Christian Spirituality

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality
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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.

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T2Pneuma Releases “Prayers” in EBook

T2Pneuma Releases “Prayers” in EBook 

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CONTACT: Stephen W. Hiemstra, author, T2Pneuma Publishers LLC (T2Pneuma.com), Centreville, VA 703-973-8898 (M), T2Pneuma@gmail.com

 CENTREVILLE, VA, 4/10/2017Prayers by Stephen W. Hiemstra is now available in Kindle (ISBN: 978-1942199083 (ASIN: B06Y15XYPN), EPUB (ISBN: 978-1942199120). The Kindle Edition is currently on sale on Amazon.com according to T2Pneuma Publishers LLC of Centreville, Virginia. Details are available at T2Pneuma.com.

DISCUSSION:

In this book are 50 prayers taken from A Christian Guide to Spirituality (2014) by the same author. These prayers are inspired by the Apostles Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.

Una edición en español (Oraciones) es también disponible.

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

Author Stephen W. Hiemstra (MDiv, PhD) is a slave of Christ, husband, father, tentmaker, writer, and speaker. He lives with Maryam, his wife of 30+ years, in Centreville, VA and they have three grown children.

BISAC: Christian Prayerbook (REL052010), Christian Life—Prayer (REL012080),   Spirituality (REL062000).

KEY WORDS: prayer, prayerbook, Christianity, devotion, spirituality, faith, Christian living.

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Frankl Finds Meaning Outside Self

Vicktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

Frankl Finds Meaning Outside Self

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

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

What is the meaning of life? “To glorify God and fully to enjoy him forever.”[2] Reminding ourselves of the centrality of God in our lives is a good theme for Holy Week.

For unbelievers, life is a bit more complicated, kind of like the mathematics of planetary motion for people who still believe the universe revolves around the earth. The mathematics of planetary motion became so much easier after Copernicus demonstrated that the earth revolves around the sun, not vice versa.

Introduction

In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl shares both his concentration camp experiences during the holocaust and his observations as a logotherapist (meaning therapist) on the meaning of life. (104) His purpose in writing, as stated in his preface, is that: “I thought it might be helpful to people who are prone to despair.” (12)

Problem of Despair

This purpose statement is a massive understatement, as we later learn from Frankl’s own summary of the predicament of our times, when he writes:

“Every age has its own collective neurosis, and every age needs its own psychotherapy to copy with it. The existential vacuum which is the mass neurosis of the present time can be described as a private and personal form of nihilism; for nihilism can be defined as a contention that being has no meaning.” (31)

Neurosis can be defined as an “excessive and irrational anxiety or obsession”[3] while an existential vacuum (lack of meaning in life) “manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom” which afflicts 25 percent of European students and about 60 percent of American students, according to Frankl’s own statistics. (110) As a parent, I used to say that the two most dangerous words in the teenage vocabulary were “I’m bored”; apparently, Frankl would agree.

Meaning of Life

In reading Frankl’s work, we can surmise that Frank’s life work as a logotherapist arose immediately out of his experience during the Holocaust, but we are never explicitly told. What is remarkable is that Frankl, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was offered the opportunity to immigrate to America before such opportunities went away, but stayed in Vienna to look after his parents who were not offered this opportunity (13).

Why link meaning in life to experiences in a concentration camp? Viktor again does not explicitly tell us, but he does explain how he managed to survive the Holocaust when 27/28 camp inmates did not. Frankl busied himself in the camps contemplating the lectures that he would give after the war on the psychology of the concentration camp! (82) In other words, this book was the therapy that he administered to himself in the camps—outlining what he would write in this book. Contemplating the meaning of life in the camps gave life meaning, as he spent his days laying railroad tracks and, later, caring for inmates dying of typhoid.

Surviving in the Camps

Frankl offers numerous tips to prospective concentration camp inmates on how to survive. Among his observations are:

  • 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.

