May 14, 2014
On Friday, May 9 and Saturday, May 10, the Hamilton and Boston campuses honored our graduates during Baccalaureate and Commencement ceremonies. The speakers were graduating student Stephen White, Associate Professor of Pastoral Leadership and Evangelism Dr. Jim Singleton, graduating student Valerie Ting Osterbrock, and (Gordon-Conwell Trustee and alum) Rev. Dr. Claude Alexander.
May 06, 2014
There are many aspect of Lewis’ understanding that we have observed in the past three posts (if you missed them, read the first here, the second here and the third here) in this series. Lewis wrote frequently about the issue of pain and suffering, recognizing that it is one of the biggest challenges to Christian faith. His helpful understanding of the role of experience and reason alongside his helpful imagery make Lewis one of the most quoted Christian thinkers on this subject. His dialectic of reason and experience provides a more comprehensive view of pain and suffering. I want to conclude this series with three particular ways Lewis offers help to pastor-theologians.
1. Pastoral care often requires signing up for the long haul.
Lewis helps remind pastor-theologians that being with people in grief is often a commitment for the long haul. Lewis says people who suffer may never truly “get over it” because suffering sometimes means nothing will ever the same again. Utilizing the amputee image, everything from bathing to dressing will always be different. This is particularly important as Lewis reminds us that “in grief nothing ‘stays put.’” One who is suffering may never truly get beyond the phases of suffering. He describes grief as a long winding valley that reveals new, difficult landscapes. Providing pastoral care means we are willing to be with people.
2. Pastoral care is often expressed in seeking to understand rather than seeking to be understood.
Lewis teaches pastor-theologians how to engage. Those who preach and teach often forget that communication is more than just talking. They use their mouth at the exclusion of their ears. They use their words at the exclusion of their tone. They want to be heard instead of to hear. Lewis teaches us what it is like to be the sufferer. He describes the feelings of grief as feeling mildly drunk or concussed. “There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says....It is so uninteresting.” This comes from a man who loved words. He wrote books on words and studied philology. He spoke and wrote for a living. And yet, he reminds us that words often fail to interest when one is in the trenches of suffering. Lewis writes, “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I show suspect that you don't understand.” Lewis concludes that theology alone fails to deal with reality because it is often written from a disinterested point of view.
3. Pastoral care points others to Christ as our primary understanding of suffering.
Christ came to a sinful world to become sin on its behalf (2 Cor. 5:21). Lewis reminds us that “Christianity is not the conclusion of the philosophical debate on the origins of the universe: it is a catastrophic historical event.” Christianity is not just a philosophical defense or even a theological argument; it is an incarnate Messiah who tells us about the heart of God. Nothing less than Christ will do. Lewis tells us, “I need Christ, not something that resembles him.” In point of fact, Lewis reminds us that God’s commitment is for our ultimate redemption and will leave all false ideas of the Messiah in ruins. “God becomes a Man and lives as a creature among His own creatures in Palestine, the indeed His life is one of supreme self-sacrifice and leads to Calvary.” We may not be able to resolve the question completely to our satisfaction of why God allows suffering, but because of Christ, we know that it’s not because he doesn’t care.
It is obvious why Lewis continues to have an impact on Christians during times of need and suffering. I hope you will find comfort in Lewis as a friend and pastor, speaker and listener.
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).
May 01, 2014
Dr. Fairbairn authors 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; Part 15 here.
It is often said—correctly—that the Battle of Tours in 732 changed the course of history. It took place exactly a century after Muhammad’s death, during the great wave of Arab expansion that re-drew the political and religious map of the world. Arab Muslim forces crossed the Strait of Gibraltar into Spain and then over the Pyrenees into France. Had they been able to continue their advance, they would likely have overrun all of Europe, but they were defeated by Merovingian forces from northern Europe under the command of Charles Martel and forced back into Spain. Charles Martel’s grandson Charlemagne would go on to solidify his control over the region and start a great renaissance of learning in the ninth century, and Western Europe would begin its slow rise to world prominence.
As we tell that familiar story, we often forget that another, equally fateful battle took place at about the same time. In 717–18 in Constantinople, Byzantine Emperor Leo III and his forces narrowly defeated Arab invaders, forcing them back into what is today Turkey. The close call led to an enormous amount of social and theological soul-searching in Byzantium (among other things, the Iconoclastic Controversy arose out of the ideological battle with the Muslims), but it would be more than seven centuries before Muslims (Turks, not Arabs) would conquer Constantinople in 1453. The siege of Constantinople in 717–18 could easily lay claim to having “saved” Europe just as much as the Battle of Tours fifteen years later.
But not long after the Arabs failed to take Europe from either the West or the East, a third, far greater clash took place halfway around the known world. For we need to remember that the two great powers in the world in the eighth century were the Arabs and the Chinese, and the Arabs were much more interested in expanding eastward along the Silk Road than westward or northward. (In fact, it is likely that part of the reason they failed to take Europe was because they devoted much more energy to taking Asia.) After the resolution of an internal conflict brought unity to the Arab forces, they squared off with the Tang Chinese army in 751 at the Battle of Talas, in what is today Kirghizstan. The Arabs were victorious, and China began its slow decline from world power to isolationist kingdom. The Arabs solidified their hold on most of Central Asia, and the region became solidly Muslim.
These THREE almost contemporary battles—not just the one we Westerners are familiar with—changed the course of history. But what about CHURCH history? The picture is varied and complicated, but it may not be too much of an over-simplification to say that the churches in most parts of the world at that time were too closely tied to the local kingdoms. In Western Europe, the church rode the coattails of the victorious Merovingian kingdom to increase its stature and prominence. At the same time, it is surely fair to say that the church adopted too many of the traits of the worldly kingdom, leading to an increasingly militant form of Christianity that would ultimately produce the Crusades. In China (yes, there WAS a church in China then), the church was equally tied to the local kingdom and suffered greatly as the kingdom became more isolationist and xenophobic in the ninth and tenth centuries. By the year 1000, Christianity had disappeared from China.
In between Europe and China, though, something different began to happen. In the Middle East and Egypt, the churches learned to adapt to a lack of power, to a second-class status in society, and for the most part, those churches have endured and maintained their witness during the long centuries of Islamic governmental control. They suffered through the vicious Islamic backlash against Christians in response to the Crusades and the even more vicious Islamic purges of the 20th and 21st centuries. Those churches have accumulated many problems in their checkered history, and they are far from perfect. But they have also learned something about what it means to bear witness to the gospel through suffering. As Christians in the West face the reality of our declining influence on an increasingly post-Christian society, perhaps we will find that the churches that have stood their ground in hostile territory for over a millennium have something to teach us today.
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.