A Prayer for Sunday (Thomas à Kempis)

Thomas a KempisFew people manage to have a lasting impact on the church with only a single book. Thomas à Kempis is one of them. His Imitation of Christ is widely considered to be the most influential devotional work of the Middle Ages and one of the most widely read Christian books of all time. (I’ve even heard it claimed that the Imitation of Christ has been translated into more languages than any book besides the Bible, a claim I have not even tried to confirm.) The Imitation of Christ had an undoubted impact on Catholic spirituality, but also impacted many Protestant thinkers (e.g. John Wesley). And it received a renewed boost in contemporary spirituality through the writings of people like Thomas Merton.

Although Thomas à Kempis’ book has received significant criticism over the years–especially for an apparent overemphasis on the “inner” life of the Christian at the expense of a more “active” spirituality–his work has played an unquestionable role in the spiritual lives our countless Christians. So in honor of the life and ministry of Thomas à Kempis, who died on July 25, 1471, this Sunday’s prayer comes from him.

Grant me, O Lord, to know what I ought to know,
To love what I ought to love,
To praise what delights thee most,
To value what is precious in thy sight,
To hate what is offensive to thee.
Do not suffer me to judge according to the sight of my eyes,
Nor to pass sentence according
…..to the hearing of the ears of ignorant men;
But to discern with a true judgment
…..between things visible and spiritual,
And above all, always to inquire what is the good pleasure of thy will.

Flotsam and jetsam (7/25)

academic language

Good Reads

  • Prioritizing Church Attendance: There used to be an understanding in Christian families that unless one was deathly ill or there was a family emergency, you just never ever missed church. So what has changed and caused so many people to view the church as a disposable good instead of as an intricate part of one’s spiritual life? (Gospel Centered Discipleship)

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Just for Fun

Flotsam and jetsam (7/23)

jacket

Good Reads

  • The Double Standard of Religious Leadership:  On the one hand, leaders are accorded certain privileges and have corresponding responsibilities. The price of the platform is accountability. At the same time, we don’t want leaders to assume they are somehow better. When they fail there is a certain reassurance and even delight in the schadenfreudian confirmation that everyone is human. (On Faith)
  • Living With Disability in the Dark Ages:  The moral arc of the universe may indeed bend toward justice, in disability as in race, gender, and class—but that arc doesn’t flow smoothly: It contains many hills and valleys. (The Daily Beast)
  • Why our brains love the ocean: Science explains what draws humans to the sea:  Several years ago I came up with a name for this human–water connection: Blue Mind, a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment. It is inspired by water and elements associated with water, from the color blue to the words we use to describe the sensations associated with immersion. (Salon)

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Become a Heretic for a While

I recently spent several hours trying to convince a class that Arius was right, the Son is not equal with the Father, and Athanasius blew it.

Open window on brick lined wall

So we looked at all the biblical data suggesting that the Son is subordinate to the Father. We discussed Greek philosophy and how the Nicene view of three persons (hypostases) in one substance (ousia) necessarily entails either modalism–i.e. the one substance (God) just manifested himself at different times as different persons (Father, Son, and Spirit)–or tritheism–i.e. the one substance (deity) gets expressed in three distinct beings (Father, Son, and Spirit) just like our one human nature gets expressed as many particular humans. And, most importantly, we talked about the Cross, how Athanasius’ overly divine Son downplays the real human suffering on the cross that is a necessary part of any true atonement. 

In short, we presented a pretty compelling argument for the truth of Arianism. Indeed, when we were done and had summarized all the strongest arguments for Arianism on the board, I asked the class to refute them. And they were stuck. They still felt intuitively that Arianism had to be wrong, but they couldn’t find the chinks in the armor. It looked so compelling.

That’s when I knew we’d arrived.

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Flotsam and jetsam (7/21)

android smartphone

Good Reads

  • How to Talk about Pain: Stripped of its mysticism and its virtuous solicitations, pain was emptied of positive value. Rather than being passively endured, pain became an “enemy” to be fought and ultimately defeated. The introduction of effective relief made submission to pain perverse rather than praiseworthy. (New York Times)
  • The Importance of Eating Together:  It’s incredible what we’re willing to make time for if we’re motivated….Perhaps seeing eating together not as another appointment on a busy schedule, but rather as an opportunity to de-stress, a chance to catch up with those whom we love then, could help our children do better in school, get in better shape, and be less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Eating together also led children to report better relationships with their parents and surely relationships between adults can similarly benefit. (The Atlantic)
  • Five Pleas from Pastors to Search Committees:  At any given time in a year, as many as 50,000 congregations are searching for a pastor. The implications of the challenges and possible misunderstandings are many. These pleas from pastors are sound and reasonable. (Thom Rainer)
  • The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence:  Emotional intelligence is important, but the unbridled enthusiasm has obscured a dark side. New evidence shows that when people hone their emotional skills, they become better at manipulating others. When you’re good at controlling your own emotions, you can disguise your true feelings. When you know what others are feeling, you can tug at their heartstrings and motivate them to act against their own best interests. (The Atlantic)

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A Prayer for Sunday (Macrina the Younger)

The older sister of Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, Macrina the Younger was an influential figure in our own right, becoming one of the leading monastics of the early church and deeply shaping the theology and writings of her two significant brothers. Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Macrina describes her as an impressive woman with a tremendous intellect and a passion for following Christ.

Macrina died on July 19, 340. In honor of her amazing life and ministry, this morning’s prayer is the prayer that she prayed on her deathbed.

“O Lord, You have freed us from the fear of death;
You have made the end of life here the beginning of a true life for us.
For a time, You give rest to our bodies in
…..sleep and You awaken us again with the last trumpet.

The dust from which You fashioned us with Your hands
…..You give back to the dust of the earth for safekeeping,
and You who have relinquished it will recall it
…..after reshaping with incorruptibility and grace
our mortal and graceless substance.

You redeemed us from the curse and from sin,
…..having taken both upon Yourself;
You crushed the heads of the serpent who had seized us
…..with his jaws in the abyss of disobedience.
Breaking down the gates of hell
…..and overcoming the one who had the empire of death,
You opened up for us a path to the resurrection.
For those who fear You, You gave as a token
…..the sign of the holy cross for the destruction of the Adversary
…..and the salvation of our life.

O God everlasting, towards whom I have directed myself from my mother’s womb,
…..whom my soul has loved with all its strength,
…..to whom I have dedicated my body and my soul from my infancy up to now,
prepare for me a shining angel to lead me to the place of refreshment
…..where is the water of relaxation near the bosom of the holy Fathers.

You who broke the flaming sword
…..and compassionately gave Paradise back to the man crucified with You,
remember me also in Your kingdom,
…..for I, too, have been crucified with You,
…..having nailed my flesh through fear of You and having feared your judgments.
Let the terrible abyss not separate me from Your chosen ones;
let the Slanderer not stand in my way
…..or my sins be discovered before Your eyes
…..if I have fallen and sinned in word or deed or thought
…..because of the weakness of our nature.

Do You who have power on earth to forgive sins forgive me
…..so that I may be refreshed and may be found before You
…..once I have put off my body,
…..having no fault in the form of my soul,
but blameless and spotless may my soul be taken into Your hands
…..as an offering before Your face.

Saturday Morning Fun…Word Crimes

Weird Al and grammar policing in the same video? Yes please.

Why Do Animals Suffer When They’ve Done Nothing Wrong

Many theologians have claimed that all the suffering that we see in the world around us is a result of the fall. In the Garden, there was perfect peace. After the fall, suffering and death were introduced, not just for humans but for all of creation.

But does this really make sense?

death before the fallIn his new book Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (IVP, 2014), Ronald Osborn says no. That answer results from an overly literal reading of the Creation/Fall narratives, and it fails to account for the fact that animal predation, and the corresponding death and suffering of animals, seems to be part of the natural order (e.g. lions look like they have been painfully devouring gazelles from the very beginning).

With this book, Osborn joins a growing list of scholars dealing with the problem of animal suffering from a biblical perspective. In just the last few years we have Michael Murray’s Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (OUP, 2008), Nicola Creegan’s Animal Suffering and the Problem of Evil (OUP, 2013), and Andrew Linzey’s Why Animal Suffering Matters: Philosophy, Theology, and Practical Ethics (OUP, 2009), among others. So clearly this is a question whose time has come. But has Osborn done the question justice? That’s what remains to be seen.

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Flotsam and jetsam (7/18)

xmen

Good Reads

  • Fantasy and the Buffered Self: the porous self is open to the divine as well as to the demonic, while the buffered self is closed to both alike. Those who must guard against capture by fairies are necessarily and by the same token receptive to mystical experiences….Safety is purchased at the high price of isolation. (Alan Jacobs)
  • Wonder and the Ends of Inquiry: Wonder is not only a peculiarly human passion; it is also one that, at least on this account, underscores the limits of human knowledge. The more we know, the less we wonder. (The Point)
  • Being a Better Online Reader: The digital deficit, they suggest, isn’t a result of the medium as such but rather of a failure of self-knowledge and self-control: we don’t realize that digital comprehension may take just as much time as reading a book. (The NewYorker)
  • Want to Love Your Job? Church Can Help, Study Says:  Regular attenders who frequent a church that teaches God is present at your workplace, work is a mission from God, or that faith can guide work decisions and practices is a good sign for your career, according to a recent study from Baylor University. (Christianity Today)

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A Common (But Bad) Reason for Rejecting Penal Substitution

Crows-Celtic-CrossAs a theology professor, I routinely hear people claim that Anselm  invented the penal substitution  view of the atonement. This is the idea that Jesus bore the punishment that we rightly deserved because of our sin, and that this was necessary for us to be reconciled to God.

Before Anselm, the church had a view that focused almost exclusively on ideas like victory—i.e. on the cross Jesus defeated the enemies of humanity like Satan, death, and sin—and healing—i.e. the entirety of his incarnate life healed our broken humanity and made it possible for us to resume the path to godlikeness. (If you’d like some examples, see here  and here .)

And people often use the relative newness of the theory as a reason for rejecting it. If the early church didn’t think of the cross as some kind of vicarious punishment, if that was just a medieval invention, let’s get rid of it.

There’s just one problem with this: it’s wrong. And it’s wrong for two important reasons.

[This is the beginning of my newest post over at Christianity.com. Head over there to check it out, and let me know what you think.]

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