Short timers, who have given up on life, ignore these rules and smoke cigarettes that might otherwise be traded for food.

Critical Role of Meaning

A critical point in all this craziness is that, according to Frankl, survival depended on finding meaning in suffering. Frankl reports that the death rates in the camps days after Christmas in 1945 rose dramatically, not because of any external deprivation, but simply because inmates who had hoped to be released by Christmas gave up the will to live in the days thereafter. (84) When life hangs by a thread, small changes in attitude make a difference. Frankl writes:

“Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost…we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” (85)

So Frankl learned that inmates needed to live for other people who depended on them and to live to finish unfinished tasks, like the book he was to write. (87, 109) In other words, meaning comes not from looking inside one’s self, but from transcending one’s self.(131)

Assessment

Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is an unusually fascinating book. Frankl does not dwell on the horrors of the camps, but develops lessons from it for daily life in a postmodern world. When he discusses his survival tips, my mind immediately jumped to office situations where the same tips would be pertinent, suggesting not an opportunity for dark humor but that the camp experiences helped Frankl strip away the thin veil of the civilized world to see more fundamental truths. This is a book that you will want to read and, perhaps, return to occasionally for reference.

[1]Ein Psycholog ergebt das Konzentrationslager (A Psychiatrist’s Experience of the Concentration Camp).

[2]“The Larger Catechism” (7.111) The Book of Confessions. Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Part 1. 2004. Louisville: Office of the General Assembly.

[3]https://www.google.com/#q=neurosis&*

 

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Books, Films, and Ministry

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

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A Roadmap of Simple Faith

simplefaith_web_01172017

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The New Testament pictures Jesus as someone who enters our life, calls us into discipleship, and gives us kingdom work to do. In Matthew’s Gospel, for example, Jesus finds Peter and Andrew at work fishing and calls them with these words: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt 4:19) As a rabbi, Jesus offers his lifestyle and teaching as a model to follow, but, unlike other rabbis, Jesus seeks out his students and redirects their life in terms of what they are already doing. Their response is remarkable—they drop their nets and follow Jesus (Matt 4:20)—because their simple faith in Jesus amounts to only two things: obedience (responding to Jesus’ invitation) and action (following Jesus). Other than obedience and action, they only know that he is a rabbi (Matt 4:17). Their roadmap was the person of Jesus.

What is Faith?

Knowing only that Jesus was a rabbi and that he invited them to follow him suggests that their faith consisted of taking the risk of enrolling in a class of religious instruction. The content of Jesus’ instruction was not necessarily obvious nor was it obvious that this instruction would provide gainful employment, because Jesus not from the priestly tribe of Levi. Furthermore, Peter and Andrew were already Jews so their faith in Jesus did not constitute an obvious conversion experience. Jesus offered them a study opportunity and they accepted. No strings were attached; no tuition was required; Peter and Andrew just had to accept Jesus’ instruction. The fuller meaning of this instruction only comes later as Jesus’ full identity is revealed because knowing who Jesus is raises the stakes in accepting his instruction.

Why Epistemology?

This model of simple faith—obedience and action—extends also to us, but how do we know? In this age of suspicion and doubt, this question has particular significance because Jesus’ call—“follow me”—comes to us at least second hand. We read an English text translated from Greek which was itself copied by hand for almost two thousand years after the Apostle Matthew wrote it based on the testimony of others, having himself been called later (Matt 9:9), and, then, only after the resurrection made it obvious that these events had eternal significance. The epistemological question—how do we know?—is therefore a reasonable and interesting question worthy of study even in the absence of doubt.

The Four Philosophical Questions

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

  • Metaphysics—who is God?
  • Anthropology—who are we?
  • Epistemology—how do we know?
  • 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. In this book, I explore the epistemological question writing not as one with specialized training in philosophy (I have a master’s of divinity and a doctorate in economics) 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 know?

