Love this reflection on the relationship between right action and right belief by Franciscan Richard Rohr. It is available here.
Orthodoxy over Orthopraxy
A Christian, or any holy person, is someone who is animated by the Holy Spirit, a person in whom the Spirit of Christ can work. That doesn’t have to mean that you consciously know what you are doing, or that you even have to know, or that you even belong to the right Jesus group. As Paul said to the Athenians, “The God whom I proclaim is in fact the one you already worship without knowing it” (Acts 17:23).
In Matthew 25, the dead say, “When have we seen you hungry? When have we seen you thirsty?” And the Christ says in return, “Because you did it for these little ones, you did it for me.” In each case, they did not know, at least consciously; that they were doing it for God or Jesus or even love. They just did it, and presumably from a pure heart, without any obvious religious affiliation or other motive.
It never depends upon whether we say the right words, or practice the right ritual, but whether we live the right reality. It is rather clear to me now that the Spirit gets most of her work done by stealth and disguise, not even caring who gets the credit, and not just by those who say, “Lord, Lord!” (Matthew 7:21). Jesus seems to be making this exact point in his story of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32). The one who actually acts, even if he says the wrong words, “does the Father’s will,” and not the one who just says the right words.
Adapted from Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go, p. 193, Day 206
Before you Reformed types dismiss the thrust of this reflection as universalist, check out this article on Jonathan Edwards’s willingness to think of the Stockbridge Indians as “noble pagans,” where Edwards scholar Gerald McDermott insists that “Edwards praised these Indians not for the truth of their ideas but the quality of their lives, just as Luke had commended Cornelius for the quality of his practice.”
And once and for all, NO, Francis of Assisi never said “Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.” Or at least, there is no evidence that he did. See here.
Early in my training as a church historian, I learned the important fact that here in the West, pretty much everything has a Christian history. So I wasn’t surprised to find that New Years resolutions are rooted in old Christian practices too. Here’s what I discovered about the subject. Enjoy, and Happy New Years!
Augustine and his symbol of a heart, in a Victorian stained glass window
What is “the religion of the heart”? Where did it come from among Christians? And why have there been Christians of this sort ever since the earliest days of the church?
I had the pleasure this past weekend of talking about this topic with a group of senior saints who are committed to the history of the Swedish Baptist Pietists; this is the denomination of my seminary, Bethel, in St. Paul, Minnesota. If you’re interested in the role of emotion in spirituality or have wondered about this pre-evangelical movement of “Pietists” that began during the period of the Enlightenment, then you may enjoy these remarks. Here’s part I:
Some remarks on Pietism and Heart Religion, in a historical key
The modern critique of heart religion
The first thing to say, perhaps, about heart religion, is that just as it got a bad rap in the 1600s, when Pietism was born, it still does today. Now, decades after the heyday of the charismatic movement brought heart religion to Main Street, the vaguely disreputable aura of an emotionally expressive religion lingers. Emotional commitment to, and expression of, one’s religion still seems, even to many evangelicals, somewhat uneducated and ‘un-necessary.’ Continue reading
For the complete story of the mill and brewery operator, mother of 14, and “lay mystic” Margery Kempe (1373 – 1438), see my Patron Saints for Postmoderns or the fascinating website “Mapping Margery Kempe.” Why should we care about Margery? Lots of reasons, but here are a couple that particularly struck me, excerpted from the chapter on Margery in Patron Saints:
God in Flesh and Bone
At the start of the chapter I made a connection between Margery and
Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. What was it about Gibson’s
movie that has galvanized so many modern (or if you like, postmodern)
Western Protestants? After all, of representations of Christ’s life there
has been no end. Why did this one, in particular, speak so deeply to so
many? I think there are two answers to this question, and that both of
them can help us understand and benefit from the life of this odd English
mystic, Margery Kempe. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Patron Saints for Postmoderns
Tagged affective theology, Augustine of Hippo, charismatic movement, charismatics, eudaemonism, Incarnation, Jonathan Edwards, Margery Kempe, Medieval, Middle Ages, religious affections, the Passion, The Passion of the Christ
This is a continuation of this article. Part III may be found here.
Edwards and the Awakening
The Great Awakening began in November of 1734, when Jonathan Edwards, a Massachusetts pastor-theologian, became concerned by a spreading tendency among Connecticut River Valley Christians to rely on their own abilities in seeking salvation from God. In response, Edwards preached a two-sermon series on “Justification by Faith Alone.” And in what Edwards believed was “a surprising work of God,” the people in Northampton and the surrounding area were, he said, “seized with a deep concern about their eternal salvation” so that “scarcely a single person in the whole town was left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world.”
Edwards organized small groups to encourage those experiencing such concern, and soon hundreds were converted and renewed. The revival spilled over into 1735, touching some 25 Massachusetts and Connecticut communities before its intensity began to wane that spring.
Meanwhile, back in England, several students at Oxford University, including the brothers John and Charles Wesley and their friend George Whitefield, founded a group that the undergraduates derisively called the “Holy Club.” Continue reading
The following is adapted from the excellent Dictionary of American Christianity (Intervarsity Press). Part II of the article can be found here. Part III is here. The whole thing was given as a talk to a group of psychiatric residents (doctors-in-training) at a Twin Cities hospital. The talk’s final and, for me, most interesting part, on “Evangelicals and psychiatric services,” can be found here.
