Posts Tagged ‘thinking’

Sometimes life just gets busy and books get put aside for a spell. That’s what has happened.

I began reading The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life: Connecting Christ to Human Experience by Jeremy Pierre while I was on vacation/study leave back in July. I didn’t quite finish it and resumed when I got home. Or tried anyway.

Unfortunately I had committed to Congregational Conversations on Women in the Church and Talking Politics which are reflected in my numerous posts on Aimee Byrd and Jonathan Haidt.

Jeremy Pierre teaches counseling at Southern Seminary. This is a book written for biblical counseling. While I do some counseling, I read it to improve my preaching just as much as my personal ministry. As a result, I’m looking at this with slightly different eyes than his intended audience.

This book is structured in 3 sections. My bottom line is that the first two were excellent, and I got mired in the third.

The first section is The Beauty of Human Experience: How the Heart Responds Dynamically. Pierre develops this section reflecting a redemptive historical structure. The first two chapter seem to focus on the heart as created by God, and then we have the heart corrupted and then redeemed. It end with the heart in context.

Pierre develops a biblical understanding of the heart: interaction between thinking, feeling and willing. As he notes in his diagram the functions are interrelated and overlapping. Our heart responses are complex.

We think about what we value. Our feelings reveal what we value. Our choices reveal what we value most. Our heart interacts with the world and our circumstances. All three of these functions are important and often work behind the scenes. He mentions John Frame, and it is hard not to think about this in a triperspectival fashion.

“None of the faculties, so understood, exists or acts apart from the others, each is dependent on the others, and each includes the others.”

He connects worship to our thoughts, feelings and choices. God made us to respond to Him, the world and our circumstances. Similar to Haidt, Pierre notes Antonio Damasio’s work on people with brain injuries affecting emotions. Without emotions people don’t make better decisions but none or worse decisions. Our reactions seem intuitive (like in Haidt) not with reason leading the way. He mentions Haidt on page 33. This doesn’t mean we are thoughtless. We use past experiences and think about how to interpret circumstances. We also have affective and volitional responses to situations.

Due to the corruption of sin, our “experience is fragmented, dysfunctional, incomplete.” We all experience inner conflict as sin “hijacks the dynamic heart’s beautiful design.” Pierre develops this in terms of dynamic unfaithfulness and idolatry.

But thankfully God didn’t leave us all there. In regeneration we have a “renewed” heart, or one that is redeemed. His focus is on faith: a faith that is thinking, desiring and committed. This reflects the Protestant notion of the content, asset and trust comprising faith.

“The dynamic heart is always active, response-able, and therefore responsible.”

The second section entitled The Context of Human Experience: What the Heart Dynamically Responds To. The most obvious answer is God, but also to self, to others and circumstances. This fits well with Relational Wisdom 360 (God, self, others) as well as Frame’s triperspectivalism (God, me & circumstances (people included)).

He begins with God, and worship. One of his illustrations isn’t quite accurate. The temperature of the sun does change, not just the color of our sunsets (the two have nothing to do with one another). But he does get into Van Til’s Creator-creature distinction to differentiate our experience from God’s. God knows Himself perfectly. We not only can’t comprehend God, we don’t know ourselves fully either. He then gets to the similarities: thinking, valuing & choosing.

Faith includes not only believing God exists but “expressing the raw contents of the heart to God.” We see this throughout the Psalms. When we say that God wants our hearts He not only wants our thoughts captive to Him, but emotions shared with Him and wills in submission to Him. This is being God-aware and God-engaging in our circumstances.

He then addresses issues of identity.

“The primary point of this chapter is this: The dynamic heart functions from a personal identity constructed from various sources. Caring for people involves addressing how their constructed identity compares to their given identity.”