Simplicity

In approaching the epistemological question, it is easy to get lost in the weeds. But the young seeker curious about God and a hardened old atheist should take note. It is interesting that Copernicus’ observation that the planets revolved around the sun simplified the mathematics of planetary motion, because the earth was not the true center of the solar system.[1] In the same manner, our lives are simplified when we acknowledge that we are God’s creation, not the creators of our own universe. Simple is good; weeds are bad. As life is short, the need for a proper focus is instrumental to coping with life’s many adversities.[2]

What Does Holy Mean?

The act of knowing brings us closer to a holy God because holy means both sacred and set apart. Thinking sets us apart from the object of our reflection just like God was set apart from his creation, not part of it. Yet, knowledge is also at the heart of sin, as we learn in Genesis 3 when Satan tempts Eve. Scripture praises knowledge when its object is God, but cautions us when it leads to pride.[3] So we should take the attitude of the Apostle Paul vigorously defending the faith and pointing people to God (2 Cor 10:5-6).

Roadmap

In this writing project I propose to look at the epistemological question analytically by breaking it down into a series of questions, including:

  • How do we approach thinking?
  • What does the Bible Say About God?
  • How do we argue God’s existence?
  • What can we say about the criticisms of faith?
  • Why do we care?

This last question may seem out of place in this discussion, but it is, in fact, a critical to our evaluation of faith arguments. Faith is a life and death matter because, as human beings, we strive for meaning and cannot face life without it. When the Apostle Paul repeats an early Christian confession—

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (1 Cor. 15:3-5)

—he starts by describing it as being “of first importance”. Paul is not writing about a philosophical hobby-horse. He is talking about faith as something worth dying for, which he later did. Faith is both our compass and our anchor. And anything worth dying for, is worth living for.

Soli Deo Gloria.

References

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

Lotz, Anne Graham. 2000. Just Give Me Jesus. Nashville: Word Publishing.

Polanyi, Michael. 1962. Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copernican_Revolution. Polanyi (1962, 3-5) argues somewhat differently: “This would imply that, of two forms of knowledge, we should consider as more objective that which relies to a greater measure on theory [Copernican theory] rather than on more immediate sensory experience [Ptolemaic system].”

[2] Some stories bear repeating. One story concerned a dinner party where Ruth Graham learned that an older gentleman sitting next to her was the former head of Scotland Yard, the British equivalent of the FBI. Because his responsibilities included dealing with counterfeit money, she remarked that he must have spent a lot of time examining counterfeit bills. “On the contrary, Mrs. Graham, I spent all of my time studying the genuine thing. That way, when I saw a counterfeit, I would immediately detect it.” (Lotz 2000, 3) The punch line here is that the best apologetic for the Gospel is Jesus himself.

[3] Compare, for example, (Prov 1:7; Isa 11:1; 2 Cor 4:6; Phil 1:9) with (1 Cor 8).

Also see: Incentive to Examine Faith

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Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God

Henry Nouwen. Reaching OutNouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God

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

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

A ministry friend once distinguished problems from polarities. He argued that problems, unlike polarities, have solutions while polarities can only be managed. For example,  an umbrella manages our response to rain, but does not solve the problem posed by rain;  having an umbrella simply makes rain more tolerable. Ministry would be more tolerable, my friend advised, if I learned to manage polarities rather than treating them as problems to be solved. Because unsolvable polarities are everywhere in life and ministry, I never forgot my friend’s advice.

Three Polarities

Three polarities lie at the heart of our spiritual life says Henri Nouwen. In his book, Reaching Out, he describes them as: an inner movement from loneliness to solitude, an outward movement from hostility to hospitality, and an upward movement from illusion to prayer (20). These movements each potentially involve progress—hence, the term, movement—but for Nouwen this progress is tentative and subject to lifelong tension (39). He writes: “the spiritual life is that constant movement between the poles of loneliness and solitude, hostility and hospitality, illusion and prayer.” (20) Tension suggests a struggle with polarity both in heart and mind.

