Luther Rice Journal of Christian Studies

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Summer 2020 Vol. 3

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Editorial Board General Editor

Willliam R.Wilson, Ph.D.

Associate Editors

Thomas Mapes, Ph.D. Ann Kerlin, Ph.D.

Book Review Editor

Joshua E. Stewart, Ph.D.

a.purpose of the Luther Rice Journal of Christian Studies is to edify Christian leaders through scholarly articles and practical essays relevant to Christian life and ministry.


Table of Contents

The Bible’s Metanarrative: God Takes a Bride ............................................................................... 1 by Sunsan A. Cyre Common Grace as Central Theological Resource for Evangelical Cultural Engagement ............. 18 by C. Ryan Fields Addiction and the Role of the Church ........................................................................................... 43 by Ricky Wesendorf Christian Education – One Size Does Not Fit All: Revisiting Christian Education in the Context of the Indigenous Church Plant in Liberia, West Africa................................................................ 58 by Marian Stewart Redemptive Derision: .................................................................................................................... 70 by Sam Welbaum Thomas Merton's Theology of Prayer............................................................................................ 88 by John Woolard Book Reviews .............................................................................................................................. 113 Amanda W. Benckhuysen. The Gospel According to Eve: A History of Women’s Interpretation. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Pp. 272. $25 paperback. ......................................... 114 by Laura Powell Tony Evans. The Power of Preaching: Crafting a Creative Expository Sermon. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019. Pp. 145. ISBN:978-0-8024-1830-2. Cloth cover, $10.39/ eBook, $7.99. ..................................................................................................................................................... 119 by Tony A. Rogers

Submission Requirements for LRJCS………………………………………………….124



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The Bible’s Metanarrative: God Takes a Bride by Susan A. Cyre The Importance of the Bible’s Metanarrative In the original Star Trek episode “Who Mourns for Adonais?” the starship Enterprise is held captive by the ancient god Apollo.1 His giant hand reaches out into space and grips the ship. When Captain Kirk asks Apollo what he wants from them, Apollo responds, “I want what is rightfully mine—your loyalty, your tribute, and your worship.” After the Enterprise destroys Apollo’s energy source thus freeing the ship, Apollo tearfully confesses, “I would have cherished you, cared for you. I would have loved you as a father loves his children. Did I ask so much?” Kirk responds, “We’ve outgrown you. You ask for something we can no longer give.” The episode portrays postmodernism’s hostility to a single metanarrative that defines human existence. The big story for Apollo that explains life is his provision and the worshipful response of his subjects that some people might claim hints at a Christian metanarrative. For Kirk, human beings are autonomous and have “outgrown” the need for a god-like being to care for and love them. Postmodernists prefer multiple narratives where each individual determines his/her own life story, which then coexists peacefully with all other narratives. The Star Trek episode first aired in 1967, but the hostility to a single metanarrative remains entrenched in our postmodern culture. There are important reasons, however, for Christians to push back and affirm that Scripture reveals a metanarrative that is true for the whole world.

 Founding executive director of Presbyterians for Faith, Family, and Ministry, editor of Theology Matters, and author of From Genesis to Revelation God Takes a Bride. 1

NBC.

Star Trek: The Original Series, season 2, episode 2, “Who Mourns for Adonais?” September 22, 1967,


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First, a metanarrative allows us to understand how the story of our lives fits into the larger story. It is the larger story that assigns meaning and purpose to our lives and tells us how to live. Alasdair MacIntyre posits, “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question, ‘Of what story do I find myself a part?’”2 Theologian James Hamilton similarly expresses the importance of the metanarrative: “What we think and how we live is largely determined by the larger story in which we interpret our lives.”3 Second, identifying the scriptural metanarrative is important because it helps prevent the story from being corrupted or even replaced by the culture’s story, whether that story is individual autonomy, radical environmentalism, globalism, Marxism, socialism, Progressivism, Postmodernism, or a multitude of other cultural stories, ideologies, and agendas. Missiologist Lesslie Newbigin understood that without a coherent metanarrative, Scripture’s individual pieces can be more easily misinterpreted and supplanted by other ideologies.4 Even well-meaning Christians can take verses and narratives of Scripture and interpret them in ways that reflect the culture’s latest ideology. Furthermore, according to Newbigin, to be effective, the church’s missional outreach must present a single metanarrative. Therefore, the church must “recover a sense of the Scriptures as a canonical whole, as the story which provides the true context for our understanding of the meaning of our lives—both personal and public.”5

Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, “Story and Biblical Theology,” in Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation, eds. Craig Bartholomew, et al. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 145. 2

James M. Hamilton Jr., What is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns (Wheaton, Crossway, 2014), 11. 3

4

Bartholomew and Goheen, “The Story of Biblical Theology,” 152.

5

Ibid.


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Third, the metanarrative is important because it links the Old and New Testaments. A single metanarrative from Genesis to Revelation thwarts attempts to dismiss all or parts of Scripture as outdated or unimportant. Throughout history there have been attempts to prioritize the New Testament over the Old Testament. In his recent book, author and preacher Andy Stanley targets the Old Testament as an impediment to people coming to faith in Christ. Therefore, Stanley asks leaders “Would you consider unhitching your teaching of what it means to follow Jesus from all things old covenant?”6 Stanley is not the first person to reject the Old Testament. Second-century heretic Marcion interpreted the Old Testament as filled with wrath, law, and judgment and the New Testament as filled with love, grace, and acceptance. He went so far as to declare that the God of the Old Testament was a different God who had nothing in common with Jesus. Theologian and pastor Randal Otto explains the implications of Marcion’s view: “In order to sustain this view, Marcion rejected the entire Old Testament and any portions of our present New Testament that did not cohere with his view of Jesus’ God as love.”7 Otto recognizes, however, that this is not just a second-century heresy. He writes: The spirit of Marcionism is seen in the church where the Old Testament and its teaching on the nature and requirements of God are dismissed, where the concepts of law, wrath, and righteousness are minimized or disregarded altogether....many do not recognize all scripture as the written Word of God, but instead only accept those portions that fit with their view of God as non-judgmental and accepting of all.8

Michael Kruger, “Why We Can’t Unhitch from the Old Testament,” The Gospel Coalition, October 22, 2018, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/irresistible-andy-stanley. 6

Randall Otto, “The Problem with Marcion: A Second-Century Heresy Continues to Infect the Church,” Theology Matters 4, no. 5, (Sept/Oct 1998): 1-2. 7

8

Ibid.


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Without a metanarrative, it is easy to pick and choose those passages that seem more user-friendly or more in-line with one’s personal theology. The Metanarrative: God Takes a Bride9 Theologians have proposed a number of different biblical metanarratives. James M. Hamilton suggests “The Bible’s central theme is the glory of God in salvation through judgment.”10 N. T. Wright views the biblical story as “constituting four acts—creation, fall, Israel, Jesus—plus the first scene of the fifth act that narrates the beginning of the church’s mission.”11 Christopher Wright posits that the over-arching story is: creation, fall, redemption, new creation. He defines redemption as beginning with God’s promise to Abraham that through him all the nations would be blessed.12 Israel and later the church are vehicles of extending God’s blessing to the world.13 For Richard Bauckham, the Bible’s metanarrative moves from particular to universal in three areas. Temporally, the Bible moves from creation to the eschatological future. Spatially it moves from Israel to the universal kingdom. And socially, it moves from Abraham to Jesus to every nation.14 These and other proposed metanarratives are not in error, but they are perhaps penultimate. They assume God’s purpose in creation is to establish a kingdom with loyal, obedient subjects. When that plan was thwarted by the Fall, God

9

For a complete development of this theme, see my book: Susan A. Cyre, From Genesis to Revelation God Takes a Bride (New York: Page, 2019). 10

Hamilton, What is Biblical Theology?, 41.

11

Bartholomew and Goheen, “The Story of Biblical Theology,” 155.

Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 40-45. 12

13 14

Ibid., 68-69.

Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2003), 13-15.


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worked through Abraham to fulfill his desire for a kingdom. Israel and later the church are instrumental in making loyal subjects fit for the kingdom. Consider the possibility, however, that God is seeking not loyal subjects, but a cherished bride? Consider that the church is not merely instrumental but teleological? What if the penultimate metanarratives proposed so far describe God’s plan in accomplishing the ultimate Big Story of God winning the love of his bride and transforming her into a queen fit to rule by his side?15 This paper proposes that the metanarrative of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation is God taking a bride.16 The story begins in Genesis when God creates the world as the home from which he will call forth his bride. Eighteenth-century Reformed pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards says it well: The creation of the world seems to be have been especially for this end, that the eternal Son of God might obtain a spouse towards whom he might fully exercise the infinite benevolence of his nature, and to whom he might, as it were, open and pour forth all that immense fountain of condescension, love, and grace that was in his heart, and that in this way God might be glorified.17 Paul testifies to the church at Ephesus that God knew his bride and chose her before he created the world: “For he [the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ] chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”18 It is not just individuals, however,

15

See Ezekiel 16:13, Revelation 22:5.

Understanding that God’s purpose in creation is to unite himself to his people in marriage does not contradict other descriptions of God as King, Shepherd, the Light of the World, etc. God can be Husband and also King, Shepherd, Light. Nor does the church as the bride of Christ contradict believers as “servants.” The Hebrew word for servant, ‘ebed, does not correspond to eighteenth and nineteenth-century slavery in this country. According to TWOT, the Arabic root meaning of the word is “to worship, obey” and when the service, ‘aboda, is offered to God, it is “joyous and liberating.” In the last 27 chapters of Isaiah, the term refers to the Messiah. Service is a joy when it is offered to the beloved. Married human couples understand that servanthood is part of their relationship. It is a servanthood of self-giving love. 16

Jonathan Edwards, “The Church’s Marriage to Her Sons, and to Her God,” (sermon, September 19, 1746), http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/articles/index.php?view=article&aid=3426. 17

18

Ephesians 1:4 (all biblical references are NIV).


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that God chose before the creation of the world. Later in Ephesians, Paul applies the same terms, “holy and blameless,” to the church as the bride of Christ: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleaning her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. God created the world as the home from which he would win a bride. Then, God created human beings in his own image so that they could become a suitable bride for the incarnate Christ. Being in the image of God means being like the incarnate Son. Scripture is clear that God calls his people to be like him—“be holy for I am holy” (Lev 11:44). And Paul writes in his letter to the church at Rome that “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…” (Rom 8:29). In other words, in order to be holy and conformed to the likeness of his Son, we have to be created in an image suitable to be the bride for the incarnate Christ. Immediately after God creates man and woman in his image, God institutes marriage between a man and woman as an image of the divine union of Christ and the church. Again, looking at Ephesians, Paul quotes Genesis 2 and connects it to the union of Christ and the church: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.19 Professor Geoffrey Bromiley echoes Paul’s teaching, “As God made man in his own image, so he made marriage in the image of his own eternal marriage with his people.”20 Pastor

43.

19

Ephesians 5:31-32.

20

Geoffrey W. Bromiley, God and Marriage (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980),


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and theologian John Piper, too, affirms that when God instituted marriage, “he didn’t roll dice or draw straws or flip a coin as to how they [man and woman] might be related to each other. He patterned marriage very purposefully after the relationship between his Son and the church, which he had planned from all eternity.”21 The metanarrative of Scripture is the greatest love story ever lived. It is the church’s story. It is our story. The Abrahamic Covenant Promises a Marriage Let us follow the story. God commits himself to a future marriage in the Abrahamic covenant. Two aspects of the Abrahamic covenant point to it being a premarital promise. First, God makes promises to Abraham to provide food, clothing, and descendants,22 which are the requirements of a Hebrew husband toward his wife that are detailed in Exodus 21:10.23 Historical research affirms that this was indeed the expectation of a Hebrew husband.24 God fulfills his premarital promises to Abraham, when as a result of God’s abundant provision, Abraham becomes “very wealthy”25 and Abraham’s descendants become as numerous as the stars of the sky. Second, God declares that circumcision is to be the sign of this covenant.26 Circumcision was not unique to Israel. It was performed throughout the ancient Near East at puberty in

21

John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1986), 178.

22

Genesis 12:1-4.

23

The text requires that a Hebrew man supply food, clothing, and marital rights to his first wife, even if she is a slave, when he marries a second wife. We can assume if he had to provide these things to a slave wife, he would have had to provide them to a free wife. Daniel I. Block, “Marriage and Family in Ancient Israel,” in Marriage and Family in the Biblical World, ed. Ken M. Campbell (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 47. 24

25

Genesis 13:2.

26

Genesis 17:10.


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preparation for marriage. Historical research shows that circumcision likely started in Egypt 2686 -2181 BC27 and was practiced by all of the peoples in the ancient Near East with the exception of the Philistines, who were referred to in Scripture as the “uncircumcised Philistines” until the time of the Israelite prophets. 28 Biblical scholar Roland de Vaux observes that circumcision in the ancient Near East “is an initiation to marriage.”29 Theologian Michael V. Fox concurs with de Vaux, writing that “It [circumcision] would not be of much use in distinguishing the Israelites from their neighbors because many of them were also circumcised.”30 And divinity professor Nick Wyatt explains that circumcision is mentioned in Ugarit texts from northern Syria around 1800 BC where it is “performed in preparation for marriage.”31 Wyatt continues, “It is essentially associated with marriage, as one of its necessary ritual prerequisites” and “this is precisely the situation I have identified in Israelite tradition.”32 In addition to historical evidence, Scripture links circumcision to marriage twice. In Genesis 34 when Shechem, a Hivite, suggests that Jacob’s family and the Shechemites intermarry, Jacob approves the intermarriages but stipulates that the Shechemites must first be circumcised. Unbeknown to Shechem, Jacob plans to use their weakness after circumcision to destroy them. Still, why would the Shechemites agree to circumcision, unless they understood it

Geraldine Pinch, “Private Life in Ancient Egypt,” in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, ed. Jack M. Sasson (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1995), 1:378. 27

28

See for example Judges 14:3 and 1 Samuel 17:26.

Avraham Faust, “The Bible, Archaeology, and the Practice of Circumcision in Israelite and Philistine Societies,” Journal of Biblical Literature 134, no. 2 (2015): 274. 29

30

Ibid., 273-290.

Nick Wyatt, “Circumcision and Circumstance: Male Genital Mutilation in Ancient Israel and Ugarit,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 33, no. 4 (2009): 423. 31

32

Ibid.


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as an almost universal premarital act? Exodus 4:24 also links marriage and circumcision. As Moses and Zipporah are returning to Egypt, Zipporah circumcises their son, throwing the foreskin at Moses and declaring, “You are a bridegroom of blood to me.” In the Abrahamic covenant, it is God who makes the premarital promise to bless Abraham, give him children, and provide a homeland where God will dwell with him and his descendants. The outward sign of Abraham’s acceptance of God’s promise of a future marriage is circumcision. The Betrothal/Marriage Covenant at Sinai The next step in this metanarrative is the betrothal. When God calls Moses a second time in Exodus 6, God uses the formulaic statement of marriage saying, “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” The language points to a future marriage—“I will be your God [husband] and you will be my people [wife].” According to Seock-Tae Sohn, these are the formulaic words of a typical marriage covenant in Israel.33 In the ancient Near East, to establish a marriage covenant, either the groom or the bride or both declare the formulaic words, “You are my wife” and/or “You are my husband.” Examples of this declarative formula are found in Akkadian marriage covenants that were made simply by announcing, “She is my wife.”34 In the Jewish colony at Elephantine in the fifth century BC, the formula pronounced at marriage is, “She is my wife and I am her husband, from this day and forever.”35 The formula is also found in

33

Seock-Tae Sohn, YHWH, The Husband of Israel (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2002), 23-27.

34 Markham J. Geller, “The Influence of Ancient Mesopotamia on Hellenistic Judaism” in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, ed. Jack M. Sasson (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1995), 1:45. 35

Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965), 33; also HdO: A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, ed. Raymond Westbrook (Boston: Brill Publishers, 2003), 1:45.


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Egyptian marriage contracts and in the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic.36 When God divorces the northern Kingdom of Israel as described in Hosea, God repeats the phrase in the negative, which is the typical way a divorce was enacted.37 God tells Gomer, Hosea’s wife, to call their son, “LoAmmi, for you are not my people [wife], and I am not your God [husband]” (Hos 1:9). This formulaic language is so important to the unfolding story of God taking a bride that it is repeated in Leviticus 26:12, Jeremiah 7:23, 11:4, 30:22, and Ezekiel 36:28. It is also repeated in the New Testament in 2 Corinthians 6:16 and it is fulfilled in Revelation 21:3, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” God and Israel become legally betrothed at Mt. Sinai. Marriage in ancient Israel consisted of two steps: the betrothal and the marriage. The marriage could occur months or even years after the betrothal.38 During the betrothal period, the bride prepared herself for the marriage and the groom added a room onto his father’s house where he would dwell with his bride. Betrothal was indistinguishable from marriage except that the couple did not yet dwell together in total intimacy. After the betrothal, the couple was known as husband and wife in the community. The betrothal could only be broken by divorce and if either the man or woman had sexual relations, it

Seock-Tae Sohn, “‘I Will Be Your God sand You Will Be My People’: The Origin and Background of the Covenant Formula,” in Ki Baruch Hu: Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical, and Judaic Studies in Honor of Baruch A. Levine, eds. Robert Chazan, William W. Hallo, and Lawrence H. Shiffman (Eisenbrauns, 1999), 355-372. 36

37

Sohn, YHWH, The Husband of Israel, 24.

Victor H. Matthews, “Marriage and Family in the Ancient Near East,” in Marriage and Family in the Biblical World, ed. Ken M. Campbell (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2003), 9. See also “Issues in Jewish Ethics: Marriage,” Jewish Virtual Library, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/marriage.html. 38


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was considered adultery.39 Matthew 1:18-20 shows that this understanding of betrothal persisted into New Testament times. The basis of the betrothal and the marriage that follows is the legal document agreed to by the bride and groom. This legal betrothal/marriage document between God and Israel is the Ten Commandments. Sohn writes, “We can see here that YHWH wrote a marriage document on the tablets at the time the covenant was made with Israel on Mount Sinai....”40 Requiring a legal document on which to base marriage was not unique to Israel. I. Mendelsohn observes that countries in the ancient Near East required written contracts for marriage.41 “In Babylonia marriage was based on a written contract.” The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi from 1700 BC states that “If a man takes a wife and do [sic] not draw up a contract...with her, that woman is not a wife.”42 Similarly, “a contract was necessary to legalize marriage in Assyria.”43 Mendelsohn concludes that while no written contracts have been found in Palestine, “one may assume that a written marriage contract was in use” in Israel.44 The written contracts that have been found in the ancient Near East included commitments by the groom to provide “food, clothing and whatever else is proper for a wedded wife.”45 Often in the contracts, the groom agrees to the

39

Victor H. Matthews, “Marriage and Family,” 9.

40

Sohn, YHWH, The Husband of Israel, 57.

41

I. Mendelsohn, “The Family in the Ancient Near East,” The Biblical Archaeologist 11, no. 2 (1948): 25.

42

Ibid.

43

Ibid., 26.

44

Ibid.

Jacob R. Rabinowitz, “Marriage Contracts in Ancient Egypt in the Light of Jewish Sources,” Harvard Theological Review 46, no. 2 (April 1953): 95. 45


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amount of money the wife will receive if he divorces her46 and the groom agrees to the grounds for divorce.47 It is important to note that in the ancient Near East, the legal document stipulates the groom’s obligations toward the bride and her response. Pastor and theologian Gordon Hugenberger, in his exhaustive study of the marriage covenant in Malachi, concludes that Malachi uses literary parallels to acknowledge “a profound similarity between Israel’s covenant with Yahweh and the marriage covenant.”48 Hugenberger writes, “the primary obligation of marriage as stressed in both of these texts [Gen 2 and Malachi 2] is not that of the wife toward her husband, as might be expected from their ancient contexts, but that of the husband toward his wife.”49 God, as a Hebrew husband, obligates himself to his bride by making implicit promises in the Ten Commandments to provide food, clothing, and children. Since God commits to providing for his bride’s material needs, he calls her to rest on the Sabbath in response to his abundant provision. God promises to give her children and therefore she should honor the parents through whom God gives life.50 Both God and Israel agree to the written covenant in Exodus 24, which forms the basis for the betrothal and later marriage. Typically in Israel following the covenant-making, the groom would prepare “his finest meal for her [his bride] and they would feast together in his

46

Ibid., 93, 95.

47

Ibid., 93.

48

Gordon P. Hugenberger, Marriage as a Covenant (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1994), 174.

49

Ibid., 149.

50

Viewing the Ten Commandments as a marriage covenant allows for a more integrated understanding of the commandments. For a careful examination of each commandment as part of a marriage covenant that is fulfilled in Christ, see my book: From Genesis to Revelation God Takes a Bride.


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house.”51 That feast is described in Exodus 24 when Moses, Aaron, the priests Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders go up on Mt. Sinai where they “[S]aw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself...they saw God, and they ate and drank.” Following the betrothal-celebration meal, Moses goes back up onto Mt. Sinai to receive the blueprint for the tabernacle where God will dwell with his beloved wife. Sadly while Moses is on the mountain, the Israelites break the covenant by committing adultery with a golden calf. The rest of the Old Testament describes Israel’s persistent unfaithfulness and God’s unrelenting love for his bride. Jesus Christ the Bridegroom of the Church Although all the Gospels speak of Jesus as the bridegroom, John’s Gospel has a special emphasis on this. In John 2, at the wedding at Cana, it is Christ, the bridegroom, who supplies the wine. In the third chapter, John testifies that he is the friend of the bridegroom. In John 14, at the last supper, Jesus reveals the time when his marriage to the church will be consummated. In Israel after a man was betrothed, he went to his father’s house and added a room where he would dwell with his bride. When the room was finished, the groom went to the bride’s home and brought her to dwell with him in the room he prepared in his father’s house. Jesus tells the disciples this will soon take place: In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. As the bridegroom of the church, Jesus did not abrogate the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments have not been superseded by grace as if they are outdated. John Calvin

Daniel I. Block, “Marriage and Family,” 45. See also Naftali Silberberg, “Kiddushin—Betrothal,” Chabad.org, https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/477321/jewish/Kiddushin-Betrothal.htm. 51


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writes, “sooner will heaven crash, and all the fabric of earth dissolve, than the fixity of the Law be shaken.”52 The Law describes God’s care for his bride and her trusting response. The problem is that human beings are unable to keep the Law. Instead of loving God and trusting his promises, the Law had the opposite effect. Paul says that the mere giving of the Law produced sin in us.53 Augustine explains that we are incapable of perfectly loving God as the Law requires because “Love so follows knowledge that no one can love God perfectly who does not first fully know his goodness. While we wander upon the earth, ‘we see in a mirror dimly’ [1 Corinthians 13:12]. Therefore, it follows that our love is imperfect.”54 Until we see God face to face, and know him fully even as we are fully known, Christ left his Spirit to work in us preparing the bride for her wedding by “cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish” (Eph 5:27). As the betrothed bride of Christ, we are already united with Christ and therefore, he takes on our sin and we receive his righteousness. Martin Luther explains the great exchange that is made through the marriage of Christ and his bride this way: Who then can fully appreciate what this royal marriage means? Who can understand the riches of the glory of this grace? Here this rich and divine bridegroom Christ marries this poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all his goodness. Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by him. And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently display alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, “If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all

52 John Calvin, A Harmony of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries 1, trans. A. W. Morrison, eds. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972), 180. 53

54

Romans 7:7-8.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans Ford Lewis Battles, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), 2.7.5.


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his is mine and all mine is his,” as the bride in the Song of Solomon [2:16] says, “my beloved is mine and I am his.” 55 The Last Supper that Jesus celebrates with his disciples spans the breadth of the metanarrative. It is first a looking back to the Passover, when God revealed himself to his future bride, protected her from the angel of death, took her out of Egypt, and brought her to himself at Mt. Sinai.56 Second, the Last Supper is a remembrance of the betrothal/marriage covenantmaking in Exodus 24 when the “blood of the covenant” was sprinkled on the people and the altar. Jesus points back to the betrothal by using the same phrase, “blood of the covenant,” at the Last Supper. Third, the Supper is a remembrance of Christ giving his life for his bride to pay the debt she owed. Christ gave himself totally and exclusively to her. He withheld nothing from her, even his own life. Finally, the Supper is a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19) that will one day be celebrated when the wedding takes place and the union is consummated. Only then will the bride see her beloved bridegroom face to face in total intimacy. Then she will dwell with him and reign by his side forever. This is the story of salvation. This is the Big Story that binds all of Scripture together. This is a love story. The In-Between Time The church is already the betrothed bride of Christ looking forward to the day when Christ returns and the wedding takes place. Christ has already paid her debts and given her his riches. He loves her fully and has given his life for her. The church’s joy in the in-between time is to grow in her knowledge and love of Christ. It is her mission to share Christ’s love for his

55 Martin Luther, Treatise on Christian Liberty (1520), trans. W. A. Lambert and Harold J. Grimm, Lutherans Online, http://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/1651luther.html.

