If you’ve spent any real time in the Church, you probably are well-aware that there are some practical things that “mature Christians” end up doing (or so we hear) to “pursue Christ” and intimacy with God on days other than Sunday. Usually, this is some set of practices, disciplines, and rituals that surround two key things: the Bible and Prayer.
In the Bible Belt, where I’m from, the common term to describe this is the “quiet time”. This can be a devotional that includes a snippet of Bible verses with some meditations and prayers. It could be reading a passage and then journaling about it. It can even be going through an established liturgy of prayer with rotations of Scripture found throughout (here’s my favorite).
Whatever form it takes, it’s usually a subjective engagement (prayer) with the “objective” revealing of God (the Bible). It is usually rooted in the Bible, and even the prayer or journaling is seen as a response to how God reveals Himself in the Scripture. “Quiet times” are, fundamentally speaking, time spent with God in the Bible.
I’m sure the experience is very different in other branches of the Christian family tree, but at least in Evangelicalism (my bread-and-butter), “quiet times” become the go-to litmus test for one’s own spiritual health. If people are going through difficult times, we nudge them towards the Bible more. If we are to feel spiritually vital, healthy and mature, we gain the impression, over time, that it must flow from regular, disciplined quiet times.
But as I have lived through my own pursuit of the elusive “consistent quiet time”, dealt with decades of feelings of spiritual inadequacy, and seemingly had every time of requesting prayer on my behalf be about trying to get the grace to have these quiet times, I have slowly realized there are problems with how we have conceived of the “quiet time”. Come walk with me a little bit.
This post is part of my 2013 Lent series: Reflections on Repentance.
Martin Luther famously kicked off the Reformation by saying the whole of the Christian life is one of repentance. In this, he was implying that it was not a singular moment, but rather a lifelong process. Yet, as I’ve lived life in the Church, I have found that this is not quite the way that most Christians talk about repentance, nor does it seem to be the way the Bible itself does.
If you ask your run-of-the-mill Christian convert, or even pastor or theologian, what repentance is, you will usually get some answer that involves the phrase “180 degrees” or talk about a change of your mind or turning away from a sin you do.
Good sermons and books on repentance will usually involve the Luther formula of using the Holy expectations of a Holy God to expose just how sinful we are, and then hitting us with just how radical God’s grace is in light of that. They will show us our need, trying to woo us to a God that forgives us. They try to expose even those sins hidden to ourselves or those that we hide from others or those that have beset us for years, and then invite us to “turn” from those things and instead trust God.
Sermons and books like this have contributed to beautiful moments in my life, drawing my heart to God and convicting me of my sins.
And yet, I have a problem with this. In these articulations of repentance, there seems to be a disconnect. A major, major disconnect.
I hate pontificating.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Often, we can only hate most deeply that which we know most truly. Going through the annals of this very blog and my own conversations (especially during college), pontification makes frequent guest appearances.
By “pontification” I mean saying something authoritatively more for the sake of emphasizing the authority with which you say it than the point for which you did. It’s speaking to your base and those who agree with you, and it often says more about you than it does for the topic at hand. And generally, especially for issues where there is deep disagreement, it accomplishes absolutely nothing more than entrenching each side.
Continuing this series on gender relationships in the church, I don’t want to do that. I really don’t. But too often, this is the case.
Women, and their role in shaping society’s power structures, are at the fore-front of our nation’s consciousness and cultural discussion right now–Evangelical and otherwise.
Socio-politically: Maureen Dowd wrote about it this past week. Hanna Rosin wrote a book about this happening. Sandra Fluke got Rush Limbaugh into a tizzy and then spoke at the Democratic National Convention. Republican leaders, for some reason, could simply not stop talking about rape. Mitt Romney bragged about his binders full of them. Last week, Americans elected the largest number of females to Congress than it ever has.
In Evangelicalism: Rachel Held Evans brought attention to misogyny and patriarchalism at one of the bastions of the Neo-Reformed. Her new book, which already carried some controversy, has been criticized and patronized by conservative evangelicals, including one of the top female thinkers of that flock (Evans’ response, a scholar’s rebuttal). Concerning said bastion, after a rough search and count for the phrase “Complementarianism”, it seems that over half of the results appeared this year alone. At the time of this writing, a different bastion of the Neo-Reformed, upon visit to their site has as the featured video: “Complementarianism: Essential or Expendable?”. The Church of England just announced their new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and one of the main issues being talked about is his views on women’s ordination.
And so, I’m starting a series of posts (as I usually do) to offer up some of my thoughts on the Christianity side of this discussion–thoughts which I hope are helpful to us all. But first, I find it only fair to tell you all my journey into this and where I stand. I’ve hinted at it before, but a fuller treatment might be in order.
