June 2009

Sadness of Coming to the end:  The Year of Saint Paul


This has been a wonderful year for me to be involved with the larger Christian community in celebrating the 2000th birthday of the Apostle Paul. Of course we’re really not saying goodbye to the Apostle of Liberty, how could we without saying goodbye to the Holy Scriptures themselves. But I do have a certain sadness in seeing yet another golden opportunity to celebrate our Christian unity with the universal community of faith pass into history.

So as I post my final attempt to look at Saint Paul’s influence on the Christian Church, I’ve decided to return to an old friend mentioned early in this series, James S.Stewart, author of “A Man in Christ“, first published in London in 1935.

The Vital Religion of Jesus Christ

One thing I’ve been able to do in this ‘Year of Saint Paul’, through my own study as well as looking at countless blogs and essays, including those of Pope Benedict XVI, is put to the test a working hypothesis regarding what Saint Paul contributes to the whole narrative of Holy Scripture- the unfolding drama of redemptive history.

Thank you for taking an interest in my personal journey of faith. So once more I come back to that hypothesis: that the Apostle Paul does play a rather decisive role/function in the Biblical narrative that centers on Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, I’m now ready to advance that hypothesis a step further, and say that Paul the Apostle is in himself and his writings the greatest interpreter of what James Stewart calls, “The Vital Religion of Jesus Christ“.

Paul or Paulism: The Great Dilemma

When Saint Paul composed his great hymn of Praise to Love (I Corinthians 13), he began by distinguishing between the vital religion of Jesus Christ, as it had gripped his own experience, and certain more or less imperfect and unbalanced forms of religion, which from that day to this have sheltered themselves under the name of Christianity.”

This is the dilemma for the Christian Church today in the age of the international blogging community just as it has been down through the years of Christianity: the distortions of “the vital religion of Jesus Christ” in all the different views of that religion that are out there in the real world of hurting, lonely, lost, suffering, humanity. These distortions is what the world sees and feels around them instead of the authentic Christ of the New Testament Gospel. And frankly, this frustration at times almost overwhelms me. This is why I came to the place almost ten years ago, after a great deal of experiencing much of this frustration, where I intentionally made the decision to stop promoting any one “imperfect and unbalanced form of religion” as found in the religious ideologies of Christendom, and instead try to model and encourage everyone I could to get back to the original as found in the Biblical narrative itself. So I will leave you and the year of celebrating Saint Paul’s birth (even that is arbitrary) with these remarks with which James Stewart opened his book in 1935:

Gifts and graces which God intended to be the adornment of the Christian community may cease to be its adornment, and become its snare. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels”- that is religion as ecstatic emotionalism. “Though I have the gift of prophecy, and undersand all mysteries, and all knowledge”- that is religion as gnosis, intellectualism, speculation. “Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains”- that is religion as working energy. “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor”- that is the religion of humanitarianism. ” Though I give my body to be burned”- that is the religion of asceticism.

All these one-sided and patently inadequate representations of the Gospel, Paul expressly repudiates. Yet history, which has been unjust to many of its greatest men (and women), has given us from time to time, by the strange irony of fate, a Paul who is himself the type and embodiment of the very things against which he strove with might and main.

We have had Paul the ecstatic visionary, Paul the speculative theologian, Paul the organiser and ecclesiastic, Paul the humanitarian moralist, Paul the ascetic (mystic). Of these portraits which have appeared at different times in the course of Pauline study, by far the most unfortunate in its results has been the second- Paul the dogmatist, the doctrinaire thinker, the creator of a philosophy of religion, the constructor of a system. This is history’s greatest injustice to its greatest saint. It is the blunder which has ruined Paul for thousands. . . Paul’s worst enemy down through the centuries has not been Paul: it has been Paulinism. (from A Man in Christ, James S.Stewart, Harper & Row)

May we dedicate ourselves afresh to avoid (and repudiate) with all our might these distortions of this passionate lover of Jesus Christ  whom he served in life and by many sufferings and finally, death.

