Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Evangelical Prayer Masters, or a Protestant reads the desert fathers

My aim in this post is two-fold:  explain how J.P. Moreland and Dallas Willard offered a way for Evangelicals to read the Desert Fathers and explain how Christ Church in Moscow, ID could better deal with a sex-offender.

Willard and Moreland

J.P. Moreland's Love your God with all Your Mind is somewhat legendary in the Evangelical Community.  He brought "discipleship training" to a hard-core intellectual level.  The book has few rivals.  He branched out in 2007 by showing that "intellectual formation" is only one "leg" of the Kingdom Triangle.  The other two are spiritual formation and kingdom power.

Spiritual formation isn't a new concept with evangelicals.   Since Richard Foster's (mostly good) Celebration of Discipline, Evangelicals have tried to incorporate spiritual disciplines beyond that of the daily "quiet time."  But what do you do when you read the practices of Desert Fathers?  It's hard for Protestants to really "connect" with monastic figures.  Protestants--at their best--are known for having the healthiest view of married sexuality (studies show this), have a vision for transforming culture, and the like.  None of this seems to match desert spirituality.

In Moreland's Kingdom Triangle and The Lost Virtue of Happiness he addresses several exercises for "calming the soul."  He was accused of New-Agey techniques.  He then responded that he is following neuroscientists.  I can take it a step further.  Many of Moreland's (and by extension, Willard's) suggestions are in some form related to the practices of the Desert Fathers.


And this leads us to psychology.  I believe the Bible is sufficient for doctrine.   Stated another way: I believe the Bible is sufficient for the Bible's doctrine.  However, I don't believe the Bible is meant to solve every medical and neurological issue simply by chanting the Bible over the person.  And no, this doesn't make me a Freudian, so stop it.

Natural revelation is real.  Not every "method" is "touchy feely" psychology.  The Desert Fathers--without following them on some doctrinal specifics--probably knew what they were talking about on how to achieve stillness, detachment, and focus.  Of course, some issues might require medical counterbalances, so I will stop here.

And Demons

Doug Wilson is facing a storm right now because--to put it simply--he knowingly brought a pedophile into his church, married him to a girl in the church, and encouraged them to have babies.  Some will defend it saying "Grace" or "would you deny him marriage?"  Isn't marriage supposed to enable the man to grow in holiness?  Yes.  Other things being equal.

When you engage in depraved acts with an infant, you lose a lot of privileges.  Forever.  Sorry.  So what should he do?  What no one has said on either side is the obvious point:  the man is demonized.  We need to get clear on what daimonidzomai really means.  It doesn't necessarily mean (though it could include) the demon taking full control.  It could simply mean "demonized."  Part of getting rid of it is exorcism.  Another part is simply "starving the demons out."  Deny the passions.  And given how deep-rooted the demons are, you probably aren't going to get rid of them by listening to a sermon once a week.

Somebody on Doug's blog suggested what I had been thinking:  join a monastery.  There were the usual objections: "Protestants don't like that" or "Celibacy doesn't work."  I'll ignore the first one.  No, celibacy usually doesn't work.  However, he shouldn't join just any monastery.  He should go to the desert and live with some desert fathers for 30 years.  These are cranky old guys who smell like sweat and incense.  They have long beards. And they don't put up with nonsense. The whole "celibacy" thing really shouldn't be a problem.  You will starve the demons out.  You will have knowledge that you are protecting society.

The other option is to join the Nineveh Plains Protection Unit.


  1. I did profit a lot from reading Rowan William's take on Desert spirituality. He does a mostly good job connecting them to us and unleashing the treasures of their wisdom and practice on a world who thinks discipline is another way to be an over-achiever.

    I appreciated the comments on being 'demonized'. You're completely right that 'forgiveness' doesn't mean instantaneous transformation and being re-climatized to being 'fixed'. Even when resurrected Jesus still had His cruciform scars.

    It's sad that deeply important biblical concepts, like 'charisma', spiritual-warfare, exorcism etc. are redefined by the whackier, pagan instantiations of Pentecostalism. I appreciate you trying to take them back.


    PS. What do you mean Protestant's typically have healthier views of marriage? I tend to see the frigidity of stale Victorian sentiments or a hyper-sexed reactionary swing among younger evangelical crowds. Where do you see this particularly? Any particular theological position articulate this best?

  2. I had in mind a study by Martin Marty called "Fundies in their Undies." Victorianism was a pagan degeneration.

  3. I don't think I agree with you about demonization. All the examples of demon possession we have in Scripture seem to involve demons having complete control. We don't see examples of demonized people behaving rationally, but committing immoral and depraved acts. There is the fortune-teller in Acts 16, but we don't get enough description to conclude her demeanor was any different from the raving demoniacs of the Gospels.

    I would suggest that the idea of a demon-possessed person who is in control of his senses, but lead by the demons to do immoral acts is foreign to Scripture.

    1. I don't reject the idea of demons having complete control. That happens. But that's not what the word daimonidzomai fully means. And even Fr Malachi Martin mentioned that in those cases free will is still involved.

    2. Perhaps you could write a post clarifying these terms.

      I have often heard Christians suggesting that such and such a heinous criminal must be demon-possessed on account of their evil deeds, but I would have said nobody who does not behave like a raving lunatic is possessed.

    3. I'll do a post clarifying my position. The point was the Greek word doesn't mean total possession, nor does total possession fit with what the church has historically taught about free will.

      Further, most exorcist accounts from Charismatic to Catholicism say that even in the worst cases free choice remains (however limited).