Classical Spirituality

The Internet Monk published a piece a few days ago which is worth thinking about:

So….imagine that a Baptist (or other evangelical)- like my dear wife used to be, for example- were to decide that he or she wanted to deepen their spiritual life; to grow spiritually and in spiritual disciplines; to seek out spiritual direction and pursue spiritual formation.

Where would they go within their own evangelical, Protestant tradition to find resources, guidance or direction?

OK. I can hear the Catholics and Orthodox giggling already. Cut it out.

Before I leave the open thread to you readers, let me say that this is a REAL PROBLEM.

No one knows how many Protestants and Evangelicals develop a hunger for holiness and spiritual growth, then discover that what awaits them in their own tradition is paltry, often shallow and frequently almost completely unaware of what that hunger needs to be satisfied.

Is it any wonder that it is at the point of seeking out spiritual growth and formation that so many evangelicals are first introduced to the riches of the Catholic tradition, and soon conclude that the greatest resources for the spiritual journey are on the other side of great denominational divide?

When I moved back into the Anglican Church after three years with the Vineyard and New Frontiers (which, especially NF, I didn’t regret for a moment), it was because something about the link to a wider catholicity in the Church of England that spoke to me of a depth to one’s relationship with Jesus that some Protestants never explored. As I grew in the ministry of wholeness, I realised that the key insights in this area, and in general in the field of classical spirituality, were mainly Roman Catholic authors. St John of the Cross, Ignatius and their ilk were the people who had real insight into purgation and rising in Christ.

What do other people here think? For those who are "non-conformists", does the thought of engaging with Roman Catholic writers fill you with dread or charge you with excitement? What about those with a more "catholic" perspective – what were your key moments in developing spirituality?

By the way, this thread is officially subtitled the "Peter is NOT obsessed with Jeffrey John" Thread. Just so you know.

31 Comments on “Classical Spirituality

  1. Peter,

    I have to say that as non-conformist I share your sentiments. I was brought up in Evangelical/Baptist tradition although I did attend an Anglican Church for a while and have been involved in the early house church movement in the 1970’s.

    While I am in tune theologically with non-conformist doctrine and am a leader in a Baptist Church, I find their liturgical forms banal. I think that a primary purpose of going to church should be to encounter God yet I find that non-conformist hymn singing and choruses do very little to prepare or uplift me into worshipping God. Sometimes I feel more as If I am at a football match!

    For reasons which I cannot explain (maybe someone else can?), I am very drawn to liturgies that are sung in Latin. They seem to have an effect in drawing me closer (at laest experientially) into worship.

    An example of this is Gaudete which is sung acapella. Steeleye Span did a version of this in the 1970’s and notwithstanding Maddy Prior’s beautiful and ethereal voice, really turns me on as far as worship goes. The words are fantastic. Go here to see Guadete performed by Steeleye.

    Words and English translation here

  2. Hi Peter. I have no problem going outside my evangelical tradition to see what other traditions could teach me about spirituality. There is no reason why we cannot hang onto our evangelical ‘truths’ whilst embracing all that is good from others. Some evangelicals have turned to spiritual direction (traditionally an anglo-catholic thing, i think) – in fact my wife has trained as a spiritual director. I have also got a lot out of Orthodox Priest Father Stephen’s blog ( – I don’t always agree with everything but he expresses things in a way that make me think about spirituality and prayer in new ways.

  3. I’m sure you were waiting for the voice of dissent….

    I think evangelicalism provides the best material for spiritual direction and formation: material that is God-focussed, Christ-centred and Biblically rich. The starting point has to be the Puritans. Every Sunday I make time to read something by them: from a Banner or Christian Focus paperback, or a sermon by Thomas Manton. I also find the Westminster Standards and The Three Forms of Unity rich in spirituality. So too Calvin (time to re-read his Institutes next year for his 500th). Good biographies are also helpful. I’ve been much enriched by Bainton’s Here I Stand (Luther) and Iain Murray on Jonathan Edwards. There are also helpful Christ centred magazines around: Modern Reformation and The Banner of Truth (which is more thought provoking under its newish editor).

