Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Christianeze" and Worldview Illiteracy

There's a good article on CNN's Belief Blog called "Do You Speak Christian?" There's a lot of "Christianeze" being spoken out there, with most of the speakers not knowing what they are talking about.

Take the word "Rapture." it's not in the Bible. No one used this word until a 19th century British evangelist named John Allen Darby coined it. "Rapture" theory is not a true biblical concept - see N.T. Wright here and Ben Witherington here, for examples of two brilliant New Testament scholars who know that no one in biblical times was thinking in terms of a "left behind" theology.

A lot of the "Christian" phrases and sayings we use, like the "prosperity dialect," are not grounded in the Christian Scriptures.

The essay says: "Even some of the most basic religious words are in jeopardy because of overuse. Calling yourself a Christian, for example, is no longer cool among evangelicals on college campuses, says Robert Crosby, a theology professor at Southeastern University in Florida. “Fewer believers are referring to themselves these days as ‘Christian,’ ” Crosby says. “More are using terms such as ‘Christ follower.’ This is due to the fact that the more generic term, Christian, has come to be used within religious and even political ways to refer to a voting bloc.”"

I think that's correct. I'm referring to myself as a Jesus-follower, and not as a "Christian" or even as an "Evangelical," since these words now carry so much negative, non-Jesus freight with them.

I think it's helpful to note that most people, when it comes to their worldview, don't have much of a clue as to the meaning of what they are saying. For example, most of the atheists I meet don't have a clue as to what they are talking about by the words and phrases they use. Mostly, they just tweet, with no real understanding of what they've tweeted. I conclude, unsurprisingly, that there is a tremendous worldview-illiteracy out there.

For me this serves as yet another historical wakeup call to leaders for Christ. In our context we're raising the biblical literacy by:
  • Preaching through the biblical texts, as opposed to preaching "thematically"
  • Doing extensive background studies (socio-cultural, socio-rhetorical) as we prepare our sermons
  • Bringing these studies to bear on the preached Word, hopefully at a level that captures most of the people while retaining scholarly integrity
  • And, in all of this, finding the words of Jesus brilliant and stunning and creative and life-giving

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Christlikeness of John Stott

John Stott, holding his bird-watching binoculars

 John Stott died last Wednesday at the age of 90. Stott's writings and Jesus-like presence has influenced many of us. Over the years I have returned often to his The Cross of Christ. When I became a Jesus-follower his Basic Christianity was one of the first books ever placed into my hands.

While aware of how influential he was, I did not know much of Stott's personal life. Only now I read this:

"For all his fame on several continents, Mr. Stott’s travels and appearances were remarkably devoid of pomp, befitting his simple message of reason and faith and his unassuming demeanor. Those in his ministries knew him simply as Uncle John. In his later years, he lived in a two-room apartment over the garage of a London rectory, and for many years he kept a small cottage on the Welsh coast, where he did much of his prodigious writing in longhand and, until 2001, without electricity."

During a visit to the United States in 2006 Stott said: “Pride is without doubt the greatest temptation of Christian leaders. And I’m very well aware of the dangers of being feted and don’t enjoy it and don’t think one should enjoy it.”

Stott was "an acknowledged authority on ornithology and a gifted photographer." (From here)

The London Telegraph has an excellent tribute to Stott's life and influence.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Spiritual Formation - It Happens in the Depths of the Human Heart: Deconstruction of the False Self

The first four stages of relevant, authentic spiritual formation and transformation are:

1. The Need – recognition of how needy we are of personal, inner change.

2. The Gap – realization as a revelation of the holiness of Christ, and therefore of the great gap between ourselves and Christ.

3. Only God can do it – realization that we cannot self-transform by our own striving and will power into Christlikeness.

4. Therefore, consistently get into the presence of God. Abide in Christ. You cannot consistently dwell in Christ and remain unchanged.

Now we take note of where spiritual transformation takes place. This is the matter of the locus of authentic spiritual formation. For the most part this is not an external “makeover,” but a heart-transformation. It will have external results, but this is essentially, as Dallas Willard has written, a matter of the “renovation of the heart.” One biblical verse that gives a window into this is Proverbs 20:5: “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” God moves in the deep waters of the human heart. This is the locus of all authentic, relevant spiritual formation and transformation. While our physical bodies waste away in this life, Paul says that our spirits are being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16) Spiritual renewal is, therefore, a “day by day” thing. We are either green and growing, or dead (“ripe and rotting”).

So what happens as we habitually live in God’s presence? What does the formation of our hearts look like? I have seen that one way God moves in the deep waters of our heart is to deconstruct negative aspects of the self. Especially the self-obsessive aspects of what Merton calls the “false self,” and what Paul Tournier called our “persona.” This becomes the realization of Jesus’ stark, ascetic either-or: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24) Out of a daily abiding in Christ emerges a daily denial of self. Of, I suggest, negative, false aspects of the self.

I know from this command of Jesus and from my own experience that every day the self will rise up and try to assert itself against the ways of God. When I have allowed God to search me and know my heart one thing He points out my emphasis on myself, sometimes to the point of idolatry. Obsession with one’s self is the enemy of all spiritual renewal and transformation. But God desires to defeat our self-obsessiveness so we can experience renewal and transformation. One way God does this is by calling us into times of solitude. This is why Henri Nouwen has called solitude “the furnace of spiritual transformation." If solitude is a "furnace," what gets burned away? The answer is: the negative aspects of the "self." Unless we daily practice self-denial, self-centered ideas will rise up against the ideas of God. Here are some of the negative aspects of the self I have discovered as I have allowed God much time to search me out.

1. Self-love

On the surface this seems obvious. But the self-love issue goes very deep. Self-love, writes Thomas Merton, "is the source of all boredom and all restlessness and all unquiet and all misery and all unhappiness - ultimately, it is hell." How much easier is it to love the self before loving others and living sacrificially in relationship to them. One British politician's actions were once described as "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his friends for his life." I discover in my heart a deep-rooted propensity to love “me” as my first priority.

As a young Christian I was counseled to keep my priorities as follows:

a. Love God first

b. Love others second

c. Love self

I have found that when I live in this way the love I have for myself is healthy and godly. But ungodly self-love is a form of pride. C.S. Lewis called pride “the great sin – the complete anti-god mentality.” Put simply, it’s impossible to love God with all one’s being if one has such an elevated love of self. Francis Frangipane refers to pride as “the armor of darkness.” I like this definition of pride because it shows how this kind of self-love necessarily thwarts spiritual renewal and transformation. And, as Merton said, while all this seems counterintuitive to the proud lover of self, in reality it’s all boredom and misery.

2. Self-hatred

The opposite of sinful self-love is self-hatred. Sometimes, I think, the two are the sides of the same coin. Self-hatred is as self-obsessively sinful as self-love; i.e., both are manifestations of self-obsessiveness. Unfortunately, I have much personal experience in hating the self. To get at the roots of self-hatred I have found hope in the Scriptures as mediated through many who have sought God long and hard about this issue. For example, Merton writes: "How are we going to recover the ability to love ourselves and to love one another? The reason why we hate one another and fear one another is that we secretly, or openly, hate and fear our own selves. And we hate ourselves because the depths of our being are a chaos of frustration and spiritual misery. Lonely and helpless, we cannot be at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we cannot be at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God."

This is a simple and profound solution to self-hatred: Be at peace with God, and you will be at peace with self. Love God, and you will love self. This will lead to a truly transforming experience where, instead of beating one’s self for faults and failures, we will rejoice in the greater purposes of God manifested in them. Dom Augustin Guillerand said, "God will know how to draw glory even from our faults. Not to be downcast after committing a fault is one of the marks of true sanctity."

I would like this kind of sanctified life. It speaks to me of a life of radical freedom that issues forth from a deep life of dwelling in the presence of God. This is but one reason why Jesus words in Luke 10:27 have been called “the great commandment.”

3. Self-pity

Self-pity is one of the more punishing kinds of self-obsession. It is obvious why self-pity cannot coexist with spiritual renewal and transformation. In one of my seminary classes I was talking about holding “pity parties” when a pastor named Samuel from Ghana asked, “What do you mean by “pity party?”” I said, “Samuel, the next time I hold one for myself I’ll invite you so you can see.” Unfortunately, I could write a book and call it How To Host Your Next Pity Party.

