Christian Spirituality Lecture by Rev. Dr. John Kleinig, Lecture 3
Back in the winter of 2003, I was blessed to take a course at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, in St. Catharines, Ontario, with Rev. Dr. John Kleinig, who was in St. Catharines on faculty exchange from the Lutheran Seminary in Adelaide, Australia. The course was called Christian Spirituality. This is the third in a series of fourteen lectures. I will add each lecture as I recorded them by hand. As I heard Dr. Kleinig teach and then wrote down my notes please understand this is not necessarily what he said word for word but my quick writing of what he said. If you see a phrase and not a full sentence that is because that is what I wrote down before moving on to what he said next. Any theological error should be ascribed to me, not to him. I hope these lectures are a blessing for you as they were for me almost 20 years ago.
Please note: All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version. ESV Text Edition: 2016. Copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Date: February 4, 2003
The whole of our christian life has to do with listening. Two passages to begin with. Faith comes by hearing and what is heard. Romans 10. In Galatians 3: Did you receive the Spirit with works of the Law or hearing by faith? Paul argues that they have received their faith by hearing and so why are they trying to continue by works of the flesh?
Hearing. We are very selective in our hearing. We cope by shutting out sounds selectively. We only hear what we tune into. It is the same with sight. All of this happens not only in the physical realm but also in the spiritual realm.
Not everything that is spiritual is good. People in society think that everything spiritual is good. The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter have been so successful because the younger generation knows we are caught up in a struggle between good and evil.
In the spiritual realm of experience:
Evil spirit – demons
Human spirit (psychic)
Holy Spirit – angels
In practice it is very difficult, if impossible, to separate from human spirit and evil spirit and human spirit and the Holy Spirit.
All the time everyone is experiencing God. People would cease to exist if God was not in contact with them. But they do not realize this. People also are continually experiencing God through His Law. God is not only at work as law giver but as judge.
If we don’t see God as our creator we are polytheists.
Romans 2:14-15 All human beings have sinned and know that they have sinned. Jews know God’s Law. Gentiles? Paul in Romans says that Gentiles know this too because it is written on their consciences. Inside and outside we know what is right and wrong. No human being, no matter what their standards, believe that they have kept them. This is very important to our evangelism. It’s key to help them know that this Law is from God. People do not want to face God because they know they are guilty. The experience of a bad conscience affects you to do one of two things:
- rationalize our actions/deny them
- face up to God.
When we are feeling a bad conscience toward God we want to avoid God and we interpret everything God says as judgment. It is the same in our marriages. People hide from God and especially hide from His Word because both Law and Gospel are heard as condemnation. We have a huge problem with our outreach. We think all we need to do is get people in pews. But these people will hear all preaching as Law.
Romans 8:6-7. In our natural being we can’t help but be enemies of God because He is our judge. We excuse ourselves or hide from Him. If we want to get close to Him we try to do something good to get close to Him. This is natural religion. Through the preaching of the Gospel, faith is created through Christ. The Word does what it says. Christ, through His Word shapes our experience of God.
Diagram Description: In this diagram which is vertical, Father is at the top. Christ is under the Father. Then under Christ is the word “Word” as in God’s Word. Between Word and Christ there is an arrow going up that is labeled receive, so through the Word we receive Christ. And then the arrow going down from Christ to the Word is labelled “gives Holy Spirit” so Christ gives His Holy Spirit through His Word. Beside the word “Word” is a further description of the Word: preached and taught, meditated/read, as well as the enacted word which includes baptism, absolution and the Lord’s Supper. Finally, below “Word” is “Christians”. The label going up from Christians to Word is labelled “trust in”, so Christians trust in God’s Word.
The experience we have of the Word of God as believers differs in each one of us. This also differs between the sexes and different cultures. Our experience is the consequence of faith not the basis of faith. If I am emotionally scarred I will experience the Gospel as healing. If I have the experience that I know what I should be but don’t do it the Gospel will give me power to do what I can’t. If I suffer from a guilty conscience I will experience the Gospel as the clearing of my conscience, etc. Faith is confirmed by experience.
Suffering is the ultimate confirmer of faith. Suffering brings us to the experience that what Christ says is true and that he looks after us.
When we talk about spiritual experience we shouldn’t confine this to any one part of our life. It pervades all parts of our lives. There are three types of experiences we have every day.
- In the things that go wrong in our lives.
- In the joys that we receive
With eyes to see and ears to hear we will notice all of this. In eternity, all of the little experiences of life will be seen as important. All sorts of things are happening around us but we don’t see God acting.
Proverbs 3:5 In the Hebrew “In all your ways know Him”–> ” In all your goings on in life recognize/see Him”
The assumption is that God is there! What does this mean about your life? When you recognize God in the bits and pieces of life your direction and way will be made coherent. All the people you interact with are part of your journey from earth to heaven. The problem is not that God is absent, but I can’t see Him. I would also see everything as spiritual.
Now we will move from general experience. The miracle of faith. All of us have experienced the Holy Spirit and God in our lives. This is common experience. The uncommon is to see God working in our lives, to read our lives as God working in me. My life is God’s story. We will see them as uniquely our own. We are all unique. There has never been anyone like us. God has made us for His completely unique work. He works uniquely in each life. But we just look at others and see their gifts/attributes and don’t see ourselves as special.
Dr. Kleining had Hermann Sasse as a teacher. Sasse walked in one day and said, “God is not a Methodist.” John and Charles Wesley grew up with a very pietistic mother. They founded a holiness club at Cambridge. People are saved and they become holy by keeping God’s Law. The more we try to keep God’s Law the more we see how much we break it. One of these brothers, John, was soon after wandering through London and heard Luther’s preface to Romans. As he heard this his “heart was strangely warmed”. Hearing that premise created faith. Here he found the love of God. Then they rejigged their holiness club to become Methodist –> there is a method by which we become Christian.
Orthodox, that is correct, Christian teaching is that we come to Christ through the Word. The Holy Spirit is given through the Word. The Holy Spirit doesn’t just create faith, it grows that faith and keeps it alive. This is God’s ordinary way of giving his Holy Spirit. Faith and grace are equally important. Pietists stress the subjective side – faith – and the orthodox Christian bodies stress the objective side – grace.
Diagram Description: In this incomplete diagram, pietism is described but orthodoxy is not. Pietism is described by words such as Faith, subjective, receiving, appropriation and varied experiences. The terms under similar categories for orthodoxy are not added.
Wesley said, if you didn’t have my experience, you are not a Christian. He wanted to make faith normative. But everyone’s experience of faith is different. Hence, Sasse’s comment. Orthodoxy emphasizes the normative which is God’s grace.
We will talk about the value people place on certain religious experiences.
- Conversion – People in the U.S. used to ask “Are you a born again believer?” Now they ask, “Are you a born again, Spirit-filled believer?” An emotional experience like Wesley’s has been made a requirement for faith. Wesley’s experience was not wrong, he turned it into a norm for faith. In the old days you were only asked if you were a believer. When you confessed the Creed, you were thought to be a believer. (Wesley identified conversion with justification and both of these were made to be a warming of the heart.)
- Lutheran pietists argued that conversion came with the conviction of sin and then a pardon. For them, the experience of conviction was a norming experience.
- The Billy Graham experience – Accept Jesus as your personal Saviour and pray a prayer inviting Him into your heart. Here the emotional experience of Wesley has been dropped. Now a decision of the will is the norm.
- Being slain in the Spirit – Come forward to a charismatic person who touches you on the head and you fall back if you are slain in the Spirit. There is an emotional/spiritual experience. It’s wrong when you make it normative.
Which of these is the most “shonky”?
Rating for conversion experiences according to Kleinig:
- Conviction of sin (not very spectacular)
- Slaying in Holy Spirit
People who have a fine conscience would be susceptible to #1. Also probably grew up in a legalistic Christian society. For #2 people who grow up in emotionally repressed society. For #3, people who grow up in a democratic/individualistic society would be suceptible. Dr. Kleinig only know that people who come from Southeast Asia (Animism, Hinduism) are most susceptible to #4.
Anyone who was born and raised in the faith that wasn’t legalistic will not fit into these categories. The most common conversion experience for adults in church history is hearing God’s Word being taught and asking to become a part of the church/be baptized. In conclusion, no experience of conversion is normative. But all need to hear the Word of God and come to faith.
There is a second type of spiritual experience which comes from the Holy Spirit. (According to Wesley)
Diagram Description: In this diagram “Stage 1” of faith ends with conversion/justification which leads to the second stage which is “Sanctification.” This stage ends with “No fear of judgement,” from 1 John. This then continues in the last stage of faith until death.
Another group has modified this to” filling with the Holy Spirit.” This group is the Pentecostals/Holiness movement. Evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit was speaking in tongues. But this began to fall apart as it was obvious that people who spoke in tongues still sinned. So today this has been modified and now people can be filled with the Holy Spirit if they walk up to a Spirit-filled person and receive the laying on of hands.
The Toronto (Airport) Blessing
Initially it was an evangelical group that got burnt out. They believed they received the gift of the Holy Spirit through sacred laughter. This is the first time in church history that people are seeking a specific spiritual experience.
Note from Pastor Korsch: I personally met a man during my vicarage in downtown Toronto during the early 2000s when the Toronto Airport Blessing was at its peak. He would fly to Canada from the Netherlands each year and stay as long as his social benefits in the Netherlands would allow him to stay. This man said he had “holy laughter” and he kept on laughing at random times. He asked the church for money but we did not give him any because he would not have been poor if he had not left the Netherlands for Toronto. This man seemed to say that the “holy laughter” was contagious at the Airport Blessing meetings and that those who were genuine Christians had it. He also talked about “holy barking” which sounded even stranger and to me sounded more sinister. I started thinking that the Holy Spirit might not have been the only spirit at work at the Toronto Airport Blessing. -End Pastor Korsch’s comments.
Dr. Kleinig says he can give you two ways to get a visionary experience.
- Take halucinogenic drugs.
- Sleep deprivation
Drugs will open you up to the demonic/psychic realms. Fasting will open you up to visions but since Satan always comes disguised as an angel of the light, you won’t know if your visions will be from God or not.
Luther would have looked for a vision of Christ glorified.
Writing from “god”
Automatic writing. People claim that it is prophesy from God. The give away will be that it contains their errors in grammar and spelling and their way of speaking.
Experiences with Angels
Dr. Kleinig says that when he says he believes in angels, people come up to him and tell him their stories. But remember that not all angels are good. Nevertheless, he’s had many people tell genuine stories.
Kleinig believes dreams will become more and more prominent. He’s been teaching spirituality and every year he asks the class how many have had spiritually significant dreams. The first year nobody raised their hand and last year half the seminarians raised their hands at Adelaide. God works with people who are subjective to certain methods.
Of all these experiences: Are they from God? You don’t have to test the Bible or baptism. Experiences are ambiguous.