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J. P. Moreland: Kingdom Triangle

His chapter on ‘the renovation of the soul’ draws on the insights of writers like Dallas Willard, Richard Foster and Henri Nouwen. Diagnosing four traits of ‘the empty self’, J.P. offers an expose on ‘the art of Christian self-denial’, carefully tracing out the relevant concepts and seeking to acquaint the reader with some of the ‘disciplines of abstinence’ and ‘engagement’ that disciples can purposefully employ to target areas of their lives where ‘sinful habits’ are residing. But Moreland is keen to emphasise that spiritual development is not something we should do solo—and goes so far as to strongly endorse the use of trained Christian therapists, counsellors and spiritual directors at the local Church. As ever, J.P.’s emphasis on knowledge undergirds the discussion. If you find parts of this chapter a little surprising (as I admit that I did), maybe it is worth asking yourself whether it has something to do with the fog of our contemporary Zeitgeist. Perhaps we expected spiritual development to be something rather vague and cloudy. J.P’s ideas about it, however, are rather more precise. Our culture is individualistic, infantile, narcissistic and passive—and if we are to escape the shadow of the empty self there are things we must do (corporately and individually) to foster authentic Christian spiritual formation.

Finally, Moreland fixes his attention upon the charismatic dimension of the Christian faith (and probably loses a few friends in the process!). Relating his own experience of divine healing, and pointing the reader to the current revival in the Third World, which has been ‘intimately connected to signs and wonders’, J.P (now affiliated with a ‘Third Wave’ church) suggests that ‘Western Christians have absorbed more of a secular worldview than we may like to admit’, and contends that cessationism is neither supported by Scripture or by the evidence. But he is anxious to affirm the emphasis on Scripture and theology often fostered in cessationist Churches, and unwilling to blindly endorse the charismatic end of the spectrum. Whilst praising Pentecostals and charismatics for bringing ‘healing, deliverance and the prophetic back to the Evangelical community’, he complains that, all too often, ‘you are too anti-intellectual’, too ‘addicted to seeking experiences’, too little concerned with ‘Christian counselling, the life of the mind, study, memorising Scripture’. Among other advice for becoming more ‘naturally supernatural’, Moreland urges Christian to gain real knowledge in this area of ministry, and to build our faith through ‘study, meditation, risk, learning from successes and failures, and in related ways’. Learning to live and use the Spirit’s power, as well as cultivating the inner life of the soul, and the development of the mind, are ‘central to Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels, in Acts, and in the first four centuries of the church’. J.P ‘refuse[s] to believe it has to be an either/or’.

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Category: Living the Faith, Pneuma Review, Spring 2008

About the Author: W. Simpson, PhD (University of St. Andrews, Scotland), is a physicist and writer with an interest in theology, currently engaged in scientific research in the middle-east.

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