Tag Archives: holiness

Why we need something like monasticism again today – part II: Moral flabbiness


monks (1)

Following on from part 1:

We need something like monasticism because we have a problem with ethics

One genius of monasticism is the way it actualizes virtue ethics—Aristotle’s description of ethics, which recognizes that without long practice so that something becomes a habitus, virtue cannot become effective in our lives. Medieval monks read Scripture all the time, and they focused on its moral sense. But a man who reads Scripture and goes away and does not do it is like a man who looks in a mirror and goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like—it’s not an effective use of the moral understanding of Christianity.

And so monastic discipline went beyond just reading and became a training ground for the virtues. And whether we adapt monastic ways of doing this or find some other modes, some sort of spiritual-ethical discipline is crucial, not optional. This is because our interactions with our desires and with the material world are so fraught and so difficult, because we fall to temptation in so many ways. To give just one modern example: Continue reading

Advertisements

Paralyzed by grace? What we can learn from monastic discipline


discipline-of-prayer-the

We wonder today why we are spiritually anemic. This post from the monasticism chapter of my forthcoming Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis moves on from the first of the “principles of mastery”–passion–to the third–discipline:

Holiness is not optional, and it requires effort

All this talk of passion may make us think that what is required it the single big, heroic action: casting ourselves into harm’s way for the sake of our loved one. But wise teachers of the spiritual life have reminded us of something we have sometimes forgotten: our lives as Christians are not all about single crisis experiences—single events that change our lives. The imagery of sawdust-trail conversions and emotional “altar calls” may sometimes lead us to think in that way, seeking a sudden, emotional experience as the solution to all our ills—but it just ain’t so.

John Wesley, to take just one example, reminded us that those powerful moments of repentance and coming to faith are just the “porch” or the “door” into the Christian life. The substance of the Christian life, which lasts as long as we live, is holiness. Wesley had a favorite phrase to explain holiness. Continue reading

How can John Wesley help us find social forms geared to human flourishing?


wesleyAs I mentioned in a previous post, back in April of this year (2013) I spoke twice at an event centered around a new book by Indiana Wesleyan University Provost David Wright, How God Makes the World A Better Place: A Wesleyan Primer on Faith, Work, and Economic TransformationI was invited to introduce a couple of the meetings at the conference with some remarks tied to David’s work and to Wesley’s thinking on work and economics.

This is what I said at a lunch event with a roomful of SPU professors:

“How God Makes the World a Better Place: Wesleyan Contributions to a Social Framework for Human Flourishing”

Introduction

First, I want us to understand the service that David has done to the church by opening the conversation on Wesley and economics in this little primer.

When I first knew that I’d be here today with you to think together about this topic, I contacted the smartest scholar of Wesley and things Wesleyan that I know: Randy Maddox, who is now at my alma mater, Duke University. “Randy,” I said, “A group is getting together in your old stomping grounds in April to talk about what Wesley can teach us about work and economics. Can you point me to some sources on that?”

Now I had full expectation that Randy would set me in a good direction. After all, this was the man who decades ago, in a chance conversation on an airplane, basically gave me an entire starting bibliography for my dissertation on the American Wesleyan holiness movement.

Instead, Randy said: “That’s great. So glad you’ll be talking about this. But this is a seriously understudied area. Almost nobody has written about this. There just aren’t that many sources I can point you toward.” Shocking! One of the world’s leading experts on Wesley not only couldn’t tell me much about this topic, but he couldn’t even point me to scholarly sources on it. That’s when I knew I had my work cut out for me. Continue reading

How John Wesley changed America–though his one trip here was a failure


The 300th anniversary of John Wesley’s birth took place a few years ago, in 2003. For the occasion, I reflected on this famous British religious leader’s enduring legacy “across the pond,” here in the U.S. Interestingly, Wesley’s one ministerial experience this side of the Atlantic went hardly better than Edwards’s. However, and despite the fact that he spent very little time here, Wesley is arguably one of the two or three most influential leaders in American history. (Much of that influence came through the conduit of his indefatigable American bishop, Francis Asbury–my next post will talk about Asbury.) As usual, I can’t vouch that all the links are still active, but a quick Google search will turn up most anything you’d like to know about the extraordinary Mr. Wesley:

How John Wesley Changed America
Why should Wesley’s 300th birthday be a red-letter day on this side of the ocean?
Chris Armstrong

The world is now marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of John Wesley with celebrations, conferences, publications, and many other commemorations. (For trivia buffs and sticklers: The actual day of Wesley’s birth was June 17 or June 28, 1703, depending on whether you follow the “old style” calendar in use before 1752 or the “new style” calendar used after that year.) But Americans may wonder, What difference did Wesley make to our country? After all, while he served as a parish minister in Savannah, he didn’t last two years in the post before incurring the colonists’ wrath and before returning to England. Continue reading

Preacher in the hands of an angry church: the fall of Jonathan Edwards


Minister. Thinker. Revivalist. America’s greatest theologian. “Homeboy” to today’s Young Reformed. Hero. Icon.

Failed pastor.

Why exactly was Jonathan Edwards, godfather of American evangelicalism, ejected from his own congregation–the church he had served faithfully for over twenty years? And what happened next? How did he respond? I explored these questions in an article for Leadership Journal:

[For a few reflections on what Edwards could still mean to the church today, see this post. For his claim to the title “father of evangelicalism,” see this one. On Edwards as the original “ancient-future” evangelical, see here.]

Preacher in the Hands of an Angry Church
by Chris Armstrong

As messy dismissals of ministers go, the 1750 ejection of Jonathan Edwards by his Northampton congregation was among the messiest. The fact that it involved the greatest theologian in American history—the central figure of the Great Awakening—is almost beside the point. The fact that it took place in a New England fast moving from theocratic “city on a hill” to democratic home of liberty is more relevant. Continue reading

Christ and (pop) culture: The Lord of the Rings, The Passion of the Christ, and the Highway of Holiness


Pop culture isn’t always Babylon. Five years ago the conjunction of a number of blockbusters offered a unique opportunity for reflection in the Christian History weekly online newsletter:

The Lord of the Rings, The Passion of the Christ, and the Highway of Holiness
Has God been “re-routing” us through popular movies, books, and cultural events?
Chris Armstrong

I don’t remember a time when the realm of popular culture has seemed more alive with divine purpose.

During the past year or two, how often have we been publicly reminded—through movies, books, and events—of vital truths about who we are and who God is? Through Peter Jackson’s third Lord of the Rings movie, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, and other prominent cultural events, we have been pushed off of the path of complacency and back towards the “highway” depicted by Isaiah: Continue reading

Holiness in different guises: Charles Wesley and Charles M. Sheldon


Here’s another “People Worth Knowing” column from the pages of Christian History & Biography. Again we have brief, linked profiles of two people with a thematic connection. This time: holiness.

Holiness of heart, life, and pen
Charles Wesley and Charles H. Sheldon
Chris Armstrong

Charles Wesley (1707-88). Charles M. Sheldon (1857-1946). Separated by 150 years and a continent, these two men shared traits deeper than a common first name. Both believed Christians must respond to their Savior’s amazing love by loving others in practical ways. And both, desiring that others be captivated by a higher vision of life in Christ, expressed that vision in words that galvanized millions. Continue reading