The language of a bridegroom “taking” a bride and “bringing” her to himself is also marriage language. See Sohn, YHWH, The Husband of Israel, 12-14, 28-34. 56


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bride with others. Yet, her mission is not the end of the story. God’s ultimate will and purpose for the church is to be united with his bride forever. The End of the Story The wedding of the Lamb, which Scripture attests brings glory to God, takes place in Revelation 19: Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. God then gives his bride a new home in the new heaven and new earth that is untainted by sin, where they will dwell together. In great intimacy, God himself will wipe every tear from her eye. The bride of Christ no longer sees dimly but now sees her beloved face to face. She will know her bridegroom fully even as she is fully known.57 And she will reign at his side forever and ever.58 Those who dwell in the new Jerusalem, the Kingdom, are not merely “loyal subjects,” but a devoted, faithful bride, who loves her bridegroom with all her heart, mind, and soul. Nineteenth-century preacher Charles Spurgeon describes Scripture’s glorious story: Christ Jesus is joined unto His people in marriage-union. In love He espoused His Church as a chaste virgin, long before she fell under the yoke of bondage. Full of burning affection He toiled, like Jacob for Rachel, until the whole of her purchase-money had been paid; and now, having sought her by His Spirit and brought her to know and love Him, He awaits the glorious hour when their mutual bliss shall be consummated at the marriage-supper of the Lamb. The glorious Bridegroom has not yet presented His

57

1 Corinthians 13:12.

58

Revelation 22:5.


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betrothed, perfected and complete, before the Majesty of heaven; she has not yet actually entered upon the enjoyment of her dignities as His wife and queen. She is as still a wanderer in a world of woe, a dweller in the tents of Kedar; but she is even now the bride, the spouse of Jesus, dear to His heart, precious in His sight, written on His hands, and united with his person. On earth He exercises toward her all the affectionate offices of Husband. He makes rich provision for her wants, pays all her debts, and allows her to assume His name and to share in all His wealth.59 Our relationship with Christ comes into focus when we understand the great biblical metanarrative that we are a part of: we are the bride of Christ. Dutch Reformed theologian, Abraham Kuyper, describes the love Christ has for his bride and her devotion and love for her bridegroom: The Song of Songs contains a description of the tender love of Immanuel for His Church: He, the Bridegroom who calls for the bride; she, the bride who pines with love for her God-given Bridegroom. This is...the love, not of comfort, but of the tenderest, most intimate communion and mutual belonging together; the one not happy without the other; both destined for each other; by the divine ordinance united, and by virtue of that same ordinance wretched unless the one possess the other.60

59

Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, ed. Alistair Begg (Crossway Books, 2003), from July 22,

Morning. 60

Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, trans. Henri DeVries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1995), 564.


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Common Grace as Central Theological Resource for Evangelical Cultural Engagement by C. Ryan Fields Evangelicals have in recent years come to realize more and more what many branches of the Christian tradition have known for some time now. And what is the content of their collective Eureka moment? In the words (and title) of T. M. Moore’s book calling for a consensus on Christian cultural engagement: culture matters.1 As evangelicals become more accustomed to seeing their movement as one which is “post-fundamentalist,” there is increasing willingness to agree with sentiments such as the one Moore expresses about culture that “as Christians, we cannot afford the luxury of a studied indifference with respect to so potent a subject. Culture matters, and our approach to it must be as informed and consistent as possible.”2 Indeed, there is even a good deal of agreement that “we must discover ways of joining together to reconcile this important, inescapable aspect of our experience to God, so that we can fulfill the obligation incumbent on all the followers of Christ of doing everything—including our work in culture—as part of our quest for the kingdom of God and the glory of his name (Matt. 6:33).”3 There can be no doubt that evangelicals are more aware than ever of the need to take seriously the “turn toward the

C. Ryan Fields is ordained with the Evangelical Free Church of America and is a third year Ph.D. student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School studying systematic theology under Kevin Vanhoozer. His research interests center on ecclesiology and his dissertation project concerns catholicity and the Free Church tradition.

1

T. M. Moore, Culture Matters: A Call for Consensus on Christian Cultural Engagement (Grand Rapids,

MI: Brazos Press, 2007). 2

Ibid., 11.

3

Ibid., 18.


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subject,” their own “situatedness,” and the necessity of building bridges between the biblical world and the cultural world in which they find themselves. But unlike Roman Catholics or liberal Protestants, evangelicals find themselves often lacking crucial resources from within their tradition to think theologically about culture and to inform the increasingly pressing need for cultural engagement. For instance, a survey of standard evangelical texts in systematic theology reveals quite an oversight when it comes to a biblically and theologically informed view of culture and the Christian’s relationship to it. J. I. Packer in his Concise Theology speaks only in passing of the “cultural mandate”4; “culture” cannot be found in the index of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology or Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology;5 Robert Culver in his Systematic Theology deals with culture only from a historical perspective, seeing it as not much more than an ancient artifact of the biblical storyline;6 the classic work by Gordon H. Clark The Biblical Doctrine of Humanity is extremely individualistic in its orientation;7 and though Charles Sherlock dedicates an entire chapter of his The Doctrine of Humanity to human culture, at the end of the day it is primarily descriptive of the parameters of culture rather than prescriptive of how Christians ought to relate to it.8 Though there have been a handful of texts which have sought to articulate a theology of culture from an evangelical perspective,

4

J. I Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House,

1993), 236. The closest that Grudem and Erickson come to reflecting on humanity’s culturative role or Christian cultural engagement comes in their discussions of the image of God, but even there discussion of the cultural mandate is either nowhere to be found (Grudem 442-443) or is only a passing reference (Erickson, 529). 5

6

Robert Duncan Culver, Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical (Great Britain: Christian Focus Pub.,

2005), 320.

7

Gordon H. Clark, The Biblical Doctrine of Man (Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1984), iii.

8

Charles Sherlock, The Doctrine of Humanity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 129-152.


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most of them have never “broken into” the mainstream of evangelical literature, and the ones that have do not necessarily operate from a robustly theological perspective.9 The problem is clear: the theological resources which evangelicals have at their disposal are still inadequate for providing a proper understanding of culture and its pervasive influence, a prompt for grappling with the import of one’s own cultural locatedness, and a call for Christians to engage culture for the sake of the gospel. It is my contention that more robust theological resources are needed to better inform the (commendable) call for evangelicals to be faithful in their engagement with culture, and it will be the major claim of this paper that the theological construct of “common grace” should be at the top of that list. If evangelicals are going to understand and engage culture for the gospel in a biblically faithful way, they need richer theological undergirding than is generally accessible to them. Otherwise the clarion call for evangelicals to engage culture will be confused, ineffective, and potentially even dangerous for the church and the world alike. But with the insights that the doctrine of common grace (among other doctrines) brings to bear in understanding the Christian’s and church’s relationship to culture, we will inevitably be more informed, more effective, and more capable of being the salt and light in the world which we are called to be (Matt. 5:13-16). But in order for common grace to be viewed as a compelling and effective theological resource for evangelical cultural engagement, two significant questions must be answered which will be addressed in this paper. The first question is this: how might the doctrine of common grace become accessible to evangelicals more broadly? Many evangelicals view the doctrine of common grace as a relic of 19th- and 20th-century debates among Reformed camps. The relative obscurity of these debates has left Reformed evangelicals unsure which “camp” got the doctrine correct10 while non-Reformed evangelicals often dismiss the doctrine out of hand as Calvinist. Thankfully, the work of Richard Mouw has mediated

For an example of the first, see David Hegeman’s Plowing in Hope. For an example of the second, see William Romanowski’s Eyes Wide Open. 9

10

More on the specifics of this intra-Reformed debate in due course


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between the competing Reformed camps and has advocated the doctrine’s reception among evangelicals generally, Reformed and non-Reformed alike. Mouw understands both the particularities of the Reformed debate and the sensibilities and needs of the larger evangelical community. In particular, his work He Shines in All That’s Fair attempts to intercede on behalf of his Reformed brethren to argue that common grace is a theological construct that the broader evangelical community ought to appropriate. This paper will examine the contours of Mouw’s project, evaluate the effectiveness of his proposal, and seek to build upon the insights of his work. In the end it will be argued that Mouw is right: God does indeed shine in all that is fair, and the sooner evangelicals come to embrace and apply this deeply biblical truth, the better. The second question that needs to be addressed is this: why is common grace the best theological construct among the many available within the Christian tradition to inform evangelical cultural engagement? To answer this question will require defining what is meant by “evangelicalism” and, in turn, articulating why evangelicals should view common grace as preferable to alternative theological constructs (e.g., natural law, natural theology, general revelation) in terms of its resonance and explanatory scope. This effort will demonstrate that a doctrine which emerges from Reformed circles need not be regarded as essentially Reformed and consequently unacceptable to non-Reformed evangelicals. On the contrary, if the doctrine of common grace follows logically from the doctrine of sola gratia embraced by Protestants generally, it deserves a place in the theology of each tradition within the Protestant heritage.

Culture & Common Grace: The Basic Parameters To understand how common grace can inform evangelical engagement with culture, one must first become clear on what is meant by culture. Of course, as Elizabeth Sung among many others has acknowledged, “culture is notoriously difficult to define” as there are multiple approaches and even


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contradictory emphases emerging from various fields.11 Some, particularly earlier, accounts of culture understand it as a “complex whole” of a society’s beliefs and values, behavioral norms, institutions, and artifacts. Such an account is seen in Justo González’s definition of culture as “a system of symbols, attitudes, behaviors, relationships, beliefs and responses to the environment shared by a particular human group in contrast to others.”12 Later attempts, in light of globalization and postmodernism, have tended to bring attention to the differences rather than similarities which can be found among the world’s societies, emphasizing “the porosity and hybridity of cultures within a continual dialectic between the local and the global.”13 A near consensus has emerged in the academy that culture is to be understood “not in essentialist terms (as consisting in distinctive traits) but in social constructionist ones (as constituted by symbolizing practices occasioning the ongoing production of meaning).”14 The “meaning-making” element has become more and more central, and this paper will consequently adopt a semiotic view of culture, understanding it as an “interworked system of construable signs” which functions not as a causal power but as a context calling for what Clifford Geertz called “thick descriptions.”15 Though no single definition suffices, one does well to rely on the definition of Paul Hiebert when he says that culture is “the integrated system of learned patterns of behavior, ideas, and products characteristic of a society.”16

11

Elizabeth Sung, “Culture and Hermeneutics,” in Dictionary for the Theological Interpretation of the

Bible, ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 151. 12

Justo L. González, Essential Theological Terms, 1st ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2005),

13

Sung, “Culture and Hermeneutics,” 151.

14

Ibid.

15

Ibid.

16

Paul Hiebert, Cultural Anthropology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1983), 25.

42.


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Culture is, in short, the meaning map that a society provides for individuals and communities as a strategy for living in the world. Indeed it is, as Paul Ricoeur has noted, “the ‘work’ and ‘world’ of meaning.”17 From there, one needs to gain clarity about what is meant by “common grace,” a doctrine that has a long heritage within the Christian (and particularly Reformed) tradition and has thus developed a multiplicity of definitions. An excellent starting point is the work of David Hegeman, who offers a preliminary definition when he observes that “cultural gifts (charisma) are said to be the result of common grace (grace = charis) because they are bestowed by God on Christian and non-Christian alike.”18 By drawing our attention to the linguistic connection between “gifts” and “grace” Hegeman helps to establish what many critics of common grace call into question: that the culturative achievements of unbelievers and their thriving in the world should be understood as the operation of divine grace rather than just the execution of divine providence.19 Abraham Kuyper provides a classic definition of common grace when he says that it is that undeserved favor of God by which He “maintain(s) the life of the world, relaxes the curse which rests upon it, arrests its process of corruption, and thus allows the untrammeled development of our life in which to glorify Himself as Creator.”20 Louis Berkhof further clarifies the concept by posing common grace as the theological answer to a series of questions which face the believer about the unbelieving world and culture at large: “how can we account for [the fact] that sinful man still retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the difference between good and evil, and shows some regard for virtue and for good outward behavior?” and “how can the unregenerate still

17

I am indebted to Kevin Vanhoozer for this reference and formulation of Ricoeur’s contribution.

18

David Bruce Hegeman, Plowing in Hope: Toward a Biblical Theology of Culture (Moscow, ID: Canon

Press, 1999), 80.

19 See, for instance, the argumentation of David Engelsma in his response to Mouw, Common Grace Revisited, especially Chapter 8 “Confusing Grace and Providence,” pages 58-65. 20

Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism (New York: Cosimo Classics, 1931), 30.


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speak the truth, do good to others, and lead outwardly virtuous lives?”21 And Henry Van Til, though he expresses some reservations about using the designation “grace” for this arena of theological reflection (due to concerns that it will become confused with the “beneficent goodness…which God bestows upon elect sinners in and through Jesus Christ, the Mediator”), affirms common grace as “a negative, restraining influence and…a positive power for civic righteousness.”22 The biblical basis for the doctrine is sprinkled throughout the Scriptures. The construct of common grace emerges not merely from passages regarding God’s undeserved favor toward unbelievers (Psalm 104, Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-36, Acts 14:15-17) but also from passages which speak of his wrath toward those who are alienated from him (Psalm 2, Matthew 23-24, Luke 13:1-8, Ephesians 2:1-3). It is thus the tension of these emphases in Scripture that leads to the solution which common grace thinking provides. As Dennis Johnson makes clear, the doctrine of common grace sets out to answer a question very different from the one most commonly asked. While most are struggling with the conundrum of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Johnson insists that the more difficult matter biblically speaking is actually “Why do good things happen through bad people?”23 He goes on to say, “this question…expresses the real enigma that faces us when we try to interpret human experience in the light of the biblical doctrine of man.”24 Mouw similarly summarizes the issue in the form of a simple yet significant question posed by the biblical data regarding human depravity and God’s righteous judgment of it: “How do we explain that there are some good things in non-Christian culture?”25 He, along with so

21

Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, New ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996), 432.

22

Henry R Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1959), 244.

23 Dennis Johnson, “Spiritual Antithesis: Common Grace and Practical Theology,” Westminster Theological Journal 63 (2002): 73. 24

Ibid.

25

Richard Mouw, “The Uncommon Benefits of Common Grace,” Christianity Today 46, No. 8 (2002): 50.


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many of the primarily Calvinistic proponents of the doctrine of common grace, answers this question with a word that tends to flow freely from the lips of the Reformed: grace, the favor of God toward those who deserve otherwise. For these proponents, the grace being discussed here is to be differentiated from the special or particular grace that God gives only to his elect. Common grace is not salvific. As Berkhof insists “(it) does not pardon or purify human nature and does not effect the salvation of sinners.”26 Thus common grace, while universal in scope, never nullifies the need for saving grace. The fact that all of humanity receives common grace does not imply that all of humanity will receive saving grace. Johnson is thus right to insist that, properly understood, common grace doctrine produces and maintains a constant tension; he says, “we cannot deny that a radical spiritual antithesis places Christian thought and nonChristian thought in diametrical opposition to each other. Yet we cannot dismiss the testimony, not only of our experience but also of Scripture itself, that people dead in sin in fact do good, love others, and know truth.”27 Indeed, at the end of his article he provides an even more concise summary of the tension that must be maintained because it is found in the Scriptures themselves and the lived reality they attest to: “In common grace, he deferred our judgment; in redemptive grace, he endured our judgment.”28

Richard Mouw’s Project & Proposal in He Shines in All That’s Fair It should be noted that in articulating the doctrine of common grace above almost every reference was to a Reformed theologian. This further reinforces the question this paper seeks to address: how might the doctrine of common grace become accessible to evangelicals beyond the Reformed tradition, and even be refined by theological contributions from non-Reformed traditions? A large part of this question has been answered by Richard Mouw in his book He Shines In All That’s Fair, a text which he wrote under

26

Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 434.

27

Johnson, “Spiritual Antithesis: Common Grace and Practical Theology,” 76.

28

Ibid., 94.


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the expressed conviction that “Calvinist discussions of the idea of common grace are an important resource for addressing contemporary issues of commonness and difference” and that “much important content in these Calvinist debates [about common grace] has been hidden too long from the larger Christian theological world…[and needs] some broader ecumenical exposure.”29 If anyone is in a position to bring the fruit of long standing debates within the Reformed camp out into the broad reach of evangelicalism, it is Richard Mouw. As one who has been considering and drinking deeply from the Calvinist (specifically Dutch Reformed) theological framework since his college years and who served for twenty years as president of Fuller Theological Seminary (and continues to serve Fuller as Professor of Faith and Public Life), it is hard to imagine anyone better suited for this important task. The importance of Mouw’s work thus merits a chapter by chapter analysis, where the best of his project can be brought forth for the purposes of this proposal. At the end Mouw’s work will be evaluated in order to clarify what and where evangelicals might build upon it. The first chapter, “Thinking About Commonness,” initially bypasses the specifics of the Reformed debate regarding common grace in order to explore the larger need to make sense of “what…Christians can assume they have in common with people who have not experienced the saving grace that draws a sinner into restored relationship with God.”30 Commonness is how Mouw breaks into the conversation about Christian engagement with culture, spelling out how seismic shifts in the cultural landscape (think postmodernism, post-Christendom, etc.) have led Christian theologians to explore the theological basis for commonality with non-Christians where they once explored the theological basis for difference from the same. Mouw summarizes their concerns by asking: “On what basis do we posit a

29

Richard J Mouw, He Shines in All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B.

Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2001), 8. 30

Ibid., 3.


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commonality between those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ and those who have not done so?”31 While Mouw makes passing comments commending the natural law tradition held largely by Roman Catholics, it is clear that he believes the only theological resource which can fully explain commonality between believers and unbelievers is the common grace tradition which emerged primarily out of Reformed thinking. The second chapter, “Lessons from the ‘Labadists,’” takes up the story of common grace within Reformed circles with all of its heat and divisiveness, seeking to derive lessons for evangelicalism more broadly not only from the majority common grace proponents but also from the minority common grace detractors. Here he introduces the three components of common grace doctrine which the Dutch Reformed church debated in a concentrated way in the 1920s: 1. the bestowal of natural gifts (such as rain and sunshine), 2. the restraining of sin in human affairs (so that humans are not as evil as they could be), and 3. the ability of unbelievers to perform acts of civic good. Mouw notes his conviction that the debate needs to be revisited in light of tremendous changes in the intellectual climate of our day. After all, in the 1920s Enlightenment rationalism and unbridled autonomy ruled the philosophical waters; now (or at least, in 2001 when Mouw’s book was written) intellectuals are more apt to trumpet the demise of “the Enlightenment project” and its universalizing tendencies that emphasized the commonality of all human beings. In light of this incredible shift in philosophical foundations, Mouw asks whether common grace theology might provide compelling answers for Christians who are now seeking to articulate why there is an inexplicable commonality in the human experience, filling in the gaps that secular philosophy overlooks. Mouw seeks to show that the best of the Reformed tradition (which in his mind is especially seen in the work of Calvin and Kuyper) was picked up by the common grace proponents of the 1920s and should continue to be appropriated by evangelicals today. But, in his even-handed way, he generously sets forth the position of the common grace opponents (particularly Hoeksema and Dooyeweerd) and cautions

31

Ibid., 6.


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his readers to take heed of their two primary objections: that those who are destined for eternal destruction can never actually receive a grace of any kind, and that common grace doctrine attributes to divine favor what is better summarized as the workings of divine providence. His willingness to bring common grace theology under scrutiny strengthens his argument that it can endure the criticisms of believers from varying theological perspectives within evangelicalism today. Chapter three, “He Shines in All That’s Fair,” moves to the heart of Mouw’s project as he poses one particularly important question for the legitimacy of common grace theology: “How do we take with utmost seriousness the need to be clear about the lines between belief and unbelief…while at the same time maintain an openness to—and even an appreciation for—all that is good and beautiful and true that takes place outside of these boundaries?”32 It is here that Mouw admits he does not think that salvific categories alone are sufficient to cover all of God’s dispositions toward human beings, both redeemed and unredeemed. By appreciating the good (what is moral and right), the beautiful (what is aesthetically pleasing), and the true (what corresponds to the way the world really is), one is in fact imitating God’s appreciation of these things in and of themselves, things which seem to be more than merely the providential outworking of the eternal destinies of the elect and reprobate. Mouw is particularly struck by examples from the moral realm which cause us to celebrate right things done and to experience deep empathy for those who suffer grievously in the world, including unbelievers. Do we not imitate God when we rejoice in the reconciliation of non-Christian husband and wife or when we bitterly lament the abuse and rape of a Muslim woman? Mouw thinks that “to insist that all of the subjective experiences of the non-elect are of equal value in the sight of God requires some fairly arbitrary explanations” whereas an understanding of common grace provides a deeply theological explanation for the data of our intuitive responses to the decisions and experiences of unbelievers.33 Though acknowledging certain hesitancies,

32

Ibid., 32-33.

33

Ibid., 43.


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Mouw joins the ranks of Bavinck and Kuyper in endorsing a view that is comfortable calling the “nonsaving attitude of divine favor” which unbelievers experience “as a kind of ‘grace.’”34 This is followed in chapter four, “‘Infra’ versus ‘Supra,’” with what is in many ways the most insightful chapter of the book, making connections between the infamous infralapsarian/supralapsarian debate and the contours of common grace theology. Mouw brilliantly demonstrates that, rather than a useless disputation, the infra/supra debate “actually address[es] fundamental questions about God’s purposes in the world,” specifically whether God has multiple divine purposes (the infra position) or only one divine purpose (the supra position).35 Mouw asserts that rather than seeing the debate as involving logical speculation gone awry we ought to understand it as an exercise in narrative theology, one that can help us understand which eternal decrees of God are conceived as purposes and which decrees are conceived as means to accomplish those purposes. Mouw’s contention is that the infralapsarian position “insists on more complexity in its treatment of the content of God’s self-glorifying designs” and that “God’s desire for self-glorification, in the infralapsarian narrative, establishes a broader plot at the outset.”36 He also thinks that the infralapsarian position does a better job of explaining why we ought to treat all humanity equally well: we recognize the inherent worth of all humans made in the image of God, not just those humans whom God has elected. Though one needs to be reminded of the starker depictions associated with the supralapsarian view, it is important, in Mouw’s view, to allow the infralapsarian view to be the primary informant of one’s understanding of God and his dealings with created reality, as the majority of the Reformed camp has done. Chapter five, “Seeking the Common Good,” then provides a discussion of the implications of common grace theology for our way in the world, building upon insights from his previous book

34

Ibid., 49.

35

Ibid., 51.

36

Ibid., 60.


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Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.37 For Mouw, common grace is not just about being better informed about the ways of unbelievers in the world; it is also about how Christians should work toward the well-being of the societies in which they have been providentially placed, knowing that God is at work through their efforts to bring his (common) grace to the world. He asks, “how are we to understand in specifically Calvinist terms the mandate to seek the shalom, the common good, of the larger societies in which the Lord has placed us in the time of our exile?”38 And he answers that Christians are to be about the flourishing of the cities in which they find themselves during their pilgrimage, quoting with approval Kuyper’s insistence that Christians have an obligation “to continually expand the dominance of nobler and purer ideals in civil society by the courageous action of its members in every area of life.”39 Mouw articulates a particularly Calvinist vision of how common grace should inform Christian engagement in the public square over and against post-liberal or Catholic visions of what that engagement should look like, again demonstrating that the Reformed camp has much to offer in terms of informing evangelical cultural engagement. Lastly, chapter six, “Updating Common Grace Theology,” brings us to some of Mouw’s most important conclusions about common grace and evangelicalism today. For one, he endorses a transition from seeing common grace through the lens of “theology as a problem-solving exercise” to seeing it through the lens of “theology as a mystery discerning enterprise.” God’s will and eternal decree to elect some and reject others is mysterious and beyond tracing out; so is the fact that “he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35, NIV). Common grace maintains and plumbs the depths of the mysteries of God’s multiple purposes in creating, where a supralapsarian account that would deny common grace simplistically collapses these purposes into the election of a particular people. Mouw

37

Richard Mouw, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992). 38

Mouw, He Shines in All That’s Fair, 78.

39

Ibid., 81.


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concludes with an impassioned endorsement of common grace in light of the increasing fragmentation that defines the contemporary cultural moment. While the fragmentation reminds him that “my Calvinist convictions do not allow much optimism about finding significant ‘wholeness’ in either our private or public lives without the transforming power of redeeming grace” he can also say that he witnesses “the working of common grace as an integrating and preserving power.”40

Where Do We Go from Mouw? Mouw’s project has both strengths and weaknesses. His irenic tone pervades the work and thus makes the book quite compelling. Mouw is also a brilliant theologian in his own account, appropriating the greats (including Calvin and Barth) while critiquing them when necessary. Mouw’s weaknesses are seen amidst the humble posture he often assumes, at times coming across as undecided and wishy-washy. The book could stand to have a few less confessions such as “I am not very clear on what [common grace] is” and a few more hard-nosed critiques of theological accounts of the Roman Catholic and liberal Protestant variety with which he disagrees.41 Likewise, portions of Mouw’s work need more development to be convincing (particularly in chapter five, where he relied so heavily on the assumed argumentation of his previous book that it was, at times, hard to follow). But ultimately Mouw’s work is convincing. Despite his self-demurring posture, he is, in fact, very clear about what common grace is, why it is important, and why it ought to be at the center of theologically rigorous accounts of evangelical cultural engagement. In short, Mouw’s work deserves to be built upon. Mouw’s proposal in the book is clear. He states in no uncertain terms: “I am convinced that it is good for Calvinists to ‘go public’ with many of the arguments—such as the common grace debates—that we have typically carried on among ourselves.”42 For Mouw, common grace is in some ways the best

40

Ibid., 97.

41

Ibid., 13.

42

Ibid., 78.


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mystery-exploring construct regarding culture that has emerged within the broader Christian tradition. By contrast, general revelation, prevenient grace, natural law, and natural theology are explanations of commonality that “Calvinists have typically been unable to endorse with much enthusiasm...[and] have generally approached…with many misgivings.”43 Mouw wants to bring the fruit of the Calvinist intramural debates out into the open for the broader evangelical community to feast upon. His suspicion that much of what has emerged from the common grace debates of the Reformed community would be palatable to evangelicalism at large seems to be well founded. This is not only because there has been a mini-revival of Reformed theology within evangelicalism,44 but also because common grace is largely a product of the side of Calvinist theology that is generally more amenable to the non-Reformed. The contrast between elect and reprobate remains, but it is not as stark as in the expressions of Calvinism informed by supralapsarian thinking. In this sense the “evangelical on the street” is more likely to find in common grace theology assumptions that they can work with and embrace even if they are not committed to the full Calvinist system of doctrine. Mouw is to be commended for modeling what gracious, ecumenical dialogue can look like: holding to one’s theological commitments while being appropriately humble in one’s self-criticisms and conclusions, all the while bringing out the best of one’s tradition for others to reap the benefits. Mouw’s vision and hope that the fruit of Calvinist debate and reflection on God’s common grace will be leveraged by the broader evangelical community as it goes out to engage culture is thus both compelling and commendable. Common Grace and Evangelicalism: Not-So-Strange Bedfellows Mouw has effectively answered the first question regarding how one might make the doctrine of common grace accessible to evangelicals more broadly: by mining and refining the best Calvinist

43

Ibid., 90.

44

See The Gospel Coalition as a prime example, http://thegospelcoalition.org/


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articulations of the construct. But this only raises a second, perhaps more difficult, question: why is common grace the best theological construct among the many available within the Christian tradition to inform evangelical cultural engagement? And here two important sub-questions emerge: 1. why is common grace the most amenable option to the broader evangelical family? and 2. how does common grace compare in its “explanatory scope” to other doctrines which can inform the Christian’s relationship to culture? To answer these questions requires briefly clarifying what is meant in this paper by the term “evangelical.” Defining evangelicalism has been a difficult task historically. Alister McGrath attributes the difficulty to the various origins, resources, and contexts associated with the multifarious movement.45 He does his best by offering up six controlling convictions that identify evangelicals: 1. the authority of the Scriptures, 2. the centrality of Christ as incarnate God and Savior of sinful humanity, 3. the lordship of the Holy Spirit, 4. the need for personal conversion, 5. the priority of evangelism for individuals and the church, and 6. the importance of Christian community.46 Timothy Larsen thinks he can get that number down to five characteristics when he says that evangelicals are: 1. orthodox Protestants, 2. of the revivalist tradition, 3. who have a preeminent place for the Bible, 4. and stress reconciliation with God through Christ’s cross-work, 5. and emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit to bring about individual conversion, an ongoing life of fellowship and service, and participation in the great commission.47 Of course, the classic definition by David Bebbington only had four distinguishing marks: conversionism, activism, Biblicism, and crucicentrism.48 Perhaps the list might even be narrowed down to two by proposing that evangelicals are “children of the reformation” who are thus committed to 1. the authority

45

Alister McGrath, Evangelicalism & the Future of Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995),

46

Ibid., 56.

54-55.

Timothy Larsen, “Defining and Locating Evangelicalism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology, ed. Timothy Larsen and Daniel J. Treier (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 1. 47

48

Ibid.


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of the Scriptures and 2. the centrality of the gospel. This follows the sentiment of Sung Wook Chung who, while acknowledging that evangelical theology is becoming an increasingly diversified movement, argues that there are “core family values that all evangelicals cherish and have allegiance to.”49 Thus for this project evangelicalism is not so much “the house which Carl Henry built” but rather “the house which the Protestant Reformers and Revivalists built.” It is especially in view of this concept of evangelical “core family values” that common grace can be understood as a doctrine which is actually quite amenable to broad-tent evangelicals of all denominational persuasions, for one of those values is undoubtedly the central emphasis upon grace. If there is any word that summarizes the cry of the Reformation (in all its diverse manifestations), that distils the message of the authoritative Scriptures, and that gets to the heart of the gospel message evangelicals believe and proclaim, it is grace. The concept of God’s unmerited favor shown to an undeserving humanity is one of the great leitmotifs of Scripture from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, and it is one that evangelical Protestants of all stripes have built as a cornerstone into their theological systems. This fact thus holds much promise that common grace, with its emphasis on the unmerited gifts that God gives universally to a depraved and undeserving humanity, could be an unrealized common ground for evangelicals as they seek to further engage their cultural contexts. Yes, it is true, the old denominational lines and the theological divisions they represent die hard. Even in the later classic Reformed expositions of common grace there are statements which make it clear that the other branches of evangelicalism are quite unwelcome: Berkhof writes off the Anabaptists as “seeing only impurity in the natural order of things,”50 while Van Til lambastes Lutherans and Arminians

49

Sung Wook Chung, “Preface,” in Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology, ed. Sung Wook Chung (Grand

Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), xix-xx. 50

Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 446.


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for failing to uphold the “true commonness and true particularism….of Calvin’s view.”51 But there are good reasons to think that, especially in light of the postmodern and post-Christian turns that have occurred in the West, evangelicals (including those in the Reformed camp) would do well to leave denominational bickering aside and focus on the commonalities found in Christ and the gospel (as exemplified in the work of Richard Mouw52 and the “missional movement”53 within evangelicalism). This is not an attempt to downplay the theological differences that exist between the various camps within evangelicalism: they clearly exist, and they are based on substantial disagreement regarding the proper interpretation of Scripture. Rather, the point is to ask whether a post-Christian cultural context necessitates a reevaluation of what belongs in the highest orders of our dogmatic rank, such that we do more to major on the “core family values.” Surely the pervasive concept of grace (even if disagreed upon in terms of the specifics) and the importance of engaging our culture for the sake of the gospel are candidates for mutually agreed-upon rallying points within a broad-tent evangelicalism. And it is my humble submission that common grace can, and indeed should, serve as the primary theological construct which can inform evangelical cultural engagement whether one is a Calvinist or a Wesleyan, a Lutheran or an Anabaptist, an Anglican or a Pentecostal. But the second sub-question still remains: how does common grace compare in its amenability to evangelicalism and in its “explanatory scope” to other doctrinal categories which might inform the Christian’s relationship to culture? After all, there are a handful of other theological constructs from which one can try to build a consensus regarding evangelical cultural engagement: general revelation, prevenient grace, natural law, natural theology, two kingdoms theology, imago Dei, and the cultural

51

Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1974), 124. 52 See especially his Calvinsim in the Las Vegas Airport where he articulates a vision for a kinder, gentler Calvinism that is more ecumenical and amenable to broad-tent evangelicals. 53

For an example from the missional movement and another ecumenical Reformed theologian/pastor, see the article by Tim Keller entitled “The Missional Church,” http://www.redeemer2.com/resources/papers/missional. pdf.


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mandate, just as a start. So why ought common grace to have pride of place? Why should it win out in evangelical circles over these (commendable) alternatives in terms of being a central and controlling doctrinal resource? Part of the answer lies in some of the inherent pitfalls involved in the other constructs vis-à-vis evangelicalism. For instance, notions of “general revelation” are often too vague to be of much help in informing how evangelicals should think about and interact with the insights and achievements of unbelievers: how does one know when a certain cultural text has gained revelatory status and when it has not? Notions of “prevenient grace” could be understood as denying the radical effects of the Fall via an across-the-board upgrading of our fallen state in a way that many evangelicals are uncomfortable with.54 Notions of “natural law” and “natural theology” are often viewed with suspicion in many evangelical circles because of their close association with Roman Catholicism and because of the critique that Barth among others has brought against the concepts. “Two Kingdoms” theology, along with much of Pietism, posits a dualistic way of thinking about the world which ultimately can lead to a devaluing of the material/cultural out of deference to the spiritual. And the doctrines of the imago Dei and the cultural mandate, while extremely helpful in articulating some specific biblical contributions as to why the Christian’s relationship to culture should be one of engagement, ultimately cannot function as organizing concepts for the entirety of the biblical witness regarding the relationship between the church and culture. To be clear, these concepts should not be understood as inherently flawed and can be legitimately drawn upon to understand and inform some aspect of evangelical engagement with culture. Each has

It should be noted here that while the Wesleyan concept of “prevenient grace” is also a candidate for building around the “core family value” of grace, it does so in a way that confuses the important distinction between elect and non-elect in the mysterious predestined will of God. In terms of this paper, prevenient grace fails to maintain the tension exhibited in the Scriptures which was noted earlier, the tension which leads to the question of “why do good things happen through bad people?” By conflating the culturative and redemptive aspects of world history (confusing one’s doctrine of creation with one’s soteriology), prevenient grace releases a tension that is inherent in the Scriptures, emphasizing the universalistic aspect of God’s grace without acknowledging the particular aspect. Common grace theology, in contrast, maintains both the universal and the particular aspects of God’s grace, which correspond to the culturative and redemptive histories, respectively. For more on this, see David Hegeman’s Plowing in Hope. 54


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some insight to bring, and each can still be utilized in articulating a full-orbed evangelical theology of cultural engagement. But what is being argued here is that common grace is the best candidate for a centering doctrine because, in addition to being the most amenable to evangelicals, it also exhibits the greatest explanatory scope, being able to parse and properly summarize the largest swaths of the biblical witness and to serve as a sort of “dropbox” for the other (important) constructs and doctrines to fit within. Berkhof acknowledged as much when he said that general revelation is “itself the fruit of common grace,” arguing that grace was indeed what presupposed any ability on the part of humanity to learn anything about God from the created order, given their fallen condition and the noetic effects of the Fall.55 Kevin Vanhoozer has similarly argued for the priority of common grace (alongside the theological resource of the incarnation) in informing our efforts to engage culture, enveloping as it does the notions of the cultural mandate, the imago Dei, and general revelation. Regarding the first two he says, “because of the fall, we are no longer able to respond rightly to the cultural mandate….yet we have not lost the image (of God) entirely. Indeed, it is perhaps best to think of common grace as the Spirit’s restraint and mitigation of the outward effects of our corruption such that even fallenness does not wholly erase the imago Dei.”56 Regarding the third he says even more explicitly, “The Spirit also uses general revelation as a means to restrain sin and hence work common grace.”57 It is clear that for Vanhoozer, as for others, common grace is the broader construct that rightly frames other relevant doctrines (general revelation, imago Dei, etc.) and thus should serve as the organizing principle for evangelical understandings of culture and efforts to engage the same.

55

Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 440.

56

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “What is Everyday Theology? How and Why Christians Should Read Culture,” in

Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends, ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Charles A. Anderson, and Michael J. Sleasman (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 43. 57

Ibid.


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Conclusion: Pitfalls, Practice, and Potential Now to conclude by briefly addressing three questions. First, what potential pitfalls might accompany the placement of common grace as the central theological resource informing evangelical cultural engagement? Here we would do well to take our cues from Theodore Turnau, who speaks very insightfully about evangelicals needing to be able to discern the difference between idolatrous cultural discourse and redemptive cultural discourse. He notes that “cultural discourse that seeks to interpret the dissonance posed by general revelation will be characterized by either idolatry or a redeemed perspective…like music that is performed in an idolatrous or redemptive ‘key.’”58 The impulse of antithesis (stemming from the Fall) must remain right alongside the impulse of affirmation that accompanies our created goodness, our being made imago Dei, and, most importantly, our understanding that God extends a (common) grace to all humanity. That common grace understanding can and should inform evangelical cultural engagement, but it should never lead to baptizing culture as being free from the rebelliousness of sin. To do so would actually release the tension that common grace theology always intended to maintain, for it is the total depravity of humanity after the fall that led to the desperate need for grace upon grace from God, not just in the special grace of redemption but also in the common grace of every good and perfect gift that comes from above (James 1:17). Being aware of the all-too-human tendency to ignore or downplay what Turnau terms “the idolatrous key,” explicitly or implicitly minimizing sin and rebellion in the cultural arena, is all important if the explanatory power of common grace is to be maintained and if the potential pitfall of de-gracing grace merely because it is distributed to all is to be avoided. Next, a second question: what does it look like for common grace to serve as the primary theological informant for evangelical cultural engagement? In other words, how does this reality inform praxis? Of course the possibilities to be explored here are endless, because when culture is the work and

Theodore A. Turnau III, “Reflecting Theologically on Popular Culture as Meaningful: The Role of Sin, Grace, and General Revelation,” Calvin Theological Journal 37 (2002): 292. 58


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world of meaning, the potential case studies of what it looks like for common grace to inform engagement are without bounds. Nevertheless, we can paint in broad strokes by drawing attention to three affirmations that emerge from substantial engagement with common grace theology, affirmations which ought to impact praxis in substantial ways. First, we can affirm that culture has the potential to be a significant source of truth, goodness, and beauty. Common grace theology affirms and develops the insight which Calvin had that all truth (along with all goodness and beauty) is God’s, no matter if it comes through the vessel of the Archbishop of Canterbury or the president of the American Atheist Society. Calvin said it this way, “If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God.”59 If God can graciously gift unbelievers to speak the truth (or pursue the good, or express beauty, etc.) then it is incumbent upon us as believers to pay attention to the Spirit behind them, not despising the means God chooses for truth, goodness, and beauty to be set forth in his world.

Second, we can affirm that culture is deeply meaningful (literally “full of meaning”). Turnau, picking up on the insights of Paul Tillich, says that “popular culture is meaningful because it is irreducibly religious.”60 That is, culture and the texts that make it up convey messages that speak beyond themselves because they deal with what Tillich called “matters of ultimate concern.”61 Indeed, because of common grace we have a theological account of why culture is ultimately “about something other than itself”; namely that the grace of God is still operative in the world, renewing the image of God in unbelievers to testify (often unknowingly) regarding all that is true and good and beautiful in the world, and thus to the inherent meaning of the created order that such realities betray.

59

Quote found in Turnau, “Reflecting Theologically on Popular Culture as Meaningful,” 279.

60

Turnau, “Reflecting Theologically on Popular Culture as Meaningful,” 287.

61

Paul Tillich, Theology of Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959), 8.


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And third, we can affirm that culture is dynamic.62 After all, we know that in approaching any cultural “text” we can expect to hear “conflicting voices” as it were: the voice of a fallen sinner, but also the voice of one in whom a powerful grace is at work. This is what James Hunter means when he talks about Christians needing to “relate to the world within a dialectic of affirmation and antithesis.”63 An impulse of affirmation emerges from that fact that it is a common grace which is at work: fragmented insights into what is good and beautiful and true in the world are commonly distributed among believers and unbelievers alike, both needing divine grace to grasp and give expression to them. But an impulse of antithesis emerges from the fact that it is a common grace which is at work: grace implies that we are interacting with creatures hostile to God who are in need of grace; and just as with particular grace, common grace can never be presumed upon. Instead, we must learn how to approach culture with this dialectic firmly in place, not rejecting culture as beyond the pale (affirming the inherent goodness of creation, including even fallen human culture) but not baptizing culture as if it will not contain expressions that stem from hearts that are in sinful rebellion against their Creator (and thus in need of grace!).64 It is this dynamic that makes what Vanhoozer has called an “evangelical theological hermeneutic of culture” so necessary and compelling: it takes seriously that interpretation of any cultural text is going to require a theologically “thick description” that only the Scriptures can provide, one that takes account of humanity as both created and fallen, as sinful yet graced, and culture as being imbued with common grace even as it continues to

62

See Vanhoozer, “What is Everyday Theology?” 45.

63 James Davidson Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 231. 64

Robert K. Johnston, Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2000), 67.


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manifest humanity’s rebellion against the Creator.65 While a “multiperspectival cultural hermeneutic” which draws on multiple disciplines (history, philosophy, economics, sociology, etc.) is necessary to interpret any cultural text in all its complexity, a hermeneutic that is both thoroughly comprehensive and critical will have to be one that is theological at core, for only in taking account of the biblical narrative of God and the gospel found in Scripture (a creation-fallredemption-consummation framework) will we be able to make sense of the inherent tensions one will inevitably find in the various cultural artifacts of the world, at odds with their Creator and yet preserved and enriched by common grace.66 And finally, a third question: what is the potential which the theological construct of common grace really offers to us? Here it is best to reconsider humanity’s depravity and one of the perplexing questions that it raises: “Why do good (cultural) things happen through bad people?” In common grace we have a biblically and theologically satisfying answer that is, in the opinion of this writer, amenable to the larger tent of evangelicalism. We would do well, equipped with this important tool, to build upon Mouw’s vision and cultivate a theologically informed ethos of cultural engagement, as individuals and as the body of Christ. As Vanhoozer has said: “In short, the goal [of cultural engagement] is to challenge both the cultured despisers of religion and the religious despisers of culture. For it is part and parcel of our evangelism and discipleship that we bring the gospel to bear in our cultural context.”67 It is this, then, that is the greatest potential of common grace theology: to assist evangelicals in becoming a people more true to their name, bringing the gospel to bear in every arena of life and culture because we know that God is already at work there (for the grace is indeed common) and because we know that the need is indeed great (because what is common is indeed grace).

65

Personal conversation with Kevin Vanhoozer.

66

Vanhoozer, “What is Everyday Theology?” 47-49.

67

Personal conversation with Kevin Vanhoozer.


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Addiction and the Role of the Church by Ricky Wasendorf  Addiction is a modern phenomenon that deserves the attention of the church. There is often a misunderstanding among the redeemed that substance abuse is like any other sin that simply can be quit by exerting the will or trying harder. But the experience of the addict says it is much more complex than simply deciding to stop. Because of this complexity, a discussion among Christ-followers about the proper classification of addiction needs to occur. Properly categorizing addiction may help Christians view addiction as a process leading to a tragedy with great implications. A tragedy such as is experienced by the addict leads to the question of whether demonic oppression is involved. Such tragedy also warrants a response from the church of Jesus, the only place where true healing can be found. This paper will argue that addiction is a sinful habit that has demonic elements and requires an empathetic, strategic response from the followers of Jesus. Addiction: How Should It Be Classified? The theories of addiction occupy a wide spectrum in modern literature. Robert West suggests five groups of models that attempt to explain the facts or describe the phenomena.1 One group construes addiction in terms of biological, social, or psychological processes. A second group focuses on the high propensity of certain stimuli becoming a focus for addiction. The third cluster focuses on why the individual becomes susceptible to the effects of the stimulus biochemically, socially, or psychologically. A fourth collection explores the social contexts that make addiction more or less likely. The fifth group involves the theories that hone-in on recovery and relapse. Contemporary culture, however, is not so

MDiv, Liberty University.

1

Robert West, “Theories of Addiction,” Addiction 96, no. 1 (2001): 3-5.


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technical. Just as most carbonated beverages have been reduced to the label of “Coke,” so secular terminology has mainly relegated addiction to the classification of “disease” while the Christian jargon may describe it as “sin.” Classifying substance addiction as either sin or disease, however, does not do justice to the complexity of the problem. Modern culture is quick to label addiction as a disease although this usage is limited because of its ambiguous definition. Addiction as Disease The concept of disease may bring an intuitive sense of clarity, but Jackie Scully articulates that a satisfactory definition is surprisingly difficult because of the context-dependent notions of health among anthropology and sociology studies.2 There are competing factors such as class, gender, ethnicity, and family support that depend on the culture surveyed as to whether a malady is classified as a disease or a normal part of life. The subjectivity of value judgments contrasts with strict biological explanations which outline the contemporary quandary. Dominic Murphy summarizes the difficulty by comparing the naturalist claim that body malfunction is determined by science against the constructivist claim that human normality is defined by culture.3 Subjective culture and objective biology are not the only difficulties as time has changed what constitutes a disease. Scully identifies osteoporosis and homosexuality as two examples that have switched categories in the last century going from normal to a pathology or vice-versa.4 The Scriptures are rife with examples of how time mars a clear definition of disease. One such example is the blind, mute, and demon-possessed man brought to Jesus for healing

2 Jackie L. Scully, “What Is a Disease?,” EMBO Reports 5, no. 7 (July 2004):651, accessed September 16, 2018, http://doi.org/10.1038/sj.embor.7400195.

Dominic Murphy, “Concepts of Disease and Health,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Spring 2015 Edition, accessed September 16, 2018, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2015/entries/health-disease/. 3

4

Scully, What Is a Disease?, 652.


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(Matt 12:22, English Standard Version).5 Modern medicine would recognize the sight and speech impediments as human malfunctions and the demon-possession as some form of psychopathology, but the spiritual aspect would be denied due to either a reliance upon biological terms or the subjectivity of what constitutes disease. Value judgments, naturalism, and time do not agree upon the definition of disease and, thus, make it difficult for the church to relate it to addiction. Another problem is prison. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, approximately 46% of inmates in the federal prison system are there for drug or substance related offences. This percentage is probably transferrable to the local level where it may be higher when factoring in the number of influence-impaired arrests and petty crimes related to substance abuse.6 The fact that so many people are in prison due to substance abuse seems to hinder placing addiction in the category of disease. Society generally does not incarcerate someone for a human defect. The judicial system is not backed up with cases pending against diabetics, cancer victims, or men experiencing male pattern baldness. Kent Dunnington comments on the confusion of this concept by pointing out that modern society is expending billions of dollars on the medical treatment of addiction while at the same time arresting and imprisoning persons for exhibiting the symptoms of a disease.7 The concept of addiction as disease is also problematic from the standpoint of drug treatments. Modern medicine is a marvel that has greatly helped the human condition through research and perseverance. This dogged determination has either globally or regionally eradicated the diseases of smallpox, polio, malaria, syphilis, and rabies among many others. This persistence, however, has not been

5

Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016). 6 “Offenses,� Federal Bureau of Prisons, September 29, 2018, accessed October 4, 2018, https://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_offenses.jsp. 7

Kent Dunnington, Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2011), chapter 2.


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able to treat addiction lastingly or effectively. Medical intervention in the recovery process involves treatment for anything from anxiety to blood pressure but does not include a drug that completely curbs all the cravings of an addict. Recovery involves the voluntary cessation of addictive behavior and, in many cases, is achieved outside of medical intervention. The assertion of the will to overcome a disease is exclusive to addiction if it is labeled as such. Physicians do not encourage victims of cancer or heart defects to “try harder” to beat their maladies. The previous observations show that “disease” is not be the best or only category to use when defining addiction. Such a classification may hurt the addict by encouraging him to consider himself blameless for his choices. This is where categorizing addiction as sin may be more helpful, although it has its own limitations. Addiction as Sin Sin can be broadly defined as missing the mark with several important elements. One such qualification is that all sin is essentially directed against God. David committed adultery with Bathsheba but repented to God for wronging him (Ps 51:4). His sin had horizontal elements but was trumped by the vertical dimension. God, above all, is wronged in addiction because humans are made in his image to authoritatively rule over the earth (Gen 1:28). Authoritative rule bows as a slave to addiction and leads to the idea that addiction is predominantly “missing the mark” of God’s design. “Missing the mark” includes the Augustinian notion of original sin without compromising the responsibility of the individual to make proper choices. Paul makes clear that all humans in all times have fallen short of the standard God has set (Rom 3:23). This can be interpreted as a nod toward original sin and the infection of humans from their first parents. Original sin, however, does not make the individual inculpable. Every person is a responsible moral agent given the mandate to trust in God (John 6:29). The Scriptures make plain the impossibility of pleasing God without belief and provide this as an imperative to all who would draw near to him (Heb 11:6). Paul also indicates that choices made outside of faith result in sin (Rom 14:23). Individual responsibility in choices made is important to addiction because recovery is obtained through personal accountability. This is implied in several steps of the Alcoholics


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Anonymous’ (AA) twelve-step program as it does not advocate recovery by the exertion of the will alone. In fact, the first step in recovery is to admit one cannot do it by oneself but must turn it over to their Higher Power.8 Recovery by the exertion of the will is a categorical strength of labeling addiction as a sin but it is also a weakness. The limitation of categorizing addiction as sin is that addiction, in its mature form, seemingly goes beyond the choice to discontinue and resembles a disease in which something is happening to the addict. A person can try harder and quit cheating on their spouse, cutting people off in traffic, lying, stealing, or using God’s name in vain. If simply making up one’s mind to stop substance abuse were that easy it would not be called addiction. The concept of addiction as sin is more complex than telling someone to stop and trust in Jesus. But placing addiction solely in the category of disease is equally unhelpful because such a classification suggests that addiction is a pathology that cannot be helped. A better path for the followers of Jesus is to recognize that addiction is a process that results in a sinful habit. The Tragedy of Addiction as a Sinful Habit There is a process to addiction that begins in sinful choices but ends in the tragic habits that are called addiction. The scope of this paper will not allow a robust debate on the permissibility of consuming alcohol, but three brief observations may be made. 1) The Old Testament forbade Aaron and his sons to partake of wine or strong drink because they needed discernment in their priestly duties (Lev 10:8-11). The same reasoning is offered in the proverb to Lemuel as it encourages kings to abstain from wine and strong drink (Prov 31:4-5). 2) The resurrected Jesus has made those faithful to him priests to his God and Father (Rev 1:5-6). Peter combines the roles of kings and priests when he writes to the elect exiles of the Dispersion reminding them they are a royal priesthood given the privilege of proclaiming the excellencies

8

Alcoholics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism, 4th edition (New York: NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 2013), 59.


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of the risen Christ to those in the darkness of unbelief (1 Pet 2:9). 3) The image of God imprinted upon all humans has many aspects, of which rationality and temperance are included. Any substance that insults the image of God in humans inhibiting them from exerting their full God-given authority for rationality and temperance is sinful when taken in the act of pleasure without conscience. This caveat preserves Paul’s recommendation to Timothy to use wine for his frequent ailments (1 Tim 5:23). There is much more to the debate but from this perspective the choice to use drugs and alcohol is sinful for the believer. From this sinful choice begins the process that leads to addiction. The New Testament outlines the development of temptation through sin to death. This is helpful in discussing addiction as a process beginning with sinful choices. James writes each person is tempted to sin when lured by his own desires. These desires “conceive” and “give birth” to sin. Sin, in turn, grows up and gives birth to death (Jas 1:14-15). Kurt Richardson portrays this initial temptation as a deformed desire rooted completely in selfish motives that powerfully draws the sinner toward the forbidden activity.9 This description mirrors the beginning of the deadly spiral that ends in addiction. Cornelius Plantinga labels the initial bait of substance abuse as an idolatrous longing of the heart for wholeness, fulfillment, and a final good filled with transcendence, pleasure, or the escape of pain.10 The addict is moved by a selfishness that leads him or her to make a choice to fulfill the temptation. In the language of James, this conception of sin is like a baby in the womb that will undergo the process of development until birth. Plantinga charts this dynamic growth in the language of addiction as follows: 1) The repetition of pleasurable behavior becomes habit-forming. 2) There are unpleasantries after such behavior such as withdrawals and guilt. 3) Vows to moderate or quit are followed by distress. 4) The attempt to ease this distress will culminate in a rehearsal of steps one through three. 5) The personal and professional life

9

Kurt A. Richardson, James, vol. 36 of The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman,

1997), 81. Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 130. 10


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begins to deteriorate. 6) The choice to partake has now become an obsession. 7) The baby of choice is now a mature addict who is enslaved to his or her addiction. 8) Others are drawn in as co-dependents as the addiction begins to not only control the addict but others.11 The child of choice leads to the adult of addiction. For the followers of Jesus this means that addiction cannot be viewed as just a sinful choice to be rebuked, but a sinful habit with tragic results. The label of sinful habit is justified because it recognizes that addiction starts out as a sinful choice with the addict in control but evolves into a tragic habit with a victim out of control. Exclusively categorizing addiction as sin does not perceive the evolution that has taken place. The unique characterization of disease makes the addict inculpable. Sinful habit takes the middle ground and remembers the sinful nature of substance abuse while acknowledging the habitual character of addiction. Dunnington agrees with habit as a mediating category and defines it as “a relatively permanent acquired modification of a person that enables the person, when provoked by the relevant stimulus, to act consistently, successfully and with ease with respect to some objective.”12 The followers of Jesus can recognize the “relatively permanent acquired modification” as a tragedy worthy of empathy. Addiction can be categorized as a tragedy for at least two reasons: the cost of addiction and the stature of those affected. In the arts, a tragedy is an influential form of drama in which a basically good person, the tragic hero, has an error in judgment or a weakness in character that highlights his flaw and brings about the catharsis of the audience because of his or her suffering. The stature of the tragic hero deepens the experience of the spectator because the consequence of his error generally does not match the goodness of his person. The same can be said for humans in the throes of addiction. Humans are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). As image-bearers, there is an inherent value in their persons regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, or social status. That addiction leaves many of these image-bearers homeless,

11

Ibid., 145.

12

Dunnington, Addiction and Virtue, chapter 3.


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broke, in isolation, and shells of their former selves is a tragedy that touches the deep recesses of emotion in the human heart. The consequences of the choice do not match the stature of the person and that is tragic. The costs associated with this sinful habit only add to the pathos. The physical costs of addiction are overwhelming but pale in comparison to what is lost. The sinful habit of addiction is tragic because it wrecks shalom with God. Plantinga describes shalom as “the webbing together of God, human, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight.�13 This is the picture of the new heavens and new earth where the ignorant are given the spirit of wisdom, justice is provided for the poor, righteousness and faithfulness gird the loins, the wolf dwells with the lamb, the nursing child plays over the hole of the cobra without fear, and the knowledge of the Lord fills the earth (Is 11:1-9). This kingdom has broken through in the resurrection of Jesus and is accessible to the followers of Jesus as the benefits of being a new creature (2 Cor 5:17). Addiction mars this kingdom in the here-and-now as the deep joy of communion with God is traded for the cheap pleasures of a controlling substance. The expenditure of this sinful habit is a tragedy that finds its roots in a selfish choice but produces the fruit of an unmanageable lifestyle. The inability of persons to control their choices and behavior is not normal considering the authority given to the followers of Jesus being indwelt by the Spirit of God (Gal 5:22-23). Bondage to spiritual forces, therefore, should be explored to see if there could be demonic elements involved in the mature forms of addiction.

Addiction and Spiritual Bondage The inability of addicts to make rational choices in their own best interests and instead choose options that are detrimental to their health and prosperity should alert the church that opposing spiritual forces may be present. Modern science would disparage the mention of a demonic element, but for the

13

Plantinga, A Breviary of Sin, 9.


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followers of Jesus the scriptural milieu is too influential to overlook. The Old Testament speaks of an invisible army surrounding a mighty prophet of God who is surrounded by a physical army (2 Kgs 6:1519). The prophet Daniel is told of a spiritual battle that was being fought contemporary to his time (Dan 10). The life of Christ is littered with accounts of demon possession as if all hell had broken loose during his lifetime. The apostle Paul speaks of a spiritual armor to fight a spiritual war (2 Cor 10:3-5; Eph 6:1020). The apostle Peter alerts the church to an adversary that is on the prowl looking to devour Christfollowers (1 Pet 5:8). Scot McKnight comments here that, although some Christians are neurotic about the presence of Satan and demonic forces, seeing the devil in every struggle and a demon behind every inconvenience, the church should not overreact and eliminate his temptations and influence from being a real possibility.14 Satan desires for shalom to be broken in the lives of believers. He accomplishes this task through temptation, accusation, confusion, deception, anxiety, and fear although he has no true authority over the church. Satan’s authority is in perception only. Neil Anderson provides the illustration of the believer standing at one end of a long narrow street lined on both sides with two-story apartments. At the far end stands Jesus with the Christian life being the process of walking this road. If the eyes are fixed upon the Savior there is nothing that can hinder the progress and development of the Christian. But because this world is dominated by the presence of Satan and his demons they occupy the apartments on both sides of the street. They have no power or authority to block the believer, but they hang out the windows and call the Christian using their evil devices in the attempt to break shalom. The degree of influence they possess is only what is given to them by the individual. Only the individual can choose to turn aside and enter an apartment. The influence exerted can be located on a continuum from Paul’s exemplary life and his struggle with sin (Rom 7:15-25; 2 Cor 12:7-9), to the Gadarene demonic who was completely overcome by demons (Matt 8:28-34). The loss of control to Satan is a gradual process of deception and submission

14

284.

Scot McKnight, 1 Peter, in The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996),


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to his subtle influences.15 This gradual process mimics the dynamics of substance abuse beginning as the child of choice but developing into the adult of addiction. This process can only be broken by returning to the way and once again fixing the eyes upon Jesus. Freedom from addiction, like every other sin, is ultimately found in Jesus. William McDonough says the cure for the addict turns out to be the same cure for all humans, God’s grace in Jesus.16 The New Testament depicts Jesus as disarming the spiritual rulers and authorities of this world, hence their lack of authority, and putting them to an open shame by triumphing over them (Col 2:15). The Scriptures are adamant that, by the cross of Christ, God has eliminated any claim that Satan and his angels may have over the believer, and he has done so “clearly and publicly,” says Douglas Moo.17 The public display of Jesus’ triumph must be personally applied to the life of the believer. In Christian circles this grace is called repentance; in the addiction world it is called recovery. Recovery and repentance from spiritual bondage are similar in that both require leaving the apartment and getting back to the place where Jesus can be seen. Chip Ingram describes the steps to deliverance as accepting Christ, repenting of known sin, renouncing the works of Satan, destroying occult objects, breaking unholy friendships, resting in the finished work of Jesus, resisting the devil, renewing the mind, praying with others, and exorcising if necessary.18 These measures overlap with several of the twelve steps of AA. The person in recovery accepts a power greater than themselves, repents and turns the will over to the care of God (as they understand him), destroys and breaks idols by a fearless moral

15

Neil T. Anderson, The Bondage Breaker (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2000), 119.

16 William C. McDonough, “Sin and Addiction: Alcoholics Anonymous and the Soul of the Christian SinTalk,” Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 32, no. 1 (2012): 50. 17 Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, in The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 215. 18

Chip Ingram, The Invisible War: What Every Believer Needs to Know About Satan, Demons, and Spiritual Warfare (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006), 177-181.


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inventory, and prays to God to remove shortcomings.19 This comparison is not as exhaustive as a much fuller examination could provide, but the point is that a person in repentance from spiritual oppression looks similar to an addict working the steps of recovery. Getting out of the demonic apartment is not easy and is fraught with setbacks and relapses and staying out may be even harder. This is due to the tragic nature of addiction and is why the church should recognize addiction as being a sinful habit. Just like every other person in the church struggling with life, addicts deserve empathy and help from Christfollowers. Addiction and the Followers of Jesus Christ-followers recognize that people struggle with life and addicts are no exception. Many ministers have adopted the topical sermon series model to address the struggles because they believe the Scriptures to be the word of God that speaks to contemporary issues. One such passage from the Scriptures indicates the church should not associate, nor eat, with a drunkard who bears the name of brother (1 Cor 5:11). This imperative seemingly instructs the church to remove fellowship from an addict and to isolate him which may be counterproductive to his recovery. But there is an important anachronistic interpretation to remember here as the social bonding associated with eating and drinking was of extreme importance in the first century. The church is being instructed to exclude the openly rebellious drunkard from community identity, and not from everyday courtesies, for redemptive purposes, according to Anthony Thiselton.20 The community identity is recognized in their gatherings for worship and the Lord’s Supper. The modern church can practice this by asking the drunkard to step down from serving on the parking team, as an usher, or in any official capacity in which he or she serves while in open rebellion against the word of God. Redemption and restoration are the focus of this imperative as

19

20

Alcoholics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, 59-60.

Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, in New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 415.


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Christ-followers are jealous of their witness in the world while also being empathetic to those struggling with life. The church should remember this passage does not apply to the addict working the steps of recovery. These addicts may be one of the church’s greatest advocates as they prophesy concerning the spirit of the age. Addiction as a modern phenomenon should instruct believers as to the spirit of the age. The Scriptures indicate that all followers of Jesus at one time adhered to the spirit of the age and lived to carry out the passions of the flesh (Eph 2:1-3). For many in the modern church who were converted at a young age this passage must be taken as true even if experientially it is foreign. For addicts this is not so. They can testify with first-hand knowledge the cunningness, deception, and emptiness of the spirit of the age. These are some of the church’s best prophets. They prophesy to the reality of the war of a post-modern philosophy on truth and purpose. Humans are hard-wired by God to feed positively on truth and find a satisfactory hope in purpose. When these two are replaced by anything else there is a pervading emptiness that must be filled. Substance abuse stands ready to offer empty promises to fill empty souls. Dunnington states the propelling winds of addiction, more like a hurricane, are prepared to fill a rationally determinable telos because they can demand by addiction a kind of absolute allegiance to a way of life that cannot be attained through the rational inquiry of the post-modern mind.21 He goes on to say that addicts are like the prophets of old in that they remind the contemporary believer that their desire for God is trivial and weak, their hope for the future is limited and mundane, and that their desire for contentment pales in comparison to the cravings for complete purpose and ecstasy.22 Recovering addicts should have a permanent place in the church to remind believers their hedonistic tendencies are not too strong but too weak and misdirected. Too often recovering addicts are counted as second-class Christians because of

21

Dunnington, Addiction and Virtue, chapter 5.

22

Ibid., chapter 8.


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their struggles and relapses. The church must strive to claim an empathetic posture and a strategic structure to be the light on a hill for recovering addicts. An empathetic posture by a church can make all the difference as to whether one recovers from addiction or not. Jerry Dunn and Bernard Palmer rehearse the plight of two young alcoholics in the same community. One was gathered up by his church as they ministered to him in close communion and fellowship. The other was merely tolerated by the church he chose to attend. The first was triumphant over addiction while the second failed miserably.23 This empathetic posture must come through the strategic structure of the church. The members of the Christ-community need to be educated that recovery is a long-term process that requires a long-term commitment. Sinful habits cannot be quit in a moment but take a lifetime of grace penetrating a world-hardened soul to root out strongholds of depravity and replace it with the richness of God’s provision in Christ. The followers of Jesus can recapture the art of discipleship as AA requires a sponsor for membership while the church generally has no such qualifications. The church also needs to end the culture of shame, according to Jonathan Benz and Kristina Robb-Dover, as nobody sets out in the beginning to become an addict.24 The seeming innocence of choice develops into a mature addiction that becomes unmanageable. Shaming the person does not bring healing. Jesus was shameless in associating with those the world had cast aside as too cancerous to touch. His bride can be no less brazen. Jesus also had the power to change the life of the shamed with a touch. This power largely escapes the modern believer although he has power not yet perceived. The ability of the modern believer is in listening to the story of the addict. He or she has been in desperate places seeking something to fill the emptiness and has found nothing but false idols. They need to be heard in their struggles, not so a well-meaning believer can offer advice, but so they feel the value of being heard as a human being who has struggled with self-esteem for so long they may feel less than

23

24

Jerry Dunn and Bernard Palmer, God Is for the Alcoholic (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1986), 136.

Jonathan Benz and Kristina Robb-Dover, The Recovery-Minded Church: Loving and Ministering to People with Addiction (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016), 104.


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human. Hearing someone in their struggles and offering an understanding companionship is often all the addict needs at the time. The last strategic structure for an empathetic response is in the practice of healing. Benz and Robb-Dover speak of creating a culture where the addict is celebrated for small breakthroughs, attentive listening is practiced, artistic self-expression and creative forms of worship are encouraged, and the talk of healing in recovery is not strange.25 A foreign place is all too familiar to an addict that is struggling to find themselves. The church can help to create a safe place by an empathetic and strategic response to the epidemic of addiction. Conclusion This paper has argued that addiction is a sinful habit with demonic elements that warrants an empathetic and strategic response from the followers of Jesus. Addiction was discussed as categories of disease and sin with the conclusion that neither one used exclusively accounted for the complexities of the malady. The better paradigm is to see that addiction is a process that begins in a sinful choice and develops into a tragic habit. The tragedy of addiction is that it costs the believer shalom and as imagebearers of God the consequence far outweighs the character flaw. The milieu of spiritual bondage was then explored to determine if the unmanageable life of the addict could be due to demonic influence. Satan is a real force to be reckoned with, but freedom is found in Jesus who has openly triumphed over the enemy and established his claim on the believer’s life. The addict in recovery is like the sinner in repentance and deserves to be accepted among the followers of Jesus as a fellow struggler. The church can aid the recovering addict in creating a safe, understanding space in the context of a long-term commitment of healing, discipleship, and a posture of empathy. Now that a strategic and empathetic response to addiction has been established, the church needs to ask itself what that looks like in a corporate gathering. How can attentive listening be incorporated into the DNA of the church without singling out the addict? How can the church recapture the art of discipleship and make it a qualification of

25

Ibid., 143-151.


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membership? How can believers uphold the standard of the Scriptures while eradicating the culture of shame that seems prevalent among the redeemed? These are questions that deserve a reasoned response.


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Christian Education – One Size Does Not Fit All: Revisiting Christian Education in the Context of the Indigenous Church Plant in Liberia, West Africa by Marian Stewart Christian education is “the process by which those who have experienced a personal spiritual rebirth in their relationship with God partner with the indwelling Holy Spirit to grow in the image of Christ.”1 This partnership with the Holy Spirit is the means by which spiritual formation occurs as one studies and applies the Word of God in daily life. Yet in many indigenous church plants in Liberia, West Africa, the traditional model of Christian education has proven inadequate. The objectives of this paper are to examine the deleterious effects of the traditional model of Christian education within indigenous churches and to suggest a template for Western missionaries as they seek to provide Christian education in the indigenous context. Ultimately the objective of the new paradigm is to establish self-sustaining and self-propagating indigenous evangelical churches.

Marian Stewart is a graduate of Luther Rice College and Seminary (DMin) and is president of Faith and Deeds Ministries (email: marian.stewart@faithanddeeds.org). She has an extensive background in conceiving, developing, and implementing programs and strategies with proven competencies in practical Christian ministry, administration, project, and program management. As a consultant, she places special emphasis on helping Christian organizations and institutions reinforce their vision and mission focus through leadership development and staff engagement. Additionally, she is a seasoned lecturer in both the formal and non-formal theological education system. As a sought-after public speaker, Dr. Stewart has addressed audiences around the world and given presentations at universities and seminaries in the United States, Caribbean, and sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Stewart has written papers on ethics, cross-cultural education, strategic planning, leadership development, and Christian counseling. She currently resides in Liberia, West Africa where she serves as a visiting professor at the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary and visiting professor at the Kofi Annan Institute of Conflict Resolution based at the University of Liberia. 1

Michael J. Anthony, Introducing Christian Education: Foundations for the Twenty-First Century (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), loc. 199, Kindle.


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Christian Education – Definition and Objective Christian education is defined as “a reverent attempt to discover the divinely ordained process by which individuals grow in Christlikeness, and to work with that process.”2 This implies a theological foundation which informs the content of the teaching. The objective of education is the acquisition of knowledge. Yet Christian education is more than this; it is more than merely learning. Christian education is a process by which individuals grow – indicating a movement from one stage of development to another to attain the goal of maturity or “perfection” (Matt. 5:48).3 Christian education is closely aligned to spiritual formation.4 Christian education is practically demonstrated, therefore, in the fulfilment of what evangelical churches view as the five purposes or functions of the church: evangelism, worship, spiritual formation, service, and fellowship.5 The quality of these functions is a testament to the quality of the Christian education. By extension, the measure of this ‘quality’ is the extent to which individuals ‘grow in Christlikeness.’ Christ is the yardstick.

The Case of the Indigenous Church Plant The setting with which this paper is concerned is an indigenous church plant in the jungles of Liberia, West Africa. Western models of Christian education are difficult to implement in this setting because they assume a socio-economic, cultural, and educational foundation that does not obtain in Liberia. Even so, the traditional function of the church is

2

Anthony, loc. 903.

3

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the New International Version (NIV).

4

Anthony, loc. 2731.

5

Gene Mims, Kingdom Principles for Church Growth (Nashville: Lifeway Press, 2001), 6.


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universal so that worship, evangelism, spiritual formation, service, and fellowship ought to be evidenced even within this context. Worship and fellowship are common facets of indigenous communities as such activities are standard in the worship of local deities. Consequently, once one has made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ, it is not unusual for worship and fellowship to be a part of the activities of the newfound faith as reflected in the practice of formal worship within a church. However, the style of worship and fellowship of the early Western missionaries who evangelized this region has since been somewhat ‘indigenized’ to fit the local practice and language. Evangelism and service are largely the purview of visiting missionaries (both short-term and long-term) who have the tendency to evangelize through public meetings and screening The Jesus Film.6 This style of evangelism requires portable generators which are not readily available to the indigenous evangelist or pastor. According to anecdotal reports, in the 1950’s indigenous evangelists and pastors would engage in one-to-one ministry – walking miles in the jungle for days on end from one village to another.7 In the post-war years and with the influx of Western missionaries, this activity has largely been replaced with locals taking on the role of interpreters for these missionaries as they seek to minister to readily accessible villages. Many indigenous people have made professions of faith at such missionary efforts. Often, when asked what led to individuals making decisions for Christ, the answer is “Pastor told me when the white man says who wants to be saved, I must go forward and say whatever he tells me

6

The Jesus Film, directed by John Krish and Peter Sykes, featuring Brian Deacon, Rivka Neuman, Joseph Shiloach, and Niko Nitai (The Jesus Film Project, Campus Crusade for Christ International, 1979). 7

According to interviews held with indigenous pastors, this was the practice that started with the early missionaries from Baptist Mid-Missions who were based in rural Bong County before the Liberian Civil War era which started in 1989.


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to say so that I can be saved” or “Pastor went through the village before the white man came and said I need to be saved, so when the white man comes, I must come.” People learn the lines by rote: “I am saved because Jesus died on the cross for my sins. So, because of His death, burial and resurrection, when I die, I will go to heaven.” While this is theologically correct, one wonders as to converts’ depth of conviction in the face of this truth in view of their apparent ‘priming’ prior to the missionary’s arrival. Jim Harries and Fred Lewis refer to the problem when apparent converts to Christianity see foreign missionaries as Westerners with “ample resources that many Africans would like to have them share, but lack most other qualifications for meaningful relationships.”8 The result is dependency upon the missionary rather than a vision of God. In any case, the numbers of persons who come forward at such evangelistic events form the nucleus of the new "church plant." Evangelism without Discipleship Discipleship is an interesting phenomenon within the new church plant. Discipleship ought to entail “…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). This teaching is to be more than a pedagogical delivery of knowledge from teacher or pastor to learner or congregant. Within the church context, it ought to involve the metamorphosis of the believer from one stage of development to another and a “holistic growth and development of the individual.”9 In the indigenous church plant, teaching is often in the form of anecdotes developed from Bible stories and evangelistic or salvation messages. Consequently, there is little evidence of teaching or preaching that fosters human, moral, or faith development. Individuals are not

Jim Harries and Fred Lewis, “Is Mission Diverse or Is It All Just Money? An Examination of Western Mission to Africa,” Evangelical Review of Theology 36, no. 4 (2012): 351. 8

9

Anthony, loc. 2731.


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taught effectively about the transition from making a profession of faith to living a Christ-like life. Members of the indigenous church carry out the evangelism mandate largely through friendship and kinship networks. However, discipleship, defined as “the process of finding and winning the lost, folding them into a local church, and building them up in faith,” is lacking.10 The result is the proliferation of heresy and a failure among believers to grow and multiply once the missionary who established the church has moved on. Ideal vs. Reality Evangelical scholarship informs us that “the functions of the church are those timeless truths that must never change.”11 In fact, Gene Mims articulates the following five functions of the church: evangelism, discipleship (spiritual formation), fellowship, ministry (service) and worship.12 Gary McIntosh reminds us that the church is an expression of the living body of Jesus Christ and as such must be “a channel of life for both spiritual birth and spiritual growth.”13 The church impacts its community for Christ and “is an instrument of God’s work in the world.”14 The question arises: Are these functions demonstrably evident in indigenous churches?

10

Gary L. McIntosh, Biblical Church Growth: How You Can Work with God to Build a Faithful Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), loc. 1001, Kindle. 11

Aubrey Malphurs, Advanced Strategic Planning: A New Model for Church and Ministry Leaders (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 71, Kindle. 12

Mims, 6.

13

McIntosh, loc. 465.

Ferdinand Nwaigbo, “Self-reliance in the 21st Century Church in Africa,” African Ecclesial Review 44, no. 1-2 (2002): 59. 14


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Ogbu U. Kalu diagnoses the malady afflicting the church in Africa as the “Peter Pan Syndrome.”15 Peter Pan was always a boy because he never grew up, and this state of affairs is somewhat parallel with the indigenous African church in general. Suffice it to say, the stated intent of many missionaries and missionary societies to establish self-supporting, selfpropagating, indigenous churches has been an ideal that has largely not been demonstrated in practice.16 Rather, missionary rivalry has traditionally resulted in “the possessiveness of the missions over their converts which in turn bred extreme dependency.”17 The missionary enterprise fostered a development model that was largely paternalistic such that the missionary societies were doing things for the indigenous people that they could not or would not do for themselves. The results were “churches which could not stand on their feet and a relationship which made aid the glutinous agent for the maintenance of a dependent relationship.”18 Within the Liberian context, the problem of the ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ was especially evident with the advent of the Civil War in 1989 when missionaries who had been based in Liberia for decades fled. Churches, radio stations, orphanages, and other ministries established and run by western missionaries were left with no indigenous person trained and able to carry on ministering. More recently, the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in 2015 saw many Western missionaries once again leaving the country, and churches that they had established languished.

15

Ogbu U. Kalu, “The Peter Pan Syndrome: Aid and Selfhood of the Church in Africa,” Missiology 3, no. 1

(1975): 17. 16

Kalu, 17.

17

Kalu, 17.

18

Kalu, 18.


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It became clear at this juncture that there was a serious dearth of trained and equipped indigenous leadership. Understand the Context and be Flexible According to Kalu, “Christianity has spread like bush fire in Africa in the last hundred years.”19 When one examines the quality of that ‘Christianity,’ one finds that the doctrinal aspects are well known, but the demonstration of ‘Christlikeness’ is absent. The solution lies in fostering and strengthening a model of theological education that strives for excellence and is contextually appropriate to the indigenous church. This is a challenge because Western views of theological education focus on a model of scholarship and academic excellence that is quantified by the development of school libraries and the publication of theological textbooks – which are essentially the patterns of the Western theological institution.20 With the “growing consciousness of [indigenous] churches as the subject in mission and not simply the object of missions,” there is a call to translate or transfer theological education from the Western model of “sound scholarship” to a more expansive definition characterized by quality, authenticity, and creativity.21 This would obviate the tendency of foreign missionaries to revert to what is euphemistically called “village teaching,” a simplistic style of instruction (typically at the level of a first- or second-grade Sunday School class) that is dissatisfying to the pastor or church leader who desires to minister effectively to the flock of Christ.

19

Kalu, 18.

Harvie M. Conn, “Theological Education and the Search for Excellence,” Westminster Theological Journal 41, no. 2 (Spring 1979): 312. 20

21

Conn, 314.


