Friday, October 30, 2009

A Change of Heart

I just came across an interview with Dr. Ashley Null on Thomas Cranmer (ht Aaron Z). For those of you who don't know, Cranmer is the architect of the English Reformation, and is one of the key figures in the formation of the Anglican church. Dr Null is the foremost expert on Abp Cranmer.

I used to think of myself as an Anglican because of an accident of birth (i.e. being born in the home of an Anglican vicar) but I now consider myself one out of conviction. The chief reason for this is what Dr Null pointed out in his interview:
"According to Cranmer’s anthropology, what the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies. The mind doesn’t direct the will. The mind is actually captive to what the will wants, and the will itself, in turn, is captive to what the heart wants.
The trouble with human nature is that we are born with a heart that loves ourselves over and above everything else in this world, including God. In short, we are born slaves to the lust for self-gratification, i.e., concupiscence. That’s why, if left to ourselves, we will always love those things that make us feel good about ourselves, even as we depart more and more from God and his ways.
Therefore, God must intervene in our lives in order to bring salvation. Working through Scripture, the Holy Spirit first brings a conviction of sin in a believer’s heart, then he births a living faith by which the believer lays hold of the extrinsic righteousness of Christ. Of course, the perfect justifying righteousness by which we are made right with God must be outside of us, for the ongoing presence of sinful concupiscence in our mortal bodies renders it impossible for us ever to be truly holy in this life. Indeed, the glory of God is his love for the unworthy, that although we are sinners, he makes us his own."

This insight into the human condition and God's work in our lives has revolutionised my own life, ministry and preaching. This understanding also permeates the liturgy of the Anglican church, especially since Cranmer's single greatest contribution is the Book of Common Prayer. I have really come to appreciate and value the depth of the prayers, and how it points us time and time again to God's sovereign work in us, and how we desperately need a "change of heart". As Cranmer prayed:
Cambridge BCP 2O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men; Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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