Tag Archives: Dallas Willard

Why we need something like monasticism again today – part II: Moral flabbiness


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Following on from part 1:

We need something like monasticism because we have a problem with ethics

One genius of monasticism is the way it actualizes virtue ethics—Aristotle’s description of ethics, which recognizes that without long practice so that something becomes a habitus, virtue cannot become effective in our lives. Medieval monks read Scripture all the time, and they focused on its moral sense. But a man who reads Scripture and goes away and does not do it is like a man who looks in a mirror and goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like—it’s not an effective use of the moral understanding of Christianity.

And so monastic discipline went beyond just reading and became a training ground for the virtues. And whether we adapt monastic ways of doing this or find some other modes, some sort of spiritual-ethical discipline is crucial, not optional. This is because our interactions with our desires and with the material world are so fraught and so difficult, because we fall to temptation in so many ways. To give just one modern example: Continue reading

Paralyzed by grace? What we can learn from monastic discipline


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We wonder today why we are spiritually anemic. This post from the monasticism chapter of my forthcoming Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis moves on from the first of the “principles of mastery”–passion–to the third–discipline:

Holiness is not optional, and it requires effort

All this talk of passion may make us think that what is required it the single big, heroic action: casting ourselves into harm’s way for the sake of our loved one. But wise teachers of the spiritual life have reminded us of something we have sometimes forgotten: our lives as Christians are not all about single crisis experiences—single events that change our lives. The imagery of sawdust-trail conversions and emotional “altar calls” may sometimes lead us to think in that way, seeking a sudden, emotional experience as the solution to all our ills—but it just ain’t so.

John Wesley, to take just one example, reminded us that those powerful moments of repentance and coming to faith are just the “porch” or the “door” into the Christian life. The substance of the Christian life, which lasts as long as we live, is holiness. Wesley had a favorite phrase to explain holiness. Continue reading

ANNOUNCEMENT: New Twin Cities medieval study group


Well, I know not everyone reading this blog is in the Twin Cities. However, a bunch of you are, so I’d like to use this forum to announce a new venture: a church-oriented “medieval retrieval” study group. Here’s the skinny:


I am organizing a Twin Cities medieval study group. This will be a small group of Christian academics along with (perhaps) clergy and other lay leaders. The group’s organizing question will be “How can the church today learn from medieval faith?” Its goal will be to learn and clarify aspects of medieval faith that can inform and enrich the life of churches. Continue reading

The evangelical patient awaits a medieval transfusion


The Summer of Research has given way to the Summer of Writing, issuing in the first halting words of Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants (Baker Books, forthcoming). Here are some initial, gut-level thoughts–rough and unrevised:

I write this book not as an expert but as a pilgrim. The subject is medieval faith, but academically I am an Americanist. I write for the American evangelical Protestant church(es) in a time of intense pain and confusion. Battered by modernity, we have tried in turn rational apologetic, pragmatic ecclesiology, charismatic experience, and postmodern experimentation. None of these has proved lasting.

The rationalism of modern apologetics has collapsed as the questions of the unchurched have turned away from doctrine and the agonies of the churched have centered on spirituality and practice rather than belief.

The pragmatism of the church growth specialists has dissolved, as it always has, as its shallow spirituality has become evident.[1]

The experientialism of the charismatic movement seems often to have failed to build lasting, faithful, discipled churches as worshippers have bounced from one high to the next.

The postmodernisms of some emerging Christians seem already to be veering into heresy.[2] Continue reading

A conversation with Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Eugene Peterson, and James Houston on the “ressourcement” movement in evangelical spirituality


Reader Alex Tang posted to my “Ask Dr. Church History” page: “What is your current assessment of the ressourcement or spiritual formation movement? I believe you have written earlier that you think it is ‘stalled.'” The assessment Alex mentions is not mine–or to be exact, it is mine, but I take it from conversations I had with Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Eugene Peterson, and James Houston.

I had those conversations while preparing the following article, “The Rise, Frustration, and Revival of Evangelical Spiritual Ressourcement” for the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care 2009, Vol. 2, No. 1, 113–121:

The Rise, Frustration, and Revival of Evangelical Spiritual Ressourcement

Chris Armstrong, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul, MN)

It started in the 1950s and 1960s. It “broke out” in 1978, with the publication of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. But today, evangelicalism’s recovery of spiritual traditions from past centuries—led by such popularizers as Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Eugene Peterson, and James Houston—seems to have reached an impasse. What opened evangelicals to the riches of spiritual tradition? Why has this movement seemingly stalled out? Are there grounds for hope that it will soon move forward again?

There is no denying that by the time Foster’s Celebration hit bookstores in 1978, the conciliatory, culture-engaging “new evangelicals” (represented by the National Association of Evangelicals [NAE], Christianity Today, and Fuller and Gordon-Conwell) had already begun to initiate themselves into the world of traditional Christian spirituality. They were using contemplative prayer techniques, attending retreats, sitting under spiritual directors, and reading Catholic and Orthodox books.

This new openness emerged out of two decades of radical change and barrier-crossing within evangelicalism. The Age of Aquarius saw evangelicals hungering for genuine spiritual experience. If this meant breaking out from the narrow biblicism and constrictive intellectual boundaries of their fundamentalist roots, then so be it. They sought a deeper Christian wisdom both about what makes disciples truly Christ-like and, simply, about what makes people tick. Continue reading

Prominent Reformed evangelical promotes medieval mystics


This piece was first published last December over at Christianity Today‘s history blog, but since it’s been a while and not all of you saw it the first time, here it is again:

Prominent Reformed Evangelical Promotes Medieval Mystics

by Chris Armstrong | December 10, 2008

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f6/Meister_des_Hildegardis-Codex_003.jpgThis headline seems to fall in the “man bites dog” category. From a professor (also dean and VP) of Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, we expect precise articulations of Reformed doctrine. Defenses of biblical inerrancy. Disquisitions on the priority of theology over experience.
We don’t expect a spirited exhortation to read thousand-year-old mystical texts.

But that’s just what we get in Carl Trueman’s article Why Should Thoughtful Evangelicals Read the Medieval Mystics. And it’s worth reading – whether you share Trueman’s Reformed stance or not. In a nutshell, after acknowledging difficulties, he enumerates four reasons we should read such luminaries of the Middle Ages as Bonaventure, Hildegard of Bingen, and Julian of Norwich. For those wanting to cut to the chase, here’s my brief commentary on Trueman’s article. Continue reading

Spiritual direction: What it is, where it came from, and how to learn more


Interested in spiritual direction? Here’s a piece I put together with editorial right-hand man Steve Gertz back in the Christian History days. Links are old so no doubt some will not work:

Got Your ‘Spiritual Director’ Yet?
The roots of a resurgent practice, plus 14 books for further study
Chris Armstrong and Steven Gertz

Christian counselor and popular author Larry Crabb took the trouble to earn a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. But now he believes that in today’s church, therapy should be replaced by another, more ancient practice—”spiritual direction.”

This is one of the classical Christian spiritual disciplines Crabb and others from a wide variety of Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox backgrounds are examining and recommending anew in a biannual journal, Conversations: A Forum for Authentic Transformation, just launched this Spring.

Crabb is not the only modern Protestant digging into this historical mode of spiritual growth. Jeannette Bakke, author of Holy Invitations: Exploring Spiritual Direction (Baker, 2000) said in a Christianity Today interview, “Evangelicals are listening for God in ways that are different from our usual understanding of discipleship. We are looking at many Christian disciplines, including prayer, silence and solitude, discernment, journaling, and others. … Spiritual direction is one of these disciplines many evangelical Christians are learning about and exploring.” Continue reading