Saturday, May 23, 2009

Our Spiritual Heritage

John Meadows wrote a personal email letter to one of our blog friends about his appreciation for his spiritual heritage, but also affirming the need to “follow the cloud” today. When the apostle Paul said that he was “forgetting what lies behind” was he including forgetting good things in the past as well as the bad?

John’s thoughtful letter can be accessed here as a google doc. What do you think about the points he is making?

Robert Grant has also pointed out the need to appreciate our heritage, not only as Reformation Protestants going back 500 years, but also our ENTIRE spiritual heritage going back to the patristic age and the early church.

How do we combine the tension of remembering and cherishing our history and heritage (including learning form the mistakes of history) in dynamic tension with the apostolic example of “forgetting that which lies behind, and pressing on”?

By the way, here is the link to the excellent interview with Richard Foster and Dallas Willard that John M. mentioned near the end of our last discussion:

Where is the “upward call of God” leading us to press on toward now? Why is important to let go of the past in order to receive the future? How can we “let go of the past” without forgetting our heritage?

What aspects of your heritage do you appreciate?

John’s letter about his spiritual heritage can be accessed here on google docs

PS: by-the-way, please lift up Brian Emmet in your prayers. His father past away 9 weeks ago, and last week his mother went home to be with Brian’s father. That is a lot to process in the space of two months.

Friday, May 15, 2009

New book by Dallas Willard

In my humble opinion, one of the true spiritual giants in our time has been Dallas Willard. Not only does he have a profound biblical message for the church in our generation, he has grown and developed his character and thinking outside of church ministry, in a philosophy department of a secular university. I sincerely hope there are some young men and women coming up in university settings that will replace him when he is gone.

Have any of you read his newest book yet? I have not, I just became aware of it this morning when I went to Scot McKnight’s web site and saw this overview of the book.

I believe that the greatest weakness of the current church in the United States is the underdeveloped spiritual formation. Dallas Williard picked up where Robert Coleman (Master Plan of Evangelism) left off, and has been calling followers of Christ and the church to in-depth discipleship to Jesus for a generation –.
he has been a voice in the wilderness, crying out to the church to prepare the way of the Lord through spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation.

His new book is called Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge

Here is a brief selection from today’s post on Jesuscreed:

The third part of the book, which shifts slightly in style to less philosophical argument and more to Christian exposition, concerns knowledge of Christ in the spiritual life -- and here he enters into what for many of us is the classical style of Willard's form of a more mystically-shaped Christian life. The seventh chp enters into a spirited but reasonable form of Christian inclusivism, which he calls Christian pluralism where final redemption is ultimately shaped by whether or not a person -- Christian religion or not -- has a heart that is properly oriented toward God.

Finally, he has a chp in which he expands the meaning of "pastor" and argues that it is pastors who have the responsibility of making this "knowledge of Christ" known today

Which book by Willard has been your favorite? What do you get out of his writings as the central theme?

The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives.(1988). San Francisco: Harper and Row, ISBN 0-06-069442-4 (you can buy this for as cheap as $3.75 online now)

The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God (1998). San Francisco: Harper, ISBN 0-06-069333-9

Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship With God (1999). Intervarsity Press (USA), ISBN 0-8308-2226-7

Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (2002). Colorado Springs: NavPress, ISBN 1-57683-296-1

The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus's Essential Teachings on Discipleship" (2006). San Francisco: Harper, ISBN 0-06-088243-3

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The role of the Spirit in salvation

Here is a possible topic for conversation. What exactly is the role of the Holy Spirit in the work of salvation? Is anyone aware of any theological works on this subject? I know that this is one of the significant differences between Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology -- I'm guessing that Protestantism is more "Western" having thrown out a lot of 'pre-modern' Catholic tradition but did not add back in a profound theology of the Spirit -- at least not until the rise of pneumacentric protestantism (Pentecostal and Charismatic) in the twentieth century.

Deb was reading to me this morning from Matthew 12 and I was struck by a passage I have read many times, but had not heard before in The Message version:

Matt 12: 31-32 "There's nothing done or said that can't be forgiven. But if you deliberately persist in your slanders against God's Spirit, you are repudiating the very One who forgives. If you reject the Son of Man out of some misunderstanding, the Holy Spirit can forgive you, but when you reject the Holy Spirit, you're sawing off the branch on which you're sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives.

What struck me in this is the part about someone rejecting the Son of Man. Such a one can be forgiven. Hmmm…. What does that mean?