He notes that we simultaneously operate with different identities. At the same moment I can operate as friend and pastor, husband and father. Underneath all of this should be my grace-given identity in Christ. He discusses layers of identity reflecting a person’s cultural circles, with Christ at the center. A person’s circumstances, present environment, shapes how they conceive of their role and response to others. When I return home, my role is the youngest and it is like going through a time warp. It is unconscious. I struggle with my role & responses when visiting with my wife’s family: still, after 20 years. But the others around us matter too in how we understand our identities. As noted above, counseling (and preaching) seeks to shift people to their given identities, and to re-shape constructed ones to be more in synch with our given identity. At one point I did write in the margin that our conception of our given identities (Christian, husband, father etc.) can be culturally constructed.

Pierre then shifts to others and influence, particularly the influence of others on our hearts. Our choices on who or what influences us is often unconscious. It happens beneath the surface as something draws us to a person. But they then exert influence on us. And we on them. This influence can be both positive and negative. As we grow in self-awareness we will better understand how we engage with others. He addresses various orbits of influence: culture, family of origin, current family, vocation, social circles, media and then church as an alternate community of influence.

From there he moves into our circumstances and their meaning as they interact with our dynamic hearts. He notes that “People automatically process the events occurring around them according to their established framework of belief.” This is why change requires a renewal of the mind, and frameworks not simply thoughts. Our beliefs are part of a framework, not isolated. Here he gets into control beliefs which “determine how they interpret circumstances; their control values will determine how they feel about circumstances; and their control commitments will determine what choices they make in response to circumstances.” Counseling (and preaching) should address those control beliefs, values & commitments. Often these are shaped by seismic events: a divorce, and injury or illness, sexual assault etc. That means the event needs to be addressed so its power is lessened over time.

The book ends with Counseling from a Theology of Human Experience. He compares counseling to raking, not baking. His counseling process involves reading hearts, reflecting so people can understand their hearts, relate them to Jesus, and renew so they make new responses. This is where I got bogged down. It has less content and more sample questions to get at each of these steps in the raking process. If I were reading with an eye on counseling I probably would have found it more profitable. I did find the first two sections very profitable.

Whether for preaching, counseling or personal ministry of various sorts, this is a helpful book. He has some good illustrations from counseling and history (the story of the Essex as told in The Heart of the Sea). He draws on a variety of sources that might sound odd but actually are more similar than you think. Haidt, as I’ve mentioned in other places, reminds me of Van Til whom Pierre reflects through John Frame. He’s got some helpful sources and influences which enable him to put together a book about how the heart works that enhances understanding and hopefully in the various kinds of heart work we are called to do.

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Some of my uncles growing up were in construction. Most of my brothers-in-law are in construction. So as I think about the 2nd part of Bavinck on the Christian Life, I think about a construction metaphor. If the first part was the foundation, the second would be the framing.

There were only two chapters in the second part. Recall that the foundations were creation in God’s image, the Law and union with Christ. The two chapters in this section are Imitating Christ and Worldview.

Bavinck understood the Christian life as one of imitating Christ. We need to see this in terms of God restoring His image in us, in accordance with the Law, through our union with Christ. I say this because may have seen the Christian life as imitating Christ, but meant something different.

Recall as well that this is intended to be an ordinary life, not viewed as radical. We partake of earthly goods, but they are not ultimate goods. We enjoy them as part of God’s good gifts, but they are temporal and temporary. As the song goes, hold on loosely.

Bavinck looked at the historical patterns of this theme. Bolt summarizes this for us. Bavinck identified dangers and wrong turns.

The early Church was a persecuted Church. This is because they claimed to be the only true religion, and Christ claimed their ultimate allegiance. Rome did not like that. With martyrdom a real possibility, it unfortunately became “regarded as a matter of glory and fame” (pp. 106). It became pathological, similar to what we see with radical Islam today.

Monastic separation created a divide between clergy and laity. Professional Christians tend to breed “incompetence and an unspiritual life-style.” He noted the rise of the Waldensians, and others, who simplified doctrine and emphasized holiness. Soon you also saw the rise of the “mendicant armies” who exalted poverty above all other virtues. Medieval mysticism came to see Jesus as model, not Mediator and Redeemer.

