Two Life-Challenging Realities That Seem Impossible

Prepare For Some Spiritual Challenges in 2017

I thought while I was visiting my in-laws in North Carolina, I could write some posts about the Participatory Paradigm. This is proving to be difficult. So, with my apologies to those who desire to explore this model further with me, I invite you to stay tuned. Next week I’ll write more. 

In the meantime, as 2017 awaits your arrival, meditate on these :

  1. Until we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ (Ephesians 4.13). Is this really possible? How could human beings actualize “the stature of the fulness of Christ?” Was the Apostle blowing smoke, championing a theory, or speaking truth? 
  2. Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5.48). Is perfection, as the Father is perfect, really possible? How could Jesus demand such a standard if it could not be realized? How do His words affect you? 

I will continue to explore the mystery of “becoming like Christ” in future posts. 

Thank you for engaging The UnCommon Journey this year. You have become an integral part of helping others in their journey with God. By reading, practicing, sharing, contemplating, or commenting, you’ve contributed silently or simply to the movement of others into a deeper relationship with the Triune God. 

A small community of the spiritually hungry or hurting is developing as a result of this blog. 

May 2017 be a spiritually prosperous year for you. 

If there is any way I can help this become true, let me know. Otherwise, I will contribute what I’m able. 

Dr. K 

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!

Celebrating the Incarnation of God

 

 

 

 

 

May your Christmas celebration never end. As I heard a pastor recently say: “Christmas [day] is not the end of the season, it is the beginning of the celebration.” 

Jesus Christ, our God and Salvation, is here! Now & always. 

Dr. K 

10 Reasons To Embrace The Participatory Paradigm

Exploring The Christian Life As Experientially Knowing God

Holly is ready to throw in the towel. As a Christian for 18 years, she’s done everything she’s been told to do to become a good, mature believer. She reads her Bible and prays almost every day. She attends church weekly and even teaches 1st & 2nd grade Sunday School. She substitutes on the worship team. She hosts a small group for career woman in her bungalow house every Sunday night. Yet, she wonders about her spiritual condition when she constantly gets angry at her boss for being such a jerk. She hates it when she becomes impatient with people who are “less than competent” or when she spouts out a sarcastic remark or when she manipulates people to get her way. And above all, it really bugs her when she acts so self-righteously. Shouldn’t she be better by now? How is she any better than the good-hearted “pagans” she works with? 

I believe it’s time for a new way to live the Christian life. Not that’s not quite accurate. I believe its time to re-discover the ancient, time-honored way of living as a Christian (which is new to most of us). The Participatory Paradigm is one way of exploring this “way.” I’ll be opening up its components in future posts, but for now…

10 Reasons to Embrace the Participatory Paradigm 

  1. It’s how Jesus lived. Jesus lived as a human in full fellowship and communion with the Father and Spirit. He taught, healed, and died as a participant in the Trinity. He is your example, source, and motivation to participate in the life of God. Do you desire to be like Jesus? Then learn to participate in his life. 
  2. It’s how the Church understood the Christian life for 1500 years. It is what was taught by the Church until the Reformers and their followers altered the meaning of salvation. One of the many unintended consequences of the Protestant Reformation was a theology that, in essence, removed God from being everywhere present and filling all things. Engaging the Participatory Paradigm is a move towards classical Christianity. 
  3. It is a solidly biblical viewpoint. I’ve tried to demonstrate its biblical veracity in previous posts. Verses that are used to support a spiritual growth model fall short in doing so. Passages that fortify communion and union with God abound. 
  4. Its use can be effective for a person to become virtuous and godly. The only way you can become like Jesus is to experientially “know” him. All human beings, including non-believers, can improve themselves and become a better people. What sets true Christianity apart from a mere self-improvement program? Answer: the very life of the Trinity flourishing in and through you. 
  5. It is satisfying and fulfilling. You get a taste of the “fullness of the faith.” God IS much more for you than you can imagine. So, don’t imagine it. Live it. Only by participating in God can you be filled with God. Thinking about Him won’t do it. Being emotional about Him won’t do it. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” “Be still and know God.” These are participatory and experiential invitations.  
  6. It leads to less judgmentalism. A litmus test for any spiritual paradigm is its ability to radically change a person from being judgmental to being loving. Any paradigm itself does not produce this kind of change. It must be appropriated and lived into by the individual. Yet, the Participatory Paradigm provides sufficient and powerful means for this radical change to take place. 
  7. It results in less discouragement. When the Participatory Paradigm is engaged, the reality of our nothingness and God’s “everythingness” is experienced. There is no need for measuring progress. Thus, there is no reason for disappointment at not reaching the “goal.” 
  8. It doesn’t ask for measurement. The whole focus is different. It’s not about making progress but about living in relationship. Measuring a relationship can be dangerous. Measuring progress is futile since it involves making comparisons to some vague “standard.” Its better to set aside expectations of God and yourself and simply know God.  
  9. It removes the tendency towards legalism. Due to its relational and communal nature, the Participatory Paradigm directs your actions and thoughts directly towards the Trinity. Its simple sacramental and ascetic approach effectively eliminates the need for complex understandings of theology or methodology. 
  10. It provides the context for real humility. This is the clincher for me. Having dealt with proud, self-righteous people most of my life, and seeing one in the mirror daily, I was staggeringly stunned to discover a few people who were actually on a path with Humility. These people were also living the kind of life I’m trying to describe using the Participatory Paradigm. Genuine humility can result by engaging the Participatory Paradigm. 

