The Australian theologian and Bible scholar John Kleinig said that women’s ordination used to not be a big deal for him–until he studied 1 Corinthians 14 and realized that it is far more forceful on the issue than most people realize. [Read more…]
For Lent I took up once again John Kleinig’s Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today. That has to be one of the most helpful books I have ever read. I have been a Christian for a long time, and I am not unconversant when it comes to spiritual subjects. But I found myself learning fresh insights into the Christian faith on every page of this book.
Dr. Kleinig, an Australian theologian and Bible scholar, is simply the most illuminating contemporary Christian writer that I have come across. His subject here is “Christian spirituality,” what mystics and those seeking a deeper spiritual life all crave. But what he does is to open up that deep spirituality that can be found in the everyday life of the Christian: in the Gospel, in going to church, in reading the Bible, and in prayer. Grace Upon Grace has chapters on Christ and what He has done and continues to do for us; on how to meditate on God’s Word; on prayer; and on spiritual warfare.
Go to the Amazon site, which has a “look inside” feature for a sample. Go on and buy it there and the Cranach blog will get a commission. Some time ago I posted excerpts from the book on this blog. Do a search for “John Kleinig” and you can find them.
Reading it this time had an even greater impact on me than before. I was struck especially with what I was learning about intercessory prayer–praying for other people–and what it means to pray in Jesus’ name (praying as His agent for what He wants to happen). Also what he says about vocation, with his application of the New Testament’s military metaphors, with the garrison soldier not being responsible for the whole battle, just the plot of land where he was stationed.
Dr. Kleinig is Lutheran, but if you aren’t Lutheran, don’t let that keep you from reading it. All Christians can benefit from reading this book–pastors, young people in confirmation classes, lay people, new church members, everybody. If they do, they will be introduced to the riches of the Christian life. Seriously. Trust me on this. Read this book.
More from Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today by John W. Kleinig on tentatio:
Strangely, we discover the mysterious power of God’s Word, the hidden work of the Holy Spirit in and through the Word most clearly in temptation. Thus Luther says, ‘Thirdly, there is tentatio [temptation, trial], Anfechtung [attack]. This is the touchstone which teaches you not only to know and understand, but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s Word is, wisdom beyond all wisdom.’” (Page 21))
When Satan attacks us, we experience the righteousness and truth of God’s Word with our whole being, rather than just with the intellect; we experience the sweetness and loveliness of God’s Word with our whole being, rather than just with the emotions; we experience the power and strength of God’s Word with our whole being, rather than just with the body. (Page 21)
“The German word Anfechtung describes Satan’s attack upon our faith in Christ and God’s condemnation of us as sinners. As long as we operate by our own power with our own intellect and our own too-human notions, the devil attacks us by stirring up misunderstanding, contradiction, opposition, and persecution. He mounts that attack through the enemies of the Gospel in the Church and in the world. The purpose of this attack is to destroy our faith and undo the hidden work of God’s Word in us. As soon as God’s Word is planted in our hearts, the devil tries to drive it out so that we will no longer operate by the power of the Holy Spirit.
But paradoxically, these attacks are counter-productive. Luther says, ‘For as soon as God’s Word takes root and grows in you, the devil will harry you, and will make a real doctor [of theology] of you, and by his assaults will teach you to seek and love God’s Word.” Thus the devil’s attack on us serves to strengthen our faith because it drives us back to God’s Word as the only basis for spiritual life. We cannot rely on our own resources in the battle against Satan and the powers of darkness. If we rely on our wisdom and power, we will fail. In that situation, our only hope is in Christ and His Word. Our spiritual weakness makes us trust in the power of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of God’s Word, which is “wisdom above all wisdom.” Through temptation we learn to seek help from God in meditation and prayer. We walk with Christ on the way of the cross; we discover the spirituality of the cross. We do not experience the splendor of union with our heavenly Lord, but we share in His suffering and pain. We bear the cross together with our Lord as we suffer with Him. Through the attacks of the evil one we are drawn further out of ourselves and deeper into Christ.” (Page 22)
When you pray or have devotions or listen to a sermon, do you get distracted? Do thoughts come into your mind that carry you away from concentrating on God? See what John Kleinig says, by way of Hermann Sasse (the great conservative Lutheran theologian who opposed the Nazis and the Nazified church in Germany). From that book I have been pushing Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today:
“Distraction upset me so much that I eventually gained enough courage to seek help form one of my teachers, Dr. Hermann Sasse. He listened attentively and patiently, as I explained some length how the devil always seemed to distract me at inappropriate times. When I had finished, he stopped, turned to face me, and said, ‘Who says that it is the devil? Perhaps it is the Holy Spirit.’ With that he went on his way, leaving me shocked by what he had said.”
“That bit of advice has proved to be the best spiritual counsel I have ever received. It make such good sense theologically. When else could we expect to receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit than when we are engaged in listening to His Word or in praying are inspired by His Word? Since then, I have learned to regard distractions that I experience in public worship and in my devotions as the summons of the Holy Spirit, who uses these distractions to connect my life with God’s Word and to apply God’s Word to my life. Whenever I remember, I note the distractions that interrupt my worship and devotions and take each of them, if possible, as an instruction from the Holy Spirit—an instruction about something that I need to repent of or to pray for; an instruction about who to pray for and how; an instruction about what to enjoy as a good gift from God or to receive with thanksgiving…” (pp. 84- 85)
Thus, the very distractions are co-opted and turn the attention back to God as occasions for prayer. Not only that, it actually causes us to pray about what is really on our minds. This is brilliant advice, as I can testify from personal experience. Try it.
John Kleinig inGrace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today understands that the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is carried out in VOCATION:
“There are two hidden sides to our secret vocation. First, we stand in for others before God the Father together with Christ. We represent them before the Father by identifying with them and their needs and by praying for them.” (Page 64)
“Second, as holy priests we take God and His blessings with us to every person that we meet. We are, if you like, ‘christophers,’ carriers of Christ, bearers of Him to others.” (Page 65)
“These two sides to our priestly vocation interact and enrich each other. By bringing others to God the Father in prayer, we are equipped to bring His blessing to them as we go about our business. As we engage with people in our work and leisure, we discover their needs and so are prompted to help them by praying for them. Thus we serve as secret agents, priestly people who lead heavenly lives on earth by remaining in touch daily and weekly with our heavenly Father.” (Page 65)
This puts forward a simple spiritual exercise: When you interact with people in your calling–on the job, in your family, in your citizenship (as you read the newspaper, for example)–and become aware of their needs, pray for them. Intercede for them. Be their priest.
One of the illuminating qualities of the book I have been recommending, Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today by John W. Kleinig, is its definitions of concepts that I thought I understood but in reality knew only superficially. For example:
“Modern people tend to confuse mysteries with secrets and so we explain them away. Yet the two are really quite different. Although both have to do with something that is hidden and unknown, a mystery differs from a secret in one important respect. A secret remains a secret only as long as you don’t know it. Once it is revealed, it ceases to be a secret. But a mystery remains a mystery even when it is revealed. In fact the more you know about it, the more mysterious it becomes. Take, for example, the mystery of life or of love. You may be able to explain it, but you can never explain it away. Any explanation, no matter how accurate is always like a sketch of a person, a poor substitute for the real thing.” (Page 57)
What are some mysteries like this?