Tag Archives: Spirit

“The Future of Christianity” by Alister E. McGrath

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What a good book! On April 8th while attending The North Shore Writers’ Festival luncheon circle with authors, I noticed a display of books near the door to the room. It was the week before Easter and there was an eclectic display of Christian books on various topics. I signed out “The Future of Christianity” by Alister E. McGrath.

I knew of the trusted Prof. McGrath from Oxford University through my years of part-time study at Regent College, UBC. A couple of weeks later as I started reading the book I was hooked by his bringing together of historical and political facts as precursor to the current unsettled condition of the Western church. My curiosity was piqued to read his take on the ways the church is changing and how to position myself to accept reasonable adjustments in the way we do church going into the future.

This is not a review or a summary. Upfront I want to say, I cannot do this book justice, but will only highlight a few things for readers to be encouraged in the way forward. As St. Benedict said, we are always beginners. There is much to know. This is the main thing I learned at seminary. The Gospel remains the same but the Christian in the world changes over time and culture.

So one thing is for sure, in order to understand the way forward, we need to know where we have come from and where we are right now. Dr. McGrath is particularly effective in pulling together the big picture of the church in culture and defining the essence of where the church is now across the globe. The following is a remnant of what can be feasted on in this book written for scholars and not.

There is much history of how things with Christianity in all its forms got the way it is today. One thing I noted was of McGrath’s explanation of a major factor affecting the church during WWII was in Hitler presenting his ideas to the church as a renewing of German culture. Sadly, and a warning for us, is that eventually the church became so much like the culture that it could not critique it with the noted exceptions of writers Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

After the shock of the wars, there was a spiritual vacuum, leading to the ‘Death of God’ movement in the 1960’s and other factors. Many thought that Christianity would be no more: “This surge of enthusiasm often led to the suspension of any critical faculties… The sweeping aside of traditional morality was seen as purely liberating at the time. It was fun to be able to sleep with whoever you liked and do whatever you pleased. It all seemed so innocent. The darker side of things was there to be seen… the truth could not be suppressed forever… decriminalization of paedophilia.” One can easily fill in the blanks of the long ranging effects of this movement in Paris. A long litany of historical events, large and small, illustrates the results of the: “rupture of the centuries-long cycle of intergenerational transmission of the Christian faith.”

Even some uncritical theologians abandoned the faith and former Christians “thinking Christianity had nothing to offer in relation to the supernatural of mysterious” were attracted to New Age practices. Add to this the fact that the “Enlightenment lost any remaining credibility” with its “demand that everything should be neatly ordered, rational, and logical” and you have the perfect storm that led to Postmodernism.

Christianity has now been commodified and marketed as a spiritual product: “A successful church was now seen as a church that grew” so that “Western churches outreach” was seen as the “McDonaldization of Christianity.” “Efficiency, calculability, predictability and control” now informed the model. Yet there remains: “a longing for spiritual authenticity.”

In my oversimplified and truncated picture of events there is seen the result that Christianity remains the largest religion in the world. As it cooled in North America and Europe, faith has spread like wildfire in Asia, Africa, and Latin America – so much so that they send missionaries now to re-invigorate personal faith in the West. It is a grand story and McGrath tells it well. Much of his forth-telling of possible future trends is unfolding now – a full 15 years after his book was written. Of note are his descriptions of how each strand of Christianity can continue to right itself to face a drastically changing world with the unchanging Gospel told and lived in both new and ancient ways.

There is a move toward forming Christ-centred community churches that care for the people around them over churches that do not attract by their denominational differences and doctrinal squabbles. The Bible is paraphrased informally to include the unchurched. McGrath relays the thought that rather than more academic theologians, what the world needs now, is a movement of amateur theologians: novelists like C.S. Lewis and Dorothy L. Sayers etc. He says that some of the American megachurches are becoming like the “medieval monasteries plant[ing] smaller monasteries in outlying regions, resourced by the mother house until they were deemed strong enough to be self-sufficient.” He states: “The future of Christianity will be deeply shaped by this major new trend.”

Enough said. Actually, God is very much alive. There is the necessity though that churches get with the program that God has. What is the Spirit saying to confused churches in this so-called post-Christian cultural mash-up? Jesus came that we might have abundant life. He also turned culture upside down – especially for and by God’s people. Isn’t confusion one of the precursors of change?

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The Spiritual Discipline of Letting Go

A lecture on ‘letting go’ had me riveted to the hard pew on Sunday morning. As my eyes glanced across the familiar tangerine and teal stained glass windows, my thoughts reviewed my inner life.   Purging has been a lifelong practice for me but has never caught up with my ability to acquire, to accumulate, to pile up possessions or offenses. Yet again I realize I need to weed out the garden of my heart. Some dandelions that seemed useful perhaps for tea drinking have actually become entrenched in my mossy green lawn. Their roots have strangled my grass and some of my reasoning about words and deeds I have heard and observed.

Some of my formative years were spent in my grandmother’s house in Scotland. Every spring and autumn what we called ‘McGuinty’s closet’ would get some spring-cleaning attention. This walk-in closet held layers of belongings decades old. Only the things close to the door were gone through and given away. These were mostly children’s clothes too small for the new season.

