Augustine and Love (Oberman)

The Reformation: Roots and Ramifications This is an excellent resource: The Reformation: Roots and Ramifications” by Heiko Oberman.  I just finished reading the chapter that covered mysticism in the medieval church; it was quite helpful.  It’s too detailed to summarize in one blog post, so for now I’ll just quote a section where Oberman summarized Augustine’s view of love.  This is worth thinking about – especially the two different “orbits”.

[Augustine was] a theologian of love. Not only is his great survey of history in ‘De civitate Dei’ (The City of God) shot through with the theme of love, but his ‘Confessiones’ (Confessions) take from the love of God and from God’s love a new definition of the person. Reason and intellect do not place us in the cosmic hierarchy, contrary to what Augustine had learned while studying philosophy, but love. Love is ‘pondus’ (weight), and ‘pondus’ is not a burden but rather gravity, and therefore determines the orbit into which a human being gravitates.

Augustine assumes that there are only two sorts of people, who move in two different orbits. One sort rotates around themselves, the other sort, around God. Both orbits are determined by the love that seeks the center, either by amor sui, self-love, or by amor Dei, the love of God. In order to make the jump from the ‘self-centered’ orbit to the other one, human beings need the help of a sovereign act of God. God alone makes this jump from the old to the new orbit happen—by his grace alone, ‘sola gratia.’

Heiko Augustinus Oberman, The Reformation : Roots and Ramifications (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 82–83.

(A paperback copy of this book is available on Amazon.)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Selfishness and Marriage (Keller)

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book on marriage with the depth and wisdom of Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage.  I appreciate how he talks about our culture’s selfish view of marriage.  Today, many people think of marriage and romantic relationships in terms of self – what they get out of it.  Turns out that this selfishness is actually the major problem in many marriages (Christian and non-Christian):

“In Western culture today, you decide to get married because you feel an attraction to the other person.  You think he or she is wonderful.  But a year or two later – or, just as often, a month or two – three things usually happen.  First, you begin to find out how selfish this wonderful person is.  Second, you discover that the wonderful person has been going through a similar experience and he or she begins to tell you how selfish you are.  And third, though you acknowledge it in part, you concede that your spouse’s selfishness is more problematic than your own.  This is especially true if you feel that you’ve had a hard life and have experienced a lot of hurt.  You say silently, ‘Ok, I shouldn’t do that – but you don’t understand me.’  The woundedness makes us minimize our own selfishness.  And that’s the point at which many married couples arrive after a relatively brief period of time.”

Keller then notes that at this point there are two paths to take.  The first is deciding that your hurt and woundedness is more fundamental than your selfishness.  You believe that if your spouse does not see your wounds and try to help you, it’s not going to work.  The marriage could then end, or it could go on with emotional distance growing due to a cease-fire and not talking about the problems.

Another path – the better one – is “to determine to see your own selfishness as a fundamental problem and to treat it more seriously than you do your spouse’s.”

Why? Only you have complete access to your own selfishness, and only you have complete responsibility for it.  So each spouse should take the Bible seriously, should make a commitment to ‘give yourself up.’ You should stop making excuses for selfishness, you should begin to root it out as it’s revealed to you, and you should do so regardless of what your spouse is doing.  If two spouses each say, ‘I’m going to treat my self-centeredness as the main problem in the marriage,’ you have the prospect of a truly great marriage.”

Of course, this is based on the gospel: Jesus went to the cross not out of selfishness, but out of selflessness, to give his life for sinners.  The more we understand how Christ graciously served us this way, the more we will be able to graciously serve our spouses, not our selves.

The above quotes are found on pages 63-64 of Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage.

Shane Lems

Related: Boredom and Selfishness

 In Richard Winter’s excellent book, Still Bored in A Culture of Entertainment, he makes the great point that boredom and selfishness are quite related.

“We are called not only to enjoy the world of God’s creation but also to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  Throughout the Bible we find a strong emphasis on serving others.  One of the reasons why boredom has become so much more common is because we have become too preoccupied with looking after ourselves, making sure our needs are met, and to put it bluntly, we have become too selfish.”

“John Ortberg says: ‘Ironically, often the thing that keeps me from experiencing joy is my preoccupation with self.  The very selfishness that keeps me from pouring myself out for the joy of others also keeps me from noticing and delighting in the myriad of small gifts God offers each day.  This is why Walker Percy describes boredom as the ‘self stuffed with the self'” (p. 137-8).

