"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Reformed Spirituality: The Angst of a Fallen World

We live in a religious culture of immediate gratification. We rarely feel hunger without grabbing a Snickers bar or driving through a McDonalds. We avoid books for television. 30-minute programs, cut up into 7-minute segments with 1-minute distractions to keep us from getting bored. Our gospel can be like that too. We want to reflect on grace and the victory of Christ without feeling the effects of a world with sin, suffering and death...without feeling the world we currently live in. We don't recognize Good Friday, we run to Easter. Yet the world maintains its journey in a perpetual Friday, a world in a journey to decay, of the aging of our bodies that are “born towards death” as Neuhaus said. Often, our shouts of praise and victory in the church are heard as feats of self-delusion by a world that itself has sought sex and mind altering substances to escape. Yet, when the world awakes to deal with the night before, it looks to the church and sees another self-delusion. Our gospel can sometimes morph into a denial of effects of sin, an avoidance of suffering, and an ignoring of death.

The true gospel, however, does not deny sin (or that we are sinners), avoid suffering and ignore death. The true gospel begins with the acknowledgement that such things are real, are terrible and are the bane of the existence of man in his time on earth. The true gospel must be longed for through sin, suffering and death. The true gospel will never be sweet to the one who denies he is a sinner. The true gospel will not be relief to the woman who avoids relationships to avoid suffering. The true gospel will not be deliverance to the one who avoids funerals and pretends they will never die. The true gospel feels the fallen state of the world and first acknowledges its existence and disappointment and frustration before it runs to Easter, or it never would run to Easter. The true Gospel knows that the only way to Easter is through Good Friday. The true Gospel can sympathize and sit with Job as he cries out to God:

"Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not. And do you open your eyes on such a one and bring me into judgment with you? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one. Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass, look away from him and leave him alone, that he may enjoy, like a hired hand, his day.

"For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grow old in the earth, and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant. But a man dies and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he? As waters fail from a lake and a river wastes away and dries up, so a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep.

"Oh that you would hide me in the grave, that you would conceal me until your wrath be past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come. You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands. For then you would number my steps; you would not keep watch over my sin; my transgression would be sealed up in a bag, and you would cover over my iniquity.

"But the mountain falls and crumbles away, and the rock is removed from its place; the waters wear away the stones; the torrents wash away the soil of the earth; so you destroy the hope of man. You prevail forever against him, and he passes; you change his countenance, and send him away.

"His sons come to honor, and he does not know it; they are brought low, and he perceives it not. He feels only the pain of his own body, and he mourns only for himself."

-Job 14

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reformed Spirituality: Man and Sin

(These are talking notes. I tend to elaborate more extemporaneously. However, I thought I would post them for those interested in the flow of the material in the Reformed Spirituality class)

To speak of Spirituality, we must speak of man, and of God. As we saw, Calvin said he didn’t know exactly where to begin:

“Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.” - John Calvin. Institutes, Chapter 1.

We start with man, because there is a problem in on our side in Spirituality. For some reason, we are not able to encounter God rightly. He is hid from our perception, and what we do pick up about God from the natural world leaves us fighting over the nature of Who God is.

So, the problem that must be dealt with before proceeding further in Spirituality is the problem of the condition of man. The Christian Scriptures teach that this alienation from God, this separation from God is the result of sin. One might have come to mind the familiar verses from Sunday School:

Rom 3:23 - for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Eph 2:12 - remember that you were at that time separated from Christ… having no hope and without God in the world.

The condition of man, as we are taught in Scripture is in separation from God. The effects of sin, however, are not always taught in their two aspects, which we will look at here:

1) Relational Effects of Sin

Most Evangelicals will understand and teach this aspect of the effect of sin. If God is pure and holy, holiness cannot touch what is unholy. Sin represents a great offense to a Righteous God and must be addressed in order to restore a relationship.

