I was first introduced to Kallistos Ware’s book The Orthodox Way on September 2, 2006 when it was given to me after a chance meeting with an Eastern Orthodox priest. This priest, whose name I do not know, gave me five books about the Eastern Orthodox Church after briefly taking to me in a hotel restaurant in Los Angeles. Of the five books the priest gave me, Ware’s The Orthodox Way stood out because of its spiritual depth and simple prose. Twelve years later I can honestly say that this book changed the course of my life by introducing me to the path of the mystic.
The book itself isn’t that long, just six short chapters bookended by a prologue and epilogue. The purpose of the book is to introduce the reader to the “fundamental teachings of the Orthodox Church” without being exhaustive or too technical. Rather, Ware lays out “some of the decisive signposts and milestones upon the spiritual Way.” He does this by addressing six different facets of God as noted by the chapter titles: “God as Mystery,” “God as Trinity,” “God as Creator,” “God as Man,” “God as Spirit,” and “God as Prayer.”
Though each of these chapters are packed with amazing gems, the first chapter, “God as Mystery,” was the one that had the most lasting impact on my life. The overall gist of this chapter is that God cannot be known strictly by intellectual reason or as the “conclusion to a process of reasoning.” Rather, knowing God means knowing him as a person who loves and cares for us. Faith in God is, after all, “not logical certainty but a personal relationship” that embraces the presence of doubt while still embarking on the journey.
At the time of my first reading of The Orthodox Way, I was an associate pastor of a small church and a graduate of Vineyard Leadership Institute (a two-year Bible and leadership training program). The temptation to logically figure out God was strong both because of my previous studies and the demands of the church. Through this book I was able to “embrace the mystery of God without having to understand everything.” It gave me the freedom to embrace the unknown while still using my mind and intellect for the glory of God. As St. Gregory of Nyssa (one of the great intellectual Church Fathers) said, “God’s name is not known; it is wondered at.”
Another gem within Ware’s book is his liberal use of quotes from the Church Fathers and Orthodox service books. Most of these quotes were placed before and after each chapter, though he does sprinkle them throughout the body of the chapters. It was through reading these quotes that I was introduced to the Desert Fathers, although it would be years later before I fully realized the spiritual wisdom of these passionate followers of Jesus.
Time does not permit me to expound on the other gems lying within the pages of Bishop Kallistos Ware’s book The Orthodox Way. For far too long the Protestant church in the United States of America has ignored our sisters and brothers in the East. The time has come for us to learn from the Eastern Orthodox Church for “they have a rich heritage of following God and seeing things that we have never seen.”
 Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995), 9.
There is a myth that is so pervasive and widespread that most of us believe its lies without thinking. What, you may ask, is this myth? It is the myth of common sense. Or, to use different words, it is the belief that people everywhere have the ability, wisdom, and understanding to come to the same conclusion as we would or do the same thing that we would do in a given situation. After all, some things are just plain common sense. Or so the argument goes.
The problem with this chain of thought is that everyone on the planet has a different way of seeing the world. We are all unique beings with our own experiences, abilities, thoughts, and actions. Taken together, it means that there is no such thing as “common sense” as we all have our own sense of the world around us.
True, as some might say, there are some shared cultural events, precepts and beliefs. After all, societies work specifically because of shared cultural norms (i.e. attitudes and behaviors that are considered normal with a culture, such as how one is to greet each other). However I would argue that just because we might agree on broad cultural norms, this doesn’t necessarily equate to having a common sense that is shared among humanity. The world is too large and too multifaceted for such a phenomenon.
I highlight this myth because it shows how strongly the desire is within us for simple answers. We want a simple world with simple answers to simple questions. We desperately desire a world that is easy to understand and easy to move around in with folks who see things the same way as we do. Reality, however, isn’t so simple or nice. As C.S. Lewis once remarked, “Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd. It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect…Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed.”
So what should we do? If reality really is complex and strange, as it seems to be, then how do we approach things? How do we move forward through the darkness of the unknown while surrounded by paradoxes and oddities? To quote C.S. Lewis once again, the answer is to “leave behind all these boys’ philosophies – these over-simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simpler either.”
Accordingly let us stop trying to reduce the complexity of this world into simple answers. Let us be honest with ourselves and others and acknowledge the complexity of the world in which we live. And in doing so, let us also recognize the complexity and mysterious wonder of the Creator. He is not a simple being who can be described in simple terms or made to dance to the tune of our thoughts and desires. The focus of Christianity, Bishop Kallistos Ware reminds us, is not to “provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.”
God is God. He is beyond our thinking and understanding (e.g. Ecclesiastes 11:5, Isaiah 55:8-9, Psalm 145:3, 1 Corinthians 2:11). Try as we might, our words and simple descriptions of him will always fall short of fully capturing the wonder of who he really is. Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth century church father, put it this way: “Anyone who tries to describe the ineffable Light in language is truly a liar – not because he hates the truth, but because of the inadequacy of this description.”
C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 48.
Barna Group released a study yesterday stating that the majority of Christians have either doubted their faith or are currently doubting their faith. 40% said they worked through doubt at some point in their journey while 26% of those surveyed said they still experience doubt. Only 35% said they never doubted the faith.
The authors of the study went on to explore what happens to those who doubt (i.e. who do they talk to, what do they do, etc.) before coming to the conclusion that “doubt is a catalyst to spiritual growth.” Hence their suggestion for “lead pastors and spiritual mentors to view seasons of spiritual doubt in their constituents as fertile soil—not as dangerous ground.”
I would have to agree with this conclusion as I feel that followers of Jesus should learn how to embrace doubt and unanswered questions rather than seeking to move past them. To quote a previous post:
It may sound strange in a society of answers, but not knowing can actually do more to free your soul than all the answers in the world. Learning to be conformable with unanswered questions means living a life of trust. We trust Jesus with our concerns and questions. We trust the Holy Spirit to guide and direct ourselves and those around us. We trust the Father with the future and what might or might not happen.
Trusting Jesus. What a novel concept… yet it something we in the Western world don’t do very good. Rather than trusting an invisible, perhaps-distance spirit who may or may not be real, we like trusting in our understanding of the Scriptures. The Scriptures, after all, can be touched, read, seen, and studied.
Even those who focus on experiencing God fail to truly trust him with unanswered questions as they bounce from spiritual high to spiritual high. If I can only experience him then my doubt will be gone… or so the thinking goes.
So, you may ask, how do we learn to live with unanswered questions?
In my newest book, The Mystery, the Way, and the Journey: Embracing the tension of the unknown (currently in process), I talk about rediscovering three fence posts that point us forward into the darkness of the unknown:
The community of believers who have followed Jesus throughout the ages (i.e. not only those around us today, but those who have gone on ahead of us)
The Holy Spirit who is the corner post holding everything together (i.e. when all else is lost, the Spirit remains)
Following these fences posts into the darkness while embracing doubt and unanswered questions is to be honest with ourselves in acknowledging the complexity of the world in which we live. And in doing so, we are also recognizing the complexity and mysterious wonder of the Creator God.
He is not a simple being who can be described in simple terms or made to dance to the tune of our thoughts and desires. The focus of Christianity, Bishop Kallistos Ware reminds us, is not to “provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder” (The Orthodox Way)
Unto this Darkness which is beyond Light we pray that we may come, and may attain unto vision through the loss of sight and knowledge, and that in ceasing thus to see or to know we may learn to know that which is beyond all perception and understanding.
Theology for theology sake is worthless. The reason we ponder the mysteries of the cosmos is so that we can live life better. Nowhere is this concept more applicable that when dealing with the great Sovereignty of God/Free Will dilemma.
To some, this dilemma is so huge and so crazy that they will walk away from it with their fingers in their ears. However I would say that we need to think about this issue for it affects how we act when sh*t happens in our lives. Pastors especially need to ponder this issue as they will be called upon by others in the middle of some sh*tty events and how they answer this question will color their interactions.
Over the last few weeks, I have talked about some alternatives to the typical Arminianism/Calvinism option given to folks. Namely I brief discussed Open Theism and the Eastern Orthodox’s consent and participation view of God’s rule. Today I’m going to try to think through how these views would color one’s interactions with folks who are in the middle of pain and suffering. In doing this, I fully note that I will most likely misrepresent one or more of these groups….and for that I will apologize in advance and ask for your help via the comment section below.
There are five major points within Calvinism that dictate how they view the world. These five points (also known as TULIP) are listed below:
Perseverance of the Saints
Because of Calvinism’s position of Total Depravity (i.e. original sin; everyone is born a sinner), Irresistible Grace and Unconditional Election, Calvinist have the hardest position to defend when it comes to the problem of evil. Since God is in charge of everything (either directly or allowing it), the sh*t that happens to people is all part of God’s plan.
Therefore when a two-year old child is murdered, a Calvinist has to hold on to the belief that God caused/allowed it to happen for some reason (typically to teach someone something or because of some unknown ‘good’ reason which we human can never know). As a pastor and a Jesus follower, I think this mentality is harmful and does not draw people to Jesus. (yeah, I’m fairly biased against this viewpoint…) 😛
Arminianism, why held by a large portion of the Protestant church, isn’t always understood or acknowledged due to the vocal criticism of influential Calvinists. Roger Olson, a leading Arminian theologian, once described Arminianism has holding onto the following items (all words are his, I just split his sentence into bullet points):
Total depravity (in the sense of helplessness to save himself or contribute meritoriously to his salvation such that a sinner is totally dependent on prevenient grace for even the first movement of the will toward God)
Conditional election and predestination based on foreknowledge
Grace is always resistible
Affirms that God is in no way and by no means the author of sin and evil but affirms that these are only permitted by God’s consequent will.
The outworking of this view holds that that humanity can resist God’s grace and choose their own actions, which will sometimes lead to negative consequences for themselves and others. Arminianism also holds that while God has foreknowledge of the future without actually dictating and controlling the future. (Granted there are some Arminianism who hold a stronger view of God control things similar to their Calvinist cousin.)
Typically an Arminianist would say that God has two wills: antecedent and consequent. God’s antecedent will states that he wants everyone to be saved while his consequent will acknowledges that only those who believe will be saved (i.e. “God reluctantly permits sin and enables it” – to quote Olson).
This means that the sh*t that happens isn’t the divine will of God acting upon this world. Rather it is the consequences of sin, death, and evil being played out in a world with free agents (i.e. humanity). In the case of a two-year old being murdered, an Arminianism would comfort the parents with the knowledge that the death of their child was not in God’s plan. It was something contrary to the antecedent will of God that happened because of the sin, death, and evil in the world.
This view of Sovereignty of God is similar to Arminianism (in fact, Roger Olson considers it as a variation of Arminianism) in that highlights the free moral agents of humanity. As in, humans are free to make choices that may or may not be within line with God’s plan. The major difference between Open Theism and classic Arminianism is that Open Theism pushes the free will boundaries of humanity to the limits without going into Pelagianism (i.e. humanity still need God to rescue them from evil due to original sin).
In other words, an Open Theist would say that humanity has complete control over the future with God working within creation and with humanity to guide the overall direction of history towards his overarching conclusion. Because of this, the timeline of God’s plans can, and are, subject to change according to the actions of humanity. This is not to say that God’s plans and/or promises will fail to happen, rather it is the timing of those plans/promises that can be changed. Just like the people of Israel delayed God’s plan for them to go enter into the Promise Land by 40 years, so can we delay God’s plans/promises.
Accordingly, an Open Theist would respond to a young child’s murder similar to that of an Arminianism in that they would both hold that the death of the child was not something sanctioned by God. Rather it was the consequences of sin, death, and evil being played out in a world. Jesus, rather than saying away from this pain, is there in the middle of the pain, holding the family tight and walking with them through pain. At its root, Open Theism is a warfare worldview that sees the world through a lens of a spiritual battle between God and sin/death/evil/satan. This, I might add, doesn’t mean that Calvinism and Arminianism doesn’t contain a warfare mentality. Rather this is to say that Open Theism places this warfare view at the forefront of their worldview along with the free will of humanity.
The Eastern Orthodox’s view of the Sovereignty of God is one of God’s consent and participation (as mentioned last time). This means that God consent (i.e. gives up his authority to rule) to natural law (gravity, weather patterns, etc.) and human freedom. However rather than walking away and letting things go, God also participates within creation to rescue us (i.e. Jesus).
In addition, Eastern Orthodox rejects the total depravity of humanity embraced by the other views. This may sound like a heresy to some of you as total depravity is something that has been drilled into Western Christianity to the point that it is taken for granted. However if you study church history, you will find that the concept of total depravity didn’t come into the church until St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD).
The background of the concept being St. Augustine’s debate with Pelagius on whether or not humanity could save themselves without God’s help. St. Augustine held that all of humanity was sinful with each of us being condemned for Adam’s sin. This sin was passed down throughout the ages through the human seed – a view that helped get sex labeled as sinful rather than beautiful (i.e. sin was passed generationally through the father’s semen to their children). Because of the total depravity of humanity, we need God to rescue us. Pelagius, on the other hand, held that we were born good and could rescued ourselves. While the church at large (Western and Eastern) rejected Pelagius view of sin and salvation, the Western half (i.e. Roman Catholic and then Protestantism) adopt St. Augustine’s view of original sin and total depravity while the Eastern half of the church, now known as the Eastern Orthodox Churches, did not.
Instead the Eastern Orthodox Churches adopted the view that humanity is, and was, created in the image of God and is by nature pure and innocent. Sin, however, has entered into the world through Adam and Eve as a sickness that effects every generation. Bishop Kallistos Ware puts it this way in his book The Orthodox Way:
“Original sin is not to be interpreted in juridical or quasi-biological terms, as if it were some physical ‘taint’ of guilt, transmitted through sexual intercourse. This picture, which normally passes for the Augustinian view, is unacceptable to Orthodoxy. The doctrine of original sin means rather that we are born into an environment where it is easy to do evil and hard to do good; easy to hurt others, and hard to heal their wounds; easy to arouse men’s suspicions, and hard to win their trust. It means that we are each of us conditioned by the solidarity of the human race in its accumulated wrong-doing and wrong-thinking, and hence wrong-being. And to this accumulation of wrong we have ourselves added by our own deliberated acts of sin. The gulf grows wider and wider. No man is an island. We are ‘members one of another’ (Eph. 4:24), and so any action, performed by any member of the human race, inevitably affects all the other members of the human race. Even though we are not, in the strict sense, guilty of the sins of others, yet we are somehow always involved.”
I mention all this because when it comes dealing with the sh*t of this crazy, messed up world, it really helps to know that we, humanity, are made the image of God. This means that when God grants us the freedom to reject or accept him, we aren’t automatically going to reject him. Rather there is a part of us, no matter how buried or small, that desires to be close to our Creator King. Humanity was created to be in a loving relationship with God and being outside of that relationship is an unnatural state not a natural state.
Practically this means that a pastor or Jesus follower can comfort the parents of a murdered toddler with the understanding that not only is Jesus there within the pain, but that this child who died was loved and embraced by the Creator King. Yes, sh*t happened due to the war that ranges around us. Yet the pain wasn’t from the hand of God nor was it his will that allowed/created the pain. Rather Jesus loves the child and was/is with them/us – in pain and death.
