Any time a reviewer takes the time and effort to read and then write about another author’s book, that author has been honoured to a great degree. Thus, my first order of business here is to thank Randall Rauser for the time and care he took in going through this book.
With respect to the three main points of disagreement he raises, there are several things to say, beginning with the methodology of biblicism. First, in my defence I would have to say (as any normal eight-year-old might), “They started it!” Those with whom I am engaging throughout the polemic aspects of the book often explicitly assert they are seeking to follow the Bible, so I have here attempted to meet them on their own ground.
Second, I do not think I am totally open to the critique of being a biblicist. As Rauser says, I write that, “what the ‘world’ knows about mind and body needs to take a backseat to the biblical program of sanctification and transformation.” (143) Which means, to my mind, that what the world knows may often be insightful, beneficial, and so on – but when, let us say, a worldly practise comes up against a biblical practise, I think we ought to follow the biblical precept. In other words, I hope I am open to the “social sciences or other non-Christian sources of knowledge (e.g. evidence for the value of mindfulness; virtue theories of ethics) with respect to ‘transformation,’” but they need to be used with discretion. By the same token, I do not reject the three other strains of Wesley’s quadrilateral; rather, I believe that the Biblical record ought to take precedence over that of tradition, reason, and experience. (If memory serves, this was Wesley’s view as well.
For instance, if Paul tells us that practising “false humility” (a term the scholars tell us indicates ascetic activity) is harmful, then I assume he is correct, and understand that things like a personal discipline of fasting is not only needless, but also harmful (Colossians 2.18-23). To the degree that silence and solitude are also turned into “disciplines” which we now “ought to do on a regular basis,” since their advocates say they are designed to “allow us to somehow ‘find,’ or to ‘face,’ or reach an ‘understanding of himself’” (143), I think they will also be detrimental to the spiritual life.
I remember sitting through some teaching on this one morning, being told that Jesus went off to be alone and silent in order to find himself, and so on, and therefore we ought also to practise these disciplines in order to face, and to find, ourselves. I afterwards quickly went through the Gospels to find all the places where Jesus did that. Nowhere does it say he needed solitude or silence for the reasons cited. Rather, he went away to do things like mourn or to pray.
This is not to say that fasting, silence, and solitude have no place in a person’s life; naturally they all will. My worry is that to turn them into a personal ascetic practise – i.e., a spiritual discipline – is to allow them to become a hindrance to the spiritual life. To better understand why that is, please buy a copy of the book and read through pp 137-145.
Having said all that, I recognize I am a product of my Baptist culture, and the biblicist strain runs deep there. It is where I am most comfortable, and if this is the worst thing that can be said about my work, then I can live with that. Even so, Rauser is correct to push me out of my comfort zone in this area, because I believe that God’s truth can be found in all sorts of places in the world, including in non-Judeo-Christian sources.
Rauser’s second critique causes me the most pain – not because I think he is wrong, but because I fear he may be right. He says at times I am uncharitable in my polemic, and in my anger I may have sinned in this matter. Unhappily, Dr. Willard cannot be apologized to (having passed away in 2013), but I am sorry that I crossed a line here.
Even so, while my sin has no justification, I still think I was right to be angry. Rauser writes, “I don’t think his critique of Willard is fair. Nor am I persuaded that he establishes that Willard’s view of conversational prayer is ‘unbiblical … spiritually harmful, and detrimental to the spreading of the gospel. (110)” Later, however, Rauser will state that Willard’s teaching “results in the spiritualization of one’s own internal process of deliberation, but at worst it can lead to various sinful or unwise thought processes being baptized as the voice of God (72).” If this is not spiritually harmful, or potentially damaging for the gospel message, then I am missing something.
I also think I have established that Willard’s view is unbiblical, and Rauser’s own words in the second part of his blog seem to bear this out. Nevertheless, here we will simply have to disagree. Readers will need to get the book and decide for themselves.
With respect to omnicausality, I take Rauser’s critique to heart. In fact, I have been considering this, and if I write again it will be to tackle this very issue (there’s a nice bit of hubris for you). For now, I will leave it lie.
Again, Rauser’s critique of my pedantic tendencies is probably on target, even if they lay in my blind spot. On the other hand, I think sayings like the one cited (“Find out where God is at work, then join him in it”) have been part of our hallowed vocabulary for so long that we give them more of a pass than they deserve. The longer these sayings have been around, the more we invest unwarranted meaning into them. So, while I will try to do better and not be so pedantic, I will continue to argue that some pithy sayings are indeed problematic.
It is gratifying to see those places where Rauser agrees with my critique and analysis, because I have a lot of respect for him. One question I would have for him concerns his definition of “conversational prayer,” which he says there is still room for. In the way Willard and others have defined it, I would still want to throw it out with the bathwater. If, however, we want to simply say that God communicates to us through the Bible, dreams, other people, and so on, I would have no problem with that (though calling it a conversation may still introduce unnecessary confusion into the mix).
Rauser has done me a great service of teaching in two respects. First, he has pointed out some things I ought to be cognizant of (being a biblicist, pedantic, uncharitable, sometimes overstating my case), and this is all helpful. Second, he has shown me how to disagree with a fellow human being in a respectful, loving, indeed supportive, manner.
Sometimes I jokingly say that sarcasm is my spiritual gift. I recall reading through the letters of St Jerome one time. I loved that guy; he was so crusty and cranky. I figured if he could be a Catholic saint, with all his ranting and raving, that gave me some kind of license to wield my sarcasm (and other things) like a club. Of course, I was wrong. Better we follow someone less prone to sudden jags of temper. Thanks to Randall for being such an example.