Tullian Tchividjian and the Scandal of Grace

  

If you haven’t heard the news yet, last Sunday (6-21-15) Tullian Tchividjian officially resigned as the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, after announcing he engaged in an extramarital affair.  I must admit that I was shocked and deeply saddened by the news.  In the few days since the news first broke, the blogosphere has been flooded with posts examining various factors which may have contributed to Tullian’s moral failure.  Doubtlessly, there were many factors involved. For instance, Tullian (to his discredit) was all too quick to point out that his wife’s martial infidelity played a role in his own affair (see his statement to the Washington Post). Also, those who claim that Tullian is both an Antinomian and Law/Gospel Reductionist (a claim I am not convinced of) are saying that his theological error led to his moral failure.  Others have pointed out that the “celebrity pastor” model is intrinsically flawed and leads to these kinds of failures. I cannot pretend to know what factors actually contributed to Tullian’s failure.  While I don’t doubt that all of the above mentioned contributed in some way, they are all ultimately transitory to the central issue of human sin. 

 Orthodoxy does not equal orthopraxy.  No matter how orthodox we may be, no matter how much we hear or preach Law and Gospel, no matter how often we partake of the Sacrament, Original Sin still dwells within us and constantly strives to manifest itself through us. Because of this, it is absolutely imperative that we strive to “by the Spirit, put to death the deeds of the body” as Paul said in Romans 8:13.  However, we fail—I fail—to do this everyday in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Before God, Tullian and I are exactly the same—sinners who desperately need Christ. However, before the world Tullian and I are not the same. Tullian’s vocation of pastor, being in particular a pastor with notoriety, placed him in a different position before the world than most Christian laypeople and to a certain extent other pastors. Tullian did not just sin against God, or his family, or the other person involved in the affair, but he sinned against his entire congregation and even the entire Christian Church. Before the world, Tullian has completely wrecked his testimony, credibility, and most likely his chances of ever pastoring again. Yet, there is forgiveness for this sin from God and from the Church.

I have been in different churches where pastors have failed morally.  Some of which even committed the same sin as Tullian.  Over the years I’ve learned that pastors are sinful human beings like everyone else. I know from their lives that there is healing and forgiveness. However, the most important lesson I have learned from their failings is that there is only one sinless Pastor, Christ.  Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11, ESV). Right now Tullian and his family desperately need this sinless Shepherd who laid down His life for them.

Tullian preached a message of scandalous grace and now because of his actions grace has become a scandal. Yet, for grace to truly be grace, it can only be such. Sin is a dangerous and dirty business. It destroys lives and relationships, pastors notwithstanding. They are also born sinful human beings. That is no excuse for their sin or my sin. Both clergy and laypeople are called to resist the temptations of Satan and the sinful flesh. However, the sad reality of being a sinner is that we fail to do this, despite our best efforts. Yet, Christ has overcome sin. Therefore, let us cling to Christ who offers us both His pardon and His power to overcome it. I will pray for Tullian and his family. I will pray for his repentance and restoration. Moreover, I will pray for myself, knowing that I am probably a far worse sinner, even the chief of sinners.
   

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Lutheranism’s Father, Augustine, on Desire for the Divine Light

St. Augustine of HippoWe are exploring the heritage and tradition of the Lutheran church in the mysticism of the Patristic Era, and we shall start with a look at some of the writings on desire and divine encounter from that most beloved of church fathers within Lutheranism, Augustine of Hippo.

Augustine is of course known primarily for his work on the fall and predestination, but what of his work on the mystical life available to us in Christ? We know that one of the influences that brought him to Christ was St. Athanasius’ work, The Life of St. Anthony, which describes the life of that preeminent monk and mystic, Anthony of the Desert. It is no surprise, therefore, that we see Augustine exploring mystical themes in his writings. He speaks of desire emptying our souls, that we may receive God:

By expectation, God increases desire.

By desire, he empties our souls.

In emptying them out, he makes them more capable of receiving him.

— Augustine of Hippo,  Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John

In our expectation that the longings of our hearts will be filled, and the flat-out defiance of those that say there is no fulfillment, we find God increasing our desire beyond that which we would allow ourselves to have. As this desire grows beyond that which we can handle in ourselves, when our desire for that which we have not yet attained, and have not seen fulfilled in others that lie in hopelessness or bitterness and seek to quench our desire for the transcendent, in this place in which we come to the end of ourselves and our souls are emptied… finally, here in this emptiness, we are capable of receiving the unforeseen fulfillment of our desires, God himself. He continues this theme of desire:

For just as, if you would fill a bag, and know how great the thing is that shall be given, you stretch the opening of the sack or the skin, or whatever else it be; you know how much you would put in, and see that the bag is narrow; by stretching you make it capable of holding more: so God, by deferring our hope, stretches our desire; by the desiring, stretches the mind; by stretching, makes it more capacious. Let us desire therefore, my brethren, for we shall be filled.

— Augustine of Hippo, Homily 4 on the First Epistle of John

We must be stretched in ourselves out beyond what we can handle, and thus God defers our hope and leads us into despair, and in this desperate longing for God and God’s good gifts, we are stretched that we might be filled with more of Him. The ache that is expressed here by Augustine is further defined and expressed in another text:

Hasten to the springs, draw from the wells.

In God is the wellspring of life,

A spring that can never fail.

In his light is found a light

That nothing can darken.

Desire that light which your eyes know not!

Your inward eye is preparing to see the light.

Your inward thirst burns to be quenched at the spring.

— Augustine of Hippo, Commentary on Psalm 4

We thirst for God’s endless wellspring, and we prepare our inward eye to see God’s light which cannot be darkened. This is the eternal uncreated light and life of God, and it is available to us as we desire beyond our current ability to be fulfilled, enduring the ache that is produced, and as we prepare ourselves to go on this divine quest by opening ourselves to God’s ways of purging and emptying those He calls. In this emptiness we shall surely be filled.

What is Augustine describing in these writings? It seems to me that he is speaking in poetic language of a present reality he was quite aware of. A reality which is indescribable except by the use of such language, a mystical way of life which each of us can enter into, but which cannot be properly described except by the hints and allusions that these poetic descriptions provide. He was opening our spirits to discern such a way and the general rules of the road which will guide us to and along it.

Luther's RoseWhat shall we say of all this then from a Lutheran perspective? Surely none of these things contradict scripture, we continuously see these themes of seeking and knocking and filling in the scriptures, just as we see the themes of God bringing men to the end of their abilities in order to stretch them and prepare them for the revelation they would receive. What of the Lutheran Confessions then?

…since the Holy Spirit dwells in the elect who have come to faith as he dwells in his temple, and is not idle in them but urges them to obey the commandments of God, believers likewise should not be idle, still less oppose the urgings of the Spirit of God, but should exercise themselves in all Christian virtues, in all godliness, modesty, temperance, patience, and brotherly love, and should diligently seek to “confirm their call and election” [II Pet. 2:10] so that the more they experience the power and might of the Spirit within themselves, the less they will doubt their election.

The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord

We see that the Holy Spirt dwells in us and urges us to do the will of God, and that we are not to be idle or oppose the urgings of the present Spirit with us, but rather “experience the power and might of the Spirit within” us. What does experiencing the power and might of the Spirit within us look like? I believe there are two realms or spheres of influence that can be discerned from the presence of the Spirit within us. In the realm of “Christian virtues, … godliness, modesty, temperance, patience, and brotherly love,” we see the realm which unveils our underlying spiritual condition, and is a discernable public demonstration of that spiritual condition. Another realm exists which is more private and less discernable, and it is the realm to which Augustine is alluding in his writings we saw. This is the realm of desire, of longing, of emptying, and of filling. It is the mystical way of life, better lived than talked about, and it is awoken by expectation.

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Sanctified Suffering

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Luther once said, “This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know that God is hidden in suffering” (The Heidelberg Disputation.) Growing up, my conception of sanctification was primarily self-centered, that is, if I abstained from certain vices (i.e., drinking, smoking, cursing, etc.) then I would be sanctified and holy. There is certainly a truth there. There is something to be said for living moderately, abstaining from vice, and practicing voluntary asceticism. However, what I have learned from observing people far holier than myself is that the true test of sanctification is often administered by our detractors and at the most difficult of times. True sanctification never occurs apart from suffering. Suffering is critical to our growth in sanctification, because if we are going to become sanctified, that is, be conformed to Christ’s image, we must also suffer like Him. Therefore, Luther says that to know Christ is to know He is hidden in suffering.

In the great Christological hymn of Philippians chapter two, Saint Paul shows us what Christian suffering looks like. Paul states:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8, ESV.)

Christian suffering is more than merely enduring hardship. Sanctification always has an object, the neighbor. When we are mistreated, slighted, taken advantage of, we must then “make ourselves nothing” for the sake of the neighbor. Like Christ, we must bear insult and injury.

The phrase “made himself nothing” in Greek is the word ekenōsen. The word literally means to “empty out.” The difference between Christ’s kenosis and ours is that Christ emptied himself of his divine glory; we only empty ourselves of sin. Our kenosis and subsequent conformation to Christ’s image does not begin with us trying to muster up good works. Rather it begins with the revelation of our depravity and sinfulness and God’s desire to forgive such wicked sinners. Luther states in his Treatise on Good Works:

Look here! This is how you must cultivate Christ in yourself, and see how in him God holds before you his mercy and offers it to you without any prior merits of your own. It is from such a view of his grace that you must draw faith and confidence in the forgiveness of all of your sins. Faith therefore, does not originate in works; neither do works create faith, but faith must spring up and flow from the blood and wounds and death of Christ.

When we have been justified by faith and then contemplate God’s mercy in Christ, we are inspired and empowered, as it were, to recapitulate those very merciful acts of God in our own lives. However, these true good works can only be performed once we have been emptied of self and have given up on our own human ability. Therefore, God permits us to undergo suffering to show us how weak and fragile we really are, so that we do not cling to our human ability. He empties us, pours us out, to show us just how desperately we need his mercy. God wants us to be completely dependent on him.  Only then can we be filled with the supernatural grace that flows from Christ’s blood and wounds and death to perform works that are truly good. As Luther said in the Heileilberg Disputation, “It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his good works unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s.”

Sanctification is not merely the command of God to be moral people, but rather it is a privilege and a process by which we are gradually changed into the image of Christ. The path to theosis, that is, the path to be becoming like God, is the path of kenosis. If we are going to participate in Christ’s glory we must also empty ourselves. Like Christ we must also put on the form of a servant and serve our neighbors, even when we are persecuted by them. As Luther said, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all” (The Freedom of a Christian.)  In truncating our Christian freedom for the sake of the neighbor we undergo kenosis, just as Christ underwent kenosis in laying aside His glory for the sake of our souls. Yet we have comfort, because when we suffer we know that God is there present with us molding us into the image of his Son Jesus.


Scripture quotations taken from: The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV). Crossway Bible a division of Good News Publishers, 2001. All quotes from Luther were taken from: Selected Writings of Martin Luther, Vol. I and II., edited by Theodore G. Tappert, translated by W. A. Lambert. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007.

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The Mysticism of the Patristic Era: Our Lutheran Tradition

Revere Franklin Weidner Lutheranism as a movement and theological tradition exists in continuity with the historical church. As German Theologian Paul Althaus shows in his work The Theology of Martin Luther, “Luther asserts: The consensus of the entire church in a doctrine or a custom is binding insofar as it is not contrary to Scripture.” This continuity does not require an infinite regress of retconning history however as is done in the Roman Catholic Church, because in Lutheranism the traditions of the Church are subject to Scripture. American Lutheran theologian Franklin Weidner puts it nicely:

“Lutheran Protestantism is preeminently historical. It approves of the connection with the traditions of the Church, i.e., of the visible transmission of doctrines and usages, so far as they are not in conflict with the letter or spirit of God’s Word. Pseudo-Protestantism starts practically with the assumption that everything in the visible Church, both of doctrine and of practice, is to be regarded as wrong, till it shall be proved by direct testimony of Scripture to be right. True Protestantism, i.e., Lutheran Protestantism, starts on the assumption that everything in the visible Church, both of doctrine and of practice, is to be regarded as right, until it shall be proved by testimony of Scripture, or by sanctified reason, to be wrong.”

— Revere Franklin Weidner, An Introduction to Dogmatic Theology

Calvinism and its crypto-Cavlinistic offshoots, i.e. the Pseudo-Protestantism described by Weidner, seek to reinvent Christianity from the ground up based on their interpretations of Scripture. Not so with Lutheranism, for us the church throughout history is our church, and thus those pillars of the early church, the mystics of the Patristic era, are our heritage, our history, though of course submitted to the divine light and authority of Scripture and ‘sanctified reason.’