    At church, we would benefit if we had a slightly more liturgical approach (we would lose far more than we could ever gain if this was at the expense of the preaching). We deliberately try to sing one psalm or scripture paraphrase at least. I’m toying with seeing if we might use the Heidelberg Catechism which is well suited for congregational use.

    I have appreciated the one volume of the Ancient Christian Commentary I possess (on Mark). I suspect that the better bits of works from the Ancient church have made it inot these.

    I have read, and disliked, Madame Guyon. What turgid, introspective prose. What a sad inability to find Christ and to delight in him in the scriptures. On this basis engaging with Roman Catholic authors doesn’t fill me with dread: it makes me yawn.

    I read more modern stuff too, but fairly diffusely. Nonetheless names like Sinclair Ferguson, James Montgomery Boice and John Piper would spring to mind as helpful in this area. Church history is also helpful in seeing God at work in saints of old (as opposed to the saints of the present with whom I worship each week.)

    Two other important resources: Christ-centred Sunday sermons; and the Bible, of course; oh that Ignatius and John of the Cross had provided it to their flocks.

    On a (slightly) more conciliatory note I do recognise the shallowness of what passes for much of modern evangelicalism. The solution is note to turn to Rome or Constantinople but to rediscover the richness of the church’s confessional and biblical heritage.

    In Christ,

    John Foxe

  4. It is interesting that no one seems to have mentioned Bunyan yet – once upon a time he was very widely read, and not only by nonconformists.

    In my experience exploration is usually rewarded, especially if one perseveres, and most branches of the church have produced at least some things that are worth reading. It is also helpful sometimes to think outside the box – as (returning to Bunyan) with the Pilgrim’s Progress it is possible to pack a lot of ‘spirituality’, or perhaps better spiritual insight, into narrative fiction; high among (relatively) modern and perhaps more accessible examples, and presumably counting as within the protestant tradition even if not strictly speaking evangelical (?), I would count some of C. S. Lewis’s work, especially Perelandra, Till we have Faces, and The Great Divorce [nb for those who don’t know – this last does NOT promote divorce!]. For those who would rather face martyrdom than read a religious tract (of whatever tradition), or for those who simply want a change, I think these examples show how this approach can be very refreshing as well as rewarding. One reason is that it is good at allowing you to “experience” what the author means instead of just listening to him/her witter on about stuff.

    Ranging a bit further afield, I recently re-read Brideshead Revisited: many would be surprised to learn it is actually a religious book, although you won’t get the full effect unless you persevere to the end. For those who enjoy hymns there are a lot of good Orthodox ones (such as the Kontakion Peter put on the home page of this blog); there are short selections of best bits in translation (with explanations for benighted Westerners) by Hugh Wybrew and much more extensive ones by (bishop) Timothy Ware and Mother Mary. They tend to be very bible-based, although in way that western evangelicals might find a bit unusual, and they like to bring out connections between passages that one might not have noticed before, as well as meditating on the meanings in a prayerful way.

  5. Sorry – since I wrote my last I remembered that Dr Ware publishes under his name in religion, so it’s Kallistos W not Timothy.
    I also remembered that useful little book called Seasons of the Spirit, by George Every, Richard Harries, and Kallistos Ware (1 RC, 1 Anglican, 1 Orthodox; first pub. 1984). It contains short ‘classic’ pieces from a variety of traditions (mainly, but not only, those of the authors), so if you want to explore without spending too much time and/or money this is a good place to start (you never know – you may find something from your own tradition that you had not met before). The pieces are arranged roughly according to their suitability for different parts of the Christian year but you can take them at whatever pace you like. I particularly recommend the extract from St Melito of Sardis, set for Good Friday; it’s an  extract from an Easter sermon (we would regard it as a Holy Week sermon, I think), and it makes me think the interestingness of sermons must have been rather higher in his day! I don’t know whether the book is still in print (my edition is 1990), but one could Amazon for it etc.
    John F: I have checked and there is no Mme Guyon in it!

