What happened to the disciplines? Let me start over.
Martin Luther, the Reformer said, “Is it not wonderful news to believe that salvation lies outside of ourselves?”
I agree with this statement without having to add any sort of qualifier to it. I also believe, that according to Ephesians 2:8-9, that God does not gift us with his grace to add to our faith (synergism). Rather I believe Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches clearly that both grace and faith are the free gift that is given to us based off of nothing we do – meaning we do not deserve, nor can we earn it – they are both a gift from God. I simply believe that salvation is too deep, rich, precious and mysterious to be trusted to the will and choice of humanity. We are too broken. History shows we will make the wrong choice more times than not. Our affections are turned in way more than we want to believe.
So, just before you lump me into a particular camp, know that I believe no truer statement has been said about the whole salvation, time, choice argument than when C.S. Lewis said, “You cannot fully understand the relations of choices and time till you are beyond both.”
So, why all this explanation? Simple, I want to write about the loss of and hopefully the need for the disciplines. It is quite possible, that one will read my rant on the absence and need for the disciplines, and write this post off as an ideology of synergism – nothing could be further from the truth, and I wanted to attempt to capture my thoughts on that before I go on.
So, now to my initial statement, “what happened to the disciplines?” Why are the least talked about disciplines in the church world, service (justice/mercy), daily prayer and daily scripture reading/meditating/contemplation? Why are they non-apologetically lumped into the “if I have time” or “I didn’t have time category”? Why, and I have heard this by ‘great’ minds, are these disciplines being written off as “a focus on works” or even worse being written off because one can point to a time in history when the church did focus on daily disciplines of prayer and scripture and they produced pharisees or focused on service and it created liberals with a watered down theology. Is this not like writing off food because it has made a generation obese? Is this not like taking the idea of say, breathing, and moving it from the ‘necessary’ category into the ‘if I have time’ category?
“I think therefore I am” – enlightenment ideology. Man is no more than a thinking being with a body. This has also been deduced to carrying with it two other, seemingly logical thoughts – “I see therefore I believe” and “that which I believe must be seen (proven)” – yes, this has seeped into the church, think of our lust for quantifying everything we do. This is the reduction of humanity, the reduction of values, and therefore the reduction of disciplines. In other words, what I believe about the ontology of man, produces a set of values about that belief, and plays out in disciplines/practices (or lack of). Those disciplines and practices that sustain those values, and thus sustains (even creates) my vision of humanity. The problem with this sort of ideology, is not so much its lack of truth, rather its lack of completeness – it reduces man to the cognitive and material only, to what can be seen, and leads to the neglect of all else – spirit, soul, mind, emotions, etc – the intangible. In fact, we have become so submitted to the cognitive and material, that we seem to readily neglect and write off that which is beyond us as unimportant, silly, or devaluing. A dangerous cycle begins, when we neglect that which is beyond us, that which thrives in the realm of imagination and soul – we are reduced to becoming surface creates, whose thinking becomes limited and shallower with time. When we start with the cognitive and material, we are forced into shallowness, because we neglect that which moves and motivates and informs the mind and will – the affections. The affections are the offspring of the imagination and the soul dancing together. Please hear, me, when I say imagination, I don’t mean fairy tails, I mean the deeper imagination, the things that we know to be true that we can neither see, prove, or touch, the affections of the heart that are not willed, but move the will and mind. We have forgotten that we are not primarily creates limited to the cognitive and material, but, to use the words of James Smith, we are liturgical animals in need of disciplines to help shape and direct our affections, which will, in the end shape our whole being
How did this happen? As we moved from the 15th-16th century into the 18th-19th centuries we had two competing ideologies going head to head: renaissance ideology, which was resurrecting the human creativity and beauty lost during medieval times. The renaissance sought to journey back to the creativity of the Romans and Greeks, capture the ideas and bring them into the 18/19th centuries. The focus was on man as ultimate, man as hero, man as good, man as beautiful, man as responsible, and a focus on a, sort of two realm (separate and distinct) universe of life – or a very platonic philosophy, except with a focus on the cognitive and material as better than. Then there as reformation ideology, while the basis of this was, the idea of God reclaiming the world, much of this became so distorted due to its reaction to and against renaissance ideology. This reaction jumped to the other end of the spectrum so that the participation of man was voided out. In other words we were merely puppets and pawns to God’s schemes. So, due to the voiding out of human participation by reactionary reformers, many leading thinkers of the enlightenment were driven to take renaissance ideology and put even more focus on man, after all, this is much more attractive than reducing man to puppets and pawns. What we ended up with was the idea that it was man’s job to build the stairway to heaven, and when we arrive at the gates of heaven, if God is there, then great, if not, oh well, we didn’t need him anyway. What am I saying? I am suggesting that when we begin to focus more on “earthly things” or “things that are seen”, the cognitive and material, that which can be controlled and quantified by man, to the neglect of the soul and the non-cognitive, we begin to journey away from the completeness of our humanity. Due to this incomplete view of man, our energy and discipline is only used to develop the cognitive and material realm of ourselves, while the soul of who we are starves.
What we need to understand is that the wholeness of the human being is made up of the affective (non-cognitive – cares, concerns, motivations, and desires); cognitive (ideas and beliefs); and physical (practices, bodily, and material). When we believe our identity to be located and shaped primarily by the realm of the cognitive and material, we reduce our lives to be based on what can be proven, known through empirical evidence, or deduced and rationalized from knowledge that is, at the end of the day, extremely limited. However, when one’s identity is to be located in and shaped by the affective, we do not lose the cognitive, rather we displace our fixation on it, because one knows that even knowledge (at a macro level) and belief is situated and informed by desire and love (the affections).
The ideology that posits “I think therefore I am” is not only sabotaging the church, it is is sabotaging our humanity. The truth is, “I am what I love” and may I add to that two sub-ideologies: “discipline/practices shape and direct my affections” and “the shape of my affections shape my belief and personhood”. The question that we are left with is, “if intentional practices prove what I believe to be vital and necessary to the creating and deepening of my whole person, then what do my daily intentional practices prove my values and beliefs to be about my humanity?”
If this self-audit proves, contrary to my verbal confession (that Christ is Lord of my life), that my lowest priority is that of being being fully Christian (a peculiar, holy, Godward, ‘humanward’ person) – in other words, proves that my affections are pointed toward that which is other than God and his will, then what daily intentional practices should I have in place to help re-direct and shape my affections Godward. There is another question we must answer first – if my goal is to be the type of whole person that has in place practices that are Godward and are thus deepening and strengthening God’s ideas of my humanity, I have to ask, “what is God’s idea of my humanity?” I’ll attempt to get into these in the next couple of blogs…