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Entries in Passing Through (3)


The Wisdom of the Prudent

Jeremy Walker, in his book Passing Through, discusses the importance of knowing our enviornment. If we are pilgrims in this world, then we need to understand it. One of the things we need is wisdom, which begins with the fear of the Lord. Walker says that the fear of the Lord is, "the awareness of living before God that gives rise to a love of pleasing Him and a hatred and horror of offending Him."

Walker quotes Matthew Henry regarding the wisdom that we need, reflecting on the good conduct of a wise and good man:

"... he manages himself well. It is not the wisdom of the learned, which consists only in speculation, that is here recommended, but the wisdom of the prudent, which is practical, and is of use to direct our counsels and actions. Christian prudence consists in a right understanding of our way; for we are travellers, whose concern it is, not to spy wonders, but to get forward toward their journey's end. It is to understand our own way, not to be critics and busybodies in other men's matters, but to look well to ourselves and ponder the path of our feet, to understand the directions of our way, that we may observe them, the dangers of our way, that we may avoid them, the difficulties of our way, that we may break through them, and the advantages of our way, that we may improve them -- to understand the rules we are to walk by and the ends we are to walk towards, and walk accordingly.

I like that phrase "to ponder the path of our feet." Considering thoughtfully where we are going and what we are doing can only be helpful as we live as pilgriims.


Remember, we are pilgrims

Our identity as pilgrims is what Jeremy Walker focuses on in the second chapter of his book Passing Through. He opens the chapter with an illusion to Homer:

Homer's epic poem The Odyssey tells of the hero navigating his ship between two monters called Scylla and Charybdis, in which steering away from one usually meant falling prey to the other. The Christian in the world faces a similar challenge. A sense of our identity as pilgrims will help us to navigate between the Scylla of isolation and the Carybdis of emulation, as well as the aimless drift of inattention.

First, Walker points to the biblical principle that we are strangers and aliens, that this world is not our eternal home (Psalm 119:19; I Peter 2:11; Phil. 3:17-4:1; Heb. 11:10). Then, he give some examples from church history where this principle has been developed, referring to Augustine, Calvin, and Spurgeon. He spends a bit of time exploring Bunyan's pilgrim motif in The Pilgrim's Progress. He emphasizes that when Christian approaches Vanity Fair, he must go through it in order to get to the Celestial City. In other words, we must go through this world in order to get to our eternal home. We are not meant to cast off our identity as pilgrims as we go through this world, but we must pass through.

The church must be itself, i.e., a "celestial colony," as Walker puts it. We are present, but passing through:

We need to grasp that we are both present in but passing through this world, taking into account the various conceptions hidden in the word. We are to be properly separate from the world and yet sincerely engaged with it. We must not err on either side. Again, some professing and genuine Christians seem to have missed the principle of holy separation, while other appear to have missed the principle of holy engagement.

When I was converted, it was 1985, and I was 20 years old. As I watched my contemopraries, I observed that there were activities and attitudes that were not suitable for someone who called herself a Christian. I actively chose to separate myself from some of those things. When I look at young people in their 20's now, I can see that they feel no such need to separate themselves as I did. Things that my husband and I would have considered unholy practices are embraced by young people in the name of Christian freedom. Of course, we cannot be the Holy Spirit in another's life, and we are called on to be gracious while holding fast to biblical truth. It is a delicate balancing act to be a pilgrim, but one which I believe God has equipped us to do. 


Flawed Relationships With the World

I just began reading Jeremy Walker's book Passing Through: A Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness. Lately, I have thought a lot about what it means to be stranger and alien here on earth. Sometimes, when things are going well, it's easy to take more comfort from our earthly home than remembering that this is not our eternal home.

In the opening chapter, Walker defines what the world is, pointing out that the Bible describes it in a creative sense, an extensive sense, i.e., the human inhabitants on earth, and the ethical sense. Later in the chapter, he describes three flawed ways of how we relate to the world.

First, isolation, whereby we ignore the world, and cloister ourselves from its effects. He points out that this creates an "us and them" mentality, and breeds pride. He reminds us that John 17 shows that Jesus did not pray for us to live in this way.

Secondly, there is inattention to the world. He describes this as a "disinterested ignorance." This, taken to an extreme, results in a lack of compassion or genuine concern for the lost. God gave man a mandate to have dominion over the world he created; there is no room for disinterest.

Lastly, there is emulation of the world. This is when the church adopts the world's patterns, culture, and priorities. One of the ways I personally see this active in the church is the attitude that the church is a corporation, not a body.

Walker says:

Under such circumstances, the church ceases to be a thermostat that regulates the moral temperature of society and becomes a thermometer that merely registers and reflects that temperature. 

He reminds us that all three of these approaches are flawed:

... all of these approaches might be undertaken instinctively, ignorantly, thoughtlessly, or deliberately. But all are flawed in that they fail to take into account the various nuances of relationship demanded by the shades of meaning that lie behind the idea of "the world." Each one, as we have seen, neglects some element of biblical revelation considered as a whole.

I think this topic is timely. We seem to operate in extremes at times. Either we are legalistic in our attitude to the world, or we are too quick to say, "Well, God made it, so it must be good." I think a balance is definitely needed, and only through Scripture can we discern the right attitude toward the world. Walker proposes that we remember our identity as pilgrims in this world, something the Puritans focused on. That is the theme Walker focuses on next.

So far, this is one of the best laid out books I've read. Walker is focused on his topic, and presents his arguments well; a refreshing approach to writing these days.