More than once the words have come into my mind, "Poor me! They are not treating me right - and after all I've done for them!" Personal deprivation and even mistreatment lead to the emotion of anger. In this regard Henri Nouwen asks, what else is anger but the response to the sense of being deprived? Much of my own anger comes from the fact that my self feels deprived. When one chooses to express this anger by hosting a pity party the self-obsession has begun. One then becomes like Tolstoy’s character Ivan Ilyich, of whom it was said that “no one pitied Ivan the way he wished to be pitied.” Consider this description of Ilyich’s pitiful disease:

“What tormented Ivan Ilych most was the deception, the lie, which for some reason they all accepted, that he was not dying but was simply ill, and the only need keep quiet and undergo a treatment and then something very good would result… The awful, terrible act of his dying was, he could see, reduced by those about him to the level of a casual, unpleasant, and almost indecorous incident (as if someone entered a drawing room defusing an unpleasant odour) and this was done by that very decorum which he had served all his life long. He saw that no one felt for him, because no one even wished to grasp his position… [W]hat most tormented Ivan Ilych was that no one pitied him as he wished to be pitied. At certain moments after prolonged suffering he wished most of all (though he would have been ashamed to confess it) for someone to pity him as a sick child is pitied. He longed to be petted and comforted.”

When you hold a “pity party” and invite yourself and others to it, the focus is on you. It’s all about how you have been hurt, how you have been mistreated, and how you have been wronged. The ruling emotion of pity is bitterness. But one can’t be at the same time bitter and fulfilling the Great Commandment to love God with all your heart. Self-pity seems to be the opposite of renewal and transformation of the heart. Therefore self-pity needs to be denied, because it keeps us from being fulfilled in Jesus.

4. Self-hiding/kosmeo

Being a fake or a phony requires a self-willful act of transformation into a false presence before others. One erects a false persona and hides behind it. Here is a fa├žade of renewal and transformation that may or may not fool others. In this regard God has told me, "John, you do not need to pretend to be what you are not.” God told me this because, sadly, I have postured and performed before others. For example, I have raised the banner of my meager accomplishments before others and hid behind them. In this matter we are not to be “cosmetic” Christians.

Self-hiding is untruth. One definition of the Greek word for “truth" is "unhiddenness." Truth is that which is out in the open and can thus be seen. To walk in truth requires an appropriate transparency. This is important because, spiritually, God is a God of truth, works in truth, and rejoices in truth.

What people need from Christian leaders is not another performance, but a sense of God’s real presence. God’s presence can only be mediated through authentic Christian leaders. Christian leaders are to be role models of authenticity. We can even reveal failures and flaws and confess sins before others since what others need is not us, but God Himself.

5. Self-justification

To be haunted and consumed by what others think of us is self-obsessive. Any Christian leader will receive criticism. Not all of it will be kind. There have been times when I’ve gone to prayer and my mind has wandered to someone else thinks of me. It is then that, like Adam and Eve in the garden after the Fall, I almost reflexively begin to defend myself. I argue, in my mind, against my imaginary accuser. I mentally present myself as superior and construct a wall of justification and defense. My own experience is that this sort of self-justification never feels renewing and transforming. And what arrogance to assume these people are thinking about me. The truth is that we would worry less about what other people think of us if we would realize how little they do.

Thomas Merton writes that God wants to free us from defending our own selves. He says: "A humble man can do great things with an uncommon perfection because he is no longer concerned about incidentals, like his own interests and his own reputation, and therefore he no longer needs to waste his efforts in defending them. For a humble man is not afraid of failure. In fact, he is not afraid of anything, even of himself, since perfect humility implies perfect confidence in the power of God, before Whom no other power has any meaning and for Whom there is no such thing as an obstacle."

Self-justification is the enemy of spiritual transformation precisely because transformation requires more than an occasional admittance of personal guilt and failure. A “perfect person” could never experience renewal and transformation.

6. Self-righteousness

Biblically, any righteousness we have is to be found in Christ. “Righteousness” is “imputed” or “credited” to us on the basis of what Christ has done on the cross. Therefore it seems ludicrous to posture oneself, pharisaically, as morally and spiritually superior to others. As foolish as this is I confess to having done it and to having felt the sting of the Holy Spirit’s conviction of my sin. In the past I have, sadly, mocked certain Christian leaders on the basis of their ministry style and personal appearance. God has broken me of this, and pointed out that He has not appointed me the judge of all that is right and wrong when it comes to other Christian leaders. Yet the deep thing that wants to do this is still to some degree within me. At least God has pointed it out to me and my prayer is that God would remove it entirely from my heart.

I hate it when others are self-righteous towards me. I need to hate it more that I can be self-righteous towards others. The correct spiritual posture for allowing renewal and transformation is humility and the look into the mirror.

7. Self-will

Here is the spiritually unfortunate idea that I don't need help from anyone and can help myself, thank you. Here is the Christian leader who, like a Clint Eastwood western, rides into town to help others but doesn’t need any assistance himself. Here is, I think, one of the most spiritually dangerous ideas we can model for others. This is because the ideal shifts from trusting in the Lord to trusting in self.

For example, Scripture tells us that unless God builds the house we labor in vain. Richard Foster refers to this mentality as “will worship.” Are you impressed with the accomplishments of human will power? I believe that if what we mostly see in God’s church are the results of great human will power and awesome human creativity persons will eventually get the message that the church can be built by persons without God.

Historian Michael Grant writes that, to Martin Luther, it seemed that God and Satan are "locked in a struggle to mount the same horse: the human will." Self-will deludes us into believing we can renew and transform ourselves. Thus it is preventive of real spiritual renewal and transformation.

8. Self-centeredness

I believe that self-centeredness can be distinguished from self-love and pride. A self-centered person makes choices in light of their effect on the self. For example, my son Josh and I went to the river park to feed the seagulls and saw a gull that had no beak. Our other-centered hearts went out to this disabled creature. We tried to throw bread to it. We felt sorry for it. But 20 gulls were also there. Every time we threw a crumb, the gulls made straight for it, pushing and shoving, and gobbling it down. Gulls are monomaniacs" who think of only one thing which is: their self. The gull with no beak got no bread.

Thomas Merton wrote, "To consider persons and events and situations only in the light of their effect upon myself is to live on the doorstep of hell." Not a lot of godly renewal and transformation happens on the doorstep of hell. Simply put, to experience what God wants for us in these areas our world needs to revolve around Him, and not ourselves.

9. Self-seriousness

One quality of those Christian leaders who have influenced me is the ability to easily laugh at themselves. Those who have mentored me either personally or from afar have not taken themselves with ultimate seriousness. The people we minister to need to take God seriously, not us. Otherwise, when we die, what will they be left with? For me it’s instructive to note that an hour after our funeral service people will be talking about the fried chicken and potato salad.

Henri Nouwen expresses it this way: "The fact that I get so easily upset because of a disappointment, so easily angered because of a slight criticism, and so easily depressed because of a slight rejection, shows that Your love does not yet fill me. What does a small - or even a great - failure mean, when I know that You are with me in all my sorrows and turmoil?"

And Nouwen further adds: "I am constantly surprised at how hard it is for me to deal with the little rejections that people inflict on each other day by day... When I swallow these rejections, I get quickly depressed and lonely; then I am in danger of being resentful and even vengeful. But it is such an institutional problem that I can hardly imagine that I can ever be without it. ...Maybe all these small rejections are reminders that I am a traveler on the way to a sacred place where God holds me in the palm of his hand. Maybe I do have to become a little more indifferent towards all these ups and downs, ins and outs, of personal relationships and learn to rest more deeply in him who knows and loves me more than I know and love myself."

2 Corinthians 4:16 says, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." Thomas Merton said, "I think the chief reason why we have so little joy is that we take ourselves too seriously. Joy can only be real if it is based on truth, and since the fall of Adam all man's life is shot through with falsehood and illusion. That is why… Bernard [of Clairvaux] is right in leading us back to joy by the love of truth. His starting-point is the truth of our own insignificance in comparison with God. To penetrate the truth of how utterly unimportant we are is the only thing that can set us free to enjoy true happiness."

