Spiritual Life


Today is the 5oth anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.  It is hard for me to think that such egregious, institutional racism existed here in the US so recently.  King’s speech was truly a prophetic call to national righteousness, and it’s for this reason that I show it every semester when we talk about the OT Prophets, particularly Amos 5 which he cites.

As I consider Dr King’s call to equality, it makes me question how far we have really come. While there remains great disparities between ethnicities (e.g., home ownership, income distribution and prison populations), we have made some great social advances, as evidenced by the election of Barak Obama.  Of course, many communities remain segregated, but I’m fortunate to live in the most ethnically diverse county in the US.  Although the Southern Baptist Convention sided with injustice in the past and many congregations remain just as segregated as 5o years ago, it raises the question of how far religiously we have come.  I’ve argued earlier that MLK, Jr Day should be considered a Christian holiday, and so his NT-based ideals should be instantiated in our churches and institutions.

I’m proud to note that HBU is one of the most ethnically diverse campuses in the US because we reflect the full diversity around us.  According to my assessment of the US News statistics, we are the 3rd most diverse university/college in the US.  Our diversity index is .76, and that number is higher than all the  National Universities, all the National Liberal Arts Colleges, all the Regional Colleges and all but two of the Regional Universities (the category in which HBU is situated).  Of course, this doesn’t mean that we have reached the place that King talked about, but I’m happy to know that Christian institutions, even Baptist ones, can help be at the forefront of racial reconciliation.  May we continue to strive towards the dream of a multi-ethnic community as the NT and MLK call us to.

Many of you will know that I helped in the editing process of the Voice, and so I wanted to let you know that Thomas Nelson, the publisher of the Voice, is giving away a trip for two to Africa (in association with World Vision). Head to hearthevoice.com and  follow the link in the upper right hand corner.  The contest is over 12/27/2012.

On a related note, if any of you are reading through the Voice and have comments for edits for future versions, please feel free to send your suggestions my way.

In response to Krister Stendahl’s salvation-historical reading of Paul, Ernst Käsemann, in his “Justificaiton and Salvation History in the Epistle to the Romans,” offers the following précis of Pauline theology and of the Christian life:

[T]he apostle does not understand history as a continuous evolutionary process but as the contrast of the two realms of Adam and Christ. Pauline theology unfolds this contrast extensively as the struggle between death and life, sin and salvation, law and gospel. The basis is the apocalyptic scheme of the two successive aeons which is transferred to the present. Apparently Paul viewed his own time as the hour of the Messiah’s birth-pangs, in which the new creation emerges from the old world through the Christian proclamation. Spirits, powers and dominions part eschatologically at the crossroads of the gospel. We thus arrive at the dialectic of ‘once’ and ‘now’, which is absorbed into anthropology in the form of ‘already saved’ and ‘still tempted’. In the antithesis of spirit and flesh this dialectic determines the cosmos until the parousia of Christ. Christians are drawn into this conflict all their lives. Every day they have through obedience to authenticate their baptismal origin anew. The churches, too, are exposed in the same way to the attacks of nomism and enthusiasm, which threaten the lordship of Christ. The church lives under the sign of the cross, that is to say, given over to death inwardly and outwardly, waiting longingly with the whole of creation for the liberty of the children of God and manifesting the imitation of Jesus through the bearing of his cross.

Tim Tebow, ever the controversial QB, has usually received huge fan support from evangelicals for his outspoken faith. But apparently Tebow’s frequent religious references have incited (constructive) criticism from fellow-believer and NFL QB Kurt Warner. Here are some of Warner’s soundbites from a recent USA Today article:

You can’t help but cheer for a guy like that….But I’d tell him, ‘Put down the boldness in regards to the words, and keep living the way you’re living. Let your teammates do the talking for you. Let them cheer on your testimony.’

I know what he’s going through, and I know what he wants to accomplish, but I don’t want anybody to become calloused toward Tim because they don’t understand him, or are not fully aware of who he is. And you’re starting to see that a little bit.

There’s almost a faith cliche, where (athletes) come out and say, ‘I want to thank my Lord and savior.’… As soon as you say that, the guard goes up, the walls go up, and I came to realize you have to be more strategic.

The greatest impact you can have on people is never what you say, but how you live. When you speak and represent the person of Jesus Christ in all actions of your life, people are drawn to that. You set the standard with your actions. The words can come after.

I suppose I understand Warner’s concern. But how else and how long does Tebow need to “represent” Christ with his actions before he should speak out? The outward nature of Tebow’s faith has been well documented for several years now, and the actions represented in his recent come-from-behind winning streak has even won the respect of many of his critics, including teammates, coaches, opponents, and commentators. Beyond that, it seems that it is the media of all sources which has pushed much of the religious discourse surrounding Tebow and his recent achievements (see, e.g., here, or just watch ESPN today). So, what else does Tebow need to do before he should be vocal about his faith? Moreover, I’m confused about what Warner means by Tebow needing to be more “strategic.” I doubt that Tebow’s objective for giving thanks to Christ on television is to proselytize; rather, his references are so brief and generic that it seems to me he is just giving credit to the one who gives him the confidence needed to be successful in the NFL. And I, personally, have no problem with that. At this point it might even be stranger if Tebow said nothing about his faith at all.

I presume that most students of theology are familiar with Helmut Thielicke’s wonderful book A Little Exercise for Young Theologians (Eerdmans, 1962). For those unfamiliar with it, Thielicke’s booklet-size volume (a mere 41 pages)  is, according to the introduction, an opening lecture presented to beginning theology students concerning the importance and dangers of theological studies. Thielicke’s audience is of course confessional, so his remarks about both topics are driven by an overt concern for the intellectual and spiritual development of his students, namely the difficulty of navigating the risking terrain of growing in one’s intellect without growing (quite as fast) in one’s faith (esp., wisdom and humility). As he remarks in one particularly memorable sound bite,

There is a hiatus between the arena of the young theologian’s actual spiritual growth and what he already knows intellectually about this arena. So to speak, he has been fitted, like a country boy, with breeches that are too big, into which he must still grow up in the same way that one who is to be confirmed must also still grow into the long trousers of the Catechism. Meanwhile, they hang loosely around his body, and this ludicrous sight of course is not beautiful.

Thielicke also touches on (among other things) anti-intellectualism, the seduction of conceit, and warns students about too quickly taking the pulpit.

I myself first encountered Thielicke’s book during my first semester of seminary and was struck then by how often I felt that the author was speaking directly to me; indeed, I feel the same way even today! At the time, I had already completed an undergraduate degree in Bible and Theology and could hardly believe that someone had written such an insightful and engaging book to warn me about the spiritual pitfalls I would (and did) face four years earlier when I embarked on my theological education. If only I had read Thielicke as an undergrad! Due to my earlier struggles, together with my suspicion that my own students face similar difficulties now, I have just this semester begun to assign Thielicke in my hermeneutics course. (I suppose this isn’t the most appropriate setting in which to have them read the book, but those are typically my youngest students and thus my best audience for the assignment). Well, they have just finished reading it, and I am thrilled to report that they really enjoyed and were challenged by it. Many even noted in the reviews they wrote that they wished they had read Thielicke last year (their freshman year) and that the book should perhaps be required of all first-year students to read, alongside of course the college Student Life Guide! Anyway, I thought I’d pass on their positive report and encourage all, who don’t already, to consider assigning Thielicke somewhere in their curriculum.

I got an interesting email from a publisher. It started out with a discussion of stress vs burnout before it tried to hawk its books. It was actually nice to see an interest in the personal side of things. Seeing as how I’ve been struggling lately with a few deadlines pushing on me, I was glad to find that I am only stressed and not burned out.

STRESS
1. Characterized by over engagement
2. Emotions are over reactive
3. Produces urgency and hyperactivity
4. Loss of energy
5. Leads to anxiety disorders
6. Primary damage is physical
7. May kill you prematurely

BURNOUT
1. Characterized by disengagement
2. Emotions are blunted
3. Produces helplessness and hopelessness
4. Loss of motivation, ideals, and hope
5. Leads to detachment and depression
6. Primary damage is emotional
7. May make life seem not worth living

Our microwave died a week or two ago.  We were about to buy another and I thought I should request one on Freecycle.  In about an hour we got an email from someone who was moving and wanted to get rid of an old one.  We picked it up Sunday (thanks Brad for the ride), and we’re back to normal again.  We’ve also gotten a bread maker through Freecycle and a tv stand among other things.  It’s international, so check it out to see if there’s a local group near you.  I suppose it’s about like Craig’s List, but you don’t have to pay for anything.  I think it’s a great idea and helps promote in small ways a life of simplicity.

