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We Don’t Have a Direct Relationship With God

April 3, 2012

We evangelicals tout the battle cry “its not a religion its a relationship,” eschewing institutional formality, priestly orders, and list-based self-justification. We say it as if it’s obvious what we mean. Yet it doesn’t seem at all obvious to me, sin-stained as I am, how to have a “personal relationship” with an infinite, immense, self-existing, […]

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Dissatisfaction: The Gateway Vice

March 28, 2012

As of late I’ve been pondering dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction, in my mind, is a gateway vice – a vice that subtly lures you into the whole panoply of vices. It is so subtle, I think, because it hides behind other vices. You spend your time lamenting your lustful heart (or restless, prideful, etc.) and really the […]

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A Vacuum of Authority, An Inconsistent Spirituality

March 21, 2012

Suffer me a brief history lesson. North American evangelicalism can be traced through three waves of revivalistĀ development. Wave 1: Jonathan Edwards + George Whitefield + the Tennent Bros – mid-eighteenth century. This Calvinistic revival laid the groundwork for the other waves to come, perhaps most convincingly through the preaching of George Whitefield. Whitefield’s remarkable charisma, […]

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The Strange Spirituality of Evangelicals

March 15, 2012

The term evangelical is about as slippery as a wet bar of soap in a hot shower.Try to define an evangelical… I dare you. The moment you do some self-identified evangelical will invariably take offense at the boundary you drew which excluded them (ahh… we are such an inclusive bunch aren’t we?).The necessary consequent of […]

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Struggling in Prayer

June 24, 2011

I have become convinced, through several writers in the spiritual formation conversation, that the first sin provides us with something of an archetype of sin. Sin raises in us certain existential states that cause us to hide from God and cover ourselves from one another (as well as God). For many, the sin narrative in Genesis provides us with a glimpse of the Gospel, as God clothed Adam and Eve – an act that mirrors the handing over of robes of righteousness in the Gospel. In light of this, I wanted to focus on this paradigm in prayer. How does this existential condition play out in prayer.

As I was praying this morning I noticed my mind wandering. This, of course, is not an unusual occurance. My typical response to mind-wandering in prayer is to seek discernment as to why my mind is wandering, as well as question why it is wandering to these things specifically. Today, it was work – most specifically, various projects I am excited about that are still in the potential rather than actual phase of their existence. I was tempted to write off this reality as just excitement to start my work day, but I think it was more than that. I have noticed a tendency in my prayer life that when I seek to come before God in repentence and really take my place at the foot of the cross, it is there that my mind wanders.

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The Texture of Growth

June 9, 2011

Much of the texture of our lived existence depends upon our presuppositions about what growth looks and feels like. For some, the call to "be holy as I am holy" is a very literal endeavor, where we truly do take on holiness in a real sense. For others, the Reformed tradition for instance, it is not that we take on holiness as much as we learn dependence. We abide, to quote Jesus, in the vine. As a branch, it is not that we somehow come to take on the life-giving elements of the vine, but the connection we have with the vine deepens.

Along these lines, note Jonathan Edwards’s point about the texture of growth:

 

"A man that is very poor is a beggar; so is he that is poor in spirit. This is a great difference between those affections that are gracious, and those that are false: under the former, the person continues still a poor beggar at God’s gates, exceedingly empty and needy; but the latter make men appear to themselves rich…"

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When Envy Seems Beautiful

February 2, 2011

I’ve been working through and re-editing what I believe to be Jonathan Edwards’s greatest work, a book called Charity and Its Fruits. It is, even if in brief, Jonathan Edwards’s spiritual theology. Interestingly, it was really a sermon series through 1 Corinthians 13, the most over-read and under-lived Scripture references for weddings. One of Edwards’s tasks in the volume is to provide a series of reflections on virtues and vices. In his chapter on envy, he suggests that Christians often turn envy into something more palatable – we subconsciously tweak envy to try and make it seem virtuous. Edwards suggests that we do this in four ways: We 1) undermine the worthiness of the person we envy; 2) claim that our envy arises from a love to justice; 3) undermine the honor of the person we envy by questioning the use of their prosperity; and 4) question if the person we envy is spiritually mature enough for prosperity.

There are two things that Edwards sees clearly here. First, making up the second point, is that our subconscious functions in an attempt to justify our sin and turn it into something palatable – what ancients used to call beautiful vices. We turn envy into a zeal for justice. This point, secondly, builds on the other three, all of which turn our attention to the other person. Our hearts, out of self-protection, guard us by judging others. Envy leads us to conclude that others are not worthy, honorable, or mature, and therefore lifts us above others to judge them through our own elitist mindset. Envy is a fruit of self-exaltation, just as it is achieved through the degradation of others.

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Why “Biblical” tends to be UnBiblical

November 23, 2010

Not too long ago a blogger was criticizing contemporary evangelicalism’s obsession with the term "biblical." This blogger suggested, if I remember correctly, that seminaries should come up with a degree in Biblical Biblicalness." There is, of course, something to be lauded in this emphasis. But I would suggest the opposite is actually taking place. Terms like "biblical" often lose their meaning rather quickly. Instead, they become storehouses for other kinds of things. When I hear people use the word "biblical" today, more often than not it is a placeholder for: "what I find comfortable in light of my background."

It is usually easy to point this out, in light of the fact that these people’s claim to "be biblical in all things" is, itself, extra-biblical. The call to be biblical itself is based on theologizing. That is not to say that the inclination is somehow unbiblical, but that the content of what it means to be biblical is based on a theological development (the Bible never states, for instance, sola scriptura – Scripture alone). I say this because I find that the term biblical is usually used in an unbiblical manner. It is an elitist tendency to write off other people who stand under God’s word and to, instead, apply God’s sovereignty to themselves. Rather than standing under the judgment of Christ, they stand at his side, pointing out people they think deserve his wrath. They often mimic, in other terms, the Pharisees. 

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What would Jonathan Edwards say to the downtrodden?

October 18, 2010

As many of you may know, I am a Jonathan Edwards scholar. In the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t mean all that much, expect that I read a lot of Edwards’s work and spend a great deal of time thinking alongside of him about the nature of the Gospel of God for our salvation. From time to time, I come across a really great nuggest in Edwards’s theology. What I mean by "nugget" is this, what I consider one of the great misfortunes of Edwards’s legacy is that we have next to nothing on what he was supposedly best at – spiritual direction. His daughter, in a letter to a friend, once commented on how blessed she was to have someone like her father to help her navigate her relationship with God. Edwards was, it would seem, a fantastic and discerning director of souls. Fortunately, we do have some evidence of this. Edwards wrote a letter to a woman who just saw her only son die. In it, he tells her that he writes about the one thing he knows for a time like hers – Christ. You can read the letter in its entirety here, but I have copied the last portion below.

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Purity and Defilement: The Irony of Worldliness

June 24, 2010

I was reading the Gospel of John today, and came across the account of Jesus’ arrest. As I was reading, I noticed, for maybe the first time, how incredibly ironic this statement it: "Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so thaty they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover" (18:28). This mob, in the midst of vigilante justice, deception, self-obsession and an unhealthy self-assurance, was worried that they might be defiled. Now, it would be easy to go on a rant about Pharisaism, "religion" or whatever else, but this made me think a bit about worldliness. 

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