Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Small Group Leadership as Spiritual Direction

I've been reading Small Group Leadership as Spiritual Direction: practical ways to blend an ancient art into your contemporary community by Heather Webb. The forward is by Eugene Peterson

One of the images that Eugene uses is that of wilderness and maps [as someone with a geology beckground that always interests me... in fact Eugene & I had some good conversations about wilderness when I was at Regent College.]

Eugene writes,
“William Stafford... an American poet... writes of people who ‘want a wilderness with a map.’ Most of us have become accustomed to a life that is laid out in streets, each designated by a number or a name... we like the ordered predictability of…city life. We want to know where things are and how we get to them. But we also, from time to time, get a little bored by it – we miss the element of surprise and discovery... and so we go looking for adventure."
The adventure reintroduces us to mystery, but mystery and uncertainty are about, lack of control and lack of security. Eugene continues,
“Stafford’s ‘wilderness with a map’ describes a great deal of what goes on in the Christian church these days. We think we want God beyond our understanding so we can worship largely, God sovereign in all our circumstances and suffering so we can be cared for securely, the God of Paul’s exclamatory, ‘How searchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Rom. 11:33). But then we get nervous about the “unsearchable” and the “inscrutable.” We hesitate; maybe that’s just a little too much mystery. We hesitate, get cold feet, pull back. We want a ‘wilderness with a map.’

And so we send in bulldozers to clear roads through the mystery, straight and narrow doctrines, so we know where we are. Then we erect signs that tell us what we need to look for and what to be wary of. Soon there is no wilderness, no mystery"

He then concludes
"Spiritual direction, directing or being directed in matters of God and the soul, is the prctice of using language regarding things we don't know very much about, language that does not strive for mastery, language that slowly but surely becomes comfortable with mystery. We come to Jesus wanting answers and miracles, and he most certainly gives answers and does miracles - but rarely on the terms in which we expect them.

...spiritual direction is another way of language, a way of approaching the mystery of our lives. It is the practice of providing a safe time and place in which the mysteries of God ands the soul are honoured – not reduced to problems, not explained as symptoms... we are all bundles of uncharted idiosyncrasies. And God by his very nature cannot be contained in a definition: one of our ancestors said it well:
'A God who can be understood is not God'.”
I think that what Eugene says here is so appropriate to the whole discussion on post-modernity and the emerging/emergent church. Modernity, has, tended to want "wilderness with a map"; whereas post-modernity, recognizes that there is "mystery", that we enter into life - especially in a time of change - as going into the "wilderness without a map" - not because we are foolish, but because we are moving into uncharted territory.


Len said...

As Scott Peck once noted, there are two reasons people become religious: to approach mystery.. and to escape mystery.

Kevin Flatt said...

I think Eugene's "spiritual direction" here is way off track -- maybe he needs a map? ;)

First of all, the comment "A God who can be understood is not God." To be blunt, a God who cannot be understood is not the God of the Bible. Indeed "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be know about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Ro 1:18-20) This tells us that even just from the created world, God's qualities can be understood. How much more so in light of the Scriptures, where he has directly revealed himself to us? While it is of course true that we cannot understand everything about God -- his ways and thoughts are higher than ours -- there are many things we can understand about him based on what he has shown us. For example: God is good, just, loving, merciful; he became man for our salvation; he exists in a Trinity; he created the world, etc. etc.

Second, Eugene portrays "straight and narrow doctrines" as a bad thing -- basically a fear-driven escape from the mystery of God. This is nonsense. For his sake and that of his readers, I hope he doesn't really mean what he is saying here. Eugene, as one who teaches in the church, is commanded in the New Testament to "hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it." (Titus 1:9) Doctrines -- which really just means teachings -- that clearly separate truth from error ("straight and narrow") are an essential part of the Christian faith.

So while there is uncharted wilderness, especially in our lives and how we live them out in obedience to God, and while we can't understand everything about God, we are indeed given a map, handed down by the prophets and apostles and the saints of the past, which very clearly marks out roads and landmarks, and yes, dangers. To have Eugene's throw-out-the-map attitude is to open the door to every kind of false and harmful teaching and practice, in the name of preserving mystery.

Anonymous said...

I love Eugene Peterson!
I read the Message sometimes and think to myself: This guy really gets it!! The gospel is really as simple as he explains it!

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