Christian Spirituality (some bookish thoughts)

[Draft]

A friend lent us a book, ‘Stirrings of the Soul – Evangelicals and the New Spirituality’by Rev Michael Raiter – BA, MTh, DipA (Theol), DipEd [Currently – Principle, of Bible College of Victoria, Australia] (c) Matthias Media 2003, published by: The Good Book Company (UK).

I don’t usually read that many books these days, using most of my time to read Scripture, however, I have an interest in the Anglican approach to spiritual matters, as expressed within the Australian/UK  evangelical scene. Consequently, I took some time over the last week to read this book – to be honest, the author spent so much time on the general background of both old and new spiritually I found little detailed analysis that was helpful to me.

It was only when I reached page 193 [The book has only 252 pages.] (The start of a chapter – with the title: ‘True Spirituality: Listening to the Apostle of the Spirit),’ did I start to find the start of a real ‘spiritual’ discussion. Another aspect (which always unsettles me) was the paucity of scriptural references. True there was a sprinkling of ‘short’ references to a few verses in Genesis, Ecclesiastes, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Peter. The author centred much of his discussion on spirituality as discussed by Paul, in various chapters of Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Corinthians (sounds like a lot of material, but in reality each reference comprises only of a few verses); however, as Paul does in his various letters – the sections discussed were, in general, the same or similar themes – expressed in slightly different ways for Paul’s respective audiences.

I’m of the opinion that any discussion of Christian Spirituality should contain an exhaustive analysis of John’s Gospel, and his letters. In John 3:10-13, we read: “Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. … “.  Nicodemus, to whom Jesus was talking, was a Jewish religious leader, who would have known the Hebrew Scripture, better than most – but having an excellent intellectual knowledge (of the Bible) does not help anyone to understand spiritual truths.

I don’t think it unusual that you don’t see a lot of discussion on the last half of John’s Gospel; starting with verses like John 14:20-21 “When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”

To understand what Jesus is saying – ‘you are in me, and I am in you’; and, He says again in 14:23 – “Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.” Requires an understanding that comes only from the Holy Spirit (and not from any intellectual analysis of the Greek words used [ 🙂 ]; it is true that the Father and Jesus will come and make THEIR home with each one!

The book does not cost a lot to buy, that’s good, but I can’t recommend it. However, it’s very well written – the language is concise, and his ideas are well set out – making his overall argument easy to follow. In summary, I think it’s better to read John’s Gospel, within a bible study group, assisted by a good commentary – and, lots of input from the Holy Spirit – perhaps, a better use of your time?

[If anyone has read this book and has a different view – I’m quite prepared to discuss any issues.]

Religious ideas expressed in the public forum

I read the following article, “Is conservationism a religious belief?”(Wednesday, 25th November 2009.) written by Paul Richardson, on the www.religiousintelligence.co.uk  website.  

The article itself is about some judicial decision (in the UK?) that environmental beliefs should receive the same protection as religious beliefs. I don’t know the history of this case but Paul Richardson presents an interesting viewpoint on the topic of the discussion of religious views in the public forum. 

Excerpt of his article, as follows: “Recent years have seen attempts to ban religious arguments from public debate. Partly this is a response to the rise of the Religious Right. No one worried when Martin Luther King used religious arguments. Partly, too, it is a response to the spread of multiculturalism and a fear that religious arguments are divisive and provoke conflict. Richard Rorty famously labelled them a ‘conversation stopper’. Non-believers cannot be expected to engage with religious arguments, he maintained; it is the job of believers to express their views in neutral, public reason.

In fact, there is no such thing as neutral, public reason. We all argue from certain presuppositions and within a certain tradition. As we debate with others, our traditions may be modified or even overturned but we cannot leave them behind when we enter the debate. They are part of who we are and how we think. Banning religious arguments from the public square can itself be a divisive measure. It can leave religious believers living in a ghetto where some of their core values and opinions are never challenged by others. Worse of all, it can breed a festering resentment, a sense on the part of believers that they are marginalised and despised which can turn them to fundamentalism or even religious terrorism.

For years some of us have been arguing that it is hypocritical to ban conventional religious arguments from the public square when what might be termed ‘New Age’ arguments are advanced all the time. …

I agree, there is no such thing as a neutral, public reason. I believe it’s important that we continue to strive to put our views into the public arena. Our views, are part of – ‘who we are’ – and, as such, we should have the right to express our views – religious or otherwise. (Along with the responsibility to ensure that the expression of our views is not deliberately hurtful.)

Bible Gateway

As most know there is a vast array of information resources on the ‘net.

One I use a lot is www.biblegateway.com  – mainly to search through Scripture when researching different themes. They have available many different language translation of Scripture and lots of  different, English ‘versions’.

In addition, they have a verse of the day and other interesting material. Today’s verse is: ““[Thanksgiving and Prayer] We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.” (2 Thessalonians 1:3, NIV)

Now, when I read the above verse – I thought to myself, is this true in my community; is our love for each other, increasing?  This question, then begs the next question – if not, why not?

