Category : Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology)

Stephen Freeman–The Slow Road to Heaven – Why the Spiritual Life Doesn’t “Work”

I have wondered how the “success” of the spiritual life would be measured? I could imagine that the number of persons Baptized might be compared to the number of the Baptized who fall short of salvation – but there is no way to discover such a thing. In lieu of that, we often set up our own way of measuring – some expectation of “success” that we use to judge the spiritual life. “I tried Christianity…” the now self-described agnostic relates, “and found that it did not live up to its claims.”

To my mind, the entire question is a little like complaining about your hammer because it doesn’t work well as a screw-driver. The problem is that the spiritual life doesn’t “work,” and was never supposed to. It is not something that “works,” it is something that “lives.” And this is an extremely important distinction.

In 1859, Samuel Smiles, a Scottish author and government reformer, published the book, Self-Help, the first self-proclaimed work on self-improvement. His opening line is famous, “God helps those who help themselves.” Indeed, many modern people are under the impression that this statement comes from Scripture (it does not). It is not at all accidental that Smiles’ thought should echo that of the Scottish Enlightenment itself. We can build a better world, and do so more effectively by building better humans. Christianity was to be harnessed in this great progressive drive.

We look to our faith to solve problems. Whether we suffer from psychological wounds, or simple poverty and failure, we look to God for help. The spiritual life, and the “techniques” we imagine to be associated with it, are the means by which we “help ourselves” (God will do the rest).

This narrative is simply not part of the Christian faith.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Orthodox Church, Spirituality/Prayer, Theology, Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology), Theology: Scripture

(Themelios) Wayne Grudem–The Perspicuity of Holy Scripture

…how should we understand this doctrine? The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture is easily misunderstood and, I think, commonly misunderstood. In what follows, this lecture gives me the opportunity to give a more precise explanation of this doctrine than I did twenty-four years ago when I wrote that chapter in my Systematic Theology.9

I understand the clarity (perspicuity) of Scripture as follows: Scripture affirms that it is able to be understood but (1) not all at once, (2) not without effort, (3) not without ordinary means, (4) not without the reader’s willingness to obey it, (5) not without the help of the Holy Spirit, (6) not without human misunderstanding, and (7) never completely.

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Theology, Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology), Theology: Scripture

(CT) Klyne Snodgrass–Who Are You Without Your Props? Why your identity isn’t rooted in possessions and appearances

Christ is not an add-on to an existing identity; he seeks to remake your identity. Often conversion language is a gross exaggeration and implies that nothing of the old identity remains. Obviously much remains the same; you are still physically the same person with the same history and propensities in the same culture. What is changed is the old life of sin, the old being, and its old orientation. Even the things that do not change are seen from a new perspective. Christ is not an accessory to your identity, as if you were choosing an option for a car; he takes over identity so that everything else becomes an accessory, which is precisely what “Jesus is Lord” means.

We have been sold a cheap gospel without demand and without content, as if faith were a short transaction, a prayer, or a decision, to get security taken care of so we can go to heaven, but the New Testament is far less concerned with going to heaven than people think. In fact, as important as God’s promises about the future are, the concern for going to heaven is one of the most distorting factors in evangelical Christianity. What counts is life with God and an identity shaped by God, both now and eternally.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Christology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Theology, Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology), Theology: Scripture

(TLC Covenant) David Goodhew–A theology for Anglican church growth

Church growth is doctrinally necessary

A theological basis for seeking numerical church growth is readily to hand in Scripture. But it is not quite so obvious when we turn to doctrine. Here the work of writers such as professors Alister McGrath and Ivor Davidson and of Bishop Graham Tomlin is immensely helpful.[1] They point us to how the fundamental doctrines of Incarnation, Atonement, and Trinity call us to an extrovert faith, which seeks the growth and proliferation of communities that incarnate the gospel in every community.

Graham Tomlin argues that when we look at the Spirit, we see a God whose essence is sending:

Theologically speaking, mission and the consequent growth of the church begin with the begetting of the Son and the procession of the Spirit from the Father. It starts with the Trinitarian life of God before it ever involves the creation, let alone the human part of that creation.[2]

In saying this, Tomlin commends the importance of a full-blooded pneumatology. But he is also alert to the way we can sometimes fall into an idolatrous assumption that the Spirit can be controlled by humans. Tomlin sees the tension in seeing the Holy Spirit as free from human control yet given freely by God as akin to the tension between seeing church growth as in the hands of God yet requiring committed human effort if it is to come to pass. For Tomlin, the practice invoking the Holy Spirit is the way of managing this tension. By asking continually for the Holy Spirit we have access to him, but our need to ask means we cannot ever control him.

