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Brother Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell’s recent post on The Twelve, Slouching Toward Augustine, ignited some cognitive dissonance for me. (And cognitive dissonance is good, as Steve reminded me when I told him I would be engaging him in this virtual dialogue!) In his post, Steve reclaims the centrality of the grace and forgiveness we find in Scripture (and in Augustinian theology), while raising some important questions about Christian movements that emphasize the importance of transformation.

On the one hand, I am with Steve in his discomfort with holiness movements, particularly. I went to a family event at an ecumenical camp this past weekend. I knew in advance that the guest speaker for the adults was going to be unpacking the biblical concepts of grace and holiness, and I had a little eye roll in my soul. “Ugh,” I thought to myself. “What flavour of narrowly-defined holiness is he going to be selling? Whatever it is, I’m not interested and I’m not buying.”

So I was with Steve. But Steve wasn’t only offering a gentle critique of holiness and pietist movements. He also expressed his concern, as I said above, about groups of Christians that focus on sanctification and transformation. At the start of his post, he quoted a Christian leader’s convictions about living transformed lives in the way of Jesus. This Christian leader is a person I know well and with whom I have participated for several years in a learning community.

The learning community we are a part of is committed to personal transformation and holds the belief that personal transformation and congregational transformation are connected. The increase of the former leads to the increase of the latter. So, when Steve wrote that he has “come to have an aversion to most Christian groups that emphasize sanctification, holiness, and transformation,” I blushed.  “Typically,” he went on, “I’ve encountered sanctimony and pride over their ‘deeper, truer’ commitment, their simple fellowship, free from all the clutter that is the church. They so frequently exhibit that awful brownie-point-earning, hair-splitting, self-improving, speck-in-the-eye-of-others-spotting, moral anxiety that is far, far from the way of Jesus. I find very little appealing here.”

Now, I trust that Steve wasn’t pointing a finger directly at me, at the church leader he quoted, or at the learning communities we are a part of. But perhaps he was rolling the eyes of his soul ever so slightly.

Because I respect Steve and his work so much, I want to take seriously his concerns and aversions. And so, I offer these two wonderings.

First of all, I wonder if what bothers some of us about any Christian movement is less whether they focus on behaviour over belief (or belief over behaviour, or belonging over either of these), and more whether the movement exudes any kind of spiritual elitism.

Nearly 25 years ago, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 2, Craig Blomberg called it out:

In an age of specialization, we are bombarded by claims that the key to a happy, healthy Christianity, individually or corporately, is to be found in some new technique of evangelism, practice of certain spiritual disciplines, strategy for church growth, self-help therapy, Sunday-school curriculum, form of music or style of worship, and on and on. When these so-called “keys” pit their agendas against the majority of believers’ beliefs and practices and move away from the humbling, central focus on the cross of Christ, they have become elitist and potentially divisive and must be rejected.

If a Christian movement focuses on personal and corporate transformation, it should do so only with full knowledge of the inevitability of lots of failure along the way, with a humility that never boasts with presumptions and assumptions, but invites with honest curiosity, and with complete dependence on the work of Christ at our centre. Christ transforms us. We are co-labourers, but it is Christ that transforms.

Secondly, I wonder what it would be like to release and bless one another to lean into the individual and corporate spiritual personalities we have been given.

There are many different frameworks for different types. Corinne Ware, in her book Discover Your Spiritual Type lays out four spiritual personality quadrants: learning, gathering, being, and doing.

W. Paul Jones has developed a theological worlds inventory that parses out how different people see the main trouble in the world (separation, conflict, emptiness, separation, suffering) being met by the central grace in the world (reunion, vindication, fulfillment, forgiveness, endurance).

No doubt, when offered these typologies, some of us would love to think that our communities and congregations are made up of a healthy balance of all the worlds and types. Others of us think there aren’t enough categories in these typologies to fit the people and communities we know. And still others resist quadrants and types altogether!

Could it be that the body is not made up of one part, but of many? Could it be that we need many spiritual personalities, theological worlds, and atonement theories even!… many love languages, evangelistic languages, and faith languages… to be the body of Christ in this world?

Some of us slouch toward Augustine; some of us roll with Rohr. At the end of the day I am thankful that “we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Heidi S. De Jonge

Heidi S. De Jonge is the pastor of Westside Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Kingston, Ontario. She and her husband, Tim, a CRC chaplain, parent three grade school daughters. Heidi enjoys cake decorating, cycling, and digital scrapbooking.

9 Comments

  • mstair says:

    “ … it is Christ that transforms.”

    Could it be, that if we didn’t live in a culture where Christian authors prosper by selling their books, that there would be less of them – and those available would be free to Believers because their content would be just plain helpful to The Body of Christ?

  • stan seagren says:

    Thanks Heidi! Humility and Courage- they are not antithetical but fellow travelers.
    It takes humility to admit one’s fears and shortcomings, it takes courage to move forward in spite of them and
    in partnership with them.
    Thanks Steve also for your helpful insights and getting this conversation rolling.
    Grace and peace

  • lee tanis says:

    “Some of us slouch toward Augustine; some of us roll with Rohr.” And RR would likely say both/and.

  • RLG says:

    Thanks Heidi, for your reaction to Steve’s article, “Slouching Toward Augustine.” It would seem to me that Steve is questioning (maybe doubting) the subjective nature of some Christians’ experience as opposed to the objective character of Christianity as found in our theological underpinnings (the objective work of Christ). I think, Heidi, you lean more toward an experiential expression of your faith, in contrast to the more cognitive expression of Steve. For Steve, salvation is in what God has accomplished, not as much in what we do or experience.

    There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of different Christian denominations world wide, all differing as to beliefs and experience. Steve, it seems to me, holds more to the traditional Reformed perspective, whereas you, Heidi, are reaching out beyond our historic Reformed perspective. You want more experience in your faith, you’re more experiential. Many denominations lean that way.

    For you, Heidi, your experience confirms your faith. By your fruits… For Steve his understanding and acceptance of what God has done confirms his faith.

    Is there a right or wrong? It all depends on who you stand with. As a denomination, our Reformed churches are changing. Over the whole spectrum of Christianity, you can pretty much believe and act any way you want.

  • Rowland Van Es says:

    As Marchiene Vroon Riestra discusses in her chapter Shaped by Temperament in Come to the Feast, our spirituality is shaped by our personality and our temperament. Using Myers-Briggs, if you’re middle two letters are NT, you have a Thomistic Spirituality (use your head + gut) and quest for unity, you are NF, you have an Augustinian Spirituality (use your heart + gut) and quest for harmony; if you are ST you have an Ignatian Spirituality (use head + 5 senses) and quest for work; if you are SF you have a Franciscan Spirituality (use heart + 5 senses and quest for devotion. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made and we use different ways to get closer to God (and to others). Thankfully God comes to each of us (and others) differently as well.

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