The Covenanted Committed Church (Part 20)

It is a violent scene to be sure. I am talking about a 16th century woodcut by the Italian (Bolognese) artist Ugo da Carpi entitled “Hercules Chasing Avarice from the Temple of the Muses.”

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In the woodcut we see Hercules, his face stern and all of the muscles in his body taut with tension. He is grasping a personified “Avarice” by the back of the neck. His right arm is upraised, holding a club, just about to strike Avarice a deadly blow. Sitting serenely around this scene of violence are the nine Muses, the goddesses of song, art, and creativity.

This scene may strike us as odd and as foreign, but there is, in fact, something very biblical (in principle) about what we are seeing here. “Avarice,” you see, comes from the Latin word avaritia and is defined as an “immoderate desire for wealth” or “excessive or insatiable desire or greed.” Hercules is therefore driving Avarice from the temple because greed inevitably destroys beauty and harmony. Greed is ugliness itself and it turns us into monsters.

St. Augustine writes in the Confessions that we Christians should use wisdom and beauty to good purposes wherever we find it, that we should plunder the world’s works of art and literature in the same way that the Jews left Egypt with the Egyptians’ wealth. I intend to do that this morning with this image.

Beauty and power cannot reside where avarice, greed, is allowed to ply her wares. For the children of God to be all that God has called us to be, we must cast avarice out of our own lives and out of the church. We must be generous, open hearted and handed, and quick to be a blessing with the material things that God has given us. And we must do this for God’s glory, as our covenant expresses:

As a body of born again believers,

We covenant to become an authentic family by
loving one another as Christ loves us,
praying for one another,
speaking truth to one another in love,
being patient with one another,
protecting one another,
considering one another as more important than ourselves.

We covenant to embrace the whole gospel by
studying God’s Word faithfully,
learning the gospel together in family worship,
giving ear only to sound doctrine,
living out the gospel in our lives,
embracing the whole counsel of God.

We covenant to bring glory to God by,
gathering for worship faithfully,
singing to the glory of God,
joining together in fervent prayer,
doing good works to the Father’s glory,
living lives that reflect the beauty of Christ,
giving offerings to God joyfully and faithfully.

The Bible speaks a great deal about stewardship and how the children of God ought to handle the blessings that God has given us. One of the more intriguing discussions of this is found in 2 Corinthians 9. Here, Paul is informing the Corinthian church that he is sending a delegation to the church in order to receive an offering for the suffering saints of the Jerusalem church. The Corinthians had already agreed to contribute a year earlier and they apparently had the means to do so. Alongside the Corinthians, others, like the Macedonian Christians, had also agreed to contribute to the offering for Jerusalem. So Paul is sending a band of believers to Corinth to receive the promised offering. In preparing them for the arrival of this delegation, Paul discusses what Christian giving looks like and what its fruits are. Let us first hear this amazing chapter:

1 Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, 2 for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3 But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. 6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9 As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

Paul is calling for avarice to be cast out of the temple, for generosity to reign in the midst of God’s people.

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The Covenanted Committed Church (Part 19)

Covenant1In Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot, Prince Myshkin is quoted as saying, “Beauty will save the world.” Readers and scholars have discussed and debated the meaning of the statement ever since. Brian Zahnd calls the statement enigmatic, but concludes that the statement “certainly must somehow have been connected to Dostoevsky’s deep Christian faith.” Commenting on the statement, Vigen Guroian concludes that “it is clear that Dostoevsky intends Christ as its ultimate referent.”[1]

What a fascinating thing for a Christian to say: “Beauty will save the world.” Dostoevsky did not mean beauty as a mere idea or concept. He was not saying that beautiful things will save the world. Rather, he was saying that God is beautiful and that Christ is therefore beauty manifest. This may sound odd to us, “Beauty will save the world,” but the beauty of God was actually something that earlier Christians spoke a great deal about.

In The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts, Daniel J. Treier, Mark Husbands, and Roger Lundin have written about the disappearance of the language of “beauty” from the Christian vocabulary and about hopeful signs that the concept is working itself back into the modern Christian vocabulary.

After a period of considerable neglect in modern religious thought and church culture alike, beauty has begun to reclaim its rightful place in the larger scheme of Christian theology. For many centuries, along with goodness and truth, it formed part of the triad of transcendental ideals that the Christian tradition inherited from the classical age and appropriated for its own uses. From the beginning of the Christian era to the dawning of the modern world, a rough consensus about the interrelationships of beauty, truth and goodness governed Western conceptions of everything from the workings of language to the intricacies of creation and the mysteries of providence…Under a number of pressures, that synthesis gave way in the early modern period, and the theological interest in beauty entered a period of slow but steady decline. Over time the ideal of beauty seemed increasingly irrelevant to the new realities that science, economics and politics were either discovering or creating at the dawn of the modern age.[2]

I would like to argue for a reclaiming of beauty as not only a concept and a component of our vocabulary, but as a way of helping us follow Jesus Christ. The third section of our canon contains a call to live lives reflective of the beauty of God in Christ.

As a body of born again believers,

We covenant to become an authentic family by

loving one another as Christ loves us,

praying for one another,

speaking truth to one another in love,

being patient with one another,

protecting one another,

considering one another as more important than ourselves.

We covenant to embrace the whole gospel by

studying God’s Word faithfully,

learning the gospel together in family worship,

giving ear only to sound doctrine,

living out the gospel in our lives,

embracing the whole counsel of God.

We covenant to bring glory to God by,

gathering for worship faithfully,

singing to the glory of God,

joining together in fervent prayer,

doing good works to the Father’s glory,

living lives that reflect the beauty of Christ

Again, this will sound odd to some, and perhaps it will sound odd or uncomfortable to men in particular. I wish to show, however, that beauty not only has a place in the Christian vocabulary, it should occupy a very important place in our very lives.

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The Covenanted Committed Church (Part 18)

Covenant1In a 2013 article written for the Psychology Today website and entitled “Why Do Human Beings Do Good Things? The Puzzle of Altruism”, Dr. Steve Taylor sought to answer the question to a basic human puzzle. He wrote:

The question of why human beings are sometimes prepared to risk their own lives to save others has puzzled philosophers and scientists for centuries. From an evolutionary point of view, altruism doesn’t seem to make any sense. According to the modern Neo-Darwinian view, human beings are basically selfish. After all, we are only really ‘carriers’ of thousands of genes, whose only aim is to survive and replicate themselves. We shouldn’t be interested in sacrificing ourselves for others, or even in helping others. It’s true that, in genetic terms, it’s not necessarily self-defeating for us to help people close to us, our relatives or distant cousins—they carry many of the same genes as us, and so helping them may help our genes to survive. But what about when we help people who have no relation to us, or even animals?

To answer the question, Dr. Taylor pointed to theories people have posited to explain why human beings do good things. Specifically, Dr. Taylor wrote of altruism (“unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others”[1]). Here are a few relevant selections from the article.

Egoic Altruism

According to some psychologists, there is no such thing as ‘pure’ altruism. When we help strangers (or animals), there must always be some benefit to us, even if we’re not aware of it. Altruism makes us feel good about ourselves, it makes other people respect us more, or it might (so far as we believe) increase our chances of getting into heaven. Or perhaps altruism is an investment strategy – we do good deeds to others in the hope that they will return the favor some day, when we are in need. (This is known as reciprocal altruism.) According to evolutionary psychologists, it could even be a way of demonstrating our resources, showing how wealthy or able we are, so that we become more attractive to the opposite sex, and have enhanced reproductive possibilities.

Finally, evolutionary psychologists have also suggested that altruism towards strangers may be a kind of mistake, a ‘leftover’ trait from when human beings lived in small groups with people we were genetically closely related to…

Pure Altruism

…[I]s it naive to suggest that ‘pure’ altruism can exist as well? An act of ‘pure’ altruism…may make you feel better about yourself afterwards, and it may increase other people’s respect for you, or increase your chances of being helped in return at a later point. But it’s possible that, at the very moment when the act takes place, your only motivation is an impulsive unselfish desire to alleviate suffering.

Altruism and Connectedness

It’s this fundamental oneness which makes it possible for us to identify with other people, to sense their suffering and respond to it with altruistic acts. We can sense their suffering because, in a sense, we are them. And because of this common identity, we feel the urge to alleviate other people’s suffering – and to protect and promote their well-being —just as we would our own…

…In other words, there is no need to make excuses for altruism. Instead, we should celebrate it as a transcendence of seeming separateness. Rather than being unnatural, altruism is an expression of our most fundamental nature—that of connectedness.[2]

All of this is very interesting and, if one grants the philosophical premises of Darwinism (which I do not), there is a kind of logic to it. Of course, we are Christians, so we see another element present in the question of why we should be good, and that element is, we would argue, the most important reality of all: the glory of God.As Christians we believe we should do good, yes, to help our fellow man, to bless our families, to better society, and all of the other virtuous reasons why we should be good. For followers of Jesus, however, the ultimate reason, the reason above all reasons, is so that we can bring glory to God and help others desire to do so as well. This is why we have included the fourth covenant statement under our third canon:

As a body of born again believers,

We covenant to become an authentic family by

loving one another as Christ loves us,

praying for one another,

speaking truth to one another in love,

being patient with one another,

protecting one another,

considering one another as more important than ourselves.

We covenant to embrace the whole gospel by

studying God’s Word faithfully,

learning the gospel together in family worship,

giving ear only to sound doctrine,

living out the gospel in our lives,

embracing the whole counsel of God.

We covenant to bring glory to God by,

gathering for worship faithfully,

singing to the glory of God,

joining together in fervent prayer,

doing good works to the Father’s glory

As followers of Jesus, we do not believe that good works save us, but we do believe we should do good works. In fact, let me challenge us to consider this: we should be more committed to doing good than anybody else in the world. And why should that be so?

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The Covenanted Committed Church (Part 17)

Covenant1“Missionaries Credit Prayer With Saving Their Lives.” So read the headline in a state Baptist newspaper some years ago. The story is fascinating:

Ruth Nolen couldn’t get Ed and Linda Ables out of her mind. Ruth and her husband, Steve, are Southern Baptist missionaries in Mendosa, Argentina, 600 miles west of Buenos Aires, where the Ableses are missionaries.

Ruth felt such an impression to pray for the Ableses that she kept trying to call, starting at 10:30 that night, but failing to get through.

Tragically, her fears were well-founded. When Ruth finally reached another missionary in the area, she learned Ed and Linda were in a hospital emergency room being treated for wounds and bruises from a robbery and beatings in their home.

“At the same time that Ruth was praying for us, one of the robbers had cocked a pistol, put it to my head and snapped the trigger,” said Ed about the June 15 attack in which he was hit in the head at least a dozen times and in which Linda was struck on the head and in the face.

He figured the gun used by the robbers was empty but police later told him a person could not pull the trigger on such a gun unless it had shells in it. In fact, the gun simply misfired.[1]

Let me ask you two questions on the basis of that story. Really think these through before answering them.

  • Do you believe that story is true?
  • Do you consistently and fervently pray every day?

I will go out on a limb and guess that for many of us the answer to the first question is “yes” and the answer to the second question is “no.” Meaning, we believe in prayer and the power of prayer but we do not pray as we should. What that means is, of course, that our belief in prayer is largely theoretical and not practical. At least, it is not our practice. If the answer to the two questions is “yes” and “no,” respectively, may I ask a third question? It is this: Why?

Brothers and sisters, if we truly believe that prayer is a privilege, a commandment, and is powerful, why do we not pray? The third line of our third section of our church covenant reflects a corporate commitment to fervent prayer.

As a body of born again believers,

We covenant to become an authentic family by

loving one another as Christ loves us,

praying for one another,

speaking truth to one another in love,

being patient with one another,

protecting one another,

considering one another as more important than ourselves.

We covenant to embrace the whole gospel by

studying God’s Word faithfully,

learning the gospel together in family worship,

giving ear only to sound doctrine,

living out the gospel in our lives,

embracing the whole counsel of God.

