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.



  1. Great post, Reverend. So true and so needed by so many American Christians.