A Slowdown at Cerulean Sanctum

The old, French aphorism goes Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Translation: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

While that has been the case since I started writing Cerulean Sanctum, I can’t say it’s the case now.

For the next few months, posts will be sparse due to changes in my work and some other big changes due to that change. You know that old, American saying I’m as busy as a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest? Well, I may have both my lower limbs, but the level of activity is commensurate. I’m just hoping the old, American saying of Live fast and die young doesn’t apply, because the speed of everything right now is cranked up to ridonculous levels.

I hope to get back to some level of normality, but it may take a while for me to find a life balance. Prayers for that goal are appreciated!

But most of all, if I have prayer requests, they follow:

For excellent health

For favor and success in my new work

For a greater ability to abide in Christ and find peace and strength in Him amid all the activity around me

Thanks for being a reader. Please keep checking in. You never know what may be posted here. Just know that whatever is will be sparser than normal until life settles down, probably after summer.

Blessings!

by Dan EdelenComments (4)

Rethinking Spiritual Growth

Measring growthI’m part of a closed group of Vineyard and ex-Vineyard folks who discuss theology on a Facebook page.  Someone there raised the age-old question:

How do we measure spiritual growth?

For too long this simple question has baffled evangelical Christians. I think there’s a reason for that, but it’s not what it appears on the surface. But then, this is Cerulean Sanctum, so when do I ever approach things from a surface perspective? ;-)

Measuring anything demands we agree on what we are measuring and the tools and terms we use in the measurement. Talking measuring spiritual growth in an evangelical church immediately runs into a wall because we make poor assumptions about those bedrock criteria. Ask the wrong questions and get the wrong answers.

For me, the elusiveness of measuring spiritual growth occurs because the focus has always been on the individual Christian in the individual church. It’s a bedrock principle that what we’re measuring is how a lone Christian in a lone Church grows.

But I wonder if we’re getting this all wrong from the first step.

I go back to two posts from 2013:

No “I” in “CHURCH”–How American Evangelicalism Gets Its Pronouns Wrong

God of the Group

What if we commit a fundamental error in checking for spiritual growth by focusing on the individual rather than on the collective church?

The language of the New Testament, again and again, is the collective you, not the singular. And the New Jerusalem at the close of the age isn’t a loose collection of people, but a unified Body—or more appropriately, a complete city.

I think one reason that leaders on the local church level burn out on growth issues is because all the emphasis is on the individual Christian. But shouldn’t successful growth be centered on what that local church is accomplishing?

Even more, the tendency to focus on the individual removes the collective church from its role as Body. Paul’s metaphor depicts health not as one organ functioning alone but as the organs in the body working in harmony, which has a secondary effect of wholeness for each part. In other words, when the eye is doing what an eye does, the foot and hand don’t end up falling off a cliff along with it.

For too long the assumption has been…

IF the individual is functioning well, THEN the church will be well.

That thinking puts everything on the back of the individual, though. The onus is on him or her to perform. Legalism and moralism can be the only result.

What if we reverse that assumption?

IF the church is functioning well, THEN the individual will be well.

I think that second equation has gone unexplored for too long. And because it has not been explored, it’s not at the forefront of how we think about church, the individual, and spiritual growth. I believe that second statement, though, is closer to the heart of the Gospel.

Shifting toward measuring church growth rather than individual growth makes it far easier to gauge genuine growth overall. The Body metaphor makes more sense and lends a better basis for measuring growth.

We can chart some growth elements from the perspective of an organic Body or organism. Two obvious aspects of a living organism that we can then examine:

How well is the organism feeding itself?

How well is the organism reproducing?

Starting at the second question also answers the first. Healthy organisms reproduce, while unhealthy ones do not. If disciples are not being made and the church is not growing itself, then it is not healthy. At this point, examining reasons for ill health can take us back to the first question and to others associated with it.

Here’s the thing: Measuring the growth of individuals will always have periods of mixed analysis. If you wish to measure an individual’s activity but do so while he is sleeping, bad analysis may result. What may look like slacking off may actually be recovery from a day’s strenuous work. This analytical mistake is why charting individual growth is so hard in the church and may not be a viable source for an accurate assessment. Our results depend on something that is too variable. Stepping up to a broader measure may be a better way of charting the real growth info we need to examine, and it provides us a way to work backwards and make general statements about the growth in the individual.