We covenant to bring glory to God by,

gathering for worship faithfully,

singing to the glory of God,

joining together in fervent prayer

In his 1972 article, “A Theology of Prayer,” Baptist theologian James Leo Garrett Jr. wrote the following:

The relative values of liturgical and spontaneous prayer and of verbal and silent prayer have been debated among Christian communions and in various epochs. Nevertheless, as Nels F. S. Ferré has written, “The history of the Christian Church is, more than we know, the history of believing prayer.”

O, where are kings and empires now,

Of old that went and came?

But Lord, thy church is praying yet,

A thousand years the same.[2]

My prayer for us is that we would realize this great fact (i.e., that the history of the church is the history of believing prayer) and that we would live out this truth (i.e., “the church is praying yet”).

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The Covenanted Committed Church (Part 16)

Covenant1To the best of my knowledge, my grandmother, Ann Reynolds, remains the only child to have ever been kicked out of the children’s choir at the First United Methodist Church of Charlotte, North Carolina! The story has passed into family lore. Eighty years ago, when my grandmother was 6 or 7 years old, she wanted to go down to their church for children’s choir practice. Her mother, knowing her daughter’s singing voice, tried to dissuade her. My grandmother, however, would have none of it.So her mother took her down to the city bus stop near their home and placed her daughter on the bus to be dropped off near the church. My grandmother says that she went to the children’s choir practice and, sure enough, things did not go well! In fact, the children’s choir director told my grandmother that while she could stay and finish that one practice, she would not be allowed to return and that “we will have to find something else for you to do.”

You must understand that my grandmother has laughed about this story throughout at least my entire life, though I doubt she was laughing at the time that it happened! My oldest brother recently shared with me that he has often stood by my grandmother in church during hymn time and that he does not have any trouble believing the story!

I can sympathize with my grandmother. I certainly do not have a singing voice either! And while the story is cute and charming, the more I think about it the more I am struck by the image of this little girl being so determined to get to the church and sing! Yes, they had to find something else for her to do, but, in reality, there are few things more important that we can do than sing praises and glory to God!

I would like to invite us all—great singers, average singers, and singers for whom “we need to find something else”—to come and consider the importance of worshiping God in song! We have reflected this commitment in our church covenant:

As a body of born again believers,

We covenant to become an authentic family by

loving one another as Christ loves us,

praying for one another,

speaking truth to one another in love,

being patient with one another,

protecting one another,

considering one another as more important than ourselves.

We covenant to embrace the whole gospel by

studying God’s Word faithfully,

learning the gospel together in family worship,

giving ear only to sound doctrine,

living out the gospel in our lives,

embracing the whole counsel of God.

We covenant to bring glory to God by,

gathering for worship faithfully,

singing to the glory of God

Why should we sing to the glory of God?

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Habakkuk 3:16-19

barren-fig-treeHabakkuk 3

16 I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. 17 Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. 19 God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.

James Montgomery Boice has passed on a very interesting story about our text.

            The last section of this chapter contains some of the most moving verses in all the Bible. On one occasion it was used by Benjamin Franklin, who was not a Christian, to confound some of the sophisticated, cultured despisers of the Bible whom he met in Paris when he was serving as United States Plenipotentiary to that country. The skeptics were mocking him for his admiration of the Bible. So he decided to find out how well they knew the book they professed to scorn. One evening he entered their company with a manuscript that contained an ancient poem he said he had been reading. He said that he had been impressed with its stately beauty. They asked to hear it. He held it out and read this great third chapter of Habakkuk ending with:

Though the fig tree does not bud

and there are no grapes on the vines,

though the olive crop fails

and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen

and no cattle in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;

he makes my feet like the feet of a deer.

he enables me to go on the heights.

Verses 17-19

The reading was received with exclamations of extravagant admiration. “What a magnificent piece of verse!” they cried. Where had Franklin found it? How could they get copies? They were astonished when he informed them that it was the third chapter of Habakkuk’s prophecy.[1]

Yes, this is indeed a powerful verse, but it is not merely powerful because it is beautifully written and constructed. It is powerful because of what it reveals about the Lord our God and about the prophet Habakkuk’s trust in Him.

