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C.S. Lewis and Suffering, Part Three: Severe Mercy | Seminary Student Blogger

April 17, 2014

Josh Kluth

Now that we have looked at Lewis’ use of reason and experience as it relates to suffering, I want to demonstrate how Lewis conceived of hope amidst suffering. In the next and final post of this series, I will explore ways in which Lewis helps pastor-theologians as they confront the problem of suffering in their congregations.

Lewis believed that correct belief devoid of experience could, in fact, be false belief. The belief itself might be genuine, but “Only a real risk tests the reality of your belief.” In describing the distinction, Lewis said, “The reason for the difference is only too plain. You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.” Lewis believed that our relationship with God is not simply made up of facts and argument. Knowledge is, in fact, incomplete without experience. One of the many things Lewis does well is provide helpful imagery. His illustrations capture the tension created by suffering. The examples below show how Lewis conceived of suffering in light of reason and experience of what he called the “severe mercy” of God.

  • Suffering often challenges the foundation of our faith. Lewis wrote that the experience of suffering often makes our untested faith look like a “house of cards.”
  • Suffering is often used by God to destroy false ideas about him. He describes God as the “great iconoclast.” God shows us that our ideas about him are not in themselves divine and must be “shattered time after time.”  
  • He describes the loss of a loved one as being similar to the experience of an amputee. “At present I am learning to get about on crutches. Perhaps I shall presently be given a wooden leg. But I show never be a biped again.” In a culture like ours that labels faith a crutch, Lewis finds the crutch to be God’s demonstration of care toward the wounded; a crutch is a necessity, not a fantasy.
  • He illustrates the silence of God in suffering. “When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’”
  • Lewis describes some pain as being that which one undergoes at the hand of a good. “What you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more exorbitantly he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.”

Lewis remarked that that the answers are ultimately found in God. This truth simultaneously preserves mystery and creates hope. The mystery of God’s omniscience is better than the thought of God’s indifference. His gaze is mysteriously compassionate towards our suffering. Lewis says that there is a strange comfort in mystery. “Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feet. We shall see that there never was any problem.” Philosophical and theological discussions seek to demystify that which is mysterious. But experience reminds us that there is more than just detached argumentation. Ultimately, God is not indifferent. He cares enough to pursue us in pain. He cares enough to undergo the pain of the crucifixion. Pain is the severe mercy of God.

Josh and his wife, Tara, are from Washington State. Josh is pursuing an MAR and MATH while Tara works as a hairdresser in Manchester-by-the-Sea. Together, they are most captivated by the story in which God has placed them in this fascinatingly bizarre world that spins across this universe. In the midst of it all, they are stabilized by what Sally Lloyd-Jones describes as “God’s 'Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love' in Jesus" (Jesus Storybook Bible).

 

Tags: Author: Josh Kluth , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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New Old Lessons | Seminary Student Blogger

April 15, 2014

Amy Gannett

Finals week is quickly approaching, and with it there's much to say, think, feel, and yes, do.

Finals week is a peculiar beast for me, and I know I’m not alone. The nerdy side of me absolutely loves every single minute of it—seriously, long days in the library reading, reciting, reviewing. Sigh...heartthrob. But the free-spirit side of me is getting weary by the long days indoors while the trees are budding outside where sunshine replaces florescent lighting.

Though my mind and heart are strapped to the pendulum perpetually swinging between the two extremes, the Lord is reminding me of an old familiar truth I've long neglected.

He's here.

Elementary? Maybe. But it struck me afresh when...

I was reading a commentary for my exegesis paper and He stopped me and reminded me that the Book was written about Him, and me and Him.

I was sitting in the sunshine trying to read (and failing epically, I might add) and a spider on my quilt fascinated me—the way it moved with agility and grace and the meticulous way He must have designed it.

I was talking with a friend about Hebrew exegesis and we were reminded that soon it will all be over, and His Spirit pulled me aside and said, "Yes, one Day, it will all be over...all of it. And it will just be the beginning."

I was translating Psalm 51 and was actually starting to get a smooth translation and was filled with awe that we serve a God who articulates Himself to us so well and so intentionally.