Spirituality

This struggle with both head and mind components distinguishes writing in spirituality from theology where the logic of the mind is more narrowly the focus. Nouwen focuses immediately on the question—“What does it mean to live a life in the Spirit of Jesus Christ?”—and links this question to one Jesus himself poses: “Some say. . .others say. . .but what do you say?” (16-17) What we say is immediately pertinent. Nouwen sees spirituality discussions as intensely personal. In this setting or any other, “we have to face and explore directly our inner restlessness, our mixed feelings towards others, and our deep-seated suspicions about the absence of God.” (17). In these three movements, Nouwen is clearly inviting us into his spiritual struggles and the tone of the book is captured in its title.

Outline of Book

The title, Reaching Out, captures Nouwen’s sense of the three movements, around which he structures the book (17) into 9 chapters, preceded by a foreword and introduction, and followed by a conclusion and notes:

Foreword

Introduction

 REACHING OUT TO OUR INNERMOST SELF—The First Movement From Loneliness To Solitude

  1. A Suffocating Loneliness
  2. A Receptive Solitude
  3. A Creative Response

 REACH OUT TO OUR FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS—The Second Movement From Hostility To Hospitality

  1. Creating Space for Strangers
  2. Forms of Hospitality
  3. Hospitality and the Host

 REACHING OUT TO OUR GOD—The Third Movement From Illusion To Prayer

  1. Prayer and Mortality
  2. The Prayer of the Heart
  3. Community and Prayer

 Conclusion

Notes (15)

Who is Nouwen?

In addition to being a prodigious author, Nouwen was a Catholic priest and longtime academic who went to live and work in the L’Arche-Daybreak Community[1] (of special needs individuals) in Toronto, Canada, laying down the academic life much like Jesus laid his clothes aside to wash the disciple’s feet (John 13:4-5).

Three Movements

Let me turn aside now to focus on the three movements.

Movement from Loneliness to Solitude

As an observant priest who suffered from same-sex attractions,[2] Nouwen felt loneliness deeply, describing it as: “one of the most universal sources of human suffering today.” (25) Even in his suffering, Nouwen goes on to write:

“The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play.” (34-35)

The key words here are a restful spirit (Sabbath), inward-reaching search (an attentive heart and mind), and play—play! Play usually distinguishes adults from children—a child of God must learn to play. For Nouwen, this play makes space in our life for others (40) because we are more rested, “alert and aware of the world around us” (50). Nouwen’s vision of solitude develops the inner resources that make hospitality to others possible (61-62).

Movement from Hostility to Hospitality

Much like solitude provides the inner space for admitting others, hospitality provides outward space for others. This is where “the stranger can enter and become a friend, instead of an enemy” (71). Nouwen (66-67) gives three biblical examples. These include Abraham’s hospitality to three strangers (Gen 18:1-15), the widow of Zarephath hospitality to Elijah in spite of her own poverty (1 Kgs 17:9-24), and the two travelers on the road to Emmaus who unknowingly offered hospitality to Jesus (Luke 24:13-35). In each case, Nouwen writes:

“When hostility is converted into hospitality then fearful strangers can become guests revealing to their hosts the promise they are carrying with them.” (67).

For Nouwen, hospitality accordingly offers the possibility of transforming strangers into friends who respond with their own gift, promise, and new life (67). This new life is instrumental in the case of parents offering space to children (81-84), teachers offering space to students (84-90), and healers offering space to patients (91-97). Hospitality is for Nouwen a primal concern.  Lonely people cannot offer much space, solitude is a key prerequisite for hospitality (101), which necessarily brings us to God.

