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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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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.

 

 

 

 

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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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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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Gravity | Seminary Student Blogger

March 04, 2014

Melissa Zaldivar

Shauna Niequest says, “When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow.”

So there I was. Three weeks after the release date. Watching the blockbuster of great acclaim that would go on to win 7 Oscars (including Best Director). I expected to meet entertainment. But what I encountered was theology. Of course, these days, theology is bleeding into everything in unexpected, sometimes difficult ways.

I’ve been thanking God lately for things that are hard.
For people that have hurt me being happy.
For learning Hebrew slowly but surely.
For injuring my knee a week before a half-marathon.
He’s been reminding me of gratitude again.
Even when things aren’t going the way I’d like.
Even when I can hardly see what’s in front of me.

Sometimes, I take off my glasses just to remind myself that I’m blind. And I did that a few times tonight as I sat in a movie theater watching Gravity.
What do we do when faced with the idea that we might not make it? What to we cling to when out of our grasp means floating out in space alone?

At a few points in the film, Sandra Bullock’s character loses it. She gives up. At one point, she is shouting and thrashing about and the camera shifts to a view from the silent void of space where you can see her through the window but you can’t hear her. I know that feeling. The keen sting of death. The pacing. The need to do something—anything—to get it out. But instead, it just keeps closing in.

“Nobody will mourn for me,” she whispers into the frigid cold. “Nobody will pray for my soul.” She is in tears. “I’ve never said a prayer in my life. No one taught me how to pray.”

And then it comes. In her last moment of desperation, or so it seems, when she has given up hope and oxygen is depleting and she closes her eyes, ready to fade into that permanent sleep, he comes to her. She sees a vision. And he speaks hope into her life and she wakes up with the will to survive a little longer.

And as she plummets, catching fire as she falls, she starts to pray. She talks to the vision.

Whatever saves us, we love. Whatever gives us hope, we cling to. Whatever meets us in our need, we pray to.

I resonate deeply with her desperation. As I plummet, catching fire as I fall, I start to pray. I talk to the Redeemer.

And like the woman on the screen, muscles too weak to easily stand, hope comes. Sand in her fists, she lets out a slight laugh and mumbles into the mud against her wounded cheek those two words.

“Thank You.”

The music swells. She fights to her feet. The word, “G R A V I T Y” comes across the screen.

I begin to weep.

For I’m not very different. I’m constantly fighting to my feet. Constantly clinging to His robe. Hoping for just a bit of miracle to rub off on me. Hoping that redemption comes swiftly to this broken, sad world. A world where people talk behind one another’s backs. Where marriages dissolve. Where children kill adults and adults murder children. Where, when we are being honest, we aren’t sure we want to be.

And then comes the Grace. With all the force of the Divine, it comes and gives us meaning and hope. The other day, I scribbled it down:

“I search for my purpose and the only thing I know is this: My purpose is to get to the bottom of it. To plunge my hands in and find myself up to my elbows in grace. To be consumed by Christ, Him in every step and each conversation. To let the gospel seep into my bones and find traces under my fingernails and tracked in like muddy boots whenever I journey. My purpose is union with Christ. To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

May you, as you fight to your feet, feel the earth below and the sky above. May you survive to another heartbeat and not even be able to wait for the next before you utter those two words over and over and over again.

Thank You.
Thank You.
Thank You. 

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 , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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

February 27, 2014

Josh Kluth

C.S. Lewis has always been a close ally to Christians struggling with the reality of pain and suffering. Fifty years after his death, one would be hard-pressed to find another outside of Scripture who is more often quoted in times of suffering. His statements are well-regarded for their clarity, poignancy, depth, and care. Consider just a couple of his famous quotes:

  • “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’”
  • “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
  • “The death of a beloved is an amputation.”
  • “I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.”