I don’t have any answers … any views on this?

Serving a Sovereign God – what does it mean?

At times, when I’m tired the language of theologians is way, beyond me!

I was glancing through a recent edition (February 2010) of Southern Cross (monthly newspaper published by Anglican Media Sydney, Australia), when I spotted an articled, with the title, ‘Serving a Sovereign God’ written by Rev. Dr. John Woodhouse, Principal of Moore Theological College.

In the first instance I thought to myself – this should be a good article, however, by the time I was half-way through it, I was started to think that I had no real understanding of what he was trying to say; either I’m not very educated in the finer points of the English language, or his terminology was so esoteric it’s beyond my understanding.

The lead-in comment to the article is: “John Woodhouse argues that if we truly believe in a sovereign God then the way we live as Christians will be radically different.” Okay, I believe – totally, in the sovereignty of God – then, how will my life be radically different, compared to what it is now? Is his argument centred on the premise that, in general, we as Christians don’t truly believe in God’s sovereignty, we only think we do?  Well, when I finally made it to the end of his article –  I was more confused then when I started.

***

This is my starting point: I firmly and unshakably believe and hold the view that God has power and control over every entity, inside and outside of the known universe. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is outside of His authority – He knows all things, in eternity and over all of time – nothing happens outside of His knowledge; and, more importantly, nothing happens which is outside the scope of His power to change, in any way. Did I leave anything out?

A third of the way in; I read: “One way to characterise certain Christian movements is precisely in terms of this truth (God is sovereign). Terms like ‘Reformed’ or ‘Calvinist’ mean many things but they generally mean an embracing of this doctrine. … Those who do not accept this doctrine in its fullness may be variously described, but typically they are called Arminian, … “.

Immediately, on reading these statements I wondered if I was going to get a different flavour of a ‘free will’/’predestination’ debate –  which, is a much flogged horse, long since buried in desert pasture – isn’t it?

Yet, reading on, I stuck something I could not only understand, but also agree with: Labels (Calvinist and Arminian) are distasteful – partly because they point of differences, but ignore what we have in common. They tend to oversimplify and therefore create caricatures of positions.”[Anyone, wanting to find out what these two movements are about; there’s plenty of material on the ‘net, and Wikipedia has a good, but limited summary.]

In the past, I used the terms Calvinist and Arminian; even said nonsense sentences like, ‘I’m a Calvinist looking back and an Arminian, when looking forward’. I now think they are useless terms, and avoid using them – much better to use the various verses in Scripture to illustrate what God says about being responsible for our actions; and, what He says about choosing His ‘sheep’.

The Rev. Dr. John Woodhouse then looks at two areas of our lives and how they relate to the belief in a sovereign God: prayer and evangelism.

Immediately, the Rev Dr John forgets his previous statement on labels, and writes:“If you have an Arminian prayer life (What’s that, I ask?), then you may think there is a tension between believing in the sovereignty of God and praying. After all, if God is in control of all things, and knows all things, what can possibly be the point of praying?” He starts his response, by saying, ‘We are to pray because we believe in the sovereignty of God … ‘ Now, I’m really confused – Scripture is full of verses which talk about prayer, in particular, Matthew’s Gospel contains a fairly detailed section on prayer – maybe, some of those verses, to illustrate this point, may have helped me?

I’m patient, so I struggle on – to read (and yes, another label): “The extreme Arminian prayer is the prayer that is thought to be effective in proportion to the amount of faith with which it is prayed … “. What do you think, how about the case of a prayer where there is no faith at all, compared to a prayer with  just a little faith – now, what does Jesus say about this case, does a mustard seed come to mind?

He concludes this section by saying: “What we believe about the sovereignty of God will be demonstrated in our prayers.” I agree with this statement, but so far this article has not contributed to my obviously poor understanding of this issue.

Now, onto evangelism, some introductory comments made by the writer: “Evangelism is necessary because God is sovereign – not despite that fact. … Evangelism is urgent because God is sovereign – not despite that fact.” I’m feeling terribly tired now, I really am lost – I think I need a lot more explanation to understand, any of this.

What I mean, by using the words ‘I’m lost’, is to say I can’t find an application of these statements to my own life. I’m trying to acquire an understanding of the writer’s message which can be applied to my Christian life – and, I need simple examples – more importantly, I need references to Scripture – because then I can put the material into a known context.

Summary

The point to my post is this: sometimes theologians become so engrossed in the battle that rages within intellectual arguments, that the spiritual realities get lost in the codified language, they use.

I think, it’s a lot better use of time to prayerfully read Scripture, either alone or in a Bible study group, then to spend a lot of time reading about things, like – what Calvin wrote about pre-destination. The same Holy Spirit is in you, as was in Calvin – Jesus loves you so much that whatever knowledge you need to follow Him, will be given to you – even if a theologian thinks your prayers ain’t perfect – whose are?