Last Sunday’s guest talk was no mere spring-cleaning or polishing up of what was there near the door of our hearts and minds. It was like our moving day to me. Long held possessions of hurts, and ways of doing things a certain way, were to be let go of or group life would fail. That was the message, yes.

My mind goes today to a large outdoor sculpture that used to be in Vancouver called “Device for Rooting out Evil.” It was a hut-sized 3D silver church sitting upside down on the landscaped lawn. The steeple had been dug into the ground. The first time I saw it I felt angry, was this an insult, I thought. As the work penetrated my thinking, as all good art will, layers of understanding emerged in my mind. I wondered, is this rooting out of evil, to be of the church by the church, can it be.

http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/calgary/Ramsay+famous+upside+down+church+uprooted+after+lease+expires/9382601/story.html

Let it begin with me, yes. I carry my hurts rattling along like tin cans on festive streamers attached to a wedding car. But this is not happy. Yes, I have a muffler silencing them, as any good Christian would, but what if I were to detach from them and drive along free, unencumbered to my future. Unencumbered, is this the freedom of forgiveness that the cross symbolizes, I muse.  I wonder if this is part of the power of spiritual disciplines: to hold sacred space for inner movements toward God.

I will be free of that which so easily besets me. I take out my steeple and dig it out, this memory of unintentional hurts. So, what if someone said this or did that. I choose to be over it by the power of the Spirit.

Book of Philippians

 I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally…

I feel spring-cleaned and ready for Easter. The intriguing thing for me, as one who holds a graduate degree in the art of spiritual formation, is that the church changes will come now by way of ‘new’ (but ancient) spiritual practices and disciplines (perhaps mingled with art practices) that have become my life’s work. God’s ways are of course higher than mine. I really love spring, especially the outrageous pinkness of spring in Vancouver’s Cherry Blossom Festival.

http://www.vcbf.ca/

Book of Isaiah

Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.

 

 

The Tree That I am

 

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 “Dundas Street West, Toronto” DS 2016

An urban prayer walk – do not know what the tree is but I recognize the shape as my own – tall, strong, beautifully complex yet stripped down. However, this is me in winter. Soon leaves will show their buds of green. My sap runs thick and healthful even in the cold. Like maple syrup it will run for others to drink in the spring. People will even hammer jagged spouts in me to get what is in me out. They catch my lifeblood in buckets. I hope it will do them some good.

Pink flowers, tiny, star-shaped and fragrant pop open one day. I am more delighted by this than any other observer who looks up. They live for a while then die. I remember this blooming last year. I thought it would be forever this hot pink pulchritude. Petals on the streets were my outpouring of love. The streets looked paved in pink for a short few weeks. Then it all went brown. The death of petals is most sad – such a cruel contrast of life and death.

Soon, however, I noticed the leaves growing so large and multi-toned stretching out to catch the blue sky sun. Glory is what comes to me. This glory is even after the blooming is over. Is this the loveliness of middle age?

Then the heat of such growth gives way to the slowing coolness of autumn. The leaves large, veiny become scarlet red, burgundy, orange, burnt umber and lime to evoke awe. They show their true colours then become crispy and die.

I will not fear this death, as I know from past experience that this is when my roots go down far and wide seeking the moisture that keeps me alive although I look dead. This dormancy is my daily experience for now. It feels cold, dead, sparse – lonely.

This waiting will soon pass, I know. Birds of red, blue and yellow will be back to rest, feed and sing in my branches. I will feed some and provide shade for others and impress them in their rest with my splendor. This sap, this Spirit, will raise and beautify me again.

Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.

Book of Daniel

Spirit of the Triune God

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 “Shamrock” Photoconceptual art 2014, DS

The three-leafed shamrock is the symbol of the Trinity for Celts.  In Celtic Christianity, both art and spirituality were used seamlessly as they went about their work.  One finds that the people made a point of acknowledging visual reminders of God in their daily lives.  As I enjoy this new shamrock plant I too am reminded to contemplate God daily, especially in remembrance of St. Patrick.  These are my thoughts today:

The Spirit’s main task is to bring salvation to sinful humankind (Grenz, 357).  He has been at work as one of the three persons of the one God since before time began.  He brooded over the waters in Genesis 1 in his role as Creator along with the Father and the Son.

There are numerous proofs of his deity in the Old Testament but it is not quite as clear how he is a full person as the Father and the Son are.  We trust that he is because of his work in the creating and sustaining the world as being that of God.  He is both similar to and different from the Son (Ibid, 371).

He is the relationship of the love between the Father and the Son.  He is the power behind Jesus’ ministry as shown at his birth, the beginning of his ministry and his resurrection.  When Jesus went back to heaven he left the Spirit to remind believers of what Jesus had taught them.  He filled the disciples with his power at Pentecost to bring about the new community of God on earth.  By his love and power he sustains them as they become witnesses for Jesus and build the kingdom of God.  The Holy Spirit brings about the new creation of the earth and heaven (Ibid, 377).  In the meantime he gives the ones who live for Christ a foretaste of things to come when he establishes God’s full rule in the world.  He is the One responsible for “engendering love for God” (Wilken, 287) and drawing humankind to God to find true happiness (Ibid, 273).

Theology for the Community of God, Stanley J. Grenz

The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, Robert Louis Wilken