Archive for category: Faith Without Illusions (the book)

Calvin & Coffee: Word — Spirit

21 Oct Andy
October 21, 2011

[This is part of an ongoing series of posts I am calling "Calvin & Coffee"]


I just finished ch. IX in Book I of Calvin’s Institutes.  Here we see the insistence that Word and Spirit are conjoined in “an inviolable bond” [1].  Calvin has in his sights what we might would call “charismania,” an excessive emphasis on the Holy Spirit and supernatural phenomena to the neglect of orderliness, sound doctrine, and the honoring of Scripture (trends apparently associated with the Libertines in Calvin’s day):

For of late, certain giddy men have arisen who, with great haughtiness exalting the teaching office of the Spirit, despise all reading and laugh at the simplicity of those who, as they express it, still follow the dead and killing letter [2].

I have written about this sort of excessive emphases in Faith Without Illusions—the chapter on Experientialism required the greatest degree of sensitivity and precision in writing—spiritual gifts and the more mystical elements of Christian faith are such controversial topics.  I have friends who lean in opposite directions when it comes to experiential manifestations and emotional sensations in the life of the church… and Scripture itself demands a meticulous degree of balance.  Calvin’s own sensitivity and balance on the issue is impressive (and so also one of his successors in the reformed tradition, Jonathan Edwards).  His objective is not to demonize supernatural manifestations per se, but to address the alarming dissociation between the Word of God and the Spirit of God:

God did not bring forth his Word among men for the sake of a momentary display , intending at the coming of his Spirit to abolish it.  Rather, he sent down the same Spirit by whose power he had dispensed the Word, to complete his work by the efficacious confirmation of the Word [3].

It is strange that Word and Spirit so often tend to become a dichotomy rather than a complementary and inseparable pair in the life and history of the church.

Here is a case in point.  A young pastor approaches the pulpit and then announces, “I was going to come with a detailed manuscript for this morning, but I think I just need to tear up my notes and go with the Spirit.”

Now, I acknowledge that sometimes God may indeed lead us modify our homiletical agenda in the moment of preaching.  But so often, so-called reliance on the Spirit can be justified to forgo the hard, meticulous work of exegesis, theological interpretation, and then the careful organization of the material and its crafting into a coherent message.  But when someone announces that they are scratching their notes or manuscript, it serves as an alert of sorts that now, now that the encumbrance of prepared material is out of the way, now the Holy Spirit is really about to speak.

But where was the Spirit in the preacher’s preparations?  Was He not guiding and stirring in those unseen hours, late and early?

Again, sometimes notes do need to be torn up.  Sometimes the manuscript is to be left in the pew.  But for the most part, this “inviolable bond” between Word and Spirit has to do, for the preacher, with hard, prayerful, cognitive labor; and it has to do, for the congregation, with the hard, challenging task of diligent listening.  Sometimes the most impressive feat accomplished by the Spirit in our midst may be the enabling of minds, hearts and ears to stay attentive to the presentation of the Word.  And every preacher surely knows the desperate need for the Spirit’s help while pouring over the Word in anticipation of Sunday.

So, Word — Spirit… any thoughts from you readers?  How do you see the union of the two in life and ministry?  What disciplines or practices might we employ in the cause of keeping them together?


[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (ed. John T. McNeill; tr. Ford Lewis Battles; Library of Christian Classics vols XX and XXI; Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960),93.

[2] Ibid.,

[3] Ibid., 95.

Karl Barth and ‘Hopeful Realism’

18 Oct Andy
October 18, 2011

I am reading Church Dogmatics VI.1, sections 57-59, and I just had a moment.  Okay, I have all sorts of great moments in reading Barth so far, but something that stood out this morning is the comment below.  The reason it struck me is because the hopeful orientation of the Christian to the incoming (and currently in-breaking) power of the new age of salvation is unstoppable, providing for us the disposition of hopeful realism rather than idealism (an illusory denial of the death and injustice of our ex-Eden world) or cynicism (the embittered embrace of current reality without hope in a future reality).  This re-ordering of our disposition is the premise and challenge of my work in  Faith Without Illusions.  Here is Barth saying something that sounds very similar (and with greater clout!)….

