Tag Archives: sin

Christian asceticism (spiritual disciplines, self-denial): What’s up with that?


So . . . many . . . temptations . . .

So . . . many . . . temptations . . .

In this second post from the monasticism chapter of my forthcoming Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis, we come to the “inner logic” of asceticism. What is it about our experience as human beings that requires us to engage in “askesis,” which means “training,” in order to live well with and for God?

In the last post I reminded us of what we already know–that the desires and goods of our embodied lives are also so darn distracting. They so easily lure us in with the siren song that, after all, our real fulfillment lies in them and not in God.

Now I want to add that this fact about us explains the behavioral strictures that modern American holiness and fundamentalist believers have insisted upon: no dancing, drinking, movies, and so forth. These have been misunderstood by critics as “legalism,” a term with Lutheran roots that means the attempt to earn God’s favor through rule-following (the sort of thing that Jesus scorned in the Pharisees). Rather, they have a singular purpose: Continue reading

A game of souls


Readers of this blog who know me personally know that I am a big fan of “euro” style boardgames. You may have heard of Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Dominion . . . there are thousands more like these, and the euro boardgaming hobby has a web-based leviathan: a highly active and detailed database and social website: www.boardgamegeek.com.

Today I encountered, through boardgamegeek, a game called “Battle for Souls.” The designers describe it like this: “Battle For Souls is an epic medieval card and dice game for 1 to 4 people ages 13 and up. The game allows players to choose the side of heaven or hell in a fight over the immortal souls of humankind.” You can read all about it and see a couple of short videos including an overview and a game-play example using prototype components at its Kickstarter page here (more concise and accessible) or its boardgamegeek page here (more detailed and with comments from different folks who have encountered it–note also that by the nature of these things, the ranking indicated on this page is almost meaningless, as it is based on very few votes and on incomplete components/rules).

This still-in-development game scratches several itches for me: Continue reading

A little guide to Augustine’s thought on sin, freedom, and grace


TolleLege

"Tolle Lege" - Augustine's famous garden conversion, in a later, fanciful rendering

Following up on a previous post, this is something I cooked up while working as a “preceptor” at Duke–that is, leading seminars for students taking a course (in this case Dr. David Steinmetz’s CH13: Church History to the Reformation), in which we interacted in more depth with the primary documents.

This one’s on that Great Brain of the early church, Augustine of Hippo. It includes a few “notes to myself” about how to lead such a seminar, since as a doctoral student I was still wet behind the ears on this important matter of pedagogy. I wish I could remember which sourcebook we were using for the Augustine quotations. I could go try to figure it out from old syllabi, if anyone’s interested:

A pronunciation suggestion

One of the first and most basic problems we have to deal with when we talk about this great North African theologian is this:  [write on board]  Is it AUG-us-teen or au-GUS-tin?  It makes no difference to me which we say, but somewhere along the way, I was told that if you want to make it at a party with a bunch of church historians, you need to use au-GUS-tin for this man from Hippo, and reserve AUG-us-teen for the archbishop installed in England by the Pope around the year 600, who tried to bring the Celtic [or is that SSSeltic?] church into line.

In any case, it doesn’t matter to me how we pronounce it today.  Saying AUG-us-teen won’t lower your grade…much.

Getting into Augustine’s thought:

1.  Write on the board:  “posse non peccare,” “non posse non peccare,” “non posse peccare.”

2.  Start with the background from Latourette, to put Augustine in context with (1) the E/W distinctions S. has made, (2) some other “fathers,” (3) Augustine’s own personal history.

3.  Deal with quoted sections from Augustine, below, one by one, allowing conversation to develop as it will.  If this serves to jumpstart the process of “dealing with Augustine on freedom,” well and good.  I needn’t return to the quotations.  If things slow down, however, I can reopen with, “what about this statement: [quotation].  What is Augustine saying here and what do we think about it?”

4.  Throughout the process, resist going too far off into either what we think about Augustine (though that’s inevitable) or, especially, whether Wesley (Calvin, Luther, Joe Blow) would have agreed with Augustine.  It is OK to do this now and again, but as in a Bible study, let’s return to the text.  We need to discipline ourselves to do that because it is often so much easier to talk about our own opinions or those of our church traditions, than to confront and work through the thought of the person we are studying.

5.  For the second half (or third, or quarter, or last five minutes) of the class, survey Augustine’s thought on (1) the status, (2) person, (3) and work of Christ, as well as (4) the Holy Spirit, (5) the Trinity, (6) the Church, (7) the Sacraments, and (8) the Last Things. Continue reading

Roger Olson follows C S Lewis in proposing a “Protestant purgatory” . . . heated discussion ensues


H/t to scientia et sapientia for alerting me to Baylor prof Roger Olson’s suggestion that perhaps Protestants today should take C S Lewis’s cue and consider the possibility of a purgatory-like intermediate state between death and heaven. You’ll see a variety of responses, some quite heated, at Roger’s blog. Also, scientia links a thoughtful critical response from Dallas Seminary grad and theological educator Michael Patton.

Roger’s proposal emerges from his understanding that there are “saints” in the history of Christianity–he singles out Augustine and Calvin, among others–who did terrible, hate-filled things. Do those people (or anyone else with such extreme “baggage”) get to leap straight from their deathbeds to the presence of the Holy God? Here are a few brief excerpts from Roger’s reflection: Continue reading

What did medieval people think caused illnesses?


Cover of

This is a second post grabbing some insights from a fascinating book by Darrel W. Amundsen—Medicine, Society, and Faith in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996). The first post shared some of Amundsen’s observations on early Christian attitudes toward medicine and physicians.

In the excerpts in this post, Amundsen explores what medieval Christians thought caused illnesses, starting with some remarks on causality in mental illness or insanity. Along the way, he busts some myths. For example, many modern commentators believe–based on some misleading evidence in the sources themselves–that medievals assumed all illnesses came from devilish or demonic sources, or, a variant, from some hidden sin in the sick person. Not so, says Amundsen. Continue reading

The seven deadly sins: Evagrius


Here I am at the Calvin seminar on the seven deadly sins, at Calvin College. What are we talking about? Here’s a sample, on the deadly sins (better: “capital vices,” that is, dispositions from which a bunch of other nasty dispositions and sins flow) in the thought of Evagrius Pontus, whose list included eight of the suckers:

Calvin Seven Deadly Sins seminar Day 2

A survey of the seven deadly sins (capital vices) in Evagrius’s Praktikus, Gregory the Great’s Moralia, and John Cassian’s  Conferences, conference 5

Presenters: Rebecca Konyndyk Deyoung (Calvin College) and Robert Kruschwitz (Baylor University):

Evagrius (345 – 399; died as Origenist controversy breaking out) inherited and joined well-established desert tradition. Showed up in late 300s. Not an innovator re inventing the desert experience.

What he did do was try to gather, systematize, innovate a bit, but right down what was going on already. Compiler in a creative way.

Cassian (365 – 435?) joined him out in the desert for around 2 decades. When Evagrius died, he set out for Southern France, set up a monastic version of the desert tradition out in France. Continue reading

How God speaks to us through suffering, sin, and sorrow: Gregory the Great


Talking with a colleague today about Pope Gregory I (the Great; 540 – 604), we both concluded the same thing: Gregory was one deep spiritual theologian who still needs to be heard today. My colleague told me that Calvin held Gregory in high esteem and once called him “the last of the orthodox popes.” Here’s a bit of what I learned about Gregory while writing Patron Saints for Postmoderns:

(If you are intrigued by what follows, then the next place to go is Carol Straw’s Gregory the Great: Perfection in Imperfection.)

A Spirituality of the Everyday

Gregory . . . insisted that while pastors or laypeople are engaged in the active life, everything in their experience and in the world becomes potentially an instrument of God’s direct, special communication to them. Chance meetings. Storms. Landscapes. Crafted objects. A thousand other things. God is always speaking to us if we but have ears to hear and eyes to see. Unlike Augustine, who believed God both hid and revealed himself (thus keeping humans aware of how dependent they are on him), Gregory emphasized “God’s involvement with creation and the sacramental presence of spiritual truths in the things of this world.” In teaching this world-sacramentalism, Gregory launched another powerful force in the emergence of the new, sacred world of the medievals.

Of course, the possibility that God is speaking to us in our daily experiences in the world raises the question: How can we tell when it’s God talking? Continue reading

The theology of Jack Bauer and 24


Here, according to Huffington Post writer John Shore, is the theology (or more accurately, anthropology) of 24‘s Jack Bauer.

I’ll admit, I read this with only very partial knowledge of the series. Lo, these many years ago, during the show’s first season, I became addicted within a couple of episodes. Then I realized it keyed me up way too much and took me way too often to my “dark place,” and I quit watching.

But I think Shore may be on to something in this piece. What do you guys think?

The book that started the Pietist renewal: Johann Arndt’s True Christianity


Johann Arndt, True Christianity (Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press)

What follows is a summary and commentary I created while reading this famous pre-Pietist book during the course “The Pietist Renewal” with Dr. Richard Lovelace at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 1994-5. Arndt’s book was a touchstone for the whole Pietist movement. Spener, Francke, and other Pietist leaders were raised on it. It expressed key concerns for holiness and the Christian life that characterized the whole Pietist movement–in reaction to trends within state-church Lutheranism toward “cheap grace” teaching and a hyper-focus on doctrinal dispute. For other posts on Pietism and the Pietists, you can use the “search” box on this blog. I have posted similar summary/commentaries on works by Philip Jakob Spener and August Hermann Francke:

This is a reactive work.  It is reacting to a brand of Christianity that majors on doctrine and dispute and minors on Christian practice (prayer, morality, the “works of repentance”).

The first twenty chapters of Book I—Liber Scripturae, although quite broad, tend to stick with the theme of original sin and its effects on man, and thus the need for ongoing, strenuous vigilance for, repentance from, and mortification of the “Adamic nature”—which prevents us from receiving God’s grace and enjoying his fellowship.  These chapters tend to state their main theses negatively, and so seem at times dour and forbidding. Continue reading

Malcolm Muggeridge & Augustine of Hippo: one “wrestling prophet” appreciates another


That wonderful 20th-century curmudgeon-convert, the British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, first came to faith after meeting the larger-than-life Mother Teresa. It didn’t take long before Mugg began writing about many other saints, past and present. In this e-newsletter written while I was at  Christianity Today, I excavate some of his observations on that towering figure of Western theology, Augustine of Hippo (I’ll also post on Mugg on Kierkegaard, in a moment). Don’t bother clicking the links, though. They’re almost all out of date:

“St. Mugg” and the Wrestling Prophets
A modern British journalist gives us timely words from yesterday’s sinner-saints.
Chris Armstrong

Lurking in the shadows of the headlines we examine in our “Behind the News” newsletter is a common and spiritually deadly virus—something we might call “photonegative syndrome.” It is best described in the words of author and professor David Wells:

“Worldliness is what any particular culture does to make sin look normal and righteousness look strange.” Continue reading