However, if someone rejects the Holy Spirit, how can they be forgiven? By rejecting the Holy Spirit, they are rejecting the dynamic active agent of God … the one who draws them, convicts them of sin, imparts faith to them and teaches them the things of Christ. The one who gives the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah, the Holy One of God (Peter, the Rock) The one that is the active executor of forgiveness of sins.

Does this mean that an honest Hindu or Muslim with a good heart, who rejects or neglects the divinity of Christ out of “some cultural misunderstanding” but who continues to respond affirmatively to the inner workings of the Spirit can be saved? (through the redemptive work of Christ of course, but perhaps in cognitive ignorance of that work). It is certainly worth considering and discussing.

More to the point, in my own dealings with agnostics and deists in our weekly god-party, most of them do not affirm the divinity of Christ, but they keep coming to our hang-out, and in a couple of cases, I see unmistakable traces of the work of the Spirit in their lives. So is it more important that I work to overcome their intellectual resistance to acknowledging that Jesus is the Christ?, or rather should I set that aside (temporarily) to affirm the work of the Spirit in them and to extend the ‘friendship’ of Christ in me the hope of Glory to them? In the second approach, I choose not to try to persuade them to believe a set of propositions about Christ, but instead I attempt to facilitate the work of the Spirit in them until they reach the point that St. Peter did, where the Spirit reveals the truth about Jesus to them.

What do you think? Is this a possible area that needs some theological re-formation?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Justification and New Perspective

Scot McKnight posted a topic about some current theological debate regarding justification and atonement on his jesuscreed blog today. Some of it revolves around something called the “new perspective on Paul” and includes a debate between John Piper and Tom Wright.

My apologies to those of you that do not like substantial theological discussion but let’s talk about this. Brian and I have been chatting off and on about various perspectives of the atonement and this post by McKnight makes a good springboard into that discussion. For the more activist oriented, you can check out of this and go to and participate in some possibility thinking for mission.

I am pasting in some of McKnight post. To read the entire post or to participate in the discussion on jesuscreed click here. Even if you are not very familiar with 20th century theologians, if you click on the links below you can get a quick overview of the development of this area of Pauline studies.


…How do you understand the "new perspective on Paul"? What do you think is its primary contribution? Which of the new perspective writers do you read the most and why and what do you like about them? How significant do you think this debate is?

First, there is no such thing as the new perspective if one think it refers to some body of doctrine. The New Perspective, therefore, deserves a brief sketch as to how it arose and what it means.

….McKnight gives a brief historiography here of the development of the new perspective leading up to N.T. Wright….

Then along came, and only then did along he come, N.T. Wright. Wright built upon Sanders and Dunn, to be sure, but he paved his own ground -- building in important ways upon C.H. Dodd and GB Caird -- by pursuing the "end of exile" themes in his early Pauline studies and then his Jesus studies, and then returned to Paul when the New Perspective had taken hold -- and he added to it, supplemented it, and has taken much of the heat by the critics. Wright has refashioned justification less in terms of personal conversion and more in terms of "who is in the people of God." And he has now added to all of this a new dimension, an anti-imperial reading of Paul and earliest Christianity -- and that had little to do with either Sanders or Dunn.

But at the bottom of these folks is a belief that Christians have misunderstood Judaism as a works religion and at stake is a profound (changed) orientation to the human problem in much of Reformed and Lutheran thinking: namely, that humans want to earn their place before God, that their fundamental problem is the attempt to establish themselves before God. The New Perspective, in one way or another, does not see this as the problem Paul himself faced and therefore to read Paul in light of this problem misreads Paul in important ways. I call this traditional reading the Augustinian approach to Paul, and I wish more of the critics of the New Perspective would give this Augustinian basis, which most of them think is actually Pauline, more attention. The New Perspective says, "well, yes, perhaps" but that is not what Paul was going on about when he was engaged with his opponents. The issue was not anthropological but both salvation-historical (more Sanders) and ecclesial (both Dunn and Wright). That's how I see things.

The issue then is how to read Paul in his historical context. This is the Protestant approach and many of us think that far too many of the critics of the New Perspective, instead of re-examining the Bible in its historical context, have appealed instead to the Tradition as established by Luther and Calvin. This leads me to another point...

1976, Krister Stendahl, Paul Among Jews and Gentile.
1979, E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion.
1982, James Dun, Jesus, Paul and the Law.
.....................Paul Among Jews and Gentile.
Tom Wright, Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision.
John Piper, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright.