|Introduction||Goals||Situational Analysis||Theological Analysis||Strategic Recommendations|
A Broader Look at the Issue of Spiritual TransformationTheological Analysis of Spiritual Transformation
What are we as humans designed to be? Or, if you prefer, what is the ultimate of human flourishing? What or who is the ideal toward which we want to be transformed? The idea of spiritual transformation presupposes the existence of such an ideal or design. But, who or what decides this?
Not surprisingly, a great deal of diversity exists in the history of philosophy and among the many different world religions. From the contemplative and intellectual ideal of Plato, to virtues of moderation between extremes of Aristotle, from the very activist and reformist ideals of Shiite Islam to the non-activist and non-reformist expressions of Hinduism that teach people how not to hurt from the things that pain them, different ideals exist. Which is superior, the intellectually enlightened individual or the postmodern feminist communitarian? The creative genius or the enlightened guru? Diversity abounds on the question of the ideal toward which humans ought to be transformed.
What is surprising is the existence of so many of these diverse views of human flourishing in full bloom within the Christian tradition itself. Among Christians in the academy the trenchant public scholar emerges as the ideal of human flourishing, and yet in a different context worldly knowledge pales in the face of the virtue and interpersonal brilliance of that uneducated, but saintly church widow. While the sedate, self-controlled ascetic may define the ultimate in human flourishing in one context, the intensely emotional, passionate, charismatic, Spirit-controlled believer provides it in another. The theologically liberal social activist of one Christian tradition may rival the soul-winning missionary of another.
Diverse views of human flourishing do exist, even within a very homogenous Christian subculture such as Campus Crusade for Christ. "Jesus" may suffice as the best and most comprehensive answer to this question of the ultimate of human flourishing. But, unless invoking his name in answer to this question is accompanied by an admission of the multifaceted nature of Jesus, this answer may be little more than a slick way of smuggling in one very narrow vision of human flourishing and baptizing it with the name of Jesus.
One particularly important dynamic tension in teleology, Christology, and Theology proper involves the problem of "the one and the many." The philosophical problem of "the one and the many" has confronted philosophers and theologians since its earliest days. Its practical import runs through the discussion of transformation-beginning here with the definition of the ideal toward which humans are to be transformed. What receives the emphasis-the "one" or the "many?"
Is the ultimate of human flourishing the independent enlightenment ideal? Is freedom from the constraints of our "self-incurred tutelage" the ultimate in human flourishing? What if, as Stanley Hauerwas says, "our true selves are made from the materials of our communal life?" What if "cutting back our attachments and commitments, shrinks the self rather than grows the self (Hauerwas, 1989, 65)?"
In the gospels we get a glimpse of a revolutionary Jesus who, in solitude slips away by himself to pray (Matt 14:23; Luke 5:16; Mark 1:35; John 6:15), who does not entrust himself to any man because he knows what is in the heart of man (John 2:24, 25), and who expresses a desire that seems to be in tension with the will of God (Matt 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). We see Jesus the individual.
But, in the gospels we also see Jesus the bonded, connected, lover of people and God. We see Jesus weeping as he looks out over the lost people (Luke 19:41; John 11:35), reclining around a table with his beloved disciple leaning on his breast (John 14:22-24), and with a woman wiping his feat with their hair (Luke 7:38; John 11:2). In one scene we see a lonely individual agonizing in prayer. In another we see Jesus praying that God will make others one with him even as he was one with God (John 17). Which is more fundamental in the ideal of Jesus-his individuality or his oneness with God and his disciples? Which is most fundamental in the eschatological vision-the glorified individual (Philippians 3:12-21) or the unified church (Ephesians 4:1-16)?
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For ur citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says, "WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN."
(Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
2. Soteriological Assumptions:
In addition to the teleological assumptions associated with the issue of transformation, several other theological ideas cluster around the more general idea of soteriology like: What are humans saved from? By what means are we saved?
Again a great diversity of opinion exists within the Christian tradition. The chart below captures Wesley Wildman's very helpful typology of various definitions of what humans are saved from, what is salvation, and what Christian tradition places the greatest emphasis on that particular soteriological type. (Kelly can you make a nice little box chart with Saved from on left column, what is salvation next and what tradition third).
In the next section we will see how exposing the richness of the Christian tradition's soteriological insights brings additional resources to the particular problem of transformation within a university culture.
B. The Sociology and Psychology of Transformation:
Psychologists and sociologist are among a few of the academic/research fields with valuable insights on the issue of transformation. Of the multitude of insights that they can bring, one particular insight from psychology and two from sociology seem particularly relevant to this particular situation.