I was talking to Him on a quiet morning and asking Him to remind me of His presence and instantly a flood of these memories came to mind...

He's here. And He wants us to know it. There's something about the busyness of this season that has made me forget that He wants to intrude every moment, and that inviting Him turns an intrusion into an intimate moment shared with Him. I've asked for open eyes and I'm beginning to see Him...

In the way the tulips relentlessly push back the winter earth and insist on newness.

In the constant way my husband forgives the rough edges in my spirit and, in doing so, preaches the gospel to me.

In the way my friends consistently show me grace when I still haven't figured out how to love them well, and even when I've given up trying.

In all this and more, He's here. He's pushing towards us, prompting us, calling to us in every crevice of the day. He's catching us unexpectedly, reminding us of His love, taking our breath away by the wonder of His constant love. And all we have to do is notice. 

Hi, friend. I'm Amy. Mostly, I’m just another twenty-something trying to figure out the stuff of life. I am a nerdy seminary student who loves the smell of old books and early mornings in the library. I am an artist wanabee, a liberal to the conservative and conservative to the liberal, guilty social justice groupie, and a recovering Bible know-it-all with the unreal ability to put my foot in my mouth an astonishing number of times each day. I am a sister to eight of the most hysterical creatures ever created. Good theology, used book stores, and autumn make me giddy. I preach passionately, think deeply, and ask too many questions. I write prayers, poetry and prose. I write about preaching bad and good, gender roles in the Church, the sacraments, stupid things we do on Sunday, politics, and almost everything else that you are not supposed to discuss in polite company. I also blog at oneyellowbird.blogspot.com. Welcome to the journey.

 

Tags: Author: Amy Gilbaugh , current students , student blogger

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Hopes of a Disillusioned Hopeless Romantic | Seminary Student Blogger

April 10, 2014

Joelinda Coichy

My friends call me the queen of corn and cheese. Pop music, corny chick flicks with predictable endings…mmmhmm. The sweet essence of life captured in a cheesy country song…yes, please! “Higher” forms of art like the ballet, the theater and good design…uh-huh.

Someone once said: “I crave beauty.”

I nearly fell out of my seat. #thatsmylife. I mean, yes, me too!

But in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that this hopeless romantic has been disillusioned lately. And it’s not because I have not seen a good romantic comedy recently.

It’s because life has a way of smacking the romance right out of you. Two days after college graduation and one day after I had moved into the same state as my Mr. Right, our two-year, long distance relationship came to an end…smack. Fourteen short months later, he married another…double smack. I quit my job and moved from sunny Georgia to this frozen, New England tundra…cold, hard smack. The nice orthodox, evangelical seminary respite from my previous secular, liberal education, it turns out, is full of broken humans who hurt each other in spite of themselves…smack, smack. Illness, failed Hebrew classes, insecurity…smack, smack, smack. The fact that “Frozen” was not nearly as good as everyone said it would be…SMACK.

Life is too difficult, unpredictable and full of disappointment for beauty.

But, on the days when I let go of the death grip that I have on my life and my way, I realize something: the antidote to disillusionment is perspective.

I don’t know about you, but my life so quickly becomes myopic and claustrophobic. And when in the world did beauty or romance ever come from myopic claustrophobia?

That is why Sabbath is essential.

In Sabbath, we let go of the vice grip we have on our agendas, our desires, our way and dial back into the fact that we don’t know it all, control it all, need it all or can do it all.

In Sabbath, we reconnect with the heart of God—the true fount of all that is eternally good, everlastingly true and expansively beautiful.

In Sabbath, there is space for romance [I don’t mean the lovey-dovey kind; I mean the mysterious, soul stirring kind] in the difficult, in the unpredictable, in the disappointment because we behold Beauty itself.

In Sabbath, God himself shatters our myopia and conquers our claustrophobia.

…I am preaching to myself on this one. And hoping that God will bring me to a place where I actually believe that He is big enough, even with all the bumps and bruises of life, to top my boldest, wildest, corniest, cheesiest dreams. 

Joelinda is a second year M.Div. candidate. She currently serves as the Student Ministries Director at Grace Chapel’s Watertown campus. She is a lover of all things beautiful including theater, fall days in New England, chick flicks and the mountains. She counts bargain-hunting her sport and enjoys singing loudly while driving. Above all, Joelinda’s passion is to build relationships that help others understand the transformative power of the gospel.