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In this setting, what does ‘effective’ ministry look like? Is it based on the number of people in the church? Is it based on the level of support received from in-country or out-ofcountry missionaries? Is it a function of the amount of money that is sent to the church from overseas supporters and churches? While not all aid is paternalistic, the danger is that the recipients can be robbed of the will and ability to develop themselves.22 This is what has happened among many of the indigenous churches in Liberia. It is easier to depend upon the missionaries to teach, preach, support, and lead. Some missionaries who may be well supported by Western churches have no problem maintaining this status quo, but others have difficulty accepting and propagating this paradigm. Change in the indigenous church must start with the pastors and church leaders. However, for many, theological education is modeled after what Harvie Conn describes as an elitist pattern of training for a professional ministry in which “the minister (servant) actually becomes the ruler; the concept of the ministry (service) is inverted to mean privilege; and the members maintain their dependence upon an ‘imported’ clergy to direct the life of the churches.”23 And yet, theological education with the aim of equipping, empowering, and encouraging pastors and church leaders of indigenous churches in their respective ministries is not an alien concept per se. Some indigenous pastors have been afforded the opportunity, through missionaries who established ministries in pre-war Liberia, to travel to the United States for basic Christian theological education. After obtaining certificates or even undergraduate degrees, many did not

22

Kalu, 23.

23

Conn, 316.


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return home. Those who did return have remained dependent upon overseas support and thereby maintain the status quo to the detriment of spiritual growth within the indigenous church. The advent of extension programs has proven to be a less expensive means for theological training since it allows the pastors and church leaders to remain at home while pursuing studies. However, many extension programs offered by theological schools are simply extensions of the old system of theological education in such a way that it “imposes itself upon the people [. . .] in a culture of conquest [. . .] [that is seen as a] ‘donor’ model of extension.”24 The objective of Christian education must be to change the prevailing status quo such that the pastor and church leader can realize that there is validity in learning within one’s own cultural and church context. Missionary teachers, for example, need to be aware of the depths of cultural questions and not dismiss them out of hand. The reality is that questions such as those related to ancestor veneration, the power structures of animism, the concept of dowry payments, and traditional models of conflict resolution must be addressed in addition to the traditional theological curriculum of soteriology, angelology, Christology, etc. There are numerous tools available to facilitate non-formal theological training for pastors and church leaders, but even so, the tools are of little effect if not adequately contextualized in terms of content as well as delivery. In order to bring abstract concepts home to students, culturally relevant examples should be used. It is noticeable, for example, that many American missionaries like to use baseball analogies and terminology to drive home points. However, baseball is not a popular sport in Liberia and the jargon is unfamiliar to the indigenous

24

Conn, 321.


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church. In teaching, efforts should be made to use Liberian proverbs and anecdotes that are more relatable. Flexibility is required. Most missionaries recognize the value of teaching in the native language of the people. This is indeed ideal, but not always possible. In the Liberian context, English is considered the language of education, and what is euphemistically called ‘simple Liberian English’ is widely spoken. Teaching using simple Liberian English is useful, but the missionary should be careful not to be simplistic in communicating and should seek to find simple ways to express ideas and concepts, while not appearing to be patronizing. At the same time, incorporating grammar, phonics, spelling, and English vocabulary while working through the prescribed lessons could be a well-appreciated value added. Perhaps the greatest flexibility necessary is in time. While one must be disciplined, one ought not to be rigid with respect to a timeframe for the completion of the program. Often, pastors and church leaders need to express their experiences, thoughts, and viewpoints – especially those related to their service as church leaders during the Civil War, which was fraught with genocide and displacement. Patience needs to be exercised as one seeks to be used by the Holy Spirit to help the men and women in the program gain an in-depth understanding of the Word of God. Missionaries and other teachers need to be willing to expend the time to do so. Realizing that the timelines set for these courses is usually based upon a cultural and social setting that is completely different from the location of implementation helps to keep things in perspective and can guide one in expanding the expected timelines to facilitate the context. Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines, and Accountability Without a doubt, spiritual formation is facilitated through Christian education. Rather than limiting the concept of education to the acquisition of knowledge, teachers need to


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incorporate the practical application for there to be any value. After all, the objective of Christian education is to see progressive growth from one stage to another towards maturity in Christ (Matt. 5:48). This can be measured by observing not only the moral and faith development but also the spiritual vitality of the participants. The reality is that, as their own sense of morality and faith grows, the preaching and teaching of the pastors from their pulpits will take on deeper meaning as they seek to encourage their people to live God-honoring lives. Anthony encourages spiritual formation through the exercise of spiritual discipline and references the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.25 This concept should be shared with indigenous pastors and church leaders and incorporated in non-formal theological training programs. Expending the effort to teach the disciplines and encouraging discussion, together with practical application of these disciplines in the training program, may prove greatly beneficial to the spiritual growth of the pastors and church leaders. Ultimately, all learning ought to result in demonstrable results. Indeed, “it is not enough to teach a class and hope that people’s lives will change as a result.”26 Throughout the life of the program that has been initiated and even beyond, the pastors and church leaders must be reminded that they are accountable for their learning. Accountability is to God – the Lord of the harvest – Who has called each of these pastors and church leaders to pastoral and leadership positions in His church. To encourage and prayerfully help them stay on track, the teacher takes on the role of mentor, being willing to visit each participant’s ministry location on a regular basis

25

Anthony, loc. 2933.

26

Anthony, loc. 2915.


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to see how they are doing. Practical application of what they have learned should be reflected in their various churches and ministries. Conclusion Christian education is more than a westernized concept of theological teaching which tends to be limited in scope and value to the indigenous church plant. Rather, it ought to entail a methodology that brings the indigenous pastor and church leader closer to God relationally within his or her social and cultural context. For the indigenous church in Liberia, Christian education of the pastors and church leaders must be the means through which spiritual formation takes place so that ultimately the churches they lead and in which they invest their lives may fulfill their roles in evangelism, worship, spiritual formation, service, and fellowship as selfsupporting, self-propagating indigenous churches. To this end, missionary teachers need to understand the context within which the church exists and be willing to adapt to it by being flexible in their teaching particularly with respect to time. Any non-formal theological training program ought to include teaching on spiritual formation as well as spiritual disciplines so as to facilitate the spiritual growth of the learners. Finally, individuals should be held accountable for their learning and be guided to understand their role in producing self-supporting, selfpropagating indigenous evangelical churches. Now more than ever, it is imperative that Christian missionaries remain focused and be intentional in making authentic disciples in fulfilment of the mandate to prepare all of God’s people, as the Apostle Paul said, “for works of service� (Eph. 4:12).


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Redemptive Derision: The Coexistence of Love and Insult in the Thought and Life of Martin Luther by Sam Welbaum In its third chapter, the book of James tells us that the tongue is a small yet powerful member of the body. It is a fire that can set ablaze a forest and the source of both blessings and curses. Perhaps no thinker is a better example of these truths than Martin Luther. One could even suggest that being such an exemplar of James’ third chapter is why he had such distaste for the book. Such an assertion would be wrong, but the snide manner of the assertion would be welcome in the course of this study. When reading Luther’s works, it quickly becomes apparent that he was a talented wordsmith with a gift for humor and persuasive rhetoric. These gifts become problematic for contemporary readers however when considered in light of his doctrinal teachings. Frequently in his polemic writing, Luther makes use of insults as a means of communicating his point. At times, this use of rhetoric almost goes unnoticed, like when he turns the insults on himself as he does in the opening of his To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation. Here Luther openly says that he is willing to “play the fool” (jester) and that his aim is to address those of average intelligence because he is unable to convince the very intelligent of anything.1 But Luther is not the only the target of his insults. While he starts his The Babylonian Captivity of the Church with tidings of grace and peace, he soon calls the Pope a “brainless and illiterate beast in papist form.”2 In To the Christian Nobility the Pope is called a ravenous wolf and Rome a present day

Assistant Professor of Christian Ministry at California Baptist University.

1 To the Nobility of the German Nation [TNGN] in Martin Luther, Three Treatises, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Fortress Press, 1990), 7-8.

Constance Furey, “Invective and Discernment in Martin Luther, D. Erasmus, and Thomas More,” Harvard Theological Review 98, no. 4 (2005): 469-88. 2


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Sodom.3 Throughout Luther's writing, Aristotle and the Scholastic Theologians who follow him are ridiculed, with Aristotle himself often being dismissed as a “dead heathen.”4 When Cardinal Albrecht announced his new collection of relics, Luther wrote an anonymous pamphlet satirically advertising the collection stating that it even included “Three flames from Moses’ burning bush.”5 These statements might not seem problematic in and of themselves; however, Luther’s theology places a strong emphasis on the love of one’s neighbor. Veli-Matti Karkkainen goes so far as to draw a distinction between our contemporary systematic theologians and Luther in that love is central for Luther’s theology and ethics and cannot be divorced from them.6 If then love is central to Luther’s thought, and the Christian’s call to love the neighbor is paramount in his understanding of Christianity, how could he write a letter called On the Roman Papacy, an Institution of the Devil and in it address the Pope as both “Most Hellish Father” and “Holy Madam Pope Paula III?”7 By paper’s end, I hope to provide some clarity as to how Luther was able to hold these seemingly contradictory positions in tension as he both encouraged the love of neighbor and allowed for what seems to be rather scornful polemics. In order to accomplish this goal, we will first look at the nature of insult, then a summary of Luther’s theology of love, and conclude by seeing how Luther may have understood the two in unison. Defining Derision Insulting is not new. Luther was not the first person to say disparaging things about another, and as far as one can tell, pinpointing the first person to do so would have to take us back to the dawn of man. William Irvine points out that we have always insulted, perhaps even before what we can call a fully

3

TNGN in Martin Luther, Three Treatises, 35.

4

Ibid., 23.

5

Eric W. Gritsch, The Wit of Martin Luther (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006), 28.

Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, “‘The Christian as Christ to the Neighbour’: On Luther’s Theology of Love”, International Journal of Systematic Theology 6, no. 2 (2004): 101-117. 6

7

Gritsch, The Wit of Martin Luther, 37.


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formed language. Once we developed writing, people gained the ability to insult at a distance.8 The Reformation era also saw the birth of Gutenberg’s printing press, which greatly assisted Luther’s reform movement, and which also allowed for insults to not only be cast from a distance, but also in greater number and rather rapidly. But what is an insult? What does one mean when he/she talks about feeling insulted? This question immediately brings us to an important point: there is a difference between being insulted and feeling insulted. It is possible for a person to be insulted and not feel insulted. We say this person has “thick skin” and things just bounce off of him/her. It is also possible for a person to not have been insulted, at least not intentionally, but to still have perceived an insult and therefore feel insulted. Often this person is seen as “hypersensitive” or “thin skinned.”9 Thomas Conley explains this phenomenon by noting that insults work very similar to jokes in that they are a social agreement.10 A joke works because the one telling the joke knows that he must make sure the audience of the joke has enough information to understand the content of the joke. The audience of the joke must be willing to receive the story or set of circumstances that comprises the joke and allow for an upsetting of expectations. If one party goes lax in the bargain, the joke falls flat. If the teller tells a joke that the audience has no connection with (perhaps a football joke at a quilting bee) or the audience refuses to find humor, then a joke cannott work. This reason alone is why certain comedians or comedies rise or fall based on the likeability of the one telling the joke. An insult works in a similar manner (in most cases). The person insulting the target must make sure that the person being insulted is aware that he or she is being insulted and the one that is being insulted must find offense at what has been said. When this transaction does not happen, understanding

8 William B. Irvine, A Slap in the Face: Why Insults Hurt, and Why They Shouldn't (New York: Oxford Press, 2013), 22. 9

Ibid., 21.

10

Thomas Conley, Toward a Rhetoric of Insult (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2010), 25.


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what occurred is more difficult. It then becomes possible to say, “I insulted him but he was not insulted,” or “He didn’t mean to insult me, but I was insulted.” This disjunct happens in part because at core, insults have to do with disappointment.11 When I feel insulted, it is because I am disappointed in the way that a person thinks of me. Such an insult does not need to be a stream of words like Luther's. It can be someone merely not caring about us in the manner we would hope he would or that we care for him.12 This lack of care is part of where the tension with Luther’s use of insult can be felt. Jerome Neu suggests that our identities are in part socially constructed. Who I think I am rests in some part upon who others allow me to think I am. When I think of myself in one way and then am denied what I perceive as due honor by those around me, I will receive that as an insult.13 It is for this reason that Luther’s statement to the Pope that he should not let people who are 100 times better than he kiss his feet is so insulting.14 The Pope, particularly at the start of the Reformation era, was seen as not merely the Roman church’s highest official, but the very mouthpiece of God. However, Luther did not allow him to be perceived that way. To Neu’s point (which may perhaps be overgeneralized), the Pope’s position is contingent upon people respecting and honoring him, which Luther did not. That vacuum of perceived due respect and felt non-respect is what we call an insult. Given this understanding, it is important to realize that the truth can be an insult. If someone is overweight, calling him “fat” is a truth, but can be a truth set to wound. Often people will try and claim that there should have been no offense taken because what was said was true; however, sometimes the insults that hurt the most are the ones that are based in truth and that the insulted party knows are true.15

11

Jerome Neu, Sticks and Stones: the Philosophy of Insults (New York: Oxford University Press, USA,

2009), 12. 12

Ibid., 3.

13

Ibid., 9.

14

TNGN in Martin Luther, Three Treatises, 56.

15

Neu, Sticks and Stones, 17.


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In this understanding of insult, when Jesus addresses the Pharisees and calls them “white washed tombs” it is hard not to see this statement as an insult. Granted, it is an analogical insult, but an analogy that it seems the Pharisees saw the merit of by their increased disdain for Jesus. We will return to the idea that there are insults in the Bible later. Conley affirms Neu’s understanding of insult. He suggests that in communication there is a horizontal and a vertical aspect. We approach those above or below us vertically and our peers horizontally.16 To do the converse can be seen as an insult for the very reason stated above, the vacuum. This unspoken agreement in communication is why a professor or a boss might feel slighted if called by her first name and a peer insulted if treated as an inferior. Notice that the insult can be when treated as an inferior, not merely talked to as an inferior. Insults can be non-verbal. Neu points to the most famous nonverbal insult, the slap, as something that offends someone’s honor but can also be used to awaken someone from a stupor.17 We will address the possible positive aspects in a moment, but first, realize that an insult can be any means by which a person experiences or attempts to inflict offense, such as hand motions, eye rolls, or in the case of Luther, burning letters from the Pope or issuing degrading woodcuts. As to verbal insults, it appears that they have not changed much over time. In ancient Rome and Greece, the insults that we still have recorded centered around people’s physical appearance, lack of intelligence, upbringing, sexual relations, or animal-like traits.18 These are the same insults that we see in Luther’s day and in today’s culture. From this fact it seems we can conclude that what humans hold dear has not changed that much since the time of the ancients. Again, this similarity with bygone eras seems to be problematic for Luther and his emphasis on neighborly love.

16

Conley, Toward a Rhetoric of Insult, 3

17

Neu, Sticks and Stones, 36

18

Conley, Toward a Rhetoric of Insult, 14


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that has a negative implication can and probably will over time become an insult.19 For lack of a better term, this phenomenon can be called “The Treadmill of Offense.” Whatever word is used to refer to people that are seen as lesser or in the wrong will eventually become a term used as an insult.20 For our purposes, this treadmill becomes important because Luther used terms like “papist” or “Romans” which initially had no negative meaning, perhaps even a positive one. However, by his usage and tone, they eventually slid down the treadmill into the realm of insult, at least in Reformed circles. Before leaving our discussion of insult, it bears note that insults are not always derogatory. As mentioned above, sometimes a slap to the face is what is needed to awaken someone from a stupor. Perhaps an insult is what is needed to keep a friend from making an awful life choice. Or, in another vein, insults can also be part of our nature of play. Neu rightly connects our interest in play with insults by appealing to “The Dozens” and other such insult games where friends will say things that would be hurtful (as described above) but are said within a context of laughter and used for wit and humor and therefore are not offensive.21 Sometimes being insulted might actually make a person feel as though she finally has attained a level of familiarity with a group and that she is now included.22 The danger in gauging this type of insult could be one of familiarity. What if the person that you insult does not receive it the way it is delivered? In this fashion it might be suggested that perhaps Luther saw those he was disagreeing with as friends and therefore the verbal sparring was all in good fun and actually loving to his neighbor. Whereas this understanding of insult does fit Luther’s personality, his exchange

19

Ibid., 18.

20

Conley gives an extended treatment of this historiographical oddity in relation to racial terminology.

21

Neu Sticks and Stones 58

22

Irvine, A Slap in the Face 82


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with Erasmus might be the only polemic exchange in which this assertion might find grounding, and there the ground it finds will be shaky. In addition to having the ironic power draw people closer together, insults do have one final possible function: as a tool. Irvine appeals to “trash talk” in competitive sports in which players insult each other not as friends having a laugh, or as enemies attempting to wound, but with the insult being used as a tool to try and “get in each other’s head.”23 Here insult becomes a tool used rhetorically to try and throw off a person’s concentration, somewhat like a red herring fallacy in logic. This rhetorical use has all the trappings of attempting to hurt the other person; however, the other person is really of no consequence. The other person could well be anyone else; the insult is merely playing a role in the game. It is not connected to the person at all. Maria Tauseit, writing about Calvin’s debates with Serventus, explains that insults seemed to take on such a rhetorical tool role in the Reformation era (though not solely one). Insults were used to add heat to a debate, or to show your intellectual superiority over your foe. Luther used invective as a means of attempting to undercut someone’s honor and therefore leave him off balance in the exchange.24 Insults were a part of the church’s vocabulary of the late medieval period. The church would use the language of cursing those who had gone astray in hopes of calling them back, or of warning others not to follow them. In this way, the insults almost took on a pastoral role.25 This role may well have been amplified by the fact that insults can help form communities. If I do not like someone, and I hear you insult him, I rejoice and a bond starts to form between us.26 In this way, the Pope insulting Luther was a means of solidifying his position, and Luther insulting the Pope was a means of gaining followers and

23

Ibid., 23.

24 Maria Tausiet, “Magus Versus Falsarius: A Duel of Insults between Calvin and Servetus,” Reformation and Renaissance Review 10, no. 1 (2009): 79-85. 25

Ibid., 64.

26

Irvine, A Slap in the Face, 5.


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exposing false teaching. Again, the question arises as to whether this means of gaining followers was coherent with his teaching on loving the neighbor, and it is to that teaching that we are about to turn. If insult has to do with disappointment and a vacuum of perceived due respect, Luther’s theology of love centers on an inequality that tilts in the other direction. Loving the Neighbor Finnish Theologian Tuomo Mannermaa believes that the whole structure of Luther’s theology is determined by the distinction he makes at the start of the Heidelberg Disputation regarding the two types of love: Human love and God’s love.27 For Luther, humans love in such a way that their love is directed at that which is seen as beautiful. If a human loves something it is because she sees something lovely in that which is loved. God loves differently. In Luther’s system, God directs His love toward that which is empty, to that which is nothing, and creates from it. Whereas the human loves that which is seen as lovely, God sets His gaze upon that which is nothing and turns it into something beautiful. In this way, Luther sees humankind’s love as selfish. When a human naturally loves, he does so seeking his own, seeking to gain what he finds pleasing. Conversely, God’s love is selfless. He does not seek that which pleases Him. He creates that which pleases Him by virtue of His love. Mannermaa quotes Luther’s summary of this view, “Therefore, sinners are beautiful because they are loved, not loved because they are beautiful.”28 Luther saw his understanding of love to be a dramatic shift from that put forth by the scholastic theologians of his day. Thomas and the scholastics who followed him asserted that God’s love is greater toward that which is better or higher. In this understanding, God looks at the nature of a thing, and His assessment of this nature determines his love. But is this not human love? Luther believed so.29 If it were

27 Tuomo Mannermaa, Two Kinds of Love: Martin Luther's Religious World, 1st ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 9. 28

Ibid., 1-3.

29

Ibid., 19.


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the case that God had greater love toward that which is holier or more godly, then humans would receive no love at all. Humans are a sinful people, born at enmity with God. There is nothing there that God would love if God loved as though He were a human. Thankfully, He does not. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen poetically depicts the nature of God’s love as “over flowing” and seeking objects not worthy of love.30 If God were to love as a human loves, the only thing He would love would be Himself. Nothing else would be worthy. However, God is inherently merciful, and instead He seeks out those that do not deserve love by any worth of their own. He transforms them into lovely things. The sinner then is loved, not by merit, but by mercy. Melanchthon sees the knowledge of this mercy as the catalyst for the Christian life. Knowledge of God’s mercy moves us to love Him and to subject ourselves to others.31 This truth is found in 1 John 4:19: "We love God because He first loved us." The problem though, is that we do not love aright. Melanchthon goes further to say that humans must be justified by faith, not by love, because we love wrongly.32 Even when we turn to love God, we still love as a human. Why then do we love God? Because of what we can gain from Him. Further, we love the neighbor because we hope to gain something from her as well, and because we are commanded to and hope to gain something from fulfilling this command. The love of God and the love of neighbor are commanded by the law, and in that, the law then commands what is impossible because a man cannot love God properly nor his neighbor properly.33 Why then is it commanded? Melanchthon looks back to Genesis 2:18, when God creates mankind and says that it is not good for man to be alone. This verse is a statement of community. Why does the law command neighbor love? Because we are meant to be in community with our neighbors by design. Therefore, we

30

Kärkkäinen, “The Christian as Christ to the Neighbour," 108.

31 The Loci Communes of Philip Melanchthon: with a Critical Introduction by the Translator, trans. Charles Leander Hill (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2007), 204. 32

Ibid., 206.

33

Ibid., 215.


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must not injure them.34 But even though this rationale is sound, how do we keep an impossible command? By God’s grace. As one comes to love God more, the love of the neighbor will increase. The love of the neighbor builds out of a love for God.35 If we truly love God, we will love our neighbor. This relation brings into focus the full scope of the question related to Luther’s use of insults. We are not merely concerned with the love of the neighbor, but the love of the neighbor as rooted in and manifested from the love of God. However, what good is more bad love? If my love of God leads me to love my neighbor more, but I still love selfishly, then more love is merely more bad love. This is where God shows us an amazing amount of grace, not only in that He loves us, but that in loving us He transforms us into people who love properly. Mannermaa phrases this change as our participating in God’s love so that we can now love with a love that is free of self-interest.36 In this move, Luther and Melanchthon may have had in mind Bernard of Clairvaux’s understanding of love in which the lover moves from loving himself for his own sake to eventually loving himself for God’s sake. Due to God’s great compassion for us, we now love selflessly as God loves. When we love the neighbor, we do so not because we find the neighbor lovely, but rather for the good of the neighbor. According to Kärkkäinen, “We certainly do nothing for our salvation, but our neighbors need our work, that is, our love.”37 One could argue however, that the love of God and the love of neighbor are commands of the law. Even if, by God’s grace, we have the ability to fulfill these commands, what freedom is there? Can a person truly love another if that love is beholden to a command? Yes, quite easily. This question stems from a misunderstanding of liberty. Liberty does not mean that people have the freedom to do anything

34

Ibid., 114.

35

Ibid., 261.

36

Mannermaa, Two Kinds of Love, 80.

37

Kärkkäinen, “The Christian as Christ to the Neighbour," 107.


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that they will without consequence. Liberty refers to a doing of the law out of a spontaneous and genuine heart.38 The freedom that I find in Christ is not the freedom to hate my neighbor. Rather it is the freedom from sin and pride so that I might more fully love my neighbor aright. In Christ we do not find a freedom from the law. We find a freedom from judgment for when we fail in the law, and we also find a freedom from snares that keep us from desiring the things of the law, which are the very things of God. The command is not merely “love your neighbor” but “love your neighbor as yourself.” Could it not be asserted that someone has to truly learn to love herself before she can love others? Not in Luther’s estimation.39 The command is stated as such not to inspire self-love, but because we are already full of self-love. Perhaps it could be asserted we must learn to love ourselves selflessly. Instead, it seems that Luther posits that when we love God selflessly, we instead are to love others in the way that we have selfishly loved ourselves. In this love, we loved others for our own benefit, but now we are to love them for their benefit. In effect, as we participate in God’s love for the neighbor, we go from asking, “What good can this person do me?” to “What good can I do this person?” With this understanding, it can be said then that all people know what their neighbor needs because their needs are our needs, and we are loving them as we have loved ourselves.40 Therefore, my love of the neighbor is not to be selfish, but selfless. It is to look like Christ’s love. Christ gave Himself freely to mankind. He did not seek a benefit. Christ gained nothing on the cross. He sacrificed so that mankind might benefit. This love is the love we ought to have for our neighbor. In Freedom of the Christian, Luther says that he gives himself as a Christ to his neighbor just as Christ gave Himself for us.41 These are bold words, but by them He means not that we save our neighbors from their

38

Loci Communes of Philip Melanchthon, 223.

39

Kärkkäinen, “The Christian as Christ to the Neighbour," 110.

40

Mannermaa, Two Kinds of Love, 69.

41

As noted in Mannermaa, Two Kinds of Love, 65.


