Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Theses on Sanctification

Theological Theses

  1. Sanctification is a growing knowledge and conviction of my own failure to meet the demands of God’s holy and perfect Law that occurs throughout a person’s Christian life.
  2. Along with knowing my sin more intimately, Sanctification is a growing trust on the merits of Christ alone for my salvation, and a growing despair of my own righteousness.
  3. Sanctification is evident in a growing internal motivation to serve our neighbor boldly in the power of the Holy Spirit, who has prepared these truly good works for our benefit.
  4. Service to neighbor in sanctification is not limited to “spiritual” activities or witnessing. #3 ought not to be understood as only a growing desire to verbally share our faith with others (though this does indeed occur) but a growing compassion for our neighbor, expressed through our various vocations.
  5. Because of the above, sanctification is a decrease on focus on the self (in favor of focus on Christ and Neighbor).
  6. Number 5 absolutely cannot be manufactured by trying hard, self-help, psychotherapy or other attempts at becoming a better person. In fact, these are antithetical to growth in sanctification as they direct one’s energy and attention to the self rather than the neighbor.
  7. Focusing on reducing the number of sins one commits as evidence of sanctification is counterproductive (try not to think about pink elephants).
  8. Sanctification does, however, involve active training. The confessions speak of fasting as “fine outward training” and Paul uses sports metaphors to describe the Christian life as requiring human effort. Life is not static.
Psychological theses

  1. Much human behavior is automatic and not directly controlled by the conscious “will.” This can be seen most clearly in patients who have their behavior manipulated artificially (chemically or electrically) who then report post facto explanations for their behavior. The conscious mind often gives meaning to our behavior that is directed by the brain without conscious awareness. To use a computer metaphor, there are many processes going on behind the scenes when we operate a computer that are not accessible to the user. In the same way, the brain is processing information and directing behavior that is not in the conscious awareness.
  2. Many use the fact that behavior is largely not consciously controlled to argue that free will is an illusion. The underlying processes of our brains are indeed largely genetically programmed, however, they are also open to change through experience and practice. Many behaviors (driving, riding a bike, grammar, etc.) become a largely automatic through practice. The brain conserves resources by automatizing functions that previously required effort.
  3. Additionally, how we perceive the world is dependent upon our associations. This is not just the memory of events, but memory of how things work (procedural memory) which influence how we perceive events. When these differences vary systematically by culture, they are easier to see. For example, White and Black Americans have different cultural expectations about the physical distance between two people in a conversation. Violating these expectations (standing too close) will be reflexively attributed to the other person (this person is rude, aggressive, aloof, etc.) How we see the world is dependent upon our experience and upbringing.
  4. Similarly, our perception of events will be determined by how we have been trained to think.

Integrative theses

  1. Training the brains associations happens through repetition, not through force of will. Catechism, steeping the mind in scripture, liturgical prayer, hearing scripture read and expounded, all serve to train the brain well (Philippians 4:8).
  2. Christians can use secular material, movies, music, books, etc. and through discernment, discover what is good in them, this ought not be the pattern of new Christians, children or the spiritually immature. Even the mature should be careful not to fill the mind excessively with ‘dark’ things. C. S. Lewis talked about reading one old book between every new book you read, or at least one old book for every 3 new books. Similarly here, we ought to be in the habit of refreshing our minds with what is good frequently.
  3. Conversely, we can prepare ourselves to fall into sin through our consumption of media. Realistic video can be used to desensitize an individual from the natural revulsion to killing. Songs with explicit sexual content can normalize inappropriate sexual behavior and make lower one’s resistance to inappropriate behavior should a compromising situation present itself. We can train ourselves about what is “normal” and “appropriate.”
  4. No amount of training, without the Holy Spirit, will result in Sanctification. It will result in civil righteousness and self-righteousness. Thus, learning to trust in the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf is equivalent to the process of being made holy, which, like Justification, is wholly God's work.

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11 Comments:

Blogger Pablo said...

"Number 5 absolutely cannot be manufactured by trying hard, self-help, psychotherapy or other attempts at becoming a better person. In fact, these are antithetical to growth in sanctification as they direct one’s energy and attention to the self rather than the neighbor."
Unless you help yourself first you won't be able to help your neighbor. I don't believe sanctification can be manufactured by self help or psychotherapy but I also don't think they are antithetical.

8:13 PM  
Anonymous Pr K said...

Kletos: This is great stuff. Thanks for thinking this through. Cheers!

Pablo: Not my blog, but I think you need to reconsider your take on #5--what Kletos is saying is that putting the focus on self is not what sanctification is about.

11:15 AM  
Blogger Kletos Sumboulos said...

This comment was accidentally left on my previous post, but intended for this one...by Theophilia...

One problem with your post here is that it presents mainstream psychology as having a uniform perspective regarding human nature and human will. Actually, it is all over the map with regard to human will (from determinism, e.g. Freud to full free will, e.g. Carl Rogers) and human nature. Therefore, I would hesitate to say that psychotherapy is antithetical to sanctification. Psychotherapy can be God's tool to remove our impediments to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. IMHO.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Paul T. McCain said...

I would think your theses would be considerably stronger if you used Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. The theses on psychology and stuff might be better in a separate set of theses.

I think you have some good thoughts here, but they still do not adequately reflect Scripture and the Confessions.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Kletos Sumboulos said...

Thank y'all for your comments.
To be more clear, I wrote these theses as a response to a very common understanding within Christian psychology that equates therapy (as conducted by a Christian) with the process of sanctification. See my post here that argues against understanding Christian psychologists as "experts in applied sanctification." I think there are differences between being good, having a stable emotional life, and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Since becoming a Lutheran, and beginning my gradute studies at exactly the same time, I've been wresting with the nature of Sanctification, especially in relation to what I know about learning (hence the integrative theses).
Indeed, I've put these thoughts in a single list because my vocation is that of a student of psychology.

My concern is this: how were we created, and does how our minds work have any implications for our discussion of sanctification?

Pr. McCain, I promise that when I write this in book form Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions (1st Ed. with special clarification insert) will be well referenced. These are for discussion only (I don't think I'm doing disputation correctly...)

In regard to Theophilia's comment, I'm not arguing that free will is or is not an illusion. Just that practiced behavior becomes automatic and even influenced perception. Do you have a different perspective on those two points?

1:32 PM  
Anonymous theophilia said...

I'd jump in with more comments, but I'm trying to focus on studying for the EPPP. So maybe after I'm licensed I'll come back to this discussion...

8:04 PM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

I found this entry to be helpful. I am a pastor my daughter has a master's in psychology and so I appreeciate any thingh that helps me beeter integrate the two.

11:54 AM  
Blogger solarblogger said...

#9 and #10 provide some good food for thought.

I think you're right to ask "What are we, as created beings?" For sometimes psychology might show how a particular idea of how conversion should lead to changes in behavior might be seen to be a rationalistic speculation which goes aground on the rocks of reality. Even if an individual is in a position to make any number of changes, the idea that the individual is at the same level of conscious awareness all throughout the day is an illusion.

Likewise, I wonder if some who are more self-aware in certain senses might imagine themselves more obedient, when they're really just starting with a different set-up, one which might require sanctification of a different sort—a freeing up from so much self regard. (P.S. That's not aimed at anyone in particular.)

10:54 PM  
Blogger Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

I might be wrong, because they are expressed so broadly...but #1 sounds like contrition to me...and #2 seems more closely related to justification.

I really like #4 and think it is dead on.

Thank you for sharing these. They richly contribute to the ongoing discussion on sanctification.

#5 does follow from that...look at how Luther phrased his meanings to the 10 Commandments "We are to fear and love GOD so that we...." We focus on seeing our neighbor through God's eyes. It is amazing the compassion that we can have on people who seem compassionless when we focus on how Christ died for them, too, and so loves them with a love that goes beyond bounds....and when we have a realization of how sinful we really are.

#15 is not focused on enough, in my opinion, in discussions regarding sanctification. Chrysostom had a lot to say on this.


I like what you had to say about #14, too. What comes to mind is that a few years ago, I read a book called "The Surrendered Wife." It was a completely secular book about what it means to submit to your husband (the author wouldn't have used those words exactly), but it was the clearest example that I have ever seen from that in modern literature. Not everything was perfect (I did have to discern) but it enriched my marriage a lot, and contained a lot of wisdom in an area where few are brave enough to tread in this modern world.

11:47 PM  
Blogger Kepler said...

Why are you wasting your time doing this?? Get back to work on your dissertation!

8:14 AM  
Blogger Bob Waters said...

Strongly disagree with Pablo. "Trying harder" focuses on the self, and takes the attention away from Christ. Moreover it misses the crucial point that sanctification is driven by the Gospel, not the Law.

Guilt may restrain us from committing certain outward acts, but one cannot change one's heart
by an effort of the will. Only gratitude (worked by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel) can do that.

We love because He first loved us- not because we feel guilty about not loving!

6:41 PM  

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