“…perhaps [the Christian] is most clearly distinguished from the non-Christian by the fact that, directed to the great hope, and without any illusions, he does not fail and is never weary to live daily in these little hopes.  But this necessarily means that he is daily willing and ready for the small and provisional and imperfect service of God which the immediate future will demand of him because a great and final and perfect being in the service of God is the future of the world and all men, and therefore his future also.”  [1]

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics; ed. G.W. Bromiley, T.F. Torrance (vol IV.1, The Doctrine of Reconciliation; tr. George W. Bromiley; London: T & T Clark International, 2004), 121-22.

Faith Without Illusions at Jesus Creed

26 Aug Andy
August 26, 2011

I am just so grateful for Scot McKnight’s willingness to make posts on each chapter of Faith Without Illusions.  His comments and summations at Jesus Creed are so helpful even for me to read.  Access to the perspective of a senior writer and scholar on one’s work is quite a privilege.  If you want to see the posts, you can get started with the most recent one by clicking the icon for Patheos (which hosts Scot’s blog) below.

Scot McKnight on ‘Faith Without Illusions’

29 Jul Andy
July 29, 2011

The next post on my book is up at Jesus Creed.  As I have commented before, reading what others write about their reading of what I have written is both exciting and daunting.  But I really think I learn more about what God was doing with me during the writing process when I read many of the comments of my readers.  So thanks for reading, folks… and for writing!

To see Scot’s latest comments, click here.

Sightings of Faith Without Illusions in the Cybersphere

08 Jul Andy
July 8, 2011

Confessions of a new Author: I am worried over stuff I had hoped I would be above worrying about.  I am worried about the sales rank of my book at Amazon (yeah, every book has a sales rank—I’d never noticed it before).  I am worried if those who have worked to get the book published regret their investment.  I am worried (and this is so vain) about my blog stats.  As an author without a viable “platform” for marketing a book (that is, a pre-existent audience-base who will be inclined from the onset to buy whatever I might write), I find myself at the mercy of those strange shifts and waves that occur in public space (like the Internet, for instance) over which I have no control.

So it is of profound comfort when other folks in those public spaces champion your project or let you write about themes related to that project.  Here are some recent “sightings” of material related to Faith Without Illusions on the Internet….

Jesus Creed at Patheos: Beyond Cynicism I

Scot McKnight, NT Prof at North Park University and author (most recently) of One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow has been kind enough to begin a series on FWI at his well-respected blog, Jesus Creed (Click on the Patheos image to get the link to the 1st in the series on FWI).

Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology

My friend Jason Hood who blogs for SAET has also been kind enough to post some comments on FWI (again, click on the image to see the post).

Hope for Center-Stage Cynics (The Gospel Coaltion)

And The Gospel Coalition was gracious enough to publish an article about the cynicism of pastors.  This article came out of an earlier blog post here at Hopeful Realism where I describe my realization that I was writing FWI for pastors as much as for jaded 20- and 30somethings.

To those of you out there helping out with the book—THANKS.  I pray regularly that God will use the project as He sees fit, and I am striving for contentment in whatever the “stats” end up being.

The Intended Audience for Faith Without Illusions (Pastors included)

17 Jun Andy
June 17, 2011

I work on a church staff with ten other pastors.  These guys are amazing.  As I penned a note in the copy of Faith Without Illusions that our senior pastor was kind enough to purchase, I realized afresh that there has been a shift of sorts in my conception of who I was writing to.

When you write for a potential publisher a “book proposal” (a 5-7ish page document freighted with angst, anxiety, and often ludicrous hopes!), you are supposed to supply a note about the “intended audience” of the book.  At first, I envisioned an audience of college students and 20-somethings.  The more I wrote, the more I thought about 30-somethings and 40-somethings.  Then, as the writing process continued, I began to think that the primary audience would be seminarians.  I was pleased to read someone suggesting somewhere that Faith Without Illusions should be required reading for seminary students—much of the material I address surfaced during my experience in two different divinity schools.

But the more I wrote, the more I realized that I was also writing (perhaps preeminently writing?) to pastors.

We sometimes associate the pastor with “The (Wo)Man.”  We assume that the pastor is the one behind all the churchy stuff we experience and do not like.  We assume the pastor is responsible for all the petty issues in the pews that so annoy us and make us cynical.

Let me say, after a decade or so of pastoral ministry, that there may be no one more likely to be disillusioned with God and the church than the pastor.  The laity on the fringes are often stereotyped as the primary cynics in the church.  But this fringe existence often protects these cynics from seeing the grimy underbelly of the congregational funk in which the pastor lives and breathes.  And yet the pastor is not permitted to be disillusioned.  The pastor must put on the happy face, shake the hands, offer the kind words… even if the gut reaction is to fly out the church doors before those with the freedom to claim cynicism can get to them.  You think laity have a hard time listening to the sermon?  Sometimes the pastor can’t wait for the end of the sermon either.  But the cynicism of the pastor is not permissible.  So it lies dormant, seething, souring… becoming more and more dangerous.

I wrote Faith Without Illusions not just for edgy, jaded 20-somethings, not just for struggling seminarians, not just for college students needing spiritual elbow room, but for pastors.

I conclude the book with Paul.  If anyone waded in the filthy, messy, disillusioning waters of pastoral ministry, it was the great apostle.  But Paul did not seem to suffer from cynical “burn-out.”  His apostleship was denied by the Corinthians, his teaching was flatly rejected by the Galatians, and racism, materialism, social elitism, and sexual immorality abounded in those early churches under his apostolic guidance as much as churches do today.  But Paul persisted in the pastoral labors, from behind prison bars, while under house arrest, and while sailing on sea-tossed ships.  He was a hopeful realist.  Resurrection undergirded his potentially disillusioning experiences as a pastor… and somehow infused him with a refreshing sense of liveliness as he labored and loved.

So to you pastors out there—here’s to hopeful realism from another guy in the ecclesial trenches.  Thanks for all you do.

Article on “Hopeful Realism” at

06 Jun Andy
June 6, 2011

"How to be a Realist Without Losing Your Soul"

I am so grateful for the folks at Relevant for posting another article.  This one is on  the idea of “Hopeful Realism,” the namesake of this blog and the main objective outlined in my book, Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint.

The challenge on writing on the topic of cynicism is that I will inevitably have cynical readers.  This is the idea and hope, of course—as a recovering cynic I am hoping to address this issue in those for whom cynicism is a daily reality.   But cynics are critics, so to write on cynicism is to invite a considerable degree of critical scrutiny, perhaps also to display a gluttony for punishment!  Even so, I certainly try in my writing to avoid oversimplified, over-reactive assaults on cynics.  I believe in the idea of a “cynic-saint,” that is the cynic in the redemptive process of healing and restoration for the sake of contributing (painfully gained) insights for the church.  I will be interested in reading the comment streams….

So, are you cynical toward God and the church?  I would love to hear glimpses of your story.  So post comments either here or at Relevant!

An Interview with David Flowers, and his review of Faith Without Illusions

30 May Andy
May 30, 2011

Having written a book is allowing me to begin friendships with a host of like-minded people out there that I would have otherwise never met.  One of them is David Flowers.  This guy is thinking hard about the nature of “church” and posting some really good stuff.  I encourage you to check out his blog, The Centrality and Supremacy of Christ (you can’t get a better blog title than that).

David has been kind enough not only to review Faith Without Illusions, but also to explore more behind the book by sending me a number of interview questions.  Those questions have really helped spur my own thinking about topics in my book and beyond.  You can see the review here, and the Q & A here.

Review of FWI at Englewood Review of Books

21 May Andy
May 21, 2011

I was very excited to see that the Englewood Review of Books has posted a review of Faith Without Illusions on their website.  You can check it out here.

It is both nerve-wracking and exciting to read these reviews.  The most interesting fact to report on the experience is that I always seem to learn a little more about my own book by reading its other readers.  Thanks so much for those of you out there taking time to work through it!

Review of Faith Without Illusions at Unsettled Christianity

08 May Andy
May 8, 2011

Joel Watts is open about the fact that he struggles with cynicism.  So it is quite daunting to know that such a sharp, theologically astute young man with cynical leanings is reading Faith Without Illusions.  His blog, Unsettled Christianity, is one of the most visited biblioblogs out there, and he cranks out multiple posts every day (unlike my 1 post every few days or so).  So his occasional (and positive) references to the book have been quite an honor to me.

But the reading is done.  He finished the book and took the time to write a lengthy review.  I learned a lot from Joel about my book while reading his comments.  This is one of those odd and mysterious elements of artistic labor, I suppose, that what you produce has somewhat of a liveliness of its own that can be expanded and deepened as others access it.  If you are interested in seeing the review, click here.

%d bloggers like this: