And in the third place this action of the Holy Spirit is evident from the productiveness of theology in times when the operations of the Spirit in the Church are powerful, and from the poverty and meagreness which are seen in contrast, as soon as those operations of the Spirit withdraw themselves from the Church. Subjectively this can be expressed by saying that theology has flourished only at the times when theologians have continued in prayer, and in prayer have sought the communion of the Holy Spirit, and that on the other hand it loses its leaf and begins its winter sleep when ambition for learning silences prayer in the breast of theologians.
In this sense, both with reference to its object, and to the extent in which it concerns its subject, and its method as well (in virtue of the leading of the Holy Spirit as Doctor ecclesiae), the peculiar character of theology demands that its peculiarity shall be characterized also by its title of Sacred Theology.
My sermon from last night on 1 Timothy 2:1-7 has been posted on the church web site….
(The painting of David Playing the Zither is by Andrea Celesti (1637-1712). See the Web Gallery of Art for further details.)
Although divided by a chapter division in our English translations, Psalms 42 and 43 should be read as single song, a powerful lament by which Israel’s covenant LORD is called upon to send forth his light and truth (43:3). This plea for light and truth finds its proximate fulfillment already in the immediate subsequent Psalms, a group of Psalms which opens Book 2 of the Psalter with the common inscription, “of the sons of Korah.” The ultimate fulfillment of the plea for light and truth is found in the dual advents of Jesus Christ, who is “the Light of the World” and “the Truth.”
Read the paper…
Helpful Bibliographic Resources
Among the resources I used for this paper, I found the following two especially helpful:
Encouragement in the Power of the Gospel
For any Christian involved in Muslim ministry, Afshin’s testimony of believing in Jesus Christ as the Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:6) is highly encouraging.
Intriguing Perspective for ACW Research
Furthermore, in light of my present research into the A Common Word initiative, listening to Afshin’s story forces me to think about the A Common Word issues from an intriguing perspective: How do Muslims who have converted to Christianity view the relation between the two religions?
Focusing on this perspective raises important questions like:
- Would former Muslims claim that Muslims believe the same God as Christians?
- What would former Muslims say about the importance of Jesus’ role as God incarnate (in Christianity) vs. the Muslim view of Jesus’ role as a human prophet?
- How important an existential factor would former Muslims say is present forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ atonement vs. potential forgiveness in Islam’s final judgment?
- How would former Muslims contrast Christianity’s unconditional love of enemy with Islam’s conditional love?
Listen to Afshin tell his story of being found by God:
Afshin’s Story Part 1
Afshin’s Story Part 2
(Video Source: A Muslim Journey to Hope)
A Welcome Surprise To My Low Expectations
Though I had pretty low expectations for reading a Christian book on emotions, I was encouraged by the reassuring word in the foreword that the book is not just one more partner in the orgy of anthropocentric subjectivism that sadly seems to dominate the so-called “Christian” psychological self-help world:
These men are provocative, creative thinkers, bound by their unswerving commitment to biblical truths and by their zeal to lead lives that reflect an intimate dependence on Christ. This book is not another manual on emotions: what causes them and how we can handle them. It is not a book filled with techniques for getting over anger or relieving fear. It is not a book that lists a verse for dealing with every troubling emotion. We have enough of those books already (11).
Amen and amen! Pelagian self-help is robbing God’s people of Christ’s joy, and we don’t need any more of those kind of books. By mentioning dependence on Christ, the forward foreshadows the authors’ approach to applying Christ’s Gospel to Christians’ emotional life: the objective reality of God and His accomplishment of salvation sets the context for subjectively applying the benefits of salvation to believers. Such a Scripturally faithful approach which weds the objective realities about God and His Gospel to the subjective inner life of Christians is hard to find today, and accordingly readers ought to appreciate fully the strength of this book.1
Thesis: Our emotions are windows into God’s revelation of Himself
So, then, what does The Cry of the Soul have to say that Christians need to hear? Forgive another quote from the forward, but it summarizes well the purpose of the book:
Rather than explaining our emotions in order to help us gain control over them, Drs. Allender and Longman take us into new country. Their central idea . . . is that our emotional life, including those emotions we shouldn’t feel, forms a window that lets us see deep into the heart of God. Their rather surprising suggestion is that we explore our emotions not to get rid of the bad ones and replace them with good ones but rather to know God more fully (10).
Strength: Finding our story in God’s
A further strength drives the success of this powerful book: the authors’ theologically-informed presuppositions (14-18).
- First, they believe emotions are not neutral (amoral), rather emotions speak the inner workings of humanity’s depraved hearts.
- Second, the purpose of looking inward is not merely to better yourself, but to reveal your heart’s relation to God and others.
- Third, the Psalter is a key section of divine revelation for looking into hearts.
- And fourth, all emotions reveal the character of God.
Notice that these presuppositions join together God’s objective self-revelation and the subjective human experience and knowledge of God via this objective revelation. The strength, then, of The Cry of the Soul is that it seeks to tell humanity’s story in the context of God’s story; the distinction between Creator and creature is maintained while explaining the partners’ respective roles in redemption’s dance.
Ch. 1: Our souls talk
The power of explaining the nature and purpose of emotions to be our soul’s cry helped me to see that my ups and downs, rages and joys are not mere feelings to be controlled, managed, ignored, or denied. Rather, my “insides” are constantly telling me what I am believing about God, myself, and the world. Accordingly, if I can learn to patiently listen to my heart instead of running from it, drowning its voice, or deadening its promptings, I will be more fully able to glimpse God’s glory of how He is redeeming the whole of me (inside and out), giving me back my dignity, allowing me to become fully human (delighting in God’s truth both in my inner world and my outer context). Such a view frees me from the doldrums of dead emotions; for, God created me both able to smile and to frown, and the emotions behind both actions reveal God to me. Furthermore, the glorious freedom of knowing God is that I am freed to more truly know myself, even through my emotions!
Ch. 2: Our souls sing the Psalter
Not only is it revolutionary to understand (ala chapter 1) that God “chooses to reveal His perfect heart by analogy with human emotion that is stained by depravity” (39); it is further amazing how God reveals his heart through ours: according to His self-revelation in Scripture (especially in the Psalter).
In the Psalms we are invited by God “to comprehend more richly the heart of God” as we “seek to understand our internal world” (39). Rightly understood in the context of God the Creator and man the creature, the fact that man’s knowledge of God is covenantally bound to man’s knowledge of the self is a glorious mystery replete in the Psalms. John Calvin speaks of this mystery in the opening lines of chapter 1 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion:
Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.
Certainly, the chief “tie” that binds together our double knowledge of God and self is God’s revelation through His Scriptures. Accordingly, Allender and Longman explain well how the Psalms disturb us into facing our heart’s idolatries in the light of God’s strange love. The Psalms shock us into the light, both by inviting us to rage, cry, mourn, call down revenge upon our enemies, question God, etc., and by constantly calling us to believe in God’s everlasting covenant love (hesed). Through the Psalms God teaches us to sing His strange song of redemption, even when we can’t hear the music or see the Conductor.
Chs. 3-15: Our souls cry through the whole range of human emotion and always within our covenantal/relational union with God
It is precisely in the long moments of not hearing the music (the “how long?” of chapter 3) that God invites us into the depths of our covenantal union with Him. The “how long, O Lord?” challenges our hearts through the whole range of human emotion. Allender and Longman focus on anger, fear, envy, despair, mockery, and shame, showing both the idolatrous and the glorious sides of these windows into God’s heart. Each of these emotions invites us to wrestle with the question “how long?” in a way that reveals God’s faithfulness more fully to us, thus enabling us to be more faithful, specifically with that emotion, in our faithfulness to others.
Chs. 16-17: Though He is mysterious, God is good
Allender and Longman set the soul’s cry in the context of God’s mystery and God’s goodness. God is mysterious because He seems to hide his presence at the very times we need it most. He seems to let the unjust prosper at the very time the just are being abused. He seems to allow us to hurt and suffer at the very times that we desire relief most earnestly. Though God’s goodness is mysterious, it is truly good.
God’s faithfulness never fails! He never breaks His covenant promises! He leads us from the dark valley to the top of Mount Zion! He turns our mourning into dancing, even making our dancing more deep and joyful because of the mourning. Just as suffering Job received much more blessing than he had suffered, so our suffering Christ received all blessing as His reward for suffering. And Christ passes on those blessings to His children, even though He himself calls us to wander as pilgrims.
Suggestion for Improvement
This wonderful book could be even better by by adding some material on what it means for one’s soul to cry corporately, in the communion of the saints. The subtle undertone of individualism latent throughout the book (i.e. an “it’s just me and Jesus” spirituality) needs to be met with further thinking on the individual’s relation to the body of Christ (i.e. ecclesial praxis). Perhaps some interesting questions along this line could be explored, such as:
- Do we ever read, sing, recite, or reflect on the Psalms in corporate worship?
- Does the liturgy of corporate worship allow time for the worshipers to pour out the cries of their souls in quiet?
- Does our pastor ever lead a corporate cry, perhaps reading or praying one of the “dark” Psalms in worship?
- Does our congregation sing exclusively “happy-clappy” songs, or do we also sing sorrowful laments?
- Does my family worship time allow my family to voice the cry of their souls?
The Cry of the Soul truly leads us to God by honestly taking us through the whole spectrum of our hearts’ idolatries and the full context of God’s cosmic redemption, including how God redeems our emotions by using them as a window through which to shine His Light into our souls. This book helps us to see all our hearts’ stupid idols, all of the dry breasts we so stupidly fondle as we seek for life-giving milk that only God Himself can give even as He has already done so by sending His own Son to redeem us, body and soul.
1. In this specific regard, The Cry of the Soul evidences a vast improvement over Dr. Allender’s solo publication, The Healing Path. Perhaps this improvement reveals the balancing strength that comes from uniting a professional Christian psychologist (Allender) with a professional theologian (Longman) as is the case with The Cry of the Soul.
More Books by Allender and Longman
- What does the Lord pray for?
- Why is this unity important?
- How is this impossible task accomplished?
Free New Horizons Articles
- “That They Might Be One”
by Philip T. Proctor
- Helps for Worship #23: Old and New Covenant Readings
by William Shishko
Why is it so hard to pray?
Jesus is the balm for sin’s wretched wound. He is the Savior, the Victor, the Son of Man–all of these He is to me. Furthermore, my Father has adopted me as His son, and my Lord calls me His brother. Yes, I know all of these truths. So why does prayer seem so hard? Is it just me that feels this way?
When I pray, my mind blows from thought to thought and my focus is quickly lost. I repeat vain phrases and trite sayings, usually beginning with, “Lord be with…,” or “Lord please bless…,” or “God, please give me….” I ask and ask for things that I want. I pray often when I’m in a bind, but sparse and short when life seems good.
I’ve met men and women who are warriors of the bent knee clan, and there is something different, or better said, special, about them. Their aura is hard to describe, but it’s as real as the sun is hot. The security, rest, inner peace in the midst of outer storms, firm-anchoredness of soul that these veterans of the prayerfield exude is awful and humbling.
Lord, teach me also, to pray.
Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11:1)