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!  🙂
Blessings,

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).

Blessings.

Is there a “best” Study Bible?

Well, probably not necessarily, as, like with translations, each has its own purpose and usefulness, but probably, the better ones are those that encourage actual engagement with the text of Scripture – and, in my opinion, the “best” “study” Bible available that encourages in-depth engagement with the biblical text, is one put out by Precept Ministries: The New Inductive Study Bible (Harvest House Publishers) (the main “new” part is that it was reformatted and updated when the NASU came out).

In fact, this one probably does so well at encouraging actual and in-depth engagement with the biblical text that probably just looking through and thinking about what it encourages people to do, could make you tired…. lol!

So what does the New Inductive Study Bible ask the user to do?

Well, the dead giveaway is at the bottom of the photo to the left: discovering the truth for yourself.  Well, at least, discover the truths of Scripture for yourself utilizing the Inductive method of Bible study!

First, it asks him or her to spend time observing the text asking “what does the text say?”  This stage is also known as the “overview.”  One way to observe the text is to use the “5 w’s and an H.”  Other ways involve marking out specific “key” repeated or theologically weighted words and or phrases and such in a definitive way so as to make things stand out; then make lists recording the observations and so on and so forth.  Even outlining or structuring is a kind of way to observe the text – which forces you to do the most important part of observation: read and reread, and reread the text, over and over and over again.   the more you read the text, the more you’ll see and the more you see, the more you’ll begin to understand.  In the observation stage, you are dipping in and out of the text so that at times you see the forest and at other times you get in closer to take a look at the trees and their roots looking to get the context of the passage or book being studied.  (see here for some examples)

Next, it asks the user to begin interpreting the text asking “what does the text mean?”  Now, usually, good interpretation flows out of observation – so once we begin to get an understanding of what the text says or is saying, we can begin to understand it’s meaning.  Interpretation involves doing context studies, background studies, word studies, reflecting on the text itself  comparing passages or versus “letting Scripture interpret Scripture” and so on.  Al this is to be done on your own – no commentaries and such until after you have done as much work on the text yourself.

Finally, it asks the user to begin applying the text asking “what does it mean to/for me or to/for us?”  Now that we have begun to get a handle on the meaning of the text, we can begin to apply it’s truths to our own lives or our own faith communities.  The moment we engage a truth we should begin applying which can happen any number of ways: when your eyes are opened to some concept it brings some level of personal transformation be it an understanding about God, the church, one another or even our own self.  Once that truth is understood, we can begin waking in it – be it God’s love and acceptance for us, learning to love, accept, and forgive one another; the need to evangelize and share the hope we have in the Lord, etc.

Of course there are various study tips and mini-articles and so on, and I am sure we could all find something to quibble with or quarrel over, but the whole point of this particular “study Bible” is to get people into the text and to do their own work – instead of relying on edited notes and such at the bottom of the page helping you understand the passage, the Inductive Study Bible utilizes the Inductive method so you could, in following the method, write your own notes and think for yourself about the truths of Scripture!  🙂

So, all that so explain why I believe the New Inductive Study Bible is one of the best out there for really and actually “studying” the Bible.  and this is why I’ll be getting a new one soon since I had to throw away my other one.

I realize this probably isn’t the best Bible to give to a brand new believer (though I have heard of new believers doing well learning the Inductive Method) – that might be too much too fast (probably would not give any “study” bible to a new believer but instead a regular Bible to read and gain basic familiarity with the Bible and its contents) – but the ISB is better for the person read to get in personal study of the Bible (and especially done in a group with others such as done one’s one work (like homework) then meet up with others to talk about what you learned to help keep each other on track).

As to other kinds of Study Bibles such as the ESVSB, NLTSB, NIVSB, etc, what I would prefer to see is the Inductive Study Bible as the primary one worked with and used – then other others used as references (after one has finished with the overview of the passage or book under study first).  The same would go for commentaries, they are fine and good to use, just wait to look at them after you do your own work.

Lastly, I realize I am probably emphasizing a method more then a kind of “study” Bible per se as one can utilize the inductive method with any Bible or by just printing out the passage or book under study on regular paper to put in a notebook, but I do feel the NISB is the best in utilizing a method of study over just giving commentary notes at the bottom and articles spread throughout and leaving folks to figure out what to do with them.

Blessings,

on pastors as servants and stewards

I am reading this book: Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic (Zondervan 2009) right now (which is pretty good and if you’re in ministry and tired, you should get it too – it will help).  Burn out can affect our whole being and life: spiritual, emotional, physical, even relational health.  Throughout the book the author has short little interviews with pastors from around the country who have burned out (or came awful close to it) and survived to tell about it (or even in some cases, lived to tell about it, literally).  In the section about getting back to Spiritual health, she interviews a pastor in Texas named Matt Carter.

