Pastor-Daddy-Theologian: Family Discipleship

In our consumerist individualized culture, everything is cared for by specialists. We are habituated into thinking that we need specialists to fix what ails us, from fitness to food, to finances. I was listening to the radio a few days ago and heard a talk about dealing with the emotions of receiving an inheritance. They interviewed one expert that was a financial therapist who specializes in helping people deal with those emotions. Talk about specialization.

Specialization is the water we live in, and it is the air we breathe. So we shouldn’t give ourselves too hard of a time for thinking that my kids will magically have the Christian faith if I take them to Church on Sunday, youth group on Wednesday, and VBS during the summer. In light of how we live the rest of our lives, this, one could surmise, should work. 

But it doesn’t. It seems that these activities instill in our kids, not the historic Christian faith, but an insipid moralism. A view of God as either a boyfriend or emotional crutch, while also being an inexplicably distant Father figure. 

Why is this happening? Because faith isn’t supposed to be learned as a supplement to the rest of life. We are supposed to learn our faith in the context of a family who worships, learns, and prays together. 

There is an almost palpable fear about the possible demise of faith in Christian youth and children. While some of these fears might be exaggerated, it is an understandable felt fear, in light of the continued steady exit of youth from the Church. I believe that there is a counter-cultural antidote – not a silver bullet. A holistic way of approaching family and faith that can help pass on the faith to our children in meaningful and fruitful ways: Family discipleship. 

Anglican Pastor and teacher Winfield Bevins defines Family Discipleship: “Family discipleship is when parents help their children become disciples of Jesus in the home through reading the Bible, praying, worshipping, an doing mission together” (Growing at Home, xvi). Family discipleship is not a new idea. It is grounded in the Scripture and traditions of the Church. In Scripture, we can turn to the paradigm of Deuteronomy 6:4-9: 

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. 

Verses four and five function as the Creed of the Old Testament, summarizing right belief, right practice, and worship. God commands Israel to have the laws on their hearts – at the core of their being and existence. Where does this occur? In the family, and how? By teaching, them, living them, and having habits of life, mind, and heart that continually directs one’s family to the truth of God and his way of life.

 According to Scripture, we should intentionally orient our family to who God is and what God has done for us. For Israel, this was lived out in light of the Exodus and the promise of the promised land. For Christians, it is lived out in light of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and the promise of the New Heavens and Earth. 

I firmly believe that family discipleship is key to the Church thriving in the next generation. But, the theological location of family discipleship is critical: we must understand it within Christ and under his gracious reign over the world and in the Church. This location simultaneously critiques false views of families and establishes the proper path for living our faith out as little churches in the body of Christ.  

Family is an aspect of God’s created order for the good of human flourishing. However, the Fall marred and damaged familial relationships. After the Fall, we can trace out not the goodness of family, but it’s very inverse, the fallenness of family and God’s ‘no’ to sin’s infection and rule in families. Throughout Scripture, the Holy Spirit paints with precise brush strokes the detailed contours of the utter brokenness of family. So if we are to practice family discipleship, we must first begin by admitting that family is not sacred in and of itself. It is only sacred in so far as it is being redeemed and restored in Christ in the Church. 

Under this claim lays a robust doctrine of Union with Christ and the Church. A full expression of both of these doctrines is beyond my purposes here. For now, I want to highlight that 1) Union with Christ is the anchor and engine of family discipleship. And that 2) the Church is the boat in which family discipleship occurs. 

The heart of family discipleship is each person’s union with Christ in the context of the Church. When someone puts their faith in Christ by his grace and is baptized into Christ, they die and are raised with him. Their life is now hidden with Christ in God (Galatians 2:20-21; Romans 6:4-6; Col 3:1-4). Their identity and purpose are now rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ’s eternal relationship with the Heavenly Father. We have the law written on our hearts, and we have new hearts. Because of our union with Christ, the vision of Deuteronomy 6 is now possible. We are saved by grace through faith for good works prepared for us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-10), which includes family discipleship. 

Baptism unites us to Christ, and it joins us to the body of Christ the Church. The Church becomes our family. The place where we are cleansed and made holy is the Church of Christ. As we nurture and grow our nuclear family, we do so as a part of the family of the Chuch in Christ. The Church, not the family, is the primary social unit of Christians. And this is good news. Because the sin and brokenness of family are brought under the kingdom and reign of Christ for forgiveness and healing. By its participation in the Church, the family can be redeemed.  

Family is not an institution separate from the Church. Just like we cannot do our faith on our own, we cannot do marriage on our own. It exists as a graced space for Christ to work out his redemption and reconciliation of his body. Neither is it the ultimate goal of human existence. Our union with Christ and the glory that is promised in eternal communion with God is the proper end goal. 

All that said, God, in his providence created families and commanded humanity to raise children and serve God in the faith of Christ in the Church. Family discipleship is an intentional way for parents in Church to lead their family in the rhythms of redemption and union with Christ as they learn together how to love, repent, have faith and grow in Christ. 

Practically speaking, what does this all look like? 

Let me offer an analogy. How does one become a life long and an avid fan of a sports team? Usually, it is passed down through desire, ritual, and priority in the context of a family. If we can disciple our kids into the fandom of a particular team, how much more should we disciple them into Christ? 

First parents must desire it. If we do not desire to love Christ and grow in him, our kids will pick up on it and see that our loyalties are mixed. Of course, we are not perfect. So the first habit we must begin to practice in front of our children is humility and repentance. We practice this through visible prayer and confession. 

Second, we need ritual. Many people have the ritual of watching sport on the weekend. We need a daily ritual of prayer, Scripture reading, learning, Church participation, service, spiritual conversation, and practical service. I use the word ritual not to evoke an empty or rote practice, but to say that it must become a part of the warp and woof of our days. 

Third, it must become a priority. These desires and rituals must become engrained in our lives. They are what we do, and we must be willing to sacrifice other things for them. What is more important, our children’s success in a sport or their eternal and life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ? Here the Gospel of Christ confronts us and our idols. Here we must again, repent and believe. 

For more practical ideas for Family discipleship, let me recommend three resources: 

Growing at Home by Winfield Bevins

This book offers a practical vision for how to raise and disciple children in the faith. It looks at everything from reading Scripture to doing service projects together as a family. Parents are the primary people who will disciple their children. This book casts a vision and gives the tools for this work.

Parenting Towards the Kingdom by Philip Mamalakis

I ‘haven’t found a better book on parenting. The main of the book is that Christian parents are called to raise their kids to be citizens of the kingdom with the virtues of Jesus Christ and everything we do in parenting should be oriented towards this goal. This book shows us practically how to raise our kids, deal with conflict, set boundaries, and help our children learn and grow through struggle. I cannot recommend this book enough.

The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch

As our kids get older, we will need to make wise decisions about the place of technology in our home. Andy Crouch is a knowledgeable and helpful guide to these decisions. He ‘doesn’t say get rid of technology, but put technology in its proper place.

Thoughts from a Pastor-Daddy-Theologian: Growing in the Habit of Family Prayer

Prayer and the reading of Scripture are the Christian’s bread and butter (right along with the Sacraments, I’ll come back to that another time). Growing up in the evangelical Church, I knew that I was supposed to pray and regularly read because it is expressed so plainly in Scripture. Throughout Scripture, we are exhorted to pray (throughout the Psalms), bring our needs to God (Philippians 4:6-7) and join in the worship of God in the community of Christ (Hebrews 10:19-25, Acts 2:42). But, I’ve never been that fantastic at maintaining the habit of daily prayer and Scripture reading. Why?

First, to draw an analogy. My wife grew up in the Catholic Church; she struggled to find roots for her faith because no one could tell her why they did what they did. Why do you cross yourself? Why do you kneel? Why do you receive the Body and Blood of Christ? These formative actions and habits, without explanation, did little to form her knowledge and love of God.

Similarly, Evangelicals tell their children to read the Bible and pray. But they can quickly fail to tell and show them why this is essential to their faith. In both cases, the faith must be caught and taught.

As an Anglican Pastor and Father, I am in danger of failing on both fronts. Conversely, I have the glorious opportunity to teach my children and church the deep meaning of liturgical worship tied a life of prayer and scripture reading.

Secondly, this practice was difficult to grow in and maintain because I expected so much out of it. The pressure to have a life-giving devotional time and to encounter God every time I prayed and read was intimidating and overwhelming. There was a felt need for a spiritual high every-time I prayed or read; it was exhausting both in anticipation and disappointment. Finally, there was also a suspicion around prayer and Scripture becoming routine, which meant I needed to spice it up; never let it get old or worn out. All these factors combined lead to an anxious prayer life

Beyond my own experience, I’ve seen this anxiety about the habit of prayer becoming routine in my limited pastoral experience. I’ve begun to wonder whether it is an implicit romanticizing of our relationship with God. Do we view our relationship with God through the lens of dating and romantic love? If we are always supposed to be on fire for God, like a fresh romance, then of course routine feels like capitulation. I think, then, the problem is the lens of romantic love. I believe friendship and Marriage are better metaphors, both of which require time, patience, commitment, and routine. What if the change, relationship, and encounter we desire in our relationship with God is experienced over time doing the same thing with the desire to love and serve God?

So how have I grown in the habit of daily prayer and Scripture reading? Falteringly, through The Daily Office.

The Daily Office is an order of prayer and Scripture reading set for morning and evening prayer with shorter times of prayer at noon and before bed. Combined with a reading plan (the Daily Office Lectionary) it is a helpful tool for making prayer and Scripture reading an essential part of the rhythm of your day.

Throughout my early to mid-’20s, I preferred and wanted to pray far more than I desired to read Scripture. But, as I entered seminary, I was ushered into the practice of daily morning and evening prayer in Chapel, which forced me to do both together. Four years of this practice slowly that shaped my desires to pray and read Scripture; sometimes being told that you have to do something, actually works. Nevertheless, the application of daily morning and evening prayer in life outside of seminary is almost overwhelming. In God’s providence, we also joined an intentional community in our last year of seminary that helped encourage praying the Daily Office by myself.

Since we left Pittsburgh, a few things, both theological and practical, have helped us to grow in the rhythms of daily prayer.

First, I needed a more robust and mundane doctrine of Scripture. Robust because I needed to see that Scripture is a primary means of grace by which the Holy Spirit shapes his Church into the image of Christ. (see my blog post what Scripture is for). Mundane, because I needed to submit to the extended slow reading of Scripture as God communicates his grace to me over many years

Second, I needed to learn to read and meditate on Scripture in the context of prayer. The Daily Office, with its rhythm of prayer and Scripture, provides that context. Worship, either communally, or as an individual in Spiritual communion with the Church, is the proper location of the reading of Scripture. We see this reflected in the prayers of the Psalms and the Early Church.

All that said, getting into a habit of praying the daily office was difficult, and for a good reason.

The practice of daily prayer forced me to walk the Gospel line between legalism and lawlessness. The Gospel is that in Christ, God loves and accepts me (justification) and in the Holy Spirit empowers me to love and obey him (sanctification) (blog post on the gospel).

The practice of daily pray consistently forces me to reckon with the Gospel. I’m not accepted or loved by doing daily prayer (legalism). However, doing daily prayer is good for me because it shapes my day around God and his grace. Further, when I fail to maintain daily prayer, i don’t just give up (lawlessness), nor I am a failure (perfectionistic legalism). I do not fall out of my justification because I am united to Christ (see my blog posts on union with Christ 1, 2, 3). But I am called to get back on the horse, to keep building the habit – to ‘always begin again.’

So how have we grown as a family in daily prayer? How do we keep going, trusting that God’s grace is given in the robust, mundane, and gospel rhythms of prayer and Scripture?

1. Community

Establishing the practice of prayer and Scripture reading is a lot easier to do when other people are doing it with you. My time in seminary and an intentional community grew the desire for a rhythm of prayer and Scripture reading. Now with our small family, we push one another to pray and read, even when we don’t feel like it. I receive and am reminded of God’s grace every time my daughter pipes up at mealtime telling us to pray, ‘more pray.’ Even when I don’t feel like it, I know I need to do it and having a community with the same goals and desire helps grow the habit.

2. Diversity of Tools for different times

The Book of Common Prayer is an excellent tool for prayer. But sometimes, in life, we don’t have the time or capacity to sit down and pray and read for a half-hour. Thankfully, there are a variety of tools and options. The two we’ve found most helpful are Trinitymission.org and ACNA’s Family Devotions.

During our early days of parenting, we would listen to Fr. Michael Jarrett read morning prayer, through the trinitymission.org. At this point, we felt like we were accomplishing a lot by just listening and praying along with him. These times of prayer framed our days and instilled in our family the importance of daily prayer, even when our daughter was fussy, or Lindsay was driving to work. At that point, evening prayer was much harder to accomplish with any regularity.

As our daughter grew up, we slowly moved away from listening to actively praying with her and as a family, by praying ACNA’s Family prayer (link). It is a shortened version of morning, midday, evening, and compline prayer. It starts with a Scripture reading, a psalm, a scripture verse, The Lord’s Prayer, and a Collect. We add our prayers, readings from the ACNA Catechism, and the Apostles Creed. We can accomplish the bare-bones version this in under 2 minutes or spend up to 10 minutes.

Reading Scripture as a family continues to be a challenge. Lindsay and I read from the ACNA’s Daily office lectionary (two-year plan) separately, and try to read together on the weekends. But more often than not, we forget or don’t prioritize it. In the evenings, we’ve been trying to read a story from *The Jesus Storybook Bible* with Maren.

An additional tool, for Scripture reading, that we’ve found vital is thebibleproject.com. This resource helps us learn the big picture of the books of the Bible and see how each book points us to and is about Jesus.

Music has also played a part in our family prayer life. The music of Roots for Rain graces our car drives, and during certain seasons we incorporate music from the Liturgical Folk. I think Luther said that when we sing, we pray twice, and we all love singing praises to our Lord together.

3. Patience and Trust

Growing in the habit of prayer all requires patience, trust, and for me, a consistent battle against legalism. I have to be patient with what we can do, trusting that over time, we are growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Patience and trust help me fight against the temptation to feel like I’m not doing enough, or we could be doing it better. Again, this brings me back to the Gospel. We put effort into our growth, and the growth comes from God (see Philippians 2:12).

4. Grace is for doin’ something.

Finally, the discipline of daily prayer and Scripture reading through the Daily Office is grounded in the sanctifying Grace of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’ll write more about this point another time, but, in short, God’s grace is the Triune God’s personal work of transformation in our lives is both for forgiveness and transformation. In some Christian circles, grace is seen primarily as forgiveness; grace is given when we admit when we’ve done wrong. While this is true, the Grace of God also compels, directs, and changes; Grace is for doin’ something (see Ephesians 2:8-10 which emphasizes both aspects of grace). It is by the grace of God that we’ve grown in daily prayer and the grace of God will be what keeps us going.

If you want to learn even more about The Daily Office and Anglican Worship, hop over to Theanglicanpastor.com; it is a wonderful resource for all things Anglican.

Also, I am a huge fan of the ACNA’s new Book of Common Prayer. Here are some videos about it, and the place to go buy it.

Resurrection life: Mortification and Vivification

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I wrote this for the blog of the AMiA. https://theamia.org/ 

When I think of resurrection life, my impulse is to emphasize the joy, peace and abundance of Christ’s resurrection and forget the cruciform life of discipleship. The tension arises in Christian circles quite frequently: Are we cross people or resurrection people? Thankfully, we don’t have to choose between these two. Instead, I suggest that in Christ’s resurrection life we are cross and resurrection people.

Consider what Gregory of Nazianzus preached in an Easter sermon on the matter: “Yesterday I was crucified with Christ, today I am glorified with him; yesterday I died with him, today I am made alive with him; yesterday I was buried with him, today I rise with him. … Let us become like Christ since Christ also became like us.” (Oration 1.4-5).

St. Augustine notes the difficulty of this daily process of dying and rising, and uses the metaphor of healing to describe it: “This is agony, Lord, have pity on me! It is agony! See, I do not hide my wounds, you are the physician and I am sick; you are merciful, I in need of mercy.” (Confessions, X.28.39).

In these two quotes, Gregory and Augustine follow the contours of Paul’s description of discipleship: It is a life of dying and rising in Christ with the express purpose of becoming holy (Ephesians 4:23-24). Consider how Anglican Theologian John Webster describes this aspect of resurrection life: “This active life of holiness is at every moment characterized by mortification and vivification. As mortification, holiness is the laying aside of that which has been put to death at the cross of the Son of God; as vivification, holiness is the living out of that which has been made alive in the Son’s resurrection.” (Webster, Holiness, 88)

Webster, Gregory and Augustine all testify to this biblical truth: The resurrection life is dying and rising day by day, moment by moment in Jesus Christ.

What does it mean that mortification and vivification are “in Christ”? We must begin by saying Christ’s death and resurrection is the cause of our mortification and vivification (Philippians 2:1-11, Ephesians 4:20-24). When we are baptized into Christ we are brought into union with his death and resurrection through the Holy Spirit (Galatians 2:20-21, Romans 6). In union with Christ, he reckons us righteous and then makes us so; this is the double gift of union with Christ: justification and sanctification. And it is in this context that mortification and vivification occur. Christ’s humiliation and exaltation become the means and ends of Christian existence (Philippians 2:1-11). In Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, God puts to death our flesh and raises us up to new life.

How then do we live the resurrection life today? Trust, surrender and discipline. We must trust in God’s loving providence as he works in our daily life circumstances to mortify the habits of the flesh and vivify us to new life (Galatians 5:16-25). As we learn to trust, we surrender daily to Christ’s revealed will moment by moment. We keep our minds on the things above, putting off what is earthly and putting on what is heavenly (Colossians 3:1-17). Finally, we discipline our minds, hearts and hands, in virtue-forming habits, as Christ, our physician, slowly purges our festering wounds and heals us with his infinite life.

Christianity isn’t a choice between the cross or resurrection; it is both in Jesus Christ. Mortification and vivification is our resurrection life until all death is killed and eternal life is ours in the light of the Resurrected One.

Lenten Reading: Augustine on the Mercy of God and almsgiving

What did you give up for Lent? There is a temptation to treat Lent and lenten fasts as nothing more than a renewal of our new years resolutions. Maybe Lent, in the secret places of our hearts, is just a way to prepare for summer – lose some weight while looking righteous. According to Augustine, Lent is not so much about adding Spiritual disciplines, the traditional three being almsgiving, fasting and prayer, but intensifying these three in preparation for the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection. This means that almsgiving, fasting, and prayer are suppose to be a normal part of the Christian life.

Why do we discipline our minds and bodies as Christians? To overcome sin and temptation, and to put on the character of Christ. This, however is not something we do in our own strength, but through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. In Sermon 207 Augustine grounds the disciplines of Lent in the person and work of Jesus Christ: “Our Lord, the only begotten Son of God showed mercy to us and fasted and prayed for us” (89). He goes on to show how our acts of mercy, fasting and prayer are all done in and through Jesus Christ. In his section on Almsgiving he offers a classic example of how Augustine thinks about Christ’s person and work for us:

Moreover, what mercy could be greater, so far as we poor wretches are concerned, than that which drew the Creator of the heavens down from heaven, clothed the Maker of the earth with earthly vesture, made him, who in eternity remains equal to His Father, equal to us in mortality, and imposed on the Lord of the universe the form of a servant, so that He, our Bread, might hunger; that He our Fulfillment, might thirst; that He our Strength might be weakened; that He our Health, might be injured; that He our Life might die? And all this [He did] to satisfy our hunger, to moisten our dryness, to soothe our infirmity, to wipe out our iniquity, to enkindle our charity. What greater mercy could there be than that the Creator be created, the Ruler be served, the Redeemer be Sold the Exalted be humbled, and the Reviver be Killed? In regards to almsgiving, we are commanded to give bread to he hungry, but he first have himself over to cruel enemies for us so that He might give Himself as food to us when we were hungry.

Augustine, Sermon 207, 89-90

Augustine grounds almsgiving in Jesus’s own infinite and humble gift of his life. Jesus took on the Form of a Servant to serve and die for us and to give us his life. In grounding the Christian discipline of almsgiving in Christ Jesus’s infinite gift of his life for us, and his continual sustaining of us through the Holy Spirit and the Sacraments, Augustine is grounding our good works in our union with Christ. We give because we’ve received and we are united to Christ who gives us more than we can ask or imagine.

Fasting and prayer are grounded in Christ’s own fasting and prayer. As he humbled himself to death on the cross, so we walk in the way of the cross and put to death the deeds of the flesh (90). Almsgiving and fasting prepares us, according to Augustine to pray to God especially for our enemies (91). In all of this, the mercy of God expressed in the magnificent humble beauty of Christ’s is the means and end of our discipline.

Lenten Reading: Augustine’s Lenten Homilies

St. Augustine of Hippo

Augustine, as a pastor-bishop-theologian, had numerous opportunities to preach and teach. One reoccurring opportunity was the different seasons of the Church Calendar. During Lent I am reading his Lenten Homilies. In Homily 206, Augustine points out that Christians are called to pursue Christ-likeness throughout the year. So why Lent? Augustine argues Lent offers an opportunity for greater humility and service for those who are faithful, and and time of repentance and renewal for those who are nominal (86). This opportunity, is not abstract, but grounded in the person and work of Christ.

What is the theological basis for Lent as a time of repentance and discipline? For Augustine, it is the life of Jesus Christ: “The humility of Christ has taught us to be humble because he yielded to the wicked by his death; the exaltation of Christ lifts us up because by rising again He blazed the way for his devoted followers” (87). During Lent, we celebrate, imitate, and walk in the way of Christ’s humility. During Easter we celebrate, enjoy and walk in his exaltation. This, however, is not just a pattern for Lent and Easter; it is the pattern of the Christian life, dying and rising, mortification and vivification.

So during Lent what do we put to death? How do we walk in the humility of Christ? This is what Augustine exhorts his congreation to: “Let us by our prayers add the wings of piety to our alms-deeds and fasting so that they may fly more readily to God” (87). Augustine goes on to meditate on alms-deeds and fasting. Here, I will just consider his discussion of alms-deeds

Citing Luke 6:37-38 as his text to discuss alms-deeds, Augustine sees in the text two kinds of alms, physical giving and forgiving. He considers the first as he petitions his hearers to give to the poor, not because of the poor, but because of Christ who is with the poor: “For, in the person of the poor, He who experiences no hunger wished himself to be fed. Therefore, let us not spur our God who is needy in His poor, so that we in our need may be filled in him who is rich” (87-88). This poor and rich motif is a common one in Augustine in reference to Christ’s work of redemption, such that Christ who is rich comes and gives us, who are poor, his riches, i.e., salvation. This great exchange of incarnation and redemption is over-laid onto alms-giving. Just as we have received much in salvation, so must we give to those who have little. The motive is gratitude, not duty. Further, Augustine presses his audience to see that whatever we give is nothing compared to what we will receive in heaven. Thus, alms giving is couched in Christ’s death and the eschatological hope of life in God.

The second type of almsgiving is forgiving others. This almsdeed is something anyone, rich or poor, can do. “Even he who has no means of livelihood in this world may do this to insure his living for eternity” (88). For Augustine this alms-deed is implicitly grounded in the infinite gratuity of Christ’s death and resurrection. And he explicitly warns, following the text, that if we do not forgive we will not be forgiven. With a wonderful turn of phrase he says, “Let them [unforgiveness or enmities] be destroyed by the Redeemer, lest they destroy you, the retainer” (88).

Augustine grounds both practices of alms-deeds in the person and work of Christ even as he grounds the whole practice of Lent in the same person and work. Lent, for Augustine, is a time to enter more diligently into the work of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us through the death and resurrection of Christ.

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Augustine of Hippo

“But wait,” says the Lord, “do not jump to conclusions. I have given human beings the power to behave well, but they do so by my enabling, not from any goodness of their own. Of themselves, they are bad. When they act wrongly they are children of men; when well, they are my children.” This is what God brings about. He transforms children of men into the children of God because he made the Son of God become the Son of Man. Look what our participation in him means: we have been promised a share in his divinity, but he would be deceiving us if he had not first become a sharer in our mortality. The Son of God was made a sharer in our mortal nature so that mortals might become sharers in his godhead. Having promised to communicate his goodness to you he first communicated with you in your badness, he who promised you divinity first showed you charity.” Exposition of Psalm 52.6 (V3.36-37).

In this homiletically stirring passage, Augustine speaks to one of his favorite themes: the wonderous exchange; that God the Son became human so that we could become children of God.

A few observations: 

  1. Augustine grounds his understanding of virtuous human action in the person and work of Christ. Because the Son of God has become the Son of man, sharing our nature so that we could share in his Godhead, those who are Children of God grow in charity through and in Jesus Christ. 
  2. The motif of Children of men and Children of God seems to have Augustine’s two City idea in the background. When we become participators in Christ, being transferred to the City of God, we learn through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to live and behave well. We first see Christ’s Charity in his incarnation, death, and resurrection, and then receive the love of God in the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5), and in this humans are made Children of God and are brought into the school of Christ. 
  3. Several Scripture verses are in the background of this passage. Here are the ones I picked up on: 
    • John 1:12-13: 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
    • John 1:14 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 
    • 2 Peter 1:3-4 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
  4. Augustine does not clarify what it means to ‘participate’ or ‘share in his godhead,’ but it seems that it is not some kind of absorption into the divine. Rather, he seems to mean that the power and love of God are communicated in Christ (and implicitly in through the Holy Spirit) so that the Children of God can be just that, Children of God. To be a child is to be other than the parent. Christian life and thus Christian behavior and belief are grounded in Christ, and united to Christ, but not absorbed into Christ We are children of God united to Jesus Christ as his body. To use one of Augustine’s favorite themes: Totus Christus (the Whole Christ). I will conclude with an example of this from the Exposition of the Psalms: 

“Christ is both head and body, we must not think ourselves alien to Christ since we are his members. Nor must we think of ourselves separate from him, because they will be two in one flesh. This is a great mystery, says the apostle, but I am referring to Christ and the church (Ephesians. 5:31-32). Since then, the whole Christ Consists of head and body we must understand that we too are included in David… Christ’s members must have this understanding, and Christ must understand in the persons of his members, and the members of Christ must understand in Christ, because the head and members form one Christ. The head was in heaven when he insistently asked, Why are you persecuting me (Acts 9:4). Through Hope, we are with him in heaven, and through Charity, he is with us on earth.” (3.54).

Augustine as Contemplative Apostolic Theologian

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In a previous blog post, I discussed John Webster’s understanding of the Theologian as both contemplative and apostolic. At the end of that post, I referenced St. Augustine of Hippo as an excellent example of this way of being a theologian.  In this post, I’m presenting Augustine’s struggle with the tension between Contemplation and apostolic work, and the way he lived in the tension.

By way of reminder This is how John Webster defines the task of theology as Contemplative and apostolic:

…theology is both contemplative and apostolic. Contemplative first, because whatever it may offer to the church derives from sustained and disciplined and unselfish attention to divine revelation in its limitless depths and scope; everything depends upon contemplative absorption in God and the gospel of peace. Apostolic second and by derivation, because the rule of charity in the church requires that gifts by communicated, not hoarded, such that theology is part of the flow of love…

How does Augustine exemplify this as a pastor-theologian? First, we must acknowledge that Augustine’s Journey into Christianity was one where he sought to be united with God and contemplate him in an intensely intimate and personal way.

In Confessions, Augustine narrates his conversion experience in light of two moments of contemplation. First, when he was a practicing platonist, he attempted to ascend to God by contemplating created reality to gain access to the divine, but God beat him back (Book VII.16). It was not until he took up and read Scripture, giving his life to God in Christ, meeting the mediator between God and man that he was able to contemplate the true God of the universe in Jesus Christ (see Book XI.24-25). This was only the beginning of Augustine’s contemplation of God. Most of his writing is a rigorous and Holy Spirit infused apprehension of the Triune God, as he consistently sought to find rest in God (Book 1.1). Perhaps this famous quote can adequately express God’s deep passion for Augustine that led him to desire to spend all his time with God, contemplating him and his works:

Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new,/late have i loved you!/ Lo, you were within,/but I outside, seeking there for you,/ and upon the shapely things you have made i rushed headlong,/I misshapen./ You were within me, but I was not with you./Tehy held me back far from you,/ those things which would have no being/ were they not in you. You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;/ you flared, blazed banished my blindness;/ you lavished your fragrance, i gasped, and now I pant for you;/ I tasted you, and I hunger and thirst;/ you touched me, and I burn for your peace. (Book X.38).

Augustine’s call to serve in the church prevented him from joining a monastic community, which would have allowed him to continue in contemplation and prayer. This call forced him to deal with and harmonize two proper Christian desires; a single-mindedness towards God and love of neighbors (“Contemplation and Action,” Augustine through the Ages, 233).  N. Joseph Torchia, O.P., in his article “Contemplation and Action” notes how apostolic service aids contemplation. Far from viewing contemplation and apostolic action as mutually exclusive:

He stressed their relationship and interaction. In this regard, he considered action the necessary means to contemplation, both now and in the life to come. As he affirms we find Christ on earth in the poor in our midst, and likewise, we secure a place in heaven by performing charitable works on their behalf. Service to those in need, then, is nothing less than a means to the contemplation of the love of God. (“Contemplation and Action,” 233).

Even so, Augustine struggled with the desire to spend time in God’s presence as he ministered to the Church as the bishop pastor, social mediator, theologian, and teacher. In the end, Augustine concluded:

Although contemplation is superior to action, we must accept an apostolate when the church requires our talents; yet even in the midst of active endeavors, we should continue to take delight in contemplation (Contemplation and Action, 233).

This idea that contemplation is superior is grounded in the fact that it is what we were created for, to behold the face of God. However, we must accept the vocations that we are given, for Augustine it was to be a Bishop out of love for others, while simultaneously remaining in a consistent pattern of practicing the presence of God and seeking his face.

For Augustine, the Christian’s model for this way of life, and the source of strength to live as a contemplative in action is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ who is the eternal word of God the Father, the exact imprint and likeness of the Father, came from the infinite plentitude of the divine life, to save humanity from sin and death, and reveal  God to them. Because The Son became human and was the mediator between God and man, humanity can now contemplate God because God has saved humanity from sin (see Confessions, Book X.67-68, and The Trinity, Book XIII). Taking up the apostolic task, for Augustine and any theologian, is not a distraction from contemplation, but an imitation and participation in the eternal love of God for the world exemplified in Jesus Christ. As we contemplate God in our studies and work, we are called out to share our labor with the church and the world. This is precisely what Webster was getting at when he said that the Apostolic is derivative of the contemplative and is motivated by charity.

Augustine poured out his life for the church, and this was empowered by first the rigorous contemplation of the Triune God and second by participating in the life of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. This is the pattern of service in the church, this is the pattern for Pastor-Theologians.

While Augustine’s way of life is a good example for Pastor-Theologians, I want to conclude by saying that this pattern of contemplation-grounding-action is the pattern for all Christians in all vocations. We must wholeheartedly seek the triune God, actively live in his presence and do all that we do out of the love that God has for us and the love that God has for others. We do this because God first sought us in Jesus Christ and has filled every Christian with the Holy Spirit. While not all of us are called to be Theologians for the Church, every Christian is called to contemplate God in Scripture, worship, and prayer, and share the love of God that is poured into our hearts by the Spirit in our families, lives, and work.

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: John Owen on The Love of the Father

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Recently I’ve been broadening my theological horizons by reading John Owen’s book Communion with the Triune God. In my reading, I found several theological significant quotes on the Love of God the Father and the Christological location of our experience of his love. In this post, my goal is to explain Owen’s understanding of the Love of the Father, how Christians experience the love of the Father in Jesus Christ, and I will see to show how four Trinitarian and one Soteriological principle are at work in Owen to explain these realities.  I will conclude on a personal note describing how these quotes helped me see that the Father eternally loves me and that the Son’s reconciling work was not about convincing God the Father to love me but to make a place for me to experience the Father’s love in the Son.

In this first quote, Owen speaks in the voice of Christ:

“Says our Savior: Take no care of that, nay, impose not that upon me, of procuring the Father’s love for you; but know that this is his peculiar respect towards you, and which you are in him: ‘He himself loves you.” It is true, indeed (and as I told you), that I will pray the Father to send you the Spirit, the Comforter, and with him all the gracious fruits of his love; but yet in the point of love itself, free love, eternal love, there is no need of any intercession for that: for eminently the Father himself loves you. Resolve of that, that you may hold communion with him in it, and be no more troubled about it. Yea, as your great trouble is about the Father’s love, so you can no way more trouble or burden him, than by your unkindness in not believing of it.” (109).

Owen holds that divine love is specially appropriated to the Father. This is our first principle of Trinitarian theology. Appropriation is the theological practice of identifying specific characteristics of the divine essence with a particular person because of the revelation of Scripture and the economy of salvation. To appropriate love to the Father in a particular way does not mean that the Son and Spirit are not also Love as the Father is Love. The second trinitarian principle that helps make sense of appropriation, at work here is that when each person is at work, all three are involved. This is called inseparable operations.  Thus, for the Father to love us especially means that the SOn and Spirit also love us in his love. In this quote, Owen argues that Jesus’s intercessions and the work of the Spirit do not secure the love of the Father, because he loved us freely before the creation of the world. Why, does he need to emphasize this, in the words of Jesus no less? The next quote makes it clear why this is a significant concern:

Christians walk oftentimes with exceedingly troubled hearts, concerning the thoughts of the Father towards them. They are persuaded of the Lord Christ and his good will; the difficulty lies in what is there acceptance with the Father – what is his heart toward them? Now, this ought to be so far away, that his love ought to be looked on as the fountain from whence all other sweetness flows. Thus the apostle sets it out: ‘after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared’ (Titus 3:4). It is of the Father of whom he speaks; for he tells us that ‘he makes out unto us’ or ‘sheds that love upon us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Savior” (v. 6) (110-111).

Two things can be noted in this quote: First, Owen’s pastoral-theological interest is to make sure that the Christian knows that God the Father does indeed love them and is not persuaded to love them by Jesus Christ. The total love of the Father is often mitigated in the popular imagination; Owen combats this by arguing that the Father is the fountain of love from which “all other sweetness flows.” The Father is love without qualification. This is of utmost importance for Owen. In another quote, Owen explains that  one of the Evil One’s greatest desires is to deceive people about the Father’s love:

“Flesh and blood is apt to have very hard thoughts of him, to think he is always angry, yea, implacable; that it is not for poor creatures to draw nigh to him… Now, there is not anything more grievous to the Lord nor more subservient to the design of Satan upon the soul than such thoughts as these. Satan claps his hands (if I may so say) when he can take up the soul with such thoughts of God: he has enough – all that he does desire… Assure yourself, then, there is nothing more acceptable unto the Father than for us to keep up our hearts unto him as the eternal fountain of all that rich grace which flows out of sinners in the blood of Jesus. (127).

This quote shows us that disbelief in the Father’s love, the human fear of God the Father is nothing less than a deception from the Evil one.

Second, the image of the Father as the fountain of love, in the last two quotes, brings his readers to the Christological location of the experience of communion with the Father. “The Father communicates no issue of his love unto us but through Jesus Christ; and we make no return of love unto him but through Jesus Christ.” (117). The Father is the fountain of love, and the Son is the stream where Christians both experience the Father’s love and are taken back to the source of the Son: The Father. This is made clear in the next quote:

Though all our refreshment actually lies in the streams, yet by them we are led up into the fountain. Jesus Christ, in respect of the love of the Father, us but the beam, the stream; wherein though actually all our light, our refreshment lies, yet by him we are led to the fountain, the sun of eternal love itself. (112).

We’ve seen that the Father loves us eternally, and his love is not dependent on the Son’s reconciling work. However, the experience of the Father’s love, the fountain of eternal love, can only be had in the stream of the Son, who the Father eternally generates as his equal Son. Here two principles of Trinitarian theology, in addition to appropriation and inseparable operations, and one principle of salvation are put to work in order for our communion with the Father to be realized.

Trinitarian principle 3: The Father and Son are one Essence. If the Son is not of the same essence as the Father and from him, we can have no communion with the Father or the Son. This is the principle of homoousion – that God the Father and Son have the same essence (John 1:1-2 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God).

Trinitarian Principle 4: The Son is eternally from the Father, which means he is distinct and equal to the Father. Owen uses the metaphor of a fountain and stream to draw us into the reality that it is in the Son that we experience and go to the fountain of the Father. This image illustrates that the Son and the Father are distinct and that the Son is from the Father. However, it fails to adequately represent that the Son is equal to the Father in essence. The Church confesses that the Son is from the Father in all equality, i.e., without subordination (See John 5:19-26). This is important for our understanding of Owen because if the Son is not the same essence and the same love as the Father – even as he is distinct and from the Father – then we are not really able to experience the love of the Father in Jesus Christ. 

This leads us to the Soteriological principle: the Son is the way and the only way to the Father (John 14:6). Thus, Scripture simultaneously testifies that the Father loves us from eternity, and our ability to experience and commune with the Father is by being in Jesus Christ. 

All of this is to say, that for me, the struggle to experience the love of the Father has often been tied up in misunderstanding 1) the eternal love of the Father, apart from Christ’s reconciling work, and 2) the ontological location of my participation in the Father’s love. The Father eternally and freely loves me, and that is why he made it possible for me to experience delight, and commune with him in his Son through the reconciling work of his Death and resurrection. Thus, Christ’s death and resurrection did not secure the Father’s love. Instead, it guarantees my ability to enjoy the love that the Father had for me from eternity.

Because Christians are in Christ, in the stream that takes us to the fountain of the eternal love of the Father they can  experience and delight in the love of the Father:

Put, then this to the venture: exercise your thoughts upon this very thing, the eternal, free, and fruitful love of the Father, and see if your hearts be not wrought upon to delight in him. I dare boldly say: believers will find it as thriving a course as every they pitched on in their lives. Sit down a little at the fountain, and you will quickly have a further discovery of the sweetness of the streams. You who have run from him, will not be able, after a while to keep at a distance for a moment.” (127-128).

Quotes from the Fathers and Mothers of the Christian Faith: Richard Hooker on Christ our Righteousness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Corinthians 1:30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

In church, we can through around a lot of big words. And sometimes how they relate to Jesus and our life can be confusing. I find it easy to forget how justification, sanctification, and glorification relate to one another, to my life, and especially to Jesus Christ. In my studies, I’ve found that seeing how all of these relate to being united to Christ helps align the words to the reality of salvation.

Richard Hooker, in his sermon, A Learned Discourse on Justification, offers a helpful summary of how justification, sanctification, and glorification all relate to Christ and our union to him. Hooker argues that all of humanity stands before God as unrighteous and enslaved sinners. But Christ, in his death and resurrection is made the “righteousness of men.” Following Paul in Romans 5, Hooker argues that just as all of humanity were captive in death because of Adam, so all were made righteous in Christ. In Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension, he saved humanity from sin through his atoning and substitutionary death on the cross. 

In other words, those who are in Christ are united to his work of salvation, are made right with God and humanity. Christ’s being our righteousness – a reality that comes from outside of unrighteous humanity, i.e., we do not earn nor do we deserve it; it is a total gift. It is one work of salvation in the one person of Christ, but it is distinguishable in three different ways.

“There is a glorifying righteousness of men in the World to come: and there is a justifying and a sanctifying righteousness here. The righteousness, wherewith we shall be clothed in the Lord to come is both perfect and inherent. That whereby we are justified is perfect, but not inherent. That whereby we are sanctified is inherent, but not perfect.” (Sermon II, sec. 3).

Hooker’s language is Old English and can be a little confusing, so let me parse out a bit what he is saying.

First, the glorifying, justifying, and sanctifying righteousness is Jesus Christ’s life and work applied to us. There are not three different righteousness, but one right person, Jesus Christ. Imagine one beam of light refracting out of a prism. Jesus is the righteous one who works his righteousness for humanity in three distinct but united ways.

The first refracted beam is glorifying righteousness. Hooker begins with glorifying righteousness to establish the end goal of human salvation:  communion with the triune God perfectly and inherently. Perfectly meaning that we are as we were created to be, and inherently, it is an internal condition – we are made entirely holy inside and out. This is the goal end to which God created and redeemed us to draw us into union with God in Christ. But we do not yet have this righteousness.

The second bean is the justifying righteousness. In the death of Christ, we are justified by his perfect righteousness,  but it is outside of us.  We are declared sinless and united to Christ’s death. It is important that the death of Christ justifies us from the outside and is perfect because it establishes the security and reality of salvation. We are made right with God because of Christ’s perfect obedient righteousness, and it has nothing to do with our ability to be right with God. Christ the righteous one dies for the unrighteous. The perfect righteousness of Christ becomes ours as a gift without works. The reality of justification is sometimes scoffed at as a mere judicial fiction. It is not fictitious because it is a perfect gift given and established in the infinite Triune life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Nothing can change the justifying work of Christ, it is done and accomplished it is perfect, and it is given to those who are united to Christ in the Holy Spirit. Which brings us to the third beam of refracted light.

Jesus’s righteousness, his life, death, and resurrection, is infused into us through the Holy Spirit, making his righteousness ours internally but not perfectly. This is the processes of sanctification. Jesus is our righteous and gives us his Holy Spirit who infuses us with Christ’s virtues, habits, and life. It is not perfect, that comes in glorification, but it is a real infusion and process of growth and maturing. This righteousness is no less a gift, while at the same time it is internal and real because it is the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in us, uniting us to Christ, who gives us his eternal life and love with the Father.

In his magnum opus, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Hooker puts what we’ve been saying differently.

“Thus we participate Christ partly by imputation, as when those things which he did and suffered for us are impulsed unto us for righteousness; partly by habitual and real infusion, as when grace is inwardly bestowed while we are on earth, and afterwards more fully both our souls and bodies made like unto his in glory. The first thing of his so infused into our hearts in this life is the Spirit of Christ…” V.56.11.

Here we see that we are perfectly justified by the imputation of Christ’s work on the Cross for us, and sanctified internally by the infusion of grace in our lives through the Holy Spirit which eventually leads us to be glorified perfectly and inherently.

In the end, what Richard Hooker helps us see is that Jesus Christ is our righteousness at all points in the Triune God’s economy of Salvation. When we struggle to believe we are loved, known and forgiven, Christ our justifying savior is there to tell us that he has completely saved us. When we struggle with Sin and the desire to know and love God Christ our sanctifying savior is with us and in us through the Holy Spirit drawing us further up and further in. When we look to the future, Jesus our glory is there calling us home and cheering us on to the full communion that awaits us in the new heavens and new earth. This is the light of the Christian, and because it is all Jesus Christ, we have nothing to boast about, and that is good for us because Christ is our Righteousness.

This compact summary of Christ as our Righteousness helps me think clearly and worship more faithfully the fantastic and beautiful Triune God. I hope it blesses you and leads you to worship God the Father, Son, and Spirit in heart, mind, and action.

 

John Calvin on Union with Christ

 
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As I continue to research the doctrine of Union with Christ and other topics, I want to post significant or insightful quotes and offer some reflection on them.

Have you ever struggled with the feeling that all that stuff that Jesus did in his life is great, and sometimes you can sense that it means something to you, but it feels kind of cold and distance? Growing up in the Church I thought that a lot. Jesus died for me, 2000 years ago, but it didn’t get into my inner life, it didn’t sink down into my mind and heart and bring real change. So I was surprised when I found that this is actually a real problem and one that the doctrine of Union with Christ, rooted in the Inseparable and joyous life of the Triune God answers. Calvin sums it up the problem and solution splendidly in the following quote.

After presenting his doctrine of the knowledge of God, creation, and redemption in Books 1-2 of Institutes of Christian Religion, Calvin turned to the Christian life in Book 3. This is how he opens this book:

“First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separate from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore to share with us what he has received from the Father he had to become ours and to dwell within us. For this reason, he is called “our head” [Eph 4:15], and ‘the first-born among many brethren” [Rom 8:29]. We also, in turn, are said to be ‘engrafted into him” [Rom 11:17] and to ‘put on Christ [Gal 3:27]; for as I have said, all that he possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with him. It is true that we obtain this by faith. Yes since we see that not all indiscriminately embrace that communion with Christ which is offered through the gospel, reason itself teaches us to climb higher and to examine into the secret energy of the Spirit, by which we come to enjoy Christ and all his benefits.” The Institutes of Christian Religion III.1.1.

This is a crucial passage on union with Christ in Calvin’s writing, and we can observe several essential things about union with Christ in it.

First, there is a Trinitarian pattern to Union with Christ. To receive the love of the Father and the salvation the Son achieved on humanity’s behalf, we must be united to Jesus Christ. For this to happen, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son, must dwell in us. Salvation is accomplished in Christ, and applied to the Christian, in faith, through the Holy Spirit.

Second, Union with Christ puts us back on the right track towards humanity’s end goal. The end goal of union with Christ is humanity’s incorporation into fellowship and communion with the Triune God; so that we can be friends with God as we were created to be.

Third, note that salvation is only attainable in union with Christ. There are only two positions humanity can have in relation to Christ; outside, where there is no salvation, and inside Christ through the Holy Spirit, where salvation, life, and all goodness is.

Fourth, it is through the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity that we enjoy Christ and his benefits. The Holy Spirit is how Jesus Christ dwells in us and we in him. No Holy Spirit, no Union with Christ. In my growing up imagination, this was the link that was missing. I needed to see that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, dwells in me and brings me into communion with The whole Trinity. The Holy Spirit applies the work of Christ in my life, personally.

Finally, the benefits that the Spirit applies – often summed up with words like justification, sanctification – are all found in personal union with Christ. That is not to say that justification and sanctification are the same things, rather, these are the double grace of union with Christ. We are declared in right standing with God because we have died with Christ and risen with him – passing through the judgment of our sin in Jesus – and we are continually being made new in the image of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit – who gives us the character, virtue, and life of the perfect human: Jesus Christ.

Union with Christ is the heart of the Christian life, it is how we are made right with God, brought into communion with God, and renewed in his image.

*Forgive the irony of using an Icon of Christ while quoting John Calvin. I appreciate a lot of his theology, but I disagree with his rejection of Icons, though I respect his concern about Idolatry.