Any view of imitating Christ that neglects Him as Redeemer is sub-biblical and rejected by Bavinck. This brings us back to union with Christ as the primary element of imitation. He believed we were not to simply look and act like Jesus, but to be transformed inside.

Bolt then brings us to the Sermon on the Mount. Bavinck’s views shifted, with his latter view more nuanced. World War I lay between point A and B. It helped him see some problems with his understanding, and deepened his understanding. Bavinck understood it in its original context as to His disciples who would face persecution. We cannot simply woodenly apply it to our circumstances. The Sermon was about obeying the law of God in your circumstances. Our circumstances may be different, and therefore our obedience may look differently. They lacked power in culture, and were to let their light shine. “If the early church had tried to transform its world through cultural engagement, it “would have quickly drowned in the world’s maelstrom.” (pp. 115)” As Christianity loses power in the West, we need to recognize how we imitate Jesus will change. We will become more like the early church. We can’t focus on cultural engagement, but “simply” preach the Good News.

Bolt summarizes all this with “our following Jesus in lawful obedience is grounded and shaped by our union with the whole Christ. (pp. 117)” Therefore we focus on our obligations, not our rights. This is hard for sinful, self-absorbed people.

The chapter on worldview is more theoretical. Bolt covers specific aspects of the worldview in which we fulfill our vocations and imitate Christ in part 3 of the book. The concept of a Christian worldview appears to be first articulated by Kuyper in his Lectures on Calvinism at Princeton. Bavinck would also talk and write much about this topic. While the particulars were nearly identical, their methodology was different, as was their application. This lead to some conflict between the two men in later years. Kuyper was the more “dogmatic” of the two, and comes across as an autocratic leader. Bolt traces this history, and I won’t repeat it.

But one key area went back to regeneration. Kuyper viewed, at the risk of reductionism, regeneration creating two kinds of people with two kinds of science. Bavinck was more open to receiving the science done by unregenerate Christians. As image bearers, they could see something of the truth too. Kuyper was engaged in cultural conflict, Bavinck was more open to learning from non-Christians.

For Bavinck, a worldview broke down into thinking, being and doing. The relationship between these is important. For Bavinck,, being is first. As we become self-aware we think and do. Bolt notes that “worldview follows faith and union with Christ; it does not create faith and is no substitute for it. (pp. 125)” Worldviews are how we navigate our way through the world, other humans and God.

For the Christian, our worldview is about God revealing Himself to us, as well as revealing truth about ourselves and the world. God is faithful and good, revealing these things truthfully and reliably. While he acknowledges the distortions caused by sin, he doesn’t focus on them like Kuyper and Van Til.

“The essence of the Christian religion consists in the reality that the creation of the Father, ruined by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God, and re-created by the grace of the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God.”

These frames, built on the foundation, will direct our understanding of the Christian life. We’ll get to that next time.

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In the first section of his book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, Tim Keller takes care of some apologetics in what he calls Understanding the Furnace. It is a survey of how various religions and cultures have viewed suffering and deal with suffering. The bottom line is that Christianity has the best, full-orbed approach to suffering even if many Christians don’t.

The second section, Facing the Furnace, is designed to help us to understand more fully how Christianity views suffering, the types of suffering and the types of sufferers. Christianity does not have a one-size fits all approach to suffering.

It is to the third and final section, Walking with God in the Furnace, that we turn our attention. While there are many aspects to walking with God in the midst of suffering, Keller rightfully does not want people to treat this a a series of steps as if this was a self-help book. Just as we should prepare for suffering by storing up truth to be used in that day when it comes, we should prepare to walk with God before we actually have to do it in the middle of suffering. If you are walking with Him before you suffer you are more likely to continue walking with Him when suffering starts.

“We are not to lose our footing and just let the suffering have its way with us. But we are also not to think we can somehow avoid it or be completely impervious to it either. We are to meet and move through suffering without shock and surprise, without denial of our sorrow and weakness, without resentment or paralyzing fear, yet also without acquiescence or capitulation, without surrender or despair.”


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