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sin, but that we selflessly show them the love of Christ. Kärkkäinen clarifies the assertion by stating, “A Christian does what Christ does.”42 As a follower of Christ, one is called to love the neighbor and be a Christ to that neighbor. All of our activities are meant to be in the service of love to both God and man.43 For Luther, proper love is a gift from God. We are unworthy of His love, yet He does not love as a human loves. He does not seek out that which is lovely; He makes that which is lovely. In His love, we unworthy humans transform into people who can love aright and out of love for God manifest a deep love for neighbor. This neighbor-love is one that looks like God’s love for us to the point that Luther is comfortable saying that we act as a Christ to the neighbor. However, scattered throughout the corpus of Luther’s works are a litany of grievous insults. Many have been listed above. Is there some way that the man who wrote so deeply and taught so profoundly on the issue of loving the neighbor could possibly find some justification for the insults that he used? Scripture, Love, and Insults The word “humiliate” finds its origin in a word meaning “to push to the ground,” and the word “sarcasm” is a word meaning “to tear flesh.”44 Both of these are violent terms. It seems inherently unchristian to throw someone to the ground or to tear their flesh, but is it not possible to conceive of situations in which these actions are acceptable? Perhaps someone is going to attack an innocent, and so you step in and throw that person to the ground. Perhaps an odd growth has grown on your arm, and the doctor must tear away your skin to remove it. In such cases these actions appear justified. In like manner, is it not possible that insults could be used as a means of loving the neighbor or as a means of defending the innocent? If such possibilities are options, however, we need to find a way in which we can show contempt to one neighbor for the sake of the others. In order to do this, we need to turn to Scripture.

42

Kärkkäinen, “The Christian as Christ to the Neighbour," 107

43

Mannermaa, Two Kinds of Love, 75.

44

Irvine, A Slap in the Face, 96.


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Perhaps the passage of the Bible most frequently associated with the topic of insults is found in Matthew 5 during the Sermon on the Mount. In 5:22 Jesus first equates anger with murder and then addresses insults saying, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” This passage seems clear that insulting is a punishable offence. And, to this point, Luther is in full agreement. In his commentary on this passage, Luther first considers the meaning of the word “Raca,” (or Rata in some copies of his commentary) often translated “You fool!” Luther sees the word “raca” to mean something stronger than our modern “fool.” Instead, “raca” is an expression of scorn for his neighbor.45 Don Garlington, while discussing the weight of this passage, echoes Luther’s sentiments noting that often this passage is undersold. The word “raca” is not a menial insult but actually a statement of apostasy, or a claim that someone is not a believer.46 “You fool” then is not talking about just any insult, but rather an insult that comes out of a “hateful and poisonous heart” that lacks any love for the neighbor.47 However, not every insult comes from such a place. In Luther’s commentary on the letter to the Galatians, Luther notes that Paul often calls the Galatians “fools.” Further, in his comment on 5:12, Luther makes an interesting note. In this passage Paul says that he desires that those adding circumcision to the requirements for salvation would be cut off. Many have taken this to mean that Paul is making a reference to emasculation, but Luther instead believes that Paul is cursing the Judaizers (the Circumcision Party). For Luther, Paul’s cursing here establishes that Christians are not able to curse others for every little infraction, but when blasphemy is encountered, curses are viable courses of action. Blasphemy will erode the person and the church, so the use of insults

45 Marin Luther, Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, http://www.godrules.net/library/luther/37luther1.htm. 46

Don Garlington, “'You Fool!': Matthew 5:22,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 20, no. 1 (2010): 61-83.

47

Luther, Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount.


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here is justified.48 This conclusion means that Luther did see some insults in the pastoral manner mentioned previously. Paul insulted those who were straying from the gospel and those who were leading people away from the gospel so that they might be brought to their senses and return to the proper gospel. These insults were not spoken out of hate. They were spoken out of love. While not an insult in a verbal sense, Joseph does play a very pointed trick on his brothers when he sees them in Egypt (Gen 42-44). Elijah berates and insults both Ba’al and his priests on Mt Carmel (1 Kings 18). John the Baptist calls those coming to be baptized for wrong reasons a brood of vipers (Luke 3). Paul affirms an adage claiming that the people of Crete were less than intelligent (Titus 1). Jesus Himself called His disciples fools (Luke 12), and then insults the Pharisees often (white washed tombs, etc.). Jesus, who was without sin, insulted these men. Again, it can be asserted that what He said was true and therefore not an insult; however, at least with white washed tombs, it clearly was an analogical insult to prove a point. Saying the truth in a manner to inflict pain is in fact an insult. If Jesus could insult and be sinless, it is at least possible that invective can have a place next to loving the neighbor. Some authors have even suggested that God the Father insults throughout Scripture. Irvine sees God’s statements in Jeremiah 6 (and undoubtedly the whole of Ezekiel) that Israel “played the whore” as an insult.49 Eric Gritsch takes this idea further and notes Luther’s fascination with Psalm 2:4 in which God laughs at His enemies. Gritsch believes that this led Luther to feel enabled to mockingly laugh at his enemies as well.50 Whether or not Gritsch is correct, Melanchthon said something similar at the end of the Loci. While discussing the topic of offense, he is careful to talk about how to avoid offending others, but then notes that in Scripture, false teachers and Pharisees were open to offense. Their rules and teachings were contra Scripture and therefore deserved no respect. The offense they felt, that “insult vacuum," was

48

Luther, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, 138.

49

Irvine, A Slap in the Face, 6.

50

Gritsch, The Wit of Martin Luther, 42.


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of no concern because they were establishing false rules and doctrines.51 In this same vein, we see the majority of insults aimed at the Pope and his followers (though by no means not all of them). The Pope became such a target because Luther saw him as adding to the gospel and distorting it in the same way that Simon the Sorcerer and other false teachers in Scripture did. It is also why he commissioned his wood cuts mocking the Pope as well.52 It seems then that biblically, there may be a pastoral use of insult in which the insult works as a slap in the face or a correction. Jesus calling Peter Satan is perhaps one of the most striking of these insults. But was Luther merely playing in the pastoral realm? We have seen that biblically Matthew 5:22 does not negate any use of insult, only those that come from a heart full of hate (at least in Luther’s reading). How else then might insults be used? Here we return to the realm of rhetoric. Tauseit explains that insults, when used as a rhetorical device (as they were in the Reformation era) were not about contempt. In a real way, they were about persuasion. Insults inject humor into a discussion that is undoubtedly heavy, and that levity or wit can carry a debate much further than an argument could in some situations.53 Obviously Luther came to terms with the use of insult, but in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church he promises to leave invective out of his argument (he may have been joking as the rest of the work reveals). After the Disputation with Eck in Leipzig, Luther claimed that invective raises hostilities and should be refrained from (which he obviously later disagreed with).54 Furey suggests that Luther’s relation to insults was a tumultuous one. They were powerful tools, but they were tools of the devil. Since insults were the tools of the Father of Lies, Luther saw them as adept at uncovering lies and shattering

51

Loci Communes of Philip Melanchthon, 266.

52

Gritsch, The Wit of Martin Luther, 36.

53

Tausiet, "Magus Versus Falsarius," 65.

54

Ibid., 472.


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idols. They were murky, and using them could get one’s hands dirty, but if used carefully it was fine. The problem is that insults could seduce a person into a world of pride where he asserts himself to be the judge. In Furey’s assessment, the only reason that Luther could then justify using insults, the tools of the devil, was through the incarnation of Christ. Insults are a part of the world, and Christ came to redeem the world, meaning that as part of that redemption, invective could now be used in dialogue.55

55

Ibid., 473-478.


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Gritsch suggests that when people came at Luther with solid evidence for their position as to why they disagreed with him, Luther would respond kindly, but if they assaulted him, he would respond in kind and win the day.56 This response does not mean that Luther did not know how to turn the other cheek. To assert that would be to again presume that Luther was insulting out of his pride. Instead, if he was attacked viciously in public in a culture in which invective won the day, then Luther knew that for his message he would have to respond in kind. This attunement of Luther’s heart is evident at the end of his response to Erasmus. In Luther’s response to Erasmus, he opens the book by complimenting his intelligence and eloquence. It would be easy to dismiss this as sarcasm, but there does not seem to be reason to do so unless we merely presume that Luther did not respect anyone other than himself. He then proceeds to go to war and declare himself the victor, but he ends with a heartfelt plea that it is his hope that he has just won a brother in the faith.57 Those are not the words of one who insulted out of a place of hate and a heart of scorn. Rather, they reveal the heart of one who loves his neighbor and desires the good for him and to that end uses insult as a means of persuasion and appeal.

Throughout this paper I have attempted to make sense of how Luther could push so heavily the Christian’s need to love the neighbor and yet also insult so readily. As we have explored this terrain, it seems that Luther’s use of culturally located rhetoric and his understanding of what I have called a “pastoral use of insult” seem to be the most likely answer to this question. However, Luther himself did not think that he insulted properly in every instance. When standing before Eck at Worms, when asked to recant his works, Luther divided his works into three groups. The third grouping of these books were

56

57

Gritsch The Wit of Martin Luther 30

Martin Luther and Desiderius Erasmus, Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation. Library of Christian Classics, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1969).


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against individuals who argued on behalf of the Pope and the Roman church. To these works Luther said, “Against these I confess I have been more violent than my religion or profession demands. But then, I do not set myself up as a saint; neither am I disputing about my life, but about the teaching of Christ.”58 He refused to recant these works so that tyranny would not reign (again, the pastoral mindset), but here in this speech we see Luther admitting that there is a limit. If the tongue is a fire, perhaps Luther’s was a blowtorch. To contemporary sensibilities, how someone could focus so supremely on love and yet make use so readily of insult is mystifying. His followers and enemies alike would have read and understood his use of insults and would not have seen that at odds with his focus on love. Should the church begin to make use of insult in our present world? Probably not exactly as Luther did. However, Irvine points out that in the wake of the self-esteem movement, there are many who have never actually heard constructive negative feedback and would interpret such feedback as an insult. These people have not been able to form an accurate self-image.59 Perhaps providing heartfelt statements of truth, which will feel insulting initially but will be coming from a place of love, might be one of the most loving things that we can do. The church must ask itself before employing any communication tool in its present era: "Is this tool coming from a place of godly love or selfish love?

58

Luther at the Diet of Worms, Luther’s Works, v. 32, 110-111.

59

Irvine, A Slap in the Face, 124.


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Thomas Merton's Theology of Prayer by John Woolard Introduction Thomas Merton (1915-1968), a contemplative mystic responsible for the rebirth of monasticism in North America, has been hailed as the most influential Catholic of the 20th century.1 His enormous literary output coupled with a transcendent and aesthetic, though warm and inviting, writing style has made him popular with not only Catholics but Evangelical Protestants as well. While his influence on contemporary Roman Catholicism is clear, it might be less commonly known that this influence extends into the Evangelical tradition as well.2 Evangelical writers and scholars working in the academic discipline of Spirituality have made use of and referenced his ideas.3 Given Merton’s lasting and significant influence on the study of Spirituality, analysis and evaluation of his contributions are both important and necessary.4 And since Merton spent a significant amount of his energy situated in practical

1

Bernard McGinn, ed., The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism (New York: Modern Library, 2006), 545. Besides his vast literary corpus, examples of the extent of Merton’s influence include an academic journal dedicated to his thought, The Merton Annual, annual lectures given in his name at Columbia University, and during a joint session of Congress Merton was hailed by Pope Francis as “a thinker who challenged the certitude of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church.” See Address of the Holy Father, September 24th 2015, http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2015/september/documents/papa-francesco_20150924_usa-uscongress.html 2 For example, Merton’s thought finds a place in the works of prominent Evangelical authors such as Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, men who have been on the leading edge of the Spiritual Formation movement within Evangelicalism for decades. See Richard J. Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (New York: Harper Collins, 1992); Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 3rd ed. (New York: Harper SanFrancisco, 2000); Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York: Harper SanFrancisco, 1991). 3

Three works, written by Evangelical scholars, introduce the study of Christian Spirituality and refer to various aspects of Thomas Merton’s thought. See, Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001); Evan Howard, The Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2008); Alister E. McGrath, Christian Spirituality: An Introduction (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999). 4

A more critical approach can be seen in the works of Donald Bloesch. Though Bloesch is open to learning from every tradition within the larger Body of Christ, his stance towards mystics such as Merton is overtly critical at


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and theological considerations of prayer and contemplation, it is to this topic—prayer—to which I will now turn. This paper will attempt to draw out in brief and rough form Thomas Merton’s theology of prayer. Several of his works are important in this regard, and I will reference them along with scholars who have reflected upon Merton’s thought. Of the many issues that arise in these considerations, several are notable. First, Merton had a view of the self which has important implications for how he understands experiences with God. Second, Merton’s view of the self in relation to God and prayer was in part determined by such experiences.5 Third, at the end of Merton’s life he flirted with a kind of ecumenical pluralism that I argue is a result of his prioritizing contemplative experience over biblical revelation. This is not to say that Merton has nothing to teach us, or that we should be unnecessarily on guard against his thinking, but that a discerning attitude is necessary before buying into some of his claims. I want to say at the outset that Merton was not a systematician, which can make analysis at times difficult, but organizing is still necessary. Thus, I will present Merton in a more thematic and progressive fashion. What is Prayer? It is best to start this exploration of prayer with the words of Thomas Merton: Prayer is not only the lifting up of our heart and mind to God but it is also the response of God within us; it leads ultimately to the discovery and fulfillment of our own true self in God…We should seek to enter deep into the life of prayer not in order that we may glory in it as an achievement, however spiritual, but because in this way we can come close to the Lord who seeks to do us good, Who seeks to give us His mercy, and to surround us with His love. To love prayer is, then, to love our own poverty and his mercy.6

points. See, Donald G. Bloesch, Spirituality Old & New: Recovering Authentic Spiritual Life (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007), and The Struggle of Prayer (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980). Merton’s emphasis on experience over and against propositional claims is evident: “It [contemplation] is all summed up in one awareness—not a proposition, but an experience.” See Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1961), 3. 5

6

This quotation was an appendix to chapter 5 of Inner Experience that was not published. It is recorded in William Shannon’s work on Thomas Merton. See William H. Shannon, Thomas Merton’s Paradise Journey: Writings on Contemplation (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2000), 148–49.


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Prayer must not be conceived of as what transpires when people bow their heads and close their eyes. Prayer is more like breathing. And all that Merton wrote about, from civil engagement to meditation, is properly described as prayer. Indeed, as Bonnie Thurston writes, “[Merton] made no fundamental distinction between life and prayer.”7 Prayer was “a disposition of the whole person Godward.”8 Prayer is particularly important because it points the way towards discovering true Christian identity.9 And identity conversations were critical to Merton because this was how progress in the spiritual life was made, by properly understanding who and what we are as persons. In a taped transcript published by CrossCurrents, Merton says, “it is in prayer that we are most ourselves, that we are most what we want to be, what we hope to be, what we are called to be.”10 Still, however much we want our prayer to be an accurate portrayal of identity, things can go badly for us. We can end up “most artificial, and we [can] feel that when we are praying we are phony in a certain sense; [that] we’re pretending.”11 In addition to understanding prayer in this light, prayer can also be grouped broadly along two lines: ordinary or active prayer and infused prayer. Active Prayer First, there is ordinary prayer, referred to as active contemplation or active prayer.12 Active contemplation encompasses all of the traditional practices of the interior life such as vocal prayer, meditation, devotional reading, etc., and does not recognize strict divisions between them. These prayers

Bonnie Thurston, “Rising up out of the Center: Thomas Merton on Prayer,” The Merton Annual 20 (2007): 109. 7

8

Thurston, 109–10.

9

Thurston, 119.

10 Thomas Merton, “Prayer and Identity (Transcript of a Taped Conference),” ed. Ernest Daniel Carrere, CrossCurrents, March 2009, 7. 11

Merton, "Prayer and Identity," 8.

12

Thomas Merton, What Is Contemplation? (Springfield, IL: Templegate Publishers, 1981), 1–11.


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are preparatory for love and teach the humility and obedience that are essential to the Christian life. Active contemplation is, for Merton, a part of the conversatio monastica, the entirety of the spiritual life of the monk and, by extension, every Christian.13 He says in The Climate of Monastic Prayer: To separate meditation from prayer, reading and contemplation is to falsify our picture of the monastic way of prayer. In proportion as meditation takes on a more contemplative character, we see that it is not only a means to an end, but also has something of the nature of an end. Hence, monastic prayer, especially meditation and contemplative prayer, is not so much a way to find God as a way to rest in him whom we have found, who loves us, who is near us, who comes to us to draw us to himself.14 Prayer is that avenue on this side of eternity by which the telos of human life is ultimately fulfilled, a fulfillment which rests in the direct experience of God. Merton is adamant that the full realization of a human person is that person mystically united to the Divine. Thus, prayer is the experience of union here and now of what we anticipate in the life to come at the beatific vision.15 Prayer, then, is an eschatological hope, a longing for what’s to come for those dwelling in the presence of God’s infinite light. Prayer, reading, and meditation are preparatory exercises for mystical union.16 Spiritual exercises in active prayer cultivate a receptive attitude of faith, trust, and joy which break open the heart for such a union.17 For Merton, heart does merely describe one’s emotional states or even the affective side of our nature. No, for Merton the heart “refers to the deepest psychological ground of one’s personality, the inner sanctuary where self-awareness goes beyond analytical reflection and opens out into metaphysical

13

Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer (New York: Doubleday, 1969), 18-20.

14

Thomas Merton, The Climate of Monastic Prayer (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1969), 41.

Here he states this clearly: “Virtue, for a Christian, is not its own reward. God is our reward. The moral life leads to something beyond itself—to the experience of union with God, and our transformation in Him. This transformation is perfected in another life, and in the light of glory. But even on earth man may be granted a foretaste of heaven in mystical contemplation.” Thomas Merton, The Ascent to Truth (London: Burnes and Oates, 1976), 11. See also Perry D. LeFevre, Understandings of Prayer (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981), 116. 15

16

Intellectual efforts on the part of man cannot produce union with God. There are no techniques, systems, or ascetical exercises that can produce this union and Merton stresses this. See Merton, The Ascent to Truth, 56. 17

Perry D. LeFevre, Understandings of Prayer (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981), 120.


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and theological confrontation with the Abyss of the unknown yet present One who is ‘more intimate to us than we are to ourselves.’”18 The inner man, the hidden heart, is the place of true identity and this touches our identity in God.19 Merton has in mind that the deepest and most intimate parts of a human person are tethered to God more than mere relationality but in a mysterious and concrete way.20 We can therefore experience the internal reality of God, critical to our identity, via active prayer. This kind of active prayer operates on a natural level.21 Merton intends the word “natural” to refer to the objects of contemplation, for example the Bible or discursive thought, and not to the origin of contemplation.22 Ordinary graces such reading and vocalization aid in this kind of prayer. Active contemplation is usually couched under meditative discussions which by their nature are active exercises on the part of humans, even if the ultimate aim is to transcend active exercises into a passive state of simple receptivity to God. Functionally, this kind of prayer awakens and grooms the heart and mind for the love of God by turning the heart more fully towards God. Interestingly, Merton argued that no person who ignored active contemplative practices such as Bible reading, vocal prayer and the like is properly called a Christian.23 Still, Merton was undiscriminating in his contemplative theory, believing anyone

18

Merton, Contemplative Prayer, 67.

19

Merton, Contemplative Prayer, 67.

20

Merton says explicitly that all of humanity has God as the ground of their being. As the ground of being, God is internal to every person. Admittedly, it is at times difficult to parse out language heavily laden with metaphysics, but it seems clear enough that for Merton human identity is funded by God himself: “This discovery of the true self is a work requiring both God and man. God calls to a true life, the real self, one grounded in his very being; humans for the their part can participate but more than that are called to co-labor in the discovery of their identity in God,” Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 26. 21

Merton eventually moved away from the natural/supernatural distinction as his thought developed. Under an older way of thinking natural just refers to what is available to all people under normal human operations while supernatural refers to special graces depending on the suffusion of the Holy Spirit. See William H. Shannon, Thomas Merton’s Paradise Journey: Writings on Contemplation (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2000), 158-159; Jacques Goulet, “Thomas Merton’s Journey Toward Religious Ecumenism,” The Merton Annual 4 (1991): 113–29. 22

Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation, ed. William H. Shannon (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003), 68. 23

Merton, What Is Contemplation?, 11.


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who abandoned themselves to such practices might experience union with God by grace.24 I want now to focus on how Merton speaks of meditation, since this for him was the primary exercise of active contemplation. By meditation, Merton means more than merely reflecting deeply. True meditation is a kind of directed and concerted effort of the mind inward and downward to the deep recesses of the soul where God dwells. He says that “meditation [is] more or less equivalent to what the mystics of the Eastern Church have called ‘prayer of the heart’ . . . a prayer that seeks its roots in the very ground of our being, not merely in our affections . . . finding our being in the presence of God who is the source of our being and life.”25 It involves the mind, but more than that, it involves the whole being and can be described as thinking united to love.26 Proper meditation depends on withdrawing from the mind all that diverts the affections away from God. Merton explains: “By meditation I penetrate the inmost ground of my life, seek the full understanding of God’s will for me, of God’s mercy to me, of my absolute dependence upon him. But this penetration must be authentic . . . This in turn depends on the authenticity of my whole concept of my life, and of my purposes.”27 True meditation ultimately serves to cultivate a deeper and fuller love of God in the heart.28

24 This is a later view of Merton. Early on in his career he seemed much more exclusive and narrow with whom he believed capable of the contemplative experience. Towards the end of his career he seemed much more inclined to believe that anyone who sincerely desired the contemplative life could have the deepest experiences as well. This is especially evident in Contemplation in a World of Action. Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action, (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998). 25

Merton, Contemplative Prayer, 30.

Anne E. Carr, A Search for Wisdom and Spirit: Thomas Merton’s Theology of the Self (Notre Dame, IL: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), 7. 26

27

Merton, Contemplative Prayer, 69.

28 Many today consider Merton a modern incarnation of St. John of the Cross. He was deeply indebted to Juanist theology and on this point he is fully consistent with St. John of the Cross who says “the purpose of discursive meditation on divine subjects is the acquisition of some knowledge and love of God.” John of the Cross, "The Ascent of Mount Carmel," in John of the Cross: Selected Writings, ed. Kieran Kavanaugh, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 1:14:2.


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Since meditation is a rigorous exercise of the soul, as well as the ground out of which experiences of the Divine grow, there must be an environment conducive to the desired experience—peace, tranquility, and silence. Silence, both internal and external, is necessary since everything of the created world, to include the false self, even language and thought, takes away from the work of meditation. By exercising ourselves meditatively, we can as creatures come to know and possess God more fully and more deeply, ultimately bridging the gap between ourselves and God.29 Meditation also demands a posture of humble and consistent rehearsal since as Merton claims “grace, mercy and faith are not permanent inalienable possessions which we gain by our efforts and retain as though right . . . They are constantly renewed gifts.”30 Practically speaking, Merton suggests that though operating under the grace of God, humans must nonetheless stretch open the entrance to the inner heart, in this case by meditation, in order to constantly receive the Spirit. These gifts of grace, mercy, and faith, given by God, are the means of opening us to the work of the Spirit in and through our meditative practices.31 One place where Merton outlines just what he has in mind for meditation is in a little book entitled Spiritual Direction and Meditation.32 There he gives a simple sketch of how one should approach meditation. First is what he calls, preliminary: prayers of recollection that prepare you for what you are about to do, while praying repetitions for grace. Next, is vision: attempt to focus the mind on an object of meditation. This is an exercise of faith that requires effort until faith blooms in the heart and not merely in

29

Merton describes the ever increasing union in terms of possession. We come to possess God as God possesses us. He says, “we know him in so far as we become aware of ourselves known by him and through him. We ‘possess’ him in proportion as we realize ourselves to be possessed by him in the inmost depths of our being . . . . Hence, the aim of meditation, in the Christian faith. The whole purpose of meditation [prayer] is to deepen the consciousness of this basic relationship of the creature to the creator, and the sinner to his Redeemer.” Merton, Contemplative Prayer, 61. 30

Merton, Contemplative Prayer, 83.

31

Merton, Contemplative Prayer, 41.

32

Thomas Merton, Spiritual Direction & Meditation (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1960).


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the head. Then, aspiration: practical consequences follow from what is ‘seen’ and there must be deep hope for union. Finally, there is communion: the realization of faith is solid, and prayer becomes a simple embrace of love. Love can take the form of listening to the beloved or the form of praise. We can also just rest and allow the Holy Spirit to work in the soul. If prayer becomes confused or weak, return to one of the earlier stages.33 The intent is that the inner self, the self that is normally hidden and obscured, will be opened and revealed to the Holy Spirit. Only by active meditation can we receive the work of the Spirit’s grace.34 Typically, meditative prayer is silent. One reason for this silence is that for Merton language functioned on the level of the external, or what has been called the false self. Words generally stir the intellect and emotions so as to disturb the passive tranquility necessary to receive from the Holy Spirit. This is not to say Merton advocates for irrational spirituality or that he is anti-intellectual—far from it. However, concepts and discursive activity can only take one so far. Does this mean contemplatives are slaves to pure subjectivism? There are three reasons for saying no. First, Merton thinks that the contemplative experience generated through meditation involves detachment from the senses and transcends reason, but does not mean there is a total rejection of all sense experience or rationality.35 Reason and intelligence are essential to mystical prayer, just not the telos of mystical prayer. Our reason necessarily leads us to the threshold of mystical prayer but then must be transfigured into a direct experience of God as reason is then abandoned for experience. It then becomes not irrational but non-rational.36 Stated differently, contemplation does not reject reason but aims at a transformed reason. Second, contemplation presupposes asceticism which immolates the self before God

33

Merton, Spiritual Direction, 101.

34

LeFevre, 129.

35

Merton, The Ascent to Truth, 10.

36

Merton, The Ascent to Truth, 10.


