“once for all” in Hebrews 10:5-14

I have been reading J.V. Fesko’s Christ and the Desert Tabernacle (EP Books, 2012) courtesy of Shaun Tabatt.  In addressing the Altar and the Courtyard, Fesko puts forward something we all need to think about, especially folks from more conservative fundamentalist type church backgrounds (pgs 64-65):

One of the questions that we should ask is: Do we fully realize the significance of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ?

So often we give lip service to the idea of the sacrifice of Christ, but our conduct reveals our lack of understanding in our hearts.  Many claim to take refuge in the sacrifice of Christ, but they live in rebellion to the authority of Christ – they claim to love Christ but their lives demonstrate they are indifferent to the costly sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

There are still yet others who claim the name of Christ and look to him for the forgiveness of sins, yet they live as though we still worshipped at the Old Testament tabernacle.  In other words, they believe that their sin is too great for God to forgive, and so, like the Old Testament Israelites, they repeatedly come to God doubting his mercy and seek forgiveness of a sin, offering their prayers and repeatedly pleading with God for forgiveness for the same one sin over and over again.

Oddly enough, both types of sin are manifestations of pride – the former thinks too much of himself, which is arrogance, because he does not believe he needs forgiveness of sins.  The latter thinks too much of his sin and too little of the sacrifice of Christ, because Christ could never forgive him, or so he thinks.  We should occupy neither of these positions of arrogance and pride.

We should recall the costly sacrifice of Christ and rejoice that we can envision the horns of the altar smeared with blood, cling to them in Christ, and know that our sins accuse us no more.  If Christ gave his live so that we might live, then we must not live as though Christ never came, as though he never offered himself up on our behalf.  We must, as Paul says, walk in the newness of life, four our sinful nature has been crucified with Christ: ‘Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal 5:24).

At the same time, when we fall into sin, we even grievous sin, we are not beyond forgiveness.  Do not think that we can somehow atone for our sins if we ask God to forgive us many times.  We should rest assured and rejoice that when we ask for God’s forgiveness we have it because of the sacrifice of Christ.  As the psalmist says, ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us’ (Ps 103:12).  Rejoice, knowing that your heavenly Father forgives you on account of the perfect sacrifice of Christ.

Tongues as Spiritual Discipline

Yes, I am a Pentecostal so I post about Pentecostal theological issues.  🙂

On the Pentecostal Theology Worldwide Facebook page…

(yes, this means this will be a bit of a long post and that you’ll have to put your thinking caps on.  🙂 )

…Mike Ivaska shared a blog post he put up about speaking/praying in tongues as spiritual exercise.  He writes in part:

…And that’s why I am starting to look at praying in tongues as a spiritual exercise.

Tongues as Spiritual Exercise

Once again, this is where our inner fundamentalists come out.  What is this weirdo hogwash I’m talking about?  What do I mean, “spiritual exercise”?  Well, I don’t mean transcendental meditation.  I don’t mean shutting off your brain and being “spiritual.”  What I mean is that when most of us experience what we would call our Spirit baptisms, what is happening is that we are learning to lean into Jesus and let him guide us into an experience and a practice that is all about trust.  For some of us it a resting in Christ, for some it is a stirring up of what God has put into us (we already, after all, have the Spirit within us if we are Christians).  For some, God seems to grab us.  For others, we let go to God.  But it is never the god of “feelings” or “spirituality” that we are dealing with.  It is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus himself, and the Spirit – that gloriously humble third person of the blessed Trinity.  Spirit baptism is a triune experience of deep relatedness with God.  So we do have to yield, but not so much because of God but because of us.  We get in our own way.

In response to Mike, my friend Monte Rice responds positively with the following in-depth comment (it was a couple days between the post and Monte’s reflection:

With great admiration, I read and enjoyed your blog posting; kudos! 