What is it about his writings that makes Lewis’ perspective so helpful? In this post, I want to suggest that it was Lewis’ own experience wrestling with the reality of suffering. He was not immune to the pain and suffering of life. He did not hide away in the ivory tower of academia observing the facts of suffering while absent from their touch. Many are unaware that it was suffering that initially drove Lewis to abandon his Christian heritage and embrace atheism. Here is a short list of his varied experience with suffering:

  • As a child, he lost his mother to a painful death brought upon by cancer despite his prayerful expectation that she would be healed
  • He was estranged from his father most of his life and considers an inability to reconcile to be one of his biggest regrets
  • He suffered from feelings of insecurity and physical deformity
  • He attended a school he called “Belsen” (naming it after a Nazi concentration camp) attesting to his miserable experience under a “maniacal” headmaster
  • He faced a severe and disturbing hierarchal system at school that produced “a world of fear, compromise, and anxiety” for young students, like himself, who were victims of cruelty
  • He served in the trenches of World War I and was discharged due to an illness called trench fever
  • He was obliged to care for his best friend’s family (after his friend died in the War) for much of his life despite a heavy emotional and financial toll
  • He lost his wife to cancer
  • He was repeatedly overlooked for positions due to the way many of his colleagues frowned on his Christian fiction and apologetics

Lewis wrote two books addressing the issue of pain, both of which he purposed to write anonymously. This in itself could be instructive. The Problem of Pain, written in 1940, addresses the complex issue of the existence of suffering alongside a belief in a good and all-powerful God. He wrote A Grief Observed in 1961 following the death of his wife in which he focuses on the sense of suffering. These works belong together because of how Lewis addresses the suffering differently in each book. He wrote The Problem of Pain to address theoretical and cerebral questions on suffering; he wrote A Grief Observed to address experiential and personal nature of suffering.

The role of experience is incredibly important if we are to understand why Lewis continues to be helpful to those who suffer. In a day and age where there are books and blog posts on every subject imaginable, Lewis serves as a reminder of the importance of sympathy, empathy, and understanding. This comes through experience and understanding. We would do well to learn what experience could teach us prior to trying to coming alongside those who experience suffering. I would like to believe Lewis was simply trying to model our Savior. As Hebrews 4:14-16 points out,

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” 

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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Learning from Our Church Fathers: Part 13

February 18, 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.

There is a famous passage in Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory in which the (unnamed) communist police lieutenant expresses incredulity at the possibility that he might have a soul. The main character, the (also unnamed) “whiskey priest” corrects him, saying, “No, you are a soul; you have a body, temporarily.” With these words, the priest encapsulates what has been a common belief throughout Christian history—the soul is permanent and ultimately all that is important; the body is temporary and inconsequential. Perhaps no mistaken attitude has had more staying power, or been more dangerous to the faith, than this relegation of matter and the body to second-class status. From the second-century Gnostics who denigrated the entire physical world to modern scholars who re-interpret “resurrection” to mean merely the soul’s survival after death, these ideas have had a long history and currency.

It should not surprise us, then, that the task of affirming the importance and redeemability of the body was job one for the early church, and among the church fathers who most insistently argued this point was the North African Tertullian at the end of the second century. He may have overdone it when he famously asserted that even the human soul is corporeal, but be that as it may, his arguments for the importance of the body in the Christian scheme of redemption are worth our attention. Among them are the following: 

  • He points out that in Genesis 2, the man starts out as clay and then becomes a living soul when God breathes into him. The physical component comes first and is indispensable. Human beings are meant to be bodies and souls, not souls that merely possess bodies temporarily (On the Resurrection of the Flesh, par. 5).
  • He argues that as God created man, he had in mind the form that he would give to his Son at the incarnation. The goodness of the body implied in the incarnation is anticipated in the original creation of humanity as bodily (par. 6).
  • He argues that no soul can receive salvation unless it believes while it is in the flesh. Thus, bodily existence is the very condition on which the soul’s salvation hinges (par. 8).
  • If one’s soul were really the only part to be saved (as the Gnostics alleged), then one could not even regard the person as saved. Only half of a person would be saved, and the other half condemned. The Bible could not even speak of the salvation of a human person in that case (par. 34).
  • If Paul’s references to “resurrection” in Acts 17 had meant only the continuation of the soul after death, then the Athenians would hardly have noticed. Their philosophers had been saying that for centuries (par. 39).
  • Paul could not have asked us to present our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom 12) if our bodies were ultimately going to perish, or holy sacrifices if our bodies were soiled beyond redemption, or acceptable and pleasing to God if God had peremptorily condemned the body.