Tomlin also stresses that suffering is intrinsic to such a ministry….

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Ecclesiology, Evangelism and Church Growth, Parish Ministry, Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology), Theology: Scripture

Ambrose on the Holy Spirit for his Feast Day

The Holy Spirit, since He sanctifies creatures, is neither a creature nor subject to change. He is always good, since He is given by the Father and the Son; neither is He to be numbered among such things as are said to fail. He must be acknowledged as the source of goodness. The Spirit of God’s mouth, the amender of evils, and Himself good. Lastly, as He is said in Scripture to be good, and is joined to the Father and the Son in baptism, He cannot possibly be denied to be good. He is not, however, said to progress, but to be made perfect in goodness, which distinguishes Him from all creatures.

The Holy Spirit is not, then, of the substance of things corporeal, for He sheds incorporeal grace on corporeal things; nor, again, is He of the substance of invisible creatures, for they receive His sanctification, and through Him are superior to the other works of the universe. Whether you speak of Angels, or Dominions, or Powers, every creature waits for the grace of the Holy Spirit. For as we are children through the Spirit, because God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying, Abba, Father; so that you are now not a servant but a son; Galatians 4:6-7 in like manner, also, every creature is waiting for the revelation of the sons of God, whom in truth the grace of the Holy Spirit made sons of God. Therefore, also, every creature itself shall be changed by the revelation of the grace of the Spirit, and shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.

Every creature, then, is subject to change, not only such as has been changed by some sin or condition of the outward elements, but also such as can be liable to corruption by a fault of nature, though by careful discipline it be not yet so; for, as we have shown in a former treatise, the nature of Angels evidently can be changed. It is certainly fitting to judge that such as is the nature of one, such also is that of others. The nature of the rest, then, is capable of change, but the discipline is better.

Every creature, therefore, is capable of change, but the Holy Spirit is good and not capable of change, nor can He be changed by any fault,

Saint Ambrose On the Holy Spirit (Book I), Chapter 5

Posted in Church History, Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology)

Kendall Harmon’s Sunday Sermon on Ezekiel–How do we Respond in Desperate Situations (Ezekiel 37:1-14)?

You can listen directly there and download the mp3 there. This is now the second time in a row I have been called to preach after a South Carolina Supreme Court decision, and I just happened to be preaching on Ezekiel 37 already before the news hit Saturday–there could hardly be a more applicable passage.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * By Kendall, * South Carolina, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Preaching / Homiletics, Sermons & Teachings, Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology), Theology: Scripture

“If you find that we are speaking contrary to Scripture, then do not listen to us!”

8.01 The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church met in Barmen, May 29-31, 1934. Here representatives from all the German Confessional Churches met with one accord in a confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, apostolic Church. In fidelity to their Confession of Faith, members of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches sought a common message for the need and temptation of the Church in our day. With gratitude to God they are convinced that they have been given a common word to utter. It was not their intention to found a new Church or to form a union. For nothing was farther from their minds than the abolition of the confessional status of our Churches. Their intention was, rather, to withstand in faith and unanimity the destruction of the Confession of Faith, and thus of the Evangelical Church in Germany. In opposition to attempts to establish the unity of the German Evangelical Church by means of false doctrine, by the use of force and insincere practices, the Confessional Synod insists that the unity of the Evangelical Churches in Germany can come only from the Word of God in faith through the Holy Spirit. Thus alone is the Church renewed.
8.02 Therefore the Confessional Synod calls upon the congregations to range themselves behind it in prayer, and steadfastly to gather around those pastors and teachers who are loyal to the Confessions.
8.03 Be not deceived by loose talk, as if we meant to oppose the unity of the German nation! Do not listen to the seducers who pervert our intentions, as if we wanted to break up the unity of the German Evangelical Church or to forsake the Confessions of the Fathers!
8.04 Try the spirits whether they are of God! Prove also the words of the Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church to see whether they agree with Holy Scripture and with the Confessions of the Fathers. If you find that we are speaking contrary to Scripture, then do not listen to us! But if you find that we are taking our stand upon Scripture, then let no fear or temptation keep you from treading with us the path of faith and obedience to the Word of God, in order that God’s people be of one mind upon earth and that we in faith experience what he himself has said: “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” Therefore, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

the Barmen Declaration, cited by yours truly in the morning sermon

Posted in Christology, Church History, Ecclesiology, Germany, Theology, Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology), Theology: Scripture

Food for Thought from JI Packer– The Christian’s motto should not be “Let go and let God” but “Trust God and get going!”

