Did you ever experience something which was radical and life-changing then wonder if anyone else ever experienced that, or if you were the only one in the world?
Then, as time goes on, you find out that it is not a unique phenomenon but that it happens to others, and they even have a name for it--a Latin name, even! (No, it's not a mental disorder, thank you.)
Now that I've started this I've got to deal with another problem. I learned the name of the phenomenon by reading an article in Christianity Today (bad enough) written by Richard Foster (unthinkable!) So, there it is: public confession. I read it; I even learned something from it; and still, I am not Emergent. Please don't bother writing to tell me what an ogre he is....thanks.
You see, the first 25 years or so of my Christian experience were quite orthodox, maybe hyper-orthodox if there is such a state. It was all about Doctrine (and Standards, in one phase). It was decidedly not about feelings or emotions, ever. I "grew up" (as a 30-something) in churches where if someone said "Amen!" the rest of the congregation would pop a vertebra craning around to see who let in a charismatic. The idea of one lifting his hands in praise during singing or preaching (or anytime other than to wave bye-bye in the parking lot) was totally unacceptable, probably considered heresy.
Now, this isn't about that kind of expression but something much deeper. I said that only to set the tone for what follows. I was Dead Orthodox with emphasis on the Dead. I was to "love not the world, neither the things which are in the world" and occasionally I worked on not loving the worldly "stuff" which I still loved. My orthodoxy enabled me to trash the social-gospel practitioners who went about feeding the hungry, treating the sick, but not giving them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "Do-gooders" trying to earn a place in Heaven.....
Then God put me into prison ministry. Five years down the road of working with these guys whose lives are or were totally disrupted by their criminal actions and the consequences, families destroyed, futures dimmed, worldly hopes weak to non-existent, I find myself weeping over their plight. My heart is more aligned with "pastoral ministry" than ever before, even when I was a "real" pastor. These men have wayward children at home whom they wish to keep from following in their destructive footsteps; they have wives and mothers and fathers who are sick, broke, angry with them, or any combination thereof.
Today, I find myself not just teaching and preaching Doctrine, which I certainly do, to a fault probably in the eyes of some who disagree with my dogmatic presentation of Scripture, but writing to and speaking with wives and parents, seeking churches to minister to parolees, looking for Christian workers in this town or that town to go visit the wayward son of an inmate and tell him about Christ.
An internet friend, a Godly brother-preacher, wrote recently of his heartbreak over starving children in Africa, the down-and-outs of America, and all the miserable, hopeless fellow-humans across this globe who are generally and royally neglected by those of us in this wealthy, comfortable tiny corner of creation. He wondered if he was being untrue to his theological bent, seeing as how he is one of those cold, calculating calvinists like me. You can read his article here.
And that's where Richard Foster stepped in....What he describes as the "cultural mandate" begins with contemptus mundi..
"being torn loose from all earthly attachments and ambitions" OK, I have a strong dose of that. "In the beginning God plucks the world out of our hearts......we experience a loosening of the chains of attachment to positions of prominence and power...We experience a glorious detachment from this world and all it offers." Not wholly there, but I'm closer to this point than even 5 years ago.
Foster goes on: "And then just when we have become free from it all, God hurls the world back into our heart--amor mundi ...We deepen in our compassion for the bruised, the broken, the dispossessed. We ache and pray and labor for others in a new way, a selfless way, a joy-filled way."
Now, I might want to totally disregard much of what Foster says in this article and most of what he writes in general, and I'd like to pick at him over the two different meanings of "world" as in "For God so loved the world....." and "Love not the world...." Nevertheless, he has given me some insight into what I've experienced in recent years and I'm grateful for it. And now, when I find myself with passionate interest in the lives of my inmates and their families, and excited by my brothers who are working with the "street people" in Nashville, feeding and clothing them as well as preaching to them, I take some comfort in knowing that it's more than just me "goin' liberal" in my old age.