Gordon-Conwell Blog

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

Add comment

COMMENTS

No comments yet. Be the first!

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

Add comment

COMMENTS

No comments yet. Be the first!

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

Add comment

COMMENTS

No comments yet. Be the first!

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

Add comment

COMMENTS

No comments yet. Be the first!

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

Add comment

COMMENTS

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

Add comment

COMMENTS

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

Add comment

COMMENTS

No comments yet. Be the first!

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

Add comment

COMMENTS

No comments yet. Be the first!

Grace Abounding | Seminary Student Blogger

November 12, 2013

Melissa Zaldivar

I’ve been a runner for about five years now, and usually go just a few miles here and there. So when a friend wanted to do a half-marathon, I asked her if I could join. It was, in my mind, going to be great. As a film director, I had my idea of what the next month would look like. I would train on fall afternoons and pound out mile after mile. I would get in distance shape, and the day of the race I would cross the finish line having persevered. The music would swell and everything would come together like the end of a movie.

But a week before the race, I injured my knee and my running advisor told me that I should stay off of it. I started feeling in my heart that something was shifting. The race day was not going to be the way that I thought it would be.

My friend got a really nasty cold and had to pull out of the half and so I coordinated a ride and went to Newburyport for the big day. It was cold and I was nervous and undertrained and had no idea what I was doing. And I wish I could tell you that I ran through the rolling backroads and felt nothing but pure adrenaline and broke all kinds of records and raced well. But I hit a wall at mile seven that turned into a battlefield until mile nine, at which point I met a woman who was running at about the same pace. Her name was Alysha and she was about 10 years old than me. So, we talked about family and kids and marriage and started exhausting the basic details of everyday life. And around mile 11, she told me about her mother-in-law who has pancreatic cancer. Alysha has been taking care of her, quitting her job and exhausting herself to do so.

Life is full of a lot of little details that don’t make any sense, and it sometimes feels like nothing is ever going to change. Like I’ll be single forever and my vocation will never really take off and I’ll never understand Hebrew paradigms and instead of breaking records and finishing well I’m breaking bones and trying to finish. Period.

As we approached mile 12.5, I started to feel that shift in my heart again. I was running toward the finish line feeling like I hadn’t really accomplished anything. I hadn’t had some big, transformative breakthrough. Instead, I was running beside a woman who was struggling just to take care of others (let alone herself) and I almost wanted to just stop because I felt like I was going nowhere anyway. And out of that rush of disappointment and pain and underwhelming feelings, instead of saying something profound, all I could muster was this sentence about a dear family at the seminary who has been struggling the last few weeks with difficult news.

I took a breath and said, “My friend and her husband are going to Philadelphia to talk to doctors about whether or not their daughter will ever walk or even survive the next few months.”

We were silent for a second and I looked at Alysha and I said, “In case no one is telling you this, can I just say: Thank you for everything that you are doing.”

The next few minutes were a blur. We listened to Katy Perry and crossed the finish line and a teenager gave me a medal and I felt, oddly, nothing.
Sometimes, we make plans. And we see life taking one turn when we wanted it to turn another direction. This half-marathon was a case of me trying to make it turn the other way. It was my way of accomplishing something on my own, and in the end, it left me empty. Sure, I did what I set out to do. I ran a half-marathon. But running doesn’t solve anything. The same way that straight A’s or understanding Hebrew or getting married doesn’t solve anything. In the end, it’s not about finishing well. Maybe it’s not even about the finish. Maybe it’s about hitting that wall and still putting one foot in front of the other.

We serve a sovereign God who loves us greatly. Who has planned out route for this race and desires for us to trust in that. While it will always be a struggle for this heart of mine, I have to remember that I’m not really the director here. Life is rarely cinematic. Just because the music doesn’t swell and I’m not being carried on anyone’s shoulders at the end of a half-marathon doesn’t mean He is any less good. If anything, I think that our weakness proves His strength all the more.

So, my friends, may you find yourself racing well. When your legs are strong and your lungs breathe easy, may you thank Him for grace. And when you hit that wall and nothing seems to be going according to plan, may you remember to just put one foot in front of the other. And may you thank Him for grace abounding.

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 , spiritually vital , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

Add comment

COMMENTS

A really interesting post that should make us think about what we can do and what we do, what our path of life as we live it, I liked it and gave me strength to keep walking. Best wishes.
Tot dental 11:17AM 11/13/13

Learning from Our Church Fathers: Part 11

October 24, 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.

It is well known that for every person who is famously influential in history, there are many more who are influential without being well known at all. Nowhere is this truth more important than in the history of the Christian church, a history that is full of little-known stories of faithful believers who lived hidden lives that were of immense value to the progress of the Kingdom. One impressive example of such an unknown influencer is Macrina, a nun who lived in Cappadocia (central Turkey today) in the fourth century. I sometimes refer to Macrina as “the most influential Christian you’ve never heard of.”

Macrina was the oldest of 10 children born to wealthy, devoutly-Christian parents, Basil (a professor and attorney) and Emmelia. Her father betrothed Macrina at age 12 to a famed orator, but he died very suddenly before they were married. Macrina called the betrothal a marriage and resolved to spend the rest of her life alone and celibate, rather than marry someone else. In order to secure this resolution, she persuaded her mother (who was widowed by this time) to join her in establishing a nunnery that later became the pattern for all of female monasticism in the Greek Church. Macrina also founded a hospital and an organization to care for the poor, funding them with money inherited from her parents. She was so thorough in giving her wealth to the service of others that when she died at age 52, she owned nothing except the tattered garment she was wearing.

As impressive as Macrina’s life was, we might never have known about it except for one other detail. She also possessed an extraordinary combination of immense education and desire to use her knowledge for God’s glory. She dedicated herself to the education of her nine younger brothers and sisters, and two of those excelled so much under her tutelage that they were later sent abroad to obtain first-rate philosophical educations. But Macrina did not simply give her brothers their start. She also popped the bubble of pride that sprang up within them as their education progressed, and she convinced both of them to use their learning for the service of Christ.

Those two brothers are known to history as Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa. Together with their best friend, Gregory the Theologian, they are styled “the great Cappadocians,” and the three were the Greek Church’s most brilliant Trinitarian theologians in the period after the death of Athanasius. They took the mantle of leadership during the tumultuous years at the end of the Trinitarian Controversy, and they were the most influential figures on the Council of Constantinople in 381, at which what we call the Nicene Creed was ratified.

Gregory of Nyssa wrote a moving biography of his sister, in which he described her life-long ambition to be the bride of Christ, to long for him, and to serve his people. Gregory’s account means that Macrina’s life is known to us, and the story reminds us of how important and influential a single life can be. At the same time, we are reminded that there are countless more lives of faithful, ordinary Christians of which recorded history has no trace, lives that are equally valuable in their obscurity, equally worthy of celebration by God’s people. We are also reminded that we never know what the Lord is going to do with our own (usually obscure) ministries. We never know whether that person we disciple will be a new Basil the Great. Perhaps this reminder can encourage us to continue to pursue our callings faithfully, just as Macrina did.

 

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 , future students , thoughtfully evangelical

Add comment

COMMENTS

Thank you for writing on the life of Macrina. I shared about her life last year at a youth camp in Germany at a workshop I gave. I was blessed to "get to know her" at a History of Christianity course with Professors Justo Gonzalez and his wife Ms Gonsalus. Leaders are said to be influencers, and Macrina certainly was one of them. It was also important for me to see how Christians in all phases of their history have found ways out of the status quo to be able to express their love toward God and their neighbor. Though previously I had looked down on monasteries, I learned that this was a way in which Macrina could fulfill her calling. Like the apostle Paul, celibacy and a life of service were complimentary. Thank you and God bless you.
Jude Enxuto 12:57PM 11/07/13

Brokenness & Leadership: Not “In Spite,” But “Because” | Seminary Student Blogger

October 15, 2013

Joelinda Coichy

Lately, I have been recognizing the profound link between brokenness and leadership and it has been blowing me up—in a completely good, leadership-style-transforming way. But before this idea was good-blowing-me-up, something else was wrecking me—in a completely heart-breaking and shake-your-fists-at-God way.

God repeatedly, intentionally, aggressively closed some doors in my life that I REALLY wanted open. And I was wrecked. I spent the better part of a couple weeks crying to God from the deep disappointment and despair lodged in my heart.

Ever noticed how even when you hurt, life marches on? Well, in addition to being a full-time seminarian, I'm a Student Ministries Director at a brand new church campus plant, and there was no time to stop and wallow in my hurt. So I bumbled and cried as I worked.

In the midst of all this, my boss asked me to pray before a team meeting. That day, the Holy Spirit was powerfully present through my prayer in a way that surprised and moved me, and then I realized that He was there not in spite of my brokenness but because of it. And that was when this idea sprouted in my heart: personal brokenness is essential for effective leadership.

I am not talking about brokenness for X,Y,Z injustice in the world (though having one of these is important). Neither am I talking about brokenness in the form of a deep unconfessed, festering sin or a long-standing addiction (though one of these things can be the root cause of the brokenness I am talking about).

When I say “personal brokenness,” I mean a vibrant and sincere awareness of the heart-wounds nearest and dearest to us that no matter how hard we stuff, ignore and deny, just reappear in the form of fresh lacerations for which there is no balm except the breath of God.

I am learning that for effective (read: compassionate, sincere, powerful) leadership, there has to be something personal that you are on your face in prayer and pleading with God about. You may not feel the hurt of that brokenness forever—but that is certainly where effective ministry must start.

Because when you are on your face before God, not only praying but also crying because it hurts and you don't have enough, grace prevails in your life. And when you are on your face limp from hurting before God, and yet there are people entrusted to your care, the Holy Spirit moves…in spite of your brokenness!

And when the Spirit moves, all (you included) meet God, you are surprised, and then you remember and relive the vital truth you forgot in the midst of all your reading, preparing and duck-aligning: the heart of the gospel is hope because of a broken (and resurrected) Body.

So, don't run from that persistent hurt—it is likely the very location of God's greatest work in and through you!

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 , equipping leaders for the church and society , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

Add comment

COMMENTS

So true - thank you Joelinda. I recently read Sally Lloyd-Jones' children's Bible story about Naaman. In it she says "Naaman wanted to be healed and all he needed was nothing - the one thing he didn't have." Why is it so hard for us to accept our brokenness? Thank you for this reminder that it is the heart of the Gospel and the place where we meet, and are empowered by, Him!
Deedee Morton 11:11AM 10/25/13

A Goodly Day | Seminary Student Blogger

October 08, 2013

Kate Hightower

I am ever in a sea of darkness
Death is always close at hand
And I’ve only lived to serve it,
It’s wish been my demand.
But still Thy whisper entices
My King on High bethroned.
No more my own devices
Now only Thine I know.

Today Thy glory shines.
Today enshrined in Thy state
Thy Mission of Love accomplished
Now we’re only left to wait.

Three days hence you set your promise
In three days the blood washed clean
We praise Thy victory forever
And from death
At last
I’m free.

No more my shroud of darkness
I am now bathed in Thy light.
To Thee my all and always
My One
My Lord
My Christ.

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 , thoughtfully evangelical

Add comment

COMMENTS

No comments yet. Be the first!

Gordon-Conwell Voices