Yes, I believe we can appreciate tongues-speech as very much an authentic spiritual discipline, a genuine form of Christian “askesis.” Simon Chan uses the phrase, “ascetical tongues.” As a spiritual discipline, I describe tongues-speech as one important means of training our tongue, mental faculties and spirit for the work of partnering with God as co-creators in the renewing of creation. Through tongues-speech we are thus discovering a restored linguistical element to our true human vocation as co-creators with God. From this perspective, I describe tongues-speech as prophetic speech-acts, whereby we linguistically envision and speak forth qualitatively moral, social-ethical, aesthetic and spiritual realities that are so counter to the existing prevailing orders of our day, that it necessarily involves the imaginative creating— of “new tongues.” 

There really is a lot of intelligent, well articulated and sophisticated literature out there to substantiate how I just described tongues as a spiritual discipline. There are also a lot of very smart people who visit this forum and can confirm the literature. It is just a matter of whether we are willing to acknowledge its existence and seek out the relevant sources. 

Regarding my own expanded thoughts, I provide here links to unpublished documents I have developed. Just go to the “tongue-speech” folder at: https://www.box.com/s/irocxrzqkpivxk8v7was

There you will see a document I titled, “21st Century Renewal of the Pentecostal Imagination.” You will find that it concludes with a brief apologetic on tongues-speech, which expands the preceding description. You will also see there a second and very large document that functions more or less as a survey of themes and literature I am aware of, also along the theme of my preceding description. You can also look through the following link for some simple seminar type notes I have on spiritual gifts, that touches on tongues in some more user-friendly, grass-roots style: https://www.box.com/shared/cgk9qzdbpx

Now I will share a few additional thoughts here, which I now find important and not earlier worked into the preceding documents.

First to note is an observation from Amos Yong, which he develops from Robert Cummings Neville work, “The Truth of Broken Symbols” (University of New York Press, 1996). Neville thus refers to how religious symbols are normally “true but broken;” hence the title of his work, “The Truth of Broken Symbols.” Yong suggest that tongues-speech is an authentic spiritual discipline (I would add, especially in the manner that I just described it) is “true” to the point that the practice issues in “transformation” towards the values we associate with tongues-speech [See Yong’s “’Tongue of Fire’ in the Pentecostal Imagination: The Truth of Glossolalia in Light of R.C. Neville’s Theory of Religious Symbolism,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 12 (1998): 39-65]. 

Yong thus applies Neville’s pragmatic theory to the symbol of “tongues of fire.” He thereby arrives at this hypothesis: “Glossolalia is devotionally true insofar as the Pentecostal soul is transformed to be more like the Spirit; it is practically true insofar as Pentecostal practices embody the Spirit; and it is theologically true insofar as the understanding of the mind is attuned to the Spirit.” From these premises, Yong then uses the symbolism of tongues speech to identify three “stages of personal or communal devotion:” “innocence, growth and adept.” These three stages essentially identify progress to fidelity with the religious significance we ascribe to the symbolism of “tongues of fire.” Yong thus states, “glossolalia is true provisionally and never absolutely, that is, so long as it remains a broken symbol.”

Yong’s reflection leads me to also consider how tongues and where tongue-speech fits within the ancient Classical distinction between cataphatic (mental / images) and apophatic (spiritual / silence). In this ancient scheme both disciplines of prayer are needful and should be practiced but ultimately— cataphatic prayer should leads us towards apophatic prayer, which is also called the “the way of unknowing, or the via negativa” (“way of negation”). The “way of unknowing” begins with the premise God is infinite, and human language is finite. Hence, we ultimately recognise the limitations of verbal speech in lifting the prayer of our heart, that is, our soul, to God. Inevitably, words end in silence. 

Keeping in mind Romans 8:26 (“The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”), tongues-speech should perhaps ultimately lead to silence before God. Tongues-speech thus lies necessarily somewhere on the border between cataphatic and apophatic prayer. [You can explore a similar theme in: Edmund Rybarczyk, “Reframing Tongues: Apophaticism and Postmodernism,” Pneuma 27, no. 1 (Spring 2005) 83-104]. The Scripture says that “He who speaks in tongues, edifies himself.” Tongues-speech indeed prepare us for even higher ascending levels of prayer into the presence of God. 

