I think I am back. I need to make a commitment to force myself to write again. So here goes.
In my response to Jollyblogger and Adrian Warnock’s articles on TULIP, I stated that I believed the discussion should start and end with the goal of teaching the reader how these truths of God’s greatness are to be applied in the Christian life. David and Adrian, and Jeremy Pierce as well, are, in those posts, laying a great foundation to understand the rationale and reasoning behind the doctrines BUT that is not my gifting or role in the church or the blogosphere.
Instead, I am looking to bring to the reader’s life not the answers to theological questions but assistance to learn how to enter a certain type of practice. I am not teaching “about tennis” but attempting to “actually teach tennis”.
I do not ask the question “what is the doctrine unconditional election?” but instead, “what does the contemplation of “unconditional election look like?”. To me the contemplation of unconditional election is a skill like playing the piano or playing tennis. Yet, when I say something like “contemplating unconditional election”, I am speaking a language many 21st century Christians do not understand. The discipleship program of the church is in such disarray that a vast majority of Christians (at least in the Calvinistic denominations) simply do not have an approach to sanctification which I think is effective. It is apparent that our teaching methods do not align or communicate effectively the activities necessary for Christians to learn sanctifying practices. Are we teaching people what the doctrine of unconditional election is or are we teaching people how to contemplate your election in the midst of your faith journey? My point is we need to be teaching the later. Nonetheless, on the path to application, we obviously need to teach the doctrine itself as a foundation to this application. In reality, this distinction between these two types of knowing is a good way to distinguish the difference between milk and meat. Knowing the doctrine is milk, but learning or knowing how to abide in peace by applying the doctrine is where the rubber meets the road.
Today's Church as I see It
If I were to say “contemplate unconditional election” to a member of Jonathan Edward’s congregation, I believe I would be easily understood. Certainly, if I was to say this to Edwards himself, he could actually tell me a story of his contemplative experience to help me understand the vitality of the practice and its effect on him. So, what do I actually mean by “contemplation of unconditional election” and what does it mean to say such contemplation is a skill?
Let’s say that I am in a place of questioning my purpose in life, like a mid-life crisis. OK let’s not just pretend, I actually am going through a mid-life crisis. (but that is another post). Anyway, such a crisis is actually based on very real, and I think often appropriate, anxiety. It may be that I truly have wasted my life. It may be that I feel I have not overcome certain character flaws, and I need to wake up out of my denial and face reality before I enter the later stages of my life. So as a consequence, I am filled with anxiety. In facing this anxiety, I am forced to deeply re-evaluate who I am and what am for. If I do not do this well, I could end up ruining my marriage, becoming a workaholic, drinking to much, having an affair, or act out in some other self-destructive activity in an attempt to alleviate my unresolved anxiety. The anxiety is actually based in reality. So to face reality head-on, I suggest to my soul to “wait on the Lord”.
So, I go to the Lord in prayer with the purpose of a deep contemplation of who I am and what I am for. The superficial prayer capacity which many 21st Century Christians possess or have skill for will not solve this deep problem.
Personally, I would begin with worship. I would put on a worship CD or grab my guitar and begin to sing. I would sing probably for at least 45 minutes to one hour. Hopefully, by then, I would gain some “view of God’s majesty”. In this prayer exercise, my knowledge of God begins with “the God is great as an axiom” type of knowing to an “I know God’s greatness” experience or knowing. My goal is to solve my problem from God’s presence and not from my mind alone. My personal experience is that only from God’s presence do I think clearly. Therefore only from here, (i.e. after a time of worship), would I ask the Lord, “Father, who am I and what am I for?” At this point, my theology kicks in!!! You see I know who I am axiomatically (like I know 1+1=2), and this type of knowledge is very important to the task of finding the fruit of peace necessary to live in peace and to solve real problems like this one of the proverbial “mid-life crisis”.
Something like the following might happen. Let’s say, John 1:12 comes to my mind. “To those who believe, He gave the right to become children of God”. And to this the Spirit adds, “and know this, you did not choose me but I choose you”.
In this place of growing clarity and insight, I would normally pick up my guitar and begin to sing something spontaneously, or maybe just pray something for awhile or write something. By this time I am in a place that is very pleasurable, and I do not want to lose the clarity. I try to just stay there for a bit. All the while though, I am seeing the application.
“Who you are and who I called you to be, before the foundation of the earth, does not change!! You are a father to six beautiful children. Focus on this stage of this child’s life…” Again I might write something down. “This aspect of your relationship with your family is not according to who I have made you….” Again I write something down. My knowledge of God, my knowledge of myself, and my knowledge of my circumstances are all coming into clarity and it is mingling together with a well studied biblical theology.
All this application is based though on a theological understand of my unconditional election. I am forever a certain type of person: a child of God. This identity cannot be changed. From this deep sense of my persevering identity, of which I did nothing to be qualified for and can never shake off, I take on and put on a certain understanding of my purpose. From the place of my theology and the intimate application, I am gaining clarity into “who I am” and “what I am for”. Peace begins to reign. The place I am in life is perfect.
Such a contemplation (prayer time) will usually take most of a morning or maybe most of a day (as my wife is well aware). To me this practice is very normal and ought to be very common.
But do most Christian father’s make this their regular practice? Is such a skill being learned daily or at least weekly? How about for us bloggers? Or how about us pastor’s? Is this the Christian practice that we teach? How does our lack of personal skill in such contemplation relate to how we teach? How does this relate to our understanding of the process of sanctification?
Frankly, I do not know any other way to learn truth than by this method of contemplation and conscious contact with God. I have never asked questions other than starting with an actual problem of discipleship or holiness and then using my theology in prayer to come to solutions. I do not know any other way to know God and develop my worldview and perspective of life and God. I believe that what I am describing is the proper path to knowing God and understanding ourselves as spiritual men and women.