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The Covenanted Committed Church (Part 15)

Covenant1Some years ago the popular Christian author Donald Miller created a real ruckus online when he blogged about the fact that he does not attend church all that often. Here are a few selections from his original post:

I’ve a confession. I don’t connect with God by singing to Him. Not at all.

I know I’m nearly alone in this but it’s true. I was finally able to admit this recently when I attended a church service that had, perhaps, the most talented worship team I’ve ever heard. I loved the music. But I loved it more for the music than the worship. As far as connecting with God goes, I wasn’t feeling much of anything.

I used to feel guilty about this but to be honest, I experience an intimacy with God I consider strong and healthy.

It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy in a traditional worship service. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of sermons I actually remember. So to be brutally honest, I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon and I don’t connect with him by singing songs to him. So, like most men, a traditional church service can be somewhat long and difficult to get through.

I’m fine with this, though…

…How do I find intimacy with God if not through a traditional church model?

The answer came to me recently and it was a freeing revelation. I connect with God by working. I literally feel an intimacy with God when I build my company. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe God gave me my mission and my team and I feel closest to him when I’ve got my hand on the plow. It’s thrilling and I couldn’t be more grateful he’s given me an outlet through which I can both serve and connect with him…

…So, do I attend church? Not often, to be honest.

Like I said, it’s not how I learn.

But I also believe the church is all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe. 

I’m fine with where I’ve landed and finally experiencing some forward momentum in my faith. I worship God every day through my work. It’s a blast.[1]

After the post received a huge and often passionate response for and against, Miller offered a follow-up post. Here is a selection from it:

Monday I wrote about why I don’t attend church regularly. I was naive to open such a sensitive conversation without expecting a backlash and was taken aback at the response. Many people thought the blog was saying people shouldn’t go to church or that I had something against church. None of that is true. And yet, most of the influential Christian leaders I know (who are not pastors) do not attend church.[2]

To be sure, there are many and creative ways that Christians can rightly do church. The traditional church service is certainly open to critique. I am a pastor and I critique church services all of the time! Yet there is a reason why many people were alarmed at Miller’s post. Might it not open a door for the abandonment of all corporate gatherings of God’s people for the purpose of worship? I am not, of course, saying that this is the only way we worship, but I want to show that there are certain basic elements of our lives together as Christians that we dare not abandon, and they include the following: (1) consistent, (2) corporate, (3) gatherings, (4) for the purpose of worship and fellowship. Again, there are numerous ways to do that, but scripture does call on us to do that.

The first covenant statement under our third canon acknowledges the importance of corporate worship.

As a body of born again believers,

We covenant to become an authentic family by

loving one another as Christ loves us,

praying for one another,

speaking truth to one another in love,

being patient with one another,

protecting one another,

considering one another as more important than ourselves.

We covenant to embrace the whole gospel by

studying God’s Word faithfully,

learning the gospel together in family worship,

giving ear only to sound doctrine,

living out the gospel in our lives,

embracing the whole counsel of God.

We covenant to bring glory to God by,

gathering for worship faithfully

We do not want to say morethan what scripture says, but we also do not want to say lessthan what scripture says either. We certainly do not want to suggest that the way we do church is the only way to do church, but we do want to advance a sound biblical theology of the gathered church worshiping together.

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Some Thoughts on Florence Shinn and The Game of Life and How to Play It

487619_114A number of months ago a friend of mine gave me a copy of The Complete Works of Florence Shinn, a monograph containing four of her works: The Game of Life and How to Play It, Your Word is Your Wand, The Secret Door to Success, and The Power of the Spoken Word, all four written from 1925-1945. My comments in this post are a reflection on the first work, and, apparently, Shinn’s most famous work, The Game of Life and How to Play It.

I would like to begin by noting what I think is positive about Shinn’s work. I do not disagree with the general principle that what we say and what we think is powerful. I do not disagree that binding yourself to certain ideas or sentiments oftentimes seems to create self-fulfilled prophecies. For instance, the person who is obsessed with illness oftentimes seems to get sick. The person with the positive attitude, who has a strong sense of faith and optimism, oftentimes seems to overcome obstacles.

Furthermore, I do not disagree with the general idea that attitude is important, that verbalization seems in some sense to trend toward actualization, and that the inward disposition tends to manifest itself outwardly. I do not even disagree with the general idea that one’s disposition and attitude, which is usually reflected in one’s words and actions, has a kind of attractional pull. That is, like tends to attract like.

In noting these realities, Shinn has a point. What is alarming to me, however, is that Shinn goes far, far beyond these ideas as general principles and has created instead a metaphysical system that, tragically, is buttressed by a talismanic and almost magical view of language (heck, the second work is literally entitled Your Word is Your Wand!), the calcification of fairly common sense principles into mechanistic “laws,” the collapse of theological terms and constructs into anthropology, a staggeringly eisegetical approach to scripture in which the wider context of verses is ignored and snippets are reduced to maxims shaped to support Shinn’s tenuous assumptions, the reduction of theological reflections to man’s comfort (usually in monetary terms), and a non-orthodox Christology that appears time and again to reduce Jesus and HIs work to a mere schema of self-actualization and possibly even to man’s own innate power to bring about desirable outcomes.

In short, there is much to be very, very uncomfortable about with Shinn’s work. Let me explain.

Near the end of The Game fo Life and How to Play It, Shinn offers what I would suggest is her thesis statement for the entire work:

All the good that is to be made manifest in man’s life is already an accomplished fact in divine mind, and is released through man’s recognition, or spoken word, so he must be careful to decree that only the Divine Idea be made manifest, for often, he decrees, through his “idle words,” failure or misfortune (p.69).

In that statement you can see the hallmarks of Shinn’s book: the curious use of terminology (i.e., “in divine mind”), the granting of great power to man’s “recognition” or “words,” and the talismanic approach to language (i.e., say the right thing and good things happen, say the wrong thing and bad things happen).

As I finished this work I thought, “This is a Pentecostalized Platonism.” Only in reviewing the first pages of the book again as I began this review did I remember that Shinn indeed gives Plato credit for the basic framework of her ideas: “There are three departments of the mind, the subconscious, the conscious and superconscious…The superconscious mind is the God Mind within each man, and is the realm of perfect ideas. In it, is the ‘perfect pattern’ spoken of by Plato, the Divine Design, for there is a Divine Design for each person” (p.4-5).

Within this framework, Shinn develops the idea that man needs to tap into the affirming, person-exalting intention of the superconscious mind, the God Mind. Why? Because “Infinite Intelligence, God, is ever ready to carry out man’s smallest or greatest demands” (p.7). Shinn loves the idea that God wants to give man whatever man wants and she loves the language of “demand.” We should “demand” this or that, for we are indeed entitled to such. This leads Shinn to say truly shocking things at times:

A student once made this wonderful statement: “When I ask the Father for anything, I put my foot down, and I say: Father, I’ll take nothing less than I’ve asked for, but more!” So man should never compromise” (p.72)

Wonderful? The Christian mind cringes at the thought of “putting our foot down” with God. We’re a long way from the writer of Hebrews’ idea of coming “boldly” before the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). What Shinn is proposing strikes me as outright presumption and entitlement. Lest you think I am being too hard, please note that Shinn says man should “demand that the enormous sums of money, which are his by divine right, reach him under grace” (p.70).

Here is where we can see how Shinn’s work laid a metaphysical foundation for the prosperity gospel so prevalent on religious television and in many churches today. “Infinite Intelligence” wants you to have your best life now, and if you say the right things and think in the right ways you can tap into that upper level reality and let the blessings flow into your life!