A spiritual secret to not “losing heart” and day by day inward renewal is to acknowledge how “utterly unimportant we are.” But are we not very important to God? Of course! But the more serious we are about living daily in the presence of God the less we’ll need to take our own self so seriously. I have found this to be freedom.

A few other false aspects of the self God wants to free us from include:

10. Self-attention (vs. "Secret" service)

Some Christians have a real need to be liked, praised, or respected, and that's one of the motivations for why they serve. We need "a spirituality... which helps us to distinguish service from our need to be liked, praised, or respected."

- Henri Nouwen, The Living Reminder, p. 30.

11. Self-inflation (vs. Glorification of God)

"The source of all sorrow is the illusion that of ourselves we are anything but dust. God is all our joy and in him our dust can become splendor."

- Merton, The Sign of Jonas, in TYTM, p. 27.

12. Self-ignorance (vs. "Search me O God, and know my heart")

"He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love will not have anything to give to others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas."

- Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 164.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Payne Theological Seminary - Spiritual Formation Class - July 2011

Spiritual Formation - Get Into the Presence of God

In Galatians 4:19 Paul expresses his hope that Christ is "formed" in the hearts of the Galatian Jesus-followers. In the famous Romans 12:1-2 Paul wants the Roman J-followers to be de-morphed out of their conformation to the pattern of this world and be trans-morphed into Jesus-ness.

Spiritual formation and transformation: how does this happen? Here are the four stages, from my point of view.

Stage 1: the recognition of how needy we are. I need to be changed. I need to be different. There are things in me that need to be burned away. I am not all that I need to be in Christ.

Stage 2: recognition of the gap between myself and Christ. This is recognition of the magnitude of the transformation, which is: that Christ be formed in us. (Gal. 4:19)

Stage 3: the realization that I cannot change myself. So, no striving allowed, because it won't do any good anyway. "Will power" won't work anyway. To think it will is to diminish Christ, reducing Him to just another fallible subhuman like all of us.

Stage 4: God can change me!

Stage 5: Therefore, get into the presence of God. A person cannot consistently dwell in God's presence and remain unchanged.

Jesus gives us this secret of spiritual life and transformation in John chapters 14, 15, and 16. We are to dwell in Him, abide in Him. Be like a branch, connected to Jesus the Vine. Attach yourself to Jesus, every day!

We have an old pear tree in our back yard. Sometimes I see a branch that has fallen off the tree. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that this detached branch will never produce pears. But if that branch could be reattached to the tree it will bear pears. Inexorably. Necessarily. No striving needed or allowed. The Jesus-life is not about "trying hard" but about "abiding." Analogically, Jesus tells us that if we are attached to Him our lives will produce "much fruit." Plus, He gives us His peace and His joy and His knowledge and we're told we will do what he has been doing and even greater things.

All because we are "in Him" and He is "in us."

Therefore abide in Christ. Dwell deeply in Him. Let the morphing begin.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Philip Mantofa at Redeemer

Philip Mantofa from Indonesia will be at Redeemer September 26-27-28.

More details on meetings times TBA.

Spiritual Formation - Only God Can Do It

The first stage is spiritual formation and transformation is: recognition of how needy we are. I need to be changed. I need to be different. There are things in me that need to be burned away. I am not all that I need to be in Christ.

I do not think this can be forced on a person, or that sermons and lectures and unasked for advice will work. It comes, mostly I think, as a revelation, as an epiphany, from God. When this happens, the recipient of the revelation is in a good place to be changed.

Stage two is: recognition of the gap between myself and Christ. This is recognition of the magnitude of the transformation, which is: that Christ be formed in us. (Gal. 4:19)

Stage three is the realization that: I cannot  change myself. I cannot self-transform. No amount of human striving and effort can serve to morph my spirit into Jesus-likeness, just as no amount of training and practicing could shape me into Michael Jordan-esqueness. Were that to actually happen, God would get the credit.

The gap between myself and Christ is far greater than the gap between my basketball and ability and that of a Michael Jordan. When I realize this, it could cause me to despair, but only if the only option for personal transformation is my own will power and effort. Yet there is another option. God could do it. God, who made the heavens and the earth, could transform my heart into a heart like Christ's. God could "form Christ in me." God could change the shape of my heart from this-worldliness to a heart and mind renewed in Christ. (Romans 12:1-2)

So we have hope! While we are unable to effect the needed transformation, God surely is able. It is this hope, based on the revelation of our deep need and the gap between us and the holiness ('differentness") of Christ that brings us to the inexorable, logical conclusion that is our fourth stage of spiritual transformation.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Spiritual Formation - The Assessment

At the beginning of my Spiritual Formation class at Payne Seminary I give the students a Spiritual Formation Assessment. My intent is to follow these students throghout their seminary career. I do this by periodically re-giving this assessment, and keeping in e-mail contact. I send students materials I keep writing on issues of spiritual formation, renewal, restoration, and transformation.

Here's my Spiritual Formation Assessment Form.


Dr. John Piippo

NAME __________________________________ DATE ______________

Circle the best answer. 1 = “No,” 10 = “Yes”

1. I spend time alone praying with God 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

2. Some things in me need to change 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

3. I seek God before I act 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

4. I rely on God more than my own self 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

5. When I pray I spend time listening 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

6. I deeply love God 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

7. I allow God to be my Shepherd 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

8. I am a praying person 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

9. I am transparent before God 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

10. I flow with the Spirit of God 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

11. I allow myself to be examined by God 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

12. I know how to abide in Christ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

13. I make God my fortress and strength 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

14. I am like a branch connected to God 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

15. I have a pure heart before God 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

16. I am fully devoted to God 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

17. I spend time “being still” before God 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

18. I am able to wait on God 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

19. I trust God 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

20. I am a person of faith 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

21. I am not too busy to pray 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

22. I turn to God often 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

23. I have conversations with God 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

24. Spiritually I am “green and growing” 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

25. I am a humble person 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

26. I am at peace in my heart 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

27. I love other people 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

28. I receive directions from God 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

29. I am a patient person 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

30. I am a kind person 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

31. I sense God’s presence with me 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

32. I do not try to change other people 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

33. I am a joyful person 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

34. My spirit is being renewed day by day 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

35. I am spiritually alive 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

36. I have a restful, not an agitated, heart 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

37. I am a gentle person 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

38. Christ is being formed in me 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

39. God is doing new things in my heart 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

40. I have a thankful heart 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

41. I can recognize the voice of God 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

42. I experience God’s love towards me 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

43. I am hopeful about the future 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

44. I don’t mind being treated like a servant 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

45. God speaks to me 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

46. God is restoring my soul 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

47. God is my shepherd, & I lack nothing 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

48. I am not a fearful person 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

49. My God-experience is current & fresh 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

50. I sense God guiding me 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


Statements 1-22 concern necessary conditions for spiritual growth.

Statements 23-50 concern indicators of spiritual growth.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Teaching at Payne Theological Seminary This Week

Today Linda and I travel to Dayton for the week. I will be teaching my Spiritual Formation class at Payne Theological Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio. Twenty-two M.Div. students will attend.

Here's my course syllabus.

CM 150 Spiritual Formation

July 2011 Intensive


Class meets each day from 9:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M.

Professor: John Piippo, Ph.D. Office Hours: By Appointment (my website)


Payne Theological Seminary, a free standing graduate school mandated by the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC) in 1844, is dedicated to the preparation of men and women for leadership in local, national and global ministries. Payne Theological Seminary offers an Afrocentric theological education focusing on teaching and research that emphasizes salvation which finds expression in liberation, reconciliation, social justice, and the dignity of all humankind. The seminary values African American history, the African American experience, and the biblical tradition.


Students should demonstrate:

1. Servant leadership in local, national or global ministries as responsible stewards who serve with care, humility, strength of character and boldness as they articulate a vision, and inspire and guide others towards embracing higher ideals as articulated in Payne’s mission.

2. Tolerance expressed as unreserved acceptance of the universal concepts of love, justice and forgiveness that finds expression in the capacity to be inclusive and open to difference;

3. Spiritual formation, growth and transformation.


Students will:

1. Demonstrate an understanding of their religious heritage.

2. Utilize their cultural context in applying Biblical Studies, Historical

Studies, Theology and Ethics and Practical Ministry.

3. Develop personal and spiritual formation as they progress through the program.

4. Enlarge their capacity for ministerial and public leadership.


This course is designed to engage participants in an exploration and expansion of their inner spiritual life utilizing the spiritual disciplines. Personal transformation is an internal process that occurs as the individual allows God access to the whole of one’s being and life. The course combines:

1. Personal encounter with God

2. Keeping a spiritual journal as a record of the activity of God in one’s life

3. Corporate sharing of one’s experience with God

4. Biblical and theological reflection on key issues that arise in the life of one who seriously engages in the spiritual disciplines


1. To encounter and experience God

2. To experience personal transformation

3. To deepen one’s prayer life

4. To discuss issues of personal transformation with colleagues in ministry

5. To reflect biblically and theologically on this experience

6. To understand personal spiritual transformation as the necessary foundation for all relevant church, urban, and global transformation


1. Attend and participate in class sessions

2. Keep daily, structured devotional times with God for 6 weeks, 5 days per week, one hour per day, beginning the week of August 1, 2011.

3. Keep a Spiritual Journal that records what God is saying to you during these times.

4. Type out your journal and e-mail it to me using Microsoft Word. This document should be sent to me no later than October 1, 2011.

5. Read the three books that are required reading. Write a 5-page paper summarizing the required reading. Submit this paper no later than October 1, 2011.


1. This is a pass/fail course.

2. Class attendance is required.

3. Keep the required prayer times.

4. Keep a spiritual journal.

5. Submit your journal to me no later than October 1, 2011.

6. 5-page summary papers on the three books that are required reading should be submitted to me no later than October 1, 2011.

The following is an outline of topics to be covered in the course:


Spiritual assessment form

Explanation of Syllabus

One hour of prayer and listening to God

Corporate sharing & response


• Intro to Spiritual Formation

• Keeping a Spiritual Journal

• Restoration, Renewal, Formation, Transformation

• One’s need for renewal and transformation

• Formation into Christlikeness


One hour of prayer and listening to God

Corporate sharing & response


• Review

• Recognition of the gap

• Realization that only God can form us

• Abiding in the presence of God

• How to hear the voice of God

• Spirituality of Howard Thurman


One hour of prayer and listening to God

Corporate sharing & response


• Review

• Metaphors of the spirit

• Removing the false self

• Ontological dualities (the “from-to” nature of spiritual transformation)

• Spirituality of Martin Luther King, Jr.


One hour of prayer and listening to God

Corporate sharing & response


• Review

• Humility

• Spiritual discernment

• Practicing the presence of God – abiding in Christ

• Spiritual disciplines

• Spirituality of Howard Thurman


Required Reading:

1) Howard Thurman, Essential Writings

2) Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

3) Lewis Baldwin, Never to Leave Us Alone: The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Suggested Readings:

Arnold, Eberhard. Inner Land: A Guide Into the Heart and Soul of the Bible (Rifton, N.Y: Plough Publishing House, 1976). A classic in Anabaptist spirituality.

Baldwin, Lewis. Never to Leave us Alone: The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Fortress Press: 2010)

Blackaby, Henry T., and King, Claude V. Experiencing God. An excellent, clearly written text that is especially good for church study.

Boyd, Greg. Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy
(IVP: 2001). An excellent study on the kingdom of God, esp. on spiritual battle and the kingdom of Satan. A coherent Christian response to the philosophical problem of evil.

Boyd. Present Perfect: Finding God In the Now. (Zondervan: 2010) This is an excellent, clearly written little book that contains some deep spiritual insights that are not found in other spirituality texts. Greg’s meditation on “death” is worth the price of the book.

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. The Practice of the Presence of God (Garden City: Image, 1977). A spiritual classic by a 17th-century monk that is still relevant today, and is especially good at knowing God in the everyday, mundane tasks of life.

Buechner, Frederick. Godric (New York: Harper and Row, 1980). A beautiful novel, spiritually deep and uplifting. The character of Godric reminds me of Thomas Merton.

Campolo, Tony, and Darling, Mary Albert. The God of Intimacy and Action: Reconnecting Ancient Spiritual Practices, Evangelism, and Justice. Nicely puts together the spiritual disciplines and social activism.

Collins, Kenneth J. Exploring Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Reader (Baker Book House: 2000). An excellent one-volume text.

Costen, Melva Wilson. African American Christian Worship.

Dawn, Marva. Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living In An Affluent Society (Presbyterian Publishing Corporation: 2003). This is a deep, profound study allowing us to see our materialistic world and our spiritual place in it through God’s eyes.

Deere, Jack. Surprised By the Voice of God: How God Speaks Today Through Prophecies, Dreams, and Visions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996). A very good, clearly written biblical and historical presentation of how one hears God speaking to them.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim At Tinker Creek (Harper and Row). This makes my personal top ten ever-read list. A beautiful meditation of the creation, especially its microscopic aspects.

Fee, Gordon. God’s Empowering Presence (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1994). This massive text is, arguably, the definitive statement of the apostle Paul’s spirituality. A detailed study of every Pauline reference to the Holy Spirit.

Fee. The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987). Superb, meditative, scholarly commentary on what it means to be pneumatikos (“spiritual”).

Felder, Cain Hope. Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation. (Augsburg: 1991) This edited collection does an excellent job distinguishing the Eurocentric bias in biblical hermeneutics from an African American perspective which gives place to the now-experiential reality of God’s Spirit speaking to us through the written text.

Foster, Richard. A Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: Harper and Row). The modern classic on the spiritual disciplines. If you have not yet read this it should be one of your choices.

Foster. Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (Harper and Row: 1992). Examines several different types of prayer that are both biblically and historically Christian.

Foster. Life With God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation. (HarperOne: 2010)

Foster. Longing for God: Seven Paths of Spiritual Devotion. (Intervarsity Press: 2009)

Foster, and Griffin, Emilie. Spiritual Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines (Harper and Row: Feb. 2000). A very good collection representing the great Christian types of spirituality.

Foster. Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith (Harper and Row: 1998). On the following traditions: contemplative, holiness, charismatic, social justice, evangelical, and incarnational.

Gutierrez, Gustavo. We Drink From Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1988). Excellent, especially in its emphasis on corporate spirituality.

Holmes, Urban T. Spirituality for Ministry. Still one of the best books on this subject.

Jones, Cheslyn, et. al., eds. The Study of Spirituality (New York: Oxford, 1986). A very good one-volume source on the history of Christian spirituality.

Kelleman, Robert, and Edwards, Karole A. Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. (Baker: 2007)

Kelly, Thomas. A Testament Of Devotion (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1941). This brilliant, provocative little text makes my top ten ever-read books on Christian spirituality. A modern classic.

Kraft, Charles. Christianity With Power: Your Worldview and Understanding of the Supernatural (Ann Arbor, Mi.: Servant, 1989). A brilliant study in paradigm theology by an anthropologist and missiologist at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Ladd, George. The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God (Eerdmans: 1959). A classic, still-used examination of the kingdom of God as both present and future. Schoalrly, but it often reads devotionally.

Leech, Kenneth. Experiencing God: Theology As Spirituality (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985). An excellent historical study, from biblical times to the present, of the experience of God.

Leech. Soul Friend: The Practice of Christian Spirituality (New York: Harper and Row, 1980). The best book available on spiritual direction.

Leech. True Prayer: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1980).

Lovelace, Richard. Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1979).

Lovelace. Renewal As a Way of Life: A Guidebook for Spiritual Growth (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1985).

Manning, Brennan. The Ragamuffin Gospel. A beautiful, very thoughtful meditation on the grace of God.

Manning, Abba’s Child. This book spoke deeply to me about my need for experiential knowledge of the love of God.

Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus. Very good as it gets at the real Jesus.