Movement from Illusion to Prayer

No paths up the mountain lead to God; God must come down, as Nouwen relates:

“. . . the paradox of prayer is that it asks for a serious effort while it can only be received as a gift. We cannot plan, organize, or manipulate God; but without a careful discipline, we cannot receive him either.” (126)

Nouwen notes the problem of finding a spiritual guide. He finds wisdom in praying the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” (141) I was taught the Jesus prayer working in a Catholic hospital as a substitute for the negative self-talk often practiced by psychiatric patients.[3] Because we all practice negative self-talk, the motivation to engage in continuous prayer (or to pray the Jesus prayer) is much the same. It makes space in our hearts for God, who grants us a capacity for both solitude and hospitality.

Assessment

Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out has been a significant influence on my spiritual life since I first read in 2007 and it continues to influence my professional writing. Like all of Nouwen’s writing, this book reads well but requires reflection, like any classic in Christian spirituality. Christians serious about deepening their faith will want to spend some time with this book.

 

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

[2] Wil Hernandez, Henri Nouwen: A Spirituality of Imperfection, (New York: Paulist Press, 2006),page 126.

[3] A somewhat longer breathe prayer was prayed by Nehemiah just before speaking to the king: “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”  (Neh 1:11 ESV)

 

Also see:

Hernandez Explores the Polarities and Tension in Nouwen 

Books, Films, and Ministry

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

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Hernandez Explores the Polarities and Tension in Nouwen

Henry Nouwen Polarities

Hernandez Explores the Polarities and Tension in Nouwen

Wil Hernandez. 2012. Henri Nouwen and Spiritual Polarities: A Life of Tension. Mahwah: Paulist Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I was a scout, I loved working with map and compass. Out in the wilderness armed with map and compass, how do you find your location and plot progress towards your destination? Stories of survivors of plane crashes in remote places often have the theme that those who survived plotted a course out to the horizon while those that died walked around in circles following their own instincts. Because our spiritual journey often bears a resemblance to these survival stories, how do we  interpret the tensions and polarities that we encounter along the way? Wil Hernandez in his book, Henri Nouwen and Spiritual Polarities, takes up this challenge.[1]

Introduction

Hernandez describes himself as “a retreat leader, counselor, and spiritual director” who also teaches at various colleges and seminaries[2]. He finished his doctoral degree in practical theology at Fuller Theological Seminary (Pasadena, California) in with a special concentration in spirituality/spiritual formation.

Hernandez states his purpose as:

“This book is about the tension-filled journey of Henri Nouwen and centered around his inward, outward, and upward (or Godward) resolve to live out the dialectical tensions that characterize much of spiritual life.” (xxi)

Three key points arise in this statement.  First, the journey is Nouwen’s journey. Second, Hernandez sees Nouwen at work to resolve the tension in the journey. Three, the tension itself further divides into three dimensions—inward, outward, and upward—which Hernandez describes as a trilogy—psychological, ministerial, and theological (xxiv).  He sees Nouwen adopting a “both/and modality, moving closer to the center, and working towards integration” (116-117).

For Hernandez tension arises: “when we face various elements of irony, anomaly, absurdity, opposition, or contradiction in our experience” (2).  He asks how come:

“God is portrayed in Scripture as both transcendent and immanent, hidden and revealed, unknowable and knowable, unreachable and accessible, universal and local?” (1)

Opposition

While he acknowledges that this is the nature of the mystery of God, Hernandez is careful in his introduction to define three concepts of opposition:

Paradox“a paradox is characterized by a self-contradictory proposition that can appear absurd or nonsensical.” (2)

Antinomy: “As in paradox, the same element of contradiction is present, except that the appearance of contradiction does not reside in the clever phrasing of the language, but rather is constituted in the very nature of the proposition being articulated.” (3)

Polarity: “Polarity, at its simplest, refers to the presence of two opposites.  When two contrasting principles are placed side-by-side or invoked simultaneously, tension predictably rises.” (4)

Following Preston Busch, Hernandez distinguishes two types of spiritual polarities:  conversional and cooperative. In the first, natural movement is from one pole to the other, while, in the second, movement between poles is back and forth (4-5). While he sees Nouwen’s work in Reaching Out as an illustration of a conversional polarity (from loneliness to solitude, from hostility to hospitality, and from illusion to prayer), the emphasis in this book is on cooperative polarities—such as breathing in and breathing out (5). The reason being that Hernandez sees Nouwen having a proclivity towards integration (6), as mentioned previously.