 

Tags: Author: Joelinda Coichy , student blogger , student life

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Learning from Our Church Fathers: Part 15

April 08, 2014

Donald Fairbairn

This is Part 11 in a series about why evangelicals should care about the early church. If you are just now joining us, you can read Part 1 here; Part 2 here; Part 3 here; Part 4 here; Part 5 here; Part 6 here; Part 7 here; Part 8 here; Part 9 here; Part 10 here; Part 11 here; Part 12 here; Part 13 here; Part 14 here.

It is often claimed that “history is written by the victors,” that those who won the battles (whether military, political, or theological) got to dictate the way those battles were described subsequently. And it is certainly true that the story of the great theological battles over Christian orthodoxy in the early centuries of the Church have—for most of Christian history—been described from the point of view of the belief that came to predominate.

Accordingly, more recent scholars have argued that we need to look at the same controversies without prejudice toward the “losers,” and over the last 200 years a new history of the great theological controversies has been written from perspectives sympathetic to the poor “heretics” who had been maligned by earlier historians. These heretics, the new history alleges, were not actually “wrong.” They were just on the wrong side of the political power plays that dominated the early church. Their only crime was that they lost the war, and they were painted falsely by the victors as malevolent souls intent on destroying the church.

In some ways, the new history does give us a more complete view of the past. It tends to focus on political and social issues more than theological ones, and as such it reminds us that there is always more than theology going on in theological controversies. The new history also reminds us that the victors—the “orthodox”—sometimes twisted the words of the “heretics” or took them out of context to make the losers seem worse than they were. Even more important, the new history reminds us correctly that the heretics did not SET OUT to destroy the faith. No serious Christian tries to ruin the church on purpose.

At the same time, the new history is beset with serious problems of its own, problems that are rarely acknowledged. First and most important, this new history is ALSO being written by the victors. If the traditional history was written by the ANCIENT victors, this new one is being written by TODAY’S victors—the scholars who represent the assumptions and perspectives that are in the ascendancy today. Those assumptions are generally naturalistic (discounting the action of God in history and understanding all events solely in terms of human actions) and relativistic (discounting the notion that there is such a thing as “truth,” and therefore discounting the church’s long-standing insistence that it MATTERED whether, for example, Jesus was fully divine as Athanasius said, or semi-divine as Arius implied).

Put simply, the view that is “winning” today has no place for theological truth at all, and so it sees “Christian orthodoxy” as an arbitrary construct developed for political reasons and imposed on the church by force. This view is scarcely able even to conceive of a world in which people’s salvation actually depends on whether Christ is like this instead of like that. Scholars who hold to this new relativistic view see nothing earth shattering about the great debates of the church, so they assume that Christian leaders were just being mean when they suppressed the writings of those who disagreed with them.

Another serious problem with this new view of history is that it purports to be objective. Scholars consistently give the impression that by treating the “heretics” sympathetically, they are removing the biases of the ancient victors who dictated the first writing of history. But rarely do those scholars acknowledge that in the process of doing that, they are also introducing biases equally great. To assume that it matters not at all whether Jesus is fully God or semi-divine is CERTAINLY NOT to be objective. Rather, it is to make an extreme value judgment, exactly the opposite of the value judgment the early church made when it declared that it makes all the difference to people’s eternal salvation whether Jesus is fully God or less than God. Indeed, NO ONE in the early church—least of all Arius himself—would have agreed with the judgment that it makes no difference whether Jesus was like this or like that. The new history calls itself objective, yet at the most basic level it carries an assumption with which no one at the time—and indeed no real Christian at any time period—could agree. It is a sad kind of logic indeed that enables one to operate from a fundamentally ANTI-Christian perspective while still claiming to be unbiased and objective.

“History is written by the victors.” True enough, but history is also RE-written by TODAY’S victors. And those of us who think the great truths of theology actually matter—indeed that the salvation of the world hinges on them—need to be very careful about the way we read and utilize the version of history that today’s scholars present to us. 

Dr. Donald Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity. His responsibilities include further developing the Robert C. Cooley Center for the Study of Early Christianity at the Charlotte campus, which explores the historical foundations of the Christian faith.

 

 

 

 

Tags: Author: Donald Fairbairn , current students , faculty blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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Alleluia: A Sabbath Prayer | Seminary Student Blogger

April 06, 2014

Amy Gannett

We come readily enough to Your Sabbath rest.

We come with wearied hands, looking to Your ignition. We come with hungry souls, looking to Your body. We come with inclined lips, looking to Your Church to say

Alleluia.

In this season of wantonness, in our weeks of longing, we gather ourselves here and press our ears to the lips of the saints. And from their tongues we hear the whispered chorus

Alleluia!

When our hearts have forgotten, when our memories fail, we come to this meeting. Here, we are welcome. Here, we may stay and be reminded until the words sink in like ink to the skin, until the measure courses through our veins and raises off our own lips

Alleluia! Alleluia! 

Hi, friend. I'm Amy. Mostly, I’m just another twenty-something trying to figure out the stuff of life. I am a nerdy seminary student who loves the smell of old books and early mornings in the library. I am an artist wanabee, a liberal to the conservative and conservative to the liberal, guilty social justice groupie, and a recovering Bible know-it-all with the unreal ability to put my foot in my mouth an astonishing number of times each day. I am a sister to eight of the most hysterical creatures ever created. Good theology, used book stores, and autumn make me giddy. I preach passionately, think deeply, and ask too many questions. I write prayers, poetry and prose. I write about preaching bad and good, gender roles in the Church, the sacraments, stupid things we do on Sunday, politics, and almost everything else that you are not supposed to discuss in polite company. I also blog at oneyellowbird.blogspot.com. Welcome to the journey.

 

Tags: Author: Amy Gilbaugh , spiritually vital , student blogger

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Spring Morning | Seminary Student Blogger

April 03, 2014

Kate Hightower

Thy glory fills the morning
Awake with spring’s gentle glow
Thy handiwork stirs around me
The birds sounding their know

Thy hands art strong and skillful
What detail they define
How I forget my life among it
That fault is ever mine

Thou promised thine presence beside me
As thou went into the sky
How often I forget this
When everything goes awry

So this morning I reachest to thee
I surrender my day anew
I sound this know around me
Thine love stands ever-true

The world will knowest how thou rescued
Me from my own darkest pit
My life a breathing testament
To thou and thine priceless gift 

Kate Hightower is writing to you from the middle of her Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Christian Thought pursuit at Gordon-Conwell—Jacksonville, where she is also a Byington Scholar. She’s an avid Bob Dylan fan, and can always be counted upon for decadent French cooking. And she’s madly in love with her giant, brilliant golden retriever, Stella.

 

Tags: Author: Kate Hightower , current students , student blogger

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Fragile | Seminary Student Blogger

March 27, 2014

Melissa Zaldivar

In his short-but-mighty book, Weakness is the Way, J. I. Packer writes, “…if people who at present have no sense of weakness were more careful and restrained in the way they talk of others and to others, the world might be a less painful place.”

I underlined those words when I got a copy of that little book a number of months ago and I had no idea that my then-present state of “no sense of weakness” was about to come crashing down.

As I write this, I am in bed, recovering from an over-the-weekend bout with a virus that completely destroyed me. Up all night and struggling with fevers all day, I felt, in a word, weak. My friend Anne came to sit with me yesterday and as I struggled to be comfortable with an aching body, I winced and said into my pillow, “I just want to be done.”

I have been feeling that way a lot lately. I’m ready to be okay again. I’m ready to be healed. I’m ready to get back into normal life—whatever that means—as soon as possible.

You see, this weekend was a 48-hour manifestation of how my spirit has stumbled its way through the past six weeks. I’ll write now what I’ve been avoiding talking about for a month and a half because I’m learning that it’s necessary to be honest about weakness. 47 days ago, I had a panic attack. The kind where you lose your hope and your vision of the future and everything feels like too much. The kind where you wonder if perhaps you’ve gone mad, because nothing feels right.

It took me days to recover from the adrenaline surge that left my muscles weak and my heart exhausted. It launched me into twice-a-week counseling. But it also sent me into a place where all my worst fears would have to be faced.

I’m a controller by nature. I like to have a say in my day-to-day activities as much as possible. For a living, I edit things—words, photographs, films—because I love to have a creative vision and see it realized. And while it make my clients very happy and it gives me a sense of purpose, it also tricks me into thinking that I can edit my own life. Sure, we have the ability to make choices that are key in our development, but we truly control very little about our lives. I guess this is one of the things that we forget—and that makes us forget how great the grace of God is (and how strong the gospel really is.)

I’ll be honest: sometimes I sit in front of my counselor and I tell her, “I’m ready to be done. I’m ready to be fine. I’m ready to be finished with this process.” She smiles and nods. She knows that we’re headed somewhere better, even when I’m frustrated with my own weakness.

I told my friend Anna a few weeks ago that I understood why I was in pain. I said, “I know that I’m a sinner and I live in a sinful world and that’s why I have to figure out all of this. So that I can get better.”

She looked at me with an honest shaking of her head and said to me, “Melissa, you keep telling me about how you’re broken, but what you are forgetting is that Christ died to heal you. And you are not, first and foremost, a broken, lost sinner. You are redeemed. And it may be that you never overcome anxiety and you lose all hope, but that does not mean you are outside of the reach of the gospel. You cannot break the gospel.”

One thing that I’ve been thinking about lately is how much of my life I’ve ignored anxiety. I’ve ignored fears and insecurities and damage that I’ve encountered in the last 24 years to the point of, well, panic. I’ve fooled myself into thinking that I can control enough of my life to not actually have to deal with the true heart of my weakness: trust. The reason that I don’t trust God to come through is because I tend to think that I control the gospel. If I can be put together, the gospel will hold together. If I fall apart, the gospel must have broken.

This is a flawed way of thinking, but I think it’s something we fall into quite often. There is no glamour in weakness. There is no glory in saying, “I can’t.” And, as a dear friend said to me recently about her own struggles with anxiety and ministry, “It feels like failure.”

Perhaps that’s what I’m getting at. Perhaps that is what this hard, hard season of processing through my own fears and anxiety is about: failing. But knowing that by the grace of God, I am not first-and-foremost a failure. No—I am redeemed. I am not broken. I am not losing it. I am not a mess. I am in the “now” of the “now but not yet” and it’s terribly messy, but the gospel is not ruined by it.

People tell me to just stop being anxious. To just let go and be fine again. To steer clear of medication. To just not think about panic. But what has spoken to me the most has been the truth. It has been the friends that sit with me in my pain, not unlike Job’s friends. It has been the words of support and the sensitivity of others. J. I. Packer is right: we must be more careful.

For we are, in Christ, fragile, but we are not broken. 

Melissa Zaldivar is an MATH student from California. She loves golf, theology, Jewish holidays, people falling in love, Jonathan Edwards, chocolate chip cookies, her adorable niece and telling stories. When she's not filming and photographing weddings, you can find her reading news articles, watching Parks and Recreation or playing Super Smash Bros.
 

 

 

 

Tags: Author: Melissa Zaldivar , current students , equipping leaders for the church and society , student blogger

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Melissa, I don't even know you but just wanted you to know how encouraged I am because of this! I'm a photographer too, and was just talking with my best friend yesterday about control being an idol of mine. Thank you thank you THANK YOU for your honesty in weakness and for the reminder that Jesus is my only real savior...
Audra 8:30AM 03/28/14

C.S. Lewis and Suffering, Part Two: The Role of Reason | Seminary Student Blogger

March 25, 2014

Josh Kluth

C.S. Lewis had the ability to look at particular issues from different vantage points. In the previous entry in this series, we explored how C.S. Lewis’ personal experience helps explain why Christians continue to look to him in times of pain and suffering. However, we also see that Lewis had a knack for thinking rationally about sensitive issues, which became a particular point of concern for him. Lewis’ close friend, Charles Williams, warned him that writing intellectually about pain could be construed as nothing more than a reflection of Job’s worthless friends in the biblical story. In fact, when Lewis was asked to contribute a book on the Christian view of suffering, he requested that the book be published anonymously in order to avoid accusations of being cold. His request was denied and The Problem of Pain was published in 1940. However, Lewis’ use of reason emphasized three particular themes that are especially helpful in times of pain and suffering.

1. The problem of suffering does not challenge the existence of God, but affirms it.

Lewis maintained that belief in God is what actually allows people to talk about the problem of suffering in the first place. He believed that belief in God actually creates and frames the issue. He wrote, “Not many years ago when I was an atheist, if anyone had asked me, ‘Why do you not believe in God?’ my reply would have run something like this: ‘Look at the universe we live in. By far the greatest part of it consists of empty space, completely dark and unimaginably cold.’” However, he changed his position on this issue because his concern about the issue of suffering represented metaphysical concern, but his atheistic worldview reduced all questions to material. In other words, existential questions can be asked only if one’s worldview accommodates a metaphysical understanding. Lewis’ point is that in an atheistic worldview of suffering, pain should not be a problem. The problem of suffering is not solved by turning away from religion. Lewis maintained that for the problem of suffering to exist, God must exist. In fact, belief in God might be the most reasonable way to begin to understand the existence of evil.

2. The possibility of suffering is necessary to our purpose and design.

Lewis actually argued for the necessity of suffering, given the reality of God. The existence of suffering is not a mistake on God’s part at all. In a provocative statement, he writes, “Perhaps this is not the ‘best of all possible’ universes, but the only possible one.” Lewis reasons that to exclude the possibility of suffering would be to exclude life itself. At the very center of his model was a concern that we recognize our purpose to glorify God as creator. He writes, “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” To worship God freely means the possibility to dismiss him as well, and in so doing, introduce something counter to God—namely, evil. The reason for our self-directed love is sin. Lewis concludes that our sin introduces “a new kind of man—a new species, never made by God” that had “sinned itself into existence” with a gravitational pull towards self-centeredness. Lewis believed that “The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word 'love,' and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake.”

3. Christians are saved from suffering by suffering.

Finally, Lewis develops the idea of suffering as an instrument in the hands of God for the purpose of change and redemption. Although he did believe that the majority of human suffering was self-inflicted, he believed that suffering could also be remedial. Pain was often the direct result of God breaking through humanity’s self-imposed illusory condition. Pain was used in order to express God’s “intolerable compliment” as he corrects our idolatrous posture. Lewis underscores this point with number of helpful images—including one in which pain is God’s megaphone to arouse a deaf world. In another, pain is the implanting of the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul. He describes the rebel’s will as “inflamed and swollen with years of usurpation.” Indeed, Lewis is clear that God’s work is painful because it is correcting the comfortable illusion of rebels who think they are safe. Lewis writes, “I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made ‘perfect through suffering’ is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design.” In this, Lewis recognizes that the difficulty of suffering does not go away and the use of reason does not make it easy.

In The Problem of Pain, Lewis lends his reason to the reality of pain and suffering. Although he knew it was treacherous to do so, we see the benefit that he provides to the reality of suffering. In an age where many think of Christianity as an unreasonable position to the problem of evil, Lewis responds that it might be the only reasonable position. What’s more, because of Lewis, we begin to better understand our purpose and the means to which God willingly in order to shatter our self-sufficiency. Ultimately, we witness this at the cross of Christ. 

Josh and his wife, Tara, are from Washington State. Josh is pursuing an MAR and MATH while Tara works as a hairdresser in Manchester-by-the-Sea. Together, they are most captivated by the story in which God has placed them in this fascinatingly bizarre world that spins across this universe. In the midst of it all, they are stabilized by what Sally Lloyd-Jones describes as “God’s 'Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love' in Jesus" (Jesus Storybook Bible).

 

Tags: Author: Josh Kluth , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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Unconvincing Words of Aspiration: A Prayer | Seminary Student Blogger

March 20, 2014

Amy Gannett

God of our dreams,

God of our hopes,

God of our inner space,

It is toward You we turn our faces.

We lift our eyes to rest on Your face,

and, perhaps, to rest a while.

We are a people of many whispered desires and unspoken longings.

We believe, and yet we dare not anticipate.

We crave, and yet we dare not expect.