Related readings & downloadable essays at Christ in You, Ministries,see “Christianity is NOT a religion“, by James A.Fowler


Kenneth Scott Latourette

Kenneth Scott Latourette

The Perspective from a 20th Century Historian

Kenneth Scott Latourette (1884-1968)

This is just one of many outstanding Christians waiting for me to introduce here on E4Unity blog- my wish list for the Saint’s Gallery. But I want to go ahead and introduce him so I can put up a quote from a little book published in 1948 on what I believe is now coming to pass in Christianity and what we’ve already introduced in several previous blogs: a radical re-evaluation (heart-searching) of how the people of the Christian Faith should function in today’s world.

Dr. Latourette was perhaps the most recognized historian of Christianity in the twentieth century. An expert on China and the Orient, author of volumes on the history of the Christian Faith down through the centuries. He taught at Yale University from 1921 to 1953, served as Department of Religion Chairman, and Director of Graduate Studies at the Divinity School. The man was an intellectual giant. We really should know something about men and women of the past like this if we hope to know what’s going on in our world today.

In his Presidential Address to the American Society of Church History in 1945, he spoke on “The Future of Christianity in the Light of it’s Past”, considering the mid-century following two world wars an urgent time for the Church to do an evaluation of where they had been and what the future may have in store. In the years 1946 and 1947 he spoke at more than a dozen Seminaries and Universities on the subject which was later published in a book which I am fortunate to have on my desk, “The Christian Outlook“.

I have already brought up the theme for some of my posts in the coming year, the 100th celebration of the great World Missionary Conference held at Edinburg in 1910 and the celebrations in various parts of Christendom scheduled to take place to commemorate this most significant date in the History of Christian missions.

I will begin with some quotes from the book above that I think you will find most timely some  sixty years later.

The word ‘Christianity’ never occurs in the New Testament. Gospel is there and it is the Gospel which gives rise to Christianity and which is the source of its vitality. So long as any branch or expression of Christianity is a channel of the Gospel it lives. When it ceases to be a channel for the Gospel it becomes sterile and withers.

Latourette spends a number of pages, reluctantly, describing for us his own convictions regarding the Gospel, for he was convinced that it was only from the vantage (perspective) of the Gospel as presented in Holy Scripture that ” we can presume to look into the future to the near and far outlook for Christianity and for humankind”.

At the outset we must remind ourselves of the meaning of the word ‘Gospel. It is simply the Anglo-Saxon, for Good News, or Joyful message. . .The New Testament rings the changes on that note. The stories of the birth are filled with it. It is the spirit of the Magnificant, of the Benedicdus, of the Nunc Dimittis, of the announcement to the shepherds, and of the angelic song.

Jesus compared himself and his disciples to a wedding party. There is joy over the sinner who repents; the feasting and the joy over the return of the lost son; the joy of one who, seemingly by chance, when not looking for it, discovers the treasure hidden in the field; the joy of the pearl mercahant who has made it his business to seek and then finds; the joy of which we hear on the eve of the crucifixion and which was left as legacy to the disciples. There is the joy of the resurrection, when the disciples were so full of it that they could scarcely believe what they had seen. After they could no longer meet their Lord in the flesh, the early disciples continued that same experience of joy. They rejoiced with “joy unspeakable.” One of the outstanding ‘fruits of the spirit’ which they found working in them was joy.

So, through the centuries since, men and women of many different races and cultures have found this same joy. Martin of Tours, who as a soldier gave himself wholly to the Christ of the Gospel and left his occupation to be a pioneer in the monastic way to which he believed that dedication called him, impressed by his joy those who were attracted to him. Bernard of Clairvaux sings of ‘ Jesus thou joy of loving hearts’. Francis of Assisi and his early band were troubadours of God, joyous in spite and in part because of their elf-assumed poverty. Luther is a herald of joy. . .

Moody is captured by the ‘Good News’ and in unlearned language tells it to the masses. In simple, unsophisticated ‘Gospel hymns’ his associates and thousands since have sung of the wonder which they have glimpsed. This joy is our privilege today. Through all the ages to come it will continue to be part of the Gospel.