2) Personal (Bodily and Spiritual) Effects of Sin

We have been taught about the offense of sin and how it separates us relationally from God. However, we may not have fully contemplated how sin effects man’s ability to relate to God.

First, let’s look at what makes up a human being:

There are 2 parts of a human: Body and Soul. Of the two, the soul is the part of a human that perceives and processes reality. Thereby, asking how a human might know God is asking the question: what faculties does a human soul possess?

The Parts of a human soul may be identified in Scripture and observation as corresponding to these three parts:

• Understanding, Faculty of Knowing
• Affections, Faculty of emotion, affections
• Volition, faculty of choosing

The parts of the soul are inter-related to a degree to which it may be hard to say what influences what. This illustration might be helpful:

It is important to understand the faculties of humanity in order to understand the effect sin has on them. First we are told that sin effects the Body. Physical death and sickness are a result of sin. (Romans 5:12, Genesis 3)

Many may not go on to ask what effect is made on the soul. Scripture speaks to each faculty in this question:

• Mind (1 Cor 2:14, Titus 1:15)

1Cor 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Man as he is found now in his nature is “not able to understand.” As Paul explains in Titus 1:15, people left in a natural state have: “both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”

This is sometimes called the Noetic effects of Sin: The effect of sin to cloud the understanding.

• Heart (Jer 17:9)

Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Jeremiah laments that what men value is “deceitful” leading men away from what they should value, to that which they should not. The Heart too is effected by sin

• Will (Jer 13:23)

Jer 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.

Functionally, we see Jeremiah compare the ability of to do good (from the act of the will) just as in line with man’s nature as changing one’s skin color or a leopard, by shear will power changing his spot arrangement. The nature of man is in such a place as to be unable to go what is right by its own power.

We might look at Romans 3:10-12 to see all of these in use:

Rom 3:10-12 - as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands;

(Here we see the understanding of man effected.)

no one seeks for God.

(The heart of man has no inclination to seek after God)

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."

(The Will of no one does what is good)

Mind, Heart, Will. These are the parts of the soul by which man perceives and reacts to the world and reacts to God. These three parts all are fallen and sinful. “Dead” as Paul describes it. (Ephesians 2:1)

So, before we can properly talk about “Spirituality” as encountering, or communing with God or having fellowship with God, the problem of sin must be answered and solved, and by one not sharing man’s sinful nature.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Reformed Spirituality: Defining Spirituality

In exploring the topic of Spirituality, our first question is: “What is Spirituality?” In consulting many non-religious sources, most gave a definition of

1) There is no definition


2) An Experience with the Divine

The first definition is of course nonsense. The second however is telling. Spirituality is an existential concept in popular thought. Our concern, however, is Christian Spirituality. Therefore, our concern is not merely with a “Divine” essence in general, but the Christian God in particular. Consulting various Christian definitions given by people such as Alister McGrath and Richard Foster, a broadly Christian definition tends to include at least 3 aspects:

1) Involves Spirit, (since it is called spirituality)
2) experience of God
3) is about the Christian Life over time.

If we want to find something less generic and more Reformed, we will find these elements to be insufficient. In constructing our definition, we need to look at more than Christian Spiritual Gurus and to the principles of Reformed Christianity.

Reformed Christians generally accepted and took up the name “Reformed” not merely as a reforming of Catholicism, but from their principle that the human person must be “Reformed by the Word.” By this, we understand that Spirituality must be based on the Word made flesh (Christ) and the Word written (Scripture). Since we know Christ by means of the Scripture, a Reformed approach to Spirituality must be Scriptural. Because our approach must be Scriptural, our definition is as follows:

Spirituality is the Christian Life centering on Christ by the power of the Spirit as Christ reveals God to us as taught by and through Scripture.
The focal idea here is that the principle object of our contemplation, affection and instruction is Christ. Our shorthand definition then can be:

• “Encountering God in Christ.”