What is evangelicalism, in distinction from other Christian movements? It is not a single denomination, with its own organization. Rather, it is a movement in Christianity emphasizing the classical Protestant doctrines of:
• the church, and
• the authority of the Scriptures,
and characterized by
• stress on a personal experience of the grace of God, usually termed the new birth or conversion.
There are well over 50 million self-described evangelicals in the US and Canada today.
The movement has been shaped by: Continue reading
Here is the fourth of my Christianity Today history website series “Grateful to the Dead: The Diary of Christian History Professor” For the rest of the series, click through the link in the first paragraph, below, to the previous installment. You’ll find links to the first two articles in the series are embedded early in that article:
#4: “I laughed, I cried, I changed”
In the last installment, I promised to tell you about a tradition in Western philosophy and literature that highly valued our shared nature as emotional beings and affirmed that reading about other people’s experiences and emotions can be a powerful transformational tool.
My “Exhibit A” is the 1764 book An Authentic Narrative of some Interesting and Remarkable Particulars in the Life of John Newton. As I prepared a discussion for our Patron Saints class at Bethel on this spiritual autobiography of the author of “Amazing Grace,” recently reissued by Regent College Publishing, I realized something: Newton‘s book is a clear example of a popular 18th- and 19th-century literary genre: the sentimental narrative.
What was a “sentimental narrative?” Continue reading
Posted in Resources for Radical Living
Tagged Adam Smith, Amazing Grace, Charles Dickens, David Hume, emotion, evangelicalism, John Newton, Jonathan Edwards, moral philosophy, Samuel Richardson, sentimentalism, story
Sporadically we hear rumors of religious revival on the college campuses of one of America’s most notoriously secular regions: New England. The Boston Globe published one such report of Ivy League revival in 2003 (as of today, Jan 29, 2010, the link still works, and the article is still fascinating). Shocking? Not really. It’s just the latest in a long line of campus revivals in the land of the Unitarian Brahmins. The Globe article gave me the excuse (like I really needed it) to look into the story of those revivals.
An exciting New England development today: the campus of D. L. Moody’s Northfield College has now been purchased for the C S Lewis Foundation–the group that owns Lewis’s home, the Kilns, in England, and runs a study center there. Soon, Moody’s old stomping grounds will host of a new “great books” college (check out the videos at that link) named after Lewis.
Can Anything Good Come Out of New England?
Evangelical revival in the land of the liberal Brahmins may not be as historically odd as we suppose.
A recent article in the Boston Globe discerns a spiritual “New Day” in New England—a day in which evangelical Christianity has penetrated even the liberal fortress of Harvard and stands poised for a full-blown regional revival.
To some modern-day evangelicals this may seem a bizarre—if welcome—a piece of news. On a level with God’s bulletin to Jonah that Nineveh would at last be saved. New England, such skeptics would say, long ago slid into a spiritual funk that has got to have John Winthrop (of Puritan “City on a Hill” fame) rolling around in his grave.
Never mind the glory days of Jonathan Edwards and his Northampton, Massachusetts-based Great Awakening (see last week’s newsletter), the evangelical skeptic might say. In a time when Harvard Divinity School students eviscerate their Bibles and celebrate “Coming Out Day” to affirm their homosexual colleagues, this spiritual legacy is long buried. No, the Unitarians and other liberals have, the critic would say, definitively won the day in that erstwhile blessed region, and God has passed over the land of his chosen (Puritan) children, moving on to revive hearts where the prospects seem more promising. Continue reading
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Boston, D L Moody, Great Awakening, Harvard University, J. Elwin Wright, Jonathan Edwards, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, National Association of Evangelicals, New England, New England Fellowship, Northfield Massachusetts, Park Street Congregational Church, Puritans, Unitarians
Jonathan Edwards: Did You Know?
Interesting and unusual facts about Jonathan Edwards
Steven Gertz and Chris Armstrong
A man was born three months before Edwards and an ocean away who was to share the New England divine’s twin passions for the church and the life of the mind. That man was John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. The two never met, but they labored for their Lord on two continents, together helping to birth the movement called “evangelicalism.” Wesley read Edwards appreciatively and reprinted his Religious Affections, revising where the Puritan theologian’s Calvinism was most strongly expressed.
Edwards, a strong supporter of the Great Awakening, nevertheless took a cautious view of what went on in the revivals. On one hand, Edwards criticized the Awakening enthusiast James Davenport, who hotly insisted that many New England ministers were in fact unconverted and bound for hell, and who once burned a pile of classic Christian texts he considered insufficiently spiritual. On the other, Edwards debated the Boston rationalist clergyman Charles Chauncy, who argued true religion was a matter of the mind rather than the heart. “We should distinguish the good from the bad,” instructed Edwards, “and not judge of the whole by a part” (see p. 42).
Consumed as a beverage usually at breakfast, “cakes” of chocolate were in steady demand in the Edwards household. The family often had to rely on travelers to Boston to procure it. In one letter, Edward begs the courier to save some of the chocolate he paid for. “If you will bring what remains,” he wrote, “you will much oblige your humble servant.” Continue reading
Jonathan Edwards: Recommended Resources
An excellent way to get to know Edwards is through one of several modern biographies. Ola Winslow’s Jonathan Edwards: 1703-1758 (Macmillan, 1940; Collier paperback, 1961) overcomes what now seems a dated style with memorable scene-setting and penetrating insights. Iain H. Murray’s Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Banner of Truth, 1987) is perhaps the biography Edwards himself would most have liked. George M. Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, forthcoming in spring, 2003) is a compelling new account written with Marsden’s characteristic care and wisdom. Continue reading