprovides a thorough overview of Christian spirituality with a rich, annotated biography of significant authors in the field. Western and non-Western authors are discussed. Among the Western authors, Holt is balanced in his treatment of Protestant and Catholic influences. Although he writes for an academic audience, his writing is accessible and informative.

References

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

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confessions. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.

Thoreau, Henry David. 1960. Walden and Civil Disobedience (Orig pub 1854). Edited by Sherman Paul. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Footnotes

[1]https://www.augsburg.edu/faculty/holtb.

[2]Q: What is the chief end of man? A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. (PCUSA). 1999, 7.001)

[3]I went on to earn a doctorate in agricultural economics, possessed as it were of a strong desire to deal with the world food problem following the 1970s concern for limited resources and limits to growth (MMRB 1975). This background does not make me an environmentalist, but it gave a deep appreciation for our role as stewards of creation.

Holt Chronicles Christian Spirituality, Part 1

Also See:

Top 10 Book Reviews Over the Past 12 Months

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

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Hahn Explains Catholic Practices

Scott Hahn.[1]2018. Signs of Life: 20 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots. New York: Image.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

As an author I have found that I learn more from my critics than from my friends. In my recent book, Simple Faith, my most influential reviews came from a retired, very-progressive professor who wanted nothing to do with endorsing the book, but his comments encouraged me to write about a half-a-dozen new essays. By contrast, I had trouble getting my evangelical friends to take time to read the book. In a similar fashion, Protestants have much to learn by reading books by Catholics. 

Introduction

In his book, Signs of Life, Scott Hahn writes:

“Jesus had greater praise for simple believers and children than he had the intellectuals of his day…it’s a mistake to treat intelligence and piety as if they’re mutual exclusive terms…One of my goals in writing this book is to show how Catholic customs and devotions fit into the larger scheme of Christian faith.”(8-9)

As an ancient church, the Roman Catholic church has weathered modern and postmodern life with relatively few concessions to the craziness of our culture and with a respect for Christian spiritual practices that most Protestant church have either ignored or only recent started to embrace. 

In my own pilgrimage, it is only the last three years that I have written about “Holy Saturday”, one of the days of Holy Week that Protestant usually have no clue about, which Catholics have long recognized and celebrated. Holy Saturday is a great day to reflect on grief, something not handled well by Americans and not officially recognized in the Protestant tradition. Hahn does not discuss it probably because he limited himself to the top 20 Catholic customs in need of clarity among Protestants.

Background and Organization

Scott Hahn is a well-known Catholic theologian and author who was raised as a Presbyterian. In my most recent book, for example, I cited Hahn’s (2009) work on covenants, which I read in seminary. Unfortunately, Hahn tells us relatively little about his conversion to Catholicism, but he does share that he is a Carmelite and a bit of what that means (140-142).

Hahn writes in twenty chapters, introduced with an introduction and followed by an epilogue:

  1. Holy Water
  2. The Sign of the Cross
  3. Baptism
  4. The Mass
  5. Guardian Angels
  6. Advent and Christmas
  7. Confirmation
  8. Marriage
  9. Priesthood
  10. Anointing of the Sick
  11. Incense
  12. Candles
  13. Sacred Images
  14. Relics
  15. Fasting and Mortification
  16. Confession
  17. Indulgences
  18. Intercession of the Saints
  19. The Rosary
  20. Scapulars and Metals(iii-iv).

This book is apparently an abridged version of an earlier book by the same name covering forty Catholic Customs (Hahn 2009). Seminary students will tell you that brevity is next to Godliness!

Sacraments and Sacramentals

Hahn distinguishes between a sacrament, something instituted by Christ, and a sacramental, instituted by the church. He writes:

“[A sacramental] is any object set apart and blessed by the Church to lead us to good thoughts and increase our devotion.”(12)

This is analogous to the role of a pastor, whose chief occupation is to point people to God, only a sacramental is a physical object. Thus, those nice little rocks that have a Bible verse painted on them that the ushers gave you on leaving church could be considered a sacramental, provided that they are properly blessed. This is similar to the story of Holy water (23) or maybe the practice of conducting prayer walks to bless an office or a home.

Biblical Interpretation

One of the weaknesses of the modern church is that the Bible has—among those paying attention—become too familiar. We read some passages more frequently than others and we focus on some words and skip quickly over others. Hahn’s willingness to point out the Biblical justification for the many Catholic spiritual practices therefore proved absolutely fascinating to me.

I have, for example, never really taken the idea of guardian angels very seriously. Hahn highlights the role of angels in various passages in the Book of Acts. For example, angels free the apostles from prison (Acts 5:19 and 13:7). He likens our guardians to being in charge of protecting God’s temple (1 Cor 3:16 and 6:19), much like the cherubim protect the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:24). If our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, then this analogy makes perfect sense, but I never really thought about it even though these passages are very familiar.

Assessment

Scott Hahn’s book, Signs of Life, is a fascinating and accessible read. I received this book as a gift from a Catholic friend and will likely use it as a reference when questions come up.

References

Hahn, Scott W. 2009. Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Hahn, Scott W. 2009. Signs of Life: 40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots. New York: Image.

[1]http://www.ScottHahn.com.

Hahn Explains Catholic Practices

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Pope and Contraception Get Second Look

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Complete Spirituality. Monday Monologues, April 1, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I will be Praying to Look Up and talk about Complete Spirituality.

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!

Complete Spirituality. Monday Monologues, April 1, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Toward a Complete Spirituality

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In my personal journey to understand the depth of Christian spirituality I have frequently cited the need to consider the four questions typically posed in philosophy, which 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 have focused on ethics, the fourth question. While seeking a complete spirituality may seem like an arbitrary decision, serious problems arise when any one of these questions is neglected.

Neglect of Metaphysics

Postmodern culture’s almost exclusive focus on the physical world neglects the metaphysical. Metaphysics literally means above physics or, better, beyond physics. Postmodern people struggle to understand God, especially his transcendence.

Having created the known universe, God stands apart from it or, in other words, he transcends the universe. For us as mortal human beings, there is no path up the mountain, God must come down to us. As Christians, we believe that he came to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Evidence of the neglect of metaphysics shows up in the popular expression: I am spiritual, just not religious. Here spirituality is defined as limited to the human experience, especial feelings of ecstasy—great joy or happiness, even if drug induced. While this is nothing new, postmodern people seem stuck in moment of time believing that everything is new. More to the point, however, is the observation that the neglect of metaphysics is rampant in our time.

Neglect of Anthropology

For Christians, the neglect of anthropology manifests itself in the acceptance of Greek anthropology where heart and mind are separate. Emotions are more valued or thinking is more valued, depending on who you talk to, but the two are held to be distinctly different. This separation poses a problem for faith because faith requires heart and mind to be considered together.

While this subject is timely, it is not new. Theologian Jonathan Edwards (2009, 13), writing in 1746 about the effects of the Great Awakening, noted that both head and heart were necessarily involved in effective discipling. He coined the phraseholy affections to distinguish the marks of the work of the Spirit from other works and associated these holy affections directly with scripture.

More recently, Elliott (2009, 46-47) distinguishes two theories of emotions:  the cognitive theory and the non-cognitive theory. The cognitive theory of emotions argues that “reason and emotion are interdependent” while the non-cognitive theories promote the separation of reason and emotion. In other words, the cognitive theory states that we get emotional about the things that we strongly believe.

Elliott notes that the God of the Bible only gets angry on rare occasions when people have disobeyed the covenant or expressed a hardness of the heart, as in the case of Pharaoh (Exod 4:21). Our emotions are neither random nor unexplained because they are not mere physiology. Elliott (2009, 53-54) writes: “if the cognitive theory is correct, emotions become an integral part of our reason and our ethics” informing and reinforcing moral behavior.

Neglect of anthropology is perhaps the single, most important reason that the Christian faith has been hard to understand and accept in our time.

Neglect of Epistemology

The neglect of epistemology is closely related to the neglect of anthropology. Few people come to faith because of intellectual arguments (epistemology is the study of knowledge or how we know what we know), but many people who have come to faith for emotional reasons later fall away because their faith appears to lack substance. When heart and mind are not engaged together, the absence of one affects the durability of the other.

The anti-intellectualism of American culture appears like the great enigma of the postmodern age. The advances of technology that have led to the convenience of communication and the extension of life through new medical discoveries, yet the thought processes required to develop and sustain these technologies are known to a tiny number of people. Instead, youth culture, which focuses on hedonistic entertainments and moral laxity, appears parasitic relative to this great intellectual heritage.

Neglect of epistemology leaves people apprehensive of the faith that they have seen in others and makes it hard for them to understand the logic of faith and to accept the lifestyle changes required to join the Christian community.

Neglect of Ethics

The neglect of ethics 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.

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.

A special form of this neglect of ethics arises when people start to see the church as a holy huddle a kind of shelter from the storms of life, rather than as a team meeting of the faithful, searching together for answers in the midst of the struggles of life. This holy huddle can take the form of an entirely intellectualized faith or of a faith focused entirely on service to the neglect of the interior life. Either way, the hard tradeoffs implied in limited time, energy, and resources are overlooked and growth in discipleship remains frozen in time.

Neglect of ethics becomes obvious in the life of the church and community more widely when political views replace honest discernment and the focus on God melts away amidst senseless conflict.

Life in Tension

Considering all four of the questions taken from philosophy does not lead to a trouble-free Christian life, but it prevents the neglect of important aspects of our faith. Tension will always exist between to the life of the Christian and the culture that we find ourselves in. We need to accept this tension and learn to live with it because without tension our lives cannot be transformed into the image of Christ and we cannot be a witness to that truth.

References

Edwards, Jonathan. 2009. The Religious Affections (Orig Pub 1746). Vancouver:  Eremitical Press.

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

Toward a Complete Spirituality

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Wells Exercises Moral Vision, Part 2

David Wells, Losing Our VirtueDavid Wells. 1998. Losing Out Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. (Goto Part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Wall Street has many proverbs that describe rookie investor mistakes. Famous last words of a rookie, for example, might be: “this time is different.” Or, for the rookie day trader: “trees don’t grow to the sky.” Or, one that might have saved a few tech fortunes that I know in the mid-1990s:“don’t confuse luck with smarts.” Each of these statements of Wall Street wisdom could easily apply also to the subject of human morality.

In part one of this review of David Wells’ book, Losing Our Virtue, I focused on summarizing Wells’ basic argument. In part two I examine his arguments in more depth.

Classical and Postmodern Spirituality

Addressing primarily an evangelical audience, Wells identifies two distinct contemporary spiritualities that both claim an evangelical heritage (belief in the Trinity, divinity of Christ, the resurrection, inspiration of scripture, and other core doctrines). In that sense, neither is generationally defined, but they differ in their response to postmodernism. In particular, in classical spiritualty, what is moral is central and in postmodern spirituality, it is not (34). The postmodern churches are counterculture being more therapeutic, more individualistic, and more anti-establishment (32).

Wells sees an additional distinction in the way that these two spiritualities experience moral questions. The classical church experience moral through guilt while the postmodern church experiences it through shame. (34) Here Wells sees of this shame:

“[There is] very little of which people are ashamed should they get caught or be exposed. It is, rather, the same of being naked within one’s self. It is shame experienced as inner emptiness, deprivation, loss, and disorientation. It is shame that is more psychological in nature than moral.”(35)

Citing Lewis Smedes, Wells observes that we “feel guilty for what we do. We feel shame for what we are.”(130)

Nothing here in the postmodern spirituality suggests being stricken by the moral presence of God (41), as we read:

 “O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!  If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”(Ps 130:2-3)

Where the classical spirituality focuses on God’s truth, the postmodern spirituality centers on God’s power; where the classical spirituality experiences God’s present through believing in his word and trusting in Christ’s work, the postmodern experiences God’s presence through the emotions and bodily actions—hands raised, swaying to the music, and release of pent up emotions (43). The postmodern piety has a mystical nature where God’s transcendent holiness cannot be experienced and parables, like the prodigal son, that presume the truth of sin seem almost inconceivable (45-49).

Character Versus Personality

Wells makes an important 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.”(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.”(100)

Neglect of the inner life is akin to devaluing our experience of God. 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.

Shame and Guilt

Wells observes that Americans are often subject to crippling shame, but we do not belong to the same kind of honor and shame society that we read about in the Bible because of our individualism. For most part, we do not feel guilty about much—people go on television and tell the most intimate details of their lives. We hold group identities so lightly that we do not feel guilty in letting them down the way ancients and non-western people might feel guilt. Wells writes:

“In a narcissistic culture, Donald Capps sums up, people ‘do not experience guilt to any significant degree’ in the sense of having failed objective moral norms, and yet, despite this fact, they still do not feel whole and happy. They are, instead, burdened by ‘a deep, chronic, and often inexplicable sense of shame. It is this, rather than guilt, that makes them feel ‘that something is seriously wrong with them.’ This sense, though, is internalized. It is psychological, not social. This is what makes us different from traditional ‘shame cultures’”(167)

This sense of shame accordingly comes across as been unworthy, unwanted, unclean, or just unlovable, and it masks the ability of many people to experience God’s grace.

Recovering our Moral Vision

Wells sees the church needing to undertake two things in recovering its moral vision. The first thing is:

 “it will have to become courageous enough to say that much that is taken as normative in the postmodern world is actually sinful and it will have to exercise new ingenuity in learning how to speak about sin to a generation for whom sin has become an impossibility.”(179)

In the twenty years since Wells penned these words, little evidence can be cited to suggest that the church has taken up this first challenge. The second thing is:

“the church itself is going to have to become more authentically morally, for the greatness of the Gospel is now seen to have become quite trivial and inconsequential in its life.” (180)

Again, there is little evidence that the church has taken up this second challenge. As a general rule, the church has not staked out morally as a field that it even attempts to play on. If anything, it has run away from teaching morality which is often associated with the folk ways of the builder and boomer generations rather than a challenge facing every generation equally.

Assessment

David Wells’ Losing Our Virtuefocuses on the question of Christian morality in the postmodern period better known for its sexual obsessions and liberality. As leaders in all aspects of society, from our politicians to our academics to entertainment to the church, crash and burn in moral failures in daily news accounts, Wells’ stark assessment of postmodern morality rings ever truer. This book desires another look from today’s academics and frontline pastors.

References

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

Capps, Donald. 1993. The Depleted Self: Sin in a Narcissistic Age. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Smedes, Lewis B. 1993. Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don’t Deserve.New York: HarperCollins.

Wells Exercises Moral Vision, Part 2

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

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

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Christian Spirituality

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality
For more information, see: T2Pneuma.com

Christian Spirituality

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Spirituality is lived belief. When we pray, worship, or reach out to our neighbors, we live out our beliefs. Our beliefs structure our spirituality like skin stretched over the bones of our bodies. These beliefs start with faith in God the Father through Jesus Christ as revealed through the Holy Spirit in scripture, the church, and daily life. Our theology orders our beliefs. Without a coherent theology, we lose our identity in space and time having no map or compass to guide us on our way. In the end, we focus on ourselves, not God.

Spiritual Foundation

Christian spirituality accordingly starts with God, not with us. Like the woman Jesus cured of a spinal disfiguration, our only response can be to glorify God with songs of praise (Luke 13:13). We experience lasting Christian joy, not with recognizing Christ as savior, but with recognizing Christ as Lord. Spiritual disciplines and experiences are part of this spirituality, but they are not necessarily the focus (1 Cor 13:8).

This focus on what God has done begins in verse one of Genesis where God is pictured creating the heavens and the earth. What exactly have we done to deserve being created? Nothing. In fact, our first independent act was to sin. What exactly have we done to warrant forgiveness? Nothing. Christ died for our sins. The only meaningful response to these gifts of creation and salvation is praise.

Early Church

The early church interpreted and summarized God’s revelations in the biblical text and early creeds. It later developed the catechisms to summarize key church doctrines. The Heidelberg Catechism, Luther’s catechism, and the Catholic catechism focus on three key statements of faith: the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments (Chan 2006, 108). Not surprisingly, Sunday morning worship has for centuries focused on these three faith statements, often being memorized and put to music. The Heidelberg Catechism, for example, encourages a focus on worship and is itself divided into 52 sermon topics for weekly use.

The key spiritual discipline in the Christian faith naturally is Sunday morning worship. The worship service includes prayer, readings from scripture, the spoken word, the sacraments, music, statements of faith, and other expressions of faithful worship. In worship, music binds our hearts and minds.

Spiritual Practices

This worship experience is strengthened daily through personal devotions as well as devotions with our spouses, families, and other small groups. The original small group is the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—our template for healthy community. And when we take our spirituality into the work world, it too becomes an opportunity for worship.

Hear the words; walk the steps; experience the joy!

Reference

Chan, Simon. 2006. Liturgical Theology: The Church as a Worshiping Community. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

Thielicke, Helmut. 1962. A Little Exercise for Young Theologians. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

 

Also see:  Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2wVZtbb

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