Which of these 10 reasons resonates most with you? Why do you think that is so? Share below. 

Dr. K 

5 KEY Bible Passages & 1 KEY Analogy Help You Understand The Participatory Paradigm

I once had a conversation with a friend about a Christian book he was reading. He was excited that the author was explaining, by the use of prepositions, how God relates to us. God is with, around, on, among, about, beside, for, over, behind/before, and toward us. I thought it sad and misleading that the author overlooked the one preposition that, above all, described the Christian’s relationship with the Trinity – “in.” The Participatory Paradigm captures the reality of “God in us and us in God.” 

Among the dozens of scriptural passages that support the participatory paradigm, here are 5 KEY stepping stones to understand its significance for you. 

  1. 2 Peter 1.3-4 – His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the (participatory/experiential) knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature…
  2. 1 Corinthians 1.9 – God is faithful, by Whom you were called into the [communion/participation] fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Note: our calling is “into” what the Son has, which is communion/participation/fellowship (koinonia) with the Father and Spirit. This is not communion “with” the Son but “into” the fellowship the Son enjoys already. 
  3. John 15.4-5 – Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. To abide is to be in a “dynamic relationship” with another; more akin to being in a marriage than being on a team. 
  4. Philippians 2.12-13 – work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. You are invited to participate in God’s work in you so that your salvation will come to fullness. 
  5. 1 John 5.20 – And we (experientially) know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may (experientially) know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 

Qualifiers

Please forgive me for qualifying the word “know” or “knowledge.” I do so since “knowing” has entrenched itself as “intellectual knowing” in most evangelical writing. Biblical writers did not know “knowing” in that way.  

I am not proof-texting. I am showing consistency in scripture, whether Jesus, Paul, Peter, or John. They all point the way to life as participating (abiding, communing, knowing) “in” God. 

I am not promoting a “positional” theory either. These teachings by Jesus and the Apostles are realities – actual, real, life-giving, “energies” of God in which we participate. If these realities are missing in your life it’s probably due to your known or unknown commitment to some other way of living the Christian life. 

A Helpful Analogy 

Fr. Jon E. Braun provides an ancient analogy that helps us understand the participatory paradigm. A sword is placed in a fire…

You heat a sword in a fire until it’s white hot. Then you dip it in a tub of water. What happens? The hot sword makes the water sputter and hiss. Or, if the red-hot sword is pressed against a piece of wood, the wood will scorch – perhaps even burst into flames. 

Let us make two observations from this illustration. First, fire has one kind of nature and iron a nature quite distinct from it. It is the nature of a sharpened sword to cut; it is the nature of fire to burn. Yet, now the heated sword can both cut and burn. The heat of the fire penetrates the sword. The sword does not become fire by nature. But it does participate in the heat, the energy, of the fire. Through all this, though, both the fire and the sword maintain their distinct natures. 

Now, is it the fire or the sword that burns the wood which the sword touches? The answer is both. Once the sword participates in the heat of the fire, it can inflict a burn quite easily. The energy produced by the fire is passed on to the sword and heat becomes a characteristic of the sword as well as of the fire. It is accurate to say that the fire burns through the sword. And it is every bit as correct to say that the sword itself burns the wood with heat from the fire. (Divine Energy: The Orthodox Path to Christian Victory, pp. 114-115)

You can become by grace what God is by nature. For that to take place, you participate in God. That’s what the participatory paradigm invites you to do. Biblical writers support this reality. Nature illustrates this reality. 