These arguments and others like them remind us just how unique a message the Christian faith offers to the world. History has been full of philosophies that exalted the soul at the expense of the body, and even more full of religions (and non-religions!) that glorified the body to the detriment of the soul. Christianity, the church fathers correctly recognized, is almost alone in affirming that we are meant to be both material and immaterial, that God is concerned about us as whole persons, and indeed that we will spend eternity with him not as disembodied spirits, but as persons on this (reconstituted) earth. These most fundamental of Christian truths have wide-ranging implications for all aspects of life on this planet, yet for much of Christian history, we have obscured them with a popular theology that has exalted the spiritual to the detriment of the physical. We would do well to take a page from Tertullian’s writings and to recognize anew the importance of being in the flesh.

 

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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Being Small | D.Min. Guest Blogger

December 19, 2013

Cory Hartman

Cory Hartman is a Doctor of Ministry student in the Revival and Reform track. Read his previous guest post on renewal and revival here.

Two astounding, must-read books from my D.Min. program have newly illuminated how small I am.

The first is James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. Hunter adroitly demonstrates how quantity and even quality of cultural output does not shape a culture, nor does the size of the consumer base. Rather, the culture is shaped by the few institutions, locations, and social circles that all, including those who resent them, tacitly agree are more prestigious than the rest.

I am small and far from these high points. I am not close to the center of my denomination’s culture. I am unimportant to the evangelical subculture—you won’t see my mug on conference junk mail anytime soon. I live in an ignored part of the country. Almost no one in any of my subcultures has the regard of elites in Hollywood, Harvard Yard, and Midtown Manhattan.

I am small in another direction too, as revealed by Philip Jenkins’ The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. As Christianity drains out of Europe, it is exploding in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, partly because of the fecund demographics of those regions but also through a burgeoning wave of conversions. Christianity in the United States is holding steady because of help from immigration from those continents as the faith resumes its ancient position as one of the great Eastern religions. The awakening and the miraculous seem to be going on almost everywhere but here, and I can’t read Jenkins’ statistics about 10 million of this and a hundred million of that for long before feeling very small again.

I don’t call myself small out of self-pity—well, I hope I don’t—but from a healthy dose of reality for the sake of humility. I need that. But this is not the whole story.

 

No matter whom I am small by comparison to, I am big to someone else. My town, a modestly affluent county seat, gets more undeserved attention than any other in my region. I’m an evangelical nobody, but unlike many I actually know a few somebodies, and they know even better-known somebodies. And wherever I live in the United States, to the Mexican believer peering around our southern wall I’m at the center of it all.

 

More importantly, no matter how small I am in my profession because I see only 50 people on a Sunday, I am huge to those 50 people. My significance is enormous to the sick for whom I pray, the weary to whom I speak the gospel of hope, and the children who call me pastor. And to my own children and to my wife, I’m colossal—to them, whether or not I exist is the whole world.

Finally, and most importantly, I am staggeringly valuable to the infinitely large God. As David observed, his thoughts about me are beyond comprehension—not only their number and their content but his desire to think about me at all.

At the beginning of Matthew 2, men come from a foreign power to find the king of the Jews, whose birth alarms Jerusalem’s elite and triggers a state crisis. At the end of the chapter he is called a Nazarene, a no-name denizen of a backwater town.

The paradox of Jesus’ incarnation is not only metaphysical—the union of complete and unadulterated deity and humanity in one person. It is a cultural paradox too: the one who is the center of all things lives simultaneously at the extreme margin; he really bears the name above every name while he really is a no-name. This both-and image is the one that God is conforming me to—I shrink while I expand, plunging lower, rising higher.

 

Cory Hartman grew up in a suburb of Syracuse, New York, and serves as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Hollidaysburg in the Pennsylvania county where his family has lived for generations. (Go Orange. Go Bucs. Go Steelers.) He is an M.Div. alumnus (’03), a current D.Min. student, and the author of On Freedom and Destiny: How God’s Will and Yours Intersect. Cory and his wife, Kelly, notch National Park sites visited with their four children.
 

 

 

 

Tags: D.Min. Guest Post , equipping leaders for the church and society , thoughtfully evangelical

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At the End of the Day | Seminary Student Blogger

December 17, 2013

Amy Gannett

There are moments like these, coming at the end of an academic day, that make all the world seem to halt. I've had Hebrew and flipped flashcards and read books and articles and syllabi. The whirr of academics is constant and becomes merely background noise, going almost unnoticed as the semester takes is shape and pace.

