spiritual growth

Loves Covers a Multitude of (Theological) Sins: Doctrine and Ecumenism

As regular readers here well know, I care a lot about Christian ecumenism (or, I would prefer to label it, “catholicity”).  I also care a good deal more than most about doctrine.  These two are often thought to be in conflict, but I don’t think they need to be.  In preparation for a discussion I will lead with some of the people of my church, I drew up a list of assertions explaining my position about why “catholicity” is obligatory, and possible without sacrificing doctrine.  Any of these can be expanded, and I would welcome feedback on anything that seems to lack clarity, charity, or verity.  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) (more…)

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Once Saved, Always Calvinist?

One doctrinal formula which Calvinists bandy about and non-Calvinists like to mock is “once saved, always saved.”  Like almost all doctrinal formulas, this one is shorthand for a longer assertion.  It’s easy to expand it to “once a person has been saved, that person cannot lose his or her salvation.”  But that formulation still presumes that we know what we’re talking about when we say someone “is saved.”  Although this language is often used, especially among American evangelicals since the 19th C, I don’t think “saved” can meaningfully be used as an adjective as it always is, or even as an absolute verb (i.e. a verb without additional specification of the predicate).  Now, some folks who know their Bibles really well will immediately point out that the apostles used the word “saved” in various contexts without adding additional specification (Eph 2:5 and 8 come to mind).  But we must always ask, in every context, “What is the subject of the sentence saved from?”

Since the notion of “once saved, always saved” has come up recently in a few places, I thought I would re-post here an (edited) email I wrote back in 2010 in answer to a question from a friend.  First, his question:

What does it mean to be “saved”? Is it a once-and-for-all thing, or a lifelong process, or what? A fellow who grows up a believer and manifests all the signs of a Christian and then in, say, his late teens turns away from the faith: is he saved?

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A Starting Point for Practical Ecumenism

In response to my long essay about the similarity, or lack thereof, between the earliest Christians and various denominations today, one commentator, Anna, offered insights which can jump-start practical ecumenical discussion among Christians.  In her first comment, she opened the door to a principled ecumenism with a rejection of the extremes, both of judgmental conservatism and of mindless liberalism:

But I would like to suggest that there is a middle ground in between “you’re going to hell” and “all paths are equal”. The middle route says, “Yes, it does matter; but you’re not screwed if you get it wrong.”

She then established the value of ecumenical contact among Christians by pointing out how great it would be if we all took upon ourselves what each denomination does well: (more…)

Church Shopping: A Discourse on Method

Since I argued in a previous post that “church shopping” is not necessarily evil, and is perhaps necessary, the next question becomes how to do it.  I see several options, most of which I have tried or heard reports from numerous other people who have tried.  This post is less of an argument regarding rights and wrongs than a clearinghouse of pros and cons. (more…)

Resources for Continuing Christian Education

(This was part of a comment on another blog, but I thought I would also post it here in its own right.)

For reading resources, I enjoy the advice of C. S. Lewis that one should read two old books for every new, and I can highly recommend Irenaeus’ Proof of the Apostolic Preaching (only relatively recently reintroduced to the West from an Armenian version). Augustine’s Confessions challenges many people in useful ways, as does the Imitatio Christi by Thomas a Kempis, although the latter’s monastic orientation needs to be “translated” for laypeople. The seventeenth century produced at least two spiritual classics, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God. I read C. S. Lewis’s own Mere Christianity with profit, even though his arguments about marriage strike most contemporaries as peculiar to his generation; I know that John Stott and, I think, N. T. Wright have written more recent attempts in the same direction, of which I have heard good things, but about which I cannot comment from experience. These are all books which challenge the young in the faith to learn more, and provide a basic framework for that learning.

But even so, I suspect that many if not most Christians will learn their Christian faith primarily by other means. Continued use of the sacraments is instructive, and sermons should be, as well as simply what Bonhoeffer termed “life together” in a local congregation, with all its embodied specific challenges and opportunities. “Doing something,” whether serving the needs of the broader society or being helpful around the church, is important for most people to learn. Close mentorship was critical for me, and I suspect helpful for many; I have heard that the practice of “spiritual direction” is increasing. And, of course, contemplation has its place. So there are many ways for people to learn more, and perhaps most importantly they need simply to be instructed that the Christian life is one of continually learning more.