Monday, August 14, 2006

Are Sheep Spiritual?

I have nothing against sheep, I think counting sheep is cool. But are they inherently spiritual? Last night at Xalt we spent an hour for about an hour talking about bikes and the spiritual life. Afterwards one woman remarked that she was surprised by how much of the spiritual life could be described in terms of bikes. I'm guessing if I'd spent the time on shepherds and sheep no one would be surprised. Are sheep inherently spiritual or have we lost the habit of understanding the spiritual in everyday terms?

- Peace


Ian McKenzie said...

While I think we have lost the habit of understanding the spiritual in everyday terms, I also think sheep make a good metaphor for the Christian experience. Not because they are inherently spiritual, but because they tend to epitomize sinfulness.

Drive through Jasper National Park and see Bighorn sheep licking salt off the middle of the Yellowhead, oblivious to the 18-wheel danger bearing down at 90 kph. Sheep will put themselves in harms way, to the point of death, for the sake of something that tastes good. Sheep are susceptible to being carried off by a predator and if left to their own devices, will generally get lost.

Sheep need a shepherd to guide them and to protect them, often from themselves. They bear a remarkable similarity to my spiritual life.

And if they don't work for you as a metaphor, they are pretty tasty with mint jelly. ;)

Richard said...

Of all the everyday things in the time of Jesus, sheep and shepherds seem to get more attention than the other everyday things (planting/harvest seems to be a close second).

I'm not a big believer in coincidences and would think that Our Lord chose sheep for very good reasons - Ian has brought out many of them.

I remember a friend saying that she didn't like the sheep metaphor because sheep were so stupid and totally dependent on the shepherd. I couldn't help but think that was the entire point.

I've read a little bit of the writings of Saint Francis de Sales and he uses many everyday metaphors (i.e. he had the habit of understanding the spiritual in everyday terms) to explain the faith in a clear fashion.

Perhaps the different metaphors are better suited to explaining different aspects of the Christian faith. The sheep/shepherd one, I would argue, seems particularly well suited to the idea that we are saved by God's grace and not by our good deeds.

(Just for the record, Roman Catholics does officially teach salvation by grace alone - Peter Kreeft explains the role of works by saying that we do not do good deeds to get into heaven, we do good deeds because heaven has gotten into us).

Dave King said...

Just to be clear I love the stories of Jesus, sheep, coins and all. And yes Ian has captured some of the main points.

But sheep are not everyday items for us, unless you live in Jasper, Banff or on a ranch.

The scriptures teach us to understand the spiritual in everyday terms and at some point we stoped doing that. Why?

- Peace

Michael said...

I think one reason we stopped (or hesitate) to use our own metaphors is a fear of misrepresenting the truth. The scriptures are under heavy attack at this time and for those who have been touched by Jesus we don't want to make the mistake of paraphrasing a spiritual truth in a way which may be misunderstood or heretical. Also, many churches I have been in are quite explicit about teaching from scripture alone (not a bad thing but it prohibits the possibility of using new metaphors).
If the Lord lives in us then we are seeing everything through new eyes but we don't always share our personal experience of it.
I’m not saying any of this is a good thing it’s just less complicated to quote teachings that are there and “approved” than to create new ones.

Richard said...

Dave, I think I missed the point because I was not in a Protestant mindset. Let me see if I understand correctly.

In the scriptures, Jesus spoke about the Kingdom in terms that were both insightful and everyday.

Two thousand years later, the truths and the insights of scripture remain and yet they are no longer everyday. I have no fattened calves to slaughter when wayward sons return home, I'm more familiar with the price of a house in Calgary relative to a barrel of oil than the relative value of a talent to a denarii, and the word dentist strikes more fear into my heart than two beams of wood nailed together. Conversely, Jesus didn't speak much about fetal stem-cell research or how to deal with terrorist warfare.

