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Posts Tagged ‘communion with God’


The final view of sanctification addressed in Christian Spirituality is that of the contemplatives. The Church has a long history with contemplatives, or mystics, that transcends geography and denominations. Some well-known names were contemplatives: Bernard of Clairvoux, St. John of the Cross, Teresa Avila, Thomas Merton and more. In my younger days as a Christian I read Brother Lawrence and The Great Cloud of Unknowing. How does E. Glenn Hinson describe contemplative Christianity?

Contemplatives try to balance the inner and outer life. They usually assert that being will result in doing (which is a far more biblical idea than doing will result in being). They do spend most of their time addressing the inner life: being. Its focus is on communicating, communing and contemplating with God internally. Like Wesleyian sanctification the focus is on one’s love for God. Instead of gaining this thru a second blessing, one pursues it, so to speak, through a series of activities that leads one thru the stages of increasing communion with God. I’m trying to do this justice on its own terms.

“Contemplation has to do with this loving attentiveness to God.”

In contemplation there is an assumption that God is immanent in the created order. He is inescapably near to us. There is no disputing this, the question is “how is He near?”.

In Hinson’s description, there is a “naturalness” to this pursuit of the Divine Lover. He does not clarify and it can sound awfully Pelagian to many ears. Since contemplatives typically eschew theological distinctions, lots of things are vague enough to be misunderstood. Or properly understood.

At the very best, it is typically Arminian. God is a gentleman who never knocks our door down but respects the freedom He gave us. There is a resistibleness to this “grace.” Let me clarify: in Reformed Theology God does not violate the will of the creature, but in regeneration changes the character/nature of the creature so the person’s will is changed. We cannot thwart God’s purposes and plan. In most contemplative theology we, not God, are in the driver’s seat.

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Kevin DeYoung continues with the general theme of our union with Christ in the 9th chapter of The Hole in Our Holiness. That union is the foundation of our communion with Christ. That communion with Christ is important to our growth in holiness.

Communion with Christ is only possible for those who are in Christ, or united with Christ. Communion, or fellowship, with Christ is our ultimate goal. All of the blessings of the gospel, including sanctification, come to us in Christ. We do not seek them, including holiness, apart from Christ. We seek them from Christ. All that you could ever seek, with the exception of sin, is to be found in Christ. Seeking them elsewhere is an exercise in futility.

“Just as a once-for-all, objective justification leads to a slow-growth, subjective sanctification, so our unchanging union with Christ leads us to an ever-increasing communion with Christ.”

DeYoung distinguishes between union and communion. They cannot be separated from one another, as if you have one without the other. But they are different. Our union with Christ is unbreakable. Our communion with Christ is subject to change depending on whether we are pursuing Him or sin at a given time. It is like marriage, he notes, we are in the state of marriage regardless of how we feel about each other at the moment. But the strength of our marriage is variable, depending on love and sacrifice. You are not more or less marriage. You either are or are not. But your marriage can be more or less healthy. Similarly, we are not more or less a Christian (union with Christ), but our relationship is more or less healthy (communion & sanctification).

“I don’t want to belabor the point, but it’s important we understand that communion with God is predicated on union with Christ and not the other way around.”

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At the beginning of his chapter on John Owen in Contending for Our All, Piper notes that 3 of the contemporary pillars of the church all list John Owen as their greatest influence outside of Scripture.  J.I. Packer, Dr. Nicole and Sinclair Ferguson have spoon-fed me John Owen in their books, lectures and sermons.

I have been fortunate to struggle through such works of his as The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, The Display of Arminianism, Indwelling Sin, The Mortification of Sin, Communion with God, The Glory of ChristMeditations on Psalm 130 and sections of his Commentary on Hebrews.

I knew little of the man, and according to Piper this is quite common.  It was refreshing to hear more about his life beyond being Cromwell’s chaplain.  What we discover is a man that wrote immensely deep theology while he suffered greatly.  Life was no picnic for this man.  But among most of his contempories, he was known more for his personal holiness than his immense intellect and profuse writing.

And that is where Piper goes.  He wants us to grasp the call to personal holiness flowing out of his communion with God.  We need more theologians known for their personal holiness- far too many are known for not living out what they preach or teach.  In the words of Owen I used not too long ago in a sermon, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

It is vital for us to remember “that John Owen’s holiness was not worked out in the comforts of peace and leisure and safety.”  He watched all 11 of his children die.  He was a persecuted preacher for over 2 decades after the Act of Uniformity with Charles II.  Too often we point to our struggles in this world as an excuse for not striving for holiness.  Owen saw that as the very course on which personal holiness is pursued.  He understood that the lack of personal holiness often prevents us from understanding the Bible and theology more fully.  Though Owen used a strong method of interpretation, he did not separate that ‘academic’ means from his piety as he prayed and meditated over the Scriptures while exegeting them.

I close with one final thought by the good doctor: “When we have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for- then shall we be garrisoned by the grace of God against all the assaults of men.”  John Owen didn’t just believe this, he lived it.

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