Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Bible verse meme

Usually memes don't tug my chain, but having been tagged by both Jason and Frank I thought I'd venture out on this one.

I think the general idea, to loosely cite Jason, is to post the verse or story of scripture which is most important to you, which you find yourself re-visiting time after time.

My own bible verse choice has to make mention of the spirituality embodied in a few Psalms, such as 63, 84 etc. However, the verse I will finally pick is the one I chose as the 'marriage scripture' for Anja and I, the verse referenced on my wedding ring:

'One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple' (Ps 27:4)

My whole spirituality and Christian life has been formed on the importance of passionate love for God encouraged through desirous and extended meditation and beholding of the divine glory and majesty. This may sound very much like something Edwards, Piper, Scougal or Owen would write and it is indeed something very deep in my Christian life. There is nothing I enjoy as much as prayerfully contemplating the glory of God in the face of Christ, nothing more delightful, nothing that stirs up worship in my heart as deeply and profoundly.

And to be preachy for a minute (I was in prison last night for the sake of the gospel, after all), there is a terrible danger for many theologians to develop a snooty attitude such that the first and highest commandment (Mt 22: 37-38) is somehow left to one side, and compromise is given a spiritual name like 'balance' or justified as the inevitable consequence of learning (cf. also Rom 12:11). I've been guilty of that in the past and verses like Ps 27:4 bring me back to the heart of worship, to the Triune God who loved a sinner like me.


At 7/25/2007 11:00 PM, Blogger J. B. Hood said...

This post has been removed by the author.

At 7/25/2007 11:01 PM, Blogger J. B. Hood said...

Thanks for that moment of sanity, CT. That's a great post.

At 7/26/2007 1:24 AM, Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

Hi Chris,

You wrote, "There is nothing I enjoy as much as prayerfully contemplating the glory of God in the face of Christ."

Being a former Christian, and having studied mystics of all religions during latter phases of my doctrinal belief period, I admit I grew less comfortable and even embarrassed at talking in "Christian" terms about my private religious experiences, and today I would sooner seek common bonds with others rather than write about how exciting my own private individual spiritual "joys" were, or saying so in a language that must sound like "Christian-ese" to others, language like you used, such as, "Contemplating the glory of God in the face of Christ."

I suspect that just typing the words above initiated mental connections in your brain-mind, and excited you. But what about others and the things that excite them that are private and spiritually individualistic? Do you not suspect you might sound like a person addicted to something when you talk in "Christianese" language? Perhaps speaking in such language is itself addictive? (I notice how trembly Calvinists get whenever they get to just say the word, "Covenant" for instance, or name a church with the title "Covenant" someplace in it. *smile* Or how Catholics get all trembly whenever the phrase, "the Holy Mother" is mentioned *smile*)

Some other Christians will get what you're saying I'm sure, since they have been steeped in Christianity and Christianese speech for as long or longer than you. But at what point might speaking in such terms about your own intimate personal private spritual joys not step over the line into a sort of ego-fest?

I mean, I love certain types of music, and experiences in nature. They transport me. But at least I can give others explicit directions by which they might visit those very same spots in quite a literal geographical fashion, or listen to that very same music, and then they can tell me their own reactions to it, which might not be the same as my own. But in the case of spiritual experiences, one cannot direct anyone in a simple fashion to the same spot you're at, or have them listen to the exact same "music of the spheres" your spiritual ears may be hearing. And even if you could direct people in an exacting fashion by laying out for them a roadmap of belief so to speak, they might not react to the same theological or spirituality books you have read, or react to the same worship sessions at your church in the same way you do, in which case you might even be vexed as to why they had not. (Or maybe they DO react in a similar fashion as you did, at least for a while, but later they grow less interested in those particular things and less interested in speaking in Christian-ese terms?)

Your statement also reminded of something Rushdie wrote: "Love can lead to devotion, but the devotion of the lover is unlike that of the True Believer in that it is not militant. I may be surprised--even shocked--to find that you do not feel as I do about a given book or work of art or even person; I may very well attempt to change your mind; but I will finally accept that your tastes, your loves, are your business and not mine. The True Believer knows no such restraints." [Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands]

Admittedly, Rushdie is talking about extreme cases of "true belief." But as I said above, at what point might not talking about one's own private religious experiences become a sort of ego- fest? It's just a question, and also a matter of degree I suspect.

Some other folks take an even harder view than I do on this particular topic:

Look at the hymnals of most churches and all the "me's" and "I's" people are taught to sing about: “That will be glory for me… I shall see Him face to face… My sins are gone… I’m so happy… I’m saved, saved, saved… Love lifted me… He holds my hand… Now I belong to Jesus… Safe am I… My Lord is real, yea, real to me…”

I was even taught as a child to sing that shameless chorus, “For me, for me, for me, for me.”