May, Gerald. Addiction and Grace (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1991). An excellent, clearly written book with an especially helpful section on addiction to control.

May. Care of Mind, Care of Spirit: A Psychiatrist Explores Spiritual Direction (New York: Harper and Row, 1992). A very good text on the nature of spiritual direction.

May. Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology (Harper and Row: 1987). An excellent text.

Merton, Thomas. The Inner Experience: Notes On Contemplation (Harper: 2003). This is Merton’s final book. Few write about contemplation as well as he does.

Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1961). Merton at his best.

Merton. No Man Is an Island (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983). Contains the classic chapter, “Being and Doing.”

Merton. Seeds (Shambala: 2002). A killer collection of Merton quotes. A tremendous introduction to the depth, wisdom, and discernment of Thomas Merton. Prophetic.

Merton. The Sign of Jonas (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981). One of Merton’s journals, containing many spiritual gems,

Miller, J. Keith. A Hunger for Healing: The Twelve Steps as a Classic Model for Christian Spiritual Growth (New York: Harper and Row, 1991).

Miller. Hope In the Fast Lane: A New Look at Faith in a Compulsive World (New York: Harper and Row, 1987). An excellent text on overcoming sin in one’s life. Especially good on identifying the deep source of stress and overcoming stress.

Miller. The Secret Life of the Soul (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1997). About the vulnerability needed for the transformation of the soul.

Muse, J. Stephen, ed. Beside Still Waters: Resources for Shepherds in the Marketplace (Smyth and Helwys: 2000). An excellent text that uses Psalm 23 to speak to Christian leaders regarding spiritual issues. Very good on our need to care for ourselves physically.

Mulholland, Robert. Shaped By the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation (Nashville: Upper Room Press, 1985). An excellent book on how the Bible interprets us.

Nelson, Alan. Broken In the Right Place: How God Tames the Soul (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1994). A very good book on how spiritual brokenness effects personal transformation.

Nouwen, Henri. A Cry for Mercy: Prayers From the Genesee (Garden City, New York: Image, 1981). A beautiful book of prayers expressing our heart’s fears, struggles, and longings.

Nouwen. Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1987).

Nouwen. Gracias! A Latin American Journal (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983). One of Nouwen’s spiritual journals.

Nouwen. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (Harper and Row). A brilliant little book, among the best I have ever read on pastoral leadership.

Nouwen. Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective (New York: Image, 1986).

Nouwen. Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life (New York: Harper and Row, 1981).

Nouwen. Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Spiritual Life (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1980).

Nouwen. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (Garden City, New York: Image, 1976). An excellent text; a modern classic. On solitude, hospitality, and prayer.

Nouwen. The Genesee Diary: Report From A Trappist Monastery (Garden City, New York: Image, 1976). This book makes my top ten ever-read list in terms of spiritual impact. An excellent example of journaling that is of spiritual value.

Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love (Image Books: 1999). I find it hard to express how much God used a slow, meditative reading of this book to effect changes in my life.

Nouwen. The Living Reminder: Service and Prayer in Memory of Jesus Christ (New York: Harper and Row). A tremendous book for pastors and Christian leaders.

Nouwen. The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (New York: Image, 1992). Simply put, one of Nouwen’s best and one of my very favorites.

Nouwen. The Way of the Heart (New York: Ballantine, 1981). A beautiful, meditative little book on solitude, silence, and prayer.

Paris, Peter. The Spirituality of African Peoples. (Fortress Press: 1994)

Payne, Leanne. Listening Prayer: Learning to Hear God’s Voice and Keep a Prayer Journal (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991). A very good, well-written text on what it means to hear God’s voice.

Peterson, Eugene. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Dallas: Word, 1989). I have read this book two or three times. It always reminds me of my priorities in pastoral ministry.

Peterson. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology. The first of five books in Peterson’s summary of his spiritual theology.

Quinn, Robert. Deep Change (Jossey-Bass: 1996). A very good book, written from a leadership-business perspective, on the inner transformation required to lead effectively.

Senn, Frank, ed. Protestant Spiritual Traditions (New York: Paulist, 1986). Various authors writing from the following perspectives: Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist, Puritan, Pietist, and Methodist.

Smedes, Lewis. Shame and Grace. (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1994). For me, a beautiful book on overcoming self-condemnation by a deeper understanding and experience of the grace of God.

Smith, James K.A. Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy. One of the best books I have ever read; on a Pentecostal epistemology and worldview.

St. Teresa of Avila. Interior Castle. (Image Books: 1972) A spiritual classic.

Thomas, Gary. Sacred Pathways (Zondervan: 2000). Very good on showing different spiritual styles and various ways persons experience God (the naturalist, sensate, traditionalist, ascetic, activist, caregiver, enthusiast, contemplative, and intellectual).

Thurman, Howard. For the Inward Journey: The Writings of Howard Thurman (Harcourt Brace: 1984). An excellent anthology of Thurman’s spiritual writings.

Thurman. Jesus and the Disinherited (Beacon: 1996). If you’re going to read one book by Thurman this is the one to read. He is brilliant, insightful, and extremely relevant for even today. There s a timelessness about Thurman’s writings.

Thurman. Howard Thurman: Essential Writings. (Orbis: 2006) Edited by Luther Smith. Smith is one of our great, if not our greatest, Thurman scholars. His introduction to Thurman’s writing is very helpful.

Thurman. Meditations of the Heart. (Beacon: 1999)

Weems, Renita. Listening for God: A Minister’s Journey Through Silence and Doubt (Simon and Schuster: 1999). An excellent reflection of the silence of God and intimacy with God.

West, Cornel, and Glaube Jr., Eddie S. African American Religious Thought: An Anthology. (Westminster John Knox: 2003)

Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (Harper Collins: 1998). What a deep, beautiful book on the kingdom of God.

Willard. Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God (IVP: 1999)

Willard. Knowing Christ Today.

Willard. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Navpress:2002). This excellent book is all about spiritual transformation and is especially helpful in defining biblical terms like “soul,” “heart,” “spirit,” and “body.”

Willard. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (Harper and Row: 1988). A great book, profound, clearly written. Richard Foster called it “the book of the decade.”

Wimber, John. Power Healing (Harper and Row). An excellent, encouraging text filled with realism and hope.

Wright, N.T. After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. Wright says a lot of things about spiritual formation, to include recent neurophysiological studies on how repeated behaviors become neural habits.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Lewis Smedes and Love Within Limits

Linda, in Ann Arbor

Lewis Smedes was a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, and a wise, profound author on the Jesus-life. I read, e.g., his excellent Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don't Deserve twice, and have turned to it multiple times. Smedes's autobiography My God and I: A Spiritual Memoir, is a killer book that Linda and I both loved and gained much from.

Today, in my prepping for preaching 1 Corinthians 13 this Sunday at Redeemer, I'm reading Craig Blomberg's 1 Corinthians commentary. Blomberg cites Smedes's Love Within Limits: Realizing Selfless Love in a Selfish World. Blomberg's summary of Smedes is worth quoting in full.

"Lewis Smedes... notes that God has limits to his patience, and so must we, but “when I turn off suffering for the sake of my pleasure, I turn it off too soon.” Neither does patience include the toleration of evil. Kindness is both intelligent and tough; “without wisdom and honesty,” it “easily becomes mere pity, bound to hurt more people than it helps.” Agape transcends jealousy without destroying it; it is right, for example, to be upset when someone runs off with your spouse! “Love does not move us to seek justice for ourselves,” but it should “drive us to move heaven and earth to seek justice for others.” Agape does not disguise or unleash anger; it does not remove irritants from our lives or reduce irritability by forbidding anger. Rather it meets our deepest needs, enabling us to respond differently to enraging circumstances, reduces the potential for frustration, gives us the power to communicate anger appropriately, and increases our gratitude for the way God has worked in our lives." (Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, Kindle location 5741)

Spirituality of Howard Thurman

Howard Thurman is, I think, the person who has most influenced African American meditative and contemplative spirituality. Thurman is brilliant and deep, something that is always a deadly spiritual combination. He is Jesus-centered. And humble. Here is one who had real authority, who was used by God to influence many people, not the least of whom was Martin Luther King, Jr.

