Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Teaching this class has been one of the most valuable things that I have done in recent memory. I think the reason that I enjoyed it so much was because it forced me to get out of theoretical models of spiritual growth and into what has worked for me. I had to wrestle with questions like, "How does God really work in my life?" and "How do people really change?"
Sometimes I feel that churches are a lot like the Land of Oz and pastors are like the Wizard. All my life I had this notion that the spiritual life was about "victorious Christian living." I read in the Bible and I heard in church that Christianity was this dynamic relationship with God. Everyone in church talked about how wonderful Jesus was and great it was to have a personal relationship with him.
Now, I had a nagging sensation that God was out there, but I didn't experience anything close to what most of the people in my church were talking about. I assumed it was my fault. Maybe I wasn't praying enough. Maybe I wasn't reading my Bible enough. Maybe I needed to witness more and buy more Christian trinkets.
So I did all that stuff.
And it didn't work.
Then I went to college and seminary and studied Reformed theology. It was new and different and exciting and intellectual. It had Bible verses for everything. It was air-tight. What's that? You're an Arminian? You must not read your Bible! What's that? You had a spiritual experience? Everyone knows our experiences are subjective. You can't base your faith on that! Come, read this Bible verse and find out what your faith experience should look like.
Now, I have a lot of respect for Reformed theology and theologians. I give it a hard time, but I do it in the same way that Jeff Foxworthy makes fun of rednecks.
But my main beef with Reformed theology is that it doesn't work. Sure, they have a Bible verse for everything and a fantastic explanation of God's sweeping purpose for the universe and how that should play out in my personal life. But I find that their explanations of the way the spiritual life should work have no correspondence to the way life does work. Or at least the way my life works.
Going to seminary was like peeking behind the curtain at the Wizard of Oz. When I say that, I don't mean the part about going to class; I mean the part about living with other seminary students. These people were to be leaders of spiritual communities across the globe, and yet they acted like everyone else. I guess I had always thought that even if I wasn't experiencing spiritual bliss, even if I wasn't living victoriously, there was someone out there who was. Most of the time, I thought that person was my pastor. When I lived with 1000 other future pastors, I realized that a lot of the stories we told about normative Christian living were fantasies. The Wizard of Oz wasn't as great and powerful as everyone made him out to be.
I don't want to use smoke and mirrors to promote a fantasy. I don't want to preach a message that isn't true to my life. I don't want my sermons to be what Caedmon's Call refers to as "an expensive ad for something cheap." So, as I put together the curriculum for the Spiritual Life class, I was forced to wrestle with the question of what was normative for the Christian experience. I found my answers in N.T. Wright, James Dunn, Gordon Fee, Philip Yancey, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and others.
Ultimately, I think the Christian life boils down to a couple of things--read your Bible, pray, hang out with other Christians, and take the kingdom of God to the world. I have found that people change when they do two things: (1) they decide they really want to change (i.e. repentance), and (2) they find accountability (i.e. confession).
Is God active in our world in our lives? Absolutely. Does e really change people? Without a doubt. Is the Christian life one of "victory" and "bliss"? Not in my experience. That's why I hope for something more (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received--that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. [bold and italics mine]
Saturday, May 16, 2009
In this final quote from Fee, he discusses the role of prayer in Paul’s “Spirit-uality.”
Good stuff. I love the line about the prayerless life and practical atheism.
Prayer, therefore, is not simply our cry of desperation or our 'grocery list' of requests that we bring before our heavenly Abba; prayer is an activity inspired by God himself, through his Holy Spirit. It is God siding with his people and, by his own empowering presence, the Spirit of God himself, bringing forth prayer that is in keeping with his will and his ways.
It is probably impossible to understand Paul as a theologian, if one does not take this dimension of his 'Spirit-uality' with full seriousness. A prayerless life is one of practical atheism. As one who himself lived in and by the Spirit, Paul understood prayer in particular to be the special prompting of the Spirit, leading him to thanksgiving for others and petition 'in the Spirit,' even when he did not know for what specifically to pray. Whatever else 'life in the Spirit' meant for Paul, it meant a life devoted to prayer, accompanied by joy and thanksgiving. (867–868)
This is the final post about Fee’s book. Like I said, it is one of the best NT theology books I’ve ever read.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Chapter 8 of his work is called "The Dignity and Misery of Humanity." In it, he suggests we replace the word "sin" with "misery" in our vocabulary. He writes:
To speak of human misery is better than using the classical theological doctrine of sin to describe our situation of lostness when we are far from God. The term "misery" sums up our detachment from God, our autonomy, and all the resultant consequences. It brings out more clearly than the term "sin" itself the relation between sin and its ramifications. The term "alienation" has a similar breadth. it has two sides, both an action we take and a situation we find ourselves in. We can alienate ourselves from someone, and we can be in a state of alienation. In the German equivalent Entfremdung is etymologically close to die Fremde (the foreign country), with the implied thought of being away from one's own country (cf. the English "alien"). Alienated from God, we live in the misery of separation from God, far away from the home of our own identity.Pannenberg suggests we talk about "misery" or "alienation" instead of sin. Note that it is not because of the negative connotations of the word "sin" that he makes this suggestion, but because the other terms are clearer. "Sin" is a theological term that is unclear to non-theologians. "Misery" and "alienation" are more understandable anthropological terms that communicate the same idea.