It is my purpose then to mine the depths of those at the forefront of church history which laid foundations and set it on the path of divine light to which it was founded on, and to which it was destined to head toward. The mystics of the Patristic era are our tradition, our heritage, and unless it can be proven by Scripture and sanctified reason, we must lay hold of the truth that these men held.

Have Lutherans abandoned this mystical heritage? Surely many have, though the remnants of the mystical life and the present and actual presence of God in our midst is retained strongly in the sacraments, particularly the doctrine of the real presence in the Eucharist and of the baptismal rites involving exorcism and indwelling of the real Spirit. Yet I cannot deny that many that participate in these mysteries do not see them as mystical, perhaps they do them for tradition’s sake, though even then these mysteries retain much of their power.  What does this prove however? Only that we must lay hold of the light shown forth by our fathers, by the mystics of the Patristic era.

Gregory of Nazianzus

Moving forward I will seek to look at what these men taught, and how they lived, and how as Lutherans the mystical life they sought and attained and to some extent taught on is available for us right in our contexts, at work, at church, and at home. As we do this I believe we will see that, as Russian Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky put it, “there is … no Christian mysticism without theology; but, above all, there is no theology without mysticism.”

As we tackle these mystical theologians of the early church, we will wrestle with how their teachings and views compare with the Lutheran Confessions. I am not a pastor, and thus do not have a binding vow to the Confessions, but I do take them quite seriously, and respect the power of holding fast to religious tradition as much as conscience will allow.

Let us move further into the divine light together, and as stated by the fourth century Church Father, Gregory of Nazianzus, “the divine light is the termination of all contemplation,” (and, might I add, the termination of all theological study).

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The Pilgrimage of Baptism: A Reflection on Infant Baptism

Picture this: Mr. and Mrs. Smith are a young couple in their early thirties living in southeastern Indiana. Mr. Smith was just offered a high paying position with a big law firm in upstate New York. The couple are exited about the move, but are unsure what to do with their newborn daughter Ashlynn. “What if she doesn’t like New York?”, they ask themselves, “What if Ashlynn chooses not not go? How would we know, since she’s unable to speak?” The couple, deciding to respect Ashlynn’s free choice, move to New York without her. They’re very sad about leaving newborn Ashlynn alone in the empty old house. “Maybe,” said the Smiths, “our old friends will tell Ashlynn about how much we love her and what a great place New York is, so that when she’s old enough, she will decide for herself to come live with us.”

I would hope to God that no parent would ever do such a horrendous thing to their child. However, in a very real sense, this behavior is promoted in churches across the world. That is, in churches that reject infant Baptism.  Many Protestants are vehemently opposed to infant Baptism.  Most likely this is so, because they misunderstand what Lutherans believe about infant baptism. Therefore, I believe a good way to explain sacramental baptism to those opposed is with the Lutheran symbol. IMG_4852 It is a clamshell, which in Luther’s day was a symbol of pilgrimage, and three drops of water, symbolizing Baptism in the name of the Trinity. The symbol relates to us that Baptism is a pilgrimage.  St. Paul said, “…our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phillipians 3:20, ESV). All Baptized Christians are foreigners in this world. St. Paul said:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:27-29).

Like father Abraham, all the baptized are looking for a “city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10).

For Lutherans, Baptism is not a once and done thing. One cannot simply be baptized as an infant and live apart from the Church and her Sacraments, live a life of unrepentant sin, and expect to go to heaven at the end. Yes, through Baptism we are justified to God by faith, but if we let this world and its sinful pleasures snuff out our faith, what good is Baptism? The faith we received at our Baptism must be nourished and strengthened by continual participation in the Sacraments, accompanied by a life of repentance. In other words, we are citizens of God’s kingdom, but our citizenship is useless unless we progress towards that country of which we are citizens. Therefore, in Baptism we are not only given a heavenly citizenship, but also begin the pilgrimage towards our heavenly kingdom-home. Blessed Martin Luther said in the Large Catechism:

For no one is baptized in order that he may become a prince, but, as the words declare, that he be saved. But to be saved, we know, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil, and to enter into the kingdom of Christ, and to live with Him forever.