There are other problems. Frequently, Shinn’s handling of scripture is extremely muddled. Take, for instance, Shinn’s handling of Isaiah, 55:11—”so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty.” In this text, God proclaims His sovereignty and His ability to save His people. In Shinn’s handling, this was said by Isaiah and demonstrates “that words and thoughts are a tremendous vibratory force, ever moulding man’s body and affairs” (p.10). How tragic. She takes words from God’s mouth and reduces them to an example of an alleged innate self-actualizing power of words in our mouths. This is what I mean when I say that Shinn collapses theology into anthropology. It really is all about man in her mind. This mishandling of scripture occurs time and again in Shinn’s work. For her, “He restoreth my soul” (Ps. 23) “means that the subconscious mind or soul, must be restored with the right ideas, and the ‘mystical marriage’ is the marriage of the soul and the spirit, or the subconscious and the superconscious mind” (p.19). Wait…what?! Shinn even anthropologizes Satan, defining “the tempter” as “the adverse thought or reasoning mind” (p.12).

Shinn’s Christology is woefully lacking. For her, Christ is a purveyor of maxims intended to be used for self-actualization. This leads her into truly dangerous exegetical waters: “When the subconscious is flooded with the perfect ideas of the superconscious, God and man are one. ‘I and the Father are one.’ That is, he is one with the realm of perfect ideas…etc.” (p.19).  I consider Shinn’s handling of scripture to be the single most pernicious and disastrous aspect of her work. That is an absolutely unacceptable way to handle Jesus’ words about His union with the Father. Here’s another instance of her misuse of the words of Jesus: “Jesus Christ said, ‘And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.’ So, we see freedom (from all unhappy conditions) comes through knowledge…” (p.31). But is that what Jesus meant by “freedom” there, that you would be free from all unhappy conditions? I kept wondering while reading Shinn what she would say about Job, a man who did NOT invite disaster with careless words, or what she would say to the martyrs who died and suffered and experienced all manner of “unhappy conditions” precisely because they said the right words!

On and on I could go. Some of her statements are just stop-you-in-your-tracks stupefying (“Money is God in manifestation, as freedom from want and limitation, but it must be always kept in circulation and put to right uses” ((p.47-48)).) Some of her statements potentially heap piles of shame upon people who would actually believe them (“All disease, all unhappiness, come from the violation of the law of love” ((p.49)).) Over and over again she reduces everything to man’s own material success (“Many of the richest men in this country have been tithers, and I have never known it to fail as an investment” ((p.52)).) Tithing is “an investment”! Her view of language and its effects sometimes sounds occultic (“It takes a very strong mind to neutralize a prophecy of evil” ((p.56)).) At times her words sound like a caricature of themselves (“…so she determined to deny the loss, and collect the two thousand dollars from the Bank of the Universal” ((p.58)).) She uses this idea of a heavenly “bank” more than once by the way.

While Shinn does refer to God and Christ as external realities and persons, on numerous occasions she refers to God and Christ in ways that make it unclear whether or not these are even entities separate and distinct from human potential (“‘Every man is a golden link in the chain of my good,’ for all men are God in manifestation, awaiting the opportunity given by man, himself, to serve the divine plan of his life” ((p.24)). And again, “A woman in urgent need of money, ‘made light’ upon the Christ within, the superconscious, with the statement, ‘I cast this burden of lack on the Christ (within) and I go free to have plenty’ ((p.38)). And again, “A prenatal treatment should be: ‘Let the God in this child have perfect expression; let the Divine Design of his mind, body and affairs be made manifest throughout his life, throughout eternity” ((p.62)).)

Tellingly, Shinn seems to give us a glimpse of her cards at one point. In redefining “sin” Shinn writes, “The student learns that in metaphysics sin has a much broader meaning than in the old teaching” (p.64). Metaphysics vs. “the old teaching.” That gives us a clue as to what is happening here.