In contrast to individualistic approaches to transformation, clinical psychology has revealed several reasons why the small group experience is "the hottest thing on the market" for character growth and transformation-particularly for overcoming addictions. Small group therapy enables the experience of "universality" which involves the powerful and transforming psychological affects of bringing things into the open and moving out of the isolation brought on by the perceived uniqueness of ones own problems (Cloud, 2003, 160). In addition, small groups provide an ideal setting for learning skills by internalizing and imitating others' behaviors and learning new relational skills. The small group also provides an ideal environment for the instilling of hope and, in some cases, experiencing the corrective influence of ones family of origin (Cloud, 2003, 67). These insights from psychology have weighty ecclesiological implications.
The sociological concept "plausibility structures," introduced by seminal thinker in the sociology of religion, Peter Berger, has profound relevance to our project of spiritual transformation. A plausibility structure consists of that set of criteria by which something may be justifiably held as true and acceptable within a society. Via a process of externalization, humans objectify these criteria onto the world (Berger, 4). As more and more people internalize these objectified externalizations (the plausibility structures they impose on the world) these structures become embedded within society.
The rise of modern science and the plausibility structures that have accompanied it provide a good and relevant example of the evolution of plausibility structures. At the heart of modern science is an empirical method of verifying truth claims. Modern science was birthed in a culture that affirmed the believability of truth claims that stood outside the epistemology of this modern scientific method. For example, one of the founders of modern science, Isaac Newton, is famous for having written more theology than science. Over time, however, the successes of modern science and, in particular, the utility of its empirical method, became so profound that the plausibility structure associated with it, what some call scientific naturalism (truth determined by empirical evidence), began to be externalized, objectified and internalized as the plausibility structure for all knowledge.
This plausibility structure, along with the critiques of post-modernity, are both alive and well within the university culture. They present daunting challenges to the plausibility structures of the evangelical Christian believer who, on the one hand, wants to affirm, contrary to the modernist, belief in truths that lie outside the purview of science. On the other hand, these same students want to hold to beliefs, contrary to Postmodernity, that are real, thick, and weighty enough to anchor their soul to a universal hope that transcends their specific location. In either case the student who finds himself or herself caught in two, and sometimes three, cultures with competing plausibility structures, will experience tremendous amounts of cognitive dissonance. This dissonance can readily account for the anxiety that students experience in a University culture that they perceive as hostile to their beliefs (see local survey question 17 & 18).
The power dynamics of this situation provide another locus of sociological analysis of the problem of spiritual transformation in a university culture. The prevailing plausibility structures of the academy appear to be in the hands of its tenured professors (although arguably the plausibility structures transcend the professor and pervade the spirit and mind of the academy). These are often the only validated plausibility structures. In the case of the lowly student whose deepest values and beliefs are grounded in an alternative plausibility structure, the dynamic of this power differential is profound and undoubtedly a major source of the anxiety that students identified in my discussions as well as the survey.
The theological response to the problem of spiritual transformation within the university culture must draw upon the understanding of the disparity between plausibility structures; the power differential and the amount of time students spend with their minds completely immersed in (working within) these plausibility structures.
Additional sociological insights that might help in forming a more robust theology of transformation may come from analyzing:
In his book How People Grow, psychologist and biblical counselor Henry Cloud offers a helpful typology of transformation. The grounding of his typology in categories that have surfaced after years of counseling evangelicals makes his typology particularly useful as a starting point for the case study at hand. In addition, his typology plays off the soteriological categories above.
For example, his first model, the "sin model," operates within the sin and death view of salvation above-that all problems are a result of one's own sin and the death that results from sin. This view emphasizes the role of the individual's will in the process of transformation. A university student who limits his or her view of salvation to 1 & 6 can readily reduce his or her view of the Christian life and spiritual transformation to a very private and individualistic practice of sin management. Within this paradigm of transformation a person struggling with an emotional problem such as depression would need to find the sin, confess it, repent, and sin no more (Cloud, 2001, 16).
Another view of transformation that operates within 1 & 6 above, but that crosses into other theologies of salvation, is the "truth model (Cloud, 2001, 16)." The "truth model" affirms that transformation results from internalizing truth-"the truth sets free." If a person (or group or world) is not "free" (or some area of their life is not being transformed) it is because of a lack "truth" in his or her life. Internalizing more ideas (e.g., memorizing more Scritpure) becomes the means of spiritual transformation. This emphatically cognitive view of sanctification insists that the more truth that makes its way into the mind the more a person's behavior and desire will be affected. While it may still be possible for a person with this view to approach spiritual transformation in a very individualistic manner, the emphasis on learning does more than the sin model to push a person toward a more social/interpersonal approach to sanctification.
A third model, the "supernatural model," has many variations: those who seek instant healing and deliverance; those who depend on the Holy Spirit to make the change happen as the Spirit lives through the believer (Ephesians 5:18); the exchanged-life people who hold that you just get out of the way so Christ can reproduce his life in you (Galatians 3:20, 2 Corinthians 5:17). This model does more to integrate the soteriology of 2 and 5 above. Perhaps the most distinguishing factor of this type of transformation is "the time factor." This view privileges the sudden and immediate over the ongoing gradual process of transformation (Cloud, 2001, 17).
While Cloud does not negate the insights of these models, nor their grounding in certain biblical sources, there insufficiency lies in the absence of the absolutely fundamental and social and interpersonal dimension of transformation. As important as confession of sin, renewing of minds, dependence upon the Holy Spirit play in transformation, the proper context for the exercise and experience of these practices is the community of Christians. Cloud's fourth model, the "body of Christ model" of growth, asserts that people's most basic need in life is relationship. We understand ourselves first and foremost in relation to others. Virtually every emotional and psychological problem, from addictions to depression, has alienation or emotional isolation at its core or close to it (Cloud, 2001, 122). Thus, people rarely recover from a recurring sin without connection to a support system. Some stop their addictive or compulsive behaviors, but their relational patterns do not change, and most times they relapse if they do not do group work. The "body of Christ model" of growth not only has grounding in Scripture, but, as shown above, a great deal of support from the conventional wisdom and experience of clinical psychology.
While Cloud's preferred model of transformation, the "body life model," moves away from an individualistic approach to transformation, other theologies of transformation go beyond Cloud by calling into question the individualist assumption still embedded even within his "body life" paradigm of transformation. For example, the starting point or focus of some liberal, liberation and feminist theologians is not the individual, but the structures of society. Because of the way that sin gets embedded in institutions (e.g., social injustices, patriarchal oppression) the real focus of the gospel message is on these oppressive structures of society. For example, in her book Church in the Round, feminist theologian Letty Russell focuses not on individual sin but on "the structures of sin and death (Russell, 14)." Her chief concern is the evil embedded in kierarchical structures, particularly the church, rather than the evil within individual human hearts. These mega-structures of society, rather than the individual, become the locus of transformation. Her metaphor, "church as a round table" provides a means of re-imagining and transforming one particular structure-the church. This is not to say that Russell is unconcerned about the individual. To the contrary, Russell passionately argues for connection to the actual lives of the marginalized individual. Her work simply illustrates a new typology of transformation-one oriented around the concern of transforming social structures by the means of social structures.
The radically ecclesial emphasis of post liberal social ethicist and theologian Stanley Hauerwas provides still another paradigm of transformation. Like Cloud, Hauerwas understands the self as fundamentally social. "Self names not a thing but a relation (Hauerwas, 2001, 143)." And like liberal theologians he calls into question the emphatically personal and individualistic emphasis of many expressions of American Christianity (e.g., some private, individualistic forms of evangelicalism). He asks, "Has our being rich led us to misread the gospel as essentially an apolitical account of individual salvation, rather than the good news of the creation of a new community of peace and justice formed by a hope that God's kingdom has and will prevail (Hauerwas, 2001, 151)?" Hauerwas wants nothing to do with an approach to transformation that buys into modernist assumptions that the individual is the ultimate value of a society. Nor does he want anything to do with an approach to transformation that accepts the Constantinian assumption lurking beneath the surface of many liberal theologies. The churches "task is not to make the world the kingdom," but to "be faithful to the kingdom by showing to the world a community of peace." (Hauerwas, 2001, 150).
The transformation Hauerwas champions is not the transformation of culture, nor the transformation of the individual. Hauerwas calls for the transformation of the church. The church renders its greatest service to the world and individuals by simply being the church and showing the world that it is the world. By being church he means: being a community of people in relation with Jesus "who worship Jesus in all things."
The seminal works of John Howard Yoder provide further clarification on the "politics" and "practices" referred to by Hauerwas. Yoder defines politics as the way of making decisions, assigning roles, defining membership, distributing power, and carrying out common tasks within a social body. In The Politics of Jesus, Yoder argues that Jesus had a socio-political agenda that is relevant and normative for a contemporary Christian social ethic. "The ministry and the claims of Jesus are best understood as presenting to men not the avoidance of political options, but one particular social-political-ethical option (Yoder, 1972, 23)." In Body Politics he argues that the church has been called to embody a politics that prefigures the proper politics of the world. He shows five ways that the church provides a model of politics to the world in normal actions like resolving conflict, sharing bread, forgiving, empowering, and make decisions.
In summary, the view of transformation that emerges from both Hauerwas and Yoder is social and political as opposed to private and individual. It is emphatically embodied not mystical, spiritual. And it is emphatically ecclesial in that it places its focus on the church and not on individuals or on the structures of society.
With these typologies as a background of some different ways of thinking about transformation we can now turn toward Scritpure.
