Austin Seminary Book Club discussion

Trust in God: The Christian Life and the Book of Confessions
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November 2014 > November Book of the Month: Trust in God: The Christian Life and the Book of Confessions by David W. Johnson

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AustinSeminary | 66 comments Mod
The fall weather is changing and so are we, offering up November's Book of the Month: Trust in God: The Christian Life and the Book of Confessions. Professor David W. Johnson authored the book and will lead the conversation.

"In this accessible book, David Johnson examines the Christian spiritual life using the Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as a guide. He demonstrates how the Book of Confessions can help us understand what it means to be a Christian and how one goes about living a Christian life. Johnson uses the rubrics of faith, love, and hope to ground our understanding of spirituality and help us develop disciplines for our spiritual lives. These disciplines include listening and speaking, worship and Sabbath, giving and stewardship, patience and planning, and reconciling. Three appendices give concrete guidelines for engaging in Bible reading and prayer--the two central spiritual disciplines of the Reformed tradition. Johnson's helpful book invites laity and clergy to participate in the blessings and joys of a Reformed vision of the spiritual life."

Please welcome Professor Johnson to the group and let's get the discussion started!

message 2: by David (new)

David W. | 7 comments A LITTLE ABOUT ME:

Greetings, all. I am grateful for this opportunity to share in the life of the group and to discuss Trust in God with you.

I am in my fourteenth year at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I came to the seminary in the Fall of 2001 as Director of the Supervised Practice of Ministry program. Shortly thereafter I was also appointed as Director of the Certificate in Spiritual Formation, a non-degree program dedicated to the enhancement of the spiritual lives of laypeople and pastors. My titles changed a number of times over the years, without my duties changing, but recently both were altered as I moved into full-time academic teaching. I am now the Associate Professor of Church History and Christian Spirituality.

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David W. | 7 comments A LITTLE ABOUT THE BOOK

Much of the impetus for this book came out of my fourteen years as pastor to three different (very different!) congregations. During that time I realized that the Book of Confessions was simply not a factor in the lives of most Presbyterian congregations. People knew--vaguely--that there was such a thing, but few read it, or even felt guilty about not reading it.

During this time, I had begun reading the Book of Confessions every day, as a part of the Company of Pastors program of the PC(USA). That experience was transformative (slowly, I admit) for me. I even started preaching through the Heidelberg Catechism.

So, when Westminster John Knox press asked me to write a book on Reformed Spirituality aimed at Presbyterian laypeople, I decided that I would use the Book of Confessions as the basis for an examination of what it means to live as a Christian. I was convinced that there were unrealized and little-known resources in the Book of Confessions that were genuinely helpful for contemporary Christians, and I wanted to bring them to light.

Gordon (gnblackmanjr) | 47 comments I have heard nothing but rave reviews about this book and am very much looking forward to reading it. David, I am very much interested in hearing more about how reading the Book of Confessions was transformative for you.

message 5: by David (new)

David W. | 7 comments In a certain sense the book itself is the record of the transformation. Through the continual reading (my internal conversations with the texts), both in the context of pastoral ministry and seminary duties, I came to realize how fully theology, spirituality, and ethics were intertwined in the Reformed tradition. I think that too often people separate them or even oppose them to each other--particularly in seminary faculties where these are divided into academic specialties. I also learned to expect one's personal prayer and Bible reading relate to each other--as the Confessions presuppose. Again, people tend to separate them, and think that the answer to prayer must be a voice from the void, rather than the always-available book sitting on the shelf.

message 6: by Tammy (new)

Tammy Wiens | 1 comments Trust in God clarified for me a Reformed view of the deepening life of faith. I found it to be an excellent resource for my dissertation research as I explored the relationship between spiritual formation and human development.

message 7: by David (last edited Nov 16, 2014 10:46PM) (new)

David W. | 7 comments Thank you, Tammy. I'm glad it helped. Folks, Tammy was in on this project from the beginning, and her support and critique were vital to me. Also, she is quoted in the back cover!

Gordon (gnblackmanjr) | 47 comments I am intrigued by the brief discussion of "love" in the section captioned "Spirituality" beginning at locations 253 in my Kindle edition. The statement "This commandment commands that which cannot be commanded. We humans cannot love on command." (location 259). This reminds me of a sermon I heard by Bob Shelton in which he said (I paraphrase) "love does not define God, God defines love." I wonder about the definition of love that gives rise to this comment. I am aware that there is a whole section later in the book on love that will probably answer this question, but by the time I get there it may be too late in the month to discuss--lol. We obviously cannot be commanded to "feel" a certain way, but, we can be commanded to act a certain way. If love is an action, can't it be commanded?

message 9: by David (new)

David W. | 7 comments Well, Gordon, you are dealing with two sets of ambiguities: one concerning love, and the other concerning what might count as an action. The Bob Shelton comment is his Barthianism peeping through--Barth's understanding of the analogia fides is based precisely this point.

But let's take your last sentence. If love is an action, what sort of action might it be. It is certainly not an action in the sense that "Throw this rock" is an action. We can tell immediately if the action has occurred--was the rock thrown or not? But love is different. We certainly judge whether or not love is present by actions, but none of those actions is in itself love. I would rather consider love as the state-of-being from which a certain class of actions spring--and I would continue to argue that said state of being cannot be produced on command.

This is a different kind of love than "I love ice cream." In that case, "love" would seem to me to be roughly equivalent to "I enjoy eating ice cream." But presumably that would differ from "I love my dog." If I love my dog, I would think that would preclude my eating my dog. It would mean at least that I care for and nurture my dog. What about "I love God?" Isn't that a third sense? Jesus told his followers that if they loved him they would keep his commandments--but his harshest criticisms were directed at those who kept the commandments but did not love.

Ultimately, I suppose I go back to Augustine, who wrote "Give what you command and command what you will." In the case of the love of God, this would suggest that it only could be commanded because it had bee previously given.

message 10: by Gordon (last edited Nov 17, 2014 03:19PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gordon (gnblackmanjr) | 47 comments An action, or perhaps class of actions, that might be classified as love would be "working for the welfare of another without regard for personal gain (i.e., unconditionally)"--such a class of actions could be commanded. The ultimate example of such would be Christ's death on the cross. With such a definition, one does not have to like someone in order to love them. In order to not get off track, is there some particular BOC reference to this point? It seems to me that love of ice cream and love of dogs generally would involve more of a feeling or feelings than love of God. I am aware that my proposed "working definition" is more applicable to love of neighbor than it is to love of God. Rather than working for God's benefit (what would that look like?) perhaps love of God would be better defined as "responding to God's love by working for a deeper relationship with God without regard for personal gain (unconditionally)." It it is not too much trouble, can you point me to the location of Barth's discussion--if not, I can look it up. Thanks for your post, David!

message 11: by David (new)

David W. | 7 comments Oh, gee. CD II/1, talking about the perfections of God would be a place to start. Barth characterizes God as "the one who loves in freedom." He condemns taking any human capacity, raising it to infinity, and assigning it to God (such as power to omnipotence) as a species of idolatry. His consistent comment is, "You cannot say 'God' by saying 'man' in a loud voice." The best handle on this might come from Hans Urs von Balthasar's book, "The Theology of Karl Bart." von Balthasar spends a lot of time analyzing Barth's understanding of analogy.

Gordon (gnblackmanjr) | 47 comments I have CD, I don't have von Balthasar, so I'll go to the source! Thanks for the reference!

message 13: by David (new)

David W. | 7 comments Look for the phrase "analogy of faith" as opposed to "analogy of being." You can also find a lot about love (hundreds of pages) in IV/2.

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