I've got a stack of Thurman texts on my bookshelf that I've read and pondered since the early 1980s. Next week I will teach a session in my Spiritual Formation class to M. Div. students at Payne Theological Seminary. Here is the handout I will give them, and on which I will comment.

One of Thurman's quotes describes my Spiritual Formation class well. Thurman writes: “One of the great services that the Christian church can render to the community is to provide spells and spaces of quiet for the world-weary men and women whose needs are so desperate.” (HTEW, 57) This is what my class intends to do, not as a one-week experience, but as a lifetime spiritual habit.


1. Influences on Thurman

Thurman said that he learned more “about the genius of the religion of Jesus from my grandmother than from all the men who taught me all… the Greek and the rest of it. Because she moved inside the experience [of the religion of Jesus] and lived out of that center.” (In L. Smith, HTEW, 15)

• To embody the Christian faith, rather than just head-know it.
• To actually know Christ, not to merely know about Christ.

Thurman was influenced by Quaker mystic, scholar, and social activist Rufus Jones.
• “Jones guided Thurman’s first extensive formal study of mysticism. Thurman described his time with Jones as ‘a watershed from which flowed much of the thought and endeavor to which I was to commit the rest of my working life.” (HTEW, 18)

Thurman met with Gandhi. (HTEW, 20)
• “They were the first African Americans to meet with Gandhi.” (L. Smith, HTEW, 20)
• When Thurman returned to the U.S. after meeting with Gandhi “he traveled throughout the country speaking about his time with Gandhi and the relevance of nonviolent resistance as a means for addressing racial injustices.” (L. Smith, HTEW, 20)
• L. Smith writes: “Directly and indirectly, Thurman was the messenger for connecting the spiritual methods of India’s struggle for independence to the need for a spiritually based nonviolent movement to transform racial injustices in the United States.” (L. Smith, HTEW, 20-21)

2. Focus on the Timeless Issues of the Human Spirit

Prof. George Cross advised HT – “Give yourself to the timeless issues of the human spirit.” (Luther Smith, Introduction, Howard Thurman: Essential Writings [HTEW], 13)
• Ontological issues.
• Cultivate an ontology of the human spirit.
• Nouwen – the deeper we go in persons, the more we are all the same.

3. The Relationship of the Particular to the Universal

L. Smith writes: “The major themes in Howard Thurman’s spirituality are:
• The significance of religious experience
• The hunger for community
• The realization of a true sense of self. (HTEW, 30)

“Within each of these themes, a proper understanding of particularity and universality is crucial.” (L Smith, HTEW, 30)

L. Smith – “Thurman’s social analysis and theology are based on understanding the relationship of the particular to the universal. Thurman believes that a particular contains the universal, and the universal is composed of particulars.” (Smith, in HTEW, 25)

• In relation to spirituality, and spiritual formation/transformation/renewal/restoration…, this means: the deeper we go inside people the more we are all the same.
• E.g. – when God deep-searches out my particular heart…, the ontological realities of my particular heart are the universal-ontological realities of the human heart.

Autobiography is connected to spirituality. Luther Smith: “Whatever one seeks to discover about the meaning of life in general must take into consideration how such meaning is found in one’s own life.” (HTEW, 14)

• Because the deeper we go into our own selves the more we are like others…
• …such autobiographical study and research provides keys to “the meaning of life in general.”
• Therefore, find the meaning of your own life.
• Soul-research. Be yourself searched-out by God.
• “Search me, O God, and know my heart.”

4. Spiritual Disciplines

HT relies on spiritual disciplines “to tutor our spiritual discernment so that both the familiar and the strange are understood in light of the desires of God’s heart.” (L. Smith, HTEW, 32)

• Spiritual disciplines “tutor our spiritual discernment.” This brings “understanding.”

Spiritual disciplines “are meant to ‘ready’ the mind, the emotions, the spirit. They are no guarantor of Presence… God reveals His Presence out of the mystery of Being. With all of my passionate endeavor, I cannot command that He obey.” (HTEW, 45)

• E.g. – if I played basketball. I engage in “training” so as to compete in the game.
• The training, the “disciplines,” prepare me for the game.
• Spiritual disciplines “train” the body and mind and spirit of a person.

In Disciplines of the Spirit HT identifies five spiritual disciplines:

• Commitment
• Growth
• Suffering
• Prayer
• Reconciliation

1. Commitment

“Commitment means that it is possible for a man to yield the nerve center of his consent to a purpose or cause, a movement or an ideal, which may be more important to him than whether he lives or dies. The commitment is a self-conscious act of will by which he affirms his identification with what he is committed to. The character of his commitment is determined by that to which the center or core of his consent is given.” (HTEW, 46)

• In commitment there is a “yielding.” There is a “giving oneself to…”

“Commitment” is related to “surrender. “Whatever stands in the way of the complete and full surrender, we must search it out and remove it.” (HTEW, 48)

“Surrender your inner consent to God.” (HTEW, 48)

I think “commitment” and “surrender” are like: jumping out of the plane and trusting the parachute to open. It is a whole-being thing.

Like: “I surrender all…”

2. Growth

“Growth means development in the life of an organism. It means change manifest in structure.” (HETW, 51)

• “Change manifest in structure” sounds like: transformation.
• Structural change.
• Systemic change.
• Which will lead to changes in attitude and behavior.

“There are many adults who for various reasons have escaped this essential discipline of their spirit. True, in terms of physical and intellectual development they have continued to grow. Their bodies and minds have moved through all the intervening stages to maturity, but they have remained essentially babies in what they expect of life.” (HETW, 52)

• It’s either deep change or slow death.
• It’s either maturing or endless baby-hood.
• It’s either dining on spiritual meat or drinking spiritual milk from the bottle.

One of the real challenges of growth is crisis, and the “real possibility of failure.” “To guard against this and be prepared to deal with it when it occurs is an authentic discipline of the spirit… And for the religious man, it is to grow not only in grace but also in the knowledge and experience of God.” (HETW, 54)

• Ongoing engagement in the spiritual disciplines prepares one for crises and failure.
• Always growing deeper… the body wastes away but the spirit is being renewed day after day after day… closer knowing and experiencing of God…

What HT says about “growth” sounds like what I mean by spiritual transformation; the pain of change.

3. Suffering

“When a man is driven by suffering to make the most fundamental inquiries the meaning of life, he has to assess and re-assess his total experience. It may be that… he has never thought seriously of God. He has taken his life and all of life for granted. Now under the assault of pain he is led to wonder about the mystery of life. Why do men suffer? He asks himself. He sorts out the answers available to him…” (HTEW, 55)

“What would life be like if there were no suffering, no pain? The startling discovery is made that if there were no suffering there would be no freedom. Men could make no mistakes, consciously or unconsciously. The race could make no mistakes. There would be no error. There would be no possibility of choice at any point, or in any sense whatsoever… Freedom therefore cannot be separated from suffering. This, then, may be one of the ways in which suffering pays for its ride…” (HTEW, 55)

“Why do men suffer? They suffer as part of the experience of freedom. They suffer as part of the growth of life itself.” (HTEW, 55)

“Without suffering there is no freedom for man.” (HTEW, 56)

“What hostility may do is to serve as a guide through the wilderness of our suffering until we are brought to the door of the temple.” (HTEW, 56)

“There are many people who would feel cheated if suddenly they were deprived of the ego definition that their suffering gives them.” (HTEW, 56)

o Which means: some people are self-defined by their suffering. They are men and women of sorrows, and that is all. So to free them of their sufferings, to redeem them, would be to deprive them of their core identity. Such people resist the redemptive activity of God. They need their sufferings. They will feel they are a nobody should their being-abused cease. Prisonhood is their "normal"; freedom is abnormal and alien to them. Therefore one of the ways that people stay enchained and enslaved is that their chains define and delimit them. For such people to escape this horrible life-condition requires a revelation of their true self, their true identity, as children of God and made in God's image. Only then will they be horrified by their chains and suffering and cry out for release and redemption.