3. Irenaeus’ Anthropology and Ethics in his Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching

In his introductory section of his Irenaeus provides us with a brief summary of his anthropology and his understanding of ethics that flows from that. From my recent reading, it seems generally accepted that Irenaeus held to a body-soul composition of all people, and that only believers have a body-soul-spirit. The spirit is comes from an experience of God’s Spirit. This is in opposition of Gnostics who saw some as by nature with spirit (pneumatics) and those who by nature only had a soul (psychics).

2. Now, since man is a living being compounded of soul and flesh, he must needs exist by both of these: and, whereas from both of them offences come, purity of the flesh is the restraining abstinence from all shameful things and all unrighteous deeds, and purity of the soul is the keeping faith towards God entire, neither adding thereto nor diminishing therefrom. For godliness is obscured and dulled by the soiling and the staining of the flesh, and is broken and polluted and no more entire, if falsehood enter into the soul: but it will keep itself in its beauty and its measure, when truth is constant in the soul and purity in the flesh. For what profit is it to know the truth in words, and to pollute the flesh and perform the works of evil? Or what profit can purity of the flesh bring, if truth be not in the soul? For these rejoice with one another, and are united and allied to bring man face to face with God. Wherefore the Holy Spirit says by David: Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly: that is, the counsel of the nations which know not God: for those are ungodly who worship not the God that truly is. And therefore the Word says to Moses: I am He that is; but they that worship not the God that is, these are the ungodly. And hath not stood in the way of sinners: but sinners are those who have the knowledge of God and keep not His commandments; that is, disdainful scorners. And hath not sat in the seat of the pestilential:< now the pestilential are those who by wicked and perverse doctrines corrupt not themselves only, but others also. For the seat is a symbol of teaching. Such then are all heretics: they sit in the seats of the pestilential, and those are corrupted who receive the venom of their doctrine.

Introduction
1. Christology
2. Trinitarianism

I’ve been a Richard Foster fan since high school, and one of my all-time favorite books is his Streams of Living Water–it’s a good mix of spiritual disciplines, historical biography, and ecclesial traditions. Anyhow, ever since reading about the life of simplicity in his Celebration of Discipline, I’ve been interested in pursuing it further because of the extended ability to give, social justice, etc. However, I discovered that the foundation of life in the US is busyness and consumerism, and it’s hard to break free from those cultural forms. So when we moved to England and sold 85% or more of our physical possessions, it felt very freeing. So much that we accumulated wasn’t as ‘necessary’ as we thought it was. Plus here in Durham, our pace of life is much slower than Dallas, it has been a great change. But as we settled here, we’ve slowly but surely accummulated a sizeable portion of possessions again, though it has slowed down significantly in the past few months as we finished the transition.

Anyhow, the question that prompted the blog is how to teach my kids about simplicity, and for them to value it. My youngest literally asks for every toy in Tesco when we pass by them–fortunately it’s set in an area that we can easily avoid. But they both have the ‘gimmes’ like any normal kid. They also have great families–aunts/uncles, grandparents, and great-grandparents that are more than generous, but they overflow with gifts at holidays and birthdays. It’s great that they get a show of love from family, but it seems like too much for them. Talking with Heather, I think we’re going to pare down our gifts and put money away for them instead. I’d love to just ask for family members to send money to help the kids save, but kids don’t recognize the value of that gift as much as a book or toy, and who wants to be know as just giving practical gifts. Living internationally complicates things too, because gifts become much more expensive because of shipping. Does anyone have ideas about how you treat this in your family?

I preached this morning at Carrville Methodist Church here in Durham. As with Woody Allen, my opinion of this church is less because they let people like me preach there. :) Actually, there is always a steady stream of different preachers here in the Methodist churches because all the churches, whether they have FT pastors or not, rotate preaching around the local circuit.

I’ve now preached on 3.5 continents–North America, Australia, Europe, and Central America (Belize)–not sure how that fits into the continent scheme. I went with the lectionary passage of Acts 2, and I think it went alright. I can say that the whole experience is much better than the ole’ preaching class days.

I went a few minutes longer than the manuscript version of my sermon was but hopefully not long enough to bore people. I talked with a guy afterwards and he mentioned that with my different accent he had to focus on what I was saying the whole time, which he said helped him to get more out of it. I did notice a little better eye contact with the crowd than some times in the states.

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