All Work And No Rest

I’ll never forget driving from Massachusetts to Iowa to return my car to the college I was attending (in the mid-70’s), and then hopping on a plane to connect with four of my buddies in Montana to drive to our friend’s wedding in northwest Washington state. I had allotted three days to get to Iowa, including a stop for another friend’s wedding in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Then, an additional three days to camp and drive to the Pacific Northwest.

When I left home my mother cautioned me, “Stephen, I’m concerned that you haven’t left any time for an emergency.” I responded, “Don’t worry, mom, I’ll be fine.”

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Conversations Guide: Issue 13.1

Community As
Theological Necessity
by Mark A. Moore

Mark Moore is indicative of a much larger movement in the church generally, a missional-incarnational ecclesiology less about policy than people. We are trapped in a cult of pragmatism. Moore saw this and sought to address it. His church plant, Providence Community Church, aimed at a communal narrative more organic than programmatic. Says Moore, “I set out to shape a culture that would be driven by theological convictions on community rather than pragmatic approaches.”

Moore recognizes this cult of individualism-pragmatism in the West has invaded our theology, turning the gospel into largely a business transaction. It isolates and alienates. It is a christocentric gospel that intrigues Mark and his congregation.

Their study of Acts 2:42–45 revealed a very different way of life together. Says Moore, “This way of understanding the gospel and the nature of Christian community should serve as the basis for thinking and living in all Christian communities…. A kingdom-focused gospel demands not only devotion to Jesus, but also devotion to Jesus’ people as faithful citizens in his kingdom.”

1. Do a study of Acts 2:42–47. How does your congregation stack up? How could you find ways of realigning your faith community to better reflect this picture in Acts? Gather a small group of souls committed to the kind of community Moore describes. Begin to pray daily that such a vision finds its way into your congregational way of living and being together.

2. What would Believe, Belong, Bless look like in your congregation? How can you begin in small ways to exemplify this way of living among your Christian family? In your homes? Among your peers and colleagues? What are some steps that may be taken to help your community align more closely with Providence’s biblical discoveries?

3. Jesus invites us to “believe in God. Believe also in me.” Moore reiterates this idea in the following, “Believing is meant to convey a continuous, ongoing commitment to the gospel—living in the reality that Jesus is the reigning Lord and we are citizens of his kingdom.” Do you think “believing in Jesus” means presently what it was intended to mean? If not, why not? If so, in what ways?

Contagious: The Surprising Things That Make Community Transformational
by Jan Johnson

The word “community” is ubiquitous these days, tucked into conversations in every corner, both ecclesiastical and non. Jan Johnson seeks to sort through what true Christian community is and is not.

Her central idea: “I’ve become convinced we learn about God best through relationship with each other. There are certain things about God we don’t grasp until we see those things in another person.” There is no real transformation in a bubble. It must happen in community, where our rough edges are blunted against those of another.

The truest, redemptively viable collective, she suggests, must be about unity, not unanimity; diversity, not uniformity. It reaches out even to the enemy.

True koinonia is found in agape, not in the feelings of tenderness often accompanying such fellowship. Self-sacrificing love underpins all. Johnson reminds us of Paul’s injunction to “pursue love” (1 Cor. 14:1), not intimacy. Like humility, we discover community only when we’re focused elsewhere. To focus on intimacy is to lose it. To focus on Christ, who is love personified, makes both community and intimacy possible. In fact, committed community becomes our “school for love… where I will learn to love,” as Johnson intimates.

Our shared Christian life, not our ideology or even theology must be our basis for biblically Christian community. To “have the same mind” (see Phil. 2:5) is not simply to agree on everything. It is to have the mind of Christ, which is love, and love is the great motivator of change and mission. It’s why love stands at the epicenter of the gospel. To remove condemnation is to invite love and, in so doing, invite a universe full of glorious possibilities. Moreover, it becomes the basis for mutual submission, humble confession, guidance, and service indicative of the same.

1. Spend time in prayer and discussion in your own small group. Determine how to better reflect the diversity and inclusivity of the kingdom of God. Intentionally seek out some new participants with whom you might not normally associate. Share a meal together and begin the process of learning the deeper lessons of Christian community.

2. Practice Jan’s “holy space” as you consider a rift in fellowship with a brother or sister. If possible, find audience with that person and, in your conversation, see in your mind all your words filtered through the loving presence of Christ. As you listen, do so with “the mind of Christ,” hearing and responding as might he.

3. Pray about someone in whom you may invest yourself this year. Seek them out and gently begin a relationship of anam cara, or soul friendship, where you may both share unimpeded the deepest secrets of your lives. In so doing, you invest in one another’s conversion. Commit to document this journey together.

Moving Communities Inward
A Conversation with David Johnson

Johnson’s understanding of our primary journey inward helps set the stage for a leadership team intentional about formation and, ultimately, community and mission in their local congregation. He wisely suggests that community is the result of pursuing something else, something far deeper still—the search for God in the human soul. Johnson believed strongly enough in these things that he sponsored his staff through the two-year experience of Ruth Haley Barton’s Transforming Community program. “Change flows from leadership team into the whole church,” says Johnson. Because there is a deep commitment both to community and to the leadership at his church, Johnson has seen a sustainable transformation through his team and into the congregation at large. He concludes, “Our succession plan has shifted from being focused on who the next leader will be to becoming a people who are being formed in Christ.”

1. “When we are all on the same page in terms of ministry goals and values really good friendships happen.” Do you agree? Can local churches find depth of relationship with differing goals or emphases? If so, how? If not, why not?

2. What would it take to convince your own church’s leadership team to experience Ruth Haley Barton’s Transforming Community program? Seek to become an advocate for your church staff in this pursuit. Commit to pray five minutes every day for a month for the leadership of your church. Document the results.

3. Describe your own inward journey. Is it a welcome one? A fearful one? Why or why not? Together with a spiritual director or trusted friend, discern what your soul needs most as you journey inward with God. Journal your progress.

Becoming The
Beloved Community
by Mark Scandrette

Spiritual formation, in its deepest, most rewarding sense, must be lived out among community where another’s iron sharpens our own. Mark Scandrette seeks to address this very conundrum and begins with the following archetypal statement, “The human heart longs for community—a place to belong, to be known, to be understood, to be accepted, affirmed, and loved.” His article is a congregational response to this pathway toward relational wholeness. He proposes a practical means of interrelational health through a process of mutual forgiveness.

Scandrette has the congregation work through four categories of tension and conflict: social distance (how we use relationships to buttress our own insecurities, treating them unfairly in the process); disappointment (unfair or unrealistic expectations, often unrecognized); boundary challenges (inappropriate boundaries), and wounding (actual infractions in which we commit wrongdoing against another).

Scandrette prescribes for us a healthy understanding of what forgiveness actually is, “an intentional and voluntary action of  giving up… anger and resentment… so that I no longer wish for… revenge.” However, it doesn’t deny the potential for continued mistrust or even physical distance between parties. He provides three steps in this process, involving exploration of the pain involved and needed clarification, an examination of one’s resentments and, most importantly, seating one’s pain in the larger offense of the gospel. To see our pain from a cosmic, paschal-mystery perspective is to add a depth of meaning to it, which in itself, can be healing. “We become the Beloved Community as we reach out in confidence, realizing our truest identity as beloved children of God.” Amen to that! 

1. Utilizing Scandrette’s own process he calls “Becoming the Beloved Community,” create an intentional gathering of your family, small group, or congregation in which to practice the process of forgiveness. Identify gifted facilitators to assist. Have them guide the group through the experiment.

a. Identify persons or groups with whom we have conflict.

b. Through prayerful consideration, root out experiences of discomfort created by those conflictual relationships.

c. Clarify the nature of the tension (social distance, disappointment, boundary challenges, wounding).

d. Determine in your community what action(s) need to take place to move on. Navigate together how best to address one another’s broken relationships.

e. Pray over them.

f. Reconvene at an agreed-upon time in the future to evaluate and retool for the future.

2. Again, using Scandrette’s own rubric, follow the three steps he outlines in the process toward forgiveness. Gather together around a fireplace. After prayerfully considering the steps, each person writes on a piece of paper the name of the offending person, how they offended, all the resultant feelings experienced, and your commitment to forgive. Then, in an act of faithful surrender, toss the paper into the fire with following prayer: “Gracious God of grace, we have all been given what we do not deserve in the cross. I now offer the same to another for how they have offended me. I choose to forgive in order that I may find freedom and the courage to press into all life has for me, for us. Thanks be to God.”

Christian Community: More Than
a “Wish Dream”
by Cynthia Bezek

Cynthia Bezek’s thoughts bow to those of the great Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a mock interview. Based on his book Life Together, she chooses a series of questions through which she mines the deeply devoted soul of the German martyr. In so doing, we are given a peek into his theology of Christian community of which he wrote and cared about so much. Here are some of those foundational ideas.