“We should not try to explain suffering or construct theories about the reasons for suffering in the world and systematic explanations that seek to reconcile innocent suffering with belief in a good and all powerful God. The pervading presence of senseless suffering in the world falls outside the bounds of every rational system. Remember how Dostoyevsky in his book Brothers Karamazov was seized with horror in contemplating the picture of suffering throughout the world, especially the suffering of the innocent and of the little children. The only answer, which Aliosha (representing Dostoyevsky’s own faith and attitude) can give is the image of the Crucified: He can pardon all; He can reconcile all, for He has measured the depth of our afflictions, of our loneliness, and of our pain. In the Crucified Christ, God does not remain a distant spectator of the undeserving suffering of the innocent but He participates in their suffering through the Cross and plants hope in the life of all afflicted persons through the Resurrection. When faced with the mystery of evil and suffering, the story of Jesus as the story of God is the only adequate response. The human quest for meaning and hope in tragic situations of affliction, draw from Christ’s death and Resurrection the power of life needed for sustenance. Thus, as Christians we do not argue against suffering, but tell a story…”
“God does not intervene to save Jesus, but neither does God abandon Jesus. Jesus’ life ends with an open question to God, “God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God answers to the crucified Jesus by raising Him from the dead and glorifying Him. The resurrection signifies that God is present in the suffering of Jesus and of every human person. If we speak of Jesus’ real abandonment by God at Calvary, this could lead to the mistaken impression that suffering human beings are also forsaken by God. Instead, we must speak of God as silently present to Jesus at this terrifying moment, just as God is silently present to all those who suffer. This silent presence of God to Jesus becomes manifest in the Resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus confirms and completes all that Jesus was about in His life. The bottom line of the Christian faith is that God will be victorious over evil and suffering, as exhibited and effected in the death and resurrection of Jesus.”(emphasis added)
Throughout this post, I have sought to highlight how one’s view on the Sovereignty of God affects how one interacts with pain and suffering. I know that I most likely left out bits and pieces of this view or that. Yet my goal wasn’t to detailed out everything; rather I was trying to give you all a taste of what each view looked like. At the end of the day there are great Jesus followers who hold to all these views and I would gladly worship the Living King with them!
However I must also admit that when it comes down to pastoring and dealing with people in the trenches, I would rather deal with someone who hold to an Eastern Orthodox, Open Theism or Arminianism view of the Sovereignty of God. Calvinism, as I understand it, just doesn’t lend itself very well to compassion and mercy… so yeah, sorry my 5-point friends. :/
I would also say that on a personal level, I am leaning more and more towards the Eastern Orthodox view of consent and participation (as if that was’t obvious!). There is just something there that I love. Something that fits well with the mystery of the here and not yet that I see throughout the Scripture. Good stuff worth pondering. 😀
My friends over at Think Theology have started listing out their top books every pastor should either own or have read. After reading over Able Baker,Robby McAlpine, and Kenny Burchard lists, I just had to respond as I think they missed the mark on some must have books!! 😀
The Scriptures tell us that central message of Jesus and the 12 was the Kingdom of God. Sadly the original meaning behind these words have been shifted and changed as the years march by. Building upon the works of George Ladd, Albert Schweitzer, John Wimber and others, Derek Morphew lays out the historical and biblical foundation for the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God in human history. If you are at all interested in Enacted Inaugurated Eschatology of Kingdom Theology, you simply MUST read this book.
I first read this book a few months after I became a senior pastor, and I have to say that it did more to shape my view of pastoring than any other book I have ever read. Drawing from 30 years of experience as the pastor of a small 300 member church in Maryland, Peterson shares the tough times and the good times, the happy times and the not-so-happy times. And in doing so he lays out an amazing pastoral model built on empowering the people to be the people of God. A model that can, and should be adapted to the modern setting through the use of modern Church Software. Due to technological and software advance pastors can now effectively manage and monitor their flocks mental and spiritual well-being, and empower people to be people of God.
A lot of Christians know the different Bible stories, but very few actually know how they are connected. Winn Griffin connects all the dots with an amazing book that outlines the grant meta-narrative of the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. An added bonus is that the book gives detailed information about each book of the Bible: author, date written, theme, purchase, audient, and outline. This is truly a great resource that I constantly refer too when preaching/teaching.
