Saturday, October 14, 2006

Spritual 4-mation

I had an interesting conversation with a couple of friends about spiritual formation. One of them is interested in attending Biola University's Spiritual Formation Program. But I guess he wasn't spiritual enough. I'm just kidding!

As the conversation progressed I let it be known in my apparently spiritually unformed way that I'm a bit apprehensive about the whole thing. On the surface it doesn't seem like a bad thing for a person to be 'more spiritual,' and seek a closer experience with God. And therein lay the problem.

Can we really get closer to God by some method that we have prescribed? Or is it God who presribes how we can get closer to him? Please before you say I'm setting up a straw-man argument only to knock it down, wait and read. (BTW, isn't that part of spiritual formation to be silent and patient, hmmm.)

First, admittedly this is my limited understanding of spiritual formation. The purpose of spiritual formation is to deepen ones relationship with God through various techniques and experiences such as meditation, prayer, fasting, Christian psychotherapy, and lection divina (divine reading). None of those techniques are bad in and of themselves. The problem is these various methods try to reach up to God. We do these various methods to feel more holy, therefore, we think we're more holy. But that is not necessarily the case. The danger lies in the fact that you could possibly do something, say meditation, that gives you a good feeling. A feeling so good that you start to question "why do I need to go to church?" Or "why do I need to listen to such a boring sermon? I get more out of my personal meditation than that other stuff." But it's the 'other stuff' that God has prescribed for us. It's the other stuff that really works. All we're asked to do is trust God.

The problem is we are never satisfied with what God has done for us. Think about it. Adam and Eve weren't satisfied with the Garden; the children of Israel weren't satisfied with the tabernacle. Christians aren't satified with the (completed) works of Christ. We want more. More Christ. More God. More feelings. More experience.

The thing is, God has given us the means of grace. His Word and sacraments. But they are to ordinary for us. We want the magical, the mystical, the experiential, yet forgetting that it is through ordinary things that God shows his grace. Ordinary wine, bread, and preaching; definitely not the wow-factor.

I just had the Lord's supper this past Sunday and you know what? I didn't feel any different after the sacrament then before the sacrament. But that's okay, why? Because I know by God's Word and through faith that his sacrament is effective apart from how I feel.

This doesn't mean feelings are bad or I shouldn't feel anything. I'm just saying that feelings aren't necessary to the operation of God's means of grace. So when I hear about spiritual formation, I'm skeptical. I'm skeptical because it seems like it dilutes what God has prescribed, we need to do these extra steps in order to get closer to God. But you know what? We can't get closer to God. It's God who gets closer to us.

To God be the Glory alone

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Decline of the (Evangelical) Christian! - Oh My!

Check out this article at It's about the loss of evangelical teens in the Christian faith.

There are a few things that bothered me about this article. First, the doom and gloom view of evangelical Christianity, second, the attitude of "if we can't beat'em, join 'em!' and thirdly, the mentality of "the bigger, the better!"

First, we have to realize that American evangelical Christianity is not the end-all of the Christian faith. God will always have a witness, so just because there is a decline in American evangelical teens doesn't mean that Christianity is doomed.

Second, it seems like the evangelicals are taking the cultural milieu and placing a "Jesus-face" on it. When Mr. Luce ask the teens in the arena to write the negative cultural influences on a scrape of paper and then throw it away, that is nothing but therapeutic mumbo jumbo. All he's doing is a new form of alter call minus the Gospel. The kids feel better, but do they understand the Gospel any better? Are they walking away from these events with a true sense of their depravity and necessity for Christ? I some how doubt it. But, hey it probably raises their self-esteem as Christian teens.

Third, why do the evangelicals have to have these huge events? Do we really think that these big arena events are the answer to a decline in teen Christianity? In the article, it's noted that Mr. Luce has more than 2 million teens attend his event over the past 15 years. Yet, there is still a decline in the number of evangelical teenagers? So is his show really an effective means of retention?

I consider myself an evangelical (Reformed), but sad to say it, most evangelicals, in general, are so muddled in their worldview and theology that maybe this is the result -- evangelical teen burnout! The sins of the parents visited on the children. We have lived such paltry, shallow Christian lives, why would a teen want to stay in the religion of his parents? In the end there is no difference between us and the world. But instead of this being a wake up call all we're going to do is take more polls and find the most pragmatic way to raise the numbers!. And you know what? In the end its really not about the numbers, but we don't get it.

Depart from Evil, and do Good.

I’m still reading Calvin’s Commentary on Psalm 37, one of my favorite Psalms. One thing that shines in Calvin’s commentary is his understanding of the human condition. For example, verse 27, simply states “Depart from evil, and do good,” which on the surface seems like an easy statement; don’t do evil, but do good. Okay, that doesn’t sound hard, but wait…

…And here is the genius of Calvin because he immediately goes to the heart of the problem, because our nature is corrupted by sin, a simple state such as v. 27 is at odds with our (sinful) nature. We can't do good continually, and the good we do is severally tainted. Furthermore, we continually reject God’s blessings, which in and of itself is an evil act. Yet, we want to be happy regardless of the consequences of our actions!

Calvin highlights the duplicity of our ‘good’ acts, you know how we can do good for one person, yet be evil to the next, and it not bother us in the least. Not only does it not bother us to treat someone with evil, but we justify it by saying, “Hey, they deserve it!” or “They wronged me first, so I’m treating them just like they treated me!” This last statement has my name written all over it. I personally went through a horrible, painful divorce. So for the longest time I would justify evil acts toward her by saying “She deserved that!” Yet the Bible doesn’t let me off the hook for the way I treat her because she wronged me. Nope, I am to do good and depart from evil regardless of the actions of others against me. Oouch! This is some tough stuff!

During my roughest times I literally read and re-read Romans 12, telling myself that God is in control and He will take care of her. Oh, but revenge would have been so sweet! But that was not my responsibility; it was God’s. So I had to do good and depart from evil, which meant being amicable towards her, even though I was angry, sad and hurt.

(The beauty of Christianity is this: even though I will constantly struggle with doing good and departing from evil, I know that before God I am justified through the righteousness of Christ. I don't have to worry about my eternal state because I'm trusting in Christ. I'm not 'working' to obtain salvation in any way! -- I just had to point that out.)

Calvin goes on to discuss a lot more than what I mentioned, but it struck me that such a simple statement could be so hard to follow without the grace of God.

To God be the Glory