Sproul on Reconciliation

I recently picked up a copy of R.C. Sproul’s book The Hunger for Significance: Seeing the image of God in Man. I bought it in preparation for attending Ligonier Ministry’s national conference. Unfortunately, as with most conferences and events in March, it was cancelled and the lectures were moved online. I was thankful to still listen to the speakers, even if not all of the scheduled topics happened.

But this book by Sproul, which I didn’t even know about until right before the conference, is a pleasant surprise. I’m partway through chapter 2 and am stuck by how Sproul talks about the word reconciliation. On page 63 he writes:

Reconciliation means bringing people together in peace – people who were once estranged from each other. Estrangement is the one indispensable ingredient for reconciliation, for without it no reconciliation is needed. Estrangement is the shattering blow that makes reconciliation necessary if peace is to be achieved and love restored.

R.C. Sproul

I don’t think I’ve thought of it that way, that estrangement is the thing reconciliation addresses in relationships. Sproul goes on to say that Christ’s mission as “made necessary by human estrangement” (p.64). Humanity’s alienation exists on three levels, he writes:

In the first instance, man is alienated from God. I note second instance, man is alienated from his fellow man. In the third instance, man is alienated from himself.

R.C. Sproul

I’ve read a number of existential psychologists and psychotherapists who say basically the same thing. Even many attachment theorists and therapists would see something similar about the human condition and the seriousness of estrangement’s impact in relationships. I think there’s a lot of common ground between Reformed theologians and some schools of psychology when it comes to exploring alienation, reconciliation, the imago dei and human nature.

Bowlby on Parenting

I’m just a few pages into John Bowlby’s book A Secure Base. Here’s a nice quote on his view of parenting:

“This brings me to a central feature of my concept of parenting – the provision by both parents of a secure base from which a child or an adolescent can make sorts into the outside world and to which he can return knowing for sure that he will be welcomed when he gets there, nourished physically and emotionally, comforted if distressed, reassured if frightened. In essence this role is one of being available, ready to respond when called upon to encourage and perhaps assist, but intervene actively only when clearly necessary. In tase respects it is a role similar to that of the officer commanding a military base from which an expeditionary force sets out and to which hit can retreat, should it meet with a setback. Much of the time the role of the base is a waiting one but it is not the less vital for that. For it is only when the officer commanding the expeditionary force is confident his base is secure that he dare press forward and take risks.” – John Bowlby (p.11)

I like Bowlby’s comparison to a secure base of operations from which an expedition head out. Some of my clients in the military have mentioned that this makes good sense to them as well.

Common Grace & Imaging God

I’m just finishing up reading Michael Horton’s book “Where in the World is the Church?” and I’m one chapter into Berkouwer’s book Man: The Image of God. I love how Berkouwer quotes so many respected theologians as he makes his argument for how to understand the meaning and implications of the Imago Dei. I can’t say yet if I think Berkouwer agrees with Horton, but I can say that Horton connects two concepts (common grace and imaging God) when he discusses how Christians should view their vocation and work.

Here’s how Horton connects these two concepts at the end of the book on p. 199:

“But as God gave wisdom to Daniel to understand secular literature and philosophy, so He graciously gives His common grace to all men and women bearing His image. It is not saving knowledge or saving wisdom, but it is a gift of the Holy Spirit nonetheless. Apart from this work of the Spirit in creation and providence, the world would be ugly, tyrannical, unjust, and unhappy – with absolutely no insight, education, laughter, pleasure, delight, or singing.
By seeking the interests of our clients or constituents and not using our job or office as a bully-pulpit for our faith, we will win the respect of outsiders – and this, according to the apostle Paul, is a noble goal. By pursuing excellence in art and music, if that is our calling, and not using our crafts merely as a means of preaching, teaching, evangelizing, o rebuking, we bring a smile to the face of the God who created beauty and pleasure as acceptable in its own right.”

Michael Horton

I think that’s a great encouragement for laypersons like myself who need to be reminded from time to time that God is pleased by our work in this common grace era.

Perspective

In the book “Where in the World is the Church?,” Michael Horton writes:

“God adds to the comfort of saving grace the blessing of common grace. As we have already seen, common grace is God’s temporal restraint of both human wickedness and His own wrath that must eventually set things straight. In this present evil age, ‘He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,’ and requires us to have the same mind. (Matthew 5:45).

This means that if God, being righteous, can endure the evil of our own hearts as His children, much less the rebellion of unbelievers, then surely we, being unrighteous, must bear the unbelief and wickedness of our neighbors and co-workers. This does not mean that we never raise our voices against unbelief and vice, but it does mean that God’s common grace is sufficient for building a common civilization and working together side by side wit those who do not share our beliefs, convictions, attitudes, or worldview.”

Michael Horton, (P. 147)

I found this portion of his book so encouraging. I certainly hope that I remain open to all the good common grace ideas that people come up with in my profession. I have no problem throwing out bad ideas; I think sometimes it’s harder to remain open to good and workable ideas.

Assurance

I was reading the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 18.3 this week and I found myself reflecting on the similarity between A Christian’s assurance of salvation and the attachment science’s concept secure attachment. Here’s what the Modern English Version of the most relevant portion of 18.3 says:

“because [the Christian] is enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given to him by God, he may—without any extraordinary revelation—attain this assurance by a proper use of the ordinary means. It is therefore the duty of everyone to be very diligent in making certain that God has called and chosen him. By such diligence his heart may grow in peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties which obedience to God requires—the proper fruits of this assurance.

Within the Reformed Christian tradition, the assurance of salvation is a core doctrine. When I study the WCF I do so reading the confession along with Chad Van Dixhoorn’s commentary Confessing the Faith: A reader’s guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Van Dixhoorn notes on p.231, in contrast to the Reformed tradition, “some people and some traditions worry that if we are sure about our salvation, we will live carelessly – that we will ‘continue in sin so that grace may abound’ (Rom. 6:1-2),” where as with believers who embrace assurance of salvation, “the truth is that children of God are stronger and more cheerful in their obedience when they delight in the love of their Father.”

Van Dixhoorn goes on to quote two Puritans, Thomas Brooks and Thomas Watson to reinforce the logic of assurance of salvation as a biblical doctrine that properly enhances security for believers rather than excuses antinominianism. Here are the quotes from p. 232 of his book:

“As the old Puritan Thomas Brooks once said, ‘the being in a state of grace will yield a man heaven hereafter, but ether seeing of himself in this state will yield him both a heaven here and a heaven hereafter’. Or as Thomas Watson explained, ‘it puts a man in heaven before his time’. What these two friends of assembly members had to say was probably learned by considering what the Apostle John wanted his readers to see: if we have fellowship with christ, then we find ourselves walking ‘in the light, as he is in the light’; we discoed that ‘we have fellowship with one another’; and we rejoice for evermore that ‘ the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin’ (1 John 1:6,7).

This seems very close to what we in mental health call secure attachment with an available other – parent, spouse or spiritual being. Secure attachment is simply the idea that humans are wired to seek safe and reliable bonds with other humans, so much so, that without adequately secure bonds in relationships, humans begin to decline and develop symptoms consistent with mental disorders like depression and anxiety.

The primary difference as I see between assurance of salvation and secure attachment is that the latter does not guarantee union with Christ, but the former, as far as WCF 18.3 seems to suggest, is the duty of the believer to pursue and know with certainty his or her secure bond with God. I think that is how a Christian can could use psychological language to convey that he or she appropriately and rightly draws from one’s faith in God, union with Christ, and fellowship with the Holy Spirit in daily living. I see secure attachment as a most fully experienced by those who have faith in Christ, but thankfully, also is one of God’s common grace mechanisms available to all people simply because it is biologically wired into all people.

Rollo May on Human Beings

Rollo May published the first book on counseling in the United States. It is called The Art of Counseling. I got the Revised Edition while I was a graduate student in clinical psychology. From time to time I revisit this classic work. It is existentially profound, yet also simple in its approach.

As I’ve been focusing on how Reformed Theologians describe the meaning behind the biblical concept of the imago dei from Genesis 1:27 – “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them,” I started thinking about how someone like Rollo May would think about what is foundational about being human. Here is how May begins his book The Art of Counseling, Revised Edition:

“What is a human being? Here our constructive discussion must begin, for the effectiveness of counseling with human beings depends upon our understanding of what those human beings really are. A man is more than his body, more than his job, more than his social position, and a woman is more than a mother, more than her attractiveness, or her work. These are but aspects through which they express themselves. The totality of this expression is the external mirror of that inner structure which we call, somewhat vaguely, ‘personality.’

….For the sake of clarity let us state our conclusion before we begin; namely, that personality is characterized by freedom, individuality, social integration, and religious tension. These are the four principles, as the following discussion will indicate, that are essential to human personality. To make a more complete definition, it could be stated that personality is an actualization of the life process in a free individual who is socially integrated and is aware of spirit.”

Rollo May, (p.13-14)

In a future post I will probably compare Rollo May’s four principles for counselors to ideas from orthodox Christianity that are based in the imago dei and God’s intention for his image bearers, before and after the fall.

What is Love

In the 1990’s when I was in high school, What is Love, was a song by Haddaway, but today I’m thinking about the definition I just read from psychologist Sue Johnson’s book Created for Connection. She writes on page 22:

We now know that love is, in actuality, the most compelling survival mechanism of the human species….because love drives us to boondoggled emotionally with a precious few others who offer us safe haven from the storms of life. Love is our bulwark, designed to provide emotional protection so we can cope with the ups and downs of existence. As Mozart noted, “Love guards the heart from the abyss.” We are relational beings. God created us for relationship with Himself and with others. We are created for connection. This drive to emotionally attach – to find someone to whom we can turn and say “Hold me tight” – is write into our mind, sou, and spirit. It is as basic to life, health, and happiness as the drives for food, shelter, and sex.”

