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Posts Tagged ‘meditation’


So far, I can safely say this was my least favorite chapter of Introverts in the Church.

Possibly most dangerous book in the chapter.

How introverts approach their faith will be different, generally speaking. These are not absolutes, hermetically sealed chambers we are considering. I’d say tendencies.

Introverts will tend to shun the public expressions of faith for the personal or private expressions of faith. They buy the worship music and listen to it alone for private worship. They are more likely to meditate upon Scripture. I like to play my guitar, listening to the words of the song in my head, expressing my heart to God. These are things extroverts do too, just differently.

But that isn’t where Adam McHugh took us. He took us to monasticism. Yes, I think introverts are more drawn to monasticism. I’m not convinced that is a healthy thing. But more disconcerting was he took us to mysticism.

I’m not one to go “that’s Catholic” to write off an ancient practice that may be helpful. But I’m leery of mysticism precisely because it bypasses the mind. Bypass the mind and there are not boundaries to protect yourself from false and destructive spiritual experiences.

I’m no “devil in every bush that rustles” guy, but I do believe there are unclean spirits willing to deceive people who separate Word and Spirit.

God spoke to us. He used words, precisely because He wanted to be understood and not simply experienced in some vague way. I agree with guys like John Calvin and John Owen that the Spirit works and speaks through the Word. And so we should be engaged with the Word, asking to Spirit to work, as we read it, meditate on it, sing it, pray it, listen to it etc..

McHugh, following Benedict, wants to eschew words. Yes, there may be times of silence but I’m thinking words. Silent prayer, meditation, singing, etc. But he says “Words, rather than issuing from a well of reverence and wisdom, often betray ignorance and immaturity.” “Often” is the caveat, but still. Jesus, the Word Incarnate, used words in His personal devotion to the Father. This we know.

Yes, there are dangers to technology and their effects on our brains. How we think, process and live. We are overstimulated. His critique here is warranted.

In discussing contemplative spirituality he contrasts apophatic spirituality from kataphatic spirituality. Those are two terms you don’t hear often. “Apophatic spirituality focuses on what cannot be grasped about God through rational thought, words or images. It emphasizes the hiddenness of God.” As such, it seeks to go beyond what God has revealed.

Calvin very much emphasized Deuteronomy 29:29 in his theology and practice.

29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

The secret or hidden things belong to God, not us. What He has revealed belongs to us to ponder and enjoy. In other words, we should reject speculation in such matters. We recognize there is mystery, there are boundaries to our knowledge. But we respect that rather than trying to penetrate the veil. This is why “evangelical theology is grounded in revelation”. This is a good thing, not a bad thing like McHugh seemingly wants to make it. Yes, it can only take us to the borders of mystery. But that is only as far as we are supposed to go!

He encourages the examen, or spending the end of the day considering the day. This is helpful as we compare our decisions, actions and affections to God’s commands and ask for forgiveness. It is helpful as we see our weakness & ignorance and ask for strength and wisdom. It is processing your day, and this is generally a good thing. We should consider our desires and what lies beneath them more.

People tend to live on the top of the iceberg. We experience desires but rarely consider what drives those desires. Often there is a legitimate longing at work that we are seeking to fulfill illegitimately if legitimate avenues are blocked. This is about ourselves, not God. This is about self-understanding. For Calvin the knowledge of God and self are connected. If I know God better, I’ll understand my longings better and how my corrupt heart distorts legitimate longings.

I know I largely live within routines of rhythms of life. When I get outside of my pattern I’m uncomfortable, discombobulated. For instance I just had 3 “short” weeks. Labor Day made for a short work week. The next week I went to a ball game with another pastor on a Thursday, shortening my week. The 3rd week was Presbytery. I felt very much like I haven’t had time to do my work. Tasks have been left undone and that bugs me tremendously.I can agree that when my rhythm suffers, I suffer. I’m irritable and confused.

So he advocates an introverts’ rule to create such rhythms or routines. He doesn’t advocate one for all, but offers questions to help you sort out one that works for you so you are regularly engaging with God to equip you for life in His world.

While he makes a few good points, I find some of what he says here dangerous because any spirituality, introverted or extroverted or ambiverted, should not deviate from a biblical spirituality.

