Monday, July 18, 2011

Dictionary of Christian Spirituality by Zondervan

Zondervan's Dictionary of Christian Spirituality just came out, and it is a great resource to have! I'm also excited about it because I was asked to write an article on the Beguines for this volume plus 12 other articles.

Over the past couple of years various people have asked me on email or Facebook what "Christian Spirituality" or "Spiritual Formation" is all about. Now we have an excellent reference book by an evangelical publishing house with articles by evangelicals on the subject.

Part 1 of the dictionary has 34 essays such as "Overview of Christian Spirituality" by Glen Scorgie, "Spiritual Theology" by Simon Chan, and "The Future of Christian Spirituality" by James Houston. Part 2 consists of the Dictionary entries.

This volume gives a great overview of what Christian spirituality is as well as its biblical roots and its historic development over the past 20 centuries.

To order it on Amazon, click on the link on the left column of Deep Wells.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Augustine’s Confessions Invite Us on a Spiritual Journey

Life is a journey. In particular, spiritual growth is an ever-moving, ever-challenging adventure. Just as men and women of Scripture are said to have “walked with God,” our pilgrimage is one of wandering with the Lord through the thick and thin of life, all the while getting to know him in a deeper and more real way.

Many great works of Christian literature have focused on the theme of journey. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is one of the best known. But the book that set the pattern for Bunyan and all others is Confessions by Augustine of Hippo (354-430).

Augustine’s Conversion

In his Confessions, Augustine described his own spiritual journey. Raised in north Africa, his mother, Monica, was a Christian, and his father, Patricius, was a Pagan. Augustine offered tremendous insight into his own thoughts, attitudes and motivations. He detailed the pleasure he felt in stealing some pears with friends as a youth. It wasn’t the pears that he enjoyed—it was the thrill of taking something that was not his own.

When Augustine went off to school, he began to pursue lustful desires. Ultimately he lived for thirteen years with a woman, whom he never named, and they had a son together.

As well as pursuing a hedonistic lifestyle, Augustine dabbled in several philosophies of the time. First he experimented with Manichaean religion that saw the universe as an ongoing battle between good and evil forces. Then he pursued Neo-Platonic thought. Although incomplete in itself, Neo-Platonism proved to be the bridge that would help lead him to Christ.

Augustine’s teaching career eventually took him to Rome and then Milan. Because he taught rhetoric (public speaking or communication), Augustine began to attend the cathedral in order to listen to the great preacher, Ambrose. Bit by bit the gospel message began to reach him.

One day Augustine was in his back yard, wrestling with life, with his constant compromise with lust and his sensual lifestyle. The Lord supernaturally broke into his world. As Augustine was sitting under a tree he heard a child’s voice repeated singing, “Take up and read, take up and read.” When he looked over the fence, however, no one was there. Then Augustine looked down at the Bible he had next to him. He picked it up and read the spot where the Bible fell open: “Not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Rom 13:13-14, NASB). Augustine was convicted to the core. This led to his repentance and conversion, being baptized on Easter day by Bishop Ambrose.

Continued Venture
Augustine’s venture did not end with his conversion. This is only about half way through Confessions. His pilgrimage carried on as he grew in his relationship with the Lord.

Another profound encounter he had with the Lord took place at the Italian port city of Ostia. Monica had been with him for some years in Italy, and she aging. One day Augustine and his mother were looking out over the garden and talking about heaven. As they did so, both were caught up into a glimpse of heaven. Soon after, Monica died.

Throughout the remainder of Confessions, Augustine continues to tell his journey as he grew into an ever-deeper knowledge of God.

Our Spiritual Pilgrimage
Augustine presents the believer as the homo viator—the person on a journey. Let us not settle for where we are with the Lord at the moment. Rather, let us continually push forward, as Paul states in Phil 3:12-14,

“Not that I have already . . . been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. . . . But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

2011 © Glenn E. Myers