I've been reading here all day, and took in words of Your wonder and majesty from the pens of saints long ago—mothers and fathers of our faith who knew the same You and wrote of the very same You in a setting anything but the same. I've translated the Text and furrowed my brow at the philosophical theologians of modernity and tried to wrap my head around the complexities of spiritual formation.

And then I looked up and looked out the window. A storm is rolling in. Thick and rich clouds are churning above make me feel all so very small.

And I'm reminded again that Your ways are mysterious and wonderful. They can be written about, but there are not books enough to hold them. They can be preached about, but not human language can encapsulate them. Arguments can be formed and persuasions can be attempted, but this day has no lesson better than sitting beneath Your threatening sky. 

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 , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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I found your post to be entertaining and enlightening. It is funny how the little things are what He uses to to teach us about His ways.
Wilbur Byrd 1:19AM 12/22/13

Learning from Our Church Fathers: Part 12

December 03, 2013

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.

Facts don’t normally make for reading that is as interesting as stories, but sometimes facts are the best way to tell a story. Or perhaps, facts are the best way to expose the need to change the way we tell a familiar story. Such is the case with our understanding of the early church. Even though we know that Christianity arose in what is today the Middle East, we tend to think that the early church was primarily a European phenomenon, or at least a phenomenon limited to the Roman Empire. Some pertinent facts (or at least likely facts—there is controversy about some of them) quickly show the problem with that version of the early Christian story:

  • There was a significant Christian presence in Egypt in the first century and in what is today Iraq in the second. In most parts of the “Muslim” Middle East and North Africa, there have been substantial Christian minorities for the entire history of the church, and these Christian populations began to decline only in the last 100 years or so.
  • There was certainly a Christian presence in India by the third century and likely by the first. There has been a continuous Christian presence in India for at least 1700 years.
  • The Roman Empire was probably only the fourth kingdom to espouse Christianity as its official religion. Armenia and Georgia (both in the Transcaucasus between present-day Russia and Turkey) and Aksum (modern Ethiopia) preceded it.
  • The greatest intellectual centers of the early Christian church were Alexandria and Carthage, both located in Africa. It would be well past the year 500 before the cities of Rome and Constantinople would match the intellectual stature of the two African cities.
  • We all hear that the office of the Pope in Rome, called the “Chair of St. Peter,” has been continually occupied since the first century. But the title of the patriarchate of Alexandria is the “Chair of St. Mark,” and that chair has been continually occupied for more than 1900 years as well. The holder of that chair is still called “Pope” in Egypt today.
  • There has been a continuous Christian history in black Africa (in Ethiopia) since the 330s. The modern Ethiopian Tawehedo Church (often mislabeled as “Coptic” by Westerners) is the heir of that history.
  • By the year 500, in the Middle East and Africa, the Bible had already been translated from Greek into Coptic (spoken in Egypt), Ge’etz (spoken in Ethiopia), Syriac (spoken throughout the Middle East), Armenian, Georgian, and Nubian (spoken in southern Egypt and northern Sudan). Translation into Arabic followed in the eighth century. During the same time period, the only translation into a northern European language was the Gothic translation done in the fourth century (by an Arian missionary!), and it would be 1000 years later before the next northern European translations began to appear.
  • Christianity had demonstrably reached China by the end of the eighth century, although it lasted no more than two centuries there before dying out, not to be revived until the modern period.
  • It was at least the ninth century (and some argue as late as the fourteenth) before the majority of Christians were located in Europe. (And today, the majority of Christians are again found outside the Western world.)

Again, there is controversy about some of these “facts,” but with that caveat registered, it is still clear that Christianity has—from the very beginning—been a faith for the whole world. The details of the story of Christianity outside of Europe are largely unknown to us in the West, but that is changing today. As the contemporary Christian world is more and more centered outside the West, the early history of Christianity in Africa and Asia is garnering increasing—and long overdue—attention. Ancient works never before available in “Western” languages are being translated, and the rest of the early Christian story is coming to our notice.

What will our story of the early church look like 50 years from now? Well, many elements familiar to Westerners will be the same, but a whole new dimension to the story will likely become familiar, giving us an ever fuller glimpse of the vastness of what the Lord has done in leading his people through the ages. 

