Four Views-Conclusion and final thoughts

Bruce Demarest, the editor of Four Views on Christian Spirituality, writes the conclusion. He is from an evangelical Presbyterian background. He used to be a missionary and now is a seminary teacher.

He seems more critical of the non-evangelical views than Evan Howard was. Since Zondervan is the publisher, I think the book assumes most of its readers will be evangelical. So Demarest takes up the task of reaffirming evangelical distinctives. He may think evangelicals need this before they will feel free to borrow anything from the other traditions. It comes off, though, like this: they are wrong and we are right, but once you understand that, there are a few things we can learn from them.

One example is when he discusses Catholicism and quotes Catholics who have left their church for an evangelical church as saying that Catholicism failed to offer them a personal, intimate connection with Christ. I thought, “Yes, but what do former evangelicals who find a home in Catholicism say?” This church-hopping goes both ways. It reminds me of our penchant for divorcing and remarrying. This personal-and-intimate thing comes up in justifying that too. Fickleness seems a modern American trait.

When someone whose family and ethnic connections are all Catholic comes to me wanting to switch, my practice is to send them to see the priest. Somehow, I don’t think that would be Demarest’s approach.

Sometimes he just goes over the top. He says:

“Recent Catholic ‘new morality’ teaching involves a radical reinterpretation of sexual ethics, including validation of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The traditional moral code rooted in Scripture is replaced by a situational ethic governed by love.” (Demarest, Bruce A. (2012-05-01). Four Views on Christian Spirituality (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) (Kindle Locations 3926-3928). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)

What? Surely he knows that this is not the Pope or the bishops. He cites a work by Charles Curran, a dissident Catholic. But everyone paying attention knows that this position is the opposite of the Catholic position.

He does not acknowledge the claim of both Joseph Driskill and Evan Howard that there is something of a spiritual renewal going on in the mainline Protestant churches. Instead, he just he says that, although he appreciates the intellectual rigor of that tradition, it has sold out to secular culture and abandoned the gospel, which is “the heart of authentic spirituality”.

His take on Eastern Orthodoxy is that it is too formal and ritualistic. It risks losing the personal relationship aspect of spirituality. He doesn’t deal with the opposite perspective that evangelicalism risks losing the communal aspect of spirituality. He does say, though, that it would be good for evangelicals to recover a “legitimate sacramentalism” and find more of a place for the body and senses in spirituality. (Demarest, Bruce A. (2012-05-01). Four Views on Christian Spirituality (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) (Kindle Location 3920). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)

The most useful thing, in my opinion, that Demarest does is right at the beginning of his essay where he mentions specific spiritual practices and emphases from the four traditions.

For the Eastern Orthodox these include the beauty of the liturgy and sharing in the Eucharist, rigorous fasting, sitting in silence, praying continually using the Jesus Prayer, using icons as windows to eternity, submitting to spiritual direction, and physical service to others.

For Roman Catholics the list includes using rosary beads in prayer, spiritual retreats, and journaling. He mentions the lectio divina, a method for contemplating the Bible. I have found this useful myself. To see what it is like, you can listen to one of the pod casts at Pray-as-You-Go.

For progressive Protestants spirituality can include studying the Bible in a critical way, praying for Christian unity, entering into discussions with other religions, and trying to carry out social change.

For evangelical Protestant the main disciplines are Bible study and prayer. They practice an activist kind of prayer. They stress petitionary and intercessory prayer. In other words, when they pray they ask for something to happen.

Demarest says that evangelicals can selectively draw from the other traditions as long as they stay focused on the gospel and a personal relation with Christ.

The book has made me sadder as I think about how Christians divide themselves up into tribes. Although I agree that theology has to be at the base of our spirituality, I do not think we need to go down a list of the categories of systematic theology (God, creation, sin, Christ, salvation, church, the last things, etc.) to see if we agree on them all before we can pray together.

I believe that a lot of people are like me and have some connection with all or most of these traditions. I am a mainline Protestant with family and personal connections in all the other traditions. I have many problems with my own tradition.

When I was training to be an interim minister, there were people in the training from all sorts of denominations. One of the exercises involved putting a chair in the middle of a large room. We were all supposed to stand closer or farther away from the chair depending on how close or alienated we felt from our own tradition.

I appreciate my denomination, but I don’t get my identity as a Christian from it. Theologically, I am often closer to people from other traditions. So I stood several paces away. Many of the trainees stood far away, some out in the hall. One of the tasks of an interim minister is to help reconnect a congregation to its denomination. But many of these ministers felt really alienated from their own denominations.

Spiritually, I think there is some advantage to standing a little way away from your own tradition. It gives you some freedom. On the other hand, there is a communal facet to spiritual practice. Many things you can’t do all by yourself. If you stand too far away, it will hurt you spiritually.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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