Hernandez’s focus on this proclivity is highly ironic because, having focused on cooperative polarities, he organizes his chapters around the same trilogy—inward, outward, and upward—articulated in Reaching Out, which he describes as conversional.

Because Hernandez uses this trilogy—inward, outward, and upward—to organize the chapters in his book, let me focus on each in turn.

Inward

Nouwen (1975, 23) sees the inward journey as a movement from loneliness to solitude. Like Nouwen, Hernandez sees the Christian walk as a journey from the false self in ourselves to true self in Christ. Here Hernandez writes:

“Integral to the notion of loving ourselves is the capacity to accept and embrace the totality of who we are—good and bad, true and false. Lodged into our very depths is an ongoing interplay of light and darkness.” (16)

Hernandez interprets Nouwen as seeing the opportunity to re-channel negative energies into “more positive forces” (19).  This re-channeling of the negative is possible because “In God’s economy, nothing is ever wasted, but all is redeemable.” (20) He sees self-knowledge, especially knowledge of our own sin and brokenness, helping us reframe our fallen condition under the curse to become a blessing (24, 41).

Outward

Nouwen’s outward movement journeys from hostility to hospitality (Nouwen 1975, 63). Nouwen hospitality uniquely describes hospitality as offering “a hospitable place where life can be lived without fear and where community can be found” (Nouwen 1975, 65). Like Nouwen, Hernandez sees the inward and outward movements closely bound, perhaps even in tension, for example, when he cites Bonhoeffer:

“Let him [sic] who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. But the reverse is also true:  Let him who is not in community beware of being alone and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in the fellowship.” (48)

Closer to earth, opposite to a ministry of presence is Hernandez outlines a ministry of intentional absence or, what Nouwen refers to as, “creative withdrawal”. He writes:

“The rational for such withdrawal is to pave the way for the Spirit of God to work freely in a person or situation without us potentially getting in the way.” (75)

Perhaps the way to think of it is as an outward counterpart of solitude.

Upward

Hernandez sees our tension with God caught between Christ’s suffering and his glory which we, in turn, mirror (83). He cites a verse dear to my heart:

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death (Phil 3:10)” (83)

Nouwen (1975, 111) starts in a slightly different place talking about a movement from illusion to prayer.[3] Nevertheless, I prefer Hernandez’s perspective because of the temporal component that he takes from John Dunn’s “already” and “not yet” (93)—while we suffer with Christ today, we also look forward to sharing in his future glory.

Wil Herandez’s book, Henri Nouwen and Spiritual Polarities, provides a helpful and accessible commentary on the breadth of Nouwen’s writing, with special emphasis on Nouwen’s treatment of polarities. Nouwen is an important influence on my own spirituality and writing, yet on first reading I have not understood very well what he actually said. Hernandez’s writing has helped me move beyond that point.  Seminary students and pastors reading Nouwen will want to take  a look at this book.

References

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

Nouwen, Henri J.M.   2010.  Wounded Healer:  Ministry in Contemporary Society (Orig pub 1972). New York:  Image Doubleday.

[1] This book is the third in a trilogy focused on Henri Nouwen. The other two are: Henri Nouwen: A Spirituality of Imperfection (2006) and Henri Nouwen and Soul Care: A Ministry of Integration (2008). For a review the first, see: Hernandez:  A Spiritual Biography of Henri Nouwen, Part 1 (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-1ey), Part 2 (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-1eJ), and Part 3 (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-1eN).