It’s like someone decided to set “original sin” to music.

Daniel Stevick, Beyond Fundamentalism


Our hymns were loaded with arrogance--self-congratulation on how cozy we were with the Almighty.

Robert A. Heinlein, (Jubal Harshaw in Stranger in a Strange Land)


An evangelical Christian once told me, “Only Jesus Christ can save man and restore him to his lost state of peace with God, himself and others.” Yeah, sure, and only new Pepsi can make you feel really happy, and only our brand is better than the competition, and only our country is the best country. It is truly amazing to me that people can utter such arrogant nonsense with no humor, no sense of how offensive they are to others, no doubt or trepidation, and no suspicion that they sound exactly like advertisers, con-men and other swindlers. It is really hard to understand such child-like prattling. If I were especially conceited about something (a state I try to avoid, but if I fell into it...), if for instance I decided I had the best garden or the handsomest face in Ireland, I would still retain enough common sense to suspect that I would sound like a conceited fool if I went around telling everybody those opinions. I would have enough tact left, I hope, to satisfy my conceit by dreaming that other people would notice on their own that my garden and/or my face were especially lovely. People who go around innocently and blithely announcing that they belong to the Master Race or the Best Country Club or have the One True Religion seem to have never gotten beyond the kindergarten level of ego-display. Do they have no modesty, no tact, no shame, no adult common sense at all? Do they have any suspicion how silly their conceit sounds to the majority of the nonwhite non-Christian men and women of the world? To me, they seem like little children wearing daddy’s clothes and going around shouting, “Look how grown-up I am! Look at me, me, me!”

There are more amusing things than ego-games, conceit and one-upmanship.Really, there are. I suspect that people stay on that childish level because they have never discovered how interesting and exciting the adult world is.

If one must play ego-games, I still think it would be more polite, and more adult, to play them in the privacy of one’s head. In fact, despite my efforts to be a kind of Buddhist, I do relapse into such ego-games on occasion; but I have enough respect for human intelligence to keep such thoughts to myself. I don’t go around announcing that I have painted the greatest painting of our time; I hope that people will notice that by themselves. Why do the people whose ego-games consist of day-dreaming about being part of the Master Race or the One True Religion not keep that precious secret to themselves, also, and wait for the rest of the human race to notice their blinding superiority?

Robert Anton Wilson

Many Christians who can’t even get members of their own family to agree with them on trifling matters are currently seeking to evangelize the world and tell everyone “what’s what.”

Many evangelical Christians boast that they have a “personal relationship” with Jesus. What makes it so “personal?” Well, they say, we have the words attributed to Jesus in the four Gospels. But there are so few of them, a couple thousand. You could fit all of Jesus’s words (100+ logia) into a small 16-page booklet. And they are subject to interpretation.

Well, they say, there are “answered prayers.” But again, that is a matter of interpretation, because no matter what happens, an evangelical Christian interprets it as “Jesus’s will,” even when bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.

Whenever I have a “personal relationship” with someone it does not consist of a few thousand words spoken two thousand years ago, recorded accurately (or inaccurately) by someone else, and which require interpretation from third parties for me to “truly” understand them (especially when the third parties disagree concerning the meaning and intent of those words).

Neither should a “personal relationship” depend on me having to interpret the results of every prayer uttered. And the range of interpretations covers every conceivable outcome:
“strongly positively answered,”
“weakly positively answered,”
“strongly negatively answered,”
“weakly negatively answered,”
or even,
“try again later when you have more faith.”

Question: What’s the difference between a trained psychologist and a born again Christian?

Answer: A trained psychologist can read a person like a book, but a born again Christian reads a book like it’s a person.


Two evangelical Christians at the door: May we come in and share some good news with you?

Me: Don’t you mean, “May we blatantly disregard your privacy for a few minutes in order to further our own personal goals?”

Tell me, which denomination do you belong to, and when was it founded? That’s Protestant, isn’t it? I bet the Pope has rings older than your denomination. I bet your denomination numbers a couple million at most. Catholics number far more. In fact, if you added up every member of every Protestant denomination on earth, the Catholics equal or exceed that number. You say that’s a logical fallacy, truth is not determined by sheer numbers? That’s what all small denominations say. Heck, maybe you’re knocking on doors because you’re bored seeing the same faces in church or you fear your heaven won’t have enough folks in it to form a decent choir. I have a hot tip for you, you’ll be happier if you seek out people whom you admire--and things you enjoy--on an individual basis, rather than try to pour yourself and the whole world into a “one size fits all” religious Jello mold.


