Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lent as a Journey

   As Lent approaches, I find myself wondering where I am inside of the Christian tradition. I want to say that I have made the move from Baptist to Reformed, but this is not true. I am still trying to figure out how I am shaped by the theology of my childhood (Baptist), and how that has changed through my time in college and graduate school (Reformed). It would be false to say that I have left behind my roots, as they are always with me. I am always inside of the hermeneutical circle created in my youth. What I mean by this is that what I grew up believing will always continue to influence how I read the world around me, and I can never, nor should I ever want to, get rid of this influence.(Hans-Georg Gadamer makes this point in Truth and Method (Continuum Impacts))

     Thus, it is my goal during the Lenten season (Ash Wednesday-Holy Saturday) to try to explore where I am in the Christian Tradition. I started this discipline two years ago after reading an article by Merold Westphal, entitled Atheism for Lent (http://theotherjournal.com/2008/02/20/atheism-for-lent/). In this short article, which is a summary of his book, Suspicion and Faith: The Religious Uses of Modern Atheism[Image]. In the article, and the book, Westphal encourages Christians to take the time of Lent to explore our fundamental beliefs through the philosophers of suspicion (Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx) in order to question why we believe what we believe. This exercise was challenging, as I was implicitly taught not to question my beliefs in such a fashion. It was also challenging, as I have been a Christian for what seems all my life, being born into a Christian family, a Christian church, and by extension, a Christian tradition. What I learned from this spiritual exercise is that we need to be always reforming, always questioning what we belief and why. It was an attempt to take the charge given by St. Peter, " always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15, NASB). By taking seriously the charges and questions of Nietzsche, Freud and Marx, I found that I was better prepared to not only defend the hope inside of me, but I re-discovered the hope given to me by the Triune God.

       Continuing on this theme, the next Lenten season, I explored the works of Paul Van Buren, Thomas JJ Altizer, William Hamilton and Gabriel Vahanian. Collectively, these authors founded the Death of God theological movement. This movement was brought to the attention of the American public in the October 1965 issue of Time Magazine that chronicled it. (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,941410,00.html)  By reading these thinkers on what it would mean if we have replaced God, I searched my life to see if what I held about God was idolatrous, and to see if I was contributing to the removal of God in my life and the life of others.

   This year, I am taking a different approach to the same problem that I started two years ago. (Understanding our faith is not a mere Lenten project, but an on-going journey) I am going to read Emil Brunner's Dogmatics. I am reading this to help me understand not just the Reformed faith, but the Faith. As a philosopher, by training and vocation, it is easy to let theological ideas remain under-defined while trying to shore up my philosophical acumen. Thus, for this Lenten season, I am attempting to de-compartmentalize my mind and heart.

   I am trying then, to embark on a journey towards being a more faithful follower of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is not a mere intellectual journey that I am embarking on. I am approaching the subject academically, yet, I will also be using my reading as devotions, to be able to not just think through complex doctrines, but to meditate on how to live them out.


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  2. Brother Jesse,

    I am excited to see you undertake this exploration of heart and mind, to intentionally explore the traditions you are in, and to faithfully serve our Triune God with diligence, passion, and conviction. I eagerly await your findings, and hope both the friendship and conversation will grow and continue.

    I have only 2 questions from your opening paragraphs.

    First, in most of western Christianity Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (a day most protestants neither practice or have heard of), but in the Catholic and Orthodox's traditions Lent ends on Mundey Thursday, which then begins the three days of the Easter Triduum rather than the last two days of Lent. What is the significance of your homo viator to your project, does that make sense?

    Second, what projects this project from the realm of the mind to the realm of both mind and spirit? Does it have to do with your questing tradition(s)?

  3. In this second question I am asking if your task (to read Emil Brunner's Dogmatics) truly has conversation with heart and mind. In other words, how is reading (which in our traditions has been almost a total mind thing) going to intentionally be fostered and transferred into a heart thing?

  4. As being in the Protestant tradition, I believe that I need to follow in the footsteps of those that have gone before me in my questi(o)n(in)g.

    Secondly, I understand that reading is held as a very intellectual exercise after the Cartesian revolution. However, if we read the church fathers, we realize that it is much deeper than that. Thus, I have been reading more devotional books to focus my reading as not just intellectual. In fact, I believe that there cannot be a division between the two (mind and spirit), so I reject your assertion that this can happen.

  5. Dan, I'm appreciating your articles so much, in part for the very reason you give in your comment above -- your approach, while intellectual, is very worshipful. It truly comes across as far more than mere intellectual exercise.

  6. Pam,
    I'm glad that you are enjoying them, and I'm glad that it comes across as more than an intellectual exercise. It's hard to tell somedays and it's hard to be worshipful some days.