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

10 May

“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


9 responses to “Spiritual life as a process of reception (part I of II)

  1. D. Stall

    August 29, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    Luther was an Augustinian monk, and as such had a western, Augustinian “experience” of monasticism. He flagellated himself, which I’ve heard someone refer to as spiritual “masturbation”.
    See – The Ascetic Ideal and the New Testament by George Florovsky

    Luther is an example of how inexperience with the Church’s Sacred Tradition, and bad experience with deviations from it, of warped “asceticism”, lead to self promotion of one’s own “innovation”, of yet another “new” type of presumed spiritual formation.

    Where are all the “saints” in evidence that Luther’s type of spiritual formation is genuine and real spiritual medicine, not more snake oil quackery? There is no Lutheran hagiography, and your own blog musings about all being “antinomians” now is but pudding proof that modern Lutheranism’s ongoing sermon on no such thing as “works”, grace and grace and nothing but grace for justification by faith, faith, faith ALONE has left followers without spiritual armor or training in spiritual warfare, like babes in the woods.

    • infanttheology

      August 30, 2014 at 4:07 am

      D. Stall,

      I know a lot of Lutheran saints. I think Lutherans have particular temptations because of what we have historically tended to emphasize – justification by grace through faith.


      • D. Stall

        August 30, 2014 at 4:19 am

        Believers like you and me are saints, but no real inspiration to others to strive to live in sanctification. Lutherans have temptations no differently than anyone else, the real difference is they have no means of spiritual warfare, or understanding of real psychology (the soul). I never once heard about passions or how to fight against them. The adults I knew were German American like my parents but were no evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in the world. The whole significance of the Incarnation is the miracle of divinity joining itself to humanity. Transfigured human flesh is what human hearts desire and long to see, not just in Christ but in each other. That is the purpose, meaning and value of the Theotokos and the Saints (capital ‘S’). When I feel like my fellow saints mistreat and misunderstand me, I always have the consolation of the Church Triumphant. But Lutheranism gave me none of that, and instead deprived of that which could have helped me most to resist temptation.

  2. infanttheology

    August 30, 2014 at 4:27 am

    D. Stall,

    I am sorry to hear that you never knew any Christ-like Lutherans, eager to grow in grace by the Spirit.


  3. D. Stall

    August 31, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    I’m sorry that I (and so many others) was deprived of an immanent acquaintance with the Church Triumphant, and the loving embrace of the image (icon) of the Church that is the Theotokos. No matter how Christ-like saints are, they are no substitute for the Saints, those who’ve fought the good fight of faith, run the race, been perfected after/through death, received their crowns and are enjoying a foretaste of a the Kingdom that is to come. When earthly family fails as it always does, no matter how Christ-like, in its imperfection, the perfection of spiritual family of the Communion of Saints, that great cloud of witnesses, comforts and encourages like no other.

    • infanttheology

      September 1, 2014 at 12:01 pm

      D. Stall,

      I don’t deny any of that. I just do not see any emphasis in the Scriptures, or to my knowledge, the earliest fathers, that we should seek these out in prayer.


      • D. Stall

        September 1, 2014 at 1:35 pm

        Prayers to Saints in the Pre-Nicene Era
        “Scholarship has established that the practice of praying to saints was present in some circles of Judaism before and after the appearing of Christianity. [12] This creates a kind of precedent for the possibility that Christians would permit this practice….”
        Also see –