I also find it helpful to consider possible links between tongues-speech and meditative chanting. Comparative religious studies confirm the value of what Marcus Borg calls, “sacred sounds.” These sounds can be discerned into varied methods of repetitive chanting in other religious systems. Usually they involve certain protractions of vowel sounds, which Rudolf Otto (“The Idea of the Holy”) called, “the long-protracted vowel of wonder.” Borg moreover describes such practices as means for entering into states of spiritual receptivity, just as other practices do, such as fasting, reading Sacred Scripture, and even “acts of compassion” (such acts can indeed help to sensitise our heart to matters pointing to God’s mission in creation. This in fact points us towards Wesley’s idea of “means of grace,” which includes acts of charity). 

Meanwhile, there are also established patterns for entering into meditative states through the Eastern Orthodox practice of hesychastic prayer (repetitive chanting of the “Jesus Prayer: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”). And in certain ways, I also find tongues-speech functionally analogous to the practice of hesychastic prayer.

But the “Jesus Prayer” is also cataphatic prayer, and ultimately it too leads to acknowledge the brokenness of human speech. So Dionysius the Areopagite said, “the more we take flight upward . . . we shall find ourselves not simply running short of words but actually speechless and unknowing . . . the more language climbs, the more language falters;” words end in silence. When Love perfects creation, tongues will cease— and we fall on our faces before God.


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Well, that should give you all some things to think about!  🙂

on maintaining relationships in the body

of Christ.  this photo has been going around Facebook:

It made me wonder, could you imagine the level of UNITY we could have in the greater Body of Christ we could have if we were to follow this simple principle, or even just the idea of seeking to save a relationship over and against having to be right (or more right than another) all the time??

Now, please know, for all intents purposes, I am referring to general situations within the bounds of Historic Orthodox Christianity.  BUT… I wonder too to what level of effectiveness could we reach as the Body of Christ if we sought relationships with one another over worrying about being right, and even how might this impact our ability to impact the world as witnesses to the Risen Christ by the unity we display?

Just imagine that.   What do you think?

Book Review: Walking in the Spirit.

It is with thanks to Angie from Crossway Publishers that I offer a review of Kenneth Berding’s short book Walking in the Spirit (Crossway, 2011).

My wife didn’t like me too much for saying this but if there were ever a book that could be truly described as “how to be a Pentecostal or Charismatic, without actually being one…”. Ken Berding’s latest book Walking in the Spirit would be it!  Really, I don’t mean to be presumptuous or condescending on purpose but the things Berding talks about in this book is what you hear about in your average Pentecostal church on a fairly regular basis.  For the average Pentecostal or Charismatic Christian (not the fringe folk you see all too often on Scott Bailey’s blog) this is what living the Christian life is all about, Walking in the Spirit. Hearing the voice of the Spirit in one’s heart and life; walking and or living in the power of the Spirit; praying in the Spirit (not necessarily in tongues); hoping in the Spirit (for the eschatological fulfillment of all things); living life led by the Spirit of God and so on.  This is the essence of what it is to live the Spirit led life.  Well, that is how I see it anyways.

Dr. Berding (PhD, Westminster; Prof at Talbot) then, has written a tightly focused work centering on one of the more significant passages in the Bible on the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, Romans 8. It is not a scholarly work and does not interact too much with major scholarly commentaries on Romans.

Instead, he seeks to talk specifically about a life led by the Spirit and draws his points from the text of Romans 8:1-24.  In a lot of ways it reads a bit like a 7 part sermon series on the Holy Spirit since he fills the texts with plenty of personal stories and anecdotes and points of application along with questions for consideration at the end of each chapter (hint, hint, wink wink, for those wanting to do something like that in their congregation).

It is a short book with only 112 pages (7 chapters) of main text with two appendices one of which he seemed to write to calm some scholars down who might read the book (it addresses some basic academic issues with regarding the passage, i.e., some OT in the NT stuff with regard to the use of the “law”).  It could easily be read in one sitting but I think the better approach would be to read one chapter at a time and let the concept and points sink into one’s heart and life.  Personally, I found it quite stirring and am still feeling the effects of having read it).

Each of the chapters talk about a different element of the work of the Spirit and follows the flow of the text so the first chapter hits on the first instance of the work of the Spirit in the passage.   So, for example, one chapter focuses on what it means to set one’s mind on the things of the Spirit.  Another focuses on what it means to put to death the misdeeds of the body by the Spirit.  Yet another, what it means to be led by the Spirit, and what it means to know God as our Father by the Spirit (no, Abba doesn’t mean “daddy”), to hope in the Spirit and also what it means to pray in the Spirit.

