Pneumanaut

the Crucible

Demonstrations for the People of God

Demonstrations for the people of God
      The experiences of Moses, Jesus, Paul and many other biblical heroes were not only exceptional within their own context, but were also historically significant.  However, what is often unmentioned is that for Christians (and not only for the Christians mentioned in the Bible) these pneumatological experiences should be normative. If this is true, then by inference the pneumatological outpourings (including but not limited to the realization that they spoke with God on a regular basis, experienced paranormal expressions, participated in miraculous signs and wonders, healed the sick, raised the dead, and experienced personal transformation, to name just a few) that these individuals experienced should be expected and taught.. Should not teachers and those who proclaim the Kingdom of God provide a demonstration of the experiences that these individuals enjoyed?18 If these are Christian practices, Christian expressions, and Christian experiences, then to not experience them may imply that one is being disobedient.19

      The modern Church has done a beautiful and remarkable job of helping to recognize that it is the believer’s duty and job to devote oneself to the study of the biblical accounts. Many leaders encourage those within their spheres of influence to seek out education and support structures to understand the Biblical story better and also perhaps encourage them in taking necessary steps to accomplish this, such as attending a class,20 participating in lectures, completing assignments, or perhaps attending a conference or seminar, or even attending a weekly study. Leaders many have no rational problem accepting the notion that such proactivity toward education is normative. Why, then, does this same aggressive proactivity become unusual in terms of demonstrating the Spirit of God? Why is being proactive in terms of the Spirit perceived as unnecessary or reserved for extreme Pentecostalism?21 If this is a cultural perception and a negative stigma (whether accurate or inaccurate) should not the Church be bringing about ways to re-communicate its message? Should not the Church be looking for new media, new metaphors, new abstracts, and radically powerful imagery to articulate the Spirit’s continual and creative daily activity? Should not the Church be supporting a message of being co-creators with God and exuding God’s creativity?

      Does our mundane worldview inhibit miraculous expression? Is our thinking so empirical that we accept cognitive learning and the experiences that accompany it as normative22 but fail to apply the same pragmatics of Aristotelian analysis to expressions of the Spirit?23 Just as Descartes set out to understand new ways of discovering the existence of God in unfamiliar places by thinking, so, too, must we seek out ways of experiencing God in the ordinary by doing, by proactively engaging with the spiritual and kingdom worldview we know24 and juxtaposing it within the matrix of worldview with which we are barraged and into which we culturally enfolded.25

      Historically, the teaching, understanding, and demonstration of spiritual gifts was that they were ordinary expressions of the supernatural. However, this author has seldom witnessed them being mentioned, taught, demonstrated or engaged in purposeful or intentional ways. Of course, this is an enormously strong statement, but the hope is to fulfill a Kingdom mandate expressed in Matthew 10—that of seeing people become kingdom apprentices and co-laborers of the Gospel message. The mandate represents a coupling of proclamation to demonstration, a marriage of pneumatology to the proclamation of its arrival with imagery that fosters understanding: “Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.”26

      Unfortunately, the Church is more familiar with the negative aspects or stereotypes of the charismata than they are of the necessities. This message of normative supernaturalism is timely as well as overdue as a cultural response to thinkers such as Depek Chopra. With the rise of Hinduism and the practice of meditation, culturally metaphysical thinkers and mystics are becoming more aligned with mainstream culture. The Church is being surrounded by a cultural fire that is heating the outside of the mainstream pot. Melt, boil, or simmer, we cannot grow cold to the insights of mystics. Their message is one that is readily distributed via technology and the internet. With technology come wider information and also a wider acceptance. Spiritual mysticism is widely accepted and normative within mainstream culture; however, it seems absent in Christian culture. Convincing the Church that these experiences are part of being human as God intended and not outside the parameters of normality is a necessary step to assist followers of Jesus to see the many different ways God speaks today. It seems that there is a position that God is limited to the mundane, rather than utilizing the same means he has and continues to use to communicate to individuals.

The saga continues up to our own day in the lives of those recognized as leaders in the spiritual life. When. coming through the ages, we consider St. Augustine, Theresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, George Fox, John Wesley, C.H. Spurgeon, Phoebe Palmer, D.L. Moody, Frank Laubach, A.W. Tozer or Henri Nouwen, we see in each case a person who regards personal communion and communication with God both as life changing episodes and as daily bread. Untold thousands of humble Christians whose names will never appear in print-who will never preach a sermon or lead a crusade-can testify equally well to exactly the same kinds of encounters with God as are manifested by the great ones in the Way.”27 
      These experiences were exceptional and they were personal. God was using specific abstracts and means of communication and imagery that allowed each individual to experience the Kingdom in unique ways that were beautiful. Reading through the memoirs of these individuals, one is able to appreciate aspects of God that are not only unique but inspiring, as an outsider can look into the ways these outstanding individuals responded to the demonstrations from God that they witnessed. Their lives were and are living sculptures of what it means to be Christian. A great takeaway from their experiences is that they were in the context of their lives normative and they were naturally supernatural.

      By no means is this project an attempt to limit the Spirit to moving in new ways, or a means to prevent the Spirit from accomplishing things the same way twice. Clearly the Spirit is not bound to the steadfast rules of orderliness to which we are often confined. However, it seems that many people are able to hear from God in consistent ways that they recognize as being participatory.28 Perhaps these come as a voice of conscience or reason, an audible voice, or perhaps a powerful image that God singes into our love for ascetics. Maybe God comes in a sense of understanding or assuredness of direction that is physically felt; perhaps He is within the voice of a friend, stranger, or child, or the emotions of a pet, or a dream. Whatever the abstract, with it comes a hyper-awareness that God is leading. For those who have not yet taken his name (“pre-Christians”), this experience could come in the form of assurance that God is guiding, directing ,and conspiring to speak and teach them something new.

       How do we live out the gospel in a practical narrative that will be viewed as prophetic to our culture? There has been much talk shop dialogue,29 but it seems that evangelism within the emerging church has been difficult to define and in terms of modernistic measurement is it even failing. We long to see our friends and colleagues come to meet Jesus, but we have mysteriously misplaced any sort of invitation, because we are trying to be responsive to a consumer-based population30 or to matters of the intellect. If we throw out saying the prayer so that when we die we go to heaven, and somehow breed it with the notion31 that “heaven isn’t the goal, it’s the destination,” then from an intellectual standpoint the four spiritual laws are inapplicable. This is a heavy and confusing burden, in a formulaically driven church culture it renders them looking for silver bullets and singular approaches. For many this leads to a fearful distancing of friends and relationships by Christians who would rather be silent than voice some horrible presentation of gospel facts that would identify themselves with a tribe of religious, fanatical kooks. The iPod generation can no longer identify with a Christian sub-culture of religiosity.32 With catchy religious Christianese phrases, Jesus junk, and proof text slogans, they have died a slow death. Yet, unfortunately, they have been left without replacement words or life mantras that fit. This is a horrible predicament.

New-ma-tol-o-gy: Pneumatology
      “We are spiritual beings with an eternal destiny trying to be human….”

                                                                                          Pierre Teilhard de Chardin33

      The demonstration of the kingdom is in itself an apologetic: no hype, no manipulation, but rather spiritual expression. It is power demonstrated in the immediate, power demonstrated in the actual, and power demonstrated that can only be defined as pneumatological. It is through this Kingdom which is now and not yet34 that we as spiritual directors have responsibility to act,35 a responsibility to describe, to speak, to voice, to encourage, and to guide. As we begin to employ direction and help prepare individuals to live, and provide them a means to fulfill that vision, a connection needs made to the spirit. The absence of this pneumatological expression will not only stifle the process, but will never holistically fulfill it.