[2] Back cover of his book. Also see:  http://www.NouwenLegacy.com/author.php.

[3] I might have expected Nouwen to offer a detailed theology of prayer with transcendence embedded in it.  Otherwise, I might be concerned that Nouwen’s view of prayer is another aspect of his inward journey, an example of psychology overwhelming theology.

 

Also see: Hernandez: A Spiritual Biography of Henri Nouwen, Part 1 

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3 Reasons that Christian Apologetics and Spirituality Should not be Separated

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Interviewers love experts. Specialists dominate public discourse. Problems arise when one field depends heavily on another and experts have to depart from their expertise. The fields of Christian apologetics and spirituality suffer from this problem.

Christian apologetics focuses on defending the truth claims of Christianity[1] while spirituality focuses on living them out[2]. Balance between these two fields is clearly needed in a world of imperfect information because learning more about the truth claims of Christianity informs how they are lived out and vice versa. Thus, treating either field independently of the other renders the spirituality dead and the apologetics impractical.

At least three reasons can be cited for why apologetics and spirituality should be closely linked.

The first reason for unity of apologetics and spirituality arises in the context of the apologist’s favorite Bible verse fragment:

“…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV)

The context of this fragment—in fact, the entire book of 1 Peter—is one of “lifestyle evangelism” in the midst of persecution. For example, we read:

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy … [fragment] … having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:13-16)

In other words, the Apostle Peter says to shame your tormentors with your godly lifestyle!  We to offer a verbal defense only in the context of an authentic Christian lifestyle (spirituality).

The second reason for unity of apologetics and spirituality arises because their separation affects a division between heart (spirituality) and mind (apologetics)—an example of Greek dualism. The Bible teaches that heart and mind cannot be separated, in part, because God created them both just like God created the earth and heaven (Genesis 1:1). Jesus’ bodily resurrection also speaks to the unity of the body (heart) and spirit (mind; e.g. Luke 24:36-43).

The need for unity of heart and mind has been debated throughout church history.  For example, Pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards (2009, 13)—when writing in 1746 about the effects of the Great Awakening—noted that both head and heart were necessary for effective discipling. More recently, Matthew Elliott has argued that God of the Bible is an emotionally stable deity and consistently expresses emotions in keeping with his character. This is unlike other deities in the ancient world who were typically characterized as selfish and capacious in dealing with humans[1]. In other words, God displays emotions consistent with his thinking more frequently than we do with ours!

The third reason for unity of apologetics and spirituality arises from the observation that separation leads to serious lifestyle problems. If our spirituality is not informed by our thinking, then we will be more likely to act solely on emotions—doing what feels good.

Working as a chaplain intern in a Washington hospital in 2011 and 2012, I noticed a disturbing trend among patients. More than half of all patients admitted to the emergency room had problems stemming from relational problems and poor life-style choices[2]. Overweight patients came in with diabetes, asthma, joint problems, and cardiac problems. Men passed out on the street from excessive drinking or other drug abuses. Young men and women fearful of contracting AIDS came in to be tested. These trends were even more pronounced among psyche patients.

We should expect these patient outcomes—doing what feels good comes naturally. The standard behavioral learning model teaches that even an amoeba will response to a positive stimulus by repeating the behavior that evoked the positive stimulus and doing less of the behavior associated with a negative stimulus. When the standard behavioral model breaks down, as it does in most moral dilemmas, then disaster directly follows. For example, this is the story of many addictions.[3] In this respect, the Apostle Paul lamented:  “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:18).

Knowing that apologetics and spirituality inform each other, are treated as part of a unified whole in the Bible, and serve to strengthen our moral resolve in a world of temptations, Christians and theologians need to reflect on how this integration of heart and mind can be strengthened both in theory and in practice. Let’s start today.

References

Chan, Simon.1998. Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Cross, John G. and Melvin J. Guyer. 1980. Social Traps.  Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press.

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.

