« continued from previous page
It was then that I began to realize the importance of letting biblical ideas impact on my imagination and experience. I read some words of a medieval writer, Geert Zerbolt van Zutphen (1367-1400), who stressed the importance of meditating on Scripture. Not understanding, but meditating. Here is what he had to say.
Meditation is the process in which you diligently turn over in your heart whatever you have read or heard, earnestly reflecting upon it and thus enkindling your affections in some particular manner, or enlightening your understanding.
Words like these brought new light and life to my reading of the Bible. I had thought that meditation was some kind of Buddhist practice that was off-limits for Christians. Yet I had failed to notice how often Old Testament writers spoke of meditating on God’s law. Meditation was about letting the biblical text impact upon me, “enkindling the emotions” – what a wonderful phrase! – and “enlightening the understanding”. And my heart, as well as my mind, was to be involved! The worlds of understanding and emotion were brought together, opening the door to a far more authentic and satisfying way of living out the Christian life.
So how do we ensure that the riches of Christian theology nourish our hearts, as well as our minds? Let’s look at just one way in which we can do this. Theology affects the way in which we live. An excellent example is provided by the Christian vision of the New Jerusalem, which is meant to encourage us to lift our eyes upwards, and focus them on where Christ has gone before us. Paul makes this point as follows in his letter to the Colossians:
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).
Our belief concerning the New Jerusalem ought to encourage us to behave as people who are looking forward to finally being with Christ, and to view the world accordingly.
In a series of addresses given to the InterVarsity Mission Convention at Urbana, Illinois, in 1976, John Stott developed the importance of the hope of glory for theology, spirituality, and especially evangelism. His addresses issued a clarion call for the recovery of this leading theme of the Christian faith, and its application to every aspect of our present Christian lives.
Lift up your eyes! You are certainly a creature of time, but you are also a child of eternity. You are a citizen of heaven, and an alien and exile on earth, a pilgrim travelling to the celestial city.
I read some years ago of a young man who found a five-dollar bill on the street and who “from that time on never lifted his eyes when walking. In the course of years he accumulated 29,516 buttons, 54,172 pins, 12 cents, a bent back and a miserly disposition.” But think what he lost. He couldn’t see the radiance of the sunlight, the sheen of the stars, the smile on the face of his friends, or the blossoms of springtime, for his eyes were in the gutter. There are too many Christians like that. We have important duties on earth, but we must never allow them to preoccupy us in such a way that we forget who we are or where we are going.
Stott encourages us to renew our acquaintance with the glory that awaits us, and begin to anticipate its wonder—and allow that to impact upon us now.
My concern in this brief paper has been to offer some preliminary reflections on the importance of relating our minds and hearts, and some thoughts on how we might go about doing this. Happily, others have developed such insights in much greater detail! Theology offers us a firm foundation upon which we may build, ensuring that the great riches and truths of the gospel stimulate and nourish our minds, emotions, and imaginations. Yet we cannot abandon the building once the foundation has been laid; the superstructure must be erected, and inhabited. Paul wrote these words: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). I pray that we may know the full reality of that “surpassing greatness”, and that it may inspire us and encourage us as we journey on the road to the New Jerusalem.
1. For my reflections on the inadequacies of my spiritual life and some lessons I learned in consequence, see Alister McGrath, The Journey: A Pilgrim in the Lands of the Spirit (New York: Doubleday, 2000), and Knowing Christ (New York: Doubleday, 2002).
2. For a survey of the issues and potential solutions, see Alister E. McGrath, Christian Spirituality: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1999).