      Using the definition that the kingdom of God is the range of God’s effective will, where what the spirit chooses to accomplish is done,36 we find in this premise the beautiful notion that this same Spirit is available to us now, in the immediate.  It [Spirit] transcends cultural milieux; it [Spirit] is not bound by circumstance nor by will.  Recently, Dallas Willard made the striking statement, “It is our job to lead and teach people about Jesus.”37 Perhaps a rewording of this statement with a singular substitution of “show” for the word “teach” would have significantly more powerful implications. In addition, this would align itself better theologically with biblical accounts, stories, and reports of earlier friends of Jesus.38 In finding new images and abstracts to communicate the themes that these theologians are addressing, we (the accountants, architects, artists, assemblymen, etc.) can assist the Church in showing people what it means to be Christian.

      As a leader Jesus demonstrated a Kingdom mindset and brought into the lives of his followers a means of spiritual and transformation. He seemed to accomplish this relationally through the demonstration of his Kingdom authority (seldom with explanation).39 “Jesus was misunderstood all the time and never tried to run around and fix it….He never felt paranoid of not doing stuff. . .never felt the need to explain.”40

      The result was a model that took care of both the physical and spiritual needs of the individual with whom he was involved. Normally, he first accomplished this through a pneumatological demonstration of his kingdom. This included (but is not limited to) physical healings, the removal of demons, the use of phenomenological experience, and various other miraculous signs.41 These demonstrations were the means by which he typically captured the hearts of individuals. Consistently and repeatedly, he used demonstration as a learning modality, a pedagogy, and an andragogical discourse by which to provide an understanding and basis for his work. 

      This precept transcends our culture. Still living within the biblical context and continuation of the biblical story, the twenty-first century continues to provide an eloquent platform for the demonstration of kingdom works. What St. Francis of Assisi said nearly eight centuries ago is still relevant for the twenty-first century: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and, if you have to, use words.” The boundaries and provisions of our culture indeed are poised and prepared for a resurgence of this understanding and demonstration.42 As we move away from the constrictions of modernity and move towards cultural and historical influences that embrace the mystical, the liturgical, the ceremonial, the ritual, the phenomenological, and the paranormal, and as we are inundated with reports of the miraculous, it is becoming obvious that we are a culture that embraces phenomena. Some could argue that our culture is not influential but, as Eugene Peterson recently stated, “Our culture is wrong but we can’t just dismiss it….That’s our world; these are the people we deal with.”43

      Whether we agree with them or not, people are talking. We are living in a culture that values experience. However, it appears that the agenda of the Church is not attuned to align itself positionally within the framework of experience  as an overarching value, Richard Foster argued that “in the last century the Church has been preparing individuals to die, however, we should be preparing them to live.”44 We should be preparing individuals to live as a renewed humanity, and as an empowered people; specifically, a people empowered by the Spirit of God. As thinkers in the twenty-first century, our inclinations and understandings of polemics, discourse, content, and even truth have become blurred. The values of truth are no longer a priori45 rationalizations or pragmatics that derive value from reasoning. We are currently living in the biggest philosophical shift in at least the last 500 years. And the church lives in such a sub-cultural mentality of retrenchment that it often does not understand the important shifts in the ways that people think, and the way that they process reality.46

      In the past, truth was understood as a series of propositional statements that can be proven though science, logic, technology, and reason. However, in the words of Mark Driscoll, “Truth is a person. His name is Jesus Christ. And as you come into relationship with him you have access to the truth. That truth doesn’t come by science or technology but that it comes by faith and faith is a gift from God.”47 We can no longer sit aside and talk about truth stand alone. Truth needs to be demonstrated.48 As addendum to this thought, it should be noted that collective reasoning takes on new form, perhaps not dissimilar to corporate guidance. In terms of intentional/emerging communities this concept needs teased if the church is raising followers of Jesus.

