Pressing On: the Spiritual Maturity Project blog

"I See Men as Trees Walking"

Some of us older folk remember how the King James version reads in the story of Jesus healing the blind man outside Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26).  Johnny Cash's interpretation is worth hearing.  (Make sure to listen to the very end.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0QuMoqWyR0

We find another odd Gospel story that offers the opportunity to practice Bible reading in line with the previous post.  My goal is to encourage you to gain awareness of how you operate while you're studying the Bible.  Pay attention to where your mind is drawn and what thoughts emerge as you study the details of the passage.  Learn to ask active questions.  (And forgive the "teacherly" tone I'm taking.)

As we did in the last post, we encounter strange features in this account of the blind man at Bethsaida.  Jesus takes this man who was brought to him for healing outside the town "and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, 'Can you see...

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Reading the Bible for Understanding

(This blog is a follow-up to the previous one about study bibles.)

There are at least two strategies we can use when we read the Bible.  We can read it devotionally, as we  should and as many people do.  We can also read the Bible for understanding the content: the narratives, the commands, the situations, that we find there.  Not nearly as many people read the Bible with the second strategy.  We need to increase that number.  To encourage more people to read the Bible for understanding, let's distinguish what is happening with us when we use the two different strategies.  

Devotional Bible Reading

 When we read the Bible devotionally, we normally read, at most, a handful of verses and often with a devotional guide or booklet of some kind.  I grew up with The Upper Room, which continues to provide sustenance for millions of people around the world.  Since I'm a Luddite at heart, I prefer the little paperback booklet that you can...

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Some Perspective on Study Bibles

Uncategorized Jan 13, 2021

A member of the Sunday School class I teach recently suggested that I do a Spiritual Maturity Project blog on study Bibles.  Here are some I know from personal use:

The New Oxford Annotated Bible.  (The name refers to the publisher.)  It describes itself as an ecumenical study Bible, which I like.  The latest edition is the 5th edition (not the "wouldn't you like to fly in my beautiful balloon" 5th Edition), which I do not know firsthand (This revision is very recent [2018], so I'll be looking into purchasing).   If you look at one of the opening pages, you'll see the list of contributors, which I also like.  You can look up their pedigrees and learn something about them, if you wish.  More importantly, in a study Bible, you're getting a number of viewpoints by various scholars, rather than the single viewpoint of one commentator.  Of course, a big group of scholars can (and do) share particular biases, so a study Bible of this sort may...

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Everything? Really?

Living the Christian life well calls for recognizing that nothing, literally nothing, falls outside the scope of God's interest or governance.  We have so much practice thinking otherwise that we barely notice.  And the issue is about lived experience, not so much about specific activities.  I'll try to explain.

It is easy to assume that this point applies only to a small category of people, maybe pastors or monks or nuns.  Normal people have to get up and go to work at "secular" jobs and manage business affairs and live in the rough-and-tumble of regular life.  Deep, deep in modern consciousness is this split between "religious" or "spiritual" and "secular" or "this world." 

The Bible emphasizes that Christians are supposed to live in the real world.  Christian witness happens in the real world.  God made this world.  This world matters to God. The economy, politics, everything about the world of everyday affairs matters to...

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Slow Down

I mean it.  Slow down.  Late modern life has afflicted almost all of us with the disease of haste and it is robbing us of precious time.  We think we save it by hurrying, but the opposite is the case.  There really is something to that old saying, "The hurryer I go, the behinder I get."  And with the stolen time go stolen opportunities to grow into the joy that only God can give. 

For most Americans, it's the busiest time of the year.  To slow down now seems impossible and my plea ridiculous, but God often works this way, contrary to our inclinations (and our caving in to the fatalism of the season) in order to give us something we desperately need.  

Of late I have become steadily more aware of the impatience that pushes me.  (I'm sure several of my friends and certainly my wife are saying "Well, duh!")  I need to get to the end of this book so that I can get on to the next book!  I need to finish this task so that I can...

