Monthly Archives: May 2011

Spiritual life as a process of reception (part II of II)

Part I is here

More from Pastor Kleinig:

“Christian spirituality presupposes that we have been given the gift of eternal life and enjoy it now here on earth…

The Sacred Scriptures not only teach us about eternal life but also bestow it.  We also have ‘the real teacher of the Scriptures,’ the Holy Spirit, who uses the Scriptures to teach us the things of God.  We do not need devise our own theory and practice of devotion based on human reason and experience.  Instead, we may discover the hidden gift of eternal life from God by praying for the Holy Spirit to be our instructor.

…we, not once but repeatedly, pray to receive the Spirit as the teacher of eternal life whenever we have our devotions.  As beggars who kneel before our great Benefactor, we are drawn into the life of the triune God and share in His work here on earth.… We should pray that the Holy Spirit would use the Scriptures to disclose the mystery of our participation in the divine life of the Holy Trinity.

…Apart from the Spirit and the power that He gives us, we have no access to eternal life and know nothing about it.  Without His illumination, the teaching of the Scriptures remains mere theory without any reality.  Prayer for God’s ongoing bestowal of the Holy Spirit through Jesus and the ongoing reception of the Holy Spirit is the foundation for Christian spirituality, the life that is produced and developed by the Holy Spirit.  And that is a lifelong undertaking.” (17, 18)

As I said, I will be posting more quotes from Dr. Kleinig’s book as it relates to the topic of this blog.  In the meantime, for more, you can also see here and here.   Pastor Will Weedon also has many quotes from Kleinig’s book on his blog (you can find them by using Google’s Advanced search option, limiting your search to his blog).


Posted by on May 13, 2011 in Uncategorized


Spiritual life as a process of reception (part I of II)

“What father among you, if his son asks fora fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then,who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11: 11-13)

Dr. John Kleinig, a theology professor from Australia, seems to be one of today’s most highly respected Lutheran teachers (you can even listen to his lectures here!)  Many revere him as an excellent guide on the topic of true spirituality, and I to, have found his teaching to be both profound and helpful.  Here and here and here and here are some of the good things that have been recently said about his book Grace Upon Grace (this is the kind of book of which people say stuff like: “I was underlining/highlighting but then I realized I had done this to the whole page”, etc)

I am re-reading this book and will be posting parts of it that resonate with the focus of this blog.  In the first two posts, we will see Dr. Kleinig framing spirituality as a matter of “receptivity” :

“Luther distinguished his own practice of spirituality from the tradition of spiritual formation that he had experienced as a monk.  That tradition followed a well-tried, ancient pattern of reading, meditation, and prayer.  Its goal was ‘contemplation,’ the experience of ecstasy, bliss, rapture, and illumination through union with the glorified Lord Jesus.  To reach this goal, a monk ascended in three stages, as on a ladder, from earth to heaven.  The ascent began by reading a passage from the Scriptures aloud to quicken the mind and arouse devotion; it proceeded to heartfelt praying and meditating on heavenly things; it ended in waiting for the experience of contemplation, the infusion of heavenly gifts, and the bestowal of spiritual illumination.

In contrast to this, Luther proposed an evangelical pattern of spirituality as reception rather than self-promotion.  This involves three things: prayer, meditation, and temptation.  All three revolve around ongoing, faithful attention to God’s Word.  The order of the list is significant, for unlike that traditional pattern of devotion, the spiritual life begins and ends here on earth.  These three terms describe the life of faith as a cycle that begins with prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit through meditation on God’s Word, and results in spiritual attack.  This, in turn, leads a person back to further prayer and intensified meditation.  Luther, therefore, does not envisage the spiritual life as a process of self-development, but as a process of reception from the triune God.  This process of reception turns proud, self-sufficient individuals into humble beggars before God .”  (p. 16 and 17, italics mine)

Part II coming in a couple days.


Posted by on May 10, 2011 in Uncategorized


To hell with reason

New York Times writer Ross Douthat recently wrote a column defending the idea of hell.  Douthat was in part responding to Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins.   Interestingly, Christian commentator Albert Mohler thinks that Douthat’s argument is not much different than Bell’s.  Mohler contends they both embrace “human libertarian freedom”, where humans have to “have the ability to exert the will, even if the will is in hell” (which God “must respect”).   Therefore, they are not really in disagreement!  To quote Mohler:

[It is an argument that says] the sovereignty of God is ultimately secondary to the libertarian decisions of human beings.  That God Himself cannot keep – cannot help – cannot prevent – someone from going to hell if they are determined to do so.  That’s an interesting story.  It’s just not the story of the Bible.  That’s just not what God has revealed in His Word.

Of course Lutherans would assert that we can certainly lose our salvation and make shipwreck of our faith.  Here’s a bit of what Douthat wrote (see the italics in the 3rd paragraph in particular, which are mine) in his article:

The doctrine of hell, by contrast, assumes that our choices are real, and, indeed, that we are the choices that we make. The miser can become his greed, the murderer can lose himself inside his violence, and their freedom to turn and be forgiven is inseparable from their freedom not to do so.

As Anthony Esolen writes, in the introduction to his translation of Dante’s “Inferno,” the idea of hell is crucial to Western humanism. It’s a way of asserting that “things have meaning” — that earthly life is more than just a series of unimportant events, and that “the use of one man’s free will, at one moment, can mean life or death … salvation or damnation.”

If there’s a modern-day analogue to the “Inferno,” a work of art that illustrates the humanist case for hell, it’s David Chase’s “The Sopranos.” The HBO hit is a portrait of damnation freely chosen: Chase made audiences love Tony Soprano, and then made us watch as the mob boss traveled so deep into iniquity — refusing every opportunity to turn back — that it was hard to imagine him ever coming out. “The Sopranos” never suggested that Tony was beyond forgiveness. But, by the end, it suggested that he was beyond ever genuinely asking for it.

Is Gandhi in hell? It’s a question that should puncture religious chauvinism and unsettle fundamentalists of every stripe. But there’s a question that should be asked in turn: Is Tony Soprano really in heaven?

I just find it very interesting how someone with Mohler’s mind would make the comment that he does, seemingly unaware that the first Reformers, the Lutherans, would have no difficulty with the way Douthat has countered Bell.  It seems to me that there is a world of difference between Bell’s and Douthat’s argument.

For salvation, God gets all the glory.  For damnation, man gets all the blame.  That’s all you need to know.  Don’t think like a rational adult if that means leaving this critical way of looking at things behind.

More interesting reading (comments to)

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Posted by on May 3, 2011 in Uncategorized