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The Theology of Changing

One of the seemingly essential elements of the theology of the Christian life is the claim that, in Christ people are able to be transformed in their existential existence in the world.  While most Christians would deny any sort of crude notion of perfectionism, most Christians, even the most strongly reformed ones, would surely maintain that in the Christian life growth and change is in fact a possibility that can be realized.

Now, on one level it is easy to observe certain kinds of changes that do take place in the Christian life.  The now-converted promiscuous college student will probably not have insurmountable problems cutting frivolous sexual exploits out of his life and the now-converted lawyer can certainly find a morally acceptable occupation without much existential crisis.  However, examples like this are simply examples of behavior modification, not of a true existential experience of personal change.  What I’ve noticed is that, for the most part, the things people struggle with in life are pretty much the same things they struggled with all of their lives.  So and so may not sleep around anymore, but she still finds a way to idolize romance. 

The question that I have then, is simply this:  How do people really change?  What sorts of events, relationships, practices, encounters, and decisions actually contribute to an existential transformation of people’s mode of existence in the world?  What kind of change is actually possible in the Christian life?  In short, what kind of transformation of life should we expect over the course of a well-lived Christian life, and where and how do seek after that?

6 Comments

  1. Freder1ck wrote:

    Theology can outline what changes can be made, but knowing that theology is not what changes a person. I know. I tried it.

    Friday, March 28, 2008 at 3:56 pm | Permalink
  2. axegrinder wrote:

    You’ve asked some questions that I’ve spent much time pondering, having spent much time amongst Pentecostals and then Wesleyans/Methodists.

    I am an Anglican now and find much solace in the sacraments, liturgy and Daily Office. They provide time and place markers for us to remember and employ as points from which to move forward.

    I believe that any existential change takes place via a combination of committed participation in the life of the Church (attendance at divine worship, confession and spiritual conversation/accountability), and personal attendance on the disciplines of prayer, fasting, Scripture study, and spiritual/theological/devotional reading.

    I’m still working all of this stuff out. I definitely recognize the place of the body in the life of the soul. Sometimes we have physical problems that make holiness much more difficult. I am growing in my appreciation of doctors, medications, counselors/psychologists/psychiatrists and a responsible stewardship of our health regarding diet, exercise, etc.

    Friday, March 28, 2008 at 10:14 pm | Permalink
  3. Hill wrote:

    Very well said, axegrinder. I wanted to suggest something very similar myself, but you’ve done it for me.

    Friday, March 28, 2008 at 11:43 pm | Permalink
  4. Kien wrote:

    A related question is how existential change takes place in respect of an entire community, not just a single individual. The gospel, as I understand it, is about the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. How do nations respond to the call to acknowledge the authority of the lord of lords, the king of kings? How do Christian communities proclaim the gospel by the way they relate to one another, and to others in the community who are not Christians?

    How does “existential change” take place at the level of the community? To what extent can NGOs like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Medicin Sans Frontier, etc – with a mission of caring for the weak, the political prisoner, the hungry, the poor – trace their origins to Jesus original proclamation that the Kingdom of God has arrived?

    Saturday, March 29, 2008 at 5:41 am | Permalink
  5. Geoff wrote:

    What kind of change?

    I suppose the kind that Screwtape abhors so much, the kind that obeys God as a matter of course even when all evidence or sense of his presence or love is absent.

    Saturday, March 29, 2008 at 6:31 pm | Permalink
  6. I think that’s a myopic view of change in the Christian world. What about my friend who was in prison for life before getting saved and now he’s out and a pastor. Before he went to prison he was caught dipping an infant into a fish aquarium to squeeze money out of a drug dealer, now he can’t talk about his children without tearing up. That’s huge change.

    We don’t only see change like this in anecdotal stories, we see this in the early saints.

    Monday, March 31, 2008 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

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