 

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So far I’ve really enjoyed Crossway’s series “On the Christian Life” having read the volumes on Newton, Bavink and Edwards. I’ve been working my way through the series on vacation/study leave. That all changed when I read Luther.

Oh, I’m kidding. Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom by Carl Trueman is a very good addition to the series. One of the things that Trueman appreciates about Luther was his humor, which is much better than my pathetic little joke there.

One of the strengths of this volume is that Trueman does not try to paint Luther as an “evangelical”. He notes our tendency to repaint our heroes in our own image. He resists this temptation and presents us with the Luther that we both love and don’t quite understand.

Luther’s understanding of the Christian life is very different from that found in “popular” evangelicalism and even in Reformed circles at times. Trueman isn’t here to criticize Luther, but is more to critique us in a round about way.

One of the struggles for a book like this is the sheer volume of material produced by Luther, as well as the development of his thought over time as a pioneer of sorts who came to a greater awareness of the implications, consequences and complications of this ideas over time. Yet, as Trueman notes, evangelicals tend to pull their quotes (sound bytes) from the early Luther.

Trueman begins with a brief biography of Luther so readers can get a lay of the land, so to speak. His life and theology were in near constant interaction. I noticed this tendency in studying some the major psychological theorists, and it is often true for theologians as well. Their theology is an attempt to work out their stuff with God. Unlike one author I read years ago, Luther’s goal was not sexual liberation but rather spiritual liberation.

Luther lived in a time when most people could not read. This greatly impacts his understanding of the Christian life. It is structured around daily worship services to hear the Word of God and to partake of the sacraments. While better literacy rates are a good thing, they have facilitated the individualistic view of the Christian life that actually robs us of maturity. We are meant to live in community, and not just for a few hours on Sunday.

We can’t turn back the clock (this includes rejecting the industrial revolution, modern travel etc. that shapes our lives/lifestyles). But perhaps we can made some different decisions in our own cultural context.

Luther has a strong emphasis on the Word, and Trueman spends time unpacking this. It is tied up on Luther’s understanding of the Word as both God’s revelation and God’s creative power. God’s Word is meant to shape how we think about life and reality. Luther was also concerned about how we approached the Word, and therefore God. We tend to be theologians of glory rather than theologians of the cross. The theologian of the cross sees God and comes to God thru Christ and Him crucified. The incarnation and sacrifice of the Son points to our weakness, sinfulness, neediness and how God is gracious, tender and merciful This shapes a very different life than one focused on God’s power and glory which tends to either drive us to despair (since we are sinners) or puffs us up (due to our pride and self-righteousness). This carries over to Luther’s law and gospel distinction. This is a much misunderstood concept, as if the OT is law and the NT is gospel. As Clapton sang, “It’s in the way that you use it.” The same texts can be used to expose sin, and reveal grace. First comes law to destroy our self-righteousness, and then comes grace.

So we encounter the Word in preaching, singing, meditating, prayer and if possible reading. Luther encourages us to be people of the Word so God will work in us to accomplish His good purposes.

The Christian life is not easy but we struggle with self-righteousness as well as sin. We also deal with anfechtungen, which is difficult to translate into English but could be considered similar to the dark night of the soul. We experience despair and frustration at the trials of life material and immaterial. We are not to look in, but to look out at Christ in the midst of all of this. Faith is looking to the Christ revealed in the Scriptures in dealing with our guilt, self-righteousness, and afflictions. Luther was not an introspective mystic, but one who calls us out of our introspection to look to Christ who is the only One who can help us.

One of the most important chapters is “Luther and Christian Righteousness.” It is written to address some misunderstandings of Luther regarding sanctification. These misunderstandings are found in the books and sermons by Tullian Tchavidjian and Trueman makes a few allusions to Tullian in the chapter. While the Reformation was going swimmingly in its early days, Luther discovered it was not necessarily bearing the fruit it should as he began to visit other areas. He saw that many people calling themselves Christians were ignorant of basic doctrines and lived like pigs.

He made a distinction between alien righteousness and proper righteousness. The former is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us in justification. It is our positional holiness. The latter is righteousness imparted to us by Christ in sanctification. It is our personal holiness. They are distinct but related. The same Christ who justifies us also sanctifies us. First He justifies and then He sanctifies. This order is key to Reformation or Protestant Theology. Luther discovered there was little to no personal holiness, and put forth the need to preach not just alien righteousness but also personal righteousness. This emphasis is seen in The Visitation Articles as well as his catechisms. While Melanchthon is credited with originating the idea of the “third use of the Law” (showing us how to live as Christians) it is actually present in Luther’s writings as well. The Law directs us as justified persons, but it is always grace that empowers us.