      As spiritual directors our duty is to demonstrate and value God’s Kingdom in our ordinary context. According to Ladd,49 the agenda of the Kingdom is to become a reality of power, a power that can exist independent of bodies. This power is devoid of personal means, made up of thoughts, feelings, evaluations, or even choice and habits involving creative will.50

      As metaphysical conditions for spiritual growth, potential followers of Jesus need a vision for the kingdom of God within their communal context, a vision that will define their humanity. This link toward spiritual formation has to be connected to the Spirit’s power. There is some nuance of this in literature, but very little praxis.51 Therefore, we must learn to fully understand the implications of the following statement:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, and civilizations, these are mortal; and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit–immortal horrors or everlasting splendors….Next to the blessed sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses…52
      This understanding will radically alter our worldview, a worldview that our culture has rendered dormant to the task of understanding actual spiritual heritage and origins of those with whom we interact. Awakening will help us to foster new imagery, new metaphors, and new contexts within which to communicate theology. We live in a society and culture that embraces neither their pneumatological formation nor the very ethos for which they were created. This notion of experience and its starting point from a spiritual context speaks radically against our culture, a culture that in other respects values experience. Sociologically, our culture lacks an ideological starting point for a worldview that includes no ordinary people or mere mortals.

      The scoreboards of our culture measure human experience and value those in terms of quality of life.53 However, life as a spiritual being can only be completed by living from a kingdom that is governed by the heavens. Through being led by Jesus, we are able to fulfill a mandate that is eternal and, as we recognize God’s kingdom and the reality of truth and power, we can begin to understand and develop a reliance and expectancy of his work and presence among us. As sub-contractors and co-laborers we guide others through the context of time and place “of our own experience”54 and through the experiences of still others. In this guiding we owe individuals both the words and the demonstrations of theology that they can grab hold of, wrestle with, and engage in. We also guide through the context of God’s work and God’s kingdom, and our own experiences with that. We co-labor with angels and the hosts of God who are in conflict with the Satan and his subordinates, who are working against us to oppose God.55 This is our platform, this is our context, this is our story, this is the relational field we are poised to influence, and this is our sphere. As Eugene Peterson says, “The kingdom is the invisible part of the Church.”56 The church and the kingdom may be ideologically one and the same, but the kingdom of God is where we are clarified, where we are given expression, where details are fulfilled within the spiritual realm and where we can have immediate access to God’s presence.

      A worldview or lifestyle of dualism gives meaning to the reality of “both/and” living.57  Both/and living is like eating the meat and spitting out the bones. Recently, this seeming paradox has provided explanatory power for certain truisms. One example of this is “the inward/outward journey,” which is a wonderful metaphor. However, we do not live in dualism. We live in the here and now, we live as it happens, we integrate and synthesize. In articulating this and manifesting it in all areas of our life we can show that dualism is an abstraction from what we are doing. It is important to realize that these terms58 and specificities are merely semantics, not pertaining to the realities of following Jesus. As C. S. Lewis said, “The devil’s first attack is on lectiography. He likes to twist words so they don’t mean what they say.” In a culture that embraces moral relativism on a sliding scale, it is important to have the skills to distinguish the meat from the bones. 

      A sociological worldview presents us with a perception that we can live integrated or disintegrated. This distraction is in opposition to the Kingdom of God; it is a distraction that continues to keep the world at bay from the realities of a Kingdom perception.59 We have the freedom to choose that to which we perceptively belong. As a culture it seems as if we have an ability to create mind hotels into which we can check into and be free from a Kingdom mindset. We can immerse ourselves in consumption—our clubs, organizations, teams, secret sins, and pleasures that bring us happiness. We believe we can create our own autonomy, our own destiny, our own future. We can biologically alter our DNA.60 We have cultural permission and encouragement that this is normative and expected if it is within our means. However, from a Kingdom standpoint this is in opposition to the teachings of Jesus. There are no distinctions, no exemptions, and no clauses. It all is Kingdom, and it is all in the midst of God. Although at times invisible to our culture and our minds, in the Kingdom, it is all integrated. This is reality now, Kingdom now, not something to be applied; this is what is happening; this is our story, the story now.61 And we must show this to the world.

 




Categorized as E-Say\'s

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