  6. Dear Robert,

    thank you for the suggestion. Perhaps I am a slightly unusual evangelical in wanting to see the best of pre-Reformation writings as part of my tradition. The Reformers saw themselves in continuity with this: putting things right that had gone astray rather than starting afresh. Undoubtedly some evangelicals fail to appreciate this and, as is merely the way of the world around us, are fascinated with all things new at the expense of neglecting what is old.

    Thanks for the Bunyan reminder. I’ve recently read The Heavenly Footman (as in runner rather than servant), an exposition and expansion on  1 Cor 9:24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.

    I think I should probably direct myself here next year given that it is a certain person’s quincentenary.


    Foxe quietly in his den.

  7. Where would they go within their own evangelical, Protestant tradition to find resources, guidance or direction?

    I am in that place now and find it a lonely place. My evangelical friends seem to feel that it is all about reminding ourselves how right we are and much of that seems based on the argument, “we must be right because we are not like those guys over there”. I even came acoss one group who didn’t eat fish on Fridays because Catholics do! They didn’t even have their facts right but too often it doesn’t seem to matter; to be an evangelical it seems you have to tick all the right boxes:
    programme-based and safe

    Now I believe in the sanctity of life, the imperatives of Bible-based correct doctrine, sermons and teaching, and in a creator God (though I am not a “Creationist”). But there is something deeply unsatisfying about walking out of church on a Sunday feeling we have put the world to rights and proved once again that we have more of it right than anyone else. It is profoundly irritating to find yourself in the society of people who seem to feel it necessary to chatechise me at every turn “what do you think about…? Which Bible do you use?” The question posed addresses a real problem in many evangelical churches, i.e. there is a paucity of spiritual direction. There is an increasing paucity of pastors. Oh, there are men who call themsleves pastor but they don’t so much pastor as manage. Starting from a base that is already lagging behind other traditions, this is a worrying trend.

  8. Mike,

    I remember being a huge Christian gathering one Easter, and the main stage speaker said that icons were idols. Just a cursory reading of the Patristic debate on icons makes you realise that an icon of Christ is an expression of the hypostatic union – you can’t draw a picture of God, but you can of a man, but this man happens to be God, so you can glimpse God in the picture. Magnificent!!!

    I have an icon of Athanasius on my wall, who I venerate every time I write a sermon. “Dear Lord”, I pray as I kiss him, “Make me bold to speak your truth and a heretic ass kicker just half as good as Athanasius to boot”.


  9. Peter

    Thanks for that. I am encouraged and chuckling at the same time. One thing I have learned is not to be afraid to be wrong. It so releases a person to experiment. Right now it is trying out new thought processes and learning about new ways but who knows where it will lead? Of course, there are fences but that is what doctrine is for. But I find that some of the fences are just placed there by man to hedge about God’s Law.

  10. My New Testament and Biblical Interpretation tutor in Oxford had a brilliant analogy which I always remember. Truth, he said, is like an infinitely deep cylinder. We know what the boundaries of the circumference are (the creedal truths) but within those we can, if we let ourselves, fall deeper and deeper into the riches of God’s revelation.

    I’m SO glad we had that pint together in Chorley.

    Fancy letting go of the sides with me?

  11. Peter

    I have this wonderful picture in my mind of answering the next evangelical who tries to chatechise me with, “Well you know, my faith is cylindrical”. Sounds like a ripping adventure to me and who said the life of faith issupposed to be dull and unsurprising? I saw a wonderful exhibition oficonographic paintings in St Mary’s Swansea, last year I think. They were well placed to put it on snce the Orthodox Church in the city has their meeting there once a month. It was really quite inspiring.