Sproul, R.C. 2003. Defending Your Faith: An Introduction to Apologetics. Wheaton: Crossway Books.

 

[1] “The term apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia, which literally means ‘a reasoned statement or a verbal defense.’” (Sproul 203,13).

[2] “Generally,spirituality refers to the kind of life that is formed by a particular type of spiritual theology. Spirituality is the lived reality, whereas spiritual theology is the systematic reflection and formalization of that reality.” (Chan 1998,16).

[3] Elliott distinguishes 2 theories of emotions:  the cognitive theory and the non-cognitive theory. The cognitive theory of emotions argues that “reason and emotion are interdependent” (47) while the non-cognitive theories promote the separation of reason and emotion (46). In other words, the cognitive theory states that we get emotional about the things that we believe strongly. Our emotions are neither random nor unexplained—they are not mere physiology. Elliott writes: “if the cognitive theory is correct, emotions become an integral part of our reason and our ethics” (53-54) informing and reinforcing moral behavior. Review at: (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-1dc).

[4] Speaking later with the head surgeon, he corrected my observation.  He reported that not half the patients but three-quarters of them were admitted with relational problems and poor lifestyle choices.

[5] Behavioral psychologists are well aware of this moral dilemma.  See, for example, Cross and Guyer (1980).  Review at: (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-Zp).

 

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Anniversary Changes

Oak_tree_09262015This week marks the second anniversary of T2Pneuma.net which was established in 2013.  Thank you for your faithful readership!

The theme of T2Pneuma.net, as outlined in the Home page,  “is online Pastor (or Christian ministry) and related topics.  I try to write about issues from my ministry and from issues of interest to readers.” This theme will continue.  I will, however, in the coming months focus more intentionally on my writing technique.  In particular, I hope to develop the use of a more narrative style taking a page from Jon Franklin’s work: Writing for Story:  Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction. Hopefully, the quality of my writing will also improve.

My experience is  that online ministry is real ministry. The most popular posts on this blog over the past 2 years have not been the “light and fluffy” posts targeting topical issues or favorable demographics.  The most popular posts have been those that have real substance.  The number one post over past 2 years, for example, has been a hermetical study, Kevin J. Vanhoozer’s: Is There a Meaning in This Text:  The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Part 2with 171 viewings.  The number two post has been on leadership, James E. Plueddemann’s: Leading Across Cultures:  Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church with 110 viewings. Both are serious reviews of serious seminary texts.

Effective immediately, I am reducing the number of posts each week to two: a lesson on Friday and a prayer on Sunday.  The lesson will take the form of a review or a reflection. I will occasionally offer other postings, as time allows.

In the coming weeks, I hope also to roll out 2 new series.  The first will be a series of prayers that I develop based on the Life in Tension series. This is an effort to honor the attention that my prayers taken from A Christian Guide to Spirituality in English and Spanish have received over time.  The second will be a new project: a spiritual autobiography.  As this point, I have not settled on a title but I will be working on an outline and title over the next couple weeks.

The oak tree appears on the Hiemstra family coat of arms and, in this case, grows in the parking lot at Oak Marr Recreation Center in Oakton, Virginia.

Yours in Christ,

Stephen

 

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Una Guía Cristiana a la Espiritualidad ya está disponible!

Una Guia Cristian a la EspiritualidadSpanish Edition of A Christian Guide to Spirituality is Now Available!

Una Guía Cristiana a la Espiritualidad is now available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle EBook.

View the trailer in YouTube: https://youtu.be/tv0rgYH-2VQ.

For a discount on the paperback edition, go to https://www.createspace.com/5716951 and enter 83WZLNW4 to receive a 30 percent discount.

Para más información en español, véase: http://wp.me/p4iojd-8F.

Alternatively, visit my Amazon author page at:  Amazon.com/author/stephen_w_hiemstra.

Thanks for your patience!  This project has been a blessing, but also a long time in coming.

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