In this fifth installment on James Houston’s The Mentored Life we (Scot McKnight and Brad Bergfalk), we will look at his first “positive” chapter, chp 5: Mentored and Discipled Christian Living.
The chapter is largely a statement of Kierkegaard’s theory of the development of the self.
In essence here it is: “He [Kierkegaard] interpreted the essential human condition as the failure to be the self one truly is” (87). The essential quest then is to discover the unity within the self for “truth is subjectivity” (89). This is not what it sounds like. It is directly connected, instead, to a life that that practices what it preaches. Genuine Christianity is Religion B, “the unique consequences actualized by the personal encounter with, and the response to, Jesus Christ.”
The self is the focus of the chapter.
The self is a relation that relates to itself, is established in an other and finds despair when it is not properly relating, and the self finds itself when it rests transparently in God who created the self.
As a mentor, Kierkegaard used examples and the Bible and he sought to live it out.
Since humans are essentially relational, sin is also relational and sin can be expressed with the word (which is huge for Kierkegaard) “despair.”
Stages of consciousness: aesthetic stage (heroic mentor), ethical stage (Stoic mentor), Religion A/nominal religious stage (God’s transcendence is dealt with) and then Religion B (love, trust, unity of self).
This was my favorite chapter in the book so far, though I still find his prose dense and incomplete at times. For me, this focus on the self as the heart of what faith is a welcome emphasis by Houston. Faith is what Stephen Shields calls transpropositional or what I call hyper-relational; it is more than “what” we believe and is only fully Christian when it overwhelms our entire being as we, in our innermost self, rest in God transparently — when we tell the truth to God about who we are and what we have done.
The focus on the self as the center of faith leads me to think that gospel preaching and personal work and ministry need to be more concerned with the “self” and less concerned with the observable features. That is, a transformed self will lead to structural change, but structural change can be accomplished without self-transformation.
I’m smitten by the idea that the self is only fully a self when it is transparently resting in God.
My first and immediate response to this chapter is that I’m glad it was
Scot’s turn to summarize this very dense discussion on Kierkegaard’s
view of “self” as the center of faith.
My second observation is I wonder whether or not James Houston actually
thinks he is writing to a lay audience and why in the world NavPress
published a book that heretofore could easily be confused with a primer
on spiritual theology (which in actual fact, it is).
My third observation, from my vantage point as a pastor in the local
church is what Houston is suggesting as a framework for understanding
the role of mentoring sounds alot like historic Pietism. Keirkegaard’s
insistence that authentic self is not so much based in what we know, but
how we live in relation to God and others sounds alot like Spener,
Wesley, and the Moravians when they suggest that authentic spirituality
is based in a “lived religion”.
The challenge of ministry in our day (which appears to be remarkably
similar to Kierkegaard’s) was summed up by a colleague of mine who
recently asked me how does one lead a congregation toward a missional
focus when the congregation is pretty content with the way things are.
That Houston should use Kierkegaard as the basis for a new model for
mentoring may suggest that the focal point of pastoral ministry may need
to shift toward the development of some new definitions of what being a
Christian in our contemporary culture actually means.