Friday, May 04, 2007

Where's Your Head At?

If Thomas à Kempis had lived in the 21st century, this may have been the question he asks of his readers. In other words, what is most important to you? Where do your priorities lie? In his very first devotion in "Imitation of Christ", Thomas goes right for the jugular in suggesting that there is no higher calling for a person than to follow Jesus. Compared to this calling, all other pursuits fade into insignificance.

Following Jesus may seem like a simple task, but the devil is truly in the details. I mean, how do we follow Jesus? And even if we know how to follow Jesus, how do we know that we are truly following him? Is it possible to delude ourselves into believing that we are faithful disciples when in reality we are undermining his work?

In order to resolve the dilemmas mentioned above, Thomas proposes that the teachings of Jesus should be our starting point. However, unless we truly seek to model our lives around that of the Exemplar, his words will remain obscured to us. Like the man who built his house upon the rock, we will be able to truly savour the words of Jesus when we not only hear his teachings, but also seek to put them into practice.

For Thomas à Kempis, the Christian walk is first and foremost about praxis. In order to stress his point even more forcefully, he asks:

What good can it do you to discuss the mystery of God the Trinity in learned terms if you lack the humility and so displease that God? Learned arguments do not make a man holy and righteous, whereas a good life makes him dear to God. I would rather feel compunction in my heart than be able to define it. If you knew the whole Bible off by heart and all the expositions of scholars, what good would it do you without the love and grace of God?

Thomas stops just short of suggesting that the pursuit of theological knowledge is intrinsically bad, but as we shall see in the next devotion, he way well cross this line. However, at the very least it is clear that Thomas rejects the pursuit of theological knowledge as being of paramount importance in our discipleship.

Thomas concludes this devotion by talking about the supremacy of the eternal over the temporal. We are to seek the Kingdom of God before anything else. It would appear that we can only do this by rejecting the things of this world. There is no room for middle ground. We must choose one or the another. We cannot have a little bit of both.

For Thomas à Kempis, living up to the calling we have received involves both a positive and a negative focus. Positively, we must make the express decision not simply just to hear Jesus' teachings, but also to follow them. Negatively, we must make the express decision to reject the things of this world. There is no room to believe that we can truly pursue Jesus and the things of this world at the same time.

So, what does this make me think of my own Christian journey? Not much. Lamentably, there have been countless times when I have failed to follow Jesus as I should. There have also been countless times when I have pursued the things of this world and in so doing have become possessed by them. It's starting to become quite clear that this discipleship thing seems much harder than one might originally think. I think it will take my entire life (and then some) before I can truly call myself a disciple of Jesus.


Anonymous said...

Learned arguments do not make a man holy and righteous, whereas a good life makes him dear to God. - Thomas à Kempis

"For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 5:20

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy... - Titus 3:5

Anonymous said...

And even if we know how to follow Jesus, how do we know that we are truly following him? - David Castor

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God... - Romans 8:16

David Castor said...

Hey Dave, welcome to my blog. I hope you feel at home here and hope you feel comfortable enough to disagree with me if necessary.

Regarding the Thomas à Kempis quote, it don't think that he is promoting a works-based justification. I think that he is merely stressing the importance of discipleship in the Christian journey. This was also a theme in the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Would you agree that discipleship is of paramount importance in the Christian life?

Regarding my own quote, I think of discipleship in quite absolute terms. I would like to think that I am moving closer toward the point where I call myself a true disciple, but I don't think that the term "disciple" necessary applies to me now. The most that I can say is that I am seeking to be a disciple.