Let’s just begin by saying I like my path at 64!
I have lived through fads, programs, evangelical marketing, worship styles, theology wars, certain keys to church success, certain keys to the victorious Christian life. It has all rushed through my open soul like a torrent. For a time, each has carried me down the river a certain way until I found my way to midstream again.
My early background was the conversion of my parents when I was aged two. And I mean converted. They were all in. Not like mindless fanaticism but as in the whole soul and all that the soul touches. Little did I know that I was being raised in an independent, fundamentalist baptist church. It did not feel sectarian, legalistic and mean to me. My parents loved those people, those people loved my parents, and it was all grand. My parents, because of their great love for the Lord, eventually migrated from this narrow way. They began attending a church I had started to go to when I was a junior in high school. It was an interdenominational church that focused on big picture Christianity, a blending of Christians from many different streams of faith. It was a healthy fellowship and launched me into the world of Evangelicalism.
In college InterVarsity Christian Fellowship impacted me with thoughtful world and life view formation based on intelligent and reasoned readings of the Bible. IVCF has been my basic soul-shaping experience. I didn’t stop growing at that point, but the bent of the tree was set at that moment. Since that time IVCF’s breadth and depth has been the matrix of spiritual formation for me.
Now that I am 64 the following things are shaping me and satisfying me. I will add more along the way, but this is an initial take.
1. I am a Protestant of the Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli variety. Along the way I have come close to the Roman Catholic way, as one will do in Boston. My area of Boston is 80% RC. Its history, emphases and intellectual thought have all made a powerful impact on my life. but the Five Solas of the Reformation, as the Reformers understood them, continue to dominate the landscape of my theological vision: Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Christ Alone, Glory of God Alone.
2. I am of a mystical bent. There is a depth to our faith which takes us beyond the mere thinking upon explicit doctrinal formulations. All formulations fall short of the actual experience they purport to describe. They will take you so far, and then you must jump into the water – Christ Himself, the immensity of Him, the depths of being loved and loving, of knowing and seeing what words cannot describe and must always limit. My tradition is very skeptical of mysticism, as all theological schools are. Mystics are threats to theological systems. You can’t count on them to fight theological wars. That mostly describes me. I will go to the battlefield for orthodoxy of the Apostles and Nicene Creeds kind. But I am very aware of the limits of systems and know at what point they will fail to answer the questions that the soul poses. I will not spend a great deal of effort to mark off territory.
3. I am not a fan of determinism in spiritual things, a la Calvinism. The romance of a man with his God, the moral drama of decision, and the experience of twist and turn does not correspond to me with the heavy determinism of High Calvinism. To be human is to choose. Surely I believe, as all Christians do, that the grace of God is the beginning point for salvation. Nothing happens apart from the decision of God to bring grace into our darkness and deadness. To this I would add the drama of the pilgrim choosing. I suspicious of “automatics” in the Christian life.
4. I have become aware of how deep is the root of sin. Perfectionism of any kind raises my blood pressure. It is untrue, unreal, an empty ghost, a ruse. The Christian will never lose his ability to embarrass himself. Perfectionism needs marketing, huge doses of it, because to believe it one must deny the obvious and build a dream world.
5. I love liturgy. This is hard to put together with being a Baptist. But I believe words matter, that how we speak and what we do in worship are soul forming. They don’t just stop with the worship service but continue to operate long after we have departed. Totally spontaneous and extemporaneous worship has become for me something akin to toxicity. It shouts “beware.” The moments where it leads to healthy places are rare. The spontaneous emotional outbursts of a 25 year old music leader and a 35 year old pastor who thinks church history began with Billy Graham both shout to me, “Get out now, while you can.” Just here I think of the words of Annie Dillard, “I often thinks of the set pieces of the liturgy as a certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed.” Time-tested words that have proven to lead the soul nearer God.
6. I love not having a career to protect, polish or enhance. Most of what I was ever going to do, I have done. I would like to think that it mostly is not about me anymore. I can take time to listen, not worry about other people’s different agendas as threatening to my own, let other people have their say. I mostly want to be the presence of God’s presence, to bring to others the awareness that God can be known, trusted, that he will lead and that they are more taken care of by God than they know.
7. I distrust my extroversion. There was a time I thought it was a gift. Now I see it as a burden I have not borne well. It has squeezed too many people out. I can put some others on the defensive without knowing it, make them feel cornered. What they needed from me was freedom. God is fully capable of speaking to them, leading them, coaching them, and in a thousand other ways pulling them into His will.
8. I delight to find out how much grace has been extended to me by others over the years without me even knowing it. So many moments flash before my eyes when I can only of myself, “what a jerk!” Now I can see others trying to extend favor to me in spite of it. Some couldn’t quite pull that off and had to walk away. How could I ever hold that against them? I wish they knew it. I was responsible for being grace to them, for giving them room for their own path. I forced them off the path where we two could walk alongside one another.
9. At age 64 my soul is picking up speed. The body does not keep up and needs more care and attention, but my soul is taking over. It reminds me of CS Lewis’, “Til We All Have Faces.” In the world to come we become all face. The soul is not judged by the body. The soul uses the body.
10. I see Christ everywhere, not just in my tribe. He is in all literature, poetry, art, and music. I taste him in every book I crack, every lecture I attend, every movie I see. All of life is All Christ. The boundary lines between the secular and the sacred are vanishing.
11. The Bible is story, not just a textbook of doctrines to fight for. I have an orthodox view of the Bible and use all the words Evangelicals salute to describe it. But it has become to me, as CS Lewis put it, a true myth, all myths coming true before our eyes. It is everything you wish was true becoming true. If you understand what I mean, I will take the risk of calling it magical.
12. I am certain the story is true. I am a true believer – body, soul, affections and mind. Apologetics has no attraction for me. I have always found it irritating. Now I feel it of hardly any use at all.
13. I want to give, not take; not have but let go.
14. Few words have suffered a worse fate than asceticism. But it should have a larger role. I read about it and think about it and try to let it step into my life with Christ.