No Such Thing As Instant Spirituality

I just finished to listening to a lecture given by Dr. James Schaap of the Christian Reformed Church entitled, “What About a Bicentennial.” It is basically a sociological examination of the current trends in the West and how they impinge upon the question of whether or not the CRC will be in existence to celebrate a 200th anniversary.

There is a great deal that Schaap goes into that merits conversation. It would easier to analyze if I had a transcript but one thing that jumps out is how he deals with the issue of ‘Spirituality.’ Now Schaap’s lecture is devoted to making sociological observations. As near as I can tell he is being descriptive far more than prescriptive and consequently he is just laying out the way things are without (sociologically speaking) without necessarily directly offering his thoughts about whether what he is describing is good or bad.

What catches my attention about the issue of ‘Spirituality’ is how in the last 10 years or so it has become the latest ‘be all end all.’ In the 70’s if you didn’t have a church bus ministry you obviously didn’t love Jesus. If in the 80’s you didn’t train people in Evangelism Explosion then you obviously weren’t serious about reaching people for Jesus. If in the 90’s you didn’t embrace Church growth methodology you didn’t care about the lost and dying. So now, since the turn of the Century, if you don’t talk about ‘Spirituality’ you can’t be taken seriously in the Church or in the Seminary.

Well, the only success that I ever saw in Church bus ministry as a teenager in the 70’s was the success that came with making out in the back of the bus on the way back from the youth outing. In the 80’s I memorized Evangelism Explosion cold in Seminary and came away thinking that using the approach was like trying to sell a used car. In the 90’s I largely decided that Church Growth methodology smelled of sulfur and was from the pit. And I am afraid to say that all the urge towards Spirituality leaves me spiritually cold.

Still, no one can deny that it is all the rage. Go to any Barnes and Noble book store and head to the ‘Spirituality’ section and you will see it maxed out with everything from Aura to Zen. Flip on the television and the Spiritual realm jumps out at you. Look through the catalogs of most Seminaries and you will find a heavy emphasis on ‘Spiritual formation.’

Sorry, but I’m just not buying. I am sure it is the contrarian in me (though some are more likely to say the proper word is ‘curmudgeon).

This is the way I figure it. Branch Rickey once said that, ‘luck was the residue of hard work.’ Similarly, it is my conviction that ‘Spirituality is the residue of understood Theology.’ If you want to see Christian Spirituality in somebody then teach them Biblical Theology. If you want Spirituality from your ministers that resonates with passion then teach them about the beauty of God and quit with the ‘three easy steps to acquiring passion in your spiritual life.’ The way to develop spiritually sensitive people is not by sending them to some kind of Spiritual lamaze class but the way to develop spiritually sensitive people is by teaching them a Christology that naturally gives birth to Spiritual sensitivity.

Look, if you are having problems with the eggs that a chicken lays you don’t spend your time looking at the egg. Rather you spend your time considering the Chicken’s diet. It’s the same with Spirituality. Spirituality is a byproduct of something prior.If you get the something prior correct you will get the right byproduct. The something prior for Spirituality is Theology. Theology is the Chicken that lays the golden eggs of Spirituality. Deformed Spirituality in people comes from an improper Theological diet. Change the diet and you won’t have to worry about egg.

Now some people will inevitably conclude that Theology is dry, arid and boring. If that is what your experience is with Theology then I can only recommend that somebody expose you to Theology for the first time. The problem with people who’s study of Theology has left them Spiritually arid can only be corrected by exposing them to genuine heart rattling, soul stirring, eye opening, hunger stirring Theology.

When we teach people Spirituality in our Churches apart from Theology we give people the equivalent of a fluffernutter sandwich. All the calories and twice the sugar. When we work on ‘Spiritual formation’ in our Seminaries students as if following some kind of ‘Richard Foster connect the dots spirituality coloring book’ we end up mass producing something that is so contrived and blatantly phony.

Just teach Theology. Give them Augustine. Give them Edwards. Given them Tozer. Give them Owen. Give them Turretin. Give them Bavinck. Give them Dostoevsky. Give them Solzhenitsyn. Give them Dickens. Give them Blake. Give them Dante. Give them Bastiat. Give them Van Prinester, Give them Nock. Give them Chesterton. Give them Belloc. Give the Van Til. Give them Clark. Give them O’Connor. Give them Mencken. Give them Dickinson. It’s all Theology. Make them participants in the great conversation of the West that has been going on for 2000 years. Put them at the Battle of Waterloo. Make them march with Hannibal as he crosses the Alps. Have them walk with Shire through the rise and fall of the Third Reich. Put them in Charlemagne’s court. Have them think about the Dreyfuss affair. It’s all Theology.

Tell them if they want Christian Spirituality then they will have to accrue it the old fashioned way by laboring to enter into the conversation. Tell them that True Spirituality doesn’t come from a few semesters of smarmy ‘think deep thoughts and meditate real hard on your inner self’ curriculum. Tell them that if they are blessed by God they might develop true Spirituality before they die… if they never stop crying out for it day and night. Tell them that Spirituality doesn’t come about apart from living in family and covenant community life. Tell them that Spirituality requires brushing up and looking real close into the eyes of the reluctant dying a few times. Tell them that if they want to be real Spiritual they will need to scrub a few bathroom floors, change a few diapers, comfort the bereaved all the while putting food on the table.

Trying to form Spirituality in people without saturating people in the great conversation is like, paraphrasing C. S. Lewis, bidding the gelding to be fruitful before its grown any gonads. It’s like slamming the oven door while the cake is still cooking. It’s like trying on a size 3 dress before the dieting has started. Spirituality is a byproduct and people will never hit it by aiming at it.

Spiritual formation is the residue of understood Theology.

If you want to Christian Spirituality quit aiming at it and go wade hip deep into the great conversation.

Theme Song For Hillary & Barak Democratic Dream Ticket

Sung to the tune of McCartney and Wonder’s ‘Ebony & Ivory’

Ebony and Ovary strange bedmates in p.c. harmony
Black and Female Marxists, seizing glory, its so p.c.
Voters should know Marxists are the same whatever their sex
They will rob and steal from everyone
They live to lie, they love to cry
Before others in a need to survive and remain alive

Ebony and Ovary strange bedmates in violent harmony
Black and Female together, seizing glory, its so p.c.

Ebony, Ovary living in p.c. harmony
Ebony, Ovary, ooh

Voters should know Marxists are the same whatever their race
They will lie about their Muslim past
Lies of change and reaching out
To others in a need to survive and remain alive

Ebony and Ovary strange bedmates in p.c. harmony
Black and Female together, seizing glory, its so p.c.

Ebony, Ovary living in p.c. harmony (repeat & fade)

Two Kingdom Theory & The Reichskanzler

In an effort to stifle the opposition, Hitler invited 40 prominent church leaders to meet with him on January 25th. He said, “You leave the care of the Third Reich to me and you look after the church.” That sounded good, but Hitler still planned to control the church through Reich Bishop Müller.

The story of the confessing Church in Germany is somewhat known among Christians in America. One reason that I explicitly and vehemently reject radical Two Kingdom Theory is because of some deep and heavy research while an undergraduate in the relationship between Church and State from 1933-1945 in National Socialist Germany. In this culture the Church had been co-opted by the State to the point that only a very small percentage of German Christians were willing to stand against the patriotic and nationalistic fervor that swept over Germany. Luther’s Two Kingdom Theology had been preached throughout the German Lutheran Church and it was this theology that made it easier for the National Socialist regime to compromise any resistance that might have arisen in the Church.

While Luther’s Two Kingdom Theology is not exactly the same as that being pushed by Radical two Kingdomists today (it had more of a flavor of State over the Church), I still am concerned about the radical two Kingdom theology that is being advocated today by the faculty at Westminster West since it is not difficult to see similar conditions being created within the Church in These United States as existed in the Church of National Socialist Germany from 1933-1945. After all, according to the Radical Two Kingdomists the Church as the Church is not to speak to the civil realm since the civil realm is to be spoken to by individual Christians citing not God’s revealed word (Scripture) but rather using God’s creation word (Natural law) as authority. Could a Church saturated in radical two Kingdom theology (R2kt) find it within themselves enough of a spine to stand athwart the wicked intentions of Machiavellian Statist magistrates? Could a Church saturated in R2kt find it within themselves the ability to protest the actions of the magistrate in any action except an attempt to control the Church? (And the question begs being asked as to why any Magistrate living in the same culture as a R2kt Church would bother to worry about the Church since it could be no threat whatsoever to his {or Her — HRC} designs.)

Now the account cited above has an encouraging ending.

As the clergymen were leaving, Martin Niemöller addressed Hitler: “Herr Reichskanzler, you said just now, `I will take care of the German people.’ But we too as Christians and churchmen have a responsibility toward the German people. That responsibility was entrusted to us by God, and neither you nor anyone in this world has the power to take it from us.”

Niemoller is an interesting case. First, theologically speaking he was hopeless, embracing the tradition of Karl Barth (as Dietrich Bonhoffer did as well). Second, Niemoller initially supported Hitler only later realizing the danger of Hitler’s movement. Third, even well into the conflict, Niemoller sought to oppose the policies of National Socialism while taking great pains to communicate that he wasn’t opposing Hitler. Still, to his credit Niemoller spoke more directly on this occasion to Hitler than he was accustomed to being spoken to. Finally, to his credit Niemoller was eventually arrested.

Given R2kt it is difficult to see how any minister would ever be arrested for speaking Biblically revealed truth to authority.

One final word that is somewhat ancillary to all this. American Christians should heed the lessons of the vapid, empty, and unwarranted patriotic and nationalistic fervor that swept over German Christians from 1933-1945. American Christians should realize that all because something is wrapped in the flag of one’s national origin that does not make that policy, law, or view sacrosanct. While we should all love our country, there are times when love for country means we are against our countrymen because we are for our countrymen.

Natural Law And Cultural Engagement

But apologetic confrontation with unbelieving thought is not the only kind of interaction that Christians have with unbelievers. Christians are called not only to break down every pretension that sets itself up against Christ (2 Cor. 10:5) but also to live lives in common with unbelievers in a range of cultural activities. Christians may and even should make music, build bridges, do medical research, and play baseball with unbelievers. Believers are called to live in peace with all men as far as it lies with them (Rom. 12:18), to pray for the peace of the (mostly pagan) city in which they live (Jer. 29:7; 1 Tim. 2:1-2), and to interact in the world with people whom they would not admit to membership in the church (1 Cor. 5:9-11). There is a place for a believing musician to explain to an unbelieving musician that music is meaningless unless the triune God exists, but when they are rehearsing together in the community orchestra such a Van Tillian apologetic confrontation would be highly inappropriate—the task at that time is cooperation at a common cultural task. The same thing is true in regard to working on a construction site with non-Christians or grilling burgers with an unbelieving friend at a neighborhood cook-out or thousands of other ordinary endeavors. To try to put it briefly, we have different sorts of encounters with unbelievers at different times. Sometimes we have opportunity to engage in apologetic discussions, in which our modus operandi is confrontation and exposure of the futility of unbelief (though always in love). Other times (and probably most of the time for the ordinary Christian who is not a professional apologist) we have common tasks in which to engage alongside unbelievers, in which our modus operandi is trying to find agreement and consensus so that shared cultural tasks can be accomplished as well as possible in a sinful world.

Dr. David VanDrunen

Here VD offers as an appeal to Natural law the fact that it provides a means by which Christians and non-Christians can live their lives together. I’m not sure I understand how this serves as an argument for Natural law given that Christians who believe that Biblical law is to be the standard still manage to successfully engage in the kind of activities that VD mentions without embracing Natural law. Biblical law Christians understand that there is a time and a place for playing one’s flute in the local symphonic band and for invoking the law of anti-thesis when discussing how music has genuine meaning only if one presupposes the God of the Bible. I am not sure how believing in Natural law helps one to co-operate in common cultural task over and above believing that Biblical law helps one to co-operate in the common cultural task. Christians need to be salt and light and they cannot be salt and light unless they are positioned in places that are putrid and dark.

There is something else though that we need to mention here. The agenda of Westminster West teaches that the Scriptures do not speak to Musicology, Bridge building, Medical research, or playing baseball. According to the radical two Kingdomists the anti-thesis doesn’t exist in these areas and as such it is not possible to take captive thoughts in these areas to make them obedient to Christ because Christ doesn’t give biblically revealed thoughts on these disciplines. I am not sure that according to radical two Kingdomists that it is true that music doesn’t make sense apart the reality of the Triune God since the Scriptures are not about music.

As to VD’s statement that, ‘Christian modus operandi (must) try to find agreement and consensus so that shared cultural tasks can be accomplished as well as possible in a sinful world,’ we must emphasize that the agreement and consensus that we can find is only where the non-Christian is being inconsistent with their otherwise God hating Worldview. In other words, the fact that we can play beautiful music together with non-Christians in a local symphonic band is because the non-Christians, being gifted with common grace, have not yet worked out their God hating convictions to their inevitable conclusions. It is at least an open question if it would be biblically right, before God, to play in a symphonic band that was committed to preforming pieces and concerts that were dedicated in communicating that music was meaningless, just as it would be disobedience before God to support an art gallery that was committed to anti-art or stocked with works like Andrew Serrano’s Piss Christ.

Still Working on Natural Law

“Natural law is the moral revelation that God gives in creation itself. Romans 1:18-32 speaks of things that may be known of God from creation, including a great deal of moral knowledge. Romans 2:14-15 speaks of the law of God being written on people’s hearts, such that even those without access to the law revealed in Scripture are held accountable to God through their consciences. Many prominent Christian theologians have identified natural law as the standard for civil law and government, including not only medieval theologians such as Thomas Aquinas but also reformers such as John Calvin. Thus, acknowledging the importance of natural law is neither unbiblical nor foreign to historic Christian theology.”

Dr. David VanDrunen

We’ve already dealt with the faults within Natural law in relation to the Romans 1 passage that VD cites above. Simply put the fault in appealing to that passage as a source of legitimacy for Natural law theory is that it ignores the context which teaches that men, because of their depravity, suppress the truth they definitely receive from what is revealed. Because this is true, it is naive to think that Natural law theory can be appealed to in order to provide the legal foundation by which to govern cultures that are post-Christian.

Cornelius Van Til underscores this point,

The doctrine of total depravity of man makes it plain that the moral consciousness of man as he is today cannot the source of information about what is ideal good or about what is the standard of the good…. It is this point particularly that makes it necessary for the Christian to maintain without any apology and without any concession that it is Scripture alone, in the light of which all moral questions must be answered. Scripture as an external revelation became necessary because of the sin of man. No man living can even put the moral problem as he ought to put it, or ask the moral questions as he ought to ask them, unless he does so in light of Scripture. Man cannot of himself face the moral question, let alone answer it.”

Second, VD appeals to Romans 2:14-15 as another base of support for Natural law theory. Let us consider that passage.

14For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

On this passage we must immediately note that the context is the Apostles indictment against Gentiles for their suppressing what they can not avoid knowing. The consequences of their suppression of this known truth is that they exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship things that are not worthy of worship. God having predestined them for such an end thus gives them over to the lusts that they freely desire. This results in a final proclamation from the Apostle in Romans 1:29-32 that they ‘know the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, (yet) not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.’ Romans 2:1-15 finds the Apostle continuing to build the case that the Gentiles are guilty before God even though unlike the Jews they didn’t have God’s written law. St. Paul argues that what proves that they have a knowledge of the moral law of God is seen in that the Gentiles ‘do by nature the things contained in the law,’ and that they have a conscience that judges their conduct consistent with the law. However what we find in Chapter two can’t be made to contradict what we find in Chapter 1 where the Gentiles are characterized as suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. When in the passage quoted above the Apostle says what he does he is not teaching that there are Gentiles who receive the moral law through Natural law mechanisms and who keep the Natural law and so are saved by their righteousness. Such a reading would be contrary to what the Apostle explicitly teaches in 3:19-20, 23. What the Apostle is (again) arguing is that there is a universal sense of obligation — a obligation that is suppressed but still exists. What the Apostle teaches throughout Romans 1-3 is that Gentiles (and all men) are conscious of the moral law to a degree that makes them both guilty before and accountable to God. Romans 2:14-15 thus is anything but a recommendation for a Natural law theory that makes room for the ability of fallen men to not suppress the truth in unrighteousness. In point of fact Romans 1-3 is a round condemnation of any idea of Natural law theory. How can gentlemen like VD appeal to Romans 2:14-15 to support a theory that teaches that men can be governed by their reception and embrace of Natural law when when the immediate context teaches that the Gentiles suppress natural revelation(Romans 1:18-20), worship nature (Romans 1:23-25), act against nature (Romans 1:26-27), and deny their natural affection (Romans 1:31)? If anything the context implicitly suggests that any theory of Natural law that is arrived at by fallen man is a theory that will use Natural law as a means to justify and rationalize their perversions and anti-Christ agenda.

Finally, by way of support for Natural law VD appeals to a long line of Natural law theorists within the Reformed camp. It is undoubtedly true that this long pedigree exists. I would submit however that Natural law theory makes far more sense in the context of Christendom (the context that all these men lived in) then it does in post-Christian culture. Natural law in the context of Christendom has the advantage of making sense if only because there is such a large natural constituency available to buy into what a Christian community would advocate that Natural law teaches. Remember it has been consistently said in these posts on Natural law that God does indeed make His moral order known in natural revelation. The problem is not with the sender but with the receiver(s). In the context of Christendom it would not be a surprise to find that the receivers would be more naturally inclined to correspond with that message which is being sent. Another way to get at what I am saying here is that in a culture embracing a Biblical Worldview Natural law could make perfect sense but in that context one would find that Natural law was nothing but a reflection of Biblical law. So on one hand Natural law could work in a culture shaped by a Biblical Worldview but on the other hand that culture wouldn’t need Natural law since it was looking to God’s Word for guidance. All of this is to say that the long pedigree of Reformed Natural law thinkers that can be pointed to makes sense in light of the fact that they all were living in the context of Christendom where there existed common ground. Natural law in a post-christian context can’t make that kind of sense.

So, the three reasons that VD give for giving Natural law a hearing have been weighed and found wanting.