“Solitude is choosing to be alone and to dwell on our experience of isolation from other human beings. Solitude frees us actually.” – Dr. Dallas Willard, Spirit of the Disciplines, p160
Willard soundly renounces and condemns monasticism. He says that it misunderstands and misrepresents what it looks like to imitate Christ. He lists many examples of early abuses and just plain ‘strangenesses’ of the desert fathers… letting worms eat you, sitting on three foot square platforms sixty feet in the air for years… picturing St. Benedict with switches and so forth.
Abuses happen for sure. But I also think Willard doesn’t understand vocational prayer. He presents a classic Evangelical assessment of monasticism.
Willards then attacks Protestantism stating “Here is where the Protestant reaction against asceticism comes in: it was a reaction against any essential role of spiritual disciplines in the process of redemption.” p144 Willard says that not only Lutherans but Baptists and Pentecostals fell into the anti-Catholic “disciplines” that left little to do but “think” and go to church. “Protestantism made the mistake of simply rejecting the disciplines as essential to the new life in Christ.” p147
How do we proceed forward with the spiritual life, with spiritual disciplines? More on this next time.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
“I beat my body and make it my slave.” – Paul, 1 Corinthians 9:27
Paul spends years in the desert after his meeting the risen Christ. This came after three days after his Damascus road experience, three days of fasting – no food or drink. Fifteen years later his spends time teaching in Antioch (Syria). Some where in those years he is beaten five times by his fellow Pharisees attempting to bring him back from Christianity. Fasting and prayer accompanied the sending of Paul and Barnabas from Antioch to evangelize Asia Minor. Paul and Barnabas ordained leaders in those cities with fasting and prayer. Paul sacrificed, was frugal and lived simply. He worked for his food. He did not take a wage as an evangelist.
We have a long way to go if we want to “imitate Paul” as he implores his letter readers to do. Dr. Dallas Willard: “We talk about leading a different kind of life, but we also have ready explanations for not being really different.” (Spirit of the Disciplines, p108) Are we not following the same Jesus and believing in the same Jesus as Paul? How can we escape following Jesus like Paul?
Paul had a rhythm of fasting, solitude and prayer. It is no fabrication to say that Paul was the original desert father. After his desert preparations THEN he began his ministry. And that was after spending a rigorous life as a Pharisee. Can we escape the same rigors and expect the same results?
Lent is spiritual training. We fight spiritual evils with bodily disciplines.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
Evangelicals believe church traditions are unbiblical because tradition is only human interpretation of Scripture. Simon Chan quotes former president of Dallas Theological Seminary, Lewis Sperry Chafer who speaks the Evangelical mind toward church tradition
The very fact that I did not study a prescribed course in theology made it possible for me to approach the subject with an unprejudiced mind and to be concerned only with what the Bible actually teaches.
Chan: “…evangelicalism accepts an ahistorical view of the church supported by an ahistorical view of Scripture, cut off from [church] tradition. As a result, the church is constantly being created by one’s own action in the here and now on the basis of a Bible viewed as a deposit of propositional truths and timeless principles that can be transposed into any time and situation.” (Liturgical Theology, IVP, p30)
This ahistorical church and Bible is detrimental because life and meaning are never without context. The failure to perceive one’s own situational interpretation of Scripture leaves the present-moment church without a healthy identity. Identity is always formed out of history. Always. We Evangelicals have fallen into the trap of recent modernism’s “myth of objectivity.”
My friends in China believe they are ‘just reading the scriptures’ meaning they believe the Scriptures have a single pure meaning, with perhaps even NOT considering the historical context. Evangelicals scholars however, place a high value on exegetical tools of historicity. Interesting they will legitimately consider the historic settings of say Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church but fail to realize any value to say the monastic movement, desert fathers and mothers, creeds, and even the Psalter.
The larger historical church says the church is our mother. Evangelicals are runaways still believing home is a bad place. They miss out of nurturing. They are story-less and thus make the same mistakes as the rest of church – except in spades! Now the free church has some 30,000 denominations within the U.S. Each person thinks they are their own private church. This is heresy: the church is the body of Christ. Beyond nice metaphor, Paul speaks of our necessity for each other in 1 Corinthians 12. It is not a suggestion. It is our “ontology” our being, our identity, our Via, our way.
Therefore, let us explore church traditions – with all caution of course. Let us learn from our “cloud of witnesses…” Augustine on theology, Teresa on prayer, Calvin on justification, Wesley on discipleship, King Jr. on justice …and on and on. And let us look deeply into the Orthodox and Roman churches for how to be in a rich relationship with Jesus, constant, steadfast, unswayed, and consistent.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
For Lent I decided to Engage – rather than abstain or fast. Here’s my Lenten Rhythm:
Divine Office – I downloaded an iPhone app of the Catholic Divine Office called Universalis.com. The Office includes Morning Prayer (Lauds), Mid-Morning Prayer (Terce), Midday Prayer (Sext), Afternoon Prayer (None), Evening Prayer (Vespers) and Night Prayer (Compline). I only engage in Morning, Midday and Evening Prayers. Each of these offices include the Introduction “O God, come to my aid…” first Psalm, Canticle, second Psalm, Short Reading, Short Responsory, Canticle (Benedictus in the Morning and Magnificat in the Evening), Prayers and Intercessions (includes the Lord’s Prayer) and then a final Blessing. Whew. My dream of reading all the Psalms each cycle however will not occur without reading all the Office hours including one called Vigils, which for some monks happens at 3:15 a.m. Maybe I will add the other three offices that I am missing.
Spiritual Order – Lakeland is underway with a Lenten Challenge prescribed under the auspices of a select group of Lakelanders who are attempting to be vocational pray-ers. I won’t list the details of the Order but it is rigorous – highly demanding disciplines and accountability. I will present this stuff sometime during Lent here.
Soul Patch – Whadda? Yep it is back. A few years ago I tried to grow a soul patch during Lent – took my three weeks to finally stop shaving there – running on autopilot you know. I know it sounds silly but believe me, it works well as a daily discipline, and day-long reminder to pray and do the day different. This is my “Nazarene” thing.
Blog – Six days a week I will blog (Sunday off). Writers say writing is a spiritual discipline. I wanna try.
I didn’t do any foods this time around. I will keep you posted.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
Theologian Scot McKnight states
“Some today use the word fasting for not watching TV during Lent, abstaining from desserts, or not watching sports on Sunday. Each of these can be a good discipline for specific individuals, but I do not believe it is accurate to call these things fasting. Why? Because fasting in the Bible describes not eating or not drinking. …To choose not to watch TV or not to eat savory meats on Friday is not fasting but abstinence. ” – Fasting, Thomas Nelson 2009, p.18-19.
Early McKnight quotes Amy Johnson Frykolm, “Fasting… is about three things: attentiveness, compassion and freedom.” p.xx These three are sequential — A then B then C. McKnight says fasting the natural response to “a grievous sacred moment…” death, sin, fear, threats, needs and sickness. The fast results in life, forgiveness, safety, hope answers and health (corresponding to the prior list). Therefore, fasting is all about prayer, that is, talking and listening to and with g-d. I find McKnight’s thoughts interesting in that he says “fasting is a response.” I tend to think of fasting as something I choose to do without being prompted by some grievous sacred moment like death or sickness.
McKnight says fasting is the most misunderstood of all spiritual practices because it involves “body talk” – our bodies are spiritual temples, conductors, or vessels. Our culture has split our spirit/soul from our body. The result is a great disconnect between food and our body, and prayer and our intimacy with g-d.
Fasting in the Bible never lasts much longer than 12 hours.