August 18, 2019

Guest Post: John Armstrong asks, “How Otherworldly Should I Be?”

Note from Chaplain Mike:
Recently, we had a series of posts on the subject of Spiritual Formation. One point I made in those articles is that “the Christian life” (so-called) is not some life that is lived on a different plane, but it is this life, this ordinary, human life that every person born into this world must live. It is this life, lived Christianly—that is, in, with, and by Jesus Christ.

My friend John H. Armstrong wrote a fine piece on his blog the other day that reinforces this message and says what I was trying to communicate very well. He graciously agreed to share it with our Internet Monk community. John is the author/editor of twelve books, of which his newest is: Your Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church, which we reviewed earlier this year.

How Otherworldly Should I Be?
• By John H. Armstrong

It seems to me that much of the emphasis of evangelicals on piety and Christian living is rooted in a false dichotomy, or dualism. Spirituality, at least the way I learned about it, meant to withdraw from the world. And devotional life, or quiet time as we call it, means to get my battery charged so I can function in the world without being overwhelmed by it. The image is much like that of a modern battery-powered car. You plug it in overnight and then it runs for so many miles during the day. If you want to go the distance you need to charge the batteries all the more, thus spend more time away from the world. There is almost an equation here: the more time you spend alone the further your car runs in the real world. I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard the quote from Luther that he had a busy day before him so he would spend “three hours in prayer” that morning. Honestly, that has created more than a fair share of guilt for me for a long time.

I have a quiet place where I pray. I even have a place to kneel and reminders to help me. I use books, written prayers, my Bible, etc. But I still find I run down. Does this mean I need more time charging the battery in my car?

Behind this view is the idea that “true” Christian living consists of so-called “spiritual moments.” The busyness of real life is anti-spiritual and drains me. Time alone charges me. This means that time with people, working in the world, etc. is a threat to my spiritual well-being.

Lesslie Newbigin called this view the “Pilgrim’s Progress Model.” The emphasis, as many of you know from Bunyan’s classic, is on a decisive break with the world and a flight away from the “wicked city.”

In this model to be saved means to be saved from this world; spirituality means other-worldliness. But there are two major problems here and these problems are missed by modern evangelicals very badly. It is docetic to its core. It is rooted in the idea that matter is evil and spirit is essentially good. It is also Monophysite since the Christ of this form of spirituality has only one nature, the divine. Both of these heretical impulses have far ranging impact on modern evangelical versions of spiritual growth and life. Lesslie Newbigin suggests that this model needs to be supplemented by the “Jonah Model” of spirituality. In this model fleeing from the city is not the emphasis but rather we are “sent” to the city by a God whose heart is for the city and all its turmoil. We are not, in other words, called to escape the world but to live in it and to love it.

David J. Bosch (1929-1992, photo with his wife at left) is correct when he concludes, “It is not a case of one model supplementing the other, for the two are absolutely indivisible. The involvement in this world should lead to a deepening of our relationship with and dependence on God, and the deepening of this relationship should lead to increasing involvement in the world” (A Spirituality of the Road, 13). Bosch suggested that Mother Teresa was a shining example of the indivisibility of these two models. By touching the poorest of the poor she was touching Christ and his body. Pouring out our love in our own context in the world is a prayer. We never stop doing one thing in order to do the other. Says Bosch, “Spirituality is all-pervading” (14).

Comments

  1. Good word. Reminds me of Peterson’s often used phrase, “earthy spirituality”. But I think John adds a bit more intentionality toward the missional impulse.

  2. Thank goodness this was not a promotion of any twisted kind of health-wealth theology.

    Btw, I agree that our spirituality is lived out on earth. We love God and our neighbors within the context of our creatureliness.

    • Why in the world would you ever imagine you would get “a promotion of any twisted kind of health-wealth theology” on Internet Monk, Mark?

      • With all due respect Mike, with you being the lead poster on iMonk anything is possible.