Passivity means conscious inaction—in this case, inner inaction. A call to passivity—conscientious, consecrated passivity—has sometimes been read into certain biblical texts, but it cannot be read out of any of them. Thus, for instance, to “yield” or “present” oneself to God (Romans 6:13; 12:1), or as it is sometimes put, to “surrender” or “give ourselves up” to him, is not passivity. Paul’s meaning is not that having handed ourselves over to our Master, we should then lapse into inaction, waiting for Christ to move us instead of moving ourselves, but rather that we should report for duty, saying as Paul himself said on the Damascus road, “What shall I do, Lord? . . .” (Acts 22:10) and setting no limits to what Christ by his Spirit through his Word may direct us to do. This is activity! Again, being “led by the Spirit of God” (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18) is not passivity. Paul’s meaning is not that we should do nothing till celestial promptings pop into our minds, but that we should resolutely labor by prayer and effort to obey the law of Christ and mortify sin (see Galatians 5:13-6:19; and Romans 8:5-13, to which v. 14 looks back). This too is activity!

Surely we need not go further. The point is plain. Passivity, which quietists think liberates the Spirit, actually resists and quenches him. Souls that cultivate passivity do not thrive, but waste away. The Christian’s motto should not be “Let go and let God” but “Trust God and get going!” . . . [P]assivity [is] . . . unbiblical . . . and hostile to Christian maturity.

–JI Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God (Grand Rapids:Baker, 2005), p.128 (emphasis mine)

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anthropology, Theology, Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology), Theology: Scripture

(CT) Mark Galli–Whatever Became of Repentance?

To honor the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we Christians might insist anew that the whole life of the Christian is indeed about repentance. Jesus began his ministry with such a call: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 4:17), and repentance is the key note in the early church’s preaching (Acts 2:38, 3:19, 5:31, 8:22, 11:18, 13:24, 17:30, 19:4, 20:21, 26:20).

And this should include not just others’ repentance but our own. Not just confessing sins against God but also sins against neighbor. We have recently learned how to prophetically speak truth to power but have lost the nerve to speak prophetically to ourselves. The problem is always out there, in an unjust institution or a careless or evil person.

We avoid repentance because we remain addicted to the drug of self-justification. “I don’t need to repent because I’m the one righteously calling out the social and personal sins of others.” Or “If I say I am complicit, it will give my political and social enemies leverage against me and my cause.” Or even more to the point, “If I were to really look at and then acknowledge how much self-centeredness and pride infects even my most righteous actions, I would have to admit I’m a hypocrite and a moral failure.”

Well, yes. Aren’t we all? That’s precisely why Jesus came, to save the world from itself and to save us from ourselves. That’s why the word repentance is usually connected to the phrase “good news,” as Mark highlights in his summary of Jesus’ early preaching: “Repent and believe the good news!” (1:15).

Repentance is the means by which we experience the forgiveness of sins, for one. This alone changes everything, of course. And thus it is also the means by which we can change the temperature of the angry debates in church, online, and in our culture.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Christology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology), Theology: Scripture

The new Christian movement seeking to open the Canon after 2,000 years

A body of believers representing a growing Christian “remnant” movement, the Doctrine of Christ Conference announced today that a vote to canonize new scripture will be held at its upcoming conference on September 2-3, 2017. The culmination of tens of thousands of hours of ongoing volunteer effort to assemble an “open” canon of Christian scripture, both ancient and modern, this effort represents a bold move to embrace the expansive truth-seeking roots of original Christianity.

The hosts of the conference are part of an emerging group of believers who have exited various organized Christian structures in favor of a new tide of open religious thought and worship that is highly individual, involving no paid clergy and no formal leadership. Consisting of fellowships, as taught and practiced at the time of Jesus Christ, the faithful in this new school of thought believe that God is capable of revealing His Word to anyone who earnestly seeks it, and when truth is discovered, it should be added to the canon of inspired writings.

Chris Hamill, spokesperson for the scriptures project said, “The last known major canonization was in 1672 by the Eastern Orthodox Church, so nothing like this has been seen in orthodox or Protestant Christianity in nearly 350 years. Not even the Mormon Church, or any of its offshoots, ever formally canonized (or accepted by common consent of the membership) all of their scriptures–including the Book of Mormon. This is a very important historical development.”

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Ecclesiology, Theology, Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology), Theology: Scripture

David Frost–The Influence of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer on the Orthodox: Opening a Can of Worms?

You will recognize it, though my quotation is in fact from an internet version of that Orthodox ‘Western Rite’, The Liturgy of Saint Tikhon. The passage appears in THE COMMUNION DEVOTIONS as a congregational response to the priest’s invitation to ‘draw near with faith, and take this Holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling.’

R. Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, maker of all things, judge of all men; we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which wefrom time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed,against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us; the burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A side of me still thrills to that. Brought up in a guilt-culture, I still want to binge on selfabasement,followed by the ‘high’ of unmerited, almost magical release. But long before Ibecame Orthodox, I began to have doubts, especially in an Anglican parish thatencouraged frequent communion. How could the sacrifice of Christ be failing to createthat serving and pleasing of God in ‘newness of life’ for which I pleaded each Sunday?Why did I have to come back week after week, making the same old complaints of badmemories and intolerable burdens? When would I, ‘reflecting as in a mirror the glory ofthe Lord’, be ‘transformed’ (as St Paul said happened to all Christians) ‘into the same image from glory to glory’ (2 Corinthians 3: 18 in the Revised Version)?

Returning to my difficulties in reciting the ‘Jesus Prayer’, I realized that phrases in it –‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’ – had unconsciously triggeredthat image of the wrathful monarch and his princeling son, whose royal dignity andhonour I had offended since childhood, ‘provoking most justly’ their ‘wrath andindignation against me’. Immediately, as from behind a cloud, the Lordship of Christ revealed itself simply as leadership: of the leader I loved and whose commands I sought to obey because I loved him. Any plea for his ‘mercy’ became an asking for the immeasurable benefits of his grace and for his sympathetic understanding of my shortcomings, together with my acceptance of his generous offer of transformation and new life. And as for the last phrase about ‘me, a sinner’, that was just an obvious statement of fact. I’ve been able to use the prayer ever since.

Read it all.

Posted in --Book of Common Prayer, Anthropology, Church History, Church of England (CoE), Orthodox Church, Theology, Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology), Theology: Salvation (Soteriology)

(CT) Joni Eareckson Tada–After 50 Years in a Wheelchair, I Still Walk with Jesus

You’ve vocally opposed assisted suicide laws, including in your home state of Californianoting that laws of this kind expose “a fundamental fear of pain and disability.” How do you see this fear impact the way we as a culture respond to those with debilitating illness, chronic suffering, or disability?

People have a fear of pain. People have a fear of dying. Fear is what has driven the legalization of euthanasia—but fear should never ever be the foundation for social policy. It should not be society’s role to help people end their lives.

Most people, when they are at the end stages of life, are afraid of pain, they’re afraid of abandonment, they’re afraid of isolation, they don’t want to be a burden to their families. But all these issues can be addressed. They are problems that have solutions—like better pain management, better support services, better family counseling. Let’s pour resources into making it easier for people to live and not to die.

Compassion is often a motivating factor for those who favor physician-assisted suicide—including Christians who support it. In your view, how should Christians rightly understand and express compassion toward those who are suffering?

The first thing Christians ought to do before they even work on compassion is get a biblical view on suffering. Most Christians would rather escape, avoid it, drug it, medicate it, divorce it, institutionalize it—do anything but live with it….

 

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Pastoral Theology, Theology, Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology), Theology: Scripture

Basil the Great on the Nature of the Holy Spirit for his Feast Day

Let us now investigate what are our common conceptions concerning the Spirit, as well those which have been gathered by us from Holy Scripture concerning It as those which we have received from the unwritten tradition of the Fathers. First of all we ask, who on hearing the titles of the Spirit is not lifted up in soul, who does not raise his conception to the supreme nature? It is called “Spirit of God,” “Spirit of truth which proceedeth from the Father,” “right Spirit,” “a leading Spirit.” Its proper and peculiar title is “Holy Spirit;” which is a name specially appropriate to everything that is incorporeal, purely immaterial, and indivisible. So our Lord, when teaching the woman who thought God to be an object of local worship that the incorporeal is incomprehensible, said “God is a spirit.” On our hearing, then, of a spirit, it is impossible to form the idea of a nature circumscribed, subject to change and variation, or at all like the creature. We are compelled to advance in our conceptions to the highest, and to think of an intelligent essence, in power infinite, in magnitude unlimited, unmeasured by times or ages, generous of Its good gifts, to whom turn all things needing sanctification, after whom reach all things that live in virtue, as being watered by Its inspiration and helped on toward their natural and proper end; perfecting all other things, but Itself in nothing lacking; living not as needing restoration, but as Supplier of life; not growing by additions; but straightway full, self-established, omnipresent, origin of sanctification, light perceptible to the mind, supplying, as it were, through Itself, illumination to every faculty in the search for truth; by nature unapproachable, apprehended by reason of goodness, filling all things with Its power, but communicated only to the worthy; not shared in one measure, but distributing Its energy according to “the proportion of faith;” in essence simple, in powers various, wholly present in each and being wholly everywhere; impassively divided, shared without loss of ceasing to be entire, after the likeness of the sunbeam, whose kindly light falls on him who enjoys it as though it shone for him alone, yet illumines land and sea and mingles with the air. So, too, is the Spirit to every one who receives it, as though given to him alone, and yet It sends forth grace sufficient and full for all mankind, and is enjoyed by all who share It, according to the capacity, not of Its power, but of their nature.

de Spiritu Sancto, Chapter IX (my emphasis)

Posted in Church History, Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology)

Kendall Harmon’s 2017 Pentecost Sermon: The Holy Spirit Frees the Church (Acts 2:1-21)

‘Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’ (2 Cor 3:17 ESV).

You can listen directly there and download the mp3 there.

Posted in * By Kendall, Pentecost, Preaching / Homiletics, Sermons & Teachings, Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology), Theology: Scripture

John Stott on the Spirit-Filled Christian for Pentecost

Our attitude to our fallen nature should be one of ruthless repudiation. For ”˜those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires’ (Gal. 5:24). That is, we have taken this evil, slimy, slippery thing called ”˜the flesh’ and nailed it to the cross. This was our initial repentance. Crucifixion is dramatic imagery for our uncompromising rejection of all known evil. Crucifixion does not lead to a quick or easy death; it is an execution of lingering pain. Yet it is decisive; there is no possibility of escaping from it.

Our attitude to the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is to be one of unconditional surrender. Paul uses several expressions for this. We are to ”˜live by the Spirit’ (Gal. 5:16, 18. 25). That is, we are to allow him his rightful sovereignty over us, and follow his righteous promptings.

Thus both our repudiation of the flesh and our surrender to the Spirit need to be repeated daily, however decisive our original repudiation and surrender may have been. In Jesus’ words, we are to ”˜take up (our) cross daily’ and follow him (Lk 9:23). We are also to go on being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), as we open our personality to him daily. Both our repudiation and our surrender are also to be worked out in disciplined habits of life. It is those who ”˜sow to the Spirit’ (Gal. 6:8) who reap the fruit of the Spirit. And to ”˜sow to the Spirit’ means to cultivate the things of the Spirit, for example, by our wise use of the Lord’s Day, the discipline of our daily prayer and Bible reading, our regular worship and attendance at the Lord’s Supper, our Christian friendships and our involvement in Christian service. An inflexible principle of all God’s dealings, both in the material and in the moral realm, is that we reap what we sow. The rule is invariable. It cannot be changed, for ”˜God cannot be mocked’ (Gal. 6:7). We must not therefore be surprised if we do not reap the fruit of the Spirit when all the time we are sowing to the flesh. Did we think we could cheat or fool God?

Authentic Christianity (Nottingham, IVP, 1995)

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Pentecost, Theology, Theology: Holy Spirit (Pneumatology), Theology: Scripture