An Integrated Spirituality
Welcome to lecture nine of Dynamics of Christian Spirituality – A theology of Prayer and the Christian Life. Our topic in this ninth lecture is an integrated spirituality and our key verse if found in Luke chapter verse 52 where it says this of Christ, “As Jesus grew up he increased in wisdom and in favor with God and people”. Let’s pray. Once again Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in your sight and grant us, we pray, the blessing of understanding and experiencing this integration so obvious in Christ and so desired by us, we pray in Jesus name, Amen.
Well, you will recall in the last two lectures we have been considering the vocational dynamic of Christian spirituality. We have within that focus on the vocational dynamic considered first of all the matter of discovering personal purpose and meaning and then narrowed our focus to the gift of a personal calling. As we have been working through this course together we have been operating from the foundation of a particular definition of Christian spirituality, or the Christian life, which is the same thing. We have been repeatedly suggesting that the Christian life is one that is, first of all, lived in relation to God and others. Second of all, it is a life transformed by the impulses of God’s spirit and thirdly it is a life of participation in God’s larger purposes in the world. These relational, transformation and vocational dynamics have been the testimony and experience of countless Christians through the years, and here in this lesson we want to consider how they can be integrated together.
I begin with a story of an individual. He was a free-spirited, drugs using, California hippie in the 1960’s when he found God in the dry mountain canyon above Palm Springs, California. Immediately, this person, whose name was Lonnie Frisbee, felt called to be an evangelist. He wore long hair and a long, unruly beard and his hair and his beard bore an unmistakable resemblance to a now famous, though speculative of course, artist’s depiction of Jesus knocking at a closed door of a small house. Perhaps you have seen that picture; perhaps you have not, but to people who had that particular imagined picture of Jesus, Lonnie cheerfully explained the similarity by saying that there was no one he would rather look like. He became the ultimate Jesus freak, the poster boy of the Jesus people movement as that movement of Christian faith among young people was described back in the 60’s. The countercultural, or hippie movement was in full swing up and down the west coast of America When Lonnie showed up barefoot on the doorstep of Chuck Smith, the founder of The Calvary Chapels Churches. Smith and his wife were drawn to the young man and before long Lonnie assumed a prominent position in the movement; his success as an evangelist was remarkable and his gifts of supernatural healing we astonishing. Critics tried to dismiss him as a phony, as an imposter, but most people acknowledged that he had an unusual spiritual anointing. Thousands flocked to him in the early 1970’s. Pictures of him preaching and baptizing crowds of joyous young converts in the ocean made the pages of Time Magazine and Life Magazine. After sometime Lonnie drifted out of The Calvary Chapel circles and into the emerging Vineyard network of John Wimber. There his charismatic ministry had a similar impact and helped to shape and confirm the distinctive signs and wonders emphasis of the vineyard churches. Lonnie and John Wimber took their power evangelism ministry around the world. In retrospect, looking back on Lonnie’s life, two of the largest evangelical denominations to emerge in the last thirty or forty years bare his spiritual imprint. There were some signs throughout this period that all was not well in Lonnie’s private life. His marriage had dissolved some years before; he carried some unhealed wounds from traumatic experiences during his childhood, there were occasional rumors of suspicious behavior and improper behavior, but most people close to Lonnie considered the continued power of his ministry to be proof enough that these rumors were unfounded, or at least very exaggerated. Then the shocking news broke that Lonnie had Aids and out tumbled the secret that he had been in homosexual relationships for many years. The Calvary Chapel and Vineyard movements were devastated. Few people knew how to respond appropriately. Lonnie was abruptly removed from the ministry. A curtain of shame and silence fell down around him and then Lonnie died in 1993 still a young man but estranged from most of the people he had worked with and helped lead to faith in Christ. A while ago I attended in Los Angeles a viewing of a documentary film on Lonnie’s life. Afterward the film director came out on stage and answered questions from the audience. It was moving to see middle-aged people, some of them with lots of tattoos, get up in the dimly lit theatre and say things like Lonnie led me to the Lord, or Lonnie discipled me for three years, it is because of him that I am in the ministry today. Many emotions surfaced during that time of reflection that night, but the element of tragedy in Lonnie Frisbee’s life was unmistakable. You see, here is the point, the vocational dynamic of his life was powerful, but the transformation dynamic had been relatively underdeveloped. Perhaps the Christian community was at least partly responsible for this sad state of affairs, but in any event it is a sad reminder that the dynamics of Christian spirituality may be able to function independently from one another for a while, for a while, but long-term spiritual health certainly requires that all three be nurtured and sustained.