Evangelical Protestants have a problem with infant Baptism for two reasons: 1) it supposedly violates the child’s “free” will; 2) and related to this, many evangelicals believe in the doctrine of eternal security or “once saved always saved.”  They reject infant baptism, because infants are yet unable to make that onetime irreversible “decision for Christ.”  However, for Lutherans salvation is not an once and for all event effected by the decision of the human will.  Rather, justification is being enlightened by the Gospel and having one’s will converted by the Holy Spirit.  Thus, we are made citizens of heaven and, as such, have the status of being justified before God. Being justified, we press forward towards God’s kingdom.

There was also another group of baptized people that embarked on a pilgrimage—the children of Israel. St. Paul said, “I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2). When God freed the children of Israel from their captors in Egypt, do you think those Hebrew mothers left their children and infants behind in Egypt, until they matured enough to decide for themselves to enter Canaan? Absolutely not! No, all the Israelites, adults and infants, left Egypt and were baptized into Moses. Since Christ’s Baptism is greater than that of Moses, does it not follow that the children of Christians should also be baptized? Christ, when the Scripture states that “they were bringing even infants to him,” said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:15-17). Christ wants us to bring our infants to Him and we do this through Holy Baptism. For although the pastor baptizes with water, Christ baptizes with “the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Cf. Matthew 3:11). And the action is one and the same.

So, If you moved, would you leave your children behind?  Would you be afraid that taking them with you would violate their free-will? Of course not! So, why would you leave your children behind on the most important pilgrimage of all?  I wasn’t baptized as an infant.  I was baptized at the tender age of 6.  However, I came to faith before then, due to precious evangelizing efforts of my parents.  But, why wait?  Why let 6, 7, 10, or 12 years go by for your children to potentially be without faith?  Christ has said to bring our infants to Him. He has assured us that His kingdom belongs even to them. They must also embark on this pilgrimage to the heavenly Canaan. Like those Israelite mothers of old, Christian mothers today must carry their children to the baptism of water and fire. And lastly, parents and children together, through daily repentance, must cling to their baptismal grace, trusting in Christ and traveling forward towards His kingdom.

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Is Calvinism the Savior of American Christianity?

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Growing up Pentecostal I didn’t know much about Presbyterians. Although, I always enjoyed hearing the joke, “It sure is quiet in this Presbyterian Church,” uttered from the pulpit. After becoming a Lutheran and a podcast junkie, I discovered this thing called Calvinism—and these odd hipster Christians called Reformed Baptists. It is safe to say the the Calvinists have invaded the podosphere! Now, I’m not a Calvinist. I’m a Lutheran and the Lutheran Confessions specifically condemn certain theological views held by Calvinists. I like tulips of the one petal variety. I have a problem with the acronym ULIP. Yet, despite the differences I have with Calvinists, I earnestly believe the New Calvinism, Calvinist Renewal, or Calvinist Awakening, whatever you chose to call it, is the best thing that has happened to American Christianity as of late.

The Calvinist renewal among Baptists has created tremendous tension within Baptist denominations, in particular the Southern Baptists. Yet, to put it frankly, this is the best thing that has ever happened to the Baptists, for two reasons: 1) Baptists are now digging deeper into their own Calvinist heritage and thus, are adopting more historical (Augustinian) theological views; 2) subsequently, among Reformed Baptists there is a trend away from the popular practices and (Arminian) soteriology of evangelicalism.

The New Calvinism is appealing to burnt out American evangelicals who long for a more historical, mature, substantive, and Christ-centered faith. It also holds a certain appeal for Christian men who, well, just want to be men. To put it bluntly, evangelicalism emasculates men. Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller (of Table Talk Radio fame) illustrates this point with a killer joke about why men don’t go to Church. “First”, Bryan says (paraphrasing), “you start the service by singing love songs to Jesus. Then you get lectured about all the things you are supposed to be doing. Finally, the service ends with you making some kind of commitment. No wonder men don’t want to go to Church!”

In addition to the things Bryan humorously points out, evangelicalism tends to be very prohibitionist. Whether it’s listening to secular music or having a beer with the bros, evangelicalism has a Christianized parody for everything it deems sinful. So, instead of participating in the afore mentioned things, you can listen to some Christian death metal while at the men’s fellowship meeting/pizza party, in a church that’s lit like a bar or night club. Calvinism, on the other hand, presents the evangelical with the liberating concept of Christian freedom. (That is, not freedom to sin, but rather freedom to enjoy God’s gifts without stumbling our brother.) Just ask Les and Tanner hosts of the Reformed Pubcast, whose slogan is, “The theology of Calvin and the thirst of Luther.”