This may bring up certain objections and questions. First, if our approach must be scriptural, why do you draw the conclusion that it must be centered on Christ? Wouldn’t it be centered on Scripture? Scripture indeed is our true guide in the faith. But it is our guide to somewhere else. Jesus tells the Pharisees in John 5:37-40

“the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life."

The role of Scripture is to testify and lead one to Christ. Our center then is not on Scripture, but through Scripture to Christ.

Secondly, if we are talking about Spirituality, why is the Spirit not the focus of our contemplation, guidance and instruction? In John 15:26, Christ teaches his disciples what the role of the Spirit is:

"But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”
The role of the Spirit, like Scripture and working with Scripture is to lead the believer to Christ. The Spirit works through the Scripture to bring the believer to Christ for substance. A Reformed, or we might merely say Scriptural, view of Spirituality then is a pursuit of how we understand the principle need, source and means of Spirituality. In all, Spirituality is about “Encountering God in Christ.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Simul Justus et Peccator

On Christians being "Simultaneously Sinner and Saint":

“The saints in being righteous are at the same time sinners; they are righteous because they believe in Christ whose righteousness covers them and is imputed to them, but they are sinners because they do not fulfill the Law and are not without sinful desires. They are like sick people in the care of a physician: they are really sick, but healthy only in hope and in so far as they begin to get better, or, rather: are being healed.”

-Martin Luther

Monday, January 19, 2009

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?"
Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise?

Read it all here, and have a happy MLK day.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Loving being Wrong

"The one who loves discipline loves knowledge,
but the one who hates reproof is stupid."

- Proverbs 12:1 (NET)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reformed Spirituality

Shortly, I will begin teaching a mid-week class (if anyone shows up) on Reformed Spirituality. Why not just "Christian Spirituality"? Well, I don't believe a generic Spirituality exists, and you can read my previous post of Lewis' explanation of what he meant by "Mere Christianity" for explanation. Within the traditions of the church are the fires of Christian Spirituality. Since this will consume much of my time over the next few months, any posts I do will probably flow from that. So, if the topic of Spirituality is not of interest, tune back in in March, I may do some different posts then, maybe my long delayed series "Why I am a Reformed Catholic." Until then, I will share a selection of the first reading. The topic is Knowledge and it comes from the first few lines of Calvin's Institutes:

1. Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other. For, in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone. In the second place, those blessings which unceasingly distil to us from heaven, are like streams conducting us to the fountain. Here, again, the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more apparent from our poverty. In particular, the miserable ruin into which the revolt of the first man has plunged us, compels us to turn our eyes upwards; not only that while hungry and famishing we may thence ask what we want, but being aroused by fear may learn humility. For as there exists in man something like a world of misery, and ever since we were stripped of the divine attire our naked shame discloses an immense series of disgraceful properties every man, being stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness, in this way necessarily obtains at least some knowledge of God. Thus, our feeling of ignorance, vanity, want, weakness, in short, depravity and corruption, reminds us, that in the Lord, and none but He, dwell the true light of wisdom, solid virtue, exuberant goodness. We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves. For what man is not disposed to rest in himself? Who, in fact, does not thus rest, so long as he is unknown to himself; that is, so long as he is contented with his own endowments, and unconscious or unmindful of his misery? Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

RIP: Richard John Neuhaus

Richard John Neuhaus died today after a relapse of cancer. Neuhaus was editor of First Things Magazine and a Roman Catholic priest, a convert from Lutheranism. He was, along with Peter Kreeft, among the ranks of my favorite Catholics. I always liked the Protestant converts, perhaps because I keep seeing their old Protestantism bubble up.

Ironically, my two favorite books by him were on death: As I Lay Dying and Death on a Friday Afternoon. I will have to thumb back through As I Lay Dying today, a reflection on his first battle with cancer.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Things you are but won't admit

About once a month, I will use one of the following five terms and someone will argue that:

1. They are not that term
2. You should not be that term
3. That term may be coming between you and your personallordandsaviorjesuschrist.