First, Christian community comes in one way alone, through Christ, from whom it gets its name, identity, and mission. Second, Christian community is based not on illusion, “rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream,” or wishful thinking, but squarely on the finished work of Christ rooted in grace. It is a fellowship forged in truth from God’s perspective. Third, detachment, neither for the purpose of reengagement or for engagement lacking intent to nourish the root of such engagement are, alike, faulty and to be spurned. Neither “fellowship without solitude” or “solitude without fellowship” can promise true Christian community, says Bonhoeffer. Fourth, “the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them… active helpfulness” with an end of bearing one another’s burdens. Fifth, we discern when and how to impart to one another the severity and mercy of God’s Word, which, quite often, may lead us to be silent. Sixth, we seek to admonish rather than chide and seek the inner disposition of grace toward our brothers and sisters by means of interceding for them.

1. “The Christian community is not a spiritual sanatorium.” Since the presence of well-meaning brothers and sisters can offer such a panacea of grace, how does this statement of Bonhoeffer’s strike you?

2. Commit to reading Life Together in a small group of friends over an agreed-upon period of time. Determine what you’d like to glean together. On that basis, have each person design his or her own interview with Bonhoeffer, using portions of the book as his “answers.” Compare and contrast with those in the group. What common themes emerge? What differences?

3. Choose one or more of the themes found in Bezek’s interview. Discern areas in your relationships with others that Bonheoffer’s words might address. Prayerfully determine steps to amend those relationships where broken.

Life With The Brothers

“The monastic life is, above all, a life of prayer.”
Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

Several months ago, Gary Moon invited me to contribute to Conversations: Gifts From the Monastery. “Several writers will spend a week-long retreat at monasteries from various traditions; perhaps you could represent the evangelical tradition and visit a Protestant retreat house. See if it would work for you to go,” he urged, “and write an article about your experience—about the gifts you’ve received there.”

Ahhh. A silent retreat. Where do I sign up? I cannot think of a time in my life during which such an offer would not have been attractive. But the more I thought about it, with schedules and child care, I simply couldn’t pull it off. Most of us can’t get away for that kind of retreat, though many gifts admittedly await those who can. Our spiritual lives needn’t be dependent on these times, though; we can discover the rich gifts of a deep spirituality right in our own homes. I needed to learn how to care for my own soul right in the midst of my own life with the brothers… not monastic brothers, but the three active boys who share my home.

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Jonathan Edwards & Formation

An Interview with Kyle Strobel

Can you, in one sentence, tell me what Formed for the Glory of God is about?

I’ll try! Formed for the Glory of God is a vision of spiritual formation and practice oriented by the God of love, beauty and affection; a God calling us to “set our minds on things above” (Col. 3) and follow him in the way of love. (Admittedly, a bit of a mouthful!)

What does it mean to be “formed for the glory of God”?

Lots of things actually! Let me name several. First, being formed for God’s glory means that our agenda cannot rule the day. We do not get to decide what formation looks like – God does. We have to hold our hands open to the kind of work he wants to do. This will, inevitably, run against our expectations and desires, and how we navigate that experience will be central to our formation. Second, since God’s glory is the overflow of his fullness to us in Christ and the Spirit, being formed for his glory is being formed to partake in God’s life. This is the life of grace, to become children within the Son and to partake of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). We become a people of love as we partake in God’s life of love. In other words, as we are with God in all things – learning to practice his presence – we become formed within and for his life of love. Last, being formed for the glory of God is to embrace the deeply relational aspect of the Gospel – loving God and loving neighbor. We only know God’s glory as we know his self-giving in Christ and the Spirit, and so the glory we partake in is always relational.

Why bother reading someone like Edwards, or even reading about his view of formation?

In Edwards we find someone who was utterly captivated by God. He loved to go for walks in the forest to be with God, meditate on God’s goodness and contemplate God’s love. His entire life was formed by his understanding of God’s overflowing abundance of love and beauty, and so his spirituality is tied to contemplation, solitude and affection. Furthermore, for those of us who call ourselves evangelicals, Edwards is our spiritual father. Edwards’s spirituality was forged as evangelicalism was coming into its own, and, in many ways, Edwards’s spiritual vision is the most profound and robust in all of evangelicalism. This opens up doors with other evangelicals to talk about the depths of our own spiritual heritage and to use this common ground to meditate on what it might mean to live this out in our day and age. Edwards, in other words, is the great bridge-builder to talk about spiritual formation across evangelicalism.

What do we have to learn from Protestant classics?

The Protestant writers who have given us classical works in spirituality are important because of how close to home their spiritual situation is with ours. For example, instead of focusing on the monastery, as with much of Catholic and Eastern Orthodoxy spirituality, the Protestant writers took the idea of the monastery and applied it to the home. The family was the monastic community who were living according to a rule of life, whose rhythm of life was the bedrock of a healthy society. Likewise, and maybe most importantly, Protestant spirituality is built on the notion that God’s deep love for us has secured salvation apart from us. In other words, we are not the bedrock of our salvation, but Christ is. This spirituality is built on the hope that is freely offered in grace, and therefore, the notion that our entirely identity is found, not on my own skill, effort or savvy, but in Christ, is the main emphasis. This is not to say that other models of spirituality lack these components, but just highlights that the main emphasis of a Protestant spirituality is the life of God that is freely given.

If you could characterize the emphasis of spiritual formation in your book, Formed for the Glory of God, what would it be?

The picture of formation I found and explain in Formed for the Glory of God is both beautiful and practical. It is beautiful because it is oriented by beauty, love and glory – ultimately God’s own life – and it is practical because it is relentlessly holistic. Every aspect of life is covered, to some degree, in this vision of formation. Few thinkers on spirituality do so well as Edwards at holding together the glory of God with God’s beauty, his sovereignty with his love, and the call to follow with the call to an affectionate life with God. In Edwards, all of these things are woven together into a beautiful tapestry that is holistic and practical. Ultimately, the vision I try to cast in this book is a journey into the love and beauty of God; a call to embrace the flood of love that captivates the people of God.

What was one thing that surprised you when you were writing Formed for the Glory of God?

I remember being taken aback by how brilliantly interconnected this spirituality really was, and how offended I was that the church forgot these things. Take the sermon as an example. For Edwards, the sermon served to do many things, not the least of which was to help people learn how to meditate on Scripture and contemplate God, as well as how to navigate the spiritual depths of their own souls. By doing so, implicitly, what he was doing was helping people to navigate the depths of other’s souls as well, through a spiritual practice called “conference” that I explain in the book. All of these things (and more) are interwoven into the foundation of the community and the life of individual families in a way that I found absolutely riveting. It focused on the individual without neglecting the community, it was contemplative but did not forget the suffering and needy, it was unapologetically evangelical and yet was not built on fear, but on love. I think there is a lot to learn from all of the major Christian traditions, but I have found that few people have actually explored the evangelical tradition, and there are great treasures to be mined there. My hope is that I can do the hard work of mining this tradition and provide meaningful (and accessible) summaries like this book.

kyle2Kyle Strobel is a husband, father, friend, theologian, writer, speaker, and practitioner of spiritual formation. He is a Jonathan Edwards scholar, and seeks to bridge the gap between the scholarly world and the life of the church.  Kyle is the author of Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide for Evangelicals, with co-author Jamin Goggin, Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards, and Metamorpha: Jesus as a Way of Life. Kyle has written for Relevant Magazine, RelevantMagazine.com, Pastors Toolbox, and is a frequent blogger at Metamorpha.com, Conversantlife.com, and TheologyForum.wordpress.com. Kyle has two masters degrees from Talbot School of Theology and a PhD in Systematic Theology from the University of Aberdeen

jamin

Jamin Goggin is a teacher and practitioner of spiritual formation. His main areas of focus are spiritual theology, historical spirituality and Christian community. Jamin is the author of Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide for Evangelicals, with co-author Kyle Strobel. He has done Masters work in Spiritual Formation and Soul Care as well as NewTestament at Talbot School of Theology. Jamin lives in southern California with his wife Kristin and their two children. He has pastored in churches in southern California for the past four years. He is also a trained spiritual director. Jamin passionately seeks to implement spiritual formation in the life of the church.

Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide for Evangelicals

 

An Interview with Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel

Why should we read the spiritual classics?

That really is the question isn’t it?! Life with God is hard and confusing. Our hearts are muddy and hard to discern. Our calling in this world is often anything but clear and we tend to be confronted with our sin and flesh rather than holiness. How do we navigate these things? These questions are addressed by nearly every spiritual classic. The reason these are “classics” is that they have been judged by the church. Any book that is read more than a hundred years after it was published has been judged. Rightly or wrongly, lots of people point to these books as wildly profound. But we don’t read them because they have everything right. Rather, we read them because they can serve as partners in discerning the call of God in this life. These writers are, in other words, brothers and sisters in the faith – part of the “cloud of witnesses” that we find ourselves a part of – and therefore they serve to orient us within the life of the Spirit.

How have the classics been meaningful to you?