A.J.: Do you see the current Western church as being ineffective in reaching people with the gospel and growing them?  why?

M.C.: Pastor Bob Roberts asked the question in a recent book, “If we (the church) could plant one thousand mega-churches all over the United States over the next ten years, wouldn’t we be able to completely change this country for the cause of Christ?  The answer Pastor Roberts reached was, “No.”  Why?  Because that is exactly what the church in the United States did over the last ten years.  We planted over one thousand churches that have grown to more than two thousand members apiece; and yet, per capita, there are fewer people going to church today than ever before in the history of our countrySomething is terribly wrong.

Why is this occurring? I think there are several reasons, but I’m personally convinced that one of the main reasons people in America are leaving the church in droves is because there is severe biblical malnourishment in the body of Christ.  They are leaving in droves not because we aren’t clever enough, not because we don’t have enough resources, but because people come to church, are entertained, and the leave starving, anemic, and utterly ineffective for the kingdom of God.  I believe this is a direct result of pastors not fulfilling primary responsibilities God designed for them through Scripture (130).

Here is the part I wanted to get to but felt I had to include the above for this to make better sense.

A.J.: What do you see as the primary responsibilities of pastors and church leaders?

M.C.: In Scripture, we see two primary responsibilities of the pastor: servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  The apostle Paul wrote, “Men ought to regard us [pastors] as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.  Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful’ (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).  Unfortunately, so many pastors view themselves first and foremost not as servants of Christ, not at those responsible for stewarding the deep things of God to their people, but rather as servants of the church! I grew up in a church that expected the pastor to be available to meet the every whim and need of every congregant.  If someone needed to meet with him, he better be available!  If someone was in the hospital, he better go!  If someone needed to meet with him, he better be available!  If he spent too much time on his sermon rather than with the people, it was said of him that he was “a good preacher” but “not a good pastor.”  Although hospital visitations, meetings, and coffee times with the church are important, Scripture reveals that they are not the pastor’s primary responsibilities.  Being a servant of Christ and a steward of the deep things of God are (130-131).

In view of Mark’s post the other day, perhaps not just pastors and leaders, but Christians in general are burning out of church and or ministry because there is first malnourishment in the pulpit (though not in all cases) and second, because there is confusion and perhaps conflation of roles and responsibilities within the congregation?

If pastors are doing everything or more than they should, they will burn out, fast.  And it seems, that burn out is not limited to just pastors.  Even the rest of the folk can burn out when trying to do too much or when they function outside of their proper or spiritually gifted roles within the body (and when they are not taking care of themselves adequately).

Finally, any thoughts about the pastor’s primary role being servants of Christ first and foremost (not servants of the church) and then as stewards of the mysteries (the deep things) of God?

statisitical support for theological education?

sounds like there is.

Marc Cortez highlights this in his recent blog post discussing drop out rates for seminary graduates.  He writes:

You often hear people lament the high dropout rate of those entering vocational ministry, particularly in their first few years. In a post earlier this week, John Ortberg repeated the statistic that ”90 percent of people who enter vocational ministry will end up in another field.” I’ve heard similar comments to the effect that 50% of more of seminary grads will drop out of ministry within the first five years.

Those are pretty startling claims. If people are burning out of ministry that quickly, then we are doing something desperately wrong.

The problem is that it’s not true.

read the rest.

This is certainly very encouraging news because, like many who don’t always check their facts and just promote myths and half truths, I actually believed this statement – that many seminary graduates drop out of ministry within the first five years.  I believed it because I have seen it (but not a lot of it).  We are going into our fourth year here at the Canyon so I hope we make it.

But I think the main thing being emphasized is that the strongest value of getting a good theological education is ministerial vitality.

Whether one is in church ministry, missions, chaplaincy, or some other venue of Christian ministry, a solid theological education will always prove valuable and give one the tools necessary to make it for the long haul.

Now, if course, this is not true of every person since every situation is different and there are folks who’ve been “in the ministry” for a hundred years with a basic Bible college degree or the basic level correspondence courses for ministerial licensing and such (or nothing at all) and they are strong, healthy and doing just fine, though I would not say this is the norm.  But as it turns out, it is also not the norm to see seminary grads dropping out of the ministry left and right.

So, while getting that master of divinity isn’t everything – it certainly carries a lot of weight and contributes significantly to long term ministerial vitality strength and endurance.

This is also why, having been out of seminary 5 years now, I am considering possibilities of doing ThM work.