And these thoughts that come to us late,

You know, the ones that come in the dark,

in the quiet,

and remind us how fragile we are

and how unconvincing are our words of aspiration.

The words are "not possible,"

"impractical"

"unimaginable."

But we have. We have imagined.

And we come to You with watery eyes and timid faith

asking that You would imagine it possible, too.

Be the God of words made flesh

and promises kept;

the God of dreams in daylight

and hushed ambition spoken without a shaking voice.

Be Your daring Self toward us again today.

We pray in the name of Hope Himself,

Even Jesus.

Amen. 

Hi, friend. I'm Amy. Mostly, I’m just another twenty-something trying to figure out the stuff of life. I am a nerdy seminary student who loves the smell of old books and early mornings in the library. I am an artist wanabee, a liberal to the conservative and conservative to the liberal, guilty social justice groupie, and a recovering Bible know-it-all with the unreal ability to put my foot in my mouth an astonishing number of times each day. I am a sister to eight of the most hysterical creatures ever created. Good theology, used book stores, and autumn make me giddy. I preach passionately, think deeply, and ask too many questions. I write prayers, poetry and prose. I write about preaching bad and good, gender roles in the Church, the sacraments, stupid things we do on Sunday, politics, and almost everything else that you are not supposed to discuss in polite company. I also blog at oneyellowbird.blogspot.com. Welcome to the journey.

 

Tags: Author: Amy Gilbaugh , spiritually vital , student blogger

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The Backwardness of True Empowerment | Seminary Student Blogger

March 18, 2014

Joelinda Coichy

This blog was going to be about gender dynamics at Gordon-Conwell.

I wanted to write about how my excitement over finally being in a school with more men than woman turned to frustration. About how I recognized that the complementation circles with which I readily identified seemed to create a subtle culture in which people of the opposite sex were objects—either to be pursued for marriage or set aside for the sake of “guarding hearts.”

I wanted to note that despite having discussed the challenges of being a woman ad nauseam in college, I found myself having to re-enter that conversation in seminary. That the issues re-surfaced in ways that were new to me—like the debate about women in church leadership.

All of these things were discouraging to me, and I was going to blog against them…

And then I attended the screening of the film Girl Rising. The compelling message about educating girls in the third world moved me. I wanted to do something to help those girls. I always had—which is why I came to seminary.

But the reality was that there I was, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, with not only a college, but a graduate education AND a ministry job at a church, itching to jump into the ring to fight for yet more rights…for myself.

Grasping for things that would make me feel more empowered, I had forgotten my dream of advocating for those without a voice. And worse, I had become blind to the fact I had a sphere of influence (albeit smaller and more broken than I would prefer) to make a difference.

And I realized this grave irony: you can miss your call when you are too focused on fighting for yourself.

Now, I am not advocating that we forget the injustices that we face as individuals (often those are the very areas that we are called to address). And after all, we cannot speak about someone else’s worth if we have abdicated our own.

Yet, I cannot help but hear the faint echo of Jesus’ backward economics: whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it (Matt. 10:39).

And I realize that true empowerment is not fighting for more for me but losing myself and what I have been given, no matter how large or small, to serve the least of these.

So the reality is, though they sometimes drive me up a wall, this blog isn’t about the gender dynamics at Gordon-Conwell.

This blog is about the women around the globe who:
Are the silent victims of unimaginable injustice and crime.
Cannot read or write.
Have been given no worth outside of their roles as bearers of children.

…And are denied the rights that I take as a given.

And to use my voice and energy to serve them is really the most empowered thing I can do. 

Joelinda is a second year M.Div. candidate. She currently serves as the Student Ministries Director at Grace Chapel’s Watertown campus. She is a lover of all things beautiful including theater, fall days in New England, chick flicks and the mountains. She counts bargain-hunting her sport and enjoys singing loudly while driving. Above all, Joelinda’s passion is to build relationships that help others understand the transformative power of the gospel.

 

Tags: Author: Joelinda Coichy , current students , student blogger

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Learning from Our Church Fathers: Part 14

March 13, 2014

Donald Fairbairn

This is Part 11 in a series about why evangelicals should care about the early church. If you are just now joining us, you can read Part 1 here; Part 2 here; Part 3 here; Part 4 here; Part 5 here; Part 6 here; Part 7 here; Part 8 here; Part 9 here; Part 10 here; Part 11 here; Part 12 here; Part 13 here.

