the weblog of Alan Knox

To Know and Love God

Posted by on Sep 29, 2007 in books, community, discipleship, fellowship, unity | 6 comments

In our Theological Foundations seminar, we have been reading To Know and Love God by David K. Clark. While I found the content interesting and balanced, I was most impressed by Clark’s conclusion.

Clark asks these questions in his conclusion:

…[W]hat are the implications of evangelical theology done well? What difference will following good method and arriving at profound Christian thinking make? And where should we focus our energies in the future?

He then gives twelve answers to these questions. I thought I would share a few here that are relevant to our discussions concerning the church.

Third, we must not turn away from culture… As flawed as our culture is, a reactionary turn inward will not lead us forward. The early church lived in a culture as full of spiritual counterfeits, sexual enticements, and materialistic allurements as our own. Those Christians learned to live in that world. Although they lived in community with each other, they did not isolate themselves from the broader society. They lived out the light of Christ at all strata of society.

I don’t have anything to add to this statement. This is an area of life where God has been challenging and changing me in the last couple of years.

Fourth, we ought to engage against evangelical polemics… [W]e must guard against focusing too much of the force of our work against our evangelical brothers. The tendency to pursue finer and finer points of theoretical clarification may be acceptable as long as such work is reintegrated into the broader concerns of God’s Kingdom. But if we use the finer and finer points of theology to debate among ourselves, we run the risk of increasingly ingrown discourse.

This is an important statement. Sometimes, as I read certain authors, I get the idea that they believe God’s word originated with them, or that God’s word came only to them (paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 14:36). Humility and graciousness should rule the day when it comes to brothers and sisters discussing God’s Word. Other brothers and sisters are not the enemy.

Sixth, we need more focus on spiritual formation – on gaining sapientia. I do not mean just an intellectual understanding of wisdom, but a spiritual character that is actually shaped by wisdom. Living well in our culture, to say nothing of affecting our culture, requires genuine, internal, spiritual strength.

Yes! Maturity is not measured by the amount of biblical facts that a person knows. Our goal must not be increased scholarship, but increased maturity in Christ – more Christ-likeness displayed in our lives. This maturity does not come through books and papers, but through humble submission to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Seventh, we ought to promote authenticity in relationships. The experience of community is the human context that cultivates sapientia. Thinking biblical thoughts and obeying biblical rules does not necessarily bring inward spiritual change. The “think and obey” approach to spiritual formation can too easily lead to outward forms of conforming religiosity that leave the human heart in a state of decay. The trusted and intimate relationships of true community bring spiritual transformation because growing in Christ is primarily about trusting God, learning honesty, cultivating virtues, and evoking noble feelings.

It takes humility and trust to live in this kind of community. We must be willing to talk about our weaknesses and struggles. We must also be willing to listen to and speak with brothers and sisters concerning their weaknesses and struggles. Love must surround everything that we do and say.

Ninth, this means that we should seek a deeper solidarity with the world church. The church around the world needs the Western church… But equally, the Western church needs the global church.

Perhaps a good place to begin would be with the Christian next door to your home, or in the next office at work, or in the next seat at school. We certainly needs to seek a deeper solidarity with the world church, but I’m not sure we can seek a deeper solidarity with the world church as long as we maintain schisms in the church near us.

Eleventh, we must reestablish balance by working for social peace and justice by eliminating the racism and injustice that are rooted in ethnic identity. I do not subscribe to secular ways of framing the questions of ethnic relationships. But those of us who are North American evangelicals have not really stepped up to be counted on the questions of opportunities for the poor, equality for non-white groups, and “liberty and justice all.” Much research shows that in our evangelical focus on the inner life of faith and in our emphasis on seeing God transform human hearts through conversion, we have lost focus on some of the greatest social issues of our day.

Again, I have very little to add. This is another area where God is challenging and stretching me. We cannot love God without demonstrating that love for others – primarily towards those who are not like us, who are “down and out”, who are in need of love.

While I appreciated much of the theological and philosophical content of this book, the conclusion helped me the most. Are any of Clark’s answers beneficial for you as well?


6 Comments

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  1. 9-29-2007

    This sounds like a book I would enjoy. This is only semi-related, but it was what I was thinking about this morning.. that is, I keep wondering whether “doctrine” really is more orthopraxy than orthodoxy.

    It all really begins with knowing, but not the knowing of facts and information; rather, it is knowing a person – the Person of God and His infinite character and nature of love.

  2. 9-29-2007

    Bryan,

    As I said, the book was good overall. But, the conclusion was excellent. As Paul said, “I want to know him…”

    -Alan

  3. 9-30-2007

    I’m reminded that God doesn’t make a distinction between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. It’s really all one to Him.

    The rabbis of the Pharisees did much study on the interrelation of passages of scripture and on man’s practice of it. But it eventually boiled down to, “If we do this, then God will be pleased with us.” This is the essential nature of legalism.

    View the Pharisees in contrast to Mary, who simply had obedient faith in God. God chose to reveal His plan of salvation to her and use her to accomplish it, rather than using those who studied the fine points and tithed their spices.

    Faith in God never leads to disobedience.

  4. 9-30-2007

    David,

    Good comment! I agree that there is no distinction between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. I thinking leaning either way is an error.

    -Alan

  5. 10-1-2007

    Alan,

    I find it interesting that Clark made the following comments: “Christians learned to live in that world. Although they lived in community with each other, they did not isolate themselves from the broader society.” I’m not clear on exactly what he means when he references the “early church,” but asceticism and monasticism were in full swing by the time of Athanasius and the Council of Nicea in 325. These weren’t practices that just sprang up over night. When I take these highly popular and romanticized movements into consideration along with the great debates that started in the second century with Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria on the issue of secular philosophy’s role in Christianity, it looks to me like the early church struggled tremendously with culture and often failed miserably when it came to engaging and interacting with it. In fact, I think we could probably find a few examples of this in Scripture, that is, situations where the church gave themselves over to cultural norms or avoided culture altogether. I question Clark’s accuracy on this point.

    Gary

  6. 10-1-2007

    Gary,

    Great point! I think you’re right that followers of Jesus have always struggled with the pull of culture by either move too far into culture, or separating themselves too far from culture. I think 1 Corinthians 5 demonstrates both of these extremes.

    I think that Clark’s point (“we must not turn away from culture”) is valid, even though his example may not be.

    -Alan