Shinn saw herself as an enlightened soul who could take the traditional language and categories of Christianity and reappropriate them in the service of her man-centered philosophy of betterment. This is evident perhaps nowhere more clearly than in Shinn’s assertion that “Christ was both person and principle; and the Christ within each man is his Redeemer and Salvation. The Christ within is his own fourth dimensional self, the man made in God’s image and likeness” (p.75). Shinn cannot build her system around Christ the “person” for such is tied to objectivity and historicity, to the particulars of the gospel story. Christ as He is is not open to the malleable reshaping of Him into mere self-improvement techniques. But Christ as a principle can be reshaped and used in whatever way we want to reshape and use Him. That is what Shinn has done here: she has not spoken the gospel. She has taken the language of the gospel and baptized it into a philosophy of human self-esteem, self-improvement, and self-betterment. Even the book cover communicates pretty clearly what the upshot of Shinn’s philosophy is:

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I think it was Barth who once said that you don’t get God by shouting “Man!” loudly. I thought about that statement a lot while reading Shinn.

I will try to end this very negative review with a positive: as a precursor of the modern health-wealth-prosperity zaniness of extreme forms of Pentecostalism, Shinn’s work does have historical value. Other than that, I would steer clear.

Habakkuk 3:1-15

Habakkuk 3

1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth. O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. SelahHis splendor covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power. Before him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels.He stood and measured the earth; he looked and shook the nations; then the eternal mountains were scattered; the everlasting hills sank low. His were the everlasting ways. I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction; the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble. Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord? Was your anger against the rivers, or your indignation against the sea, when you rode on your horses, on your chariot of salvation? You stripped the sheath from your bow, calling for many arrows. SelahYou split the earth with rivers. 10 The mountains saw you and writhed; the raging waters swept on; the deep gave forth its voice; it lifted its hands on high. 11 The sun and moon stood still in their place at the light of your arrows as they sped, at the flash of your glittering spear. 12 You marched through the earth in fury; you threshed the nations in anger. 13 You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah14 You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors, who came like a whirlwind to scatter me, rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret. 15 You trampled the sea with your horses, the surging of mighty waters.

One of the more haunting and unsettling films I have ever seen is Werner Herzog’s 1972 “Aguirre, The Wrath of God,” starring the eccentric and explosive actor Klaus Kinski. These selections from the Wikipedia article on the film give a good sense of what is happening and of Kinski’s character’s (Aguirre’s) descent into madness:

In 1560, several score of Spanish conquistadors, and a hundred Indian slaves, march down from the newly conquered Inca Empire in the Andes mountains into the jungles to the east, in search of the fabled country of El Dorado…

…[After leading a successful mutiny] Aguirre proves to be an oppressive leader, so terrifying that few protest his leadership…

…On the raft again, the group of slowly starving, feverish men begin disbelieving everything they see, even when shot with arrows. The group stares in disbelief at a wooden ship perched in the highest branches of a tall tree, which Aguirre orders be brought down and refurbished, but Brother Carvajal refuses. In a series of final attacks by unseen assailants, the remaining survivors including Aguirre’s daughter are killed by arrows. Aguirre alone remains alive on the slowly drifting raft. The raft becomes overrun by monkeys. The crazed Aguirre tells them: “I, the Wrath of God, will marry my own daughter, and with her I will found the purest dynasty the world has ever seen. Together, we shall rule this entire continent. We shall endure. I am the Wrath of God… who else is with me?” The final shot is of him waiting for the monkeys to respond.[1]

Throughout the film, Aguirre becomes increasingly mad, referring to himself as the wrath of God and, in general, evidencing a complete lack of attachment to reality. Earlier in the film Herzog has Kinski stare directly into the camera and say, “I am the wrath of God. The earth I walk upon sees and quakes.”

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There are things that only God can say. There are things that can only be said ofGod. These same things are evidence of insanity when put in the mouth of man. The words that for Aguirre were a sign of madness are for a God a true description and, in fact, reason for worship. In Habakkuk’s prayer from Habakkuk 3, he says something worshipfully of God that Aguirre’s says madly of himself: that God has great wrath and that the earth sees and quakes before Him.

Once again we see the two themes of the wrath of God and the mercy of God: wrath toward the wicked and mercy toward His people. This time these themes are voiced in a powerful prayer of faith and of acceptance on the part of Habakkuk. There is, for the first time in the book, no note of protest here. Habakkuk simply accepts what God says He is going to do. In so doing, Habakkuk extols God’s righteous anger against evil but calls too for God’s mercy.

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