"In practice, Christianity, like Hinduism or Buddhism, is not one religion, but several religions, adapted to the needs of different types of human beings. A Christian church in Southern Spain, or Mexico, or Sicily is singularly like a Hindu temple. The eye is delighted by the same gaudy colors, the same tripe-like decorations, the same gesticulating statues; the nose inhales the same intoxicating smells; the ear and, along with it, the understanding, are lulled by the drone of the same incomprehensible incantations [in the old Catholic Latin mass tradition], roused by the same loud, impressive music.

"At the other end of the scale, consider the chapel of a Cistercian monastery and the meditation hall of a community of Zen Buddhists. They are equally bare; aids to devotion (in other words fetters holding back the soul from enlightenment) are conspicuously absent from either building. Here are two distinct religions for two distinct kinds of human beings." [p. 262-263]

"In Christianity bhakti [or, loving devotion] towards a personal being has always been the most popular form of religious practice. Up to the time of the [Catholic] Counter-Reformation, however, the way of knowledge ("mystical knowledge" as it is called in Chrstian language) was accorded an honorable place beside the way of devotion. From the middle of the sixteenth century onwards the way of knowledge came to be neglected and even condemned. We are told by Dom John Chapman that "Mercurian, who was general of the society (of Jesus) from 1573 to 1580, forbade the use of the works of Tauler, Ruysbroek, Suso, Harphius, St. Gertrude, and St. Mechtilde." Every effort was made by the [Catholic] Counter-Reformers to heighten the worshipper's devotion to a personal divinity. The literary content of Baroque art is hysterical, almost epileptic, in the violence of its emotionality. It even becomes necessary to call in physiology as an aid to feeling. The ecstasies of the saints are represented by seventeenth-century artists as being frankly sexual. Seventeenth-century drapery writhes like so much tripe. In the equivocal personage of Margaret Mary Alacocque, seventeenth-century piety pours over a bleeding and palpitating heart. From this orgy of emotionalism and sensationalism Catholic Christianity seems never completely to have recovered." [p. 281-282]

"The ideal of non-attachment has been formulated and systematically preached again and again in the course of the last three thousand years. We find it (along with everything else) in Hinduism. It is at the very heart of the teachings of the Buddha. For Chinese readers the doctrine is formulated by Lao Tsu. A little later, in Greece, the ideal of non-attachment is proclaimed, albeit with a certain, pharisaic priggishness, by the Stoics. The Gospel of Jesus is essentially a gospel of non-attachment to "the things of this world," and of attachment to God. Whatever may have been the aberrations of organized Christianity -- and they range from extravagant asceticism to the most brutally cynical forms of realpolitik -- there has been no lack of Christian philosophers to reaffirm the ideal of non-attachment. Here is John Tauler, for example, telling us that 'freedom is complete purity and detachment which seeketh the Eternal...' Here is the author of "The Imitation of Christ," who bids us 'pass through many cares as though without care; not after the manner of a sluggard, but by a certain prerogative of a free mind, which does not cleave with inordinate affection to any creature.'" [p. 5, 6]

" knowledge, sensibility and non-attachment increase, the contents of the judgments of value passed even by men belonging to dissimilar cultures, tend to approximate. The ethical doctrines taught in the Tao Te Ching, by Buddha and his followers, in the Sermon on the Mount, and by the best of the Christian saints, are not dissimilar." [p. 327]

At 7/26/2007 3:25 AM, Blogger Recovering said...

Wow. Edward gets the world-title for the longest comment on a blog! I am very sensitive about sounding churchy or speaking in Christian-ease. I fret over being accessible and relevant to nonbelievers but I found nothing in the post that made my skin crawl.

Good post, Chris

At 7/26/2007 3:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Chris,

A very nice post.

Interestingly, Psalm 27:4 is also one of my favorites.

But I also love:

Psalm 69:2 O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me. -- Douay-Rheims. (70:1 in other versions)

It's definitely come in handy on a few occasions.

According to John Cassian its use can be traced back to the Desert Monks as reported by Abba Isaac.

"And so for keeping up continual recollection of God this pious formula is to be ever set before you... for this verse has not unreasonably been picked out from the whole of Scripture for this purpose. For it embraces all the feelings which can be implanted in human nature, and can be fitly and satisfactorily adapted to every condition, and all assaults. Since it contains an invocation of God against every danger, it contains humble and pious confession, it contains the watchfulness of anxiety and continual fear, it contains the thought of one’s own weakness, confidence in the answer, and the assurance of a present and ever ready help. For one who is constantly calling on his protector, is certain that He is always at hand."

St. Benedict was later to make it the opening prayer for all the prayers in the Liturgy of the Hours. (except for the first hour of the day)

John McBryde

At 7/26/2007 6:30 AM, Anonymous Kenny said...

I realize you just said that you don't ordinarily go in for these, but you have nevertheless been tagged!