I have heard too that for many pastors, pursing a DMin has really contributed to their ministerial vitality and brought some renewal to their ministry and personal spiritual lives.

In a nutshell, a good theological education teaches you how not to burn out and how to protect yourself and others.

See also Brian LePort’s comments!

I agree with Eugene Peterson

Pastoral ministry in America is being ruined.  With all the over-focus on leadership development and such, the church is creating CEO type pastors and not shepherd-pastors – little actual direct soul care takes place from the pastor to the parishioner anymore.  Additionally, with the CEO style leadership focus this leads to a focus on measures of “success” – the implication being that a successful church is one that is a numerically growing church (this isn’t necessarily all bad but we need to break ourselves from being too over-concerned about it).   More important to a strong pastoral ministry is a strong focus on following Jesus – living a faithful and obedient life and long (and short) term spiritual formation/growth of all in the congregations.

Of course we are to be evangelical and work faithfully at sharing the gospel with all in our communities and those we come in contact with – and then seek to integrate them in to the larger congregation – yet this is not all there is to it.

One thing I think I have been “getting” since learning pastoral ministry here at the Grand Canyon is that our congregations are “living communities of faith.”  Through simply being and living as a faithful congregation that too is a kind of witness to the community we live in – but also being a Christian doesn’t mean we can just stay in the same place spiritually all our lives. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that “we all are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory…”  So at the heart of a solid pastoral ministry I think isn’t going to be “strong leadership” so much as it is going to be strong spiritual formation.  Hopefully I am not confusing the two (I am still new to pastoring and learning what it all means).

This is why I need to make Peterson my pastor/mentor by way of his books – I want to learn to be a true pastor and not just some corporate style leader – I want to learn what it means to lead in the Jesus way and style and teach others to do the same.  This is something that connects with me – I knew there was a reason I was not comfortable with the whole “you have to be a strong leader” approach to ministry – who says and why for?  All you have to do is follow Jesus faithfully and lead his way and it’ll all be good.

Thanks to Derek Vreeland for sharing his thoughts on his blog.

on loving God and loving people

I’ll be honest I have long thought this statement (love God; love people) to be a bit cliche-ish and ambiguous.  I mean, I know where it comes from it just seems to be ambiguous because in our day and age it is often a challenge to know what “love” even means anymore – what it looks like or how it works.

I think it is better to explain these sorts of things instead of just throwing them out there like some sort of catch phrase or slogan.  So, with that I’ll give it a try.  This phrase Love God and Love People comes from Jesus’ summation of the greatest commandment noted in the Gospel of Mark:

Mark 12: 29-31: “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

In being asked what is the greatest commandment – Jesus says the greatest commandment is the Shema (Deut 6:5ff) – the command that you shall love God.  How do we do this?

I believe that while love has elements of affection towards another, when it comes to loving God, we demonstrate our love for God primarily through our obedience to him – meaning obedience to his commandments, requirements, and direction for our lives, both as individuals and as a community of faith.  For example, 1 John 5:3 tells us:

This is love for God: to obey his commands.

John then reminds us that God commands are not burdensome – and this is true.  They are not burdensome because God is the one who enables us to carry them out, through the power of the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.  In some ways, the Shema is the center of Torah or the Hebrew Bible; but really it is the center of a life based on the Torah, or, God’s direction for our lives, which is based on his written Word.

But Jesus didn’t leave it there – he chose to take it one step further and insist that out of our love for God we must love our neighbor.   That in essence love for God is seen in and through our love and acceptance of others.  Really, we are not able to love others unless we first have a love for God – because as it says in 1 John 4:7-8:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Additionally, there is 1 John 4:21:

And he has given us this command: Whoever loveGod must also love his brother.

So we can see from here that the ability to love comes from God because the one who loves has born of God – in fact, if one is not a loving and accepting person it might be fair to wonder where that person is with the Lord, if they have been  born again – I know we cannot judge but generally speaking when a person is born of God, born from above, they should for all intents purposes be a generally loving person.

I also want to point out that one cannot say he or she loves God and yet not demonstrate love and acceptance towards others.  This is a false notion of what it means to love God – love for others and loving one another flows out and through our love for God – otherwise it is not a real godly love.  Note 1 John 4:20:

If we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars. For if we do not love a fellow believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen.

Now of course, there are lots of seemingly loving and accepting people in the world – but the difference is that the one who is born of God also confesses Jesus Christ as the Son of God and that he has indeed come in the flesh – this person will freely confess Jesus the Messiah.  That is the primary difference – the role of Jesus in one’s heart and life.

One last thing.  Here is another reason we should show love and acceptance towards one another.  In Romans 15:7 Paul exhorts us:

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

So every believer born of God, needs to be accepting of one another.  Why?  Because Jesus has accepted us.   If Jesus has accepted us, who are we to reject others who love God and belong to him?

In summation then, to love God and love others isn’t just a slogan or a catch phrase, it is a biblical command.

New books in the mail: doorstep edition

Today as I took out the garbage, I nearly tripped over a box!  It had the label InterVarsity Press on it!   I opened it up to find three books I had requested to review:

community-of-the-kingThe first one is one written by Howard Snyder ( out of Asbury Seminary) called The Community of the King Revised Ed (2004).   In this work Snyder explores the relationship between the Kingdom of God and the church by asking questions such as “what is the kingdom of God?” “what role does it play in history?” and “what does it mean for the church to be an agent of the kingdom?”   Snyder seeks to explore implications of the kingdom for the church in daily life.  The church, he avers, “is part of God’s dramatic plan to reconcile all things to himself.”  It is through the church, his people, that God wants to accomplish his ultimate purposes in the the world.   It seemed interesting enough so I decided to check it out.  I have a feeling I won’t be disappointed.

 

paul-the-missionaryThe next one is on missions called Paul the Missionary: realities, Strategies, and Methods (2008 ) by Eckhard J. Schnabel.  Schnabel, himself a former missionary to the Philippines, previously wrote a 2 volume magnum opus on Early Christian Mission that is recognized as one of the most authoratative and complete works on the missionary efforts of the first century church.  Now, in this book he condenses that research and focuses in on Paul and his missionary work. 

An excerpt from the IVP site:

Schnabel first focuses the spotlight on Paul’s missionary work–the realities he faced, and the strategies and methods he employed. Applying his grasp of the wide range of ancient sources and of contemporary scholarship, he clarifies our understanding, expands our knowledge and corrects our misconceptions of Paul the missionary.

In a final chapter Schnabel shines the recovered light of Paul’s missionary methods and practices on Christian mission today. Much like Roland Allen’s classic Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? of nearly a century ago, Schnabel offers both praise and criticism. For those who take the time to immerse themselves in the world of Paul’s missionary endeavor, this final chapter will be both rewarding and searching.

Christian mission, I believe, is an issue close to the heart of God.  In essense, it is why Jesus Christ came into the world – he came on a mission, sent by the Father to seek and save that which was lost.  Now, just as the Father sent him, he has sent us – we are on a mission: to see God’s salvation reach the ends of the earth.  I look forward to reading this massive work (518 pages)! 

incarnation1Finally, along with Nick and Robert, I got T.F. Torreance’s Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (2008).   Incarnation is the first in a two part systematic theology on the person and work of Jesus Christ.  The next one due out will be on the Atonement. 

From the inside book cover:

[Torrance’s] new book on Christology addresses both heart and head through a deeply biblical, unified, Christ centered and trinitarian theology.  Torrance presents a full account of the meaning and significance of the life and person of Jesus Christ, demonstrating that his work of revelation and reconciliation can only be understood in the light of who he is – real God and real man united in one person.  Torrance contends that the whole life of Jesus Christ – from his birth, through is ministry, cross, resurrection and ascension to his second coming – is of saving significance

All I can say is wow.  I look forward to getting into this and learning more of the Lord we love and serve!  Ps. would anyone happen to know which icon is used for the cover of this book?  If you could let me know I’d appreciate it.

Welp, I’ve got a lot of reading to do!  Be blessed!

Book Reivew: A Little Guide to Christian Spirituality

christian-spirituality1

Thanks to Anderw Rogers for this review copy of Glen G Scorgie’s A Little Guide to Christian Spirituality: Three Dimension of Life with God (Zondervan, 2007).

I learned of Dr. Scorgie and his work through the Koinonia blog when he had posted a while ago on issues related to Chrisitan Spirituality, the Disciplines, the Saints, the quest for significance, and integrated spirituality.  So I asked if I could get a copy to review and Andrew contacted me and sent it along.  He’s also checked up on me to see if I got the review out (which I appreciated and needed).  So here it is! 

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Spirituality is really popular today, especially in an ever increasing spiritually eclectic America.  The problem is, what exactly is spirituality?  The lack of clear definitions, or explanations have lead to all kinds of dangerous choices for people.  Bruce Waltke once said in a lecture on Proverbs, The problem in America is that we are open to everything but committed to nothing.  Wisdom, he said, would save us from destruction.   Reading Dr. Scorgie’s Introduction to Christian Spirituality will set you on the path to rightly understanding what spirituality is, and more specifically, what Christian Spirituality is. 

There is such a thing as a distinctive Christian spirituality.  It is one that Scorgie lays out as involving three essential dynamics: the relational dynamic, the transformational dynamic, and the vocational dynamic

As I noted, there is a great deal of interest in spirituality today.  It is important that Christians have even a basic understanding of the issues so they are able to engage such issues competently so as to help others and to grow spiritually in their own lives. 

If we ask the question, what is spirituality?  One answer could be, as Scorgie’s daughter said, “it’s about encountering the transcendent and being changed by it” (25).  Christian Spirituality then, would be to encounter God and be changed by him.  So leading into Christian Spirituality then, Scorgie writes:

Authentic Christianity has always celebrated the possibility of experiencing God in [a] direct and interactive sense.  At the same time it has insisted that there is more to being a Christian than this.  And this brings us to the holistic definition of spirituality.  Such spirituality is about living all of life before God.  In its full sense [Christian] spirituality is synonymous with the Christian life lived with God.  It involves more than experiences, although it has an important place for those.  It also encompasses things like repentance, moral renewal, soul-crafting, community building, witness, service, and faithfulness to one’s calling (26). [brackets and bold marks mine]

So Christian Spirituality then, is about living all of life before God in the transforming and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit

Scorgie lays out three essential dynamics of how this can happen.

The first is the relational dynamic, or Christ with us.  The relational dynamic involves knowing that we are not alone – that, in the words of Francis Schaeffer, “there is a God, and he is not silent.”  Through the work of Christ on the cross and through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, God brings us into a dynamic relationship with him – that relationship then flows into our relationships with others and with the creation – in following the sacrificial love of Christ for us, we are to imitate that in seek to love others sacrificially through displays of grace and mercy to those who need it.

The second is the transformational dynamic, or Christ in us.  The ultimate goal of the Christian life is the inner (and outer) transformation of sin sick hearts and minds in to hearts and minds that reflect the holiness of God.  One can encounter God but ultimately, that encounter, like Isaiah when he saw the throne of God in Isaiah 6, should bring a deep level transformation and healing to our hearts and lives.  If we encounter God and there is no transformation, have we really encountered God?  God wants us to be both holy and whole – the transformation that happens in us, through the work of the Holy Spirit, should move us toward holiness and wholeness, both in our own lives and in our relationships.

Finally, the third is the vocational dynamic, or Christ through us.  Frequently one will hear that the Christian life is more about being than about doing.  The emphasis is placed on being in relationship with God.  We tend to shy away from the doing aspect for fear of legalism or a works righteousness.  Scorgie argues differently.  He argues that the Christian life involves connecting, becoming and doing.   It needs to be remembered that Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  God hasn’t called us simply to exist but he has called us to purposeful living, to contribute to a cause greater than ourselves.  To understand this we need to align ourselves with God’s invitation to steward the creation (that means take care of it), to evangelize the nations, and to build his kingdom.  If this is the case, we’ve got a lot of work to do! 

In closing, it is important that we live an integrated spirituality that encompasses all three relational dynamics. Our ultimate goal is to live a Christ-centered, Spirit-filled life characterized by a sense of relating to God and other, being transformed by these encounters and living out our lives accordingly.  As we do this we’ll live a spiritually healthy life.  To do so we must live with disciplined intent, which involves keeping in step with the Spirit and intentionally creating space for God in our daily lives realizing that the Christian life is really, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “a long obedience in the same direction” – this is Christian Spirituality.

I.H. Marshall on Aspects of the Atonement

We have a more clearly formulated doctrine of the Trinity now than was possible for the first Christians in the infancy of Christian theologizing, and we can understand perhaps more fully how the Father, Son, and Spirit are bound together in a fellowship of love so that they have the same purposes and the same knowledge. Therefore, the picture of intercession is simply one way of assuring us that the Father shares the same loving purpose for us as the Jesus whom we know to have died for us and who is in heaven with the Father, and as the Spirit who dwells in us and assures us of the love of God in our hearts and who speaks directly to the Father in heaven.  There is an indissoluble unity between Father, Son, and Spirit in the work of redemption.  The recognition that it is God the Son, that is to say quite simply God, who suffers on and dies on the cross settles the question finally.  This is God himself bearing the consequence of sin, not the abuse of some cosmic child (56) …. The charge of cosmic child abuse is totally misplaced.  It fails to recognize the points that have just been made which emphasize that it was God who initiated the cross, it was God himself who suffered on the cross and bore the sin of the world (62).  

I. Howard Marshall.  Aspects of the Atonement: Cross and Resurrection on the Reconciling of God and Humanity.  Paternoster, 2008.