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Tullian Tchividjian (Source: Wikipedia)

More important than their grasp on Christian liberty, is the Reformeds’ passion for the pure Gospel. Whether it’s Tullian Tchividjian (my mother is a Tullian junkie), Timothy Keller, James White, or John Piper, the genuine Christ centered Calvinist will unapologetically preach salvation by faith alone, through grace alone, and in Christ alone. Likewise, the Reformed are seriously committed to Scripture. However, unlike many of their evangelical brethren, they are far more concerned with proper exegesis and correct doctrine. The Reformed do not have the “as long as you just love Jesus” attitude. They care about correct doctrine and take pains to ensure that people hear the pure unadulterated Gospel.

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Dr. James White (Source: Wikipedia)

I truly desire that there would be a huge renewed interest in Confessional Lutheranism, like there is in Calvinism. However, I don’t think this will happen. Primarily, because all non-Lutheran Protestants are crypto-Calvinists. Even the most staunch Arminian is a crypto-Calvinist. That is because, even Arminianism—the view that predominates American evangelicalism—was formulated in response to specific points of Calvin’s doctrine. Therefore, when evangelicals, especially Baptists, become Calvinists, it is as if they have come home—theologically speaking. Virtually all non-Lutheran Protestants get their theological categories from Calvin, whether they know it or not. So, in a sense it’s only natural to see a renewed interest in Calvin’s theology.

In conclusion, I think we can expect more good things from the New Calvinism. God willing, it may even be the savior of American Christianity. What the New Calvinism, like Confessional Lutheranism, offers American Christians is the Gospel. They offer a Christ centered theology that is incompatible with the pragmatic me-centered-theology that predominates evangelicalism. They offer evangelicals a version of Christianity that’s older than Billy Graham (I still think Billy Graham is awesome, by the way). I don’t the think the New Calvinism is a fad. Yes, the hipster style, the beards, and the beer may come and go, but I think the theology is here to stay.

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The Mystical Virtue of Running Away

I proudly wear the label, quite appropriate to me, of mystic. To think of me in any other guise is to be misled, it is here in the realm of mystical theology that I live each day. It is my ever-present thought, my mode of being. It is therefore with great pain that I see how other would-be mystics in my generation have made a virtue of being showy and of seeking to gain ‘influence.’ A true mystic is hidden, and it is only against his will that he is given influence over others. His insides groan at the thought of marketing himself, of seeking to make his name known… he is preeminently and before all, a hidden man.

From Vladimir Lossky’s The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church we read:

[Eastern Orthodox history] … knows also strange and unwonted paths to sanctification: that, for instance, of the ‘fools in Christ’, committing extravagant acts that their spiritual gifts might remain hidden from the eyes of those about them under the hideous aspect of madness; or, rather, that they might be freed from the ties of this world in their most intimate and most spiritually troublesome expression, that of our social ‘ego’.

agsimeonAre all mystics to be ‘fools in Christ’? Certainly not, it has always been rare, however a true mystic would rather be seen as a fool by others, even as completely mad, than be lifted up and honored for his spiritual gifts. An authentic mystic runs away from having his gifts marketed, the very idea makes him sick to his stomach. An authentic mystic will rather appeal consistently to the common revelation of Jesus given to the Church and proclaimed as its theology, as the only thing to be promoted. The Church’s theology is his only message, and his mystical revelations and spiritual gifts remain hidden, only shared selectively and always in support of the theology of the Church, and never in self-promotion.

In the 19th Century Russian Orthodox allegory The Way of a Pilgrim a mystic is given a revelation in a dream on how to help cure a woman that is suffering from an ailment, which he obeys and subsequently the woman gets better. Following this the text reads as follow:

After this the report quickly spread through the whole neighborhood that I was a prophet and a doctor and wizard. There began a ceaseless stream of visitors from all parts to bring their affairs and their troubles to my notice. They brought me presents and began to treat me with respect and to look after my comfort. I bore this for a week, and then, fearing I should fall into vainglory and harmful distractions, I left the place in secret by night.

Thus once more I set out on my lonely way, feeling as light as if a great weight had been taken off my shoulders.

This is the way a true mystic thinks. He ‘bore’ the honor and attention until he was able to leave secretly at night and afterward feels ‘as if a great weight had been taken off [his] shoulders.’ A true mystic runs away…

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