At 7/26/2007 8:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting how anti-Jesus your readers are. Hmm...

At 7/26/2007 9:13 PM, Anonymous dan said...

Good stuff, Chris.

I can very much identify with what you speak of here. Not, contra babinski, because I am well-versed in "Christianese" (I'm actually much more comfortable with the sort of language that is spoken by the pushers and the prostitutes in the alleyway behind my house!), but because I have had similar experiences to yours.

Karl Rahner once said that Christians must become mystics or they will cease to be Christians. What he meant by this is that, after Christendom, Christians now live in a society where there are no real good reasons, no real benefits, to being a Christian. During Christendom it was socially and politically advantageous to ascribe to Christianity but, as Rahner recognised, that is no longer the case. Therefore, Rahner suggests that it is only a direct (i.e. mystical) encounter with the God of Christianity that will cause people not to abandon Christianity.

Of course, to speak of those encounters in the presence of some who have not had those encounters is, as babinski recognises, akin to speaking a foreign language -- although that language might not be "Christianese" (Edward, I address this point in some detail in an article in Stimulus, that you can find here: And so, until the day when God is "all in all" we do our best to live lives that give meaning to the unrecognisable word we proclaim.

Grace and peace.

At 7/26/2007 9:16 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Thanks for the comments,

Edward: "private spritual joys not step over the line into a sort of ego-fest"

I would preffer to think of it as a 'God-fest'! To be honest, I'm not really sure what point you are making. Is it that you would like me to not use christian language? But why should I do that? Anyway, thanks for the great quotes!

Danke for that link, John.

Anon, why think you my readers (plural) hate Jesus?

At 7/27/2007 6:12 AM, Blogger Cliff said...

I read Mr. Babinski's tome (well, most of it anyway–I confess I scanned some parts) with interest.

Edward, like you, I ...
• avoid Christianese
• detest the particular hymns you quote
• dislike the arrogance of certain evangelistic self-congratualtory talk
• am sometimes puzzled when I hear certain believers talk about their "personal relationship" with God
• enjoy the humor or your jokes poking fun of evangelical Christians
• doubt the sincerity of motives for much of what passes for evangelism
• have observed the similarities of spirituality among various religious people
• etc. etc.

However, I remain a committed follower of the One who claimed to be God's unique Son. I can not find in anything you wrote the slightest reason to join your unhappy defection.

Chris, I found your post refreshing. Caused me to reflect on those Psalms and other scriptures that have been perenially meaningful to me.

Cliff Martin

At 7/27/2007 3:30 PM, Blogger Jason Pratt said...

Eek. You've been Ed-ified by the floating brain-mind, Chris. {g} (It's kind of like a drive-by baptism, now that I think about it...)

Doubtless, just typing (and in many places merely copy-pasting) those words above, initiated mental connections in his brain-mind which excited him. I wonder if he suspects he sounds like a person (who is merely) addicted to something when he does so? hm... an ego-fest maybe?

(Years of experience with Ed. Lonnnnng rambling topic-drifting spam-posting years. This is pretty typical from him.)

{{To be honest, I'm not really sure what point you [Ed] are making.}}

To quote Tom Cruise from _A Few Good Men_, slightly paraphrased: "He often doesn't have a point. That's part of his unique charm." {g}

Mainly though, his point (insofar as he had one) was to imply that you're only knee-jerk reacting to your environment, rendering most of what you were trying to say and appreciate meaningless or vapid. Ed has a very hard time believing any Christian might be critically and responsibly thinking, much less critically accepting, our beliefs. Evidence to the contrary won't mean much to him, in case anyone is thinking of trying. (Again, lonnnnnnng experience. {s})

Meanwhile, it'd be hard for me to pick out a verse or story or set I keep coming back to; but the hymn at Col 1:13-23 or the whole first half of Romans (especially the culmination at Rom 11) would rank high. The final chapter of RevJohn, too.

(That being said, the association right now is probably topical--I'm doing unversalism sparring elsewhere. {s})

May mercy most certainly hound us forever (from Ps 23)!


At 7/27/2007 10:03 PM, Blogger Alan Spence said...

Hi Chris

A good verse. I was interested that you implied you have read John Owen. Is that the case?


At 7/29/2007 4:46 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Cliff and Jason, thankyou for your helpful and humerous comments!

Hi Alan,
Yes I used to be a big Owen fan. Why ask you?

At 7/30/2007 2:53 PM, Blogger Alan Spence said...


Very interesting. We must talk more. I have just published a book on Owen's Christology. Also am organising a conference 26-29th August 2008 at Cambridge with all the Owen scholars present.


At 7/30/2007 3:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sort of seems that Ed Babinski has his own "evangelistic" campaign or is it prostelyzing door-knocking campaign?


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