Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Worthy of Imitation 1

StAntony.jpgProtestants are nervous about the famous saints of the church, and they are nervous for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that veneration of saints by some in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions exceeds what is to be said of humans and diminishes (by default) what is said of Christ. But, those excesses do not diminish the powerful stories of those whom God has used mightily. Chris Armstrong has the perfect book for this issue: Patron Saints for Postmoderns: Ten from the Past Who Speak to Our Future
. Armstrong introduces us to ten saints, some of whom are not always on the top one hundred saints lists. This book would serve as an excellent textbook for Sunday school classes, for adult Bible studies, and for reading in a college course on Church history. The genius of the book is to teach church history while keeping us in touch with spiritual formation.

What have you learned from the monastics? What do you think are the dangers of the monastic life? Which monastic example has helped you the most? (Which saint, which Rule, etc?) How does the monastic life provide an example for those of us who are not monastics? What have you learned from Antony?
He begins with St Antony of Egypt (the monastery resting on his burial site is above) and Armstrong’s focus is on monasticism and its powerful example for Christian living today.  Perhaps the most telling story of St Antony, told by Athanasius (St. Antony of the Desert
), is that while we remember Augustine’s conversion most from the “take and read” line, he was in that garden because of the challenging story of St. Antony that shook him to his core.


Antony was from a wealthy family, gave it all up and pursued a monastic life — first just outside the city in Egypt, then in a more reclusive place, and then even later on the slope of a mountain (see the picture above). The paradox of Antony’s life is that the life of separation made him much more powerful in society, and his place in the desert became a city because so many wanted to be with him. As a person or as a result of seeing the man’s life, “many aspired to become imitators of his way of life” (25). His example abides and continues to challenge.
What Antony teaches us — or at least me — is the importance of withdrawal. Not in order to get away from people simply but in order to serve with deeper wisdom. Monastic wisdom is relational wisdom that emerges out of time alone, time away, space to think and prayer and ponder and struggle with God. The time of separation prepares one for the time of engagement.
Armstrong emphasizes two elements of the monastic life: discipline of one’s whole life and dependence wholly on God’s grace. No one exhibits this more than St Antony’s, whose biography is at the core of the entire monastic movement. More so than even St Benedict and St Francis.
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Tim Ball

posted September 7, 2009 at 7:03 am

Not an “Official” saint, but by far my favourite “monastic”, is Brother Lawrence of, “the Practise of the Presence Of God” fame. A “lowly” Carmelite Lay Brother from 1666 – 1691, at Paris.
Here was someone who’s total dedication to God earned him such respect and admiration of others, that various letters and conversations with him were published at the recommendation of the then Archbishop of Paris.
The fact that these “simple” writings are still in print speaks for itself.
Here is an example well worth following.

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posted September 7, 2009 at 8:01 am

In Christian History (issue 64), Mark Galli wrote:
“For a thousand years hence, Antony was considered the spiritual best that ever was, the prototypical monk and the new Adam, an example of what God could do through one devout soul.
As such, Antony inspired the monastic movement, which more than any other Christian institution, is responsible for evangelizing and then Christianizing Europe…”
That same article mentions Antony’s courage when, during a persecution of Christians in 311 AD, he still went to minister to those on trial and in prison. The authorities were hesitant to touch Antony however, because they were possibly concerned how his martyrdom might impact the public.
In regards to the monastics throughout history, I have a high regard for St. Patrick and St. Columba, and those they encouraged to reach Ireland, Scotland, etc… Although not perfect, and although not always clear historically, they do seem to have reached a good balance of the strengths of monastic life, combined with an outward mindset (that is not to say some other monastic movements were not outward minded).

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posted September 7, 2009 at 8:35 am

One more thought, this time in regards to:
“What Antony teaches us — or at least me — is the importance of withdrawal. Not in order to get away from people simply but in order to serve with deeper wisdom. Monastic wisdom is relational wisdom that emerges out of time alone, time away, space to think and prayer and ponder and struggle with God. The time of separation prepares one for the time of engagement.”
That time of withdrawl, time alone with God, happened to be what our pastor spoke about yesterday. People find it hard to make time for short times away, let alone extensive times of withdrawl. However, he stressed the importance of that time, and he mentioned that the on-going pattern/cycle of Jesus looked to be withdrawl, community, then more public ministry (speaking, healing, etc…).

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Scott W

posted September 7, 2009 at 9:18 am

One thing that is lost is a wholistic understanding of monasticism, that is, a sociocultural and theological understanding of what is represented in its world. It’s instructive that they and their interpreters called this the “evangelical life” because they saw themselves as the inheritors of true way-of-being-in-the-world of Jesus in their context, which highlighted the centrality of Gospel praxis as the basis of the Christian life in a age in which Christianity was compromised as the Imperial religion.
Evangelicalism has largely been assimilated to “American” values and lost that sense of the radical nature of Jesus’ calls to us which constitutes a questioning of what we often so carelessly call “Christian”. For an excellent treatment of this as it portends to the Bible read this book: The Word in the Desert:Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Early Christian Monasticism by Douglas Burton-Christie.

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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted September 7, 2009 at 10:47 am

St. Francis and the Franciscans, especially in their earlier expressions, stand as a great example for me. While technically not monastics, but rather mendicants, Franciscans combined the contemplative traditions with vibrant missional engagement, especially in the urban centers. From them I have learned (among many other things) how a communal commitment to life among the people we are called to serve and preach is a powerful approach to missional life.
Two dangers of monasticism come to mind. First, a danger inherent in our culture (not in monasticism itself) is how often people take interest in the monastic life out of novelty. In the Franciscan third order of which I am a brother it is not uncommon for people to express interest in monasticism in large part out of a desire to wear a habit. Strange, but many shallow motivations & trends can be the appeal for many.
The second danger that comes to mind is that solitude becomes isolation. Solitude can become dangerous when it does not find itself place within the fuller expression of Christian life and community. St. Antony’s example is wonderful because his solitude contributed to a movement of people who were inspired by his example and teaching, leading to their contribution of building the Church in mission (which answers your question about what I have learned from him).
I think non-monastic Christians have a great deal to learn from monastics, including third order monastics. In fact, we can trace many aspects of the Reformation (and especially the Radical Reformation) to the traditions of third order monasticism.

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Darren King

posted September 7, 2009 at 11:02 am

I am nervous about Protestants who are nervous about the saints.
Seriously though, to often this arises from a weird fear that its going to turn into ancestor worship. Or, also very common, this fear that we’re going to start seeing this as a way of “earning” salvation – acting all “saintlike”.
Both ideas are just overblown silliness.
Look to the hills… Find someone ahead of you on the trail… Do what they’re doing to get where they are, and where they’re going.
It’s as simple as that.

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Clay Knick

posted September 7, 2009 at 11:19 am

I love this book and am reading it now. I’m about half way through it.
Love it.

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Gwen Meharg

posted September 7, 2009 at 11:55 am

The first time I became aware of Saints was when my friend, Kara Jean Edgell, chose a confirmation name. I think it was Rose, that was 40 years ago! As a SBC girl I was intrigued and probably a bit judgmental. Recently Dana Gioia shared at the opening of an art competition. It was a lovely talk that is free to listen to at
ANyway, he is Catholic which freaked out more than a few people there. He said his favorite thing about Saints is that they were normal people who made good. No matter who you are, you can find a Saint you can relate to who lived an extraordinary life to the glory of God.
I have been very pleased to find out reading Square Halos that St. Francis was not a bird Saint, but that the birds represented various people groups. I’ve incorporated that knowledge into some of my work.
It is VERY helpful to read outside one’s own tradition. (I think it was Kevin Giles that said something to the effect of, ‘What if an evangelical EVER read a book written by someone who was NOT an evangelical.’) I’ve been Michal looking out my window judging other traditions. I hope I have grown out of that (at least most of the time.)

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Thom Hunter

posted September 7, 2009 at 11:57 am

I enjoyed your post and might even read the book. It’s a subject I’ve given little thought too actually, although I’ve known some men who were intrigued by the idea of a monastic existence. However, it seems many times that the appeal is escape rather than service and reflection of God’s glory. It may be because I deal so much in the realm of men who have fallen so deeply into the world’s control and wish for freedom. I’m nor sure that isolation and solitude is the freedom that many need in this day and time but it certainly is an idea worthy of consideration with proper motive and calling.

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John W Frye

posted September 7, 2009 at 12:39 pm

It was pointed out to me that Protestants are stunned to discover that spirituality did not begin with Luther and Calvin. I agree with the comment above that I am nervous about Protestants who are nervous about (pre-Reformation) fathers and mothers.
I think that Scot makes great observation—solitude and silence are disciplines of abstinence (from people and from talk/noise) that are intended to promote a vigorous spirituality that then engages others/society with wisdom from above.

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Andy W.

posted September 7, 2009 at 8:10 pm

During my evangelical upbringing, I never quite understood this idea of the monastic life and quite frankly I did not think well of it. This was really based on ignorance. As few years back I read “The Mountain of Silence” by Kyriacos C. Markides. What a wonderful book! This opened my eyes to a world that I wish I had known more about years ago.

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posted September 8, 2009 at 12:05 am

This book looks very interesting, and I’m adding it to my list.
Its goals seem similar to that of an excellent book I took our small group through last year. Called _Water from a Deep Well_ by Gerald Sittser, it goes through the history of Christianity by focusing on one spiritual strength from every era. Before reading this book, I had never heard of Desert fathers or mendicants or icons. It was a wonderful expansion of the “saints” that have gone before me.

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D.L. White

posted September 8, 2009 at 1:51 am

It seems that many monks were very mission minded. And even the ones that stayed much of their time within monastic walls indirectly contributed to mission by copying and preserving copies of the Bible and other important texts. Then in the barbarian waves of invasions that hit Europe (think Huns and others) they hid the books until the danger was past and they could be read again. Praise God.

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Richard W. Wilson

posted September 8, 2009 at 2:34 am

My first thought was that any time a spiritual relationship with God through Jesus Christ is “systematized,” “institutionalized, or “inter-personalized” in relation to the experience or practice of a particular saint (or theological tradition) there is an immediate and almost unavoidably dangerous and deceptive, even idolatrously seductive, dynamic present. Ouch. No matter how sincerely and simply the particular saint (or theologian) may have humbly related to the free grace of God in Christ, there almost inevitably emerges in those who attempt to reproduce those dynamics in their spiritual lives the specter of spiritual pride. Hey, I’ve been accused of trying to save myself, which I have found completely laughable since God imposed his presence in my life and I found I couldn’t help but submit to his lordship, so don’t get me wrong here. Striving for humility in my relations with others, not to mention God, has not been a pursuit for which I’ve been known for laudable success either, so I’m sure there is much I can learn from even the most obscure or ?systematized? relationship with God. Even though saintly examples of dependence on God’s grace can encourage us, being encouraged by a saints example and being inspired to follow h-is/-er example in the specifics of h-is/-er spiritual discipline may be two different things. At what point does following a saint become divergent from following Christ? That may not be clear or apparent in any particular circumstance, but asking the question and diligently pursuing an answer may be more valuable than many suppose, and ultimately more productive of spiritual maturity than emulating any saint.
All the best to all in Christ,
Richard W. Wilson
body of Christ, St. Louis, MO, USA

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posted September 8, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Evangelicals seem to be almost entirely unaware of saints other than those mentioned in the Bible. As a consequence, they are more likely to know about Old Testament saints than any others. How else would someone like Jabez get such press? Why else would Ruth or Esther or the anonymous woman of Proverbs 31 be so significant in Womens’ Bible Studies, but Mary, the Theotokos, often as not gets a pass?
Scot, you yourself once said, “It is no trivial matter that evangelicals have quartered Church history and excluded the first three quarters.” I’m glad you’re pointing us to resources that can help remedy this problem. I’m no longer certain that Evangelicalism can be rescued, but perhaps you can get people on some life rafts before the ship finally sinks.

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Chris Armstrong

posted September 9, 2009 at 12:13 am

Thank you for your kind words about my book. I’d be happy to dialogue with folks about its themes and saints.
For a briefer version of what I discovered in my research on Antony of Egypt, readers can also check out my recent _Leadership Journal_ article at
I do find that evangelicals, including many of my students here at Bethel Seminary, misunderstand the monastic impulse on many levels, and I enjoy peeling back the layers of those misunderstanding and introducing them to Antony, Benedict, Francis, and the rest.
If you or any of your co-bloggers, readers, or “lurkers” would like to address questions or comments to me, I’ll be happy to engage them here.
Chris Armstrong

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Chris Armstrong

posted September 9, 2009 at 10:25 am

Here’s a short summary on the theme of Gregory and the busy-ness of our secular vocations: .

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