As you know I’ve been teaching an apologetics class for the past month. Even before that I’ve been reading a lot about the subject in preparation. Today I noticed there have been a lot of changes to the way I’m thinking on a regular basis and I thought I’d talk a little about it.
The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.
– A Celebration of Disciple by Richard Foster
As I’ve been teaching my mind has been focused on who God is and how we know him. I’ve been trying to get below superficial answers, to look at questions and arguments against my belief and the counter arguments of thinkers who have studied them longer than I have.
They say that your mind conforms to the things you focus it on. So if you are thinking a lot about money, your mind with conform to it and it will become central in your thinking. Other things will be thought of firstly in terms of money. Politics, sex, power. Focus on them and everything else will be thought of in those terms.
Also while teaching my class I’ve been reading Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. I originally got it as an audio book from Audible.com. It was so good I found myself wanting to underline stuff he was saying, so I decided to buy the book and it turns out the audio book was seriously abridged. This book is very dense, with every section like a chapter in another book. You have to think deeply about each thing he says. I’m a pretty fast readers but I have been slogging through this book. I haven’t run into a book like that in a long time.
The Divine Conspiracy is centrally about living “the eternal kind of life” that Jesus talks about in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 5 through 7. This is where all those things central to Christianity but incredibly hard to do and almost crazy from a worldly point of view are. Things like turning the other cheek when someone hits you(5:38), or that anger is equivalent to murder (5:21-22). The Golden Rule (7:22) is here too. A teaching that people today accept as the bedrock of morality, but was a radical idea at the time and still is in parts of the world.
The thing Willard points out is that you can’t do these things. We humans just can’t make ourselves do this stuff. We may want to, but we always seem to screw it up. You can’t focus on being humble and become humble. At best you’ll be come proud of how humble you are. 🙂
I also bought the Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible(movie about) which has Willard as one of the editors of the extra material in it. If you go to the Renovare website you’ll see they are focused on helping people change from the inside out. Renovare is the word we get renovate from. Instead of focusing on being humble, you need to focus on being Christ. Focusing your thoughts on him and who he is, what he did, and what he taught. Then, like I was mentioning earlier, your character will naturally change to be more humble, more serving, and to live the eternal kind of life that Jesus did.
I mentioned in my apologetics class where we talked about beliefs that you can’t directly change a belief, but can indirectly change one. That is the kind of thing Jesus wants us to do, but the means are totally foreign to our culture. They are the spiritual disciplines, which we know next to nothing about even in Christian circles.
I’ve encountered a number of people in my studies who show this kind of life produces depth. One was from my class last week, Mother Teresa. Here is a woman who transformed the lifes of so many poor and dying in India and around the world. And she is truly a light on a stand, whose name has become synomous with selfless service in the name of Christ. But her life was built on the foundation of prayer. She is mentioned in one of the Pope’s writings as an example of how the contemplative life leads to incredible actions of charity.
While studying apologetics you also start seeing modern church “praise” music as shallow and repetitive. This is kind off funny in my case for a couple of reasons. Firstly because I’ve been a big advocate of using this kind of music in church. It has been my preference to the point of dogma. Secondly, Ravi Zacharias often comments on how we’ve lost the great old hymns. The ones that were deeply theological. And I thought that was goofy when I heard it. Now I understand what he was saying.
There are some old hymns that I do like, but not many. I can only think of Amazing Grace off the top of my head. So I got to wondering, are there any modern Christian artists that have that kind of depth? There’s one, though he now dead, that I thought of Rich Mullins. I find his lyrics to have a depth others don’t seem of have. And a simple reading of his wikipedia entry tells you why. The man led a deep life.
He took a vow of poverty early in his career and his earnings were sent to his church and distributed to the poor. I should point out that vows of any kind, and especially of poverty, are very unusual in a Protestant, which Mullins was. He also lived on an Indian reservation – probably some of the poorest places in America – and taught music to children. Is it any wonder that kind of lifestyle produced music with a depth those living a rock star lifestyle can’t? Or those just living a normal lifestyle don’t?
So what does this mean to you and me? I don’t know completely. Doubt I’m taking a vow of poverty and moving to India. But I am making small changes to focus my mind on the eternal kind of life Jesus came to give us. I really want that kind of life to be mine. Jesus lived as a carpenter for 30 years in preparation for preaching the foundations of the Western world’s morality. So as Willard says this kind of life can be lived by normal people in normal jobs and lives.