Monday, May 09, 2005

In the Foxhole - Part X
Abide in the Vine Redux and Back to Theology

Part 1 - Strength before Strength
Part 2 - Pain as Teacher
Part 3 - Waiting
Part 4 - Strength in Christ
Part 5 - Learned Optimism
Part 6 - Abide in the Vine
Part 7 - Practising His Presence
Part 8 - Avoiding a Monomaniacal Focus
Part 9 - Maintaining a Theocentric Mindset

In Part VIII of this series, "Avoiding a Monomaniacal Focus," I wrote about the importance of not making the thing you are struggling with while in the FoxHole the center of your thought and life. I freely confess that this has been my primary challenge in this process. I should have found remedy to this struggle in truths spoken of in Part VI of this series, "Abiding in Vine." But while I understand this cognitively, I had not yet experienced it as a remedy. But I have recently found some assistance in this tension.

A few weeks ago I grabbed an old book I read years ago to review again as I travelled to Denver for work: They Found the Secret by V Raymond Edman.

The book speaks from the perspective of the Exchanged Life, a term first coined by the son of Hudson Taylor. It details the stories of several people who have had some kind of deeper experience with Christ that became life changing.

Edman writes, ""The details of their experience of the crisis of the deeper life are delightfully different, yet their testimony to the reality of the joy and power of the Spirit-filled life is unanimous . . . It is [the Lord] who satisfies the longing soul. He is the secret of the exchanged life!"

I still am learning about this specific movement, so without necessarily endorsing everything it stands for, I can nevertheless say that I have been finding this book very helpful. One thing that it's done for me is to lead me to believe that I have been missing something at the very heart of what John means by Abiding in the Vine. Reading the stories of the men and women's struggles chronicled in They Found the Secret connected two thoughtthreads that I had not previously pulled together - that of Strength in Christ and Abiding the Vine.

While it might seem obvious to most emergesque readers, I think that I've been missing this central core of what John means by "Abiding in the Vine":

We abide in the Vine Who is Jesus to the degree that we yield ourselves to the strength of the One who is within us.

A central passage to this concept is found in Paul's letter to the folks in Galatia.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20 (ESV, emphasis mine)

The key here to releasing the Christlife within us is our faith in Christ (and it's quite all right if some of you say, "Duh").

This connecting of

our Strength in Christ

with

Abiding in the Vine

through the bridge concept (for me) of

Jesus in me

that's realized thru

faith in Him

has become for me a central godthread in my FoxHole.

The last part of this thread - faith in Jesus - has led me to the realization that I have been thinking too much about the bridge and not enough about the destination. Let me explain.

Parts of the bridge for me in this FoxHole would be the Abiding in the Vine theme, the Strength in Christ meme, etc. I've realized that focusing on these bridges too much runs the risk of collapsing true religion down to mere propositionalism.

The way that I can transpropositionalize these godthreads is by focusing my heart and mind on what's on the other side of these throughbridges: God Himself.

Something AW Tozer wrote somewhere has been helpful to me in this regard. Tozer talks about the eye that forgets itself because it's lost in contemplation of its Beloved.

I need to move my gaze from the bridge to Who's on the other side. That is faith. My focus in FoxHole needs to be entirely on God and on Who He is. This is Abiding in Vine. This focus and faith releases the Strength of Christ inside of me thru the Holy Spirit.

Another picture in this regard that's been helpful to me is that of a servant in the hall of a great king. In the presence of such a king, the servant is aware of the monarch's riches, of his power and of his wisdom. The servant is aware of the great accomplishments and great future plans this ruler has for his kingdom. The servant knows that the king cares for him and loves him, but realizes that the kings concerns are so much greater than his and that they, in fact, encompass his concerns. The servant is so overwhelmed by the king's greatness that he does not even think of his own concerns. Or, rather, the servant is so mindful of the king's wisdom and power that he knows without even having to consciously think about it that the king will take care of his concerns. He is confident in his king.

My constant talk about transpropositionality notwithstanding, this has, ironically, brought me back to thinking more about theology, specifically, Theology Proper (or the Doctrine of God Himself), but thinking about it in a different way. I have actually been pulling down my Systematic Theologies again and focusing my reading on God's communicable and incommunicable attributes. But now as I read I need to think, "This is the God Who is with me right now! This is the God Who is inside of me. This is the God who is working around me." It is leading to more holistic and integrated theological reflection that is simultaneously devotional.

That I'm on the right track is suggested to me by the emphasis on "knowledge of God" that I've been seeing in the New Testament. If faith is primary, the such an emphasis would make complete sense. Consider

3"This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent

John 17:3 (all citations New American Standard Bible)

Notice the centrality of knowledge in Paul's amazing prayer where he says

15For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints,

16do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers;

17that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of)wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.

18I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His)calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,

19and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.

Eph. 1:15-19a (emphasis mine)

and then Paul's profound prayer

14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,

15from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name,

16that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man,

17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love,

18may be able to comprehend with (ll the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,

19and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

20Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,

21to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21 (emphasis mine)

And there are several other NT passages you find by BibleGatewaying the word know and its English cognates.

I believe that God's desire is that this FoxHole would precipitate my moving to a new level of relationship with Him. So far, I am writing and thinking about this new level better than I am living it. But I'm encouraged because I'm also very hungry for this new level; and I regard that hunger as an implicit promise of satiation.

2 comments:

Vince said...

Stephen,

Reminds me of a quote I heard years ago: "I looked at Christ, and the dove of peace landed on my heart. I looked at the dove, and the dove flew away."

- Vince

Stephen said...

That's a great quote, Vince - thanks!