Additionally there was the Antinomian Crisis involving Agricola’s deviant theology. Luther notes we are a battlefield between the flesh and Spirit. Preaching only alien righteousness leads to immorality and false assurance of salvation.  So we find the need for pastors to also preach the law for instruction in righteousness.

The Christian life is played out in our vocations of citizen, work and home. Luther rightfully sees the Christian engaged in those spheres. He does not see a secular-sacred divide like the Roman Catholicism of his day (being a priest, nun or monk was seen as a more holy vocation than a cobbler), and some forms of fundamentalism today.

This is one of the shorter volumes in the series, just over 200 pages. There is some theological background that has to go into explaining many of the concepts central to Luther and his theology. Trueman handles that well and in understandable form. In the discussion of sacraments, he doesn’t delve into Luther’s understanding of the Chalcedonian Definition/Formula with respect to how the human nature of Christ is present in a ubiquitous fashion. There also aren’t many Scripture references which is interesting since Scripture was so important to Luther.

It is a worthwhile addition to the series that seems to focus on Reformed pastors/theologians. The fact he isn’t an “evangelical” provides a good corrective to many of us. This book is well worth reading.

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As we’ve been noting, there are many Mistakes Leaders Make. One of the more serious mistakes, relating to discipleship, is confusing information with transformation.

Here is what Kraft means, in the context of his fictional church.

“Because quantity was a higher value than quality, people at CCC gradually made the mistake of replacing transformation (quality) with information (quantity). They were a Bible-teaching church. But they were at their core becoming a transactional (lots of activities) but not a transformational (life change) body of believers.”

The Senior Pastor put an emphasis on numbers- the growth of the church was measured quantitatively. There wasn’t really a matching focus on qualitative growth. It isn’t as if you have only one or the other. Any wise pastor wants BOTH. But I’ve seen many sacrifice the latter to pursue the former.

But even those who want to see qualitative growth can have inaccurate understanding of what it is and how it happens.

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I must confess that I have never read an Alister McGrath book, until now.  Three years ago a friend recommended The Journey: A Pilgrim in the Lands of the Spirit while I was on one of my journeys to the RTS Orlando Bookstore for a sale.  At some point I started to read it, but got stuck along the way.

Fast forward to my trip to PA earlier this month.  Seemed like a good book to bring.  I’m wondering why I put it down in the first place.  It was very appropriate for the place in life where I find myself.

Alister McGrath confesses that it is too easy for him to intellectualize his faith.  Here he is not advocating an anti-intellectualized faith, but internalizing the truth of our faith so it produces hope in the midst of life’s journey.  To do this he spends some time advocating biblical meditation (see my post on this).  This is part of the map he provides for us to persevere on the journey.

He takes Exodus as his template with alternating stages of wilderness and oasis.  To promote trust and hope in the midst of the suffering that will often mark this journey, he talks about remembering what God has done and anticipating what God will do.  These are essentially the past and future aspects of biblical meditation.

“The present was thus sustained by the memory of past events and the hope of future events.”

Along the way the introduces a series of landmarks from a biblical theology (creation, fall, redemption), and some companions for the journey.  He recognizes the need to learn from those who have gone before us.  He chooses men like Jonathan Edwards, J.I. Packer, C.S. Lewis, John Bunyan and more.

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Saturday night I was in my hotel room in PA after dinner with the committee.  I’d caught CavWife up on the details of the day.  I decided to read some of The Journey: A Pilgrim in the Lands of the Spirit by Alister McGrath.  I discovered that I had started reading it before.   But since I did not remember anything about it, I started over.

At one point he was talking about meditation.  Though tired, I paid attention since I was going to be talking about meditation in my sermon on Psalm 1 the next morning.  He quoted these words from Geert Zerbolt van Zutphen, who lived in the 14th century:

Meditation is the process in which you diligently turn over in your head whatever you have read or heard, earnestly reflecting upon it and thus enkindling your affections in some particular manner, or enlightening your understanding.

