Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Longing for Transcendence (The Presence-Driven Church)

The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, MI

Looks like Linda and I will be traveling to Trinidad and Tobago in October. I'll lead a conference for African Methodist Episcopal pastors. I'll be sharing my materials on spiritual formation, abiding in Christ, and "Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

I'm doing some prepping for the event and reviewing some material, including James MacDonald's excellent book Vertical Church, and Alvin Plantinga's sumptuous spiritual and intellectual feast Knowledge and Christian Belief. 

I'm with MacDonald on much of what he says here. I am part of a Presence-Driven church. Not all churches are this way. MacDonald writes:

“Church leaders raised on rationalism lead ministries where the supernatural, the Vertical, is suppressed and where God Himself is at best an observer and certainly seldom, if ever, an obvious participant in church.” (MacDonald, Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be., Kindle Locations 533-535)

A pastor who suppresses God? Been there, done that, myself. It is the worst place to be, pastorally. Remember that Jesus shut down the Temple because the religious temple leaders "shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." (Matthew 23:13)

This whole thing called "church" is really about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Not just theoretically, but experientially. What people need is Emmanuel, God with us, existentially. 

The movement of God's Spirit is a felt, discernible thing. Pastors must nurture and cultivate God's presence. We must be very, very open to it. 

The Horizontal Church is the godless church; Vertical Church is the Presence-Driven Church. It's all about "entering in." The word is Christ in you, not as some epistemically distant object.

John Calvin, who is often inaccurately portrayed as being spiritually cold and aloof (don't mistake Calvinists for Calvin himself), had as his emblem a flaming heart with an outstretched hand. On it was the motto: Cor meum quasi immolatum tibi offero, Domine ("I give my flaming heart to you, Lord, eagerly and honestly.") Calvin had these words carved over the pulpit in Geneva where he preached. Alvin Plantinga writes:

Of the Holy Spirit, [Calvin] says that “persistently boiling away and burning up our vicious and inordinate desires, he enflames our hearts with the love of God and with zealous devotion.” The Institutes are throughout aimed at the practice of the Christian life (which essentially involves the affections), not at theological theory; the latter enters only in the service of the former. (Plantinga, Knowledge and Christian Belief, p. 72)

Jonathan Edwards wrote:

"There is a distinction to be made between a mere notional understanding, wherein the mind only beholds things in the exercise of a speculative faculty; and the sense of the heart, wherein the mind doesn’t only speculate and behold, but relishes and feels. That sort of knowledge, by which a man has a sensible perception of amiableness and loathsomeness, or of sweetness and nauseousness, is not just the same sort of knowledge with that, by which he knows what a triangle is, and what a square is. The one is mere speculative knowledge; the other sensible knowledge, in which more than the mere intellect is concerned; the heart is the proper subject of it, or the soul as a being that not only beholds, but has inclination, and is pleased or displeased." (Quoted in Ib., p. 73.)

There is a great longing in the human heart for something more. For something beyond us, that will complete us. We see this in the Psalms.

My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Psalm 84:1

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; 
my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you. 
Psalm 63: 1 

One thing have I desired of the Lord, that I will seek after; 
that I . . . behold the beauty of the Lord. 
Psalm 27: 4

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. 
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. 
Ps. 42: 1-2

I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands. 
Ps. 119: 131

Plantinga writes:

"This love for God isn’t like, say, an inclination to spend the afternoon organizing your stamp collection. It is longing, filled with desire and yearning; and it is physical as well as spiritual: “my body longs for you, my soul pants for you.” Although eros is broader than sexual love, it is analogous to the latter. There is a powerful desire for union with God, the oneness Christ refers to in John 17." (Ib., 75)

In The Weight of Glory C.S. Lewis wrote:

“We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” (Lewis, The Weight of Glory, p. 8)

Presence-Driven leaders understand this and cultivate this, in themselves and in their people. Presence-Driven leaders have met Emmanuel, and introduce others to him. 

Knowing about God is not enough; knowing God is.