What do you think? When speaking to a non-Christian audience, should we present Jesus as the answer to our "sin" problem, or our "misery" problem? Is the meaning of the word "sin" so unclear to those outside of our tradition that it has lost its value in extra-community dialogue?
Monday, May 11, 2009
A. God wants to heal the world. In order to do so, God recruits coworkers who must be healthy so they don't spread more sickness, and health care workers so they don't just keep good health to themselves. Unfortunately, there are no completely healthy people for God to work with. So in the spiritual formation process, God starts with unhealthy people and first helps them become healthier, so they can be put to work bringing health to others, and to the world.
B. God wants to heal individuals. Individuals (we might call them "souls") are God's primary concern. If there are more and more healthy individuals, the world will become a healthier place as a by-product.
C. God only cares about the world. You as an individual don't really count. Your private or personal life is your private or personal concern; just be sure you vote and work for social justice (or the spread of capitalism, communism, liberalism, or conservatism, whatever).
D. God only cares about the individual. This whole world will soon be disposed of, so all that matters are individual soals.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
In this passage, Fee discusses Galatians 5:16–18, “But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
Fee makes a great point that the command “walk by the Spirit” is an imperative and not a passive indicative (“you will be led by the Spirit”).
That leads finally to the question that is less exegetical than existential. 'That is all fine and good,' it is often said, 'but how does one go about walking in the Spirit' so as not to live from the perspective of the flesh? The best answer to that question is still the exegetical one, not the existential or formulaic one. Paul, of course, is speaking from within a historical context in which the Spirit was the primary, experienced reality in the Christian life, as 3:2–5 has made plain. This appeal to the Galatians, therefore, is just that, an appeal to 'go on walking by the very same Spirit by which you came to faith and with whom God still richly supplies you, including by the working of miracles in your midst.' That is, a powerful and experiential--supernatural, if you will--presuppositional base lies behind this imperative.
But it comes by way of imperative, not by way of passive indicative (as in v. 18). Life in the Spirit is not passive submission to the Spirit to do a supernatural work in one's life; rather, it requires conscious effort, so that the indwelling Spirit may accomplish his ends in one's life. One is urged to 'walk by the Spirit' or 'live by the Spirit' by deliberately 'conforming one's life to the Spirit' (v. 25). If such a person is also described as being 'led by the Spirit,' that does no mean passively; it means to rise up and follow the Spirit by walking in obedience to the Spirit's desire. (433)
One of the things that I struggle with in Reformed theology and other monergistic systems is the question, “Why does Christian A grow when Christian B does not?” In a monergistic system, the answer has to be “Because God empowers Christian A to grow and He does not empower Christian B to grow.” That sucks for Christian B.
I think Galatians 5 shows that Paul was more synergistic in his understanding of spiritual growth. Sure, spirituality is a work of the Spirit. We can’t grow ourselves by shear will power. But we can resist the Spirit, and we do have the responsibility to walk in the Spirit.
Friday, May 8, 2009
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
I came across something he wrote in 2007--an evaluation of Joel Osteen's message. It's not shocking that a Reformed theologian would disapprove of Osteen's message, but I think Horton's thoughts are especially good. He quotes Christian Smith in calling Osteen's message "moralistic, therapeutic deism." Ouch.
Monday, May 4, 2009
I am about halfway through Piper's critique of Wright. I thought I would read it before reading Wright's new book. I have been taking notes, and I am considering doing a series on how I would respond to Piper.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Saturday, May 2, 2009
In this passage, Fee is introducing Spirit theology in the Book of Galatians. He mentions Galatians 6:8, “because the person who sows to his own flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit” (NET). He also discusses Galatians 5:18–24:
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God! But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (NET)Fee writes:
But for Paul all is not automatic. One must sow to the Spirit (6:8) and be led by the Spirit (5:18); indeed, 'if we live [= have been brought to life after the crucifixion of the flesh, v. 24] by the Spirit,' we must therefore also 'accordingly behave by the Spirit' (v. 25). Thus the Spirit not only stands at the beginning of Christian existence, but is the key ingredient to Paul's understanding of the whole of that existence. Accordingly, the final argument (5:13–6:10) becomes one of the most significant in the corpus for our understanding of Pauline ethics as Spirit-empowered Christ-likeness lived out in Christian community as loving servanthood. (370)Fee makes the great point that even though the Holy Spirit is the sole cause of spiritual growth in the Christian (he calls it “Spirit-empowered Christ-likeness”), all is not automatic. The believer is called to “sow to the Spirit” and “live according to the Spirit.”
In my spiritual life class, I used gardening as an illustration. There is nothing that we can do to “make” a plant grow. Plants grow according to the wonder of Creation. However, there is much we can do to sabotage a plant’s growth. Without water, proper sunlight, and good soil, a plant isn’t going to grow. Likewise, we have a responsibility to make sure that we are getting plenty of water, sunlight and soil so that the Holy Spirit can work in us for Christ-likeness.
What do you think of the analogy and Fee’s description of spiritual growth as “Spirit-empowered Christ-likeness lived out in Christian community as loving servanthood”?