The book’s subtitle says it all. Don did a great job listing out and talking about the kingdom essentials for all Jesus followers. Things like spiritual warfare, prayer, allowing God to change your desires and actions… it is all here. Not only does it make a good reference book, it is one of those books that should be read every few years as it reminds you about the basics of Christianity and what we should be focused on.
This is a more practical book on the philosophy of ministry along with various tips and points on how to do church. For many years, this was the premier church planting book for the Vineyard as it was written out of Venter’s work with John Wimber in the early 1980s. While I highly recommend this book, I do have to say that I disagree with Venter’s view on women leaders (he’s more complementarian while I’m egalitarian; or at least he was in the first edition of this book, I don’t know if he has changed his view or not in the later editions).
This volume is similar to Winn’s book in that it tells the grand story of the Scriptures. Only instead of outlining each book of the Bible, Bill stays focused on the main themes of the Bible: kingdom, covenant and the great rescue mission of the Creator King. Bill also brings in some cool historical and cultural facts that breathes life into the story of the Bible.
Every living human being is an addict. The only difference is what we are addicted too – chemicals, relationship, work, actions, etc. In this book, Don talks about finding freedom from addictions by embracing the abundant life that God has promised to each person who follows Him. This is a powerful book that will challenge you to your core.
The church at large has embraced a lot of different things over the past two thousand years since Jesus walked this earth, some good and some not so good. In this book, Carl walks you through a process of separating the culture trappings of Christianity as a religion and the person of Jesus. For some this can be a hard journey as it is easy to confuse the way we do something with being in relationship with Jesus. Definitely a book to read for any Jesus follower – let along a pastor or leader.
Every pastor has a TON of pressure placed on them by the culture at large, the folks in their church, those in authority above them as well as by themselves. As such it is easy to drift away from the essentials of what it means to be a pastor and start doing everything else. In an effort to call pastors back to their calling, Peterson outlines the three essentials jobs of a pastor: praying, reading Scripture, and giving spiritual direction. Everything else is icing on the cake; no matter how “good” or “profitable” those tacks are, if you aren’t doing these three things, you are not pastoring.
Most Christian books that I have read over the years are written with the view that humanity can understand God if only we study hard and apply the right theology mindset. This book offers a different route. Written by an Eastern Orthodox bishop, this book lays out a way to embrace the mystery of God without having to understand everything. It is truly a spring of fresh water in the middle of a dry desert of sureties and I-know-everythings. The book also gives us Protestants a chance to learn from our brothers and sisters in the East.
George Ladd was one of the pioneers in the re-discovering the message of the Kingdom within the Scriptures. His “Theology of the New Testament” is a gold mine of information about the Kingdom of God. Definitely a must have.
It may sound odd to place a daily prayer book on a list of books for pastors…but the fact remains that if your soul is dry then nothing you do matters. This book has some beautiful and ancient prayers that will refresh your soul and draw you deeply into the love and grace of the Creator King. It also has some great situational and seasonal prayers that make excellent congregational prayers. An added bonus is that the book is written from a very strong Trinitarian theology viewpoint.
One of the awesome things about following Jesus is that He told us about the end – that He will defeat sin, evil and death and restore the earth and heaven while giving us new physical bodies. Sadly enough very few church going people really know about or understand the blessed hope of the second coming. Instead they rely on popular culture for their view of heaven and life after death. In this book, N.T. Wright lays out the end game of Bible in a matter that will change the way you live your life in the here and now.
King Solomon once said that there is nothing new under the sun. Sadly however, the church today seems to think that the struggles we face are brand new instead of just a variation of what happened before. As such, I think all pastors and church leaders should be a student of history. Bruce Shelly’s “Church History in Plain Language” is a great place to start as tells the story of the church in an engaging manner that should keep the attention of pretty everyone.