Rice Reclaims Reformed Spirituality

 

Rice_review_20200606

Howard L. Rice.  1991.  Reformed Spirituality: Introduction for Believers. Louisville:  Westminster/ John Knox Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

As a lifelong Calvinist and seminary graduate, Howard L. Rice’s Book, Reformed Spirituality: Introduction for Believers, came as a surprising find. The term, spirituality, has a New-Age ring to it. In reading about spiritual practices, I  accordingly assumed that I was straying from the reformed tradition. Thanks to Rice, I no longer feel that way.

Introduction

Rice organizes his book into eight chapters, starting with an introduction and followed by seven topical chapters.  The topics addressed are informative:  The experience of God, problems and possibilities, prayer, study, consultation, the practice of discipleship, and discipline in the Christian life.  None of these topics come as a surprise.  The introduction starts with the Heidelberg Catechism: What is your only comfort in life and in death?  (7).  At the time of publication, Rice was chaplain of the Seminary and a professor of ministry at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Spirituality Defined

Rice defines spirituality as:  the pattern by which we shape our lives in response to our experience of God as a very real presence in and around us (45).  He notes that:  spirituality demands letting go of control, taking emotions seriously, and emphasizing being as of equal value with doing (49).

Rice highlights the Puritan experience in explaining the reformed tradition (12). For Puritans, the preferred term is piety, not spirituality, reflecting the reformed suspicion of private revelation and guarded attention to the more colorful spiritual gifts. In worship, Reformed spirituality focuses more on scripture and the sermon while, in individual practice, it focuses more on prayer and meditation.

Importance of Theology in Reformed Spirituality

Rice emphasizes the importance of theology in the reformed approach to spirituality. For example, Richard Baxtor (1615-1691; 37) sought renewal of his congregation through personal instruction in the catechisms.  While this terribly un-modern technique sounds dated, I know of at least one pastor who successfully used it to energize a youth group.  The catechisms help church members to appreciate the doctrines of the church and to relate them to life.  Theology is not the only lens that Rice employs.  He observes that we encounter God in experiences of conversion, ecstasy, visions and spoken words, intuition, transcendence, and incarnation (30-35).  These observations normally qualify one as a charismatic in reformed circles!

Rice clarifies the role of small groups and church committees in the reformed spiritual life.  Reformed theology is systemic, complex, and complete–small groups and committees help maintain spiritual balance.  For the Calvinist, the spiritual life requires walking with a community of faith.  Rice writes:  that is why corporate worship, hearing the word preached, and sharing in common administration of the sacraments are so central for any Reformed understanding of the spiritual life (53).

Assessment

As a text on reformed spiritually, Rice’s book was unique in helping me understand my own faith practices.  Clearly, I might have benefited from Rice’s systemic presentation at a younger age.  Rice deserves to be studied more than once and is suitable for small group discussion.

Reference

Baxtor, Richard 2007. The Reformed Pastor.  Carlisle:  Banner of Truth Trust.

Rice Reclaims Reformed Spirituality

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Stott Outlines Gospel; Speaks Plainly

Stott_review_20200427John Stott.  2008.  Basic Christianity (Orig pub 1958).  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Apostle Peter reminds us:  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15 ESV).

Our ability to respond to Peter’s admonishment is clearly challenged today.  Outside of the criticism of our faith arising from the advocates for modern science, we are confronted in our shrinking postmodern world with a host of alternatives to Christianity from other religions and from complex and confusing voices in secular society.  In the midst of this whirlwind of controversy, John Stott’s book, Basic Christianity, offers us a plainspoken starting point.

Introduction

Stott outlines the Gospel in eleven chapters.  After a brief introduction, he presents has four parts:  1. Who Christ Is, 2. What We Need, 3. What Christ Has Done, and 4. How To Respond.  The first part focuses on the claims, character, and resurrection of Christ.  The second part focuses on sin.  The third part focuses on Christ’s death and salvation.  The fourth part brings us to count the cost, make a decision, and live the Christian life.

Background

John Stott (1921-2011) was rector (pastor) emeritus of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London and founder of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.  He was one of the authors of the Lausanne Covenant which started as a 1974 Christian religious manifesto promoting active world-wide Christian evangelism and continues to influence missions work today.  My first acquaintance with Stott came in 1983 when I visited Bonn in Germany as an economics student and a friend gifted me with Stott’s book—Gesandt Wie Christus (1976).  At the time, I assumed Stott was German.  Needless to say, Stott is still one of the world’s best known evangelical writers.

