Experience, Worship & the Spirit
John Milton, from the "Areopagitica", in The Best of the World's Classics (Funk and Wagnalls Co.: 1909), pp. 141-3.
I cast not praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather; that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary. That virtue therefore which is but a youngling in the contemplation of evil, and knows not the utmost that vice promises to her followers, and rejects it, is but a blank virtue, not a pure; her whiteness is but an excremental whiteness. Which was the reason why our sage and serious poet Spenser, whom I dare be known to think a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinas, describing true temperance under the person of Guion, brings him in with his palmer through the cave of Mammon, and the bower of earthly bliss, that he might see and know, and yet abstain. Since therefore the knowledge and survey of vice is in this world so necessary to the constituting of human virtue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth, how can we more safely, and with less danger, scout into the regions of sin and falsity than by reading all manner of tractates and hearing all manner of reason? And this is the benefit which may be had of books promiscuously read.
N.T. Wright (HarperCollins Publishers: March 2010), 307 pages.
How do you develop a character suited for God’s Kingdom? Practice, practice, practice. That, in a nutshell, is the message of this volume on building Christian character by Wright, a prodigiously prolific Bible scholar and Anglican bishop of Durham, England. In arguing for “this new vision of virtue, which is a vision of Jesus Christ himself,” Wright carefully explores such classical exponents of character as Aristotle. He also acknowledges the existence of other notions of encouraging behavior-based rules, duty, or being “true to oneself.” Drawing on scriptures from Genesis to Revelation, Wright asserts that true transformation comes through the work of the Holy Spirit and through worship, mission, and “following Jesus.” As the habits of virtue grow, the church community will become the royal priesthood it is meant to be, anticipating (one of the author’s favorite words) God’s coming new world. A follow-up to Wright’s Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope, this solid volume will appeal to Christians who appreciate biblical interpretation that hews to tradition but incorporates an emphasis on contemporary social justice as an element of Christian virtue. ~ Publishers Weekly
Gregg A. Ten Elshof (Eerdmans: June 2009), 160 pages.
Think you’ve ever deceived yourself? Then this book is for you. Think you’ve never deceived yourself? Then this book is really for you. "Socrates famously asserted that the unexamined life is not worth living. But Gregg Ten Elshof shows us that we make all sorts of little deals with ourselves every day in order to stave off examination and remain happily self-deceived. Most provocatively, he suggests this is not all bad! While naming its temptations, Ten Elshof also offers a "strange celebration" of self-deception as a gracious gift. In the tradition of Dallas Willard, I Told Me So is a wonderful example of philosophy serving spiritual discipline. A marvelous, accessible and, above all, wise book.” ~ James K. A. Smith • “In this wise, well-crafted work Ten Elshof helps us to identify, evaluate, and respond to our own self-deceptive strategies, as he probes — with occasional self-deprecation and unavoidable humor — the bottomless mysteries of the human heart. His reflections on interpersonal self-deception and "groupthink" are especially helpful. To tell me the truth, I’m glad I read this book. You will be too — I promise.” ~ David Naugle • “Ten Elshof’s discussions are erudite, biblical, searching, and laced with soul-restoring wisdom. All of this together means that this book is solidly pastoral. What it brings to us is appropriate to individuals, but it especially belongs in the context of small groups and local congregations.” ~ Dallas Willard
The True Intellectual System of the Universe (Gould & Newman, 1838), pp. 560-1.
The great design of God in the gospel is to clear up this mist of sin and corruption, which we are here surrounded with, and to bring up his creatures out of the shadow of death to the region of light above, the land of truth and holiness. The great mystery of the gospel is to establish a godlike frame and disposition of spirit, which consists in righteousness and true holiness, in the hearts of men. And Christ, who is the great and mighty Saviour, came on purpose into the world, not only to save us from fire and brimstone, but also to save us from our sins. Christ hath therefore made an expiation of our sins by his death upon the cross, that we, being thus delivered out of the hands of these our greatest enemies, might serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life. This "grace of God, that bringeth salvation," hath therefore "appeared unto all men, in the gospel, that it might teach us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and that we should live soberly, righteously and godlily in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." "These things I write unto you (saith our apostle a little before my text) that you sin not;" therein expressing the end of the whole gospel, which is, not only to cover sin by spreading the purple robe of Christ's death and sufferings over it, whilst it still remaineth in us with all its filth and noisomeness unremoved; but also to convey a powerful and mighty spirit of holiness, to cleanse us and free us from it. And this is a greater grace of God to us, than the former, which still go both together in the gospel; besides the free remission and pardon of sin in the blood of Christ, the delivering of us from the power of sin, by the Spirit of Christ dwelling in our hearts.
J.P. Moreland (Zondervan: May 5, 2007), 240 pages.