        • SearchingAnglican says

          You have got to be kidding me. Wow.

        • Wow, Mark. I think maybe you’ve hit a new low. Blunt insults don’t deserve a response, so I will just let your comment stand as a witness against your self-righteous, judgmental attitude.

          • I think Mark could benefit from reading the “Unspoken Sermons” of George MacDonald, but he needs to keep an open heart while reading those if he is to benefit. I hope you can do that, Mark. There are people reaching out to you here. We are NOT the enemy! Chaplain Mike is helping MANY of us here as we walk with Jesus in this life. I hope that you can do the same. Also, remember…if you think that someone is being a heretic, that is NOT the same as them being non-Christian. It just means that they are Christians with some ideas that are not considered “orthodox” Christian beliefs. BUT…Chaplain Mike is VERY orthodox in his beliefs. Very much so.

  3. I just had this same conversation (article content) today with someone I mentor….I love what he has to say!

  4. A very essential topic, for which, I’ve devoted my entire blog over the past three years. Glad to see it discussed here.

  5. We certainly are all derelict when it comes to keeping our mind on Heavenly things.

    3 hours in prayer (Luther) ?

    Quite often my mind starts to wander after three minutes.

  6. Having been a monk I am still being haunted by this “docetic and monophysite” spirituality… I guess it also explains why evangelical musings keep interesting me lol!

  7. Ironically, I find that the more I meditate on Heaven and exactly what God’s redemptive work means in this world, the more I find myself loving this world and the people in it.

    • CJ, I love what you have written here. I think that is just how it should work.

      Yesterday, I was reading something online written by George MacDonald, whose writings influenced so many writers including C.S. Lewis who considered him a mentor. Check out one of MacDonald’s “Unspoken Sermons” titled “Light” at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/macdonald/unspoken3.ix.htmlhttp://www.ccel.org/ccel/macdonald/unspoken3.ix.html What he writes there is so beautiful. There are many of his writings available online. I think i have to spend more time in the near future reading more of him. I think if we understood God’s redemptive work in the way that MacDonald understood it, the world could be a better place.

      Here are a few quotations from that “Light” sermon:

      “All fear of the light, all dread lest there should be something dangerous in it, comes of the darkness still in those of us who do not love the truth with all our hearts; it will vanish as we are more and more interpenetrated with the light.”

      “of all evils, to misinterpret what God does, and then say the thing as interpreted must be right because God does it, is of the devil. Do not try to believe anything that affects thee as darkness.”

      “It may sound paradoxical, but no man is condemned for anything he has done; he is condemned for continuing to do wrong. He is condemned for not coming out of the darkness, for not coming to the light, the living God, who sent the light, his son, into the world to guide him home.”

  8. Mark,

    I don’t know if you read my response to you on 10/13, if not, please do. I must say, I truly feel sorry for you Mark, for the position you have chosen to adamantly abide in. From what I see you are not as free interiorly as you may believe yourself to be. Open the eyes of your heart and mind to the transforming love of Jesus. He may turn your world upside down but that’s because he wants your security to be IN Him, not in the things you believe about Him and about Christianity and about other Christians.

  9. Above post was suppose to be after Marks last post – don’t know what happened – sorry

  10. ” David J. Bosch (1929-1992, photo with his wife at left) is correct when he concludes, “It is not a case of one model supplementing the other, for the two are absolutely indivisible. The involvement in this world should lead to a deepening of our relationship with and dependence on God, and the deepening of this relationship should lead to increasing involvement in the world” (A Spirituality of the Road, 13). Bosch suggested that Mother Teresa was a shining example of the indivisibility of these two models. By touching the poorest of the poor she was touching Christ and his body. Pouring out our love in our own context in the world is a prayer.”

    This was a lesson I learned precisely from time spent living, praying and working with her sisters. Their prayer and work, flowing into and fro each other throughout the day, informed each other to the point that there was no separating them – they formed part of a whole; a life lived in and for Christ.