  12. Dear Mike: I was rather moved to read that you are feeling a bit lonely (at least in this respect) in your church – that is a very sad thing to happen although I suspect that quite a lot of us go through such a time. One thought that occurred to me is that if you are feeling like that then the chances are that one or two others (if not more) may also feel similarly but don’t like to say so for fear of being disloyal to the cause. I wonder whether at least some of the people who ask you what Bible you use etc. may be hoping you have found something with notes that will take them deeper than whatever they are now using (or whatever, as the case may be). Or at least I would like to think so! It might be worth (very carefully and tactfully, of course) sounding people out?
    I’m sorry if I am sounding like an agony aunt!!! Perhaps you should check with our ass-kicking iconodule friend first …

  13. Robert

    You are a blessing. My situation is rather complicated. At the last church in which I regularly worshipped, just two years ago, I suffered considerable spiritual abuse (along with many others it has to be said) and found myself for the first time in some 35 years seriously unchurched and in no hurry to dive back into the melee’. The irony is that, having been a Mormon, more years ago than I care to think about, I find that the only time I was subject to overt cultic abuse was in a Baptist Church. Being the sort of person who tends to bounce back pretty quickly I was further disappointed at the absence of my usual resilience in these circumstances; maybe its burnout.

    Thinking specifically of your helpful and, may I say, diplomatically put suggestion, I recently stepped down from a stewardship role in a Christian “para-church” organisation, a position I have held and cherished for many years, partly in order to sort this out. Coming across this discussion has been a blessing. Simply to find folk willing to reserve judgement and discuss issues without eyeing each other cynically for error is greatly encouraging. I know many who have come out of the situation I describe have found churches, while some others are in a similar position to me, attending occassionally, seeing old friends, but making no commitments. Perhaps a time will come when I can take the steps you suggest, but now I am “investigating”, as the Mormons would put it, what the Christian Church can teach me from those traditions I have never experienced or fully understood.

    I have, over the years developed a great respect for the sacraments, an appreciation of the immanence of God in ordinary things and a respect for those who think differently because they see differently. That said, orthodoxy is profundly important, I simply feel that its application needs looking at further in my own experience.

  14. Mike: how strange! I used to be a Mormon myself years ago (my mother became one for a few years when I was a child, and I got as far as being baptised in a rather chilly font, but I stopped going when she left that church).  I am now a high-church Anglican, having seen the light when I was in my late teens.  People are occasionally a bit startled when I tell them I was once a Mormon but they seem to get over it quickly enough.  Fortunately I have not suffered problems in getting on with the other people in my church (my main problem is that since I became a churchwarden I can’t set foot in the place without starting to fret about whether this that or the other thing needs repairing/moving/replacing etc, which is distracting when one is supposed to be worshipping).  Anyway, I hope you manage to sort something out and find a place where you can feel more at home before too long.

  15. Dear Peter,

    while recognising idolatry encompasses far more than the use of icons, I’m not sure I can agree with your analysis of the hypostatic union and the use of images. Yes, God and man are in hypostatic union in Christ himself. But no, a picture of Christ is not in hypostatic union with the divine nature of Christ. The union is in the person, not in a picture of the person.

    Yes, we can draw a picture of a man, but no, it isn’t actually a picture of Jesus. There are no authentic images of him. It’s a bit someone at Christ Church making an icon of Jesus around a  photo of your face. ‘It’s an icon of Jesus,’ they say. ‘Er, no, it’s a photo of Peter Ould,’ I reply (before tossing on the fire).

    What the iconic approach seems to forget is that Christ is only authentically found in the place where a true, accurate revelation of Christ is present, and that place is in Scripture, not in any purported picture.

    The icon of God was, and is, certainly Christ himself, the God-man. We come to him and find him in his humanity and his divinity in Scripture through the work of the Holy Spirit.

    Iconoclastically yours,

    The Foxe with Whitewash
    PS I note that even if I agreed with your premise that icons were pictures of Jesus in truth, it still would not follow that we could glimpse God in his naked divinity through the icon since ‘No man can see me and live. 

    PPS And all this assumes we can ignore the second commandment in any case. God prescribes the way he is to be worshipped (a very big topic in the Bible) and it doesn’t include using picture of him.

    PPPS None of this necessarily entails making a virtue of aesthetic philistinism.

  16. Dear Mike,

    I am sorry to hear about your experiences. I assume by ‘Creationist’ you mean ‘Young Earth Creationist’. After all you say you believe in a Creator God which means you must be a Creationist rather than subscribing to the fallacy of Naturalism. (BTW it certainly isn’t the case that accepting Young Earth Creationism is necessary to being an evangelical. Rejecting naturalistic evolution is necessary though.)
    I’m sorry your pastor sees himself as a manager, rather than as an under-shepherd of God’s flock. I acknowledge this is an increasing problem in many evangelical churches.
    I’m sorry too that use of one particular bible version is made a shibboleth. With such an abundance (perhaps over-abundance) of English translations, there are many which are suitable.
    I’m sorry too that you feel a lack of spritual direction. Without knowing more it’s hard to comment on whether it’s good or bad to be ‘programme based and safe’. Sometimes its good to be safe, sometimes its bad if it prevents us taking the gospel out beyond our confines.

    I’m sorry too at the implicit Pharisaism you experience. If we’re right it’s not because we’re like others, but because of the undeserved grace of God. Confidence in the truth of God and humility about ourselves should go together.

    I note from your blog that you are in Swansea. I do know of a number of evangelical churches there. If it would be helpful I would be happy to send you details of these.

    Yours in Christ,

    John Foxe

  17. Dear John: arguments about the use of images in Christian worship are nothing new, and far more has already been said (on both sides) than it would be a good idea to cram into a blog comment; but since I am about to go on holiday out of e-contact with the world I am feeling irresponsible enough to make a couple of points before disappearing and evading the consequences.
    It is true that many details of how to worship are prescribed in the OT, but since we don’t follow most of the other instructions I don’t see why we need to follow the one about images; the Law was fulfilled in Christ and we are living in a new dispensation.
    As for the business about the necessity of a genuine likeness: I think many artists, such as Picasso and most children, would disagree with you! I don’t think you can say “that is not a picture of X”, as a denial of the artist’s declaration, just because you don’t think the resemblance is good (your argument about the photo would apply only to images which were recognisably of some particular *other* person, I think). Besides, I wonder how it would make any real difference even if we did have an accurate knowledge of how Jesus looked on earth. Surely his individual physical features were not of any theological importance?  If they were, why was no record made and kept of them?
    As for the hypostatic union: it would be necessary for the picture to be united with God in that sense only if we were worshipping the actual picture itself; but that is not what Catholics and Orthodox (at any rate) intend by e.g. kissing an icon or statue. The worship is paid to what the image depicts.  After all, if a man kisses a picture of his wife you would not say he was being unfaithful to her with a piece of paper, would you?
    Moreover I don’t think it is right theologically to say that Christ is present only in scripture – is he not also present in different ways not only there but in the church, the sacraments, and in all those who have “put on” Christ in baptism, etc?
    I’m not sure what point you are trying to make about glimpsing God’s naked divinity. Surely the point is that in Christ (and in a subsidiary way in icons) we are intended to see the divinity but “clothed” in a way more suitable for us to take in? In either case the “naked” divinity can be isolated only by a kind of subtraction, so to speak (although if it’s really deadly to us perhaps the attempt should not be made!).
    Finally: if we ban images (especially from church) what are we left with? I don’t see how we are any better off spiritually if we are looking at a blank whitewashed wall or a clear widow through which we can see the building next door or a grey overcast sky (or whatever). The images are far more likely, in my experience, to bring the mind back to where it should be.
    Oops, that was more than a couple of points. I ought not to be let loose on a keyboard.

  18. Dear Robert,

    thanks for your response. No problem if you don’t read this before going away.

          Well, reformed evangelicals (and others) recognise that some, but not all, OT laws are either fulfilled or abrogated by Christ. Others, such as the Decalogue, continue with abiding relevance as expressing the eternal moral will of God. The ban on images, falling within the Decalogue, and often referred to as a besetting sin of Israel, is no outdated rule. It falls within the larger topic of God’s concern in the Bible for his people to worship him properly. This was taken very seriously by the Reformers and I’m sure we are both aware of the chasm that separates them from the practices of Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism here. Jesus challenge to the Samaritan woman to worship in spirit and in truth is summarising and sharing the same concerns as expressed in the OT.

          Although artists intend their work to represent something and their ability to represent is not inspired and their attempts to represent anything always fall short. Contrast the Bible, which is inspired, and truly represents that which it sets out to portray. I do not see how one can say, of an icon, this is a true picture of Christ, in anything like the same way that one can say of a gospel, this is a true account of Christ. Even if one were to venture to make those statements the word ‘true’ would be used in very different senses in them. 

           The absence of any physical description of Christ (and, indeed of almost anyone else in the NT) should at least inhibit artists from making pictures as aids to worship. We simply have no data. We are called to use the information God has given in the Bible rather than to generate methods of woship of our own devising.

           As to the hypostatic union I was commenting on Peter’s words which certainly seemed to indicate that worshipping using an icon enabled him to glimpse God. I’ll leave him to tell us if I misconstrued him or if he expressed himself carelessly.
          Certainly almost no idol worshipper considers that they are worshipping the idol itself but that they are worshipping the reality behind the idol, so that the idol functions as a means of worship, or an aid to it. The issue with icons is not that I think iconodules are worshipping someone other than God. No, the issue is that they are worshipping God in a way he has forbidden.
          I agree that there are various means by which Christ mediates his grace to us. The sacraments are one example, as would be prayer and preaching. He also indwells his people by his Spirit. My point was slightly different: it was to point out that Christ only infallibly reveals himself to us in Scripture (which is applied to us by the Holy Spirit) and that there is no revelation of Christ in a picture, since it was this revelatory aspect that seemed to be the focus of Peter’s comments.
            The ‘seeing God’ comments were a response to Peter’s ‘glimpse of God’. All we ‘see’ of God is mediated to us. We don’t access the divine in unmediated (naked) glory. We may not be disagreeing on this point.
          As for banning images, yes, yes, yes where they are used as means for worship. Yet God has left us with ‘images’. You pointed some of them out: water in baptism, bread and wine in Communion. He has also left us his Word and that we focus on as we gather together. By all means let’s have beautiful buildings; I’m not contending for a grey gloom.

           Thank you for your points. I appreciate the conversation.

           I hope you have a super holiday.


  19. Robert

    Fancy you having had a brush with Mormonism! Do you remember much of the experience? I sometimes think about the effect my own journey has had and still has on our own children. But then we are what we are and the journey is the journey and one way or another our children have to face the fact that we are not the omnipotent beings they once thought us. I am interested in your journey into High Church and wonder what that means for you. As you have probably realised, I am trying to find the balance between orthodoxy and orthopraxy; being doctrinally correct and actually practicing what is orthodox on the journey. Seems to me like a good thing to do with a life.

  20. John
    Thanks for your concern and offer of help. You are right in thinking that I mean I am not a young earth Creationist. I don’t pretend to understand all the issues but I am smart enough to realise that too many evangelical believers entertain an irrational fear and suspicion of science.
    The shibboleths I listed were “real” in the sense of being important to many but it was also the product of my presently cynical mindset and, if I am honest, rather hyperbolic. I use many versions of the Bible and so do my saner Christian friends. I was thinking in general terms about “managers” in the church (who said generalisation is a lie?) but it is a situation that I believe contributes enormously to the  lack of spiritual direction in the church. My own experience involved something much more sinister than a manager. The man was a bully, a coward and a terrible control freak. I have never, in 35 years of church-going, witnessed anything remotely like it.

    Thanks for offering to recommend good churches in Swansea. I know several good churches and have friends across the Christian scene. It is not so much that I don’t know good churches as that it has taken me some time to get over something bad and am disappointed in myself for it. Taking the time to explore “where now” seems a good idea and plunging straight back into the familiar might prove counterproductive. Thinking about the original question, “Where to go within the evangelical, Protestant tradition to find resources, guidance and direction in the pursuit of spiritual development and formation” I suppose it is no bad place to be, seeking direction and growth. BTW thanks for visiting my blog. It is always nice to have visitors.

  21. Mike
    Sorry to delay replying, I have been away for a while. I don’t really remember all that much coherent about my time as a Mormon, as it occurred while I was in something like the 6-11 age range. The chilly font is the sort of thing that sticks in a child’s memory! (It wasn’t meant to be chilly, it’s just that there was something wrong with the heater.  I apparently got off lightly – a friend of mine who was brought up as a Welsh Baptist got dunked beneath the flood in a sheep trough on a hillside. Strangely enough she too is now an Anglican …).  Apart from that I mostly remember that the people were very nice and friendly in an open bouncy sort of way (there were a lot of Americans there, who set the tone for the place) and the worship was very plain and (to my tiny mind at least) unbelievably boring. I suspect that there may be a nature/nurture thing here, and some people are just born with a need for incense and icons etc. Anyway when my mother (who had joined the LDS after our door had been knocked on by a couple of missionaries) eventually decided she didn’t really believe in all that stuff after all and stopped going I too stopped – partly because it wasn’t really me and partly because I hated the awful journey to get there (two buses each way on a Sunday morning was no joke back in the 70s – London transport has changed enormously since those days); partly also because being a painfully shy child I absolutely HATED the idea of eventually having to go to some foreign country and knock on strangers’ doors – I don’t suppose I could have done as well (!) as those two guys in the little video Peter posted a few weeks ago. So I spent most of my teenage years as a heathen, although one who never entirely lost interest in such matters (although I am utterly unable to recall now what I did think about religious questions in those days). My adhesion to Anglicanism came about when I was about 17; I’m not sure quite how it happened (leaving aside the matter of grace, irresistible or otherwise). The influence of Tolkien and C S Lewis on me must have been crucial, though, as far as this world is concerned – indirectly but perhaps most importantly via their fiction, more consciously via Lewis’s apologetic work, some of which I found in the school library and read because I was interested in what made the author of the Narnia books tick. Anyway, I was walking along a road one day and suddenly found I was a believer; I didn’t exactly see a light etc. like St Paul, but it’s very hard to describe what I did experience. It was more a kind of realisation that what I had been reading made sense in a very special way and I was now able to accept it, but it was much more than such a bald description would imply. I felt and still do feel that God was intervening in a more direct way than has happened to me at other times in my life. Afterwards I joined the CofE, largely because it seemed most convenient (I was still thinking of those bus journeys) and I had no particular reason to join anything else.  I soon found I felt more at home somehow in high parishes than others, and so sought them out and stuck with them (easy enough in London and Oxford).  So that in a rather large nutshell is how I got to be where I am.  With age and experience I have learned to be a good deal less dogmatic (in the bad sense) and self-assured than I was as an undergraduate, but that’s not just a religious thing!!!
    That’s all I’ve got time for today, perhaps I’ll attempt to answer the last and considerably more difficult part of your question another time (but bear in mind it’s almost term time and I’ll be snowed under …). Does any of this help at all?

  22. Hmmm …  As for what you said about your children, all I can say is that in my case my “brush with Mormonism” seems to have done me far more good, even if in a rather roundabout way, than harm, as far as I am able to tell.  Who knows, without that childhood experience I might have spent my whole life never thinking about Christianity and never listening enough for God to get through to me?  It has at least left me with the conviction that people one disagrees with considerably on points of doctrine may be extremely good and – if this is the right word – saintly people (alas, the converse is sometimes true too).

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