One of the words that tend to rub contemporary evangelicals the wrong way is “mysticism.” When we hear stories of people who went out to the Egyptian desert in order to fight demons (St. Anthony the Great in the early fourth century), spent decades perched atop pillars in Syria (St. Simeon the Stylite in the fifth century), or spent their lives gazing at their navels while reciting the Jesus prayer (the Hesychasts of Mt. Athos in Greece, in the late first and early second millennium A.D.), we tend to think that the mystics were the class-A kooks of Christian history. And some of the mystics certainly were kooks, although none of the examples just above were actually as odd as we make them out to be.

But according to the definition of the word, a “mystic” is one who is not satisfied with mere association with the church or with knowledge about God, but who instead longs for a deep, direct, intimate experience of God. By that definition, evangelicals are mystics too, or at least we should be, because we of all people should long for direct experience of God. And if some of the practices of the ancient and Medieval mystics in their efforts to grow closer to God seem weird to us, we have to admit that evangelicalism has also produced some strange practices as well, from tent meetings to Azusa Street to the Toronto Blessing. When we assess a phenomenon like mysticism on the basis of whether it is bizarre, we should recognize that bizarre is in the eye of the beholder, and what seems bizarre to us may seem normal to others.

A better way to assess mysticism—in all its expressions—might be to ask the fundamental question of whether mystical practice constitutes an attempt to establish contact with God, or whether it is an attempt to deepen a relationship with God that one has already been given. In my (admittedly subjective) opinion, the best of Christian mysticism follows the latter pattern.

One of the great names in Christian mysticism, and I think one of the best examples of mysticism at its best, is the fourth/fifth century monk John Cassian. He spent over a decade among the Egyptian desert fathers and then founded two monasteries in southern France around the year 410 A.D. Cassian wrote a long work (the Institutes) on monastic practices and a massive work (the Conferences) of alleged conversations between two neophyte monks and various Egyptian monastic fathers. Through these works, Cassian exerted a major influence on Benedict in the sixth century, who in turn shaped all of Medieval Western monasticism.

Cassian’s thought has been variously interpreted, but in my opinion, the foundation of that thought is that we are united to God as a gift through adoption and that our mystical practices constitute an effort to deepen that previously-established salvation. (See chapter 5 of my book Grace and Christology in the Early Church for my explanation of this foundation.) If I am right about this, Cassian presents us with a model for the Christian experience of God that is somewhat similar to that of evangelicalism—God acts first to establish the relationship, but he then calls us to foster that relationship through our spiritual disciplines. Cassian and other mystics like him may thus be valuable resources for us as we seek to know more fully the God who has brought us to himself. 

Dr. Donald Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity. His responsibilities include further developing the Robert C. Cooley Center for the Study of Early Christianity at the Charlotte campus, which explores the historical foundations of the Christian faith.

 

 

 

 

Tags: Author: Donald Fairbairn , current students , faculty blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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A Revelation | Seminary Student Blogger

March 11, 2014

Kate Hightower

I stood in the storm abounding
My eyes feeble in my head
I couldn’t see for miles
My lungs exhaled my dread.

But on a cloud I saw You
Light shattering the dark
My reach seemed weak and lonely
Weren’t the spark inside my heart.

Reaching for You helps me
Reminds me when You first chose me.
It ceases every question
Of the way You’d have me be.

And time and time again,
Those seven stars You relent
To free Your hand to find me
No time at all You spent.

So tonight I wait to see You
I watch the cloud that will bare You hence.
I reach my hands above me.
For Your love
So vast…

…Immense. 

Kate Hightower is writing to you from the middle of her Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Christian Thought pursuit at Gordon-Conwell—Jacksonville, where she is also a Byington Scholar. She’s an avid Bob Dylan fan, and can always be counted upon for decadent French cooking. And she’s madly in love with her giant, brilliant golden retriever, Stella.

 

Tags: Author: Kate Hightower , spiritually vital , student blogger

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