Friday, October 17, 2008

Willard on using the Bible safely

A blurb of wisdom from Willard's Hearing God on how to approach Scripture usefully and safely (HT: Todd):

We will be spiritually safe in our use of the Bible if we follow a simple rule: Read it with a submissive attitude. Read with a readiness to surrender all you are—all your plans, opinions, possessions, positions. Study as intelligently as possible, with all available means, but never study merely to find the truth and especially not just to prove something wrong. Subordinate your desire to find the truth to your desire to do it, to act it out!

I may spend a long time with that last sentence: "Subordinate your desire to find the truth to your desire to do it, to act it out." This priority (and the plan to implement it) was one of the first and most striking differences between every bible study or small group (or worship service) I've been a part of and working the steps with John. In my previous bible studies or small groups (several of which I was leading) the weakest point was the follow-up and follow through on the 'doing' of what we learned. By definition, perhaps, the focus of a bible study is information intake. Sunday service was often the same in evangelical circles. We were always on to the next topic next week, regardless of how well or how poorly any or all of us had really implemented and made a habit of what we learned last week. The process of follow up or follow through was spotty to non-existent. It was left largely to the individual. 52 isn't that many 'truths' to learn in a year. It seems like an inhuman amount of new habits to form without intelligent and community-supported follow up and follow through.

By contrast, I've thoroughly enjoyed how John and I, though we began working the steps at the same time, are not currently on the same step, because our goal has not been to get through the steps either quickly or in lock step, but to let each step do its work thoroughly and completely in each of us, each of us working individually with support from God and each other to make each step fruitful in our actual lives, which is a similar but unique experience and work for each of us. Also, because of the size of our group (2), we don't have to limit our conversation to a certain topic (e.g., "Tonight we're discussing step 9."). We have the time to be person focused, purpose focused, process focused, rather than topic focused. I've heard for years in Church circles "I'm educated way beyond the level of my obedience." I think Church as we've known it is pretty much designed for that outcome, hence it's prevalence. Should we do anything about that, or just accept it?

Many Christians assume that communal attempts to focus on implementation of truth become inevitably legalistic and judgmental. I wonder. AA seems to let the communication and discovery of truth be subordinate to (be a servant of) the implementation of truth, and they seem to be (in)famous for being full of people more welcoming and full of grace than most churches--and more honest at the same time.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Steps Toward Humanity Akin to Jesus Christ

This isn't finished. I'm not finished. But after wrestling with Jesus and the steps and Dallas Willard and God knows what all else for years, here are the steps as I've been using them for the last several months, more or less, and plan to continue for some time to come.

As with most things, the precise phrasing isn't as critical as the implementing the spirit behind the words, to the extent it is the spirit of God. Your feedback is welcome.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Teresa of AA-vila

Today, I'm throwing in some help from Teresa of Avila, on the role of self-examination, and of prayer and meditation in the task of becoming akin to and more intimately involved with Christ. As with William Law, I get really jazzed to see this stuff in so old and trusted a source as Teresa of Avila. It amazes and thrills me to see so much of the means and goals of the steps in so many Christian classics.

This passage from her classic work, Interior Castle, underscores the necessity of what AA would much later call steps 4, 10 and 11, and offers some wisdom on their relative importance. Both self examination and more 'vertical' prayers and meditations are necessary in making all the rooms of our "interior castle"—Teresa's image of the multi-tiered and compartmentalized human soul—into a beautiful and functional home for the true King.
Mark well . . . that self-knowledge is indispensable, even for those whom
God takes to dwell in the same mansion with Himself. Nothing else, however
elevated, perfects the soul which must never seek to forget its own nothingness.
Let humility be always at work, like the bee at the honeycomb, or all will be
lost. But, remember, the bee leaves its hive to fly in search of flowers and the
soul should [often] cease thinking of itself to rise in meditation on the
grandeur and majesty of its God. It will learn its own baseness better thus than
by self-contemplation, and will be freer . . . [.] Although it is a great grace
from God to practice self-examination, yet ‘too much is as bad as too little,’
as they say; believe me, by God’s help, we shall advance more by contemplating
the Divinity than by keeping our eyes fixed on ourselves, poor creatures of
earth that we are.