God has used many of the spiritual classics in a formative way in my [Jamin’s] own journey. In fact, I can think back on key developmental stages in my spiritual journey and recall a spiritual classic that God used to encourage or exhort me in my faith. It was Augustine who first introduced me to radical honesty in my faith through his magisterial work The Confessions. It was Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God that first invited me to pray without ceasing in an immensely practical and accessible way. It was the writings of Jonathan Edwards that radically shaped and inspired the beginning years of my call to be a pastor. I see these books on my shelf today and I can immediately recall their impact on my life.

Why do we need to read them evangelically?

This was certainly one of our primary concerns as we outlined this book. We wanted to make sure the focus was on reading the classics evangelically. This concern is largely born out of what we believe has been missed in the inducement to read these texts in evangelicalism. Often the classics are read, but not through a distinctively evangelical grid. As evangelicals we should be open to the whole of the tradition, but we should also be properly cautious as we read. What we have seen is that many evangelicals have read the classics with a lack of real wisdom, completely taking in whatever is read without discretion. These writers are brothers and sisters in the faith, and as such, they have the same propensity to confusion and brokenness that we do. It is important that we bring our theological commitments to bear as we read, so that we can “separate the wheat from the chaff” – discerning what should inform our faith and what should be ignored. This, of course, necessitates knowing what our fundamental commitments are as evangelicals, and Fred Sanders has a great (and provocative) essay outlining just that (but you’ll have to read the book to find that out!).

This book is unique. What caused you to think about doing a book like this?

In my [Jamin’s] junior year of college I took a course in spiritual formation. Part of the course was an exploration of Carmelite spirituality, in particular The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross. I remember being captivated by this classic work of spirituality. As my professor articulated some of what St. John of the Cross developed in The Dark Night of the Soul it resonated with a season of desolation I had recently walked through in my own journey. I was enthralled by the insights my professor highlighted in just a few short lectures that I decided I needed to it for myself. With great enthusiasm I poured over The Dark Night of the Soul. I can distinctly remember being about twenty pages in, setting the book down and thinking, “what on earth is he talking about?” There were elements that confused me and some that even concerned me. I could pick out pieces here and there that seemed clear, but I was fairly certain that on the whole I had no idea what I was reading.

Fast forward a few years, and during my seminary days I had the opportunity to take a couple of courses exploring spiritual classics and one focusing specifically on The Dark Night of the Soul. It was during this time that I sat down to read it again, and because I had developed a richer understanding of the history of spirituality I was able to comprehend and appreciate it for the first time. It was during these formative years of seminary that Kyle and I began to read spiritual classics and dialogue about them. It turned out that my own experience was mirrored by Kyle’s, and we figured it was probably a lot more common than we realized.

There has been a clarion call within evangelicalism over the past thirty years to pick up classic spiritual writings and read them. Certainly this has been a good call, but our fear is that many are picking up these classics and experiencing what we both experienced. They feel confused, concerned or perhaps even duped. Confused because these texts can be esoteric, concerned because at times they can diverge from our own theological commitments and duped because we were told these books were filled with one life changing quote after another. Kyle and I had the unusual opportunity to read these in community and study them deeply with people who had been reading these books for decades. We wanted to offer something similar to people who don’t have the chance to study these kinds of things in a seminary context (or to be used as an introductory text in those contexts). We wanted to put together a book that would explore the spiritual value of the classics as well as provide a framework for reading them in wisdom, and, we are excited to say, we think our book does that.

Want more?

Read this interview with Kyle Strobel about his other new resource, Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards.

 

kyle2

Kyle Strobel is a husband, father, friend, theologian, writer, speaker, and practitioner of spiritual formation. He is a Jonathan Edwards scholar, and seeks to bridge the gap between the scholarly world and the life of the church.  Kyle is the author of Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide for Evangelicals, with co-author Jamin Goggin, Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards, and Metamorpha: Jesus as a Way of Life. Kyle has written for Relevant Magazine, RelevantMagazine.com, Pastors Toolbox, and is a frequent blogger at Metamorpha.com, Conversantlife.com, and TheologyForum.wordpress.com. Kyle has two masters degrees from Talbot School of Theology and a PhD in Systematic Theology from the University of Aberdeen

jamin

Jamin Goggin is a teacher and practitioner of spiritual formation. His main areas of focus are spiritual theology, historical spirituality and Christian community. Jamin is the author of Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide for Evangelicals, with co-author Kyle Strobel. He has done Masters work in Spiritual Formation and Soul Care as well as NewTestament at Talbot School of Theology. Jamin lives in southern California with his wife Kristin and their two children. He has pastored in churches in southern California for the past four years. He is also a trained spiritual director. Jamin passionately seeks to implement spiritual formation in the life of the church.

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