Apologistics

Stott acknowledges the enormity of the task of defending the faith–apologetics.  For example, he recounts a conversation with a young man having trouble reciting one of his church’s creeds because he could no longer believe it.  Stott asked him:  If I were to answer your problems to your complete intellectual satisfaction, would you be willing to change the way you live?  The answer was clearly no.  His real problem was not intellectual but moral (25).  This conversation is not an isolated event–advocating a disciplined life-style today is a tough sell. Why give up self-control to Christ and live a disciplined life when in Alice’s Wonderland every headache can be solved with a different colored pill?

Children Expected to Grow

Stott’s final chapter on being a Christian is most interesting.  He writes:  Our great privilege as children of God is relationship; our great responsibility is growth.  Everyone loves children, but nobody…wants them to stay in the nursery (162).  We grow in two dimensions—understanding and holiness—which work out in our duties to God, to the church, and to society (163-166).  This growth includes growth in our prayer life.  Stott advises readers to respond to God in prayer in the same manner that he speaks to you—do not change the subject.  If he talks about his glory, worship him; if he talks about sin, confess it; if scripture blesses you, thank him for it (164).  Stott’s comments about the spiritual practice of daily examine flow right out of this discussion.  In the morning, commit the details of your day to God’s blessing and, in evening, review what happened during the day.

Assessment

John Stott’s Basic Christianity provides a well-ordered accounting of the Gospel that is worthy of study and reflection.  His summary—God has created; God has spoken; God has acted—is brief but compelling (18).  The Apostle Peter’s admonition sounds initially like evangelism.  But, if the truth be known, the accounting of our hope in Christ benefits us at least as much as anyone we meet.

Stott Outlines Gospel; Speaks Plainly

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Peace: Write a Spiritual Memoir

Peace_review_20200316Richard Peace.  1998.  Spiritual Autobiography:  Discovering and Sharing Your Spiritual Story.  Colorado Springs:  NavPress.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the rites of passage for seminary students is to write and talk about your walk of faith.  The first time it comes up it is intriguing and highly personal.  After a while the task becomes more laborious and a bit intrusive.  Why do committees keep prodding me about my journey of faith?  Richard Peace’s book, Spiritual Autobiography, provides some welcome guidance.

Introduction

Peace cites three things that one can learn in writing a spiritual autobiography:

  1. To examine your life in order to understand the ways that God has been active.
  2. To notice the activity of God in your life and in the lives of those around you.
  3. To share with others what God has been doing in your life (7).

Later, he also observes that writing a spiritual autobiography provides a sense of direction to life (61).  Along the way, Peace uses the example of the life of Abraham to illustrate his points.  He also draws on the lives of Augustine (Confessions) and C.S. Lewis (Surprised by Joy) at different points in his writing.

As explained in his introduction (How to Use This Guide), Peace organizes his book into three broad sections:  “A Small Group Guide”, a description of “How to Prepare a Spiritual Autobiography”, and “Leaders Notes” (7).  Peace recommends breaking up a group study into seven sessions:  pilgrimage, call and blessing, encounters, relationships, testing, presentation, and celebration.  The preparation covers the role of the autobiography, content, process of writing, special issues, and the “spiritual discipline of noticing” (3).

Background

Peace writes on spiritual autobiography following 20 years of teaching a class at Fuller Theological Seminary entitled:  “The Pursuit of Wholeness”.  As a professor of spiritual formation, Peace is responsible for helping aspiring pastors develop their own spiritual awareness and voice. 

It is interesting that Peace occupied the Robert Boyd Munger chair.  Munger was also a faculty member but is best known for a sermon:  My Heart–Christ’s Home.  Munger was also my pastor when my father studied at Berkley University and when I was a toddler.

Writing about Life’s Transitions

For me, the chapter on the content of a spiritual autobiography was an eye-opener.  Peace advises the writer to divide one’s life up into periods either by age or by periods reflecting the search for God (65).  In turn, divide these periods into sub-periods—eight to twelve altogether (67).  Examine these periods for encounters with God, crises of faith, and growth outcomes (71).  Then, describe the periods with information that you remember or gather from journals, photos, and letters. 

Peace’s explanation of this process is worth the ticket of admission because it is a method for uncovering unresolved issues—the pains of life that form us and, if they are unprocessed, limit our growth intellectually, emotionally, behaviorally, and/or relationally (76-77).

Assessment

Peace’s book, Spiritual Autography, is most helpful in understanding and talking about the faith that you already possess.  We paint the world in colors that we draw from the palette of our own experiences.  When we can talk about those experiences, we own them; they no longer own us.  Pain’s writing is accessible to maturing Christians and small groups should consider using it as a Lenten study.

Peace: Write a Spiritual Memoir

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Marion Roach Smith Writes Memoir

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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).

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!

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

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Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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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

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Prayer for Healthy Limits 

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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

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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

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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

Also See:

Pope and Contraception Get Second Look

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

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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

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2019b

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