Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Thomas Merton and me...because it's all about me!

Yesterday, Bunnie Diehl post a link and commentary to a post on Thomas Merton and his seeming foreknowledge of the American Evangelical movement. I put off reading through the post because I realized it would require me to stop and think for a moment or two (same thing happens to me with Three Hierarchies blog!). So, this morning I decided to focus my attention and was amazed at what I read. Who knew that Thomas Merton could have described what would happen through the Jesus Movement, American Evangelicalism and the post-modern movement...unless he knew well the effects of individualism on faith. I hate to suggest that individualism is a sin (but it is), me being the chief sinner in that area, but the individualism that we baby-boomers have insisted upon has had its very obvious detrimental affects. Individualism surely is an old sin, probably dating back to the garden of Eden when the Devil (the liar) told Eve that she wouldn't suffer ill effects from eating from the tree.

Othniel, Cross Theology blog, writes:

When writing about Contemplative Prayer, he (Merton) at one point addresses the intense danger that individualism poses to the faith, most especially as regards prayer and liturgy:

Interior life of the individualist is precisely the kind of life that closes in on itself without dread, and rests in itself with more or less permanent satisfaction. It is to some extent immune to dread, and is able to take the inevitable constrictions and lesions of an inner life complacently enough, spiriting them away with devotional formulas.

Individualism in prayer is content precisely with the petty consolations of devotionalism and sentimentality. But more than that, individualism resists the summons to communal witness and collective human response to God. ...
"The full maturity of the spiritual life cannot be reached unless we first pass through the dread, anguish, trouble and fear that necessarily accompany the inner crisis of "spiritual death," in which we finally abandon our attachment to our exterior self and surrender completely to Christ."

Reading this post and the Merton quotes has certainly helped me to see something about my life and faith. It certainly is fair to say that, over the course of a few years, I began to experience dread (the weight of the law) despite devoting myself to loving God (on my own terms). The gospel is rarely preached in its full truth in the American Evangelical movement, so I had to depend on contemporary praise music to summon up feelings of worth and reassurance in Christ. The confessional Lutheran church was the first church in my life to preach to me the full weight of the law along with the complete gospel which freed me of my dread once and for all.

To those who don't think that the generic American Evangelical movement is NOT a mission field or who don't think its a problem to bring in some of their worship practices, they could not be further from the truth and are walking down a path of death...of dread with no hope.

Who knew that Thomas Merton could describe my life in the Jesus Movement and its daughter, the generic American Evangelical experience? At least I was able to reject the granddaughter, the post-modern movement.

Be sure to read: Cross Theology: Hating Knowledge

Thomas Merton

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