Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Two Johns and spiritual formation

Edward T. Oakes' review of Stephen Tomkins' biography on John Wesley,

"After nearly marrying twice (and leaving both women feeling jilted), Wesley eventually married Molly Vazeille, a widow of French Huguenot descent with four children of her own. The marriage was not happy—indeed, the spouses proved scarcely able to tolerate each other. When Wesley, at a Methodist conference in Bristol, got word that his wife was dangerously ill, he headed back to their London home. Arriving at their apartment at the ungodly hour of one o’clock the following morning, he discovered that her fever had abated—and he turned around and headed back to Bristol an hour later.

When Wesley suspected his wife of reading his private mail, he had his desk outfitted with a secret compartment in which to hide his sensitive papers from her. These presumably must have included portions of his famous Journal, for in one bitter letter to her he explained that his indictment of her character was incomplete because he did not have his journal with him at the moment: “I have therefore only my memory to depend on; and that is not very retentive of evil.” No surprise, then, that he did not attend her funeral, and of her own legacy of five thousand pounds (holdings from her first husband, a wealthy merchant), she bequeathed to him only a ring."

Timothy Tow on John Sung,

"Sung studied from 1920-1926, earning a Ph.D. in Chemistry, along with many academic awards. However, at the height of human glory, he was cast down with melancholy at the words of Jesus, 'For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?' (Mark 8:36). At this time, he was visited by a Methodist pastor who suggested he attend Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

At Union Seminary, Sung was bombarded with liberal theology. His favorite teacher was Harry Emerson Fosdick, later minister of New York's famed Riverside Church. His faith crumbled to the ground. In a sermon he preached in later years, he lamented the deadening effect of modernistic teaching, punning the word 'seminary' with the word 'cemetery.' Concluding that if God was dead and Christ was not risen, there was no purpose in Christianity, he turned to Taoism, Buddhism, and to the Koran.

The more he searched for the truth in these false religions, the more confused and desperate he became. For forty days and nights, Sung endured an intense struggle between truth and error and between the Spirit of God and the spirit of Satan. On the fortieth night which was February 10, 1927, Sung reached the point where he no longer desired to live. Nevertheless, he persevered in prayer and in the confession of his sins.

As the clock struck midnight, he was suddenly overwhelmed by a vision of the crucified Christ standing before him. In a compassionate voice, the Lord comforted him, 'My son, your sins are forgiven! Your name is now changed to John.' When the vision receded, John felt a wonderful relief in the sudden rolling away of his sin-burden.

His spiritual eyes opened, he went straight to his favorite teacher, Fosdick, and declared: 'You are of the devil. You made me lose my faith!' For denouncing sin in high places, he was sent to a mental asylum where he was confined for 193 days.

The mental hospital was God's appointed seminary for Sung...he read his Bible through repeatedly. Henceforth, he would read no other book... Upon his release, he threw all his degrees and academic awards into the ocean on his voyage back to China in order to make sure he would not be attracted again by the glitters of this world."

Here we have two Johns who had lived rather interesting lives. Both are great men of their movement in that time, but 'greatness' is always applies only to those who share the same aspiration with them. These Johns are usually held as heroes by frontal missionaries. But their stature is less influential and aspiring to those who sympathize with Abraham Kuyper, "In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, 'That is mine!'" However when we come to talk about 'spiritual formation', how should we make of them?

If spirituality is only confined strictly to the amount of prayer hours, Bible reading/memorizing, evangelism, and a bit of work in elevating social injustice, then there are much to be learned from the two Johns with much limitation in each areas.

I think John Wesley was more than a mere missionary. He was also a workaholic who neglected and mistreated his family. (Does "anyone who does not love his wife brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen" of 1 John 4.20 apply here?) Wesley's life was not too dissimilar from William Carey. John Sung on the other hand was delusional and someone who could not make sense of the intellectual dimension of Christianity. So it is not too stretching to liken Sung to a fundamentalist who thinks the world is flat and the sun moves around the earth.

So I do not see how one can extract from them a model for spiritual awakening as an example for Christians to follow. One such feat was pulled by Dr. Yu Chin Cheak, the Dean of Students at Trinity Theological College. I guess we can, in the same way, learn about spirituality from the Sadducees of Jesus' time. It is wrong-headed to start with in the first place. And the most frightening part for a student at TTC is when such feat is being applied into all the students' spiritual formation program! Is TTC venturing to raise up a generation of workaholics or delusional churchmen/women, or both?


reasonable said...

Perhaps one day u can also give a critique of Two Pauls too, one being the apostle Paul, hehe

Cheat Grace said...

I hesitate to say if any of them is disqualified in any way. I have found out that all men of God are "scarred and pock-marked" in some ways.

Anyway my humble opinion is that there is so much more to spiritual formation under heaven than can be dreamt of in any of our theology. I am reading this book "Conformed to His Image" by Kenneth Boa and it is really give me so much more refreshing facets of spiritual formation to reflect on.

Sze Zeng said...

@Cheat Grace, thank you for highlighting Kenneth Boa's work. Yes 'spiritual formation' is a tenuous journey :)