Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Popular Preachers Past: Oswald's Chamber of Consciousness

From the April 2011 E-Block.
For this article, I ordered a 1000+ page book (cheap, used!) containing the complete works of Oswald Chambers. The sum of the matter is that while I only found one major problem with Chambers (below), I was able to stop after about 200 pages. 

That’s because for the most part, Chambers reads much like a Christianized Course in Miracles -- right down to the tone. Page after page is offered of exhortation and advice, with the Bible mainly making an appearance as the content of headings. From there, Chambers most frequently goes off on any tangent that comes to mind, so that by the time one gets to the end of a section, the original Bible passage seems a dim memory. There is little if any sense of order in these writings, and nothing like a logical chain of thought; like CoM, it is a stream of consciousness presentation in which Chambers evidently took no time aforethought and put down whatever came to mind at the moment he wrote . I thus call this book Chambers’ Homiletic Brick of Text. If he were alive today, he would be making 50-page blog posts that most people stopped reading after the first paragraph. 

I say again, though, that mostly, there is nothing wrong with the content, if you are into being exhorted without ceasing. However, the one problem I did find is a rather large one. Chambers makes no use of scholarship in his work, which can be fine if you’re just a devotional writer. However, even a devotional writer should refrain from actively discouraging the use of scholarship, and that is exactly what Chambers does now and then – not in every narrative, to be sure, but enough so that it is cause for unease.

Thus, for example:
  • 20 – “Have you ever been alone with Jesus? The disciples enjoyed the inestimable privilege not only of hearing the truth from Our Lord’s own lips, but of questioning Him in secret about everything He said. We go to John Wesley, or to Adam Clarke, or some other commentator, instead of going to Jesus Himself.” The disastrous epistemology here is one we have seen before, and I need not expound on it again; suffice to say, Chambers offers nothing to discern his “feel[ing]” that something “certainly is God’s truth” from a Mormon internal witness. This is but one of a few places where Chambers envisions the Spirit (or Jesus) as an internal exegete of Scripture.
  • 26 – Referring to things like the Resurrection and the Trinity, Chambers claims, “Nowhere in the New Testament are you asked to believe these facts before you become a Christian.” Instead, he says, you believe in your heart first. But then what of the fact that apostolic evangelism asked people to believe on the fact of Jesus’ Resurrection? Not surprisingly, Chambers’ definition of faith is closer to being blind trust (27) than what the word pistis implied in terms of deserved loyalty.
  • 35-6 – “Until the Lord Jesus Christ has been received as the highest and only Authority, Bible explanations are beside the mark because they lack the one efficient seal of the Holy Spirit.” Not only does this sound uncomfortably like what a cult leader would say, it raises a question: If we have a “Bible explanation” before us, and it is the same content before and after our conversion, what changed to change it from being “beside the mark” to not being beside the mark? Didn’t it remain objectively true of false the same way?
Thus it is that I have little more than a single observation about Chambers: I don’t think the resemblance to CoM is coincidence. I think, rather, that his stream of consciousness style (and CoM’s) reflect a state of mind which one can easily, if we are uncritical, suppose to be the Holy Spirit inspiring us. It isn’t – it may be what the ancients called a muse, but there’s nothing holy about it. In the end, while there’s not that much harmful (or helpful) in Chambers, this one reservation is sufficient for me to suggest that readers give him a pass.

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