The Vita Passiva
I’ve been quite silent in the blogosphere lately, for several reasons. First, honestly, I’ve sensed the Lord telling me to “cool it” for a while, to not stress over it, to not be enslaved to it. Second, since I started my blog over six years ago, the worship conversation has changed, and there are more voices out there writing on things I really care about. I feel less burdened to write because I find that there are more out there saying what I would hope to say, calling for greater theological, historical, pastoral, and prophetic engagement of worship in our local churches. Third, and perhaps most significant for me, I’ve been trying to abide by a wise ministry principle bequeathed to me by one of my dear friends. He said, “never let your output exceed your input.” There’s a temptation for those of us connected with various conversations online to always stay on top of things, always insert ourselves into the dialogue. This requires an unsustainable output that will eventually burn you out in one way or another. Someone like me may never tire of writing, but the kind of writing I want to do requires reflection, thought, local application, dialogue with friends, and God’s gracious, ongoing work on me. I embrace a biblical theology I first learned from Jesus and Paul via the writing of Martin Luther: life is a gift, and the Christian life is the vita passiva, the “receptive life.” Part of what it means to live the receptive life is to never let your output exceed your input.
Writing my book last year was a wonderful experience. And engaging the content of my book with others, which I continue to do individually and in small and large gatherings of people, is what I know I’m called to do. It’s been rewarding, and I will continue to do it, hopefully at the kind of pace that is sustainable and edifying both to Christ’s church and to me and my family. But, still, for me it’s been an awful lot of output.
So, since the release of my book, I’ve been ministering faithfully in my local church, and I’ve been doing a LOT of reading and reflection, centered around my doctoral work in the English Reformation. The nerdery has been off the chain. I’ve been doing writing of a different kind–writing for classes. To me, this kind of writing isn’t actually output, but a processing of the input. It’s been powerful, enlivening.
In fact, as I write this, I’m sitting in an airport on my way to England (for the first time in my life!), to visit the significant sites of the English Reformation, to look at some choice theological and liturgical manuscripts, and to learn more about what the Reformers were up to in the church catholic. I’ve been spending a lot of time in the sixteenth century, trying to get in the mind of Thomas Cranmer, with hopes that he might help me do my job better and help other worshipers dive more deeply into what it means to engage worship in a gospel-centered way, by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone.
And I’m so grateful God has led me down this road with greater tenacity on this, the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation. Where my thoughts are headed will certainly translate into a doctoral thesis, and maybe just maybe turn into a short, accessible book for worshipers and worship leaders I hope to entitle, Worship by Faith Alone. We’ll see.
Interestingly, Doxology & Theology just released on their podcast my twenty minute talk on Cranmer. Aside from the silly time spent on beards, it really does capture the essence of what God has been teaching me these last several years through the Reformation’s most underrated leader. Check it out!