Now let’s think about this in relationship to Jesus. People in first century Palestine, the Holy Land, were intrigued with the possibility that the carpenter from Nazareth might just be the Messiah who would finally deliver them from their enemies. The free bread which he seemed able effortlessly and supernaturally to create was also extremely appealing. Here was an endless food supply, they did not want to let Jesus out of their sight, but Jesus indicated in very pointed terms what would be required of those who chose to join him and become his followers. He said in Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”. Those who wish to live in close relationship to Jesus, those who apply, in other words to become his disciples, must be prepared for at least two things. They must give up the self-absorption and the personal ambition that have probably been the driving forces of their lives until this point, they must deny themselves. And they would not be allowed to indulge in the luxury of a detached and private friendship with Jesus. They must get ready to obediently follow him out into a risky world of witness and service. This is still the call of Christ to those who would be Christians and the important thing to note is that this is not three calls bundled together from which we are at liberty to select the one or maybe the two that we like and leave the rest alone. No, it is a single call Christ gives and the elements of it cannot be separated from one another. The Christian life is about living in relation to God, being transformed by the impulses of his divine life, and actively participating in God’s purposes in the world.
Now the work of the Holy Spirit is essential to Christian spirituality and the Spirit, like Jesus, actively encourages all three dimensions. He encourages the relational dynamic through his assuring and uniting work. He actively assures us that the relationship we are counting on is real and that we do belong to God. He testifies to our spirits that we are the children of God as Romans 8:15 and 16 says. He also encourages and nurtures unity. He opposes that alienating impulse of sin and instead he prompts and encourages grace and forgiveness and restores harmony and shalom to our human relationships. It is by the Spirit that we are all baptized so as to form one body, according to 1 Corinthians 12:13, and little wonder then that the Scriptures urge us to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace and that is Ephesians 4:3. And just as the Spirit, then, is encouraging the relational dynamic in these ways, so the Spirit promotes the transformation impulse of Christian spirituality. He does so by his works of moral refining and soul healing. The Spirit’s work of moral renewal is beautifully described in Galatians 5 where the fruit of the Spirit stands in striking contrast to the acts of the sinful flesh. After agonizing struggles with his own sinful nature Paul finally discovered that the Spirit had set him free from the law of sin and death. Both Peter and Paul refer to the sanctifying work of the Spirit; Peter in 1 Peter 1 verse 2, Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:13. And with respect to healing, the anointing oil used in the healing ordinances of the church, you can read about the use of oil in James 5:14, that oil is also elsewhere in Scripture a symbol of the Holy Spirit. So, what I am trying to remind us is that the Spirit is actively engaged in encouraging the relational dynamic and he is actively engaged in promoting the transformation impulse and finally now the Spirit contributes to the vocational dynamic by guiding and empowering believers. His ministry of guidance is apparent throughout the Book of Acts from the story of how he led Philip to appear alongside the Ethiopian eunuch’s chariot all the way to Paul’s decision following the Macedonian call in a vision to venture beyond Asia and bring the Gospel into Europe for the first time. And when the Spirit came at Pentecost, the disciples acquired power for affective service that Jesus had promised to them back in Acts 1:8. The subsequent ministries of the early church were conducted in the power of the Spirit, and so where the Holy Spirit is a manifest presence in lives these three elements, the relational, the transformational and the vocational all seem to be naturally present as well and the appropriate response in our part, as Paul explains, is to keep in step with the Spirit, Galatians 5:25. Do you see the pattern? The Spirit encourages the relational through his uniting and his assuring work. He encourages the transformational through his morally refining and his healing work. And he encourages the vocational through his Guidant and empowering work. Keep in step then with the Spirit.
Now these three dynamics are vitally interconnected. They feed off each other and each is essential to life as God intended it to be. These three dynamics, as I have said, are vitally connected to one another, they form an interconnected web; logically, of course, everything begins with our relationship to God and the improved quality of other relationships with human beings that can develop out of this. Experiencing grace, feeling acceptance is the heart of it. Nothing, says Gordon Smith, is so fundamental to the Christian journey as knowing and feeling that we are loved. Nothing. Our new sense of self, our new identity is grounded in the amazing value God places on us. But then, in the intimacy of such a personal relationship to him, something of God’s own character gradually spills over into ours as a matter of contagious holiness and reflected glory. It stimulates our transformation. And from our awareness of God’s acceptance of us comes an increased boldness and confidence to face the challenges of life and the opportunities that come. The experience of being loved unconditionally has a profound effect on us, it motivates us and empowers us to take more risks, it becomes the platform, the foundation for a whole new approach of bold, courageous living. Being familiar with God’s disposition helps us to anticipate how he would have us respond to new situations that come up in our lives. According to Jesus’ metaphor, the sheep can recognize the voice of their shepherd. Our lives then become less about doing things for God and more about God doing his will through us. We must not forget the God is the source of our new life and spiritual power. Without sustained encounter with him, Christianity deteriorates into a humanly manufactured and humanly sustained enterprise. We end up only running around, always on the verge of exhaustion, desperately trying to keep things from collapsing.
But to pursue this matter of interconnected the web of these three things really is, note that the transformation and the vocational impulses also rebound to deepen and enrich our connection to God in Christ. A sanctified heart is more in tune with the Spirit of God then one that is all cluttered and desensitized by sin. The psalmist knew that if he willfully entertained and nursed iniquity, sin, in his heart the Lord would not listen to him, that is from Psalm 66 verse 18. And one of the central convictions of Monasticism, the monks of history, has been that the purification of the soul is required in order to draw closer to God. Now, of course, this insight can and occasion has been distorted into a kind of burdensome legalism where you have to become perfect before you can have any kind of relationship, that is not a good way to approach things, but as long as this insight, the connection between the purity of heart and the openness to God, as long as that is understood within a framework of grace it remains a worthy insight. And similarly, our relationship with God is enriched by obediently living out our vocation in the world. Do you remember whom Jesus considered his mother and brothers? Whom he considered his real family? The ones who could expect to enjoy the closest relationship with Jesus were not his blood relatives, but those who were prepared to do the will of God his father in heaven. That is what Jesus says in Matthew 12 verse 50. On another occasion Jesus explained to his disciples, anyone who loves me will obey my teaching, my Father will love them and we will come to them and make our home with them, that is John 14:23. It seems to be saying that the spiritual flow starts with a love for God that expresses itself in obedient action and an obedient lifestyle and God’s response is to draw even closer, to settle in, to make his home with them and establish his presence more fully. Everything comes full circle; it starts in loving relationship and ends in even deeper connection. There are many other examples of the interconnectedness of the spiritual dynamics. Jesus observed that if you make a tree good, its fruit will be good, that is Matthew 12:33. Who we are, in other words, will determine what we do. But once again there is a reverse, there is a flipside to this, our choices and behaviors also shape who we are becoming. As writer, William May, has observed, “We function not simply as agents producing deeds, but partly as authors and coauthors of our very beings.” You see, every time we act it is as though we are further sculpting the contours of our own character. We could go on, but I trust that by now the point is clear; the three dynamics are interwoven. Each fuels and feeds off the other two and each is essential to life as God intended.
There is a story in the Gospel of Luke chapter 10, it is a familiar one, you probably know it. It is the story of Mary and Martha, the two sisters of Lazarus and it is the story that has intrigued Christians through the years. Jesus, the rabbi from Galilee, is visiting a home of friends in Bethany near Jerusalem. The hostess, Martha, is working hard to prepare the meal and in her frustration at the lack of help goes in to complain to Jesus about her sister’s negligence of duty. But Jesus defends Mary and says that her choice to sit and listen to what he has to say is actually the better one. So, which lifestyle is indeed better, the contemplative life, the life of reflection and prayer or the so-called active life of doing and achieving. The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that stillness and contemplation was superior to putting your jeans on and rolling up your sleeves and doing things. Hundreds of years later his influence still hung over the early church and led them to interpret the story of Mary and Martha as a kind of allegory along similar lines. Martha, for them, represented the active life and Mary represented the contemplative. So, the contemplative life, Mary’s choice, withdrawing from activity and responsibility to commune with God alone was seen as Jesus’ preference too. At least on this it was assumed Aristotle the philosopher and Jesus the Savior agreed, or so the early church and then the medieval church assumed. This interpretation provided the church with what they thought was, Ah, a biblical argument for treating the Monastic life, the life of monks and nuns, as superior to the lifestyle of the ordinary Christian folk who struggled along in the everyday work world of employment and related duties.
When the reformation came along the Protestant reformers challenged this way of reading the story of Mary and Martha. It challenged these assumptions. The reformers believed that God designed people to do things, to live active, obedient lives that would make a difference in the world. As John Calvin said, people were created “for the express purpose of being employed in labors of various kinds and”, he continued, “no sacrifice is more pleasing to God than when every person applied themselves diligently to their own calling and tries to live in such a manner as to contribute to the general good or the general advantage”. The spirit of this reformer, this reformation giant, is captured in this more contemporary statement, “We expressed the image of God within us and we become most God-like not when we turn away from action but when we engage in it”. You see relationship with God is supposed to affect how we live and how we act in the world. The division in the Middle Ages, the medieval division, between the ordinary life of the Christian majority and the contemplative life of the small spiritual elite was an unhealthy situation. It is a kind of division we see in many other religions as well including Buddhism. Unfortunately, in too many cases the Protestant alternative ended up becoming a very secular way of life in which there was little time or attention left, or paid, to the cultivation of a transforming personal relationship with God. We live today in a global culture that is quite fixated on busyness and accomplishments, and the Protestant tradition overall still tends to give priority to activism, it is weaker in the relational and transformation dimensions. In any given situation Protestants, well, it feels natural for us to ask first, “Hum, what does God want me to be doing, just tell me what to do and I will do it”. But it is not easy for us to remember to ask other questions such as what is God trying to say to me right now, or how does God want to craft and shape me through this experience I am going through. Not just the first question, but all three questions need to be continually asked and answered. You see, the story of Mary and Martha was not really a showdown between the contemplative option and the activist option. The story is simply a reminder of how unwise it is to waste opportunities for a relationship with Christ for the sake of compulsive, wearisome and spiritually depleting busyness. But in no way does the story minimize the importance of relationally grounded, practical obedience and service.
Now back in the sixth century, back in the 500’s A.D, Benedict from the town of Nursia in Italy, abandoned his hermit style, you remember we told that story, in order to pursue Christian spirituality in community. There he developed a community of monks atop Montecassino in the mountainous region of southern Italy and he wrote a basic rule to govern their life together. That rule exuded, contained, the wisdom of experience and the cheerfulness of grace. And one of the rules Benedict laid down very early on was that a monk’s life ought to reflect a daily rhythm of contemplative prayer and healthy work. Now, these monks originally in Benedict’s time spoke Latin and their word for prayer was ora, and their word for work was labora from which we obviously get the English word labor. Now, a daily rhythm of ora and labora, there is a kind of rhyming quality to that isn’t there? Benedict realized that it was neither realistic nor desirable really to expect people to be engaged in formal prayer all the time. That would not be healthy, that could not be sustained, life must have a rhythm to it. And so, the motto of the monastic tradition became ora et labora; prayer and work.
A man by the name of Umberto Eco wrote a bestselling novel entitled The Name of the Rose and through this book Eco provides an imaginative window into life in an Italian monastery during the Middle Ages and we discover that there is a lot going on in the monastery. Now not wishing to spoil the book for anyone, let me just say that there is more going on than there should have been going on, but Eco accurately depicts the fact that the monks did more than pray. Some labored in the kitchen cleaning dishes and preparing foot, others had regular assignments where they ran errands to the town down below the monastery and many others were engaged in the chief work of the monastery, the reading and then the hand-copying, copying by hand of valuable manuscripts that were kept in the library and copy center of the monastery known in those days as the scriptorium. Now, most Benedictine communities welcome visitors for group or private retreats, but the Benedictine community of Saint Andrews up in the high desert north of Los Angeles goes one step further and actually allows outsiders to participate with them in their daily schedule and discipline of prayers and meals. The structure of each day is built around the hours, which is their word for the five times of corporate prayer that are spaced out from very early morning right through to the evening time. The big bell above the chapel began to toll and ring early one morning echoing out across the dry brush and cactus of the desert calling us to pray. As I stumbled bleary-eyed toward the dawn I could see a full-figured monk draped in a large, brown rob slowly pulling on the bell rope. Looking at the scene it felt as though time had stopped. The picture before me was one that had hardly changed for fifteen hundred years except for the large Sony headphones the monk was wearing to protect his ears from the high decibel sounds of the bell directly over his head; well that part has changed I suppose. The monks at Saint Andrews operate a ceramics business. They make things out of clay. They have their own shop and their kiln in a little store you can browse or order from on line. Their specialty is cute little representations of saintly figures from the history of Christian spirituality. And these saints look like oversized gingerbread cookies. Benedict and Scholastica; and then there is Francis and Clare and then there is Hildegard of Bingen. They are all there. It is definitely not your typical retail store or factory outlet. I was looking over these saintly samples that covered the walls like a ceramic cloud of witnesses when I noticed a couple of monks talking in a room off to the side of the store. I called out to them, “Hey, it looks to be like this stuff required an awful lot of labora”. They stopped their conversation. They looked over at me and stood silent for a moment and then one of them grinned and shot back, “Well maybe so, but we still find plenty of time for ora too”. It was a great moment. Few of us are called to the rigorous lifestyle of a Benedictine monk. But I left the __________ having been reminded again that ora et labora, prayer and work is the necessary rhythm of spiritual life for all of us regardless of our station in life, regardless of our occupation in this world and regardless even of our temperament and whether we are inclined to be introverted or extraverted. Spirituality is always about relating and being and also about doing.
J. Hudson Taylor who lived from 1832 to 1905 comes to mind as one of many Christian leaders through the centuries whose spirituality has been rich in all essential aspects, deeply devout, refined in character and vigorously engaged in a worthy cause in the world. Hudson Taylor was the founding director and the illustrious pioneer of the innovative and strategic China inland mission known today as the Overseas Missionary Fellowship. His Christ-centered piety, his Christ-centered spirituality is described most fully in a book entitled Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret written by his son and daughter-in-law. It goes without saying that prayer is a central aspect of genuine Christian spirituality. In its larger sense prayer is about cultivating a reverent awareness of the presence of God in all of life. An integrated spirituality, however, the kind we have been talking about and want, requires a balanced prayer life; it requires a three dimensional prayer life. If we are honest we will admit that a lot of our prayers consist of asking God to do things that we want done and delivering to us, giving to us things that we want to have, but keeping company with God involves quite a bit more than just asking him for things.
Now, Richard Foster has written a wonderful book on prayer in which he identifies about twenty different kinds of prayer. People are often surprised to discover that there can be so much variety in prayer. Richard Foster divides these kinds of prayer into three categories and it is interesting how these categories of prayer correspond very closely to our three dynamics. In the first category, an integrated prayer life will include prayers that move upward seeking intimacy with God. Included in this group are prayers of adoration, prayers of rest, prayers of meditation and contemplation. The second category of prayers consists of those through which we look inward seeking personal transformation. An integrated prayer life will include prayers here of self-examination, prayers of tears, prayers of relinquishment, prayers of formation. And prayers in the final grouping all look outward with others and ministry in mind. They include petitionary prayers, intercession, authoritative prayer and radical prayer of holy dissatisfaction with the way things are. Now, since all three kinds are essential to spiritual health, we need to practice them all, not just a personal favorite or two. Even our prayer life then should be intentionally three dimensional. We do not live the Christian life in isolation. We belong to what the Book of Hebrews describes as a great cloud of witnesses.
And so we turn next to the great spiritual mentors of the Christian tradition. Christian spirituality is best cultivated and then developed in conversation with godly voices from the past and present and fortunately we are blessed with a wealth of books written over the centuries that provide wonderful resources for nourishing all three dynamics. Now, these spiritual writers from the past all reflect the assumptions of their times and the places they were in history, so consequently we must always use their works selectively, separating the wheat from the chaff, sorting out what is useful and what is no longer helpful, in other words using these sources with discernment. Sometimes we have to sort out what comes from false doctrine, from what comes from the truth of God’s word. But nonetheless it is really important that we use them and appreciate them. It is equally worth noting how the different writers and the spiritual traditions within the faith tend to emphasize different dynamics and often give priority to one over the other; this is a very important insight. I want to pause here and say when you read writers from the past you can be blessed and spiritually nourished and you will find though that some of them tend to emphasize the relational dynamic, some tend to emphasize the transformation, some tend to emphasize the vocational and so by themselves they do not give us the balance that we need. Let me give you an example. First, there are the mystical writers. These contemplative figures have left us a great legacy of insight into the nature of deep communion with God. Often they were women like Teresa of Avila and Julian of Norwich who responded to the gender restrictions imposed upon them by male dominated societies. They coped with these restrictions by growing their inner life with God rather than trying to be active in the public sphere dominated by men and by focusing on the inner life they have proven to be a blessing to countless men and women ever since. But, these mystical writers were not all just women; there were many men as well. But there is the mystical writers’, that is a category or a grouping of people from the past. Next, there is the monastic tradition which has explored the transformational impulse with great passion and diligence and to the ranks of monastic figures through the centuries we would add Protestant puritans like John Bunyan, Richard Baxter and John Owen; and later on John Wesley and after him the numerous Wesleyan and Holiness leaders like Phoebe Palmer and A.B. Simpson who sought to earnestly for entire sanctification and perfect love. And into this same transformational category we can add those who have been working more recently at the intersection of Christianity and therapy to bring healing to wounded souls. And finally there are the mission-focused writers. These are those visionary, purpose driven spiritual leaders whose compassion, whose evangelistic zeal or perhaps their demand for justice has led them to attempt great things for God in the world. The passion of their work is to be obedient in service and to do ministry in the name of Christ. Much of Pentecostal and signs of wonders spirituality is focused on obtaining power for effective service in the same vocational sphere. Do you see the structure we have set up? That mystical writers’ focus on relationship with God, monastic, puritan and holiness writers focus on the transformed life and mission-focused writers focus on obedient service on justice and ministry in the world. And now you will already be anticipating the point, you will already see where we are going here. The point is we must embrace the full scope of our spiritual heritage as Christians. We cannot afford to lock ourselves into the confines of just one of these streams. The mystics inspire us by their passion for God and have much to teach us about creating space for him, but by itself the mystical pursuit can become self-serving and even self-absorbed. A different warning needs to be issued concerning the monastic or puritan impulse. The call to holiness is central to the biblical revelation and it is also the key to our liberation and the restoration of God’s moral image in us, but on its own, to the neglect of everything else we have been talking about, this impulse can produce legalism. And in the same way a fixation on mission and mission oriented writing can have negative spiritual results. When it is divorced from these other two streams it leads to worldliness. So, each of these rivers of spirituality is rich and resourceful but by themselves they produce imbalance and they have weaknesses and deficiencies. And so to avoid the pitfall of self-absorption or legalism or worldliness we need to stay in touch with the breadth of resources available to us in the Christian tradition. We also need to step beyond the limits of our little church denominations and exercise that kind of peripheral vision that can scan the larger and wider landscape of Christian spirituality for as Ephesians 3 verse 18 wisely notes it is together with all the Lord’s people that we apprehend the fullness of God and the secrets of living well. It is together with the rest, profiting from their insights that we grasp the fullness of God and the great secrets of living well.