READ Biography  at History of Missiology: ” Classic writings in the history of Protestant Mission thought.”



Neglecting the Greatest Gift

I want to continue the subject of the last post, which as you remember, was the concern voiced by internetmonk that an unhealthy emphasis on the Glory of God was having on “all things human”. I agreed with the spirit of that discussion, especially the confusion among Christians that is undermining our unity of calling and purpose in the world. And to me this is the real danger that indeed faces us today: the neglect of the great salvation/redemption which is the Biblical narrative.

I think the subject has everything to do with all that we have been finding as we have focused on the Apostle Paul and his unique contribution to that narrative, especially as he interprets what God really accomplished in the Christ Event, the cycle just celebrated with Advent, Passover, and Pentecost. We have seen in this “Year of Saint Paul” that nothing short of a new humanity in Christ, a humanity that would succeed where the old had “come short of the Glory of God” and could not please God in the flesh is the message of the Gospel of the grace of God.

Is that salvation only (exclusively) about a prepared place referred to as “heaven” beyond death, or is much more included involving “all things human” in this life, which directly relates to the life beyond? There is no doubt that the Biblical narrative is about the Glory of God as it is revealed progressively to the human race on planet earth in history. But that revelation is always in the context of that humanity and its history. God indeed wants to be known and worshipped as the only true God by his creation, especially humankind made in His own image and for that very purpose. And the meaning and quality of human life is in turn always related to the right relation to the True God- qualities like peace and harmony, blessing, or strife, conflict, and cursing.

So when we fail to keep these two essential parts of the whole narrative balanced, we are not only in serious danger of missing the purpose for which we were created but the purpose for which the Redeemer has fought and won the great battle for freeing us from our former bondage into “the glorious liberty of the Children of God”, as Paul says it. In fact this is the over-all vision that the Apostle lived with from the time that he was confronted on the Road to Damacus and later had as long as three years in the Syrian desert to think out.

“For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many Sons to glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (letter to the Hebrews 2:10)

God’s eternal plan involves the promise to make “all things new’; both a new earth and a new heaven. Thankfully there have always been those among us who have seen that the Glory of God is forever intertwined with His creation, humankind and the material creation. So internetmonk is raising a legitimate warning that we are not keeping the proper balance. Once again in this generation, as in those that have gone before, parts of the Body of Christ are speaking into this imbalance. Will we keep fighting oneanother from our own faith traditions precious heritage, or will we practice the UNITY of God’s New humanity in Christ and let every contribution be received which will result in the “Growing up into the fullness of the Body in Jesus Christ”? Will we finally grasp the full intent of God’s mighty once-for-all work of redemption when “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”?

I intend to mention three major ways that this “seeking a holistic salvation” took within Christianity in the 20th century, as we continue this discussion. To wet our appetites I will simply introduce a phrase that I think we can look at from the past- CHRISTIAN HUMANISM.

A related essay- Lockerbie-Thinking Like A Christian.


Stirring up the pot in the blog world

One of the blogs I occasionally check out to see what’s going on is internetmonk.com. On May 27th he posted about something he evidently had mentioned before. It really struck a nerve in his followers and he has had over 175 comments posted. Because I think the subject and the interest represents a very real wrestling going on with one particular theme with religious people today, I want to say something about it myself. (who knows, someone might actually post a comment or two)

“It still concerns me. Not whether all things are centered in, related to, dependent on, destined for and exist to glorify God, but whether some expressions of Christianity can become so God-focused that the significance of what is not God- including all things in human experience– are devalued and even distorted to the point of confusion in the minds of God loving/God believing people.” (emphasis added)

The crux of the discussion centers on this sincere concern that Michael has, a concern that finally led him to put it on  the net. By the way, he enjoys a pretty large audience and is said to be one of the most recognized bloggers in the “Christian” community. I think if I understand him at all, the main point of his concern is the phrase, “some expressions of Christianity” that place such an emphasis on God-centerness (as in the Calvinistic resurgence within Southern Baptist churches and others), that ” all things in the human experience” are neglected or even distorted. Because I too recognize the reality of this danger-a danger that for that matter, has always existed in Christianity, I am very interested to know what your own first-reaction is.