The spiritual growth model, as modern evangelicals understand it, distracts from this reality. 

Meditate on those scripture passages and the analogy above. How is the Participatory Paradigm resonating with you? Share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K 

Help Is Already Available For Your Spiritual Journey

The Participatory Paradigm Introduced

I’d just finished up a seminar where our presenting team guided our attendees to write up a spiritual formation plan to implement over the next 3-6 months. This plan would help them go deeper in their relationship with God. It could include silent/abiding prayer, sacred reading, journaling, retreats, community, or other spiritual disciplines. As I talked with Brian at the snack table, we discovered a common concern – “How can I do all these practices? It seems overwhelming.” So, which practice is most needful? What one practice could not be overlooked without serious spiritual consequences? 

I gave Brian an answer that has continued to haunt me over the years following our conversation. It has driven me to replace all “spiritual disciplines” with one essential practice – a practice that opens up the vast abyss of God’s Mystery. At that time I simply called it prayer. Now, I’d expand prayer to mean: participating in and communing with the Triune God from a heart of stillness through prayer.

A Dangerous Path

At the time, I didn’t realize the danger that crouched behind my answer. But, following the prayer journey before me, I entered a glorious struggle of knowing God that would literally revolutionize my life. It could do the same for you. 

So today, as I begin to do some preliminary work on a paradigm that best represents a growing understanding of spiritual life, I do so with fear and trembling. This is no small thing. I am messing around with putting words and picture to the Mystery Who cannot be explained. Without a doubt, the Christian life is a mystery reflective of Mystery Himself. I need to stop and simply stand in awe. 

Yet, love compels me to explore, ask questions, write, and communicate. I am a kindergartener scribbling shaky letters with a crayon – every line, an intense effort; every letter, a herculean achievement. 

Four Paradigms

I begin with broad-brush descriptions. Also, it’s often easier to understand something by describing what it is not.

Participatory Paradigm – This model’s sole focus is communion/union with the Trinity. There are a few “practices” involved. Yet, they all have one purpose (goal) – to participate in the life of the Trinity; to experience/know God. Transformation is the ongoing process of living in the Trinity. 

Spiritual Growth Model – This model involves self-determination while cooperating with God who assists us to become who we think/imagine we need to become. Spiritual maturity is the goal. There are a host of practices that can be engaged to reach this goal. 

Mysticism Model – In this model you lose yourself in God’s essence. There is often a transcendence of space and time. Attainment of complete inner identity with God is accomplished in which God and human, in some way, become absolutely one mutually and equally. Ecstatic experiences become an end. 

Exchange Model – In this model it’s all God, no you. You get out of the way in submission and death to self, and Jesus Christ through His Spirit takes over.  Your life is “exchanged” for His. A “higher life” of “entire sanctification” or “perfectionism” allows a more holy, less sinful, or sinless life to be lived. It is often associated with the holiness movement. 

I’ll be examining the “Participatory Paradigm” more fully in posts to come. I’ll be contrasting it with the Spiritual Growth model primarily. 

Which model has been your “go-to” paradigm to help guide your Christian journey? Why is this so? Share below. 

Dr. K 

Two Bible Passages Used to Support Spiritual Maturity That Don’t Fly

An Upgrade Is Needed

I have heard that there’s nothing like flying first class. It’s never been my experience. Yet, I always hope for the possibility anytime I fly. Upgrades are great! I hope the same can be said about my efforts to invite you to an upgrade from the uncomfortable “spiritual growth/maturity” model. Today, let’s begin to explore whether or not the current model has a comfortable biblical basis.  

As I delve deeper into the modern idea of spiritual maturity, I discover two features of those who promote it. 

  1. Proof-texting. String together enough verses and you can prove almost anything from the Bible. If you connect enough verses that seem to prove the ideas of spiritual growth or maturity, people will believe it. If the word “maturity” appears in the verse, then surely the verse is talking about spiritual maturity or growth. 
  2. Theologizing. Most of the scripture verses commonly used to support the idea of spiritual growth or maturity say nothing about it. Yet writers and speakers place their theological ideas on the scripture to make it say what they believe it says. 