The main problem is that we’re not used to thinking that way, so many of our tools, questions, and interpretations will need to be recast to look more at the collective church rather than the individual Christian. Once we start thinking differently, I think we’ll have better results for making accurate statements about spiritual growth in American churches.

by Dan EdelenComments (3)

Fools

DuncecapThe fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.
—Psalms 14:1 ESV

The English Standard Version translation shows 202 verses in the Bible that contain some variation of the root word fool. Reading those verses makes it evident that the world is filled with fools and folly.

Indeed, we are all fools in wisdom and knowledge when compared against God.

But some don’t get this. And they don’t comprehend it because they have no humility. If anything, they exult in their foolishness:

Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
—Proverbs 28:26 ESV

Claiming to be wise, they became fools…
—Romans 1:22 ESV

I’m tired of foolish talk. Sadly, we live in an age when the people babbling on like fools are most likely viewed as wise by most of the world. I see a lot of scientists who get face time in the media prattling on with foolish and desperate theories about this and that, and it’s clear after a while that the one thing you can say most assuredly about their views is that they desperately want God to vanish. Fact is, God doesn’t care what they think because such people are fools, no matter how many letters and titles they stack before and after their names.

The really sad part about that is almost all of Western science is based on the ideas of scientists who were Christians, or at least who ascribed to a Christian worldview. In fact, because the Christian faith is one of the only ones that contends that God is both knowable and understandable and the creator of an ordered world that reflects His knowability and understandability, science is even made possible. What would be the point of examining a capricious world built on the whims of an unknowable God or on the ruthlessness of a random world? No, that science exists at all is because God Is, God Was, and God Will Ever Be.

But then, the fool can’t begin to comprehend that truth. Somehow, the fool thinks that faith and science can’t co-exist or that science alone can answer all the questions of life. Which forces us to ask, in the end, who then is the truly close-minded?

I listen to a lot of discussions between atheists and theists, and the one thing that never fails to strike me is that for all their learning, the atheists never seem to know all that much. Their arguments are remarkably simpleminded, and when people of faith bring up the slightest aspect of what it means to live by faith, the atheist seems baffled by such reasoning.

But then, atheists are just people who are unable to admit they are sinners and that their thoughts are futile and packed with one sinful idea after another, and isn’t it easier to justify all that mental futility and wickedness by erasing God? For intellectual cowards, yes, that may be true, but not for sober people who look at life with any seriousness.

I’m not surprised that people try to erase God as a means to justify their immoral lifestyles, though. A recent scientific study shows that many people are unable to morally reason from the perspective of someone whose beliefs differ from theirs. In most cases it is people who hold more “liberal” attitudes about life who cannot grasp the thinking of more conservative people, though the reverse is demonstrably not the case.  While this is not intended as a political statement, it nonetheless shows that an incapacity to grasp some moral truths does exist in people, especially those who proclaim their “enlightenment.” In that same way, the Bible says that issues of faith are foolishness to many. Things of the Spirit are incomprehensible to them:

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
—1 Corinthians 2:12-14 ESV

We live in an age when spiritual discernment is at an all-time low. Our leaders talk all sorts of lofty ideas, but they cannot bring themselves to talk about God or anything related to Him because they don’t know Him. In the end, their wisdom is actually foolishness, and that foolishness is blasted out for everyone to see and hear and receive as “wisdom” when it is anything but.

Sadly, some who self-identify as faithful are just as foolish. Many people who parade themselves as Christians are peddling fear instead of faith. That’s foolishness, too, and yet those hucksters are able to gather around them a sycophantic horde and sell millions of books that do nothing but stir the pot of fear.

In the midst of all these fools, what does God ask of us? It’s pretty simple actually:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
—Micah 6:8 ESV

Fools can do none of those things. Only the wise can acknowledge that, without Jesus Christ, we are all fools.

by Dan EdelenComments (0)

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