That’s a great point!  By the way, I noticed that you can get this book used – shipped to your door – for $4-$5 on Amazon.  This would make good Christmas break reading!  I highly recommend it.

shane lems

It’s All About Me (Because I’m Special!)

Top Ten Books for TeensThis is a good book that describes the selfishness, vanity, pride, arrogance, depression, cynicism, apathy, and attitude of many young Americans today: Generation Me by Jean Twenge.  The subtitle of the book explains it a bit more: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before.  If this topic sounds familiar to our blog readers, it’s because I blogged about Twenge’s other book, The Narcissism Epidemic roughly one year ago.  Though there is some overlap between these two books, in my opinion they don’t overlap too much.

In Generation Me, Twenge basically charts her studies of Americans born in the 70-90s (the group she calls “Generation Me”).  Her findings show a drastic change in the last 50 years (or so) among American youth.  For example, many in Generation Me care more about self-expression and self-esteem than societal rules, customs, and norms.  In the words of one young lady, “I couldn’t care less how I am viewed by society.  I live my life according to the morals, views, and standards that I create” (p. 20).

Another thing Twenge mentions is how the Boomer generation did/does all it can to increase the self-esteem of Generation Me.  Many young adults today have been told all their lives that they are special; or in the words of an old Whitney Houston song, “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.”  Schools teach self-esteem and self-love.  One kids’ book from 1991 is called, The Loveables in the Kingdom of Self-Esteem.  Of course the church follows suit with the irreverent moralisms of Veggie Tales and Max Lucado’s 1997 book, You Are Special.  Both in the secular and religious realm, the “gospel” has been this: you are special!

Hand in hand with self-love or “specialness” comes the thought that everyone has entitlements to about anything they want.  Twenge notes how many within Generation Me think they will have (and deserve!) a high paying job that they love, a beautiful spouse, an outstanding house, and tons of Facebook followers.  Gen Me grew up with everyone telling them that they are sp special that they can have anything they want and be anyone they want.  When they don’t get these things, their specialness bubble is burst.  This is why depression is widespread; it is also why many in Generation Me are apathetic and cynical.  One person was so apathetic and cynical the only reason (he said) he didn’t commit suicide was to see if the next few weeks would suck in a different way than the ones before.  Generation Me is the generation that grew up saying, “yeah right,” and “whatever.”   Twenge devotes an entire chapter on depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

Again, thinking about the church, I think it would be a fascinating study to see the long-term effects of the “Christian” version of self-esteem messages (Veggie Tales, Max Lucado, and other self-esteem preachers and songs).  Or what about worship services that cater to the self (usually the youthful self)?  What are the effects of constantly singing “I want” or “I just wanna” praise and worship songs?

Twenge even ties this into the political realm.  A large percentage of GenMe doesn’t vote or care because, as one cynic once said, “it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government still gets in.”  Or another youth put it this way: “There’s a greater chance of dying in a plane crash than having my one vote actually matter.”

Here’s one “religious” paragraph that stuck out:

“The message (of entitlement/self-esteem) comes across even in somewhat unlikely sources.  In a 2004 episode of 7th Heaven, one of the few relatively conservative, G-rated shows on television, 21-year-old Lucy gives a sermon to the young women in the congregation.  ‘God wants us to know and love ourselves,’ she says.  ‘He also wants us to know our purpose, our passion.  …So I ask you…’What have you dreamt about doing? …What you are waiting for is already inside of you.  God has equipped us with everything we need to live full and rich lives.  It is our responsibility to make that life happen – to make our dreams happen'” (p. 85).

I recommend this book with a few things to note: 1) it is a book on sociology, so it isn’t the most exciting book you’ll ever read, 2) it is R-rated – Twenge’s reports aren’t toned down, especially in the chapter on the sexual attitude of Gen Me, and 3) read it and think about how Twenge’s studies relate to the church and the Christian life.  The author isn’t a Christian and this isn’t a Christian book.  However, for those of you who are serious Christians who wrestle with Christianity and culture (how the latter affects the former), this book will certainly be thought-provoking.

Jean Twenge, Generation Me (New York: Free Press, 2006).

shane lems