Two examples: 

From an article entitled Top 7 Bible Verses About Spiritual Maturity from the web site: whatchristianswanttoknow.com — #1 – Colossians 1:9-10

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

My purpose is not to explain this passage but to point out that it does not mention spiritual maturity. It may imply spiritual growth by the use of the word “increasing.” However, spiritual growth, as most modern Christians understand the term, does not seem to be what Paul is praying for. Admittedly, “growth” and “increase” may be synonymous. If so, then the question becomes, “In what are we to increase/grow?” The answer is given: the knowledge of God. The increase/growth is to be in or by the knowledge of God.

Now we’re bumping into a reality very different from spiritual growth. I’ll simply say, this “knowledge” is not intellectual knowledge but experiential. It is the “knowing” of communion, of relationship. The Apostle is praying that the Colossians will increase in their experiential communion of God. That’s it. That’s enough. The idea that St. Paul is praying that they would only develop a greater intellectual understanding or emotional experience of God is foreign to him.

The “knowledge of God” is not a thing attained but an experience of God Himself. 

A second example comes from Pastor John MacArthur who uses 1 John 2.12-14 to illustrate what he believes to be “spiritual maturity.” He declares this passage an “essential text because it lists the three basic levels of spiritual growth.”

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (ESV)

  • Little Children
  • Young Men
  • Fathers

Are these three levels of spiritual growth or simply three designations of a Christian without reference to growth?  They are not presented as a “growth” pattern nor is spiritual growth implied by St. John, the author. In fact, every description of each designation could characterize any Christian at any time in their life. Additionally, the same characterization, “you have known Him/the Father,” is written about fathers and children/babies. How does this indicate spiritual growth?

Another possibility: could these be physical designations rather than spiritual designations? After all, the word for “little children” in vs. 12 can refer to anyone of any age; all believers who are the “offspring” of God. 

Rather than interpret this passage with a “spiritual growth” paradigm, I see something else. If a baby can “know” God and an adult can “know” God, then why don’t we simply make knowing God the journey and goal of our lives (instead of spiritual growth/maturity)? 

Two bible passages used to support the spiritual growth/maturity paradigm can be upgraded from a “spiritual growth/maturity” paradigm to a “communion/knowing God” reality.

There is much more to knowing God than there is in becoming spiritually mature. 

You can continue to sit in the economy section. But at least consider what it would be like to move to a place of participating in the very life of God Himself. Mystery says, “Come.” 

What do you take away from these thoughts today? Share below. 

Dr. K 

10 Reasons to Re-Evaluate the “Spiritual Growth” Model

Taking a Second Look At A Core Belief

I am uncomfortable questioning the spiritual growth paradigm. I have many friends, relatives, spiritual “heroes,” and Christian leaders who have banked on this model for their entire Christian lives. They have, as I have done for many years, promoted this paradigm as the way Christians become what God designed. All discipleship ministries and programs that I know are based on this kind of growth paradigm. To take a second look at something so entrenched in evangelical thinking seems foolish and futile. Yet, here I am, doing just that. 

The growth model has been used despite its many weaknesses and flaws. There simply isn’t an alternative model available. You move from one level of spiritual maturity to another and keep going until you develop into a godly person who can (this varies depending on your theology, experience, or upbringing) teach and disciple others, see visions, clearly understand scripture, perform miracles, be virtuous, or build a successful ministry. 
 
I’ve been wrestling with this paradigm for decades – from a major encounter with God as a teen into over 30 years of pastoral ministry to it being the primary motivation for my PhD studies in my 50’s. Over 45 years of struggling (much of it positive) to make this paradigm work.
 
So, I continue to take a hard look at the spiritual growth model with a growing confidence that there is a better paradigm waiting to be discovered. 
 
In the meantime, here are 10 reasons to question the spiritual growth model
 
1. Bible verses used to support “spiritual growth” don’t hold up under scrutiny. Biblical basis for this model is faulty. Proof-texting is king in this arena. I’ll be doing some digging into some of these verses in future posts.
 
2. It doesn’t work ultimately. This is tricky. There are small successes initially that lead one to believe that its a good model. It falls short in the long-term. 
 
3. It has no set standard for measurement even though many are proposed like proper moral behavior, possessing a high level of Biblical knowledge, engaging spiritual practices, addressing social justice issues, or adhering to orthodox worship and truth.
 
4. It can be complicated and confusing. What areas of the Christian life are to be addressed to become spiritually mature? That usually depends on who you’re reading or who’s speaking. 
 
5. It is often ego-centered. You’re expected to make it happen with God’s help. Pride can set in as you compare yourself to others. You look for recognition from others for your spiritual competence. 
 