Recently, a friend sent me a link inviting me to a debate between a prominent evangelical intellectual and a prominent atheist thinker. It made me remember how I used to eat those sorts of things up when I was in college, and I really appreciated this friend sending it, but at this point in my life, I genuinely had no interest whatsoever.
Eventually, you realize that every debate of this sort goes the exact same way. At some point–without fail– there’s comes a moment when the evangelical says something to which the atheist responds with “well, what proof [or “evidence” or “basis” or “reason”] do you have to make such a claim!”, to which the evangelical responds with something like “well, it’s faith” (or something like that).
And then the debate should end. The fool’s errand of these events has been exposed.
Update II: I posted some important final words on these posts.
Yesterday I began giving some of my thoughts on Exodus International‘s recent repudiation of gay “Conversion Therapy” that was supposed to have “cured” gays of their homosexuality. I began by talking about my experience reading the primary text on this type of therapy in college, and then I criticized some of the common thinking of those on the more conservative side of the spectrum when it comes to this topic, especially how Evangelicals have reacted to Exodus International’s President, Alan Chambers. I also wrote some further thoughts responding to some questions about “homosexuals ‘persisting’ in their ‘sin'” (Update: I clarified some thoughts on that post).
But today, I’ve got some words for the Left…
Update III: I wrote some final thoughts on these posts.
Update II: The second part of this post is up.
Update: I wrote some brief thoughts on a frequent reply I’ve received to this post: “what about gays that are wilfully and persistently disobedient in their sin?” Check it out.
Why on earth am I writing such lose-lose posts as these? I have no idea. Well, here we go.
Last week, Exodus International, one of the biggest and most-well-known Evangelical ministries to homosexuals, came out against what’s called “Reparative Therapy” or “Conversion Therapy”. The New York Times had a big write-up on it (as well as NPR) and an interview with Alan Chambers, the President of Exodus International. And now the whole news cycle is all a-flutter over this. Right when I think the story is dead, I see another headline about “rifts” forming in the Evangelical community and such.
Reading these articles has made me so frustrated with both the Right and the Left in their treatment of this discussion. There’s so much to say, I apologize for the lack of flow or organization that follows.
There are some really important things that seem to be getting lost in this discussion–on both sides.
I’m suggesting that [Nationalism] constitutes a liturgy because it is a material ritual of ultimate concern: through a multisensory display, the ritual both powerfully and subtly moves us, and in so doing implants within us a certain reverence and awe, a learned deference to an ideal that might one day call for our “sacrifice”…. Over time, these rituals have a cumulative, albeit covert, effect on our imaginary. And together, I’m arguing, these constitute liturgies of ultimate concern: the ideal of national unity and commitment to it’s ideals is willing to make room for additional loyalties, but it is not willing to entertain trumping loyalties. (Just try to remain seated at the next playing of the national anthem.) The fact that there seems to be little tension between Christianity and American Nationalism is not a function of the generosity (let alone “Christianness”) of the America ideal but rather a sign of a Christianity they has accommodated itself to these military ideals of battle, military sacrifice (which is very different from the Christian ideal of martyrdom), individual (negative) freedom, and prosperity through property.
Implicit in the liturgies of American nationalism is a particular vision of human flourishing as material prosperity and ownership, as well as a particular take on intersubjectivity, beginning from a negative notion of liberty and thus fostering a generally libertarian view of human relationships that stresses noninterference. Related to this is a sense that competition and even violence is basically inscribed into the nature of the world, which thus valorizes competition and even violence, seeing war as the most intense opportunity to demonstrate these ideals. The vision of a kingdom implicit in this liturgy is antithetical to the vision of the kingdom implicit in Christian worship. I think the liturgical take on American nationalism can help us to see why so few Christians experience a tension here; it can also help to diagnose the cause of the church’s complacency and complicity: many Christians experience no tension between the gospel according to America and the gospel of Jesus Christ because, subtly and unwittingly, the liturgies of American nationalism have so significantly shaped our imagination that they have, in many ways, trumped other litutgies. Thus we now see and hear and read the gospel through the liturgical lenses of the “American Gospel”….
The republic claims to have an identity and unity about it, and even claims to have acieved the goal of shalom–to already be a nation “with” liberty and justice for all…. No hint of eschatological deferral; no sense of “not yet” failure to measure up; but a confident claim of justice here and now, secured by the republic….
And as I’ve tried to sketch above, I think there are good reasons to worry that the ideals of the republic are antithetical to some of the defining ideals of the people of God, called to imitate a suffering Savior, who was executed at the hands of military power. What’s explicit in the [Christian] Creed, if we tease it out, is in significant tension with what’s explicit in the Pledge [of Allegiance].
—James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, & Cultural Formation
Read my thoughts on Christian Patriotism, and a related quote from Ross Douthat in Bad Religion.