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and depends on active and reasonable participation.37 True asceticism means there are objective concrete things we must do if we are to fully present ourselves to God. It is a free gift of God, all of his grace, but those who empty themselves completely posture themselves rightly for this grace. Thus, the mind must be honed and fully alive for successful asceticism. Finally, mystical contemplation comes through Christ. It results from the fullness of the indwelling Christ in the soul and is thus a work of the Spirit. Mystical union transforms the soul and its faculties in God as we enter full participation in the divine nature.38 Christ stands outside of the self as an objective referent even if in the contemplative experience the subject/object distinction is blurred. Since contemplation is mediated through Christ who, at least initially, is objectively outside of the self, Merton resists a slide into pure subjectivism. A purely subjective experience would mean there is no Christ to which the contemplative ultimately aims at joining. Here it is appropriate to transition the discussion towards infused prayer. Infused Prayer The highest form of prayer and life in the Spirit emerges within infused contemplation.39 Since this experience to some extent transcends rationality Merton deploys several working definitions to get at what he means. Infused prayer is a contemplative experience wherein there “is an immediate union of the soul and God in love, that is, there is an immediate union or contact of the wills, which serves as the basis for a mystical experience of God.”40 Moreover, it is a wholly passive state as the soul is carried away by God’s love.41 He describes this experience of infused contemplation as a “supernatural love and

37

Merton, The Ascent to Truth, 11.

38

Merton, The Ascent to Truth, 11.

Merton gives a robust description of this in The Ascent to Truth: “[Infused contemplation] is first of all a supernatural experience of God as he is in himself . . . . Essentially, mystical experience is a vivid, conscious participation of our soul and its faculties in the life knowledge, and love of God Himself. This participation is ontologically possible only because sanctifying grace is imparted to us as a new “being” superadded to our nature and giving it the power to elicit acts which are entirely beyond its own capacity,” Merton, The Ascent to Truth, 13. 39

40

Merton, The Ascent to Truth, 13.

41

Merton, The Inner Experience, 74.


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knowledge of God, simple and obscure, infused by him into the summit of the soul.”42 Infused prayer is a gift of love and knowledge given to the soul—it is both human action as well as a divine grace. Since human agents are passive in the contemplative experience, infused prayer is wholly a work of grace. Merton makes it clear that these experiences are intended by God to cultivate and properly order our affections towards the Divine: [Infused prayer] is the work of love and nothing is more effective in increasing our love for God. In fact, infused contemplation is intimately connected with the pure and perfect love of God which is God’s greatest gift to the soul. It is a deep and intimate knowledge of God by a union of love –a union in which we learn things about Him that those who have not received such a gift will never discover until they reach heaven.43 Notice that these experiences carry not just an affective element but also a noetic quality. Infused contemplation not only draws the heart to love and adore God but entails a relational-cognitive component as well. It instills both love and knowledge, a deeper knowledge of God than a person would otherwise possess. I admit that the phrase relational-cognitive sounds odd, but I mean this to stress a kind of knowledge that transcends mere cognition and/or propositions, a kind of knowledge that Merton might affirm. This passive experience is also transformational, leaving us deeply changed. By infused contemplation the “whole being is reconstituted as new being,” and there is thus “a new mode of existence.”44 Instead of thinking of this experience of prayer as reserved for the spiritual elite, Merton says plainly that such prayer is for everyone.45 Further, we are in desperate need of such experiences since as fallen and sinful people we are deeply disintegrated. Infused prayer carries the promise of powerful reorientation. Given that humans are inherently corrupted, and that God desires our wholeness, all creatures can and must dispose themselves to God’s grace in this way.

42

Merton, What Is Contemplation?, 36.

43

Merton, What is Contemplation?, 11.

44

LeFevre, 117.

45

Merton, What Is Contemplation?, 7.


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Understanding the role infused prayer plays in reintegrating the self depends critically on how Merton conceives of the self. I spend more time on the self further below, but it will be helpful to make some initial comments here. For Merton, the integration promised by infused prayer presupposes a ruptured humanity filled with broken selves. We lack union with God and so our nature is broken and fractured.46 This fracturing has two sides to it. On one side the self is internally fractured in a reflexive kind of way. The fissure results in what Merton calls the internal self and the external self.47 This intrinsic fracturing also implicates the human/Divine relationship by fracturing the relation humans were created to have with God.48 Merton interprets the Fall through categories of division, through the fractured self.49 The Fall is less about the guilt of sin and more about separation from oneness with God. No longer in union with God, human beings separate all of the world into subject/object categories. There is a sharp distinction between the self as it is experienced in a world of sin and the self as it is meant to be in and through mystical prayer.50 Contemplative prayer aims to heal the wound we experience as the inner self divided against the external self. According to Merton, “Union with God comes through a reconstitution of the self and the sense of self. The false self must be replaced by the true self.”51 This replacement of the false self with the true self is an effect of union with God when we are known by him. Merton writes, “it is knowledge of the true self as known by God which brings union with

46

Merton is at pains to deny Platonism throughout his works. Yet, he understands the Fall in terms of movement from unity and oneness to disunity and multiplicity. On this count he sounds very much like Plotinus. I let the reader decide. See John Peter Kenney, Contemplation and Classical Christianity: A Study in Augustine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). 47

LeFevre, 118–19.

48

Merton, The Inner Experience, 35–40.

49 William H. Shannon, Thomas Merton’s Paradise Journey: Writings on Contemplation (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2000), 128–29. 50

LeFevre, 118.

51

LeFevre, 119.


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God.”52 Contemplation aids in understanding the self as naked and bare before God; there is an utter sense of nothingness apart from him. It is here that we become our true self. Merton urges us to realize ourselves in God alone: “the only way I can be myself is to become identified with Him in whom is hidden the reason and fulfillment of my existence.”53 We are thus required to empty the self kenotically as Christ also emptied himself kenotically.54 Merton thinks of this self-emptying as a loss of the external or empirical self and a filling or fullness of God in the internal self. Prayer then becomes the catalyst for inner awakening, a realization of the true self, and this self-kenosis is a way of understanding purity of heart.55 Purity of heart is the term to describe this kenotic self and it depends on total surrender. For Merton, “It is this inner self, present in all of us but lying dormant in most of us, that must be awakened if we are to experience the life of contemplation.”56 The actual movement of prayer in emptying the self is described as follows: there is an internal descent of the soul where a person comes face to face with his own nothingness. Having understood the intrinsic nothingness and helplessness we possess apart from God now there is opportunity to turn to God in real prayer, real receptivity. This describes how active meditation/prayer changes into infused contemplation. In a state of total receptivity the light of God pours into the soul. Illumination can only take place when there is purity of heart, an empty self. This involves first the recognition of our need but also a detachment from inordinate desires, pride, arrogance, and sin.57

52

LeFevre, 119.

53

Shannon, 52.

54

Kenotic for Merton describes pouring out the self for the sake God. We lose some aspect we think intrinsic to us but gain by this loss God himself. Kenosis (GK. kenoo) theory itself refers to Christ’s self-emptying at the Incarnation of his divine attributes when he took on his human nature (Phil. 2:5-7). This heterodox view was propagated and defended by German and English theologians in the late 1800’s. For a brief treatment see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 549-552. 55

Merton, “Prayer and Identity,” 11.

56

Shannon, 121.

57

LeFevre, 123.


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Thus, before illumination, purgation is necessary.58 Merton sees intentional efforts at controlling the movements of the spiritual life as antithetical to true communion. We must be stripped bare of all we think we know of God, faith, and everything else in order to walk by real and true faith. On Experience and Mystical Union In the experience of union the soul has eyes for none other than God alone. There is a detachment from the world and all the powers of the mind/soul are raised up to God and cut off from the world and created things. It is a deep infusion of love. One such description comes from Merton’s autobiography in The Seven Storey Mountain which I will quote at length. There formed in my mind an awareness, an understanding, a realization . . . of God made present . . . in a way that made him belong to me. But what a thing it was, this awareness: it was so intangible, and yet struck me like a thunderclap. It was a light that as so bright that it had no relation to any visible light and so profound and intimate that it seemed like a neutralization of every lesser experience . . . . It was as if I had been suddenly illuminated by being blinded by the manifestation of God’s presence. The reason why this light was blinding and neutralizing was that there was and could be nothing in it of sense or imagination. When I call it light that is a metaphor which I am using, long after the fact. But at the moment, another overwhelming thing about this awareness was that it disarmed all images, all metaphors, and cut through the whole skein of species and phantasms with which we naturally do our thinking. It ignored all sense experience in order to strike directly at the heart of truth, as if a sudden and immediate contact had been established between my intellect and the Truth . . . . But this contact was not something speculative and abstract: it was concrete and experimental and belonged to the order of knowledge, yes, but more still to the order of love.59 Several features stand out in this experience and others like it. Notice that in mystical union, rational faculties are disarmed. Not just this, but the distinction between the human subject and God as Divine object is blurred if not all together dissolved.60 This dissolution of distinct persons is altogether

58

Merton follows John of the Cross closely though in later works he seems to press beyond John of the Cross. See, Merton, The Ascent to Truth. 59

60

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (New York: Harcourt, 1999), 311.

Merton articulated a view of human nature committed to the intrinsic presence of the Divine within. Thus, the dissolution of the distinction between human subject and Divine Object in contemplative experiences is, at least in part, simply what it means to be human, no matter one’s religious commitments. Daniel Horan has a fascinating discussion of the role Duns Scotus plays in Merton’s thought, especially with respect to the Incarnation. Merton held to an Infralapsarian view of the incarnation, that all persons were intrinsically in contact with the Divine at the core of their being on account of the incarnation. Ultimately this is what grounds the unanimity of experience in diverse religious frameworks. See, Daniel P. Horan, “Thomas Merton the ‘Dunce’: Identity,


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desirable: “[God’s] union with [people] is a unity of love that transcends affirmation or denial. Since the spirit of Christ dwells in us all, we become, in the mysterious phrase of Saint Augustine, one Christ loving Himself.”61 It is also important to stress there is not someone or something at the other end of the experience. It is not an “experience of” which would make God into an object but just simple experience.62 Merton borrows this idea of simply seeing from his study of Zen Buddhism, a study that did not restrict but expanded his views of contemplation.63 To repeat, it is not seeing some-thing but just plain seeing. And this experience for Merton was not just the sum total of the contemplative life for the Christian, it was also the experience that properly grounded all the venerable faith traditions of the world. Without washing over theological differences, Merton understood all authentic expressions of the world’s faiths as laying hold of this basic universal experience.64 Self and Experience At this point it will be helpful to unpack more fully Merton’s theology of the self.65 I highlight this for two reasons. First, Merton’s view of the self is woven into the rich tapestry of his work from start to finish. Getting clear on what Merton says about prayer depends on accurately grasping what he says

Incarnation, and the Not-so-Subtle Influence of John Duns Scotus,” Cistercian Studies Quarterly 47, no. 2 (2012): 149–75. 61

Shannon, 121.

62

Admittedly, this is an incredibly difficult concept to grasp. My sense is that the experience Merton attempts to describe transcends the categories of subject/object but is still an experience nonetheless. Imagine the distinction between seeing an apple and the mere experience of seeing. While hard to conceive, it is not impossible to separate, at least mentally the object of perception from perception itself. See William Shannon's Thomas Merton's Paradise Journey, 123–25. 63

Merton became the foremost authority on Zen Buddhism in the United States during his time. His frequent interreligious dialogues provided much by way of suppling new insights into contemplation for him. Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite (New York: New Directions, 1968), 71–74. 64

Experience of the divine provides, for Merton, an adequate basis upon which to establish equality amongst all religions. Equality means not toleration nor mutual respect but equally true though competing religious truth claims. Jacques Goulet, “Thomas Merton’s Journey Toward Religious Ecumenism,” The Merton Annual 4 (1991): 113–29. 65

For this overview I have relied chiefly on the work of Ann Carr. Her book charts the development and full maturation of Merton on the self. See Carr's A Search for Wisdom and Spirit: Thomas Merton’s Theology of the Self (Notre Dame, IL: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988).


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about the self. Second, as this exposition of the self unfolds it will become evident, if it is not already, that closely wedded to Merton’s view of the self is his commitment to the epistemic authority of experience. Some of the material to follow has been hinted at already. Merton thought of contemplation and prayer as inherently experiential realities and not speculative theories. The Christian life, as a spiritual life, was a life of experience before God that is available to everyone.66 Humans were quite literally created for contemplation and prayer. But as mentioned earlier, the self is fractured instead of unified. It is this fractured state of false self versus true self, and the search for authentic experience, that pervades Ann Carr’s analysis of Merton on the self. Carr points out that this is the fundamental problem Merton wrestles with throughout his life and his works. The false self is a man born into a world which denies what he is created for, contemplation of God. The true self is the self in relation to God through contemplation. In contemplation a man finds his true identity. Carr comments on this identity saying it is “an identity hidden in God, and because God’s simplicity is indivisible, it is somehow identical with God. Thus the only way to find oneself is to find God.”67 Since the self is intrinsically constituted by the being of God, true experience of the self leads to true experience of God. The height of the experience is when God’s life is identified in the life of the created other.68 Thus, contemplative experiences act as a kind of salvific experience, since these experiences are marks of a fully realized humanity by grace. Merton refers to these experiences as “the reality of redemptive grace” and they are, for Merton, experienced by Christians “in the prayer that is contemplation, since contemplation is that act where the true self sits in the intersection where God dwells within.”69 Merton sought contemplation and prayer because it is here that the raw redeeming experience

66

Carr, 7.

67

Carr, 14.

68

Carr, 25.

69

Carr, 32.


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of God was available. Speculative theology had its place but Merton’s drive to unify the self depended on direct and unmediated experience.70 Moreover, this is true of all contemplative experiences, regardless of the religious tradition in which it is located. All true contemplatives seek to expunge the false self. This justifies the ascetic life, since by asceticism the heart is purified. Humility detaches one from being absorbed to the self, and obedience rids one of the self-assertive and self-seeking life.71 Purity of heart, for Merton, was to empty everything in the heart that was not God and to allow God’s light to fill every space. Purity of heart was not a psychological state but a new creation, a new creation which for Merton involved discharging the illusions of the false self. He says that “to become real is to purify one’s heart of illusions which take the shape of fear, anxiety, conflict . . . and especially the illusory conviction that one is a god.”72 That which is alien to the real self is the material, fleshly, secular “stuff” to which we affix our desires as ends in themselves. The framework for these explorations is experiential, even if the experiences are relayed entirely with traditional terminology.73 It is this experience that ultimately ties all religious traditions together. Merton insists that the differences between other religions and Christianity are real and distinctive, but that the experience is fundamentally the same. Merton’s thought on the self as it relates to experience comes from his developed thought on Zen. Zen Buddhism has cultivated internal exercises of the self which lead to the requisite experiences with stunning exactitude. For Merton, this allows for easy transposition between Zen and Christianity. Carr explains that the experience in Zen matters most: “while respecting the important differences of interpretation between Zen and Christianity, Merton’s interest is in the experience described in the two

70

Carr, 36.

71

Carr, 37.

72

Carr, 38.

73

Carr, 39.


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traditions and does not so much concern himself with the differences in abstract doctrine or theory.”74 Merton was constantly seeking for a unifying theme for all contemplatives, bare experience serving as this unifying theme, and such bare experience exists in all of the wisdom traditions of the world.75 He thought that since Buddhism was not a worldview, a theology, or an ideology, it is reasonable to appeal to Buddhism's search for direct and pure experience which as Carr explains is, “liberated from verbal formulas and linguistic preconceptions.”76 The heart of Zen for Merton is not something that can be conceptualized, but is instead pure act or pure experience that transcends understanding. Merton thinks of Zen as a “plain fact, pure experience, beyond affirmation and negation.”77 Merton claims that Buddhism teaches nothing, explains nothing, and simply sees.78 Merton sees a parallel experience which is beyond words, beyond description, in a Christian wisdom of the cross. He draws from 1 Corinthians 1-2 and claims that the wisdom of speech and conceptual reasoning fails before the experience of power in the cross, a power that is beyond reason. Wisdom of the cross, then, is the existential reality for union with Christ. For Merton, the words that Christ lives, not I but Christ, involve the self-emptying of the person in a way that negates all positive attributions and any sense of self. The mind of Christ is in the mind that has been swept clean for Christ. For Merton, salvation is realized as one seeks one’s true identity.79 Identity meant having one’s own genuine and personal beliefs and convictions on the basis of personal experience of oneself as a

74

Carr, 45.

75

Carr, 73–74.

76

Carr, 80.

77

Carr, 81.

78

Carr, 82.

79 Therefore, reintegrating the self out of its fractured existence via contemplative experience is the best path for true salvation. He points out that “For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.” Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 25.


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person.80 Identity and the experience of identity frames how Merton understood the question of personal integration mentioned earlier.81 And this seemed to allow for a kind of trans-religious integration, a kind of unifying experience of the self that side-stepped the exclusiveness of any tradition without sacrificing the uniqueness of that tradition. It included not just Christians but also Hindus, Taoists, Sufis and many others—it was universal.82 The intent of contemplative prayer, then, is not that we would theorize or reason about God but that in a single moment of experience we have the concrete reality of God impressed upon the heart, a heart swept clean and emptied by existentialist dread.83 Merton counsels that this state of dread, this awareness of our wrongness and badness, needs to be exposed for what it is: grace that is necessary for maturity. It is grace because it points beyond the sense of dread itself and asserts the inherent dependence true of us all.84 Asceticism and dread, having purified the heart, provide the context in which a new self is birthed. Christians have historically considered rebirth to be a work of the Spirit in regeneration. For Merton rebirth is “purity of heart [which is] correlative to a new spiritual identity—the 'self' as recognized in the context of realities willed by God—purity of heart is the enlightened awareness of the new man, as opposed to the compiled and perhaps rather disreputable fantasies of the 'old man.'”85 Prayer gives insight into the self in light of this new birth. Merton explains we come to know and expunge the false self through this experience.86 Zen is particularly appealing for this process of expunging the old self and birthing the new self. In Zen, Christians have a way in which to eject the illusory self and, in doing so,

80

Carr, 99.

81

Carr, 23.

82

Carr, 106.

83

Carr, 110.

84

Carr, 117.

85

Merton, Contemplative Prayer, 68.

86

Carr, 119.


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release the inner self, a self Merton contends is the substratum of Christianity—the birth of Christ within.87 On Experience and Pluralism In this last section I will address Merton’s eventual slide into religious pluralism and how this depended in large part on the epistemic priority he gives to the role of experience in theological reflection. I will critique his reliance on experience and end with a reflection on the role of experience. Merton sees the contemplative experience as one that transcends all philosophical and theological distinctions, or what William Shannon calls a “transcendent unity.”88 This unity of experience is not merely relational in the sense that one now sees clearly the proper ordering of all of creation revealed in Scripture, but instead provides unanimity to religious experiences of all kinds.89 The unity of experience in question is ontologically grounded since all persons carry an internal contact with the divine nature via the inner self.90 The inner self, even if in competition with the false self, exists in everyone and is constituted by the being of God. It thus cuts across religious lines and is described as an ineffable experience, which cannot be beholden to any one tradition. Shannon explains: For there comes a point in the life of the would be contemplative when concepts and images will no longer do; indeed, they become a hinderance to the deep experience of God….the contemplative must renounce the mind’s activity, put out the light of the intellect, and enter into the darkness, wherein there is an “experience” of the ineffable reality of what is beyond experience.91 Admittedly, this ineffability is analogical instead of total. After all, there must be some way the experience is conceptualized discursively, otherwise it would be a fruitless experience. For this reason,

87

Carr, 88.

88

Shannon, 10.

89

Shannon, 11.

90 Ontology refers to the domain of philosophical reflection concerned with the nature of being itself. To say something is ontologically grounded just means that whatever it is that joins two things together, in this case the requisite experience, is something real, concrete, and actually existing rather than merely imaginary or supposed. 91

Shannon, 15.


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Merton vacillates. At times the experience is beyond words and at other times it must be transposed in words. For instance, he writes that contemplative experience can “hardly be described accurately in scientific language, and for that reason even theology barely touches the subject, except in the poetic.”92 All the same, What is beyond experience has to be mediated, in some way, and interpreted in the ordinary language of human thought before it can be deeply reflected upon by the subject himself, and before it can be communicated to others. Of course, there is no denying that one may enter into deep contemplative prayer without being able to reflect on it, still less communicate anything whatever of the experience to others.93 Apophatic experience, the way of negation, is not merely the opposite side of a cataphatic approach, but for Merton it possesses a privileged status—apophaticism is the only way to experience God who is beyond experience and be able to talk about it.94 The experience itself is not some sort of “spiritual tingle” whatever that might be; instead, it is as Merton says, “the aridity and dryness of the desert, a place where all spiritual tactile and sense perception is lost to total and complete darkness of faith.”95 By this he means if you have been reading “experience” throughout his works and associating it with some sort of felt perception then you have the wrong quality in mind. Experience of God transcends everything to which we might compare it and radically transforms a person. He says, “only when we are able to let go of everything within us, all desire to see, to know, to taste and to experience the presence of God, do we truly become able to experience that presence with the overwhelming conviction and reality that revolutionizes our entire inner life.”96 Plainly, experience, whatever it is, is the measuring rod of the

92

Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 86.

93

Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 86.

94 Apophatic language is used to describe God’s attributes in terms of what he is not: God is not limited, finite, or temporal. Cataphatic language uses positive attributions to describe God: good, wise, and loving. Shannon speaks more about Merton and apophaticism. See Shannon, 15. 95

I attribute this idea to Thomas Merton but I cannot locate the expect place from which I gathered it. I assume that having read a little of Merton that this comes from his pen and not mine. 96

Merton, Contemplative Prayer, 89.


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spiritual life. William Shannon agrees, saying, “it was because Merton was attuned to experience that he was preeminently a theologian —a contemplative rather than a dogmatic theologian. His theology was not an expounding of the truths of revelation in order to offer an intellectual appreciation of them . . . . For him, God was the burning mystery of reality. God was the experience beyond all experiences.”97 It was this lionization of experience that caused Merton to sympathize with various religious traditions outside of Christianity, most notably with Zen Buddhism. This intersection of experience (Christian and Buddhist) eventually led Merton to embrace an expansive pluralism.98 But why? At rock bottom Merton recognized that experiencing the Real, whatever that means, mattered more than discourse or doctrine. And since all religions, whether implicitly or explicitly, yearned to experience the Divine Other, all religions could honestly lay claim to God in experience. Roger Lipsey notes, “Merton was confident, and knew from reading and direct encounters (for example, with the Vietnamese Zen monk, Thich Nhat Hanh), that the inner experience of mature contemplative practitioners of East and West would prove to be wholly or very nearly the same.”99 Equality of experience, if possible, grounds the equality of all religious traditions and evaporates any perceived intrinsic tension. In the The Asian Journal Merton hints at just such a reality, saying, “we have now reached a stage of (long overdue) religious maturity at which it may be possible for someone to remain perfectly faithful to a Christian and western monastic commitment, and yet to learn in depth from, say, a Buddhist or Hindu discipline and experience”[emphasis mine].100 For Merton, theology grows out of concrete experiences which are more real to him and far more vivid than mere theological speculation. As Merton expanded his theology to

97

Shannon, 285.

98 Gary Commins, “Thomas Merton’s Three Epiphanies,” Theology Today 56, no. 1 (1999): 59–72; Goulet, “Thomas Merton’s Journey Toward Religious Ecumenism,” The Merton Annual 4 (1991): 113–29. 99 Roger Lipsey, “The Monk's Chief Service: Thomas Merton’s Late Writings on Contemplation,” Cistercian Studies Quarterly 45, no. 2 (2010): 190. 100

Thomas Merton, The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, ed. Naomi Burton, Patrick Hart, and James Laughlin (New Directions, 1975), 313.


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encompass his experience, he found there was room to include faith traditions historically excluded from religious practice for orthodox Christians, not in a syncretistic fashion but in a radical kind of inclusivism and pluralism. Thus for Merton, practitioners of distinctive and diverse faith traditions are not inherent competitors but fellow travelers on the same road. Jacques Goulet writes, “Merton feels it is possible to believe simultaneously that God had acted decisively and for the salvation of all in the person of Jesus Christ and that Jews, Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists are warranted in remaining who they are and in following their own different ways to salvation.”101 As the primary epistemic authority, experience, not propositional truth or historical dogma, had the right to authenticate the veridicality of an experience. I quote Goulet at length: Merton gradually realizes that every human journey faithfully made contains the experience of crucifixion and resurrection, and so partakes of the Christ experience. Merton considers unimportant, secondary, "somewhat irrelevant" the particular historical data regarding the death and resurrection of a historical personage, the knowledge even of Jesus as a man. Merton's approach allows him to be creative: it gives him the chance to recognize crucifixion and resurrection in himself and in others, without having to experience it in terms defined by others. Merton now sees that all religions, including Christianity, are only a metaphor for what is beyond metaphor. However excellent a metaphor is, it is always below the reality it signifies. The language is always less than the experience it wants to communicate. For Merton the commitment is not to a formal religion, but to the "numinous" journey which constitutes life.102 Merton and those who defend his pluralism on experiential grounds have erred deeply in at least two ways. First, any experience, no matter its potency, must be contextualized in order to be evaluated. Merton assumed the more powerful the experience the less that experience was susceptible to rational analysis. But religious experiences are not lone arbiters of truth. This is simple enough to demonstrate. Suppose I claim some powerful religious experience only to later discover I have a tumor pressing on my frontal lobe. Does this fact external to the experience in question play a role in assessing the degree to

Jacques Goulet, “Thomas Merton’s Journey Toward Religious Ecumenism,” The Merton Annual 4

101

(1991): 123. 102

Goulet, 124.