D. Biblical Data on Transformation
This section overviews and surfaces in an aphoristic manner some relevant biblical data that might contribute to a theology of transformation. The data includes specific texts, metaphors and themes that surface within different genres of Scripture and that are seminal to the question that cluster around the topic of transformation like: the goal of transformation, the condition that calls forth transformation, and the means of transformation.
Old Testament Historical
Several stories, symbols and themes emerge from the Pentateuch of fundamental importance to a theology of transformation.
The "fall" narrative has equally profound implications on what it is that humans are saved from.
The giving of the Law, both moral and ritual, have profound import to a biblical theology of transformation.
The tremendous amount of focus on individuals in the historical books (Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Esther and Nehemiah) implies that the insights that these books bring to the issues of transformation will come through the study of their characters. Herein lies a plethora of raw material for studying the human condition offered, often, in nearly poetic style-"purposely selective, often restrained, sometimes repetitive, sometimes silent" (Baldwin, 16). 1 & 2 Samuel in particular present an unusual amount of detail about real people in all their "ambiguities of character and motive (and without analysis)" leaving it to the reader to reflect upon and tease out the implications of these all too fallible lives on our own and on the human situation (Baldwin, 16). It testifies to the multiple genres and arresting literary devices employed in Scripture to reveal the mysteries of God to us. The arresting way in which Samuel grounds revelation about God in human experience captures the imagination of the reader through its depiction of "the hurts, ambitions, spiritual aspiration and above all by their failures (Baldwin, 17)."
The focus on the individuals in Old Testament historical books provides a plethora of data to support individualistic approaches to transformation: the transforming affect of the supernatural experiences in Abraham, Moses, and Samuel; the importance of individual spiritual disciplines like prayer and meditating on God's word (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 119:9, 11).
Despite this focus on the individual characters, the broader scope of Israel and the surrounding Gentile world, and the eternal purposes of God to choose and redeem a covenant people for himself, remain constantly in view throughout the historical books. The individual lives provide the locus of God's concern and dealings with his covenant people and through them Israel with their neighbors.
Old Testament Poetry
Within poetic genre of Old Testament transformation often unfolds in the song or Psalm itself. The testimony of the Psalmist testifies to the role of imagination and perspective in the transformation of attitudes, emotions, desires and behaviors. The testimonies of the pious as well as the divine commands in Psalms place a great deal of emphasis on a life of devotion-meditating on God, abiding in God's word, praying, praising God. Poetic books reveal that a right relationship with God is fundamental for "meaning, skill and beauty" (Wilkinson, 1).
Prophetic and Apocalyptic
The prophetic books of the Bible place a great deal of emphasis on the role of human choice and the human imagination in spiritual transformation. The emphasis on choice comes through most clearly in the recurring call to repentance-turning from sin, idolatry, and unbelief toward God. The apocalyptic theme of several prophetic books plays a fundamental role in the transformation of Israel's imagination in the face of great adversity.
For example, some of the most mundane passages of apocalyptic literature, like the very explicit and tedious blueprints of a new Jerusalem found in Ezekiel, must have had profound existential and transformational meaning for the defeated, exiled people to whom the message was initially directed. It grounded their hope not in wishful thinking, per se, but in a very specific and detailed hope.
New Testament Historical
The story of Acts might be told as a story of transformation. What was it that transformed the ragged assortment of souls (some of them social outcasts, all of them religious, all of them focused on themselves as a "chosen race") gathered together outside the city walls of Jerusalem in chapter one into a revolutionary band of followers that were upsetting the world in chapter 28? What was it that transformed this small homogenous local congregation of individuals on the outskirts of the empire into a multi-tribal, empire-wide revolutionary movement? Between chapter 1 and 28 of Acts numerous themes emerge that played a fundamental role in the transformation including:
The multiplication of spiritual leaders marked by dynamic determination and intellectual flexibility. They were able to move their claims into the educated elite of the culture (Acts 17)
Over 70 "one another" verses surface in the New Testament. Commands like "love one another," "pray for one another," "encourage one another," "speak truth to one another," "forgive one another," "bear with one another," "admonish one another," etc. imply that we need one another to grow.
The recurring phrase "Christ in you" in New Testament speaks to the idea of the "incarnational gospel." Christ mediates his ministry to us through others in whom Christ dwells. This recurring idea again stresses the communal, social nature of spiritual transformation.
A recurring metaphor in Paul's teaching about growth is the body metaphor. The implication is that individual members of a body need one another to grow, to be transformed into the persons they are meant to be. For example in Ephesians 4 the recurring words maturity, grow up, and grow occur within the body of Christ metaphor.
Romans 12:1ff is of particular importance because of at least three transformational themes that come together in that one particular passage: