Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Ideal Spiritual Combo

Jonathan Edwards is considered to be one of America’s and evangelicalism’s greatest theologians and Puritans. His “Religious Affections” tries to bind the will to act with the passion to serve. In other words, what one knows is demonstrated through one’s actions; and vice versa. In this sense, there is no strict division of the intellect and the passionate life. On the contrary, both the intellect and the emotion are to be close companions for living. Both are important. I will add that while some of us like to enter from the intellectual front door, and others who prefer an emotional entrance gate, it is necessary that both the mind and the heart be engaged. There is no hard and fast rule of how much or how frequent. There is no law on what should be done first. It is simply a case of personal preference and the situational contexts. Sometimes, the intellectual angle is most appropriate. Other times, the emotional perspective is more suitable. Whichever way, the mind and the heart has to be involved. The decision to employ any one of them more over the other is the result of discernment. Developing a attentiveness to God is both a theological and a practical endeavor. Some may even argue that a theology without practical applications is not a true theology at all! I guess the letter of the argument is suspect, but the underlying motivation of that statement basically reminds all theologizing individuals to consider both mind and heart in all of their theology.

The Wesleyan Quartet
One distinctive of Methodism is the Wesleyan Quartet of Reason, Experience, Scripture and Tradition (R.E.S.T.) This quartet comprises the elements of theological judgment, that whatever we do, we need to approach it with reason; we need to surround it with experience; we need the backing and testing of Scripture; we need to be faithful and mindful of the interpretations available to us through the eyes of tradition. Theological, for the devout Methodist, they make an ideal combo for discerning all matter and instructing all manner of behaviour. In Christian leadership, many traditions have embraced the three components of ministry. Some uses the Be-Know-Do format; namely spiritual formation (being); intellectual formation (knowing); and pastoral formation (doing). Others use the Sacrament-Word-Order liturgy. Calvin will promote the ministerial offices/roles of Priest-Teacher-Pastor. Luther left us a legacy of theological study of oratio, meditatio, tentatio. In all of these, we notice how the different traditions try to develop an ideal combo for spiritual life.

Visionary Hedgehog & Discerning Fox
Recently, I have been drawn to Sir Isaiah Berlin who quotes a line from the Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” This little statement can be profoundly understood in Christian leadership styles. The fox-style is one that focuses on small details, is meticulous and is exposed to a rich library of perspectives on how to solve a problem. The hedgehog style is more of a BIG-PICTURE type. It is the ability to integrate what one sees and discerns into one contiguous and meaningful whole. Foxes are those who try to pursue many different objectives, often not related to each other, and appear haphazardly connected, if at all. They excel in details and enjoy taking stock of them. Hedgehogs on the other hand see everything from one single central vision. They are understood and integrated into one connected diagram. The gift of the fox is discernment. The hedgehog’s specialty is vision. According to Charles Wood & Ellen Blue, theological attentiveness requires both the hedgehog’s vision and the fox’s discernment. They wrote: “In cultivating theological attentiveness, both modalities must be nurtured in close interaction with each other. Achieving the appropriate balance and relationship may be difficult, not only on account of our temperamental differences in this regard but also in part because of the different contexts and approaches required for cultivating the aptitude for vision and the aptitude for discernment.” (Charles Wood & Ellen Blue, Attentive to God, Abingdon Press, 2008, 16).

A dear classmate of mine is currently setting up a church plant in Oregon. In his prayer letter, I can sense the excitement mixed with uncertainty like wheat growing amidst weeds. Immediately I thought about vision/discernment. Church planting is exciting. I have done it myself. It opens one to great and immense possibilities limited either by one’s imaginations or fears. I shared with him my thoughts on vision/discernment and affirmed him that the way to go is prayer. How do we know when to exercise discernment and when to enjoy and deploy vision? I pondered, I wondered, I perspired and I concurred. Prayer! It is only in prayer we can meander with the Spirit just like the Spirit coming and going like the wind. Without prayer, we will not be able to catch the wind.

Sometimes the choice of words can be problematic. If we see vision as ‘theory’ and discernment as ‘practical,’ are we straitjacketing them unfairly into categories? True visionaries will not only know the theoretical aspect, but appreciates the contexts of implementing any vision. Good discerners on the other hand, will not only be skilled in the practical contexts but also understand the vision of doing them. Perhaps from an initial pedagogical standpoint, the distinction is helpful. Beyond that, it becomes debilitating. The practice of religion requires both theory and practice. There is no theology that ends only in the mind. Neither is there any true religion that orbits only around heartfelt emotions. Some theologians like to make a distinction between Greek and Hebrew thought. The former analyzes and understands by breaking things apart. The latter integrates them together. For example, in Greek forms of thought, some might try to understand a human being in terms of heart, mind, soul. In Hebrew, the heart encompasses all of them into one. Hence in Hebrew, when we use the word ‘heart,’ we should understand that it means all the faculties of the human person.

The Bible has constantly asserted the need for both theory and practice. Any practice of faith requires knowing the Scriptures.

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God." (Matthew 22:26)

Likewise, any true knowledge of faith requires faithful practice.
"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." (James 1:22)

Scriptures keep both in healthy tension and tells us that both makes an ideal combo. Prayer keeps us in making sure we know how and when to handle this mix with vision and discernment.



Rosie Perera said...

I read an excellent biography of Isaiah Berlin last year, Isaiah Berlin: A Life by Michael Ignatieff. He was a fascinating guy.

YAPdates said...

Yes. Isn't it amazing how much treasure there is in history and biographies waiting for us to discover?


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