On Sunday I had the chance to preach at the ministry I served at for years. Here’s my message on Luke 19:1-10.
Eleonore stump had the privilege of being the final plenary speaker at #LATC15 today. She presented a paper on the connection between atonement and the eucharist. She is best known for her work on the philosophy of religion, metaphysics, and medieval philosophy. Here are my notes on her lecture.
Atonement and Eucharist
Purpose: Explore the connection b/w Atonement and Eucharist
- Reasonable to believe you would need a full account of Atonement and full account of Eucharist – yet this is impossible to fulfill. (Not a lot of agreement about these doctrines.)
- In order to go around the differences:
- Focus on the salvific effect of Christ’s death & the impact of atonement on human sinfulness. Assume the effects of his death have to be applied to the person.
- Eucharist – adopt a minimalist account. At least it can be said that the rite reminds those who participate in it of the death of Christ. At least they are made mindful of the body and blood of Christ.
- At-one-ment: making one of things that were not at one, namely God and human beings.
- The process of atonement begins when a person ceases to resist God – i.e. surrenders to God – but its up to the person (e.g. Paula) alone to do that.
- The passion and death of Christ can certainly be a catalyst in helping a person (e.g. Paula) surrender.
- If anything can help Paula cease resisting God’s love it is the spectacle of the love of God for us on the cross.
- If Paula surrenders – God will provide Paul the grace to will to will what God wills (2nd order willing)
- As long as Paula continues to will to will – God can keep helping Paul in this trajectory.
- Atonement has a role in helping Paul surrender – that surrender is the beginning of union with God that will fulfilled if Paula continues on this track.
- Shared attention….
- 2nd person experiences
- 2nd person experiences (knowledge of persons) can be had through stories
- A story of Jerome can connect someone like Paula in such a way so that Paula comes to know Jerome, not just facts about him.
- If one day Paula meets Jerome, then there is some possibility of union because of the knowledge that Paul has about Jerome.
- This point about stories matters very much for the purposes of this paper.
- Everyone who responds to Christ’s death has to do so through a story.
- His person and work is mediated to us through a particular story.
- The story doesn’t act on her will with sufficient causation, nonetheless the story can move her to the melting of heart, the state where she can lay down her resistance to Christ
- Everyone who responds to Christ’s death has to do so through a story.
- When this story results in the ceasing of the resistance to God – she meets God.
- The story of Christ’s passion and death is central in bringing people into union w/God because the surrender which is the beginning of this union happens when we “hear” the story.
- As long as she doesn’t return to her resistance to God.
- Since this is so there are actually three parts that bring Paula to the complete and permanent union with God
- The Beginning – her initial surrender
- Perseverance (the continuation of the initial ceasing to resist God)
- Perseverance is as delicate and tricky a matter as that initial surrender
- If God were to give Paula a lifetime of perseverance – then God would be taking away her alternate possibilities (and hence the freedom of will necessary for union).
- So, God can’t give someone the grace of a life time of perseverance.
- Analogy of Marriage – Jerome can’t guarantee Paula won’t divorce him, but there are many things Jerome can do to help make it so that Paula wont divorce him.
- Something similar occurs with our perseverance…
- The Eucharist is one means through which God helps perseverance happen
- God’s love is most manifest in God’s passion and death.
- One way to think about the Eucharist is that the bread and wine are eaten during the rite – for a person who participates in the rite, some things are brought entirely in that person by being eaten.
- The imagery is of a union (union b/w thing eaten and the eater)
- Increased union and increase love is the result of the rite
- For virtually all people – the ceasing of resistance must come through a story (Gospels)
- On every occasion which a person participates in the Eucharist with faith, she is brought back into that story of the love of Christ
- When Paul participates in the rite, she will remember her need for help and she will remember, vividly, God’s perfect love for her
- Every time Paula participates in the right, she is reminded of the reason why she should persevere – God’s love for her
- Salvation has three parts – Surrender, Sanctification, Perseverance
- God can’t get what he wants by acting directly on the human will – or else union would be lost.
- By means of the story of the Passion and Death of Christ – Paula comes to know Christ.
- By means of the remembering of the story – participation in the Eucharist – she reenacts (in a renewal of a marriage vow sort of way) that initial encounter and surrender to God – hence ensuring perseverance.
Romans has often been called Paul’s “systematic theology,” I would beg to differ, but if we are going to insist that Paul is writing a “theology” it would be best to call it “biblical theology” or “narrative theology” because Paul takes the entire storyline of scripture – creation through restoration – and rereads this Jewish story in light of Christ. So in that sense we could call Roman’s an occasional narrative theology…
What doe Paul have to say about the Holy Spirit in Romans?
We tend to think that Romans is deeply Christological, which it certainly is, but more than that its thoroughly Trinitiarian, meaning that Paul has the Holy Spirit play a huge role in his theology. Consider these facts:
The Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of God” four times, the “Spirit of Christ” once, “the Spirit of holiness” once, the “Spirit of adoption” once, the “Holy Spirit” five times, and “the Spirit” a whopping fifteen times! In other words the Holy Spirit is all over the book of Romans, and those are just the times the Holy Spirit is explicitly named!
So what does the Holy Spirit do in Romans?
According to Paul the Holy Spirit does a ton of things! Here is a brief list:
1-By the Spirit God pours is love out into the hearts of believers. (5:5)
2-The Spirit sets believers free from the law of sin and death. (8:2)
3-The Spirit helps believers fulfill the law. (8:4)
4-The Spirit lives in believers and will give them life (8:11)
5-By the Spirit believers are able to put sin to death. (8:13)
6-Believers are led by the Spirit. (8:14)
7-The Spirit testifies to believer’s spirits that they are children of God. (8:15-16)
8-Believers enjoy the first fruits of the Spirit. (8:23)
9-The Spirit helps believers in their weaknesses especially when we don’t know how to pray. (8:26-27)
10-The Spirit sanctifies believers. (15:16)
11-The Spirit helps Paul (and us) carry out our mission. (15:19)
All that to say – the Holy Spirit plays a huge role in Paul’s theology in Romans!
When I heard that Kyle Strobel was writing a book on the spiritual disciplines of Jonathan Edwards I immediately went on Amazon and pre-ordered it. As you well know, I am an avid Jonathan Edwards fan, and have devoted much of my seminary writing to Edwards (and other Reformed theologians like Barth and T.F. Torrance). I haven’t been studying Edwards for a very long time, I was only in seminary for 3 years, nevertheless one of my first papers in seminary was actually on the spiritual disciplines of Edwards. I wrote a paper outlining his Spiritual Formation in a Puritan context, what “practices” he practiced (is there a better word?), and what we can learn from his rhythm of spiritual formation. It was in writing this paper that I fell in love with Edwards, mainly because it forced me to engage with George Marsden’s behemoth biography of Edwards. And now I’m in the process of preparing to do a ThM with a research focus on Edwards alongside of Oliver Crisp (we are waiting for him to come back from his sabbatical in Fall of 2014). So, all to say, that the spiritual disciplines of Jonathan Edwards hold a special place in my heart.
Having laid out the fact that I am biased, and have a keen interest in the subject of this book let me share some thoughts on it.
Kyle Strobel’s book, Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards, is broken up into two parts. The first is titled “A Journey into Beauty.” In this section of the book Strobel lays out the foundation of the Christian faith according to Edwards. He uses the metaphor of a journey or a path to illustrate Edwards God-centered theology. This journey is centered on the Beatific vision (something that contemporary evangelicals have either forgotten was a central part of our catholic faith or have simply chosen to ignore). Kyle says that the culmination of the journey “is standing before the God of love and beholding him as my Father, seeing him clearly and growing in knowledge of him for eternity.” In the next chapter he cashes out what the beatific vision is really about, knowing God as glorious and knowing God as beautiful. And we only know God in these ways because we are “in” Christ. Knowing God in these ways, through Christ, is ultimately relational. It is no mere academic exercise. This is extremely important for understanding Edwards’ theology because Edwards’ practical theology is centered on “affections” (and by this I don’t mean the warm fuzzys). Edwards’ thoughts on affections are best captured in the truism “people are not simply thinking beings, but loving beings.” Our hearts will always gravitate towards something. When our hearts do that our will attempts to grasp it because we are vigorously captivated by it. In turn our entire way of living is changed because our will is now centered upon that one object or person.
Part two is titled “Tools for the Journey.” In this section of the book Strobel assesses the “tools God has given us on this journey, asking what they are for and why we should practice them.” He begins by explaining the fact that spiritual disciplines are means of grace. The means of grace are practices or actions given to the church which are not efficacious on their own right, rather they are actions through which we receive the Grace God has already given to us. In other words they are “spiritual postures to receive God’s grace.” This notion of putting ourselves in a posture of dependence is key for understanding Strobel’s discussion of Edwards’ disciplines. Again and again Strobel emphasizes that we don’t create grace or earn it through this disciplines; the Grace is already there, we simply put ourselves in a posture to receive the gift that God has already given to us, namely the gift of himself. Having laid this foundation Strobel explains some of Edwards’ practices. For instance he devotes an entire chapter to examining our own lives and an entire chapter to Mediation/Contemplation (which are slightly different). He concludes with a chapter on Sabbath, Fasting, Conferencing, Soliloquy, Silence and Solitude, and Prayer.
Thoughts on the Book
I want to highlight a couple of things that I believe Strobel did really well, and then make some constructive criticisms of the book.
Here are some of the things that Strobel did well:
- The Discussion of the Christian Life: Strobel says that “we refuse to talk about spiritual practices until we have a firm grasp of the picture of the Christian life.” Most people writing on spiritual disciplines these days don’t take the time to place the disciplines within the larger context of the Christian life. It almost seems as though these disciplines become the end of the journey, instead of the tools for the journey. Placing them with the context of our spiritual journey keeps us from falling into that trap. On top of this, Strobel did a great job explaining the Christian life from an angle that most people will not be familiar with. In my own experience working in ministry, I have never heard congregant explain their walk with Christ in the way Strobel explained it. Most people describe their journey as growth in becoming better people or something else like that. Strobel explains the journey as a journey towards the beatific vision, which can only occur in Christ. He says that the Christian life is a journey to see clearly. “It is a journey inaugurated with a sight of faith and a journey whose destination is perfection of that sight.”
- The Discussion of the Means of Grace: “Means of Grace” is a very reformed phrase, that most people aren’t accustomed to. Nevertheless, Strobel does a great job explaining what Means of Grace are. In my opinion this is the strongest part of the book. Where most people will see spiritual disciplines as self-help tools, or tools that will help them get closer to God so that God will love them more, the notion that disciplines are a means of grace combats these temptations. The disciplines that Edwards practiced, and Strobel recommends are the places that we come to receive the wonderful gift of grace that God has already given to us through his son Jesus. Spiritual disciplines are not a way of wrenching God’s arm into giving us more of himself. God has already fully given himself to us in Christ!
- The Appendix: For people who will want to practice what Kyle preaches, this is an invaluable tool. Its clear and well organized. Anybody can turn to this section of the book and begin to lead themselves and others into the disciplines that Edwards practiced.
Its hard for me to really criticize this book because I loved it so much, and found it to be spot on with Edwards’ theology, nevertheless here are some constructive criticisms:
- A Lack of Interaction With Edwards’ Historical Context: I would have liked to see Strobel interact with Edwards greater Reformed and Puritan context a bit more, especially in regard to how spiritual disciplines were regarded by continental reformed pastors and theologians and also by Puritans in the new world. What role did spiritual disciplines play in the lives of puritan pastors? Were spiritual disciplines a big part of reformed piety? Or is Edwards unique in this regard? The fact that Strobel didn’t include this sort of discussion in the book doesn’t hurt my opinion of the book, but I believe the book could have been strengthened by it. Perhaps he could have included it in the chapter about the means of grace.
- A Lack of a “Spiritual Biography”: I also would have liked to see Strobel pull all of these practices into a short (perhaps chapter long) biography section. Strobel does a good job of picking apart these disciplines and giving Edwards’ theological postitions behind them, but it would have been a stronger book if Strobel would have written about how these practices shaped Edwards’ life and ministry. I can imagine a chapter where Strobel starts off by talking about Edwards’ periods of prayer and solitude (as well as group prayers) when he was a kid in the woods. Then he could have written about the key role these disciplines played while he was a Presbyterian pastor in New York. And so on… I think you get the point. I would have liked to see how these disciplines fit into the big picture of Edward’s life.
As you can tell I (mostly) have only good words for this book. Edwards and spiritual disciplines are two subjects that I absolutely love to study, and this book brilliantly combines both. If you are looking for an easy introduction into the practical theology of Edwards I highly recommend this book. If you are looking for a reformed take on spiritual disciplines, I recommend this book. If you are interested in spiritual disciplines and want some practical guidance on practicing them, I recommend this book. Basically, whoever you are and whatever you are interested in I recommend this book.
In chapter 4 Paul says to the Ephesians: “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God…” But Paul goes on to say “That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.”
Much like he did in chapter 4, in chapter 5 Paul contrasts a life lived in darkness with a life lived in the light. In verses 8-9 Paul writes “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)”
Notice what Paul doesn’t do, he doesn’t simply give a list of rules and regulations, he does not simply say “do this” or “avoid that” rather Paul instructs the Ephesians to become what they are already in Christ. Paul gives shows us how we actually grow and change; we grow when we become who we already are in Christ. In order to do this we must constantly be reminding ourselves of our truest and deepest identity. Yet this is not something we do once. In 5:1 Paul says “follow,” the Greek word that is translated as “follow” comes from the word ginomai, this word could also be translated as “be” or “become.” (This is a bit complicated but the actual word is a present middle imperative.) It is an imperative that implies a lifelong process. This emphasizes the fact that our transformation is an ongoing process of following in the footsteps of Christ. We imitate Christ because the truth is we are/are being transformed into his likeness.
If we are going to imitate Christ we must learn what Christ is like. We must learn to see life the way he did, we must learn to see others the way he did, we must learn to see the Kingdom the way he did. Where do we learn these things? In the gospels. The gospels show us who Christ is and what Christ was like. The process of becoming Christ-like involves spending time at the feet of Jesus, literally being disciple by him through the gospels. However we must be careful not to think that we are transforming ourselves into being Christ-like. We must never think that out of our own efforts we can “imitate God” or “follow God’s example.” The fact is that a life lived in imitation of God is only made possible because we are God’s children. As children of God there is “family resemblance….”
I have a Golden Retriever named Dallas, he’s a little over three years old now so he is kind of still a puppy. I remember the day that I got him, it was a Wednesday morning and we were getting him from a friend. My family wanted a boy dog and not a girl dog and he was the only one left, so we walked into their backyard to check the puppies out. I remember walking over to the dog run and seeing an explosion of puppies. As soon as the puppies heard me walking they exploded out of the dog house and ran over to the gate. They all seemed pretty excited, then all of a sudden another puppy runs out of the dog house and jumps on top of all the other puppies. He starts climbing all over the other one, even standing on top of them trying to climb over the fence. This was Dallas. Dallas showed his cards before we even took him, he would be trouble. So after playing with the puppies a little bit we took home the only boy puppy, Dallas. We got home set him up in the kitchen, gave him some water, some toys, and a training pad then put a puppy fence around his area. I walk out of the room and 2 minutes later I hear a loud crash. Somehow this little puppy knocked over a fence made for 75-100 pound dogs. I put the fence back up and lo and behold a few minutes later he is climbing it and has gotten stuck, now Dallas is crying. After that incident we decided fences couldn’t contain Dallas. Then we tried to teach him to go on walks… this too was a disaster. Actually it wasn’t a disaster, Dallas ended up taking us for walks instead. To tell you the truth his dad was actually like this. His dad was an outside dog, but when he got in he wrecked the house. His dad would knock over kids and old people. His dad was impossible to walk. All this to say that Dallas much like his dad is a trainwreck. Two rambunctious Golden Retrievers…. like father like son. I guess its family resemblance.
Dallas is much like his father. As sons and daughters of the God we are much like our Father, not because we try to resemble our dad but simply because we are a part of his family. My dog doesn’t try to resemble his dad, he just looks and acts like him. The same holds true for us, if we are really like our Father we will begin to look like him. This resemblance will certainly come out in the way we do community with one another. There won’t be “obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, but rather thanksgiving” within our communities, not because we have rules against these things but simply because these things are not a part of our true identities.
This week consider the following questions:
- In what areas are you growing to resemble your Heavenly Father?
- How are you encouraging others to grow to resemble your Father?
- What is it about a community that resembles God and lives Christ-like that is so attractive to non-believers?
Last time we started the “Changing” pattern. Today we continue this mini-series on spiritual growth in Lifegroups. In this blog we will take a look at some of the various phases that groups find themselves in during this phase.
Pattern 2: Changing (Your Group)
Change… we all aim to change. But stuff so often gets in our way! We might desire to change our health habits but end up getting a Venti Salted Caramel Mocha Latte from Starbucks every day (As I write I am drinking a Venti Salted Caramel Mocha Latte, don’t worry though its non-fat!) Or maybe we decide to change our workout habits, but instead of getting up early to work out before work we end up hitting the snooze button 1 or 2 or 6 times. So what is our problem? Our problem is that change is hard (that’s why I prefer bills to change! Haha I crack myself up!) Anyway change, especially spiritual change is hard, super hard. One of the major (actually it is the major) obstacle to lasting change is a lack of the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives. Another major obstacle to change is a lack of understanding our identity in Christ through the gospel. Lifegroups help us address both of these obstacles. In Lifegroups we give the Holy Spirit free range to help us grow more Christ-like. In Lifegroup we come alongside one another and remind ourselves about our identity in Christ. But there is another obstacle to change. A lack of true community…..
Change or Die
In his book Change or Die journalist Alan Deutschman did some research into how people change. One thing that he found consistently in all people and groups that changed was community. “When people connected with a community that helped them, change was possible. Without community people rarely changed, and when they did, it didn’t last.” By using this book, Bill Search points out that community, especially communities of believers are a major factor in our growth and change process. If its true that community helps us change and grow, how much more will a Christ centered and Spirit led community help us grow?!?!
The Change Continuum
Bill Search likes continuums and I do too. So I think that Bill is right in saying that “just like the relational pattern of connecting, the growth pattern of change is a continuum.” When thinking about the change continuum we must keep two things in mind. First, in defining change we must keep in mind that change does not equal becoming perfect. That is a standard that none of us can attain, nevertheless we remain hopeful that God will one day make us perfect. We remain hopeful that God wants to draw us closer and closer to his son and also that God will make us more and more Christ-like in our spiritual journey. Second, when talking about change we need to know that some people will grow slow and stead, while others will shoot up like weeds. Your Lifegroup will contain both types of people. So you need to be mindful of that. These phases along the change continuum is meant to address the group as a whole, not necessarily individuals.
Phase 1 – Learn
Last time we talked about the notion that growing in knowledge does not equal growing spiritually. However growing in knowledge is a huge part in our process of change. This is a very important stage, especially for people who are new. When you are new, everything you learn can be exciting and awe inspiring. This phase will have people learning new things all the time. They will read the bible and find cool things. They might point out how cool it is that The Lord’s Supper is so similar to Passover or that Jesus was prophesied about in the Old Testament. And as they learn these cool new things they will want to discuss them in Lifegroup. However your job as a Lifegroup leader is to help shift the focus to the question “why does this matter?” (not in a mean and demeaning way) but in a “what does this mean to you?” way. Ask them how this impacts their lives and their view of who God is. Use their eagerness to learn in order to foster spiritual transformation.
How can you tell that you are in this phase? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is most of your group time spent during the “Word” portion of the night?
- Do most of your members enjoy the “Word” part of the night over the other parts?
Phase 2 – Grow
The growing phase is visible when the emphasis shifts from learning truths to applying them. This group will be more concerned about applying what God is showing them than merely learning more things. A group in this phase helps each person grow by challenging and encouraging one another to apply truth and they build that person up when they see that person living out the truths they are learning. For example someone in your group has been sharing that they are beginning to see the theme of patience running through the Bible. If you are in this stage you will ask the person: Who do you need to be patient with in your circle of influence? Is it your roommates? Your parents? Your girlfriend? When they come back and share the next week and they say that they failed at being patient, encourage them! If they say they were successful celebrate the fact that God is transforming them!
How can you tell that you are in this phase? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do your group members openly discuss areas in which they need to personally grow?
- Do people in your group share testimonies of the things God is doing in their lives?
- Do they ask to be held accountable for their actions?
- Do they confess their sins to one another?
Phase 3 – Transform
We can hope for and expect transformation to happen now through the power of the Holy Spirit. Although there are some sins that we seem to be captive to, the truth is that Jesus has defeated sin and has set us free. We just need to allow his reign to take over these parts of our lives. I want you to stop for a minute and think… in the last few months where have you been transformed? How has Christ been growing you? Ask yourself the question: “Who am I becoming in Christ?” These are the same questions you need to be asking your group if they are in this stage. Always remember though that in this stage you want to build up, not tear down. Because it is love and kindness that lead to repentance and growth not condemnation.
How can you tell that you are in this phase? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do group members point to areas where they feel they have experienced victory?
- Can the group affirm one another in the areas of change they are seeing?
- Do group members discuss what they are doing in order to grow in a certain area?
Evaluating Your Group
Next time we will be taking a look at how we can move up on the continuum of changing phases. But for now I leave you with a couple of questions and some food for thought. First go ahead and Read Colossians 3:1-17. How does this passage image impact your understanding about growth for your Lifegroup? Then ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the basis for our change?
- What are we to put to death?
- What are we supposed to put on?
- How is your Lifegroup doing in these areas (v. 12-17)
- Do the members of your Lifegroup understand the point or the goal of change?
I hope that these questions help you think through some key issues in our pattern of changing, and that you are led to pray for God to show up in your group to create the change He wants to see. I know I’m praying that for my own group and I’m praying that for yours as well.
Back to more Simple Smallgroups! Last time we finished the “Connecting” pattern. Today we start up our new pattern “Changing.” Changing is just the word Bill Search uses for spiritual growth/sanctification. So lets take a look at what this pattern is and how Lifegroups can help us change.
Pattern 2: Changing
So over the last few studies we have been taking an in depth look at the pattern Bill Search calls connecting and Soma calls community. Now we move on to the second pattern: Changing. Now we know that Changing (growing, becoming spiritually mature, etc.) is not the point. Encountering Christ is the point. As we encounter Christ and fall more in love with him we change, grow, become mature, etc. So lets take a look at the “Changing” pattern.
You Can Change! (But its not easy…)
All of you know how hard change can be. Whether its changing schools, changing jobs, moving, or getting married. Change is not easy. Sometimes we desperately avoid change but other times we really want to change. But that change doesn’t come about easily. Think back to your spiritual journey. Have there been things that you wanted to change? I’m sure there have been. There are certainly things in my own journey that I have wanted to change. In fact we are actually called to change. We are called to hear God and what he is calling us to change and join the journey with him as he changes us from the inside out…. But once again this is NOT easy.
Change…. It’s a process
We call change a lot of things…. Discipleship, transformation, spiritual formation. And if we want to get really technical and sound like a theology nerd we can call it sanctification. Whatever you want to call it though… there is one aim “to become more like Jesus.” Afterall this is what “Christian” means.
Since change is a core part of our Christian journey it seems natural that our Lifegroups will speak into this pattern in some way or another. For instance in a Lifegroup we might challenge one another to grow in knowledge and to put that knowledge into practice. We might point people to the Grace of God and speak truths into them. This too can lead to change. When we tell people that they are holy and dearly loved by God, that their sins are forgiven, that God is faithful, and that he hears their prayers internal change occurs. These are all steps and tools we have to help other Christians in our Lifegroups grow BUT change is a process. Usually it takes time. Sure there are times when people do a complete 180. I have seen this in groups! But the majority of the time it will be a slow gradual process that might not even be noticeable until you step back and take a bird’s eye view of the situation. So just as we talked about their being a continuum for connecting, its helpful to think of change along a continuum as well. With the ultimate goal being sanctification (which we know WILL NOT happen fully until the end of time where Jesus makes us perfect).
Knowledge ≠ Change
I don’t think that I really need to explain this too much but I will give it a shot. An increased level of knowledge does not equal change. You can know a ton and still not be spiritually mature. For instance there is this one guy, E.P. Sanders who is one of the most respected and influential biblical scholars today. He wrote a book several decades ago called Paul and Palestinian Judaism. This book revolutionized the field of biblical studies. It changed the way we looked at Judaism in Paul’s day. And ever since he wrote this book it has been impossible to write something scholarly about Paul without at least engaging with E.P. Sanders ideas. So hopefully you are getting the point. This guy has a lot of knowledge. However his spiritual walk is not so healthy…. In fact he refers to himself as a “secularized protestant.” (Sad.) On the other hand another thing we need to remember is that growing in knowledge also does not equal growing in spiritual maturity. So why does this matter? It matters because your Lifegroup is not primarily a place to come receive knowledge. Your Lifegroup should not digress into a discussion about predestination or the new perspective on Paul or the best interpretation of Revelation. That is not the point….
(Note: I am not saying that knowledge is unnecessary to spiritual growth. I firmly believe that God calls us to know more about him and his actions in the past through the Bible. God also calls us to know more about him and how he works in this world, through church history. God also calls us to know about him and what his people have said about him, through historical theology. All of these fields of study are extremely important because in studying them we have the potential of encountering the God that we worship. Personally I have had some of my greatest “God Times” reading theologians like N.T. Wright, Karl Barth, and Augustine.)
How can I help you change?
Or better yet, how can we help you change. A healthy group helps us grow spiritually. Bill Search in Simple Smallgroups list out three ways that Lifegroups help people change: 1-When we are honest, 2-when we apply Scriptures, and 3-when we listen to other believers.
- Honesty: If we want to become more like Jesus you have to be honest about where you are at. If we want to change a particular sin in our life we need to be able to talk about that sin, and you won’t talk about that sin unless you are honest with your group. If you want to grow you have to open up and share. If we live in a community of people who hides and covers up their faults, we won’t be able to help one another. So we should invite our fellow group members to be honest about who they really are and what things they are struggling with. However in being honest we must remember that we are working along a continuum. You cannot expect people to be completely open and honest the first week of Lifegroup. (If they are then there likely is something wrong with them. Either that or you have an EGR on your hands.) Nevertheless you should see growth in honesty as your group progresses.
- Applying Scriptures:A few weeks ago when I preached on Colossians 3:12-17 I said that “Out of our identity as God’s sons and daughters words of encouragement should flow to our fellow brothers and sisters.” We should be encouraging one another that in Christ we are holy and dearly loved. And we should be encouraging one another with the Word of Christ, which is the scriptures, the gospel, and the promised work of Jesus in our life. Sure it will involve exhorting one another to follow the commadments of Scripture, but above all we should “apply the scriptures” by reminding one another of the truths that scripture tells us about our position in Christ. I firmly believe that as we do this we will be more ready and willing to follow the commands of scripture. (Because doing flows from being!)
- Listening: “Listening to one another is one of the greatest ways we can help each other change.” Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like you weren’t being heard? Like your feelings and your opinions didn’t matter? Like you were underappreciated or not appreciated at all? If you have ever felt that way you know how exhausting it can be. However you probably know that the opposite of those things can be very life giving and energizing. So listening and listening attentively can foster an environment that gives life rather than drains it. As your group listens to one another you can encourage one another and affirm (or correct) them. I think that most importantly, listening shows that we care, and when we know people care about our spiritual growth we are more likely to want to change.
Change – It’s a Continuum
Bill Search gives a great metaphor for the change continuum. He uses the metaphor of a bridge and says that “You’ve got to build the relational bridge strong enough to hold the weight of truth.” I believe he is right. Have you ever received a challenging word or a rebuke from someone you barely knew? How did you take it? Probably not so well. Now what if someone you knew loved and cared for you said those same things? Would that be radically different? I think so. What this shows is that if we are going to have the authority to speak into people’s lives and help them become more Christ-like then we need to build the relational bridge strong enough to handle the tension of confrontation and challenge. This begins with building the bridge between the leader and the members then building the bridge between all of the members of the group to one another. So in order to embark upon this journey of becoming more Christ-like we need to build strong relational bridges. There are also some other things we can be doing, but we will take a look at those next time.