First, I will place here one of the responses to give you some idea of just how some were able to dialogue from their own life-situation.

30 May 2009 at 6:09 pm grimtraveller
To Patrick Lynch at post 105 {or thereabouts}

“I’ve been thinking about your response and I have a couple of thoughts in reply. First off, while I understand the analogy with one’s lover {and scripture points to it sometimes}, it has certain limitations. Personally, I don’t think in those terms. I dig being with my wife but there’s never been a time when she was the only thing on my mind. When you’re part of one another’s world and being, for me such a thought just can’t be quantified. And so it is with our Lord. He wants to be our all in all. But what does that mean exactly ? I think good relationships ebb and flow. They bounce from weak to strong to intense to slow to fast to complacent to still to whatever else, you know ? Whatever my struggles, doubts, joys, frustrations, etc, I know he’s always with me. I really mean that.

“There’s this song that’s been kicking around church circles for yonks, called “Draw me close” and it has this chorus of “You’re all I want – You’re all I’ve ever needed”. I love the melody, the way the chords interact with the lyrics and the build up and all that……but I can’t stand the words because for me, it’s simply not true. I’ve been causing a bit of a ruckus over the last 12 or so years when I say things like “I don’t like the words of that song. I find them shallow or not steeped in real life” in relation to many of the big church hits. For the record, I do that with all songs ! Those lurve songs that declare “limitless undying love” or “I would climb mountains and swim across oceans for yooooooouuuuu!!!” are lyrically ridiculous to me, even though I might love the actual song. But going back to “Jesus, you’re all I want”…..for me that’s not true. Paul the apostle gave the impression that was how Christian life was meant to be lived, but then, we don’t really know what he thought of many things because in the letters of his that we do have that are part of the NT, feelings on art, politics, and a whole range of other things weren’t his brief.

“I might want lots of things. I wanted a wife, kids, friends, family, recording equipment, a job, albums, the list is endless. None of that is incompatible with being in Christ because he is number one. None of the things I want or like or have to do are the centre of my existence. I can make loads of decisions myself – that is not incompatible with being led by the Spirit. I can dig many things in the world and equally detest many things in the world. Hating horror movies or porn doesn’t mean that I’m God centered. Not subscribing to the standard Christian norms of daily bible study or one hour prayer or whatever doesn’t make a person a reprobate. It’s been hard, but I’ve learned over the years to cultivate a relationship with the Lord on the move and in the stillness and quietness and in the hubbub of company. I’ll talk with him anytime and anywhere about football, music, war, sex, his church, history, my kids, my wife, buses, the shower, politics, pain, things I understand, things I don’t, telly, friends, attitudes, work, riding a bike, you name it. Nothing is verboten. I’ll talk and try to listen as I drive, walk, watch TV, listen to music, joke with the kids, play the guitar, read, argue, work – you name it. Is that God centered ? Sometimes, we won’t chat extensively or with depth for days and days. That does not mean that he plays second fiddle or that “the world” has or is crowding him out. In fact, I think that when we have to think of life with the Lord in this way, maybe we’re the ones who really haven’t really grasped what it is to be led by him. There is one powerful NT example {among many} that stands out to me and that’s when Paul brought back to life the kid that fell out the window and died. In the record written, there is no mention of God. But that Paul simply went and confidently prayed for the guy says something. He often moved in the life of God within him. But this is the same guy who, when the disciples in Tyre urged him through the Spirit not to go to Jerusalem, he ignored them and went. This indicates to me that being led by the Spirit is what the Lord truly desires for us because I doubt many of us would argue that Paul wasn’t God centered. But he was a bloke like half of us and human like all of us and didn’t get it always right. I also realize that for the rest of our days we’ll be learning, ebbing, flowing, but hopefully closer to and more led by our God. I don’t want “Heaven” to be the place where I tell him I love him and know I mean it. I want Kingsbury in London or wherever I am at the time {regardless of what I’m doing or how I feel} to be that place.”

Excellent related post: Get Human!