Posted from WordPress for Android on my Droid X
My fellow former-Westminsterian (and co-author of a book I plugged a few weeks ago), Jared Byas, just posted an incredible blog post on his blog, Seeking the Good & Claiming it for the Kingdom. The post is called “Why I Will Not Divorce the Bible” and he articulates in such clear prose and winsome graciousness many of the thoughts and perspectives I have when engaging the Bible and then turning to engage the world around me.
Byas writes about how Evangelicals and theological “progressives” both end up devaluing the Bible and not truly respecting it or being “married” to it. He does a great job of exposing the reductionism of both sides as they use various techniques to keep the Bible at arm’s length so they don’t really have to deal with it as it is. (I’ve written similarly before.)
Last week, I wrote a post about the recent case of Troy Davis and how this had inspired me to rethink and reconsider my position on the use of Capital Punishment by the government to punish those convicted of crimes they deemed worthy of such a response. In my attempt to be nuanced, I fear I may have given a wrong impression of where I stand now.
I think some people may have walked away from the post thinking that I believe that the government should have the right to bring the death penalty to bear upon some criminals, but Christians shouldn’t actually do it (or something like that). This isn’t quite the case.
Let me restate what I’m thinking even more clearly and simply: I don’t see a justification for Christians supporting the use of Capital Punishment by the government in any case.
This week, I wanted to focus on extremely “reasonable” expressions and discussion surrounding Christianity: it’s heroes, it’s application, and how to live it out. This is in honor of a great man we lost recently. A couple of weeks ago, John Stott, a great and fairly unassuming hero of the Church, died. He is very much responsible for the shaping of a Christianity that is both just and intelligent. Even though he did not preach nor speak regularly, and mostly wrote academic books, it is he that laid the theological foundation that has only now finally trickled down to the masses of young and “restless” Christians today–whether we know his name or not. It is the shoulder of this giant of the faith upon which we all now stand. Let us not forget that. I have provided some links to that end.
John Stott Has Died | Christianity Today
This is Stott’s obituary in Christianity Today. Read up on his life and read some of the homages linked to in this article. He was an amazing man.
Evangelicals Without Blowhards | NYTimes.com Opinion
This is by Bill Kristof, a weekly contributor to the blogs at NYT. He is not a Christian, and yet he devotes this article in honor of John Stott–his work, his influence, and the presence of millions of Evangelicals that are continuing his work today by caring about justice in this world.
Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make a Difference
by Max Lucado
Thomas Nelson, 2010
My Rating: 3/5
Purchase at Amazon
“Social Justice” is all the rage right now. The swaths of American twentysomethings serious about their faith who have found Evangelicalism to have a heart inflamed for the wrong things, a head stuck in the wrong places, and absolutely no legs at all have tried to wrestle with and take seriously the call for God’s people to be not simply his “ambassadors” or “proclaimers”, but rather his very Hands, Feet, and Presence. Movements like Shane Claibourne’s The Simple Way here in Philadelphia and New Monasticism have shaken many from the fog of an (ultimately inadequate) purely intellectual faith into a faith that is firmly rooted in life. As Calvin put it, “For we cannot with propriety say, there is any knowledge of God, where there is no religion or piety.” In other words, the truest knowledge of God and His Gospel is found in its practice just as much (if not more) than in its content.
[Read Part 1 and Part 3 of this series]
And… intensity at work, lack of sleep, church home group beginnings, Fall TV premieres, a trip with the lady to meet the parents, and two weeks later, I find myself here, computer atop my lap, typing these words over a bowl of stove-top-made oatmeal. I’m ready to pick this blog post up again after more facebook, blog comments, and text messages than usual asking when the next post would be. This sets up a pressure under which I don’t work well, but it’s a pressure I feel is appropriate to bring up considering the content to follow.
In my last post, I unpacked a bit of my own story which has led me to often be perceived as an arrogant overly-sure man–and indeed I see this in myself often. But I went on to point out how this arrogance is not necessarily at its root sprung from pride or over-confidence, but rather a deep fear and insecurity that at the end of all things I wouldn’t be found pleasing to the God I know I love.
There will be very little commentary from me here. I just want to show everyone a process of the Kingdom of God breaking through Christian culture to redeem it. First, watch this. Please, watch the whole thing. Whatever you do, do not stop this video before the 2-minute mark. You might want to take notes.
Then, see how the “secular” culture (if there was ever such a thing) comments on this, care of Talk Soup:
I have an original blog post I’m working on for tomorrow, but for now, I’ll promote my most recent article on Patrol Magazine. It’s about a book I’m currently reviewing for Thomas Nelson publishers (full disclosure: they sent me the book for free). It’s about the struggle I’m having after finding out that this otherwise enjoyable book is written by an author who is pretty crazy. How? Well, just read on. Patrol even made it a cover story today, so I’ve provided the cover story picture as your link to the article. Enjoy. And leave comments!
You can read all my articles for Patrol right here.