That is a great one-sentence definition of what biblical meditation is.  A text is turned over in your head, you chew on it as a cow chews on its cud.  You are internalizing it as you explore it.  But it is not merely an exercise in reason.  Notice the proto-Edwardsian language: enkindling your affections.  It was to shape the desires of your heart.  It could stir up what Edwards called holy affections.

McGrath goes on to say how this feeds prayer.  We are stirred up to long for what the text teaches, and to passionately pray for it to come about.  I thought about C.S. Lewis’ statement about a holiday by the sea.  We settle for far too little.  God offers us amazing things in His Word, but we are content with far too little knowledge of and desire for them.

I see this as one of the reasons (and there are plenty) Western Christianity is so anemic.  Christians zoom about hither and yon.  We are not meditating upon the Word as a man enjoys a 4 course meal.  We are snacking on it.

When the Spirit brings a text to mind, or impresses it upon your heart as you read it, begin to turn it over.  Explore it, chew on it so that you may delight in it and the One to whom it points.  Let your affections be kindled by truth.

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Spirituality is one of those touchy subjects prone to start a good fight.  And that is just within Christian groups, forget other religions.

By spirituality is meant how one “communes” with God, experiencing fellowship with Him and becoming more like him.

On this issue, the authors of Total Church come down decidedly on the side of the Reformed heritage that informs most of their theology.  They argue against the more mystical views of Christian spirituality, of which the Anabaptists would also lay claim.  The mystical forms of spirituality encourage contemplation, silence and solitude.  Instead of these, Reformed spirituality focuses on Word, petition and community.  This creates a Word, mission and community centered form of engaging with God rather than an individualistic, non-rational way of engaging God.

We are to contemplate, or meditate, but on God’s Word.  We get to know God as He revealed (and reveals himself- as we understand in the doctrine of illumination) in the Bible.  On the basis of the gospel and its promises, we petition God to fulfill those promises for us and others.  The Word, not our self-interest, sets the agenda for our prayers.

Union with God is not the result of our devotional exercises.  Our union with Christ occurs by faith as we believe the gospel.  It is this union with Christ that enables us to have access to the Father.  In mysticism it is the goal, not the means.

“The living, active word of God does its heart-softening work through gospel people reminding one another daily of gospel grace.”

The part of this probably most foreign to most people is the aspect of community.  We are used to hearing about private devotions, quiet times etc.  Those are not wrong by any stretch of the imagination.  But Scripture also recognizes corporate spirituality.

Our sin is most clearly brought to light in community.  Alone we are prone to neglect our study of the Word and prayer.  But practicing the spiritual disciplines together is meant to be an encouragement.  I know I pray longer and in a more focused way when praying with others.  Alone, sin easily decieves us.  Together we apply the gospel and its promises to our circumstances.  We are more likely to enjoy a healthier, more consistent spiritual life than just alone.

This chapter is probably too short.  It reads more like an article.  It could bear more fleshing out of the ideas.  But I can’t take any exception to what they do say, they just needed to say more.

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Ran across this in my reading this morning.  Great stuff!

“Ecstasy and delight are essential to the believer’s soul and they promote satisfaction.  We are not meant to live without spiritual exhilaration, and the Christian who goes a long time without the experience of heart warming will soon find himself to be tempted to have his emotions satisfied from earthly things and not, as he ought, from the Spirit of God.  The soul is so constituted that is craves fulfillment from things outside itself and will embrace earthly joys for satisfaction when it cannot reach spiritual one … The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go for any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savoring the felt comforts of the Savior’s presence.  When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction, our souls will go in silent search of other lovers.”  Maurice Roberts, quoted in Instructing a Child’s Heart, from The Thought of God.

He says the same things as Thomas Chalmers in The Expulsive Power of a Greater Affection, but from a different angle.  Chalmers puts it in terms of sanctification- how we put our sinful desires to death.  Roberts puts it in terms of avoiding spiritual declension and danger.  One for growing in Christ, the other for maintaining spiritual vitality.  If we are not often pursuing our satisfaction, delight, in Christ, we will be in danger of seeking it in earthly things.

Think for a moment of how pervasive it is.  Many church-goers don’t really have a vital relationship with Christ.  It is more pragmatic than dynamic.  So they find themselves drinking from the cesspools of society- wrapped up in the pursuit of wealth, sensuality, power, entertainment etc.

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