5. Prayer

First of all, “prayer… means the method by which the individual makes his way to the temple of quiet within his own spirit and the activity of his spirit within its walls. Prayer is not only the participation in communication with God in the encounter of religious experience, but it is also the “readying” of the spirit for such communication. It is the total process of quieting down and to that extent must not be separated from meditation. Perhaps, as important as prayer itself, is the “readying” of the spirit for the experience.” (HTEW, 57)

• Thurman: “When one has thus been prepared, a strange thing happens. It is very difficult to put into words. The initiative slips out of one’s hands and into the hands of God, the other Principal in the religious experience. The self moves towards God. Such movement seems to have the quality of innate and fundamental stirring. The self does not see itself as being violated, though it may be challenged, stimulated, inspired, conditioned, but all of this takes place in a frame of reference that is completely permissive. There is another movement which is at once merged with the movement of the self. God touches the spirit and the will and a wholly new character in terms of dimension enters the experience. In this sense prayer may be regarded as an open-end experience.”

“Fundamental to the total fact of prayer in the Christian religion is the persuasive affirmation that the God of religious experience is a seeking and a beseeching God.” (HTEW, 57)

“I agree most heartily with Rufus Jones when he says that prayer at its best is when the soul enjoys God and prays out of sheer love for him.” (HTEW, 59-60)

On the “problem” of intercessory prayer – see (HTEW, 58-59)

6. Non-Discursive Experience

By the phrase "non-discursive experience" I mean: experience that one cannot fully discourse about. (See here, here, and here.

“Religious experience is interpreted to mean the conscious and direct exposure of the individual to God.” (HTEW, 37)

This is what William James called “acquaintance-knowledge,” contrasted with “knowledge about.”

It is “immediate experience,” if not quite “purely immediate.” (HTEW, 37-38)

“The individual is never completely one with his experiences. He remains always observer and participant. This is very important to remember.” (HTEW, 38)

• So… no metaphysical union; no essential union with God.

There is something “extraordinary” in religious experience. This is: “awareness of meeting God… the individual is seen as being exposed to direct knowledge of ultimate meaning, ne plus ultra being… He is face to face with something which is so much more, and so much more inclusive, than all of his awareness of himself that for him, in the moment, there are no questions. Without asking, somehow he knows.” (HTEW, 38-39)

“The experience is beyond or inclusive of the discursive. It is not other than the discursive, but somehow it is inclusive of the discursive… ‘IT is the knowledge of the subject of all predicates’ [Bennett].” (HETW, 39)

• To meet God. To know God, and be known by God.

“The goal of life is God! The source of life is God! That out of which life comes is that into which life goes. God is the goal of man’s life, the end of all his seeking, the meaning of all his striving. God is the guarantor of all his values, the ultimate meaning – the timeless frame of reference… ‘Thou hast made us for thyself and our souls are restless till they find their rest in thee,” says Augustine.” (HTEW, 40-41)

Sheer rational and reflective processes cannot bring us to the God-conclusion. “This is the great disclosure: that there is at the heart of life a Heart… Wade in the water, because God is troubling the water.” (HTEW, 41)

Faith is a way of knowing, a form of knowledge. (HTEW, 43)

“Religious experience in its profoundest dimension is the finding of man by God and the finding of God by man. This is the inner witness.” (HTEW, 43)

“The religious experience is always current, always fresh. In it I hear His Voice in my own tongue and in accordance with the grain in my own wood. In that glorious and transcendent moment, it may easily seem to me that all there is, is God.” (HTEW, 46)

• The constant need for NEW words from God.
• For me, e.g., every Sunday is a “new Word” Sunday.

“Through religious experience… the individual comes to know God’s loving presence in a personal and private way.” (L. Smith, HTEW, 35)

L. Smith – Thurman “laments the tendency of the church to substitute creeds, doctrines, dogma, and ritual for religious experience.” (HTEW, 37)

• It’s all about the God-encounter that happens in religious experience.

At Howard U “Thurman crafted liturgies that introduced dance and other artistic expressions to university worship.” (L. Smith, HTEW, 21)

Thurman’s “speaking style captivated audiences. He was a master in the use of silence. At times, he would be so overwhelmed by an understanding that he seemed to be in a trance.” (L. Smith, HTEW, 22)

7. Mysticism

The word “mysticism” comes from the Greek word muo, which means: “to conceal.”

L. Smith – “Thurman is a mystic. He describes mysticism as a form of religious experience where the awareness of a “conscious and direct exposure” to God is more intense. Thurman does not consider mysticism as a superior religious experience, only different.” (HTEW, 35)

8. Waiting on the Lord

“In the total religious experience we learn how to wait; we learn how to ready the mind and the spirit. It is in the waiting, brooding, lingering, tarrying timeless moments that the essence of the religious experience becomes most fruitful. It is here that I learn to listen, to swing wide the very doors of my being, to clean out the corners and the crevices of my life – so that when His presence invades, I am free to enjoy His coming to Himself in me.” (HTEW, 45)

• Cf. Nouwen’s distinction between “waiting” as expectation, and “wishing.”

9. On “Jesus and the Disinherited

Jesus and the Disinherited is a beautiful, loving, and powerful book. It is Thurman’s most famous text.

The most-quoted phrase from Jesus and the Disinherited is: “What, then, is the word of the religion of Jesus to those who stand with their backs to the wall?”

• The question is: “Does Jesus offer any answers that help the disinherited in this predicament of no exit?” (L. Smith, in HTEW, 27)
• This is redemptive stuff. This is “buying-out-of-bondage” stuff. This is “Exodus-stuff.”
• “James Cone identifies JD as an influential book for his development of a black theology of liberation.” (L Smith, HTEW, 28)
• Martin Luther King carried JD with him during the Montgomery Boycott. (L Smith, HTEW, 28)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Biblical Greek Seminar at Redeemer - Sign up Begins!

My friend Paul Albrecht from Indianapolis is coming to Redeemer to give us a three-night, 7 1/2 hour Biblical Greek Seminar.

Dates and times: August 16-17-18, 6:30-9 PM.

Cost: Free! (We'll take a love offering for Paul)

  • Send me an e-mail ( or contact our church office (734-242-5277) ASAP.
  • You will receive a set of Greek alphabet flash cards with pronunciations. You should begind reviewing these and memorizing the Greek alphabet. This will help you prepare for Paul's Greek lessons.
  • Every student will receive a notebook when they come to the first session.
  • Any questions - please e-mail me.

For 12 years Paul taught biblical Greek at Eastern Baptist Seminary and Eastern College in Philadelphia. Paul is a biblical Greek scholar who loves teaching people.

In this Seminar you will:
  • Learn the Greek alphabet
  • Learn a vocabulary of 60 high-frequency Greek New Testament words
  • Learn some of the nuances of New Testament Greek
  • Get a deeper understanding of the New Testament
  • Learn to distinguish a Greek salad from other salads
More information TBA as we approach this date!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Baptisms This Sunday at Redeemer

To My Redeemer Family:

Some of you have met Jake Nadeau, one of our Redeemer youth. Jake has lived with John and Val Fowler since his father died. Next week Jake will be moving to Missouri to live with his uncle.

Jake has asked me if I would baptize him before he leaves us. Today I had a wonderful meeting with Jake and Val. Jake told me how he has become a follower of Jesus since coming to Redeemer. I explained baptism to him. We talked about this coming Sunday.

I am thrilled and honored to see Jake baptized this Sunday!

Since our baptismal pool will be filled, I want to invite anyone else who has not been baptized but follows Jesus to be baptized along with Jake this coming Sunday.

If that's you, please contact either myself or Pastor Josh.

The Depth of Agape Love

Black-capped chickadee on my deck.

I am being blown away by some 1 Corinthians 13 studies. It's a bit like Psalm 23 for me. Ps. 23 is so familiar, yet within it there is a universe of spiritual meaning and truth. I've found this out by, basically, a 30-year extended meditation on it.

1 Cor. 13 - so very familiar, but quite unstudied by myself. So I'm diving in, and finding out, unsurprisingly, that these are very deep waters! Here's a splash of them.

