Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Reply to a Friend, Part II

My dear Friend,

My move from my previous position, which I held for nearly forty years, in a very profound way came of my coming to see a conflict and controversy between

things, real things on the one hand,

and, ideas or thought constructs on the other.

I will try in this post to explain what I mean by this.

As Protestant Christians you and I believe that sinners are saved by grace.  Sinners and sin are not ideas, they are real things.  And grace is not an idea (nasty thought!).  Grace is God himself acting in undeserved and unmerited favor to deliver and heal sinful men and women.  We are not saved by an idea of grace, even a correct theological idea of grace, we are saved by the Triune God of grace.

My previous world-view was made up chiefly of ideas.  My previous life was spent in trying to find and maintain the right set of correct ideas about God, human critters, and the world.  It was an endless and exhausting task.  It was also a delimiting one.  Once I came to the right idea about sin or grace, the second coming, the nature of the Bible, etc., I was ready to plant my flag and scan the horizon for those potential foes flying a different one.  This is one of the essential marks of the fundamentalist, whether he reads Greek and Hebrew, or cannot read at all.  But, it is finally about ideas, not stuff, not the stuff of God's creation.  This is why the fundamentalist has such a hard time loving anybody but those who share his ideas.  The fundamentalist loves the Big Idea, he does not love the world that is there.

This view is really just another form of the old Gnostic heresy.  Ideas matter, stuff does not.  (In fact, I can trace my earliest unease with my views to a book, Against the Protestant Gnostics, by Philip J. Lee.   Highly recommended and still in print.)

The catholic and Anglican view is that this view of the world and of God's work in the world is completely, utterly wrong-headed.  The Biblical view is concerned to stress certain realities against certain other ideas.

Things  vs.  Ideas

The Whole Person  vs.  The Mind

Scriptural Declarations  vs.  Propositions or Constructs

The Embodied  vs.  The Disembodied

Sacramental Reality  vs.  Spiritual Ideals

Life in the Body and in the World  vs.  Life in the Mind or Spirit

The Community of the Church  vs.  Individualism

The catholic and Anglican emphasis on the left hand side of these things is the one that seems to me to best represent the reality presented in the Bible.  This means that grace and faith are not mere ideas, but realities that are lived out the way the rest of our lives are.

Illustration:  I married Kathy forty years ago this coming December.  That marriage was formalized in solemn vows before God and witnesses and bonded in our sexual union of oneness on our wedding night.  Since then, a whole series and complex of liturgies have blessed and deepened our devotion to one another over these many and happy years:  Touches, kisses, words of endearment and commitment,  shared sorrows and joys, three living children and one lost little girl-child in her sixth month of life, cards, gifts, shared homes and travel, memories kept in photos and journals, and on and on...  In addition, there have been hurts, wounds, harsh words and cold shoulders, misunderstandings and grievances, and much,  much forgiveness, forgiveness marked by real words and actions.    Who can doubt the importance of these small sacramental gestures in bringing health and joy to this marriage?  Thus, our marriage, like all good ones has been supported by a liturgy of daily acts of love and considerateness.  Marriages, real and good ones, are not just based on ideas or even shared points-of-view at every point, but on faith and faithfulness,  love and mercy, grace and patience lived out in real words and acts in a life that is messy, fallen, and earthy.

In the same way, the life of God is lived out in the same way.  Not simply in the mind or "heart," but in a host of acts and actions.  We bow our heads, we bend our knees, we lift our hands, we receive water upon our heads (or in the immersion of the whole body), we receive bread and wine, chewing and swallowing it, we receive the oil of blessing, healing, and unction, we sing, we speak, we read, we hear- in a word, we use all our senses in acts of worship and service.  Toward the people of God, we listen, speak, weep, pray, touch, hold, hug, kiss, laugh, etc.  This is an embodied spirituality,  spiritual, not because it takes place in the mind alone, but because it is incarnated in acts of love and service.

Does this mean that the mind does not matter?  That truth does not matter?  Of course not!  But, it does mean this:  A life that divorces the mind in ideas from worship and service in earthy, imperfect, but beautiful acts cannot claim to be the religion of the Bible.  It is this last point that I will try to develop in my next post.