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What We are Saying When We Say that We Know Jesus

doctrine Nov 22, 2020

What does a Christian need to know in order to walk faithfully as a follower of Jesus?  This question is tricky, because it's hard to settle on the limits of what we mean by the word "know."  It's relatively simple to know facts that can be tested and proven.  It gets more complicated when we start talking about knowing God.  With so many competing beliefs, how can you be confident that your views are more than mere preferences?   

What do we mean, for example, when we say that we know Jesus?  Typically, we think of having a personal relationship with Jesus, which is truly a joy. One of my favorite songs is Graham Kendrick's "Knowing You", which echoes Paul's reminder in Philippians 3 that knowing Christ Jesus our Lord is worth more than any status or success we might attain.  It is a song of deep and holy piety.  I love it.  Virtually every time I try to sing it, I wind up weeping.

Let's use this song as an exercise in thinking...

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To Grow Spiritually, Grow Intellectually

Growing spiritually calls for growing intellectually.  In our pragmatic American culture, we don't sufficiently see this connection.  I'm on my own mission to convince the willing to seek healing for this blindness. To grow spiritually always involves growing in understanding.  To grow in understanding is exactly what growing intellectually means.  

What gets in our way?

For one thing, growing intellectually seems like it demands lots of leisure time, which most of us think we don't have.  But don't we?  Is lack of time really a problem?  How much discretionary time do you have daily?  Even if you are extremely busy, could you find an hour a day to read, think, and pray?  Do a time audit.  How much time do you spend on social media?  In front of the TV?  (I have the same struggle.)

For another, time constraints aside, many people simply don't connect the intellect to spiritual growth.  It is enough to feel some...

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Epistemic Healing: (A Bit of) My Own Story

I clearly remember the day one of my seminary professors told a group of us students chatting with him, "Our job is to tear down your Sunday School faith so that you can build up a more adequate faith."  It sounds harsh, but he meant it quite sincerely and with strong regard for students. Individually, professors were almost uniformly supportive, while holding us to a high performance standard.  Nonetheless, the institutional culture exhibited an intellectual violence for which the language of tearing down is quite appropriate.  I began to think of the seminary experience that many mainline Protestant pastors-to-be had as like clipping the wings of a bird and then demanding that it fly. 

To my never-ending surprise, the time since seminary has grown exceedingly long, yet I have continued to think about the experience, with very mixed feelings.  I appreciated (and still do) the exposure to a number of thought systems that I would not have encountered in the...

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Epistemic Healing: Identifying the Disease

The previous post introduced the term "epistemic healing."  I began to try to distinguish good, even necessary, questions that feel like doubt but often are steps on the way to confidence in knowing, from others that breed mental immobility and harden the heart into perpetual hesitance.  Epistemic sickness lies there.  

As a pastor I have had any number of conversations with people who, because of a class they took or a book they read, now doubt the orthodox teachings of the Christian faith.  (There seems to be no end of self-identified Christian scholars bent on debunking the church's central claims, such as about Jesus' resurrection from the dead.)  Some people embrace the new knowledge enthusiastically, while others find themselves locked down, not knowing what to think any more.  They now doubt what they thought they knew.  Some very influential faith-development theory bears some of the culpability for this sad state of affairs. ...

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Epistemic Healing: The Prequel?

I want to tell you about a phrase that has been rolling around in my head for a long time.  It's an odd one that mostly academic types would use, but I think it is apt for people outside the academy to know.  I call it "epistemic healing."  Let me explain.

"Epistemic" comes from a Greek word, episteme, which means "science" or "knowledge."  ("Science" comes from a Latin word, scientia, which also means "knowledge.)  Epistemology is the field of philosophy that carefully examines how we know what we think we know. 

We use the term "know" in several ways.  If I say, "I know you," I mean that I am personally acquainted with you.  I recognize your appearance and your mannerisms.  I can pick you out of a crowd.  If I know you well, I can read your facial expressions and body language and tone of voice and know to some degree what you're thinking even before you say it.  Good friends know each other at this level, as do spouses and...

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