Now, I have a word here to Evangelicals in particular, and probably you as you hear this would consider yourself an Evangelical Christian. An interesting pattern shows up when we take contemporary evangelical writing on spirituality and we measure it against this balanced three-part standard. It turns out that the majority of our favorite evangelical writers gravitate toward the practical vocational aspect of spirituality. That is because we evangelicals move most comfortably, actually eagerly into the sphere that matches our predisposition and that predisposition is toward activism. Our tradition has trained us to opt for quantity over quality. We are more interested in making disciples than in being disciples. We are more inclined to preach the Gospel in words than to embody it in lives and the results, unfortunately, often speak for themselves. Now, there is a historian of the history of Christianity in Canada, and I am from Canada and so I have read the works of a man by the name of John Webster Grant. Professor Grant tells the story of the first efforts to evangelize the first nations, or the native, the aboriginal peoples in the western part of Canada. Professor Grant got hold of the fascinating journal or diary of a manager of the Hudson’s Bay Company who had come there to northern Canada to trade with the Indians western goods for the furs of the animals of that area. This manager of the Hudson’s Bay Company watched a Methodist missionary, a missionary by the name of James Evans, competing with an equally vigorous Roman Catholic priest for converts in the 1840’s. Now the Protestant missionary Evans was outstanding at his work, yet one of his disadvantages, suggested this old fur trader, was that Evans could hardly be distinguished from the commercially preoccupied fur traders themselves. He looked and behaved a lot like the secular traders. But by contrast the Roman Catholic priest who wore a very striking black gown and had a big cross made of silver swinging back and forth from a chain around his neck and had a gaunt face that looked rather worldly, he kind of breathed a spiritual air to which the Indians were much attracted. It is an interesting story. Now, the moral of this story, the conclusion, is not that we evangelicals should dress like Roman Catholic priests and go around with faces that look half dead. No, the point is that these Indians in nineteenth century western Canada had strong religious longings and they were drawn to a figure who they believed offered them access to spiritual reality. Our contemporaries, the people who live today, long for the same thing perhaps all the more because of its relative absence in our globalized, modern, worldly culture. Henry Nouwen reminds us that the basis of all ministry rest in the mystical life. And the great evangelical theologian Carl F. H. Henry observed that the eternal realms, not one’s own resources, constitute the real supply line for genuine spirituality. Now, we have been guilty and continue often to be guilty of an excessive activism, a vocational focus that neglects the relational and the transformational and in some Christian circles there has been a reaction, a reaction to excessive activism that has turned back to the contemplative life with a vengeance. This has produced a kind of extreme spirituality that swings to the opposite extreme of being socially irresponsible, of being disconnected and neglecting of our duties in the world and all too often in this switching from one extreme to the other the middle theme of personal transformation falls completely out of the picture. We are more than due for a rebirth of the transformation impulse, more than overdue for a renaissance of holiness and healing. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, so we are to use the rich resources of historic Christian spirituality. But again, always with discernment, we should take the time to consider the relative strengths and the weaknesses and even errors, if any, of a particular author or book or tradition. We should look for evidence of all three spiritual dynamics and refuse to settle for an imbalanced presentation of the Christian life. Authentic spirituality never occurs automatically or merely by reading about it, it requires that we cooperate with the spirit’s agenda by living with disciplined intent which is the subject of our final and tenth lecture.
But here, as we conclude our consideration of an integrated spirituality are some helpful guides. The first of these is Thomas Merton who lived from 1915 to 1968. Merton was a modern wanderer who lived in many parts of the world and whose journey to Christian faith is described in his now famous autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain. Thereafter he pursued his vocation as a prolific spiritual writer and he wrote within the limits of a rigorously disciplined monastery, a Trappist monastery in Kentucky in the United States. The depth of Merton’s cultural awareness and the breadth of his vision of the spiritual life, these are remarkable and memorably expressed in such classic books as No Man is an Island and another entitled New Seeds of Contemplation. A second helpful guide is Richard Foster. Foster has done more perhaps than anyone else to introduce people today to the rich and varied resources of classic Christian spirituality. He has mined these resources and made them available to a large audience. Among Foster’s many important publications is his Study of Prayer. Also, a co-edited volume of Devotional Classics and a book called Streams of Living Water - Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith. Foster is also founder of Renovare Ministries. A third helpful guide is Dallas Willard. Dallas Willard is a minister and a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. His contribution to spirituality kind of parallels that of Oxford Scholar C.S. Lewis’ contribution to defending and commending the Christian faith. Willard’s three books Hearing God plus Renovation of the Heart plus The Divine Conspiracy roughly parallel the three dimensions of spirituality we have been presenting. When taken together they offer and integrated vision of the Christian life.
As we conclude this ninth lecture here is a summary of the territory we have covered. Each of us should seek to live a Christ-centered, spirit-filled life characterized by all three dynamics of Christian spirituality. These are linked together, dependant on one another and equally important to our spiritual health. Christ calls us to experience them and the Holy Spirit intentionally nurtures them in us. We should consciously incorporate all three into our prayer lives as well. Evangelicals especially need to be aware that an excessive fixation on the vocational can drift toward secularism. The classics of Christian spirituality offer rich resources that we should access, though always with discernment. By measuring these resources against this three dimensional standard we can appreciate their insights while recognizing possible weaknesses and oversights.