Brief Note: I like to add images to posts... but that always takes some time to find the right images. With my schedule as crazy as it has been, I just didn't have the time to do that for this post.
Also, this is a longer reflection. So I have provided it as a pdf if you want to download it, print it, and read it that way.
Much of the Ignatian Exercises is devoted to hearing from God, to noticing God, and to finding God.
So, how does God communicate to us, make himself known to us?
This is an extremely important question! In fact, what I just said is a vast understatement.
THIS IS AN EXTREMELY IMPORTANT QUESTION.
And on this question, evangelicals, in my opinion, have had some good things to say… but we have also had some very inadequate things to say. I'll go one step further. In some ways we have been right, but in other ways, we have been very wrong.
This question involves philosophy, theology and spirituality and is way beyond the venue of a simple post or two. So what I say here is going to be very basic, very inadequate, raise many more questions, and perhaps cause some suspicion…
This post is going to have a different feel to it and it will set the stage for several follow up posts. It is more theological in its focus.
But I encourage you to wade through this post, for in the weeks to come I'll be walking you through how Ignatius helps us hear from God, and it will be helpful if you have this understanding in place.
I am not less than an evangelical in my answer, but now I am much more than evangelical in my answer. I'll map out just a few of the broad, brush strokes of an answer on this.
My Evangelical Tradition has answered that God mainly speaks to us through the Bible, the texts of the Old and New Testament as they are rightly interpreted through the use of hermeneutical and exegetical tools.
(As a brief aside…)
These are interpretive tools, by the way, that were mainly developed in the context of Enlightenment Modernity. It is a delicious irony of no end, that evangelicals who are aghast at most things "modern" are so dependent on the tools developed by that same modernity. I am not opposed to these tools, and I use them as well, but I hold them loosely and I know their origins.
(And another brief aside...)
To show that these tools are not quite as reliable as we thought they were, I would only say that Evangelicals have spent about the last 500 years (since the Reformation) vehemently arguing about who has rightly used those tools to rightly interpret the inspired text of God. And we have made precious little progress in that debate. So, as a movement, we are increasingly splintered in our theological discussions about who has the "real biblical answer."
(And one more aside...)
Our tendency is to think we/my/our theological-biblical answer is the objective truth and the other person's answer is subjectively biased because they use the objective tools of interpretation incorrectly. And we say they unable to see their subjective bias! Of course, each side levels the exact same charge against the other side. Touche!
I think this issue became very pronounced for me when I studied at a very good, eclectic evangelical seminary that had outstanding scholars of different traditions teaching there. I studied under Calvinists, Arminians, Anabaptists, and Pentecostals (not to mention a few other persuasions). Each scholar had far more competency in theological and exegetical tools than I ever will. And yet they came to significantly different answers on many important questions. I learned to be very cautious in saying to another person - "your interpretation is unbiblical…"
(Now, back to the main line of this post...)
The objective-subjective "thing/difficulty" notwithstanding, evangelicals have rightly understood that the Scriptures are in a special category of truth. The Bible is Revealed Truth from God. It tells us things we would not be able to ferret out on our own. This is my position also.
Evangelicals believe that the truth within Scripture is normative and speaks in instructive and corrective ways. My position also.
Evangelicals believe it should be our life long quest to listen to the Scriptures, to sit with the truth of Scripture and to allow that truth to shape our lives. My position also.
To this (and more) I give a hearty assent, a yes and A-men.
However… and here is the FIRST major caveat I add…
ONE: I am not as convinced as I use to be, that evangelicals have rightly figured out how to engage with God's communication. I would say it this way. We have a very good doctrine of Revelation and a very weak doctrine of Illumination. We have a strong doctrine of the Normative Truth/Authority of the Bible and we have a very weak way of engaging that truth in illuminative and transforming ways.
I would say there are large parts of the evangelical movement whose minds are filled with reasonably right information about God, but whose hearts are much less transformed and touched by the Presence of God.
I would say there are large parts of the evangelical movement who have put their focus on understanding the Bible but have missed the greatest truth of the Bible - that the Main Thing is to encounter and experience the living God (Father, Son and Spirit) in transformative relationship.
I would say there are large parts of the evangelical movement who know a lot of doctrine intellectually, but who know very little of Jesus experientially. (Look, this isn't that heretical. J.I. Packer (Knowing God) made the same observation in the early 1970s and Henry Blackaby became famous with his book Experiencing God as he made the same observation. But neither of them were able to help us move very far forward in the actual encounter of God and the experience of transformative relationship with Christ.
I would say there are parts of the evangelical movement where the Bible is more important than Jesus. And for most of us, it is a lot easier for us to study and learn the Bible then it is to know and love Jesus, to follow and surrender to Christ.
As I said, we have majored on Revelation and in my experience, we haven't even minored on Illumination. So, we need to find guidance elsewhere for a good, robust doctrine of Spirit-led illuminative processes.
I think Ignatius (among others) shows us the way, through many useful methods of being illumined by the Word… which is one more reason why I am an Evangelical on the Ignatian Way of Proceeding…
Now, here is the SECOND caveat…
TWO: Evangelicals have also missed many other avenues where we can find God. We have neglected a variety of rich sources by which to find, discover, encounter and be transformed by God.
(1) We have neglected and actually been opposed to the emotional life as a place to find and encounter God. We have been rather scared of the subjectivity of emotions, and warning ourselves not to trust emotions or even visit them very much. (Good grief - what about the Psalms… the great repository of emotional experiences ever that are the place for spiritual encounters with God!)
(2) We have neglected the realm of longings and desires… again, just labeling them dangerously subjective and misguiding.
In other words, we have neglected one of the most obvious of places to find God… and that is within us, in our heart (i.e. total inner life) where the indwelling Christ lives and moves and has his being. Christ in us - which is the consistent witness of Scripture. For the most part - we haven't the foggiest idea how to find God within.
(3) We have neglected much of the realm of General Revelation. In other words, our Creator God is everywhere in His creation (although He is not the creation, just present in it) waiting to be encountered and enjoyed. Music, art, nature, science, and in fact - all of life. To borrow from Abraham Kuyper; not only is God the Lord of every square inch of creation and says "it is mine", but that same Lord God says, "and you may discover my rich presence hovering over and moving through and sustaining every square inch of creation, if you have eyes to see." We haven't had eyes to see. In fact, we haven't even been looking that direction.
(4) And we have neglected our experiences of life as the place to encounter God. This was one of Blackaby's ideas. God is at work in our experiences. Find out what God is doing and join in. This is the external realm of action and relationship. God is there at work. Our need is to notice, discern and respond well to God's activity.
Ignatius has a well developed spirituality that helps one pay attention to the work of God within (desires, emotions, the heart), in all of Creation (finding God in all things) and in one's external world of action/relationship (finding God there as well). Which is why, I am an Evangelical on the Ignatian Way of Proceeding…
So, this post is setting the stage for a number of forthcoming posts that will be on the Ignatian way of Finding God in the Scriptures, in our inner being, in the created world and in our daily activity.
Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International