Here is penetrating analysis and critique of Western society’s dominant worldviews, naturalism and postmodernism, which have also influenced the church. Moreland issues a bold call to reclaim powerful kingdom living and influence through recovery of the Christian mind, renovation of Christian spirituality, and restoration of the Holy Spirit’s power. "Preachers need to understand the culture, but even more they need to have tools for leading their people out of the cultural confusion that characterizes our age. J. P. Moreland has provided a powerful guide for pastors….This is an important book for church leaders." ~ Preaching magazine
The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1998), p. 273.
Anyone who is not a continual student of Jesus, and who nevertheless reads the great promises of the Bible as if they were for him or her, is like someone trying to cash a check on another person's account. At best, it succeeds only sporadically.
A recent article in Strange Magazine, recounts at length Mark Opsasnick’s investigation into the alleged demon possession that inspired the film, The Exorcist. In spite of the many years passed and the glut of misinformation that has developed, Opsasnick successfully uncovers each of the previously unknown, crucial facts of the case. His tale is suspenseful and tremendously fascinating, and his relentless and careful striving for the facts is a masterpiece of investigative journalism. In the end, with his discoveries in view, Opsasnick disregards the likelihood of an ‘authentic’ demon possession. But for all his apparent even-handedness, it becomes clear that Opsasnick’s hope from the beginning is to debunk "The Exorcist’s" implicit supernaturalism. After many pages of impressively scrupulous and tedious examination of the facts, he rejects the possibility of an authentic demon possession without even pausing to define ‘demon possession’ or how one might determine the authenticity of such an occurrence. In, "Angelology and Biblical Skepticism." Peter Williams has addressed just such skepticism and dismissiveness toward the reality of spirits. Also consider Steve Waterhouse's list of possible ways to distinguish possesions. Even if the events that inspired, "The Exorcist," do invite naturalistic explanation, it would have served Opsasnick well to have been more careful in his final judgement.
C.S. Lewis on Praise and Worship said...
Reflections on the Psalms (Harvest Books: 1964), p.179.
I have never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least. Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.
Mark Twain on Prayer said...
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn't come. Why wouldn't they? It warn't no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from me, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn't come. It was because my heart warn't right; it was because I warn't square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that nigger's owner and tell where he was; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can't pray a lie — I found that out.
"Good Question", at Christian-Thinktank.com.
To illustrate this, consider the contrast between demon-possession and the "control" of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. Inspiration, in the biblical authors' cases, is not symmetrical with demon-possession at all. Demon-possession as recorded in the gospels suppressed the personality of the 'host'; the Christian experience of the Spirit of God liberates our person to manifest its true character. We are designed to produce "self-control" (Gal 5.23!). The true dance with God brings our inner robustness and personality out to joyous expression. We become more 'us' than we could be otherwise.
Lesslie Newbigin (Eerdmans: Mar 30, 1995), 110 pages.
Looking to end the divisive conflict tht has raged between Christians who attack each other either as "liberals" or as "fundamentalists", Newbigin gives a historical account of the roots of this conflict in order to begin laying the foundation for a middle ground that will benefit the Christian faith as a whole and allow Christians to unitedly proclaim the gospel in a pluralistic world. "A masterful demonstration of the bankruptcy of secularism and all forms of Christian accommodation to it." ~ Books and Culture "This is an important book for pastors and teachers serving in church settings where the temptation to soften the scandal of the cross is present or where the good news, for all its outward acceptance, is thought (deep down) to be a source of embarrassment.... The book is beautifully written, a powerful statement of faith in God, whose incarnation has changed the nature of human life forever and whose call to the church cannot be altered by the temptation to believe that the human being is the center of the universe." ~ Princeton Seminary Bulletin
William P. Alston, Faith and Philosophy (1985, 2:1) 5-20.
William Alston brings a philosopher's perspective to prayer, the somewhat audacious belief that humans can speak with God. Alston considers in particular the yet more remarkable belief that God responds to our petitions. A 2005 Rasmussen poll found that 47% of Americans pray daily or nearly every day. But however common, prayer rarely benefits from this kind of philosophical reflection. Alston addresses the issue of God's foreknowledge and omniscience and how these comport with the notion that God's action in the world can be moved by prayer. In particular, he considers objections to the idea that a "timeless" God can engage in dialogue with creatures who are in time. He concludes: "God is essentially timeless in the sense that, apart from His free choice to the contrary, none of His actions or states would be datable nor would He live through temporal succession. But God has the capacity to freely choose to render His activity, or portions thereof, temporally ordered. And this permits Him to enter into genuine interaction, conversational and otherwise, with temporal creatures." ~ Afterall
Strength to Love (Fortress Press: 1982), p. 153.
More than ever before I am convinced of the reality of a personal God. True, I have always believed in the personality of God. But in the past the idea of a personal God was little more than a metaphysical category that I found theologically and philosophically satisfying. Now it is a living reality that has been validated in the experiences of everyday life. God has been profoundly real to me in recent years. In the midst of outer dangers I have felt an inner calm. In the midst of lonely days and dreary nights I have heard an inner voice saying, "Lo, I will be with you." When the chains of fear and the manacles of frustration have all but stymied my efforts, I have felt the power of God transforming the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope. I am convinced that the universe is under the control of a loving purpose, and that in the struggle for righteousness man has cosmic companionship. Behind the harsh appearances of the world there is a benign power.
C.S. Lewis on Worship said...
Reflections on the Psalms (Harvest Books, 1964), p. 177.
When I first began to draw near to belief in God and for some time after it had been given to me, I found a stumbling block in the demand so clamorously made by all religious people that we should "praise" God; still more in the suggestion that God himself demanded it. We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence or delightfulness; we despise still more the man who crowd of people round ever dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand. Thus a picture, at once ludicrous and horrible, both of God and of His worshippers, threatened to appear in my mind. It was hideously like saying, "What I most want is to be told that I am good and great". Worst of all was the suggestion of the very silliest Pagan bargaining, that of the savage who makes offerings to his idol when the fishing is good and beats it when he has caught nothing. More than once the psalmists seemed to be saying, "You like praise. Do this for me, and you shall have some."
C.S. Lewis on Embracing Life said...
Surprised by Joy (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1955), 199.
Jenkins seemed to be able to enjoy everything, even ugliness. I learned from him that we should attempt a total surrender to whatever atmosphere was offering itself at the moment; in a squalid town, seek out those very places where its squalor rose to grimness and almost grandeur, on a dismal day to find the most dismal and dripping wood, on a windy day to seek the windiest ridge. There was not Betjemannic irony about it; only a serious, yet gleeful, determination to rub one's nose in the very quiddity of each thing, to rejoice in its being (so magnificently) what it was.
C.S. Lewis on Paganism said...
Surprised by Joy (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1955), 235.
With the irreligious I was no longer concerned; their view of life was henceforth out of court. As against them, the whole mass of those who have worshiped — all who had danced and sung and sacrificed and trembled and adored — were clearly right. But the intellect and conscience, as well as the orgy and the ritual, must be our guide. There could be no question of going back to primitive, untheologized and unmoralized, Paganism. The God whom I had at last acknowledged was one, and was righteous. Paganism had been only the childhood of religion, or only a prophetic dream. Where was the thing full grown? or where was the awakening?
Phillips Brooks on Prayer said...
Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you yourself shall be a miracle. Every day you shall wonder at yourself, at the richness of life which has come to you by the grace of God.
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, Chapter One (1862)
As we have seen, prayer, celebration of the religious offices, alms, consoling the afflicted, the cultivation of a little piece of ground, fraternity, frugality, self-sacrifice, confidence, study, and work, filled up each day of his life. Filled up is exactly the word, and in fact, the bishop's day was full to the brim with good thoughts, good words, and good actions. Nevertheless it was not complete if cold or rainy weather prevented his passing an hour or two in the evening, when the two women had retired, in his garden before going to sleep. It seemed as if it were a sort of rite with him, to prepare himself for sleep by meditating in presence of the great spectacle of the starry firmament. Sometimes at a late hour of the night, if the two women were awake, they would hear him slowly promenading the walks. He was there alone with himself, collected, tranquil, adoring, comparing the serenity of his heart with the serenity of the skies, moved in the darkness by the visible splendors of the constellations, and the invisible splendor of God, opening his soul to the thoughts which fall from the unknown. In such moments, offering up his heart at the hour when the flowers of night inhale their perfume, lighted like a lamp in the center of the starry night, expanding his soul in ecstasy in the midst of the universal radiance of creation, he could not himself perhaps have told what was passing in his own mind; he felt something depart from him, and something descend upon him, mysterious interchanges of the depths of the soul with the depths of the universe. He would sit upon a wooden bench leaning against a broken trellis and look at the stars through the irregular outlines of his fruit trees. This quarter of an acre of ground, so poorly cultivated, so cumbered with shed and ruins, was dear to him, and satisfied him. What more was needed by this old man who divided the leisure hours of his life, where had so little leisure, between gardening in the daytime, and contemplation at night? Was not this narrow enclosure, with the sky for a background, enough to enable him to adore God in his most beautiful as well as in his most sublime works? Indeed, is not that all, and what more can be desired? A little garden to walk, and immensity to reflect upon. At his feet something to cultivate and gather; above his head something to study and meditate upon: a few flowers on the earth, and all the stars in the sky.