The biblical Greek word we translate as "love" is: agape. Referencing agape as used by Paul in 1 Cor. 13, NT scholar T. Engberg-Pederson writes:

Agape is an attitude of radical and completely selfless concern for others, which cannot be readily combined with concepts like rights or fairness, both of which imply that the person has certain legitimate claims for himself. Agape, by contrast, requires that in his relation with others a person goes the whole way in their direction.” (Cited in Ben Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, 272)
Agape love does not coexist with human, "natural" power-status-hierarchies of honor and shame. Where the hierarchy doesn't exist, personal "rights" don't exist. "Fairness" won't either. When agape love comes, the words "But it's not fair!" evaporate.
We don't, of course, go all the way with evil's direction, since we do not agape-love evil. But we do love others in such a way that they become our primary concern, and not our own "rights." If you want an example of how this looks, think of Christ. This is not some “natural” human love. This is the kind of love that happens when a person is touched by God’s grace, and enabled by God’s Spirit. Because: it goes against “natural” human inclinations to love the unlovely or those who do not love in return. Witherington writes: Agape love is not the sort of love that is dispatched like a heat-seeking missile due to something inherently attractive in the “target.” (Citing Victor Furnish, in op. cit., 272)

THEREFORE… this love is only something God can give us. And God HAS given us this love in Christ.

Paul also believes that Jesus-followers like himself can manifest such love. Paul calls people to imitate himself and Christ. Agape love is not a “conditional,” "If-Then" love that is dependent on circumstances. Witherington says, and I take note: This kind of love is often best seen when the circumstances are not favorable or likely for its expression . I've had a couple of opportunities in the past few weeks to live this out, as best I can, and only by God's grace.

So, for you, there likely is now some circumstance in your life that is not favorable for the expression of agape. I mean, you are being crucified by someone! This is Christ's moment in you, and through you. People have an opportunity to see a rare form of love, demonstrated and extended, in and through you. So rejoice!

The Death of Borders

We lived in East Lansing, Michigan, for eleven years. I was a campus pastor at Michigan State University. I was in a book study that read works of Christian fiction. Will Peebles and Steve Belkoff and Amy (???) and...  we met every week. It was wonderful discussion! It's also where I began to read Flannery O'Connor. Pause and be stunned before her outrageously creative fiction.

I think it was my friend Will who told ne about a bookstore in Ann Arbor named "Borders." We took a trip there. It was very cool, and located around the corner from where the current Borders is in campus- town of the U of Michigan.

Linda and I go to Ann Arbor a lot. It's a great city for culture, eating, walking, sitting, reading, observing, etcing.

Today it's with some sadness that I read "Borders Forced to Liquidate, Close All Stores." Oh no... No more walking in Borders, browsing its books, absorbing its milieu? And all the small, privately owned bookstores breathed sighs of relief... The Giant has fallen. 399 stores remain. The liquidation could begin as soon as this Friday. "The chain's demise could speed the decline in sales of hardcover and paperback books as consumers increasingly turn to downloading electronic books or having physical books mailed to their doorsteps." Admittedly, I get most of my books from at cheaper prices and free delivery after paying a decent yearly fee.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Tree of Life & the Glory of God

How do I know I loved the movie "The Tree of Life?" Because it is still with me. I am now listening to the hauntingly, pensive musical soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat. I have scenes going over and over in my mind. I think it was for me an important, God-thing to see this movie.

"Tree of Life" is about the macro-cosmic within which our human micro-realities have their tiny place. Think of the Lord of Heaven and Earth becoming flesh in a tiny baby in a tiny country on a small planet in a gargantuan universe at a point in time. Think of the speck of flesh and consciousness that now is "you." Who are you, that God is mindful of you? And yet He is, according to Malick. God is vast, and he thinks of you.

"There are two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace. We have to choose which one we'll follow," the mother's voice declares early in the film. "Therein lies the story." (Kristen Sharold)

I felt grief watching "Tree." A son dies, we are not told how. The father, Jack (Brad Pitt), comes to his senses. He begins seeing "the glory" all around him, which has always been there had he noticed. His failure to be the consistently loving father to his lost son pains him. He and his wife (Jessica Chastain) imperfectly raise, love, and nurture their beloved son only to lose him so early. I thought of Linda, my incredible wife and mother of my sons, who lost a baby, whose dead body I cradled in my arms, almost 26 years ago. All of this, in the midst of the vastness of the glory of God; a golden fleck of suffering in an unbelievably temporally and spatially vast, shimmering cosmos.

The relative smallness and briefness of our suffering is positioned speck-like against the history of God's universe. Like the sufferings of Job which demand, at least for Job's "comforters," some explanation.  Terence Malick's film opens with a quotation from the book of Job, where God asks Job,: “where were you when I founded the earth…while the morning stars sang in chorus and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38: 4,7)

"Tree of Life" shows us the meaning and relevance of God's answer to our suffering. In watching "Tree" I think I got a glimpse of it, of its real sensibility, its to-the-point-ness. God gives us a whole-being response, not simply something "rational" and "logical." We paint our little existences against the massive universal backdrop of God's creation, surrounded by "the glory." In "Tree" Malick exegetes this idea and finds it compelling. The universe is inflamed with God-bestowed beauty. Within this human creatures have dignity. And hope, as Jack becomes a person of faith. He stands on the beaches of God's glory and we hear the words, in Jack's mind, "I give you my Son."

Sharold writes: "In the tradition of Augustine's Confessions, The Tree of Life is the story of a single life drawn upward to God. Jack O'Brien, the main character, asks, "When did you first touch my heart?" and the rest of the film formulates an answer."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Minimize Technology to Maximize Output

Wired Magazine founder Kevin Kelly is a Jesus-follower. He's interviewed at This "geek theologian" doesn't use a smart phone and doesn't tweet. Well, I don't either. Kelly says:

"Technology can maximize our special combination of gifts, but there are so many technological choices that I could spend all my time just trying out technologies. So I minimize my technological choices in order to maximize my output. The Amish (and the hippies) are really good at minimizing technologies. That's what I am trying to do as well. I seek to find those technologies that assist me in my mission to express love and reflect God in the world, and then disregard the rest."

That's very well said. Pay attention.

You Become Like What You Worship

In Eldoret, Kenya - I've sent the Kenyan & Ugandan
pastors out to pray for one hour.

In the church in Corinth of the first century, the group of Greek Jesus-followers Paul writes his two letters to, there is much imbalance and disproportionality in their corporate worship gatherings. Some of them are really taken by the non-rational or trans-rational gift of singing and speaking in tongues. So much so that they are showing off their giftedness, and others are feeling and being excluded. It's impossible to give a true "Amen" to something you don't understand. For example, consider this: Kwa maana Mungu aliupenda ulimwengu kiasi cha kumtoa Mwanae pekee, ili kila mtu amwaminiye asipotee, bali awe na uzima wa milele.* Anyone want to give an "Amen!" to that?

Paul tells the Corinthians that he didn't come to them speaking in tongues, even though he does and thanks God for the gift. Instead, Paul brought a lot of intelligible words. Paul engaged in trans-rational worship privately, and in rational worship publicly. He's very glad to do both. And, because the object of Paul's worship is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it's intended to be a very broad, very deep, very rich encounter and experience.

God, in His being, is not simply a "rational agent." For example, God is love. And "love," as all true lovers know, cannot be explicated and captured in the steel nets of logical discourse. Only Leonard Nimoy ("Spock") could worship such a god.

I love the way N.T. Wright puts this. “One of the most basic laws of the spiritual life is that you become like what you worship; and if you are worshiping the true God, the creator of all things, the one in whose image you are made, you should be developing as a wise, many-sided human being, not letting one aspect get out of proportion as though God were only interested in the ‘spiritual’ side, meaning by that not only the non-bodily but also the non-rational. Of course, those who live in a world that has overemphasized the body, or the reasoning mind, may find that they need to redress the balance in other ways than the one Paul stresses here. When you look at the worshiping Christian, what you should see is a whole human being, with every aspect united in giving praise to God.” (NTW, 1 Corinthians [For Everyone], 191)

In true worship, therefore, both the rational and the trans-rational are appropriate, since we become like and reflect that which we worship.

*John 3:16, in Swahili