FWIW, I actually agree with him that “praying in the Spirit” is not about tongues per se, but, that it is to pray in conjunction with, or alongside the leading of, the Spirit.  For example, all too often a person gets sick or is injured in some fashion, prayer requests go out for quick healing and such for said person.  Well, to the consternation of many, it should be asked, is this the leading of the Spirit as to how we should pray for this person?  Maybe we should simply pray that they be strong through the process and so on.  How is the Holy Spirit leading us to pray regarding various situations?  That is what it is to be led by the Spirit.

So, if you want to be invigorated in your “spirit-ual” life and walk this book is certainly a good place to start.  I really do recommend it to any and all, and even maybe especially to scholars who tend to get all too heady about stuff (not that there is anything wrong with that per se).


Living the Lord’s Prayer?

I did a pretty substantial amount of reading in Eugene Peterson’s newest book The Pastor: A Memoir (HarperOne, 2011) today, and as I was reading/listening and he was writing/talking, I realized something he was saying (I can’t remember where at the moment – but I think in chapter 11 “Holy Land” when he was working the night shift in Kalispell, MT right before going to college and he was reflecting on Psalm 108) – he was talking essentially about not just praying prayers but living them too or living out the prayer – and in reflecting on that I wondered if we fall shot just to pray one of the most significant prayers in the Bible: the Lord’s Prayer?  Instead of praying it, what if we lived it out, sort of in the line of the old Keith Green song Make my Life a Prayer to You?  I am positive this is not new and lots of people have probably already talked about this – but still – live out the Lord’s prayer?

Yup.  Line by Line.  To really live as he is our Father; in as such, to live a life that hollows God’s name in every way; to live in anticipation of the Kingdom and as much as possible in seeking his will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven (and not just in our own lives or or own little world) but in the lives of others as well; to live in dependency on him daily; to live graciously forgiving lives both seeking forgiveness and extending it; living in the strength of the Lord to resist temptation and to not be taken in by the evil one and so on.

Living out our prayers can be a challenge but I wonder if that is how it is intended to be – not just praying prayers (as we should and we must) but also living out the prayers.

What say you?

Sundays with Andrew Murray

So I am going to try something different on my blog – others have done Mondays or Wednesday with Wright, Fridays with Fee (since Robert quit blogging one of us needs to take that up again, maybe you? maybe me?), or this or that scholar, or with Barth, etc – I am going to try something a little different and try to share more devotional quotes from Andrew Murray on Sundays.  Like him or not, I think he has good things to say, and convicting.  Without further ado, here is the first quote I want to offer from Murray’s Absolute Surrender:

God does not ask you to give the perfect surrender in your strength, or the by the power of your will; God is willing to work it in you.  Do we not read: “It is God that worketh in us, both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13)?  And that is what we should seek for – to go on our faces before God, until our hearts learn to believe that the everlasting God Himself will come in to turn out what is wrong, to conquer what is evil, and to work what is well-pleasing in His blessed sight.  God Himself will work it in you. (Kindle edition)

As we pursue a life of surrender it is not just us but God in and through us that moves us to that place of absolute surrender.  Blessings

Henry Nouwen on Solitude (Repost)

Solitude is the furnace of transformation.  Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self.  Jesus himself entered into this furnace.  There he was tempted with the three compulsions of the world: to be relevant (“turn stones into loaves”), to be spectacular (“throw yourself down”), and to be powerful (“I will give you all these kingdoms”).  There he affirmed God as the only source of his identity (“You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone”).  Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter – the struggle against the compulsion of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.

This might sound rather foreboding.  It might evoke images of medieval ascetic pursuits from which Luther and Calvin happily saved us.  But once we have given these fantasies their due and let them wander off, we will see that what we are dealing with here is that holy place where ministry and spirituality embrace each other.  It is the place called solitude.

Henry J.M. Nouwen.  The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry. (Harper Collins, 1981), 25-26.