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which I am justified in deploying this experience in generating my beliefs about reality? Of course it does. To have a powerful experience of the “divine” only later to discover there is a tumor pressing on my frontal lobe, or perhaps that I have ingested a significant amount of psychedelic mushrooms, or anything else similarly capable of warping my perceptual beliefs is evidence that must be evaluated when adjudicating experiences. I am not claiming Thomas Merton suffered a brain disease. I am, instead, stating that epistemic context matters. C.S. Lewis, in his Letters to Malcom, makes a similar point in his critique of mystical experience, claiming that it is not the experience itself but the experience as it stands in relation to everything else that matters.103 The point is that only the totality of the experience in context can determine whether the experience was fruitful, beneficial, or even veridical in some way. Put differently, there is no way to gauge mystical experiences abstracted from the contexts in which they are located. As Christians, we bring our experiences before the bar of Scripture since it is God’s Word that makes infallible claims about reality. Scripture, and the doctrines which flow from it, provides an existential anchor to the powerful throes of our passions and our intellects. Since Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and many others make mutually exclusive truth claims about God/ultimate reality, we are right to reject their truth claims on the basis of data available to us—the Bible. Experiences generated by LSD, magic mushrooms, or advanced brainwashing tell me no more about ultimate reality than powerful religious experience apart from some objective measure. I say this as one deeply sympathetic towards those who desire to experience the religious life and not just know about it. Second, Merton and others err in conjoining the experiences of groups who make distinct and exclusive claims. It is simply wrong to claim that Sufi Muslims and Buddhist Monks and Evangelical Christians somehow must really have the same experience even if they say they do not. Does this not

103 He says, “The value of [mystical] experience must depend on the nature of that positive, whatever it is, for which it makes room. But should we not expect negative experiences to all feel the same? If wine glasses were conscious, I suppose that being emptied would be the same experience for each, even if some were to remain empty and some to be filled with poison and some broken. C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2012), 64.


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simply deny the claims of the one having the experience? Why should my claim to relevant experience be denied on the basis of Thomas Merton’s experience? Merton lacks a normative principle by which he discriminates between claims relevant to his case and those that are not. How are Merton, Shannon, or Goulet able to tell individuals making incompatible claims that they really have the same experience? In reality, the religious pluralist must in fact do that which he denies: he must base his claim of universal experience on an epistemic context external to the experience in question.104 In light of these considerations, it is hard not to think that Merton’s slide into pluralism reflected an unintentional progress towards classical Neoplatonism. Given Merton’s commitment to the epistemic authority of experience and the Real that undergirded all reality, his later thought had space for diverse religious traditions in the same way mature Neoplatonism did.105 This is lamentable. Conclusion In conclusion, I think Merton is right to challenge Christians to think beyond mere abstractions. Theology ought to grip us, move us, and deeply touch our hearts. Ineffective, tepid, limp theology does not belong to us, and frankly, there is no reason to think it should. As Evangelicals, we have a deep history of existentially meaningful theology, and Merton should not convince us otherwise. But Merton creates space to experience God—he makes experience inviting. He is a master wordsmith who paints a life with God in beautiful and rich colors. Merton challenges me to think of how to make intellectual, and dare I say existential, space for God who touches my soul as Father in a way that moves beyond mere

104

I should say that thought I did not mention it in this paper, I was most troubled in how Merton articulates salvation. Salvation, as was seen earlier, was an effect of a mystical experience. It was developed in prayer. From an Evangelical perspective, this is unacceptable and empties the Cross of its power. Reading John Peter Kenney’s explanation of later Neoplatonism seemed to make Merton’s pluralism much more clear to me. There is a lot of space for research in drawing the parallels between Neoplatonism and the later Thomas Merton. Kenney writes, “Rooted in centuries of reflection on the many gods of cultic polytheism, pagan religious thought thus evolved a theological monotheism that remained compatible with the notion of plural theophanies at levels of reality subsequent to the One. In this theology a hierarchical model of reality was vital: the many gods, powers, and spiritual beings of this rich universe were all derivatively real. They were grounded in the One, and in no sense were they competitive with it.” See, John Peter Kenney, Contemplation and Classical Christianity: A Study in Augustine, 18–19. 105


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knowledge (Eph. 3:19). Merton is also a warning sign for those who would elevate personal or private experiences over historical dogma. All experiences, no matter their force, need to be brought under the bar of propositional theology derived from Scripture lest we forsake the historical exclusivity of Christ incarnate, Christ crucified, and Christ risen.106

106

I am deeply indebted to my good friend Anthony Costello for his editing efforts and remarks throughout this paper and especially in the final paragraphs. The last sentence reflects his observation of the inherent danger of prioritizing private experience over doctrine.


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Book Reviews Joshua Stewart, Editor Welcome to the book review section of The Luther Rice Journal of Christian Studies. In the future, the editorial board would love to see this section of the journal grow in its offerings. In order for this to come to fruition, I would like to invite readers to contact me about the possibility of reviewing books for the journal. At this point in time, I am working toward growing the list of publishers willing to provide review copies of new releases. I am also working toward building a database of prospective reviewers. If you see a recent release or upcoming release that you would like to review, please contact me. In either case, please include in your email a curriculum vitae and a list of your areas of interest. At this time, we are only considering potential reviewers in a graduate program or higher.

Shalom lekha, Joshua E. Stewart, PhD Book Review Editor bookreviews@LutherRice.edu


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Amanda W. Benckhuysen. The Gospel According to Eve: A History of Women’s Interpretation. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Pp. 272. $25 paperback. Biblical scholar and Senior Professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary, Amanda Benckhuysen, has written a thought-provoking book on the history of interpretation through the lens of women and their interaction with Genesis 1-3. Acknowledging that all readers approach Scripture with preconceived notions, Benckhuysen perceived the need to perhaps disrupt assumptions and give light to voices from the past – particularly that of women – and advocate for new interpretations of Eve and what it means to be female. The idea of The Gospel According to Eve came into fruition when Benckhuysen stumbled upon interpretive work by women from as early as the fourth century. Although surprised and elated to discover that women had been clearly articulating their interpretations of Scripture for centuries, Benckhuysen was also saddened that these voices had been shelved and forgotten for so many years. Interestingly, most of the women highlighted in the book did not write “out of pressure to be politically correct” or to assist in a “secular feminist movement” (p. 2). Rather, they wrote specifically to the church regarding that “its ideas and ideals of femininity were hurting the daughters of Christ and compromising their physical safety and well-being” (p. 2). The sixty-five women spotlighted in The Gospel According to Eve cleverly exhorted that when Scripture is read faithfully and rightly, with thoughtful exegesis, the natural conclusion is that both women and men are image-bearers of God, thus, bestowing full emancipation and equality to both. Since the majority of the women wrote in reaction or response to the church and the dominant interpretations by the early church fathers, Benckhysen begins with a brief, yet enlightening exploration of these various interpretations bidding the reader to give pause. The author arranges the remaining chapters thematically exploring “trends in the interpretation of Eve as they emerged through the centuries” (p. 3). Chapter two discusses women’s worth from the literary defenses of fifteenth-to seventeenth-century women. Although sometimes assumed, the sexualization of women did not begin with the modern day. Benckhuysen points out that throughout history, literature and art have been


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dominated by men in which their reflections depicted their own characterization – mostly fantasies and fears – of women (p. 24). These societal influences urged women in history to seek “ways to resist internalizing sexism by reimagining what it means to be a woman through the eyes of God” (p. 24). Although each woman’s goal and purpose for writing differed, most agreed that patriarchy was a “social construct and not a divinely ordained ordering of human affairs” (p. 37). Women, like Christine de Pizan (1363-1430), wanted to deconstruct these ideas of women and redeem them based on her engagement with the text (27). Others, for example, Isotta Nogarola (1418-1466), intended to highlight “logical inconsistencies of prevailing views about women” (p. 31). The next three chapters consider women’s education, women as wives and mothers, and the empowerment of women preaching and teaching. Chapter three discusses the promotion of women’s education beginning within the seventh century. Questions began to arise about the culturally “accepted attitudes and practices about female education” (p. 54) Ultimately, education for girls focused on the basic skills needed to live in the stereotypical roles created for them – a far cry from the classical education the boys were receiving. Alas, a few women of the time saw this inconsistency as problematic. Thus, they turned to Genesis 1-3 for defense for moral improvement and education. The majority of the writers concluded that Eve’s behavior in the garden was the reason for educating women. This focus went against the dominant theme of the time which was women were unworthy of education due to their moral depravity. In chapter four, Benckhuysen compiles a group of writings that support women as wives and mothers by way of Eve. The authors speak specifically to topics such as rethinking marriage, love, friendship and sex, the many hats women don, and a new vision for marriage. Despite the varying opinions and differing exegetical modalities, it is evident that these women’s “reading of Genesis 1-3 sparked new ways of thinking about and imagining how marriage could be a source of life and blessing in a world of suffering and toil” (p. 83). The pinnacle of the Gospel According to Eve comes in chapter five with the examination of empowering women preachers and teachers. Despite some Christian communities’ dogmatic view on this


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issue, Benckhuysen draws attention to why these women felt compelled to communicate their thoughts on the topic. Drawing from Scripture such as 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:11-15, these women felt compelled to seek an alternative reading of these texts due to a “stirring of the Spirit in their hearts” (p. 110), not because of movements of the times. Therefore, they were not motivated by the push for gender equality. They simply desired to fulfill God’s calling on their lives. To not comply, they believed, was saying no to God. The chosen hermeneutical approach for the majority of the authors was to read the Pauline texts in context with the entirety of the canon of Scripture, thus, addressing Genesis 1-3 and God’s original “intentions for human beings and gender distinctions” (p. 111). Inconspicuously, chapter six sets the tone for the remainder of the book. Women’s roles as mothers, specifically, their duty to form the character of the children, is addressed which segues into social reform and gender ideology in chapters seven and eight. Benckuysen draws attention to popular opinion of the nineteenth century, by way of the “cult of domesticity,” and the changes it created for women. Females were now encouraged to a more significant role in the family, including the “moral and spiritual formation of the family” (p. 144). Naturally, yet inadvertently, this meant that women were to interpret and teach Scripture to their children opening the door for personal theology – explicitly what it meant to be female. For some, Eve began to be seen, as spoken of in Genesis, as the mother of all living, not simply the mother of sin (p. 145) and the authors encouraged their readers to view Eve with compassion and admiration. Interestingly, the discussion on women’s roles and their nature began to percolate down from the societal intellects to the masses and the public realm creating the “first wave of feminism and the women’s rights movement” (p. 171). The women contributors to the topic of social reform discovered the discrepancy while fighting for reforms for others, particularly to the tunes of the temperance movement, labor reforms, and the abolition of slavery (p. 172). In chapter seven, Benckhuysen weaves together the association of women’s rights and human rights through certain works that focus on themes such as Christ’s redemptive work (for both male and female), spiritual and ontological equality, God-given equality, shared dominion, and God’s ultimate plan to name a few. Chapter eight begins by Benckhuysen asking, “what does the Bible


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say about women?” (p. 200) – an age-old question that continues to divide the church. To navigate this question, Benckhuysen follows up with a series of thoughtful questions engaging the reader to ponder male headship, male-female relations, ontological equality, and functional hierarchy as they relate to women. The authors Benckhuysen chose to include had a similar goal – to expose the “androcentric character of the text” (p. 203) and to decipher where the cultural lens of interpretation began. The Gospel According to Eve concludes with a summative section on the legacy of Eve. Included are three “take-aways” that the reader can glean from women interpreters. Also, the reader will find discussion questions that correlate with each chapter that this author believes would be extremely useful for a small group discussion. A biography section, consisting of brief sketches of the women contributors, completes the book. I found these sections to be useful tools and informative additions to an already exhaustive attempt by the author to relay the importance of women interpreters and the significance of Eve throughout the centuries. Amanda Benckhuysen has crafted a book that fulfills this goal of tracing the history of biblical interpretation, specifically that of Genesis 1-3, through the eyes of women. The included exegetical work from past generations that supports, empowers, defends, and promotes women and the biblical truth that they are indeed image-bearers of God and most assuredly equals to their counterparts. I commend their efforts and altogether bravery. I see no weaknesses besides my inclination to want to read more about these remarkable women and their desire to be in God’s will. This compilation of alternative readings would serve well in a Bible study, small group, or for personal reading. However, the reader must be open to learning more about what God has to say about women, shrugging off the shackles of patriarchy and societal constraints. I would be so bold to mention that the Gospel According to Eve would not only benefit women but the entirety of the church body. A true understanding of what the Bible says about women is vital to the health of community, church, and home. Men and women must come along together as brothers and sisters in Christ and end the “traditional readings of the story of Eve” (p. 232) which historically brings abuse, violence, and neglect to women around the world. Instead, Benckhuysen and


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voices from the past are beckoning a rereading of Eve’s story that invites “respect, celebration, and an honoring of God’s blessing to the world in the daughters of Eve” (p. 233).

Laura Powell, MABC Luther Rice College & Seminary


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Tony Evans. The Power of Preaching: Crafting a Creative Expository Sermon. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019. Pp. 145. ISBN:978-0-8024-1830-2. Cloth cover, $10.39/ eBook, $7.99. When students of preaching hear Tony Evans preach, they are immediately captivated by the power, presence and proclamation of his pulpit genius. How exciting that he has penned this volume on that vital undertaking that he does so well – expository preaching. He is uniquely qualified for this assignment as he is pastor, preacher, professor, theologian and homiletician. Readers will dive in and discover the practice of his preaching. A few high notes of his lengthy résumé include a ThD from Dallas Theological Seminary, President of The Urban Alternative, author of over 100 books, and his primary ministry post as Senior Pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, TX. Evans aims The Power of Preaching toward making all God-called men into “faithful expositors.” He defines this as “a spiritually prepared person who declares the interpretation and application of biblical truths acquired through contextual study of a passage that the Holy Spirit then uses to confront the hearer and bring those who respond in conformity with God’s Word” (58). This definition provides overall emphasis for the first half of his book. As one faithfully exposits Scripture, he will have a Christ-centered and kingdom approach for “the overarching content of a sermon must always have the kingdom of God and the Lordship of our Shepherd and Savior, Jesus Christ, in view” (16). This volume is not merely theoretical, Evans provides ways, means and examples for expositional faithfulness. The Power of Preaching is a book for every practitioner of Christian preaching seeking to discern the art and science of expository preaching and Evans provides the reader with the necessity, purpose, and practice for that endeavor. The book has two principal divisions. The first half contains four chapters: “Foundation” (Kingdom Preaching, Expository Preaching, Teaching Versus Preaching); “Organization” (Creating a Preaching Calendar, The Process of Study); “Preparation” (The Work of the Spirit, Basic Interpretive Methods and Tools, The Importance of Meaning); and finally “Presentation” (Hindrances to Relevancy, Ingredients of Relevancy, The Dynamics of Delivery). The second half contains “Preaching


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Resources” (Creating a Master Calendar, Creating a Sermon, Q & A on Preaching, Types of Outlines, and Sample Sermon Outline) and “Appendices” (Recommended Resources and Ministry Overview). This book’s greatest strength is its practicality as Evans’ writing is much like his preaching – very “down to earth.” For example, all preachers would find encouragement by Evans’ insight on “charcoal” using the concordance. Used only twice in the Bible, first as Peter warmed his hands by a fire in denial, second when the Lord met him on the beach and cooked fish – “Jesus took him back to the place of his denial, confronted it symbolically, and then repositioned him for service” (59). In Q & A on Preaching, his insights into revivals, preaching in multiple services and gospel appeals at funerals are uncommon fare for most preaching books. The distinction Evans stressed between teaching and preaching is crucial, for all preachers must remember that “preaching emphasizes motivation, application, and response … teachers emphasize understanding and want to ensure you get the information and know what the information means” (37). There are no glaring weaknesses in the book, but I make just a few observations. In his Recommended Resources section – almost any suggested work that has a theological bent is decidedly dispensational. For example, consider the Study Bibles suggested (Evans, Ryrie, MacArthur and Jeremiah) or the Bible Doctrine resources (Evans, Ryrie, Chafer, Walvoord, Enns, Anderson and Dillow). There nothing inherently wrong with these selections; each are great works. It seems however that a broader scope would offer a more well-rounded evangelical approach – inclusion of other study Bibles (CSB Apologetics, ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible, etc.) or reliable Bible doctrine resources (Erickson, Grudem, et al.). The Electronic Resources could have been more robust especially with the fact that “thousands of pastors today can’t afford the time or money required to get formal biblical training” (back cover). That may also mean they cannot afford many resources listed but they may be able to access them online for free (Lumina, BibleGateway, Biblestudytools, etc.). The Power of Preaching is part of Evans’ larger four volume set of The Kingdom Pastor’s Library. Moody declares “training” as the need for this book, specifically “thousands of pastors today can’t afford the time or money required to get formal biblical training. That’s why Tony Evans created


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The Kingdom Pastor’s Library” (back cover). As such, Evans’ work will prove valuable for 1) the untrained minister who will find it as a clear and compelling guide to faithful expository preaching or 2) the young man who has recently surrendered his life to the preaching ministry. While the seasoned expositor can certainly read it to invigorate or hone his craft, if he seeks a more exhaustive homiletic work he may look at primary texts like Vines and Shaddix’s Power in the Pulpit (Moody, 1997/2017) or Merida’s The Christ-Centered Expositor (B&H Academic, 2016). The Power of Preaching is a tier below, nevertheless, it is still a beneficial companion volume, serving easily in a church ministry or a secondary source in an undergraduate preaching class. He is not seeking to be another voice in a room of preachers, just to be faithful as he guides the pastor to “not only bring the Word to the people, but also bring people to the Word” (9). The inimitable W. A. Criswell once said, “After seventy years of expository preaching, I have yet to touch the hem of his garment.” The Power of Preaching is not only a welcomed edition to any preacher’s shelf, it is an invitation for every preacher to “get a little closer to that hem” in their preaching. Evans convincingly and clearly calls the called, new and old, trained and untrained to better themselves in the task of biblical exposition. The Power of Preaching will enable some preachers to learn things they have never learned and other preachers to remember what they have long since forgot. “People need a kingdom pastor, manning a kingdom pulpit, with a kingdom proclamation, from God’s kingdom book – the powerful Word of God” (11). Tony A. Rogers, Senior Pastor Southside Baptist Church (Bowie, Texas)


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Submission Guidelines, Luther Rice Journal of Christian Studies Email manuscripts for consideration to journal@LutherRice.edu. Emails should include two attachments:

1) An information page 2) The manuscript The information page should be single-spaced. In it, please offer a brief abstract of the manuscript (250 words or less), a brief biography of your institutional affiliations and research interests, and a contact email. The biography should include your name. Introductory Information

Any manuscript submitted to LRJCS for consideration is expected to conform to the following requirements. A manuscript that fails to comply with these requirements may be returned to the author for corrections before it will be considered for publication. Authors are strongly encouraged to use the spell-check /grammar check prior to submitting their manuscript. Manuscript submissions should include a statement indicating that the author is not currently seeking to publish the manuscript with another journal. Manuscripts that have already been published or will be published should not be submitted to LRJCS. For matters not addressed in these instructions, authors should follow the formatting guidelines of the 16th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style or the 9th edition of the Turabian A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. If a manuscript has been accepted by LRJCS for publication, the author is required to make any and all required changes and return the corrected manuscript to LRJCS within a timely manner. Do not include your name within the manuscript. The LRJCS conducts blind peer reviews. General Guidelines for Manuscripts

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• • •

All foreign words, book and periodical titles, and transliterations should be italicized. Greek and Hebrew words must be typed using a unicode font (e.g., SBL Greek, SBL Hebrew). Format subheadings according to page 393 of the Turabian manual, or section 1.91 of the Chicago manual. First level subheadings should be centered, with the first letter of each word capitalized, and bolded. Second level subheadings should be centered, capitalized, but in normal type. Third level subheadings (if necessary) should be leftaligned, capitalized, and italicized. We prefer that authors use the first three major headings per Turabian. See the examples below: Jesus and the Great Commission (1st level) The Command to “Go” (2nd level) Implications for Ministry (3rd level)

Specific Guidelines

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The title should appear in bold type at the beginning of the manuscript. Begin the text of the manuscript on the next line. Do not make an “Introduction” subheading. Make every effort to keep subheadings simple and straightforward. On average, manuscripts should contain no more than one subheading for every four pages of text. Before a subheading, insert a triple space, or two blank single-spaced lines. After a subheading, double space as usual. Single space footnotes internally, but insert a blank single-spaced line between footnotes. Single space block quotations internally, but insert a blank single-spaced line before and after the block quotation. Abbreviate books of the Bible according to pages 339-343 of the 8th-edition Turabian manual. Indent paragraphs by pressing the “Tab” key. Do not indent paragraphs with the “Space” bar. Position page numbers at the bottom middle of the page. Manuscript submissions should make use of the oxford comma (e.g., “Jack, Jill, and Harry”). Manuscripts should avoid idioms and contractions. Include a space between all initials (e.g., F. F. Bruce). Manuscripts should make appropriate use of hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes. The titles of books of the Bible should not be italicized. Manuscripts should make use of the supplied abbreviations (see below) when citing ancient texts.


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When including a table, use the Insert function and create your tables using Word. Label them as follows: Table 1: Analyses of the Themes in Joshua 1-4. Follow the same format for labeling figures. Be certain that all tables and artwork are your own original work. We cannot republish tables or figures from other published material without express and written permission from the author and/or publisher. Quotations

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All quotations should carefully reproduce the original, even if they differ from the requirements of this journal. Any mistakes within the quotation may be indicated through the use of [sic]. Commas and periods should be placed within quotation marks. Colons, semicolons, dashes, and parentheses should be placed outside quotation marks. Footnotes and Bibliographical References

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All footnotes should be in 10pt font. Avoid placing several footnotes in a single sentence within the body of the manuscript. If a bibliographical reference occurs in a sentence within a footnote, the bibliographic reference should be placed within parentheses For example, “See J. Adewyua (“The Spiritual Powers of Ephesians 6:10–18 in the Light of African Pentecostal Spirituality,” BBR 22 [2012]: 254–256) for a recent summary of hermeneutical approaches to interpreting and appropriating Paul’s discussion of cosmic evil in Eph. 6:10–18.” The bibliographic information included inside parentheses within a footnote should be written in the following order: editor; translator; number of volumes; edition; series; city; publisher; date. Full bibliographic information should be provided when a work in first cited in the manuscript. Subsequent references should then use the author’s last name, an abbreviated form of the title, and then provide the appropriate page numbers (i.e., a short citation). Avoid the use of abbreviations, such as “p.” and “pp.” when citing page numbers. Avoid the use of “Publisher” in bibliographic references. The noun “Press” should only be included when citing works published by university presses (e.g., Cambridge University Press).


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Luther Rice Journal of Christian Studies Footnote Examples

B. Witherington, Paul’s Narrative Thought World: The Tapestry and Tragedy of Triumph (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994), 3–5. 1

2

J. Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), 237–38.

3

P. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians (PNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 457, 490.

4

C. Arnold, Ephesians, Power and Magic: The Concept of Power in Ephesians in the Light of its Historical Setting (SNTSMS 63; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 66–68. D. Reinhard, “Ephesians 6:10–18: A Call to Personal Piety or another Way of Describing Union with Christ,” JETS 48 (2005): 521–32. 5

M. Kitchen, The ἀνακεφαλαίωσις of All Things in Christ: Theology and Purpose in the Epistle to the Ephesians (Ph.D. thesis, University of Manchester, 1988), 74, 76–77. 6

Bibliography Examples Arnold, C. Ephesians, Power and Magic: The Concept of Power in Ephesians in the Light of its Historical Setting. Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 63. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Barr, J. The Semantics of Biblical Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961. Kitchen, M. “The ἀνακεφαλαίωσις of All Things in Christ: Theology and Purpose in the Epistle to the Ephesians.” Ph.D. thesis, University of Manchester, 1988. O’Brien, P. The Letter to the Ephesians. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999. Reinhard, D. “Ephesians 6:10–18: A Call to Personal Piety or another Way of Describing Union with Christ.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48 (2005): 521–32. Witherington, B. Paul’s Narrative Thought World: The Tapestry and Tragedy of Triumph. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994.


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Submission Guidelines for Book Reviews Thank you for submitting a book review for LRJCS. Please note the following matters. The book review editor reserves the right to return a review for rewriting, to shorten it, or even to reject it if it departs substantially from these guidelines. Format Please use the following format for the heading of the review: Author. Title. Place of publication: Publisher, date of publication. Number of pages. ISBN. Retail price (cloth/paper).

Please type your name as you wish it to appear at the review, along with the name of your institution or place of ministry or city and state. For references to formatting please follow the latest edition of the Turabian Manual. Generally, we ask our reviewers to stay within a word count of 800-1000 words per review. In rare cases, when reviewing key volumes or reference works, we may allow a higher word count. However, this should be discussed with the book review editor prior to final submission. If you must use Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek we ask that you use a Unicode font. Policies Our goal is to publish reviews that are critical, creative, and courteous. In general, a review should include an exposition of the positions taken, the methodology employed, and a critical evaluation (positive or negative) of these. The work may be related to other literature in the field. Personal polemics should be avoided, and reviews should not be used to promote one’s favorite idea. Submission Please submit your document as a .doc or .docx file. Also submit a .pdf version of the file. These files should be submitted to the book review editor as an email attachment.


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