Well, Christians are (or should be) all of these terms whether they like it or not:

Confessional – No, this does not mean you confess your sins to a clergyman or anyone else, though that wouldn’t hurt you either. This means the heart of Christianity involves that act of confessing the faith. Confessing means to acknowledge, own, or affirm. This did not start with Constantine oppressing the Church at Nicea but is the common practice of New Testament Christians such as


John 1:49 Nathanael answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!"


Matt 16:16 Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."


John 20:28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"

Creedal – creeds are the contents of what is believed. Creed comes from the latin that means to believe, and a creed merely answers what is believed. One of the most ignorant things one can say is “no creed but Christ.” This is asinine because first, that very statement is a creed – a statement of belief. And second, that statement in a non-answer. It merely tries to be clever in not answering Christ’s most important question: “Who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20) What is a ‘Christ’? Is that all that is necessary? Does Paul add too much to ask that “confess with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. ” (Romans 10:9) or has Paul added too much creedalism in asking one to believe Jesus is Lord? Paul goes further in adding content to what is to be believed:

1Cor 8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

Paul says much more than that Jesus is Christ. Who do you say that Jesus is? What you say is your belief or creed. In saying it, you are confessing a creed. Now, I don’t like to say silly things about Jesus, so I like to say those things Scripture said. So did the early church in constructing the earliest creeds like the Apostles Creed. It is a “ready answer for the hope you have”

Denominational – denominate means to give measure or to name. To call something “non-denominational” is to name something “unnamed” and give the measure of something as non-measured. You may not have a name for something, but you must at least have some confession to what you believe, unless everyone merely comes to your church to chant to themselves in non-language. The minute you have a confession, you denominate yourself. The minute you answer your denomination as nondenominational, you have denominated yourself. Again, our answer to questions of belief should clarify, not confuse in non-answers.

Liturgical – this word denotes the established order for worship. Do you usually sing songs before a sermon? There you go, that’s your liturgy. Do you have an invitation from Scripture, some hymns a prayer and a sermon? That’s a bit of a better liturgy. Are there prayers, creeds, read Scripture, a sermon and the Lord’s Supper? Now that’s a great liturgy, but a liturgy no more or less so than the others. The choice is not between liturgy and no liturgy, but what is included in the liturgy and how much thought is given to the content and purpose of it.

Sacramental – Sacraments are “means of grace.” Now you know you don’t have those! Although, Paul did comment about preaching:

Rom 10:14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

There, Paul does give preaching a status as a means by which God accomplishes salvation. So, perhaps preaching may be seen as a “means of grace” if by means of grace what is meant is a set form by which it is acknowledged that grace is figured and offered to the person who accepts by faith. There may be more tangable ways the word is offered, such as if you have an alter call that offers restitution, or a prayer prayed with heads bowed and eyes closed that offers salvation, then you have sacraments. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are preferred by some since they are ordained by God in Scripture (as a means of grace by the word – Ephesians 5:26, 1 Cor 11:26), but everyone has sacraments in the eyes of the congregation, the difference is whether they are Scriptural ones or the ones we replace them with.

So are you Confessional, Creedal, Liturgical, Denominational and Sacramental? If you are Christian you are. So, don’t disparage one who uses the terms for which all Christians actually believe, whether they know it or not.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

iTunes Podcasts: Audio Programs

And now other audio programs that are not necessarily sermons on iTunes worth checking out (again, for free)
The White Horse Inn (Michael Horton and Friends discuss practical theology)

The Reformed Forum (a group of Reformed pastors interview theologians and talk books/theology)
(Westminster Seminary California)

Ordinary Means.
(Reformed pastors calling the church back to the Biblical Ordinary means of grace)
Issues etc. (Talk show produced by the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod)

Renewing Your Mind
(R.C. Sproul’s audio lectures and Sunday School lessons)
9 Marks Interviews (Mark Dever)

NPR – Religion
(Stories on Religion from NPR for the week)

(Reformed discussion of theology)

Bored-Again Christian
(music for Christians that are bored with Christian Music)