6. It often substitutes the destination for the journey. The goal is spiritual maturity. Dissatisfaction and frustration occurs when the goal can’t be reached. The beneficial daily grind of spiritual struggle and formation are vastly diminished. 
 
7. It’s emphasis on evaluating “spiritual progress” nurtures judgmentalism. The spiritually astute can now become the assessors of those “less than.” 
 
8. It’s goals are misunderstood, difficult to explain, and not agreed upon. Almost every article I’ve read on determining spiritual maturity, presents different criteria. Here are some: grasp of truth, well-defined philosophy of life, spiritual understanding, stability, changed behavior, handle stress, maximum fruit, positive self-concept, a life of prayer, improved relationships with others, reorienting priorities, obeying God, doing spiritual disciplines, or care for weaker brother. You might have your own list. What does spiritual maturity actually look like? 
 
9.Spiritual maturity, spiritual growth, spiritually mature are phrases not found in the Bible. This was the focus in my previous post. I’d encourage you to read it.
 
10. Applying the model to any Bible character is problematic. No one in scripture is characterized as “spiritually mature” nor given as an example of spiritual growth. We find people mightily used of God who were weak, faulty, and sinful. How does a spiritual growth model fit here? 
 
Soon, I will present an alternative paradigm that can be discovered and explored. I’m calling it the “Participation – Union Paradigm.” Believe me, its not novel or new. I did not make it up myself. I think we’ll enjoy it and struggle with it in posts to come. 
 
What is your “take-away” from the post today? Share your thoughts below. 
 
Dr. K 
 
 

Some Disorienting Thoughts About Spiritual Maturity

A Debate About "Perfect" vs. "Mature"

Jack and Marie came to faith in Christ as young people, attended a Bible college, got involved in missions work, and raised their children to love the Lord. Their dedication to God along with their commitment to “righty divide the word” brought them respect from others. They were considered “spiritually mature” by many. They even felt that way themselves as they discipled others in the faith. Now as they entered their mid-60’s, struggling in frustration with their church, with their own spiritual hunger, and with feelings of aloneness, they wondered how spiritually mature they really were. 

Have you ever met a Christian who considered themselves spiritually mature? Have you ever considered yourself to be spiritually mature? 

I just spent a few days in the scriptures exploring every mention of the word “mature.” Here are a few observations from my exploration.  

  • Depending on the translation, the Greek word, teleios is rendered “perfect” or “mature” (sometimes “complete”).
  • “Mature” is a modern English translation of the Greek word, teleios
  • Older translations (KJV, etc.) always translate teleios as “perfect”. 
  • It is possible, therefore, for the term “mature” to never show up in the Bible. 
  • The Greek word for “mature,” orimos, is not used in scripture. 
  • The Greek word for “perfect,” teleios, is used in scripture. 
  • Apparently, translators can translate teleios as they please. 
  • The phrases “spiritually mature”  or “spiritual maturity” do not appear in scripture.
  • To be “spiritually mature” or possess “spiritual maturity” seems to be a phantom notion.
  • No one characterised as “spiritually mature” appears in the Bible.

This exploration got me thinking. “So, how did the term ‘mature’ start being used as a translation of teleios?” 

From what I can find, the word “mature” came into use in the early to mid-15th century. It was not in use, as we know it, when the scriptures were written. When the authors of scripture used the word teleios, they meant “perfect” not “mature.” 

Mature means: “To complete in natural growth or development; ripe; fully developed in body or mind, as a person; pertaining to an adult who is middle-aged or older.”  

Yet, in classic Greek, teleois has the meaning: “brought to its end, finished; lacking nothing necessary to completeness; perfect.” And so it means in every place it is used in the 19 occurrences in scriptures. 

Any definition of “mature” carries an element of development or growth included in the definition. 

Therefore, “mature” is a poor translation of teleios. Mature and perfect do not have the same meaning and should not be used interchangeably. 

Jesus teaches that God is perfect. The idea of God being mature is nonsense. God did not develop or grow. Jesus, as a human, “matured” physically, intellectually, and relationally as we all do (or should do). But, the Triune God is Perfect Perfection.

Jesus invites you and me to “be perfect (telioi) as your heavenly Father is perfect (teleios)” (Matthew 5.48).  

We’ve got to be real about what this means. We cannot reduce its impact with the notion of maturity. 

Stay tuned for more observations in future posts. 

What do you take away from these observations? Share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K