        Church fathers may not have all written much about prayers to Saints because such was part of the Liturgy since earliest times and taken for granted. Chrysostom’s liturgy includes such, but perhaps he’s not “early” enough to convince.
        The scriptures contain things like “the prayers of a righteous man availeth much”, etc. The Saints are “alive in Christ”, not dead and “soul sleeping”. They’ve died in the faith, and have been purified in/after death so they are “righteous”. They are a Christian’s real family, their spiritual family. We shouldn’t ignore them out of fear that Our Father will be slighted in any way if we don’t. Christianity is focused on Christ, but He is glorified in His Saints, not a narcissistic dictator who expects/demands all the attention on Himself the head and none on His body.
        But whether “prayer” to Saints is “right” or “wrong” distracts from the most important point about the Church Triumphant – the Saints are a reminder of the Cosmology of the Church. Just as we are not really separated from one another (human essence) just because our umbilical cords are cut, so we are not separated from those who die, who are alive in Christ. Such “separation” of man from man and man from Creation is “false”, a lie that denies the Truth of the way God made His Creation, human and nonhuman alike, i.e. in “oneness”. At no time is such “lie” so taken for granted as today with its extreme focus on “individualism” to the point that even the support of blood family has been destroyed to establish “immediate”, “nuclear” “family”, or “nuked” family.
        We are connected horizontally to each other, and vertically downward to the rest of creation ONLY when we are connected vertically upward to God through Christ in Holy Communion. Without such interconnection (theosis), death (chaos) reigns in Creation.
        Without the Church Triumphant, there is no reminder/teaching of such Christian Cosmology. Remove the Theotokos (Mother of God, aka Virgin Mary) from the Church and there is no clearcut whole brain teaching that the Church is the mystical “body” of Christ, that He is wholly human as well as divine, only left brain “head” knowledge of such. Remove the Saints, and there is no whole brain, verbal and nonverbal teaching of the interconnection of humanity, and humanity with God.
        The Church mess with Galileo is a perfect example of lack of whole brain spiritual understanding. Humanity, NOT the Earth, is always the center of the Cosmos no matter where humanity goes, even to the far flung reaches of outer space, because the human heart is the lynchpin upon which Cosmos depends. It is absurd that any Real Christian would think it necessary for the Sun to revolve around Earth in worship of man in order for there to be Cosmos.
        If the human head is not brought down into the human heart so that the soul can fight the fleshly passions by which the body tries to lead the soul instead of the soul leading the body, then there is no humility by which true repentance occurs, without which there is no Communion with God despite everything that Christ has done and that God freely offers through Him.
        However, there is much more to the practice of spiritual warfare than the Church Triumphant. Just as this “great cloud of witnesses” is praying for the Church militant (us), encouraging us and cheering us on in the “good fight” and “race” to the finish (all the athletic metaphors of St. Paul on spiritual struggle, “sanctification”), so there are other practices that build on participation in the Sacraments that help Christians to resist temptation – fasting and alms, and also repentance, confession, partaking of ALL the Sacraments (including Unction), “attending” ALL the services (esp. Vespers for confession, not just Sunday morning Divine Liturgy, as well as other special services, vigils, etc).
        Without such focus, there will never be any motivation to live at odds with the lie that is today’s way of life that worships “economy”, money, mammon. Nowhere is there a clearcut black and white divide in Holy Scripture like there is between God and mammon. Mammon worship is the greatest threat to humanity today, yet the Church’s pulpits/ambos, Papist, Protestant and Orthodox all alike, are all silent on this matter, all complicit with the “economic” imperialism that is enslaving the world, all its peoples, creatures, plants, minerals and matter. If such is not the “whore of Babylon” what is? Those who are so focused on such “buying and selling” and “freeing” the “market” at all costs to humanity and all Creation, have already received the “mark of the beast” on their souls.
        Today, more than ever, the Church (Militant) needs the Theotokos, her Saints (Church Triumphant) and comprehensive, traditional, Real spiritual warfare (aceticism) in order to be “counter cultural”, to stand in opposition to the world even if the world turns on her and persecutes her again like it did so long ago.
        Without such, is it any suprise that the Church is in the mess it’s in? The Orthodox Church has all this and is still a mess, because the “leadership” is corrupt and does not sincerely practice Christianity. The Russian Orthodox Church contains the lion’s share of Orthodox Christians, and for this reason her diospera in America has long been used by the US government to attack Russia, by planting/corrupting with money some to many of those in the Church’s heirarchy.
        What then of those churches without such connection to a US “enemy” that is a presumed threat to US “national security”, but wherein the leadership is just as human and subject to temptation, but there is no tradition of spiritual warfare (asceticism) or Real psychogical understanding of the way passions work on the human soul, how first comes thought, then desire, and once desire and thought are joined, becomes an act of will?

        See –
        Picture of the Modern World
        The Ascetic Ideal and the New Testament

        Spiritual Healing of Human Passions
        from sensuality to dispassion
        • sight –
        nepsis (watchfulness)…
        attending vigil
        • sound –
        reading Christian sacred scriptures, patristic commentaries & hagiography; chanting hymns
        • smell –
        burning incense
        • taste –
        moderation, self-control, temperance…
        • touch –
        hesychia (stillness)…
        praying ceaselessly (prayer of the heart)

  4. infanttheology

    September 1, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    D. Stall,

    Thanks – I hope to look at this more later and get back to you.


  5. infanttheology

    September 3, 2014 at 2:13 am

    D. Stall,

    I agree that spiritual disciplines are a key component of the Christian life and can sometimes get short shrift among the Lutherans. The whole saints thing I am not violently against – I simply do not see it as being a key component of piety because I think if it were as important as many say it is, we would at least have some words about this kind of thing in the Holy Scriptures. We know all of the saints we find in its pages were not Western individualists to be sure!



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