I really like that explanation of what is love. I would go so far as to say that I think that Attachment theory, which is what Sue is talking about, is as close to being a “good and necessary inference deduced from Scripture” (WCF 1.6) from the realm of psychology as I think of. As a Reformed Christian, that’s where my mind went as I read Sue’s description of love; I kept thinking of how the Biblical text describes love in a very complementary way. I’m going to process this some more and hopefully write more thoughts soon about love from these two perspectives.

Common Grace Order

I just finished reading Lee Irons article outlining Meredith G. Kline’s biblical argument about Scripture’s cultural mandate in our post-fall era. It is amazing and so encouraging to me. I think what I’m most excited about as I write this post is that Kline and Irons lay out very clear reasons why it is a wonderful thing for me (or most anyone in most any job) to invest in my work. They do so in a way that theologically legitimizes what we do and also protects us from unrealistic expectations about the spiritual impact of any cultural work we may do. I think anyone can do with encouragement in that area.

If you’re not familiar with the Reformed Theology discussion about common grace vs special grace, two kingdoms vs one kingdom views I highly recommend you check out Irons article. It lays out clear biblical reasoning and is eminently practical in its application. Here’s a link: Meredith Kline’s View of the Cultural Mandate.

Image of God and Attachment

I recently picked up Sue Johnson’s couples therapy book for Christians. It’s called Created for Connection. In the introduction Sue makes an interesting statement about the purpose of romantic love that reminded me of what I’ve been reading in various systematic theologies of the meaning of the phrase “image of God” or in latin “imago dei.” She writes:

“Emotional bonding is a wired-in survival code designed to keep loved ones close so that they will be there when we are in need. In order to truly thrive, we all need someone to depend on, a loved one who can offer reliable emotional connection and comfort. This partnership is the natural antidote to humanity’s greatest pain: being alone in the face of the uncertainty of life.”

Sue Johnson, (p. 6)

I see a striking similarity between how attachment theorists describe the core of both human identity and survival strategies as interpersonal in nature and how Michael Horton describes being “made in the image of God” according to Genesis 1:26 in his book Pilgrim Theology. He writes:

“God created us as covenant servants, and we will see the close connection between covenant and the ‘image of God’ below….The image of God (imago dei) is not something in us that is semi divine but something between us and God that constitutes a covenantal relationship. ‘The whole being, the whole human person and not just ‘something’ in us is the image of God,’ notes Bavinck. ‘Thus, a human being does not bear or have the image of God but is the image of God.'”

Michael Horton, (p.123)

Horton goes on to focus on the interpersonal aspect of image bearing that makes humans different from all other creatures. For Horton, “What defines human personhood, on this account, is not so much what happens within the self (i.e. the relation and ranking of faculties), or in the cycles of nature, but what happens between persons (God and human beings) in history” (p. 124). I like this focus because it seems to parallel what attachment theories are also getting at, that a primary thing about humans is their nature as relational beings. It is not a perfect comparison, and I definitely see that. The imago dei also includes much more than defining humans as relational, but it is not less than that. Horton concludes his explanation of the interpersonal aspect of the imago dei by saying, “This covenantal relationship is not something added to human nature, but is essential to it. To exist as human beings is not to be a ‘thinking thing,’ a disembodied and unrelated ego, but is already to be enmeshed in a web of relationships: a society” (p.124).

The other aspect of the imago dei that Horton and another favorite theologian of mine, R.C. Sproul, point out is the consequence of being created as a covenantal creature of God. They both point out that being made in God image also means we were intended to represent God as his vice-regents on earth to the rest of creation. Sproul puts it this way in his systematic theology Everyone’s a Theologian:

“Of all the creatures in the world, human beings are given a unique responsibility, and wit that responsibility is a corresponding ability. Part of the uniqueness of the human race is the mission we have received from God to be His representatives to the rest of creation, to reflect the very character of God….I am convinced that what we find in the image is a unique ability to mirror the character of God such that the rest o the world should be able to look at humans and say, ‘That gives us an idea of what God is like.'”

R. C. Sproul, (p.103)

I find it helpful to be reminded of God’s intention with mankind, even if our fallenness through Adam’s rebellion and sin has corrupted our imaging nature. In a society so confused about issues of identity and personhood, returning to the imago dei for guidance is so important. It reminds me of how Sue Johnson described a letter she received from a Catholic priest she met while in college. She writes how Father Storey responded to her work on attachment theory by writing her a letter ” describing his bond with God and how his closeness to Christ was his home and safe haven. He urged me to remember that Christians have always referred to God as an attachment figure, as the ‘Heavenly Father'” (p.7).