How to do as Jesus did? If we use everyday metaphors we use unscriptural metaphors and as michael says we risk getting it wrong. If we stick to scriptural metaphors, we get it right (if it was good enough for Jesus and Paul - it is good enough for me) at the cost of being everyday. I'm beginning to see the tension here.

Eugene Petersen alleviates much of that tension by offering dynamic translations over literal ones. Though I'm convinced if he had tried this any earlier he would have been reviled by most of the Protestant community rather than just a significant minority. (He still appears to have betrayed the ideals Reformation in his approach - though I'm not convinced he's going the wrong way).

Perhaps it took me so long to see this tension because it is not so deep in the Roman Catholic faith. We've got recent Papal encyclicals which speak specifically to the new issues of today and we've got canonized Saints held up as models who lived and breathed and spoke about the faith in an everyday fashion.

The Reformation removed much of these things so maybe we now have a three way tension (trilemma): Reformation emphasis on "scripture only", scriptural metaphors, and everyday metaphors. Pick two.

Dave King said...

Richard - JB Philips did this back in the day, and he had CS Lewis as a backer. The KJV only folks were outraged, the same group that didn't like the NIV and doesn't like Peterson. He was well received in the wider church. He was a major influence on Peterson. You make many assumptions about the larger Church body with little knowledge. This annoys you to no end when Protestants do this with the Roman Church.

Protestants have fellow Christians to look up to, this morning I read a Catholic writer who used Mother Teresa and Tony Campolo in the same line as examples. I doubt if I had presented my Sermon in the Language of biking at a Catholic Church that it would be received with any less surprise. If you'd like to test the theory talk to you priest.

- Peace

Richard said...

I assumed the larger Church had lost the habit of understanding the spiritual in everyday terms based on the last line of your post. My apologies if I misunderstood you.

The first thing that came to mind when I thought about understanding the spiritual in every day terms was the writings of Saint Francis de Sales. Many churches, which Michael refers to as "quite explicit about teaching from Scripture alone", would be unable to benefit from the writings of Saint Francis de Sales, CS Lewis, or Josh McDowell.

In any case, I make no assumptions about how many churches actually teach from Scripture alone. I'm only suggesting that the ones that do so gets in the way of understanding the spiritual in everyday terms.

If JB Phillips, Petersen, Lewis and understood and taught the spiritual in everyday terms, then I would argue they do not teach from Scripture alone.

Upon re-reading my comment about "betraying the ideals of the Reformation", it occurs to me that I may have a grossly deficient conception of what the ideals of the Reformation are (e.g. dynamic translations being incompatible with Sola Scriptura).

Though if that is the case, it might have been nice if someone were kind enough to have pointed this out to me before I decided to leave the Roman Catholic Church with the mistaken idea that I was embracing the ideals of the Reformation.

Dave King said...

I think church culture has lost the habit of understanding the spiritual in everyday terms. That doesn't mean that there haven't been those who keep trying to get us back to it.

We've been over the fact that Sola Scriptura doesn't mean what you seem to think it means. Translation is not at odds with Sola Scriptura or the reformation. Indeed it was William Tyndale, the father of the English reformation who first translated the Bible into everyday English. King James took his transalation and cleaned it up, making it respectable giving us the KJV.

I brought up JB Philips reference to point out that you have no real basis for this comment:

Eugene Petersen alleviates much of that tension by offering dynamic translations over literal ones. Though I'm convinced if he had tried this any earlier he would have been reviled by most of the Protestant community rather than just a significant minority.

- Peace

Richard said...

Thanks for clarifying. I apologize for my comment about Petersen's translations being unacceptable by earlier Protestant standards. You are right to say I have no basis for that comment.

We can discuss in greater detail our divergent views on Sola Scriptura (e.g. is Petersen violating it, do dynamic translations violate it, is my understanding sufficiently inaccurate to render decision to leave the Roman Catholic Church woefully uninformed) in another thread / conversation.

In the meantime, perhaps we can return to Michael's original observation that a Church which explicitly demands that all teaching and metaphors come from Scripture naturally loses the ability express the spiritual with everyday metaphors.