I do not know whether I have put this clearly; self-knowledge is of such
consequence that I would not have you careless of it, [because] though you may
be lifted to heaven in prayer, while on earth nothing is more needful than
[emphasis added]. Therefore, I repeat, not only a good way, but the
best of all ways, is to endeavor to enter [the work in the soul through prayer
and meditation] first by the room where humility is practiced [i.e., the room of
self-knowledge], which is far better than at once rushing on to the

In a process of apprenticeship and change, it is necessary to look at and even meditate on (think about) both our own ways as well as those of the Master we are seeking to emulate. The beginning of our transformation will be weighted more to the former, while we will eventually focus more and more on the latter. Eventually I imagine we become so one with Christ that these twin tasks become quite fluid, like the way we subtly and even unthinkingly checking our speed and how much gas is in the tank, and adjust the AC, the steering wheel, the brakes and accelerator, even change gears, all while keeping our eyes down the road where we are headed, even though, when we began driving, we had to pay much more attention to our own actions with the car, than where we were going. Accurately assessing one's own life and Christ's are both wonderful gifts from God, and are both essential to the task at hand, but as Teresa has said, "we shall advance more" in the long run by contemplating Jesus—he is our chief subject—than by assessing ourselves alone. Let us examine ourselves initially and regularly, but all the while learn to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our trust.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Some resources for working the steps

For those that are interested in using the 12 steps explicitly for pursuing Christian growth, here are some resources I can recommend: First, I've been using One Day at a Time by Trevor Hudson. The book is short, to the point, and has had several helpful tips for working each step, which has been particularly helpful with certain steps. I've been working the steps with my friend, John, and he's using Keith Miller's Hunger for Healing Workbook, so each of us are getting exposure to both authors' tips, which have really helped flesh out how to go about each step. Keith Miller appears to be the godfather of using the steps explicitly for Christian growth; I plan on getting his book Hunger for Healing after seeing John's workbook for it. is a free online resource that is absolutely fantastic. They give summaries and excerpts from the Big Book of AA, from AA's 12 and 12 and from other recovery groups for each step, scriptural passages for each step, worksheets, etc.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I suggest doing the steps with another person, preferably someone who has done them with good results. Since neither John nor I have worked the steps before, I frequently talk to other friends of mine who have worked the steps through AA or Al-Anon, to get their input. Remember, the steps aren't a race. I'll be posting the version of the steps I've ended up with in my head, having adjusted them slightly for the goal of growth in Christ, soon.

Monday, October 06, 2008

What's this Christianity thing about, anyway?

One can sometimes get the wrong impression from how Christianity is often practiced as to what God's priorities are for his people. On that note, a word from our enviably named brother, William Law, from A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (does this guy know how to name a book or what?):

[T]hat religion or devotion which is to govern the ordinary actions of our life is to be found in almost every verse of Scripture. Our blessed Saviour and His Apostles are wholly taken up in doctrines that relate to common life. They call us to renounce the world, and differ in every temper and way of life, from the spirit and the way of the world: to renounce all its goods, to fear none of its evils, to reject its joys, and have no value for its happiness: to be as new-born babes, that are born into a new state of things: to live as pilgrims in spiritual watching, in holy fear, and heavenly aspiring after another life: to take up our daily cross, to deny ourselves, to profess the blessedness of mourning, to seek the blessedness of poverty of spirit: to forsake the pride and vanity of riches, to take no thought for the morrow, to live in the profoundest state of humility, to rejoice in worldly sufferings: to reject the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life: to bear injuries, to forgive and bless our enemies, and to love mankind as God loveth them: to give up our whole hearts and affections to God, and strive to enter through the strait gate into a life of eternal glory.

This is the common devotion which our blessed Saviour taught, in order to make it the common life of all Christians. Is it not therefore exceeding strange that people should place so much piety in the attendance upon public worship, concerning which there is not one precept of our Lord's to be found, and yet neglect these common duties of our ordinary life, which are commanded in every page of the Gospel?

Sound daunting? It is!! (even if our brother Law slightly overstated the call) In fact, without the help of God, the Way of Christ is impossible. But Christianity is about coming to do our actual life with and through Christ and his power, in the way he knows it should be done for the good of all. It's about learning how to let God, through his annointed leader, actually run things. The time has come. The government of God (through it's King) is near. Change your plans, your direction, and trust this good news. Receive the governing of God through Christ. Enter it. Follow Christ. Learn to live in this Way. These are the invitations of the New Testament. If you want to say "Yes" to this, and you want a prayer to pray, pray the Lord's prayer, then follow it through with something like the steps: Learn to stop letting sin reign in your body; instead, learn to let Christ heal and reign through every part of you. How can we do this without honestly taking an inventory of ourselves and our patterns of action, and then seeking the help of God and other followers? I love the steps because they are about actually identifying where sin has reigned in us and seeking God's help for that to stop (and they've helped me see that come to pass in my life).

Lord, let your government come; let your will be done on earth, just like it is in heaven.