Thursday, January 31, 2008

White Whale

My man Matt Humphrey has recently revamped his blog and has put some new posts up. Check it out; it's worth a peak. Click on the link.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Anne Lamott writes in her spiritual autobiography Traveling Mercies, “Religion is for those who are afraid of Hell, spirituality is for those who’ve been through it.” I agree, in some ways. We all have seen how “religion” can be—and often is—dry bones. Formalism without meaning and spontaneity, structure without life—these are some of the phrases that have come to describe many people’s thoughts about religion. Still, religious studies classes at Harvard and other Ivy League schools—as well as UBC—are filling up. In Chapters Bookstore there are aisles of shelf space given to religious books. Still, and here Lamott’s quote takes flesh, based on church attendance Vancouver is perhaps the most ‘secular’ place in North America. People crave spiritual experience, and a vague notion of “spirituality” but are leery of ‘religion.’
There are a few characteristics of this “fad,” if it’s fair to call it that, that strike me as odd. The first is how private it is. Overhearing a conversation at Starbucks a few weeks ago I heard a person report to a friend “…Then she started asking me if I was spiritual, and kept asking questions. Now believe me, I am deeply spiritual! But it’s private—I’m not gonna tell her about my private spiritual life.” It’s quite amazing really, that is, how the spiritual side of our lives has become more private than our sex life.

Second, while we are rightly becoming more aware of third world exploitation—we’re buying fair-trade even though it cost more. We, the West, are engaging in other forms of exploitation, namely, religious exploitation. I think of the young businessman who has statues of Shiva and Buddha, and perhaps a Greek Orthodox cross in his house and upon a dinner conversation says, “I hate the west, all we care about here is getting money.” The irony, of course, being that with all his warranted distaste of Western society he really is deeply Western—his home d├ęcor proves it. He has brought together different religions for the sake of his own stylish spirituality and thus shown disregard for what the statue of Buddha ultimately means, say, to the Buddhist. Like the woman who doesn’t care about fair-trade as long as her coffee is rich and bold, he too, ultimately, doesn’t care about the deep history and meaning of Buddha, along as his spirituality is personally rewarding and savvy.

What is striking about contemporary spirituality is how self centered it is. This, I must say, saddens me. However, Lamott is still very right. Spirituality does appeal to those who have experienced hard times, or as she puts it, “hell.” The Christian message, though, is comforting as it maintains that true hope ultimately comes, not from a tradition, but a person—the person of Jesus Christ. When troubled, remember that, reach through the spiritual confusion of our present time, all the way to Christ. He is the one who offers a real hope—in a real relationship.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bavinck and Common Grace

I've been reading about Common Grace lately. It's a distinctive of reformed theology though it has other Protestant and Catholic parallels, such as Natural Theology, Natural Law, General Revelation. What the main difference is Common Grace's ability to escape a systematic definition. Some of the greatest proponents of Common Grace have maintained that they surely believe it exists, though they don't know exactly what it is. It arises naturally from experience. All around us we see people who do not live, at least confessedly, under God's special atoning grace. Yet, many of them are incredibly profound thinkers and artists. Their work and thought confesses aspects of a Christian world-view, though without the terms of the confessions and creeds. It also arises from the reformed theologians desire to maintain that everything good is God's free gift, that is, man not only did not merit it but God actively gave it. Further it avoids distinctions between nature and grace, which are common to other areas of theology. Common Grace theologians maintains it's not limited to the work of culture, but that even rain that waters crops is a common grace. Everything that prevents sin and promotes life which is not distinct to only those who live under God's Saving Grace could be called Common Grace. We find biblical support for such a theology in John 1:9 and Acts 17, as well as many other places in the Bible.

One of the greatest proponents of such a view is my man Herman Bavinck, the contemporary of Abraham Kuyper. Bavinck represents some of the best of Dutch Neo-Calvinism. Here are a couple quotes:

The three sisters, logic, physics, and ethics, are like the three wise men from the east, who came to worship Jesus in perfect wisdom


The good philosophical thoughts scattered through the pagan world receive in Christ their unity and center