I hope this is helpful and I wish you every blessing, my dear friend, in Jesus.


A Reply to a Friend, Part I

"So how did you come from being a Baptist to being an Episcopal (Anglican) sacramentarian?"

This is the question asked me today by an old friend.  Many of my old friends have wondered the same thing, though most of them have not asked.  I gave it some thought and concluded that this would be a good place to start an explanation of the journey.  I will not start with exegesis, though there is an exegetical infrastructure under the whole thing.  But, we fool ourselves if we think that exegesis stands alone in our theological constructs.  We are complex and our constructs are complex.

The fact is this:  I have spent all my life trying to understand how the world works and how human persons work within it.  I have spent nearly fifty years trying to understand the world and human persons as God's critters, His creation.  More and more in the past twenty years, I came to believe that the world works and that God's world works in much the same way.

I believe in the creation, in the stuff of creation, in "what is there."  "God loves 'stuff;' he invented it."  C.S. Lewis.  The stuff is there.  It is reality.  What we think of it and how we construe it is not the same- though our thought processes are a part of the reality.  God's original idea, his Big Idea, was to create the world as a home-place for a race of human critters made in his image (sonship language).  When sin violated this original idea, God's purpose in redemption (purposed from all eternity) kicked in.  It was still his idea and purpose to have, to possess a human family of men and women being the divine image.

This redemptive purpose would not be executed outside the creation, but within it.  Thus, the Biblical story from Genesis onwards.  It is earthy, real, and messy-rooted in time and space- in history.  The Climax of this is seen in the Incarnation of the Son (Image) of God, Jesus Christ.  He is conceived, born, circumcised, trained, tested, perfected, as a real Man in the real world.  As the True Man he works out the salvation of men in this world, all of which culminates in his rejection and death.  But, as a real Man he is raised from the dead, not as a disembodied spirit, but as an embodied human being.

When he sends his Spirit on Pentecost it is in order that he may be embodied in human beings who now exist as his temple, his dwelling place- the Church.  Now, if you want to see something earthy, real, and messy, just look at the church.  The church, in all its weakness and sin, far from being the argument against the Christian Faith that it is thought to be, is really the proof of the pudding:  God's intention is this-worldly, not other-worldly.  Like I said (or was it Lewis?) he loves stuff.  And he loves the church and those messy sinners who constitute her reality in the here and now.

So, I began to see that God's purpose is rooted in his love for his critters.  His purpose is to save his critters, human persons and physical creation itself by bringing both into perfect and loving congruity with himself.

From this perspective, the whole creation and the whole person- real "stuffness," is the object of this purpose.  Not disembodied souls, or minds, but the whole complex of mind, affections and will in a physical reality that is God's good making.

From this place it is not a huge jump to come to believe that the spiritual life is about the same stuff. And, the spiritual life outlined in the Bible is concerned with things like speech, blood, fire, oil, wine, bread, and water.  In the New Testament this concern is linked with sacraments (outward signs of promised inward spiritual graces).  There can be sacraments without grace and faith, but normally, there cannot be grace without sacraments.  These sacraments are represented in water, bread and wine.  By partaking of these in faith, we enter into fellowship with the Father as sons, through the death and resurrection of the Son, and in the power of the Spirit of adoption (as sons and daughters).  Thus, when the NT speaks of partaking of these things it is never as just symbols, but in the reality.  Baptism saves, cleanses, unites us with Christ, washes us in regenerative grace, etc.  The Lord's Supper feeds us on the real body and blood of Christ and enables us to participate in the life of the Covenant God whose supper it is.  There are mysteries here and, as an Anglican, I do not try to explain them or to explain them away (Like the Roman Catholic and Lutheran or the one hand or the Baptist on the other).  I come to them in the faith of the Gospel of Christ and in the promise of God to give grace in them.  God gives grace in his word, his water, his bread, and his wine.  He has promised to do so and fulfills that promise to all who receive his promise in faith.  Thus, God chooses to work in the world in the same way he has always worked, in and through the stuff of creation.

Well, that's enough for now, but by now you, my inquiring friend, can see the trajectory of my thought and of my journey.  Grace and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.  Tbone+