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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Thank you Dr. Fairbairn for this series and the reminder for us not to neglect the early centuries of the church. There needs to be balance to learn from many saints throughout history regardless of when they lived (time of habitation is not what determines importance but intimacy and conformity to Christ). If you ask an Eastern Orthodox if he/she knows about Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor, Jim Elliot, there is a good chance they have never heard of these or other "modern" saints, heroes, martyrs. There is much to learn from the ancient faith, we should not neglect our historical treasure but neither should we neglect what the Lord has been doing down through the ages and continues to do today, it goes both ways :)
Arthur Roshkovski 9:53PM 12/11/13

The Push and Pull of Grace | Seminary Student Blogger

November 19, 2013

Amy Gannett

Grace is a wonton commodity in our economy of checks and balances. It is a strange creature; a peculiar beast of unknown proportions. We are a people of rush and do-to, and we hurry past grace noting the way she sits awkwardly in the midst of our busy.

Grace—the thing of gifting and giving and forgiveness. And just her posture provokes craving and yet makes us shift in our seats. If we’re honest, grace makes us just a bit uncomfortable. We like knowing our debts are paid from our own pockets, our time is managed by our own multi-tasking, and our memories are maintained by our own control. We would rather not have to handle grace or call upon her services. We are a self-propelled people, hastening on and on not taking unless we can repay:

We’d love to come to dinner, but what can we bring?
Oh no, please let me pay; really, I prefer it.
Sure you can take my kids this afternoon, but we’d like to have Tommy our way next week.

And yet, when the sun sets and the schedule calms, when the bustle runs out and the dust of the day settles, we cannot escape the reality that we are a people for whom grace must be prescribed. At the end of the day, at the end of ourselves, we are all too well aware that all our efforts will not suffice.

When we are late, those minutes will not return to our watches. When we forget a birthday, no length of words will satisfy. When the money runs out or the credit card is maxed, there simply are no more pennies to throw to the gatherers. And in the midst of our lost minutes and money, grace speaks a language we do not understand. Falling foreign on our ears are words of nothing owed and abundant pardon. And while they are strange to our hearing, they come like balm on our failures nonetheless. Well aware of our shortcomings, we turn ourselves at last to grace.

Grace, the stuff that wedges itself in the cracks of our lives, between the lacking and the wanting, holding all together and whispering, All is pardoned, all is covered. Let’s try again tomorrow. And surrendered to her presence we wrap ourselves up and finally let our eyelids rest. 

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 , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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Confessions of a Selfish, People-Pleasing Pastor | Seminary Student Blogger

November 14, 2013

Joelinda Coichy

I have been a people-pleaser most of my life. Actually—I think I made it through high school and college in the shape that I did because I knew that being a good student and Christian would very much please my ambitious, emigrant, Haitian family.

I should have known then that I would probably end up working in the church, because it turns out people-pleasing is an area in which many of us pastor-types excel.

To a certain degree, this makes sense. Our call is to care for people and help them find wholeness in Christ. Generally, whole people are “pleased” with God and with us by extension. And we do our best to “give all the praise to God,” but c’mon, we love the goodwill that we receive because of God’s awesomeness (at least I know that I do). And this is not necessarily bad…

But when there are more people than we have the resources to care for and we get tired, our call degenerates. For me—generally into pandering, appeasing and thoughts along the lines of: “If I just show up and smile, I can make it through and they will be happy.”

But, if despite your people-pleasing tendencies you have genuine concern for your flock, here is the BIG, sad catch: people don’t want to be pleased and appeased; they want to be genuinely loved.

I have learned the HARD way that every time I show up to “serve” someone who needs (nags) me without explicit marching orders from the Holy Spirit, my “service” blows up in my face.

Generally, I show up tired, and despite my best acting Needy-Person-X can sense that I am not all there. Needy-Person-X doesn’t get what he/she wants/needs. Needy-Person-X is hurt. And I leave exhausted and—worse—discouraged about myself, Needy-Person-X, and about God’s ability to heal, in general…

Yeah, not ideal!

Genuine love is hard. Really, it can only come from God’s Holy Spirit making me aware of how much, despite my own brokenness, I am adored and provided for. And really, it can only happen within boundaries.

Boundaries that tell me that I am not God. Boundaries that remind me that I only can give what has been first been given to me by the Holy Spirit. Boundaries of rest, quiet and Sabbath that prove to my heart that God is the one at work, not me. And boundaries that prevent me from showing up, tired and needy myself, to “serve” what ends up being nothing more than my own ego and pride.

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 , spiritually vital , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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