Monday, January 22, 2007

"Spirituality" and Life in Christ

(Note: Background for this post may be found at two previous entries of mine: What It Means to be a Christian, which was posted here, and Spirituality with a Capital "S", which is at the Element MySpace.)

Here is a great passage from Dallas Willard's The Great Omission:
I'm sorry to say this, but too much of what we call Christian is not a manifestation of the supernatural life of God in our souls. Too much of what we call Christian is really just human. And now I'm going to say something really terrible, so brace yourselves or stop your ears. The church of Jesus Christ is not necessarily present when there is a correct administration of the sacrament and faithful preaching of the Word of God. The church of God is present where people gather together in the power of the resurrected life of Jesus Christ. It is possible to have the administration of the sacraments and the preaching of the Word of God and to have it be simply a human exercise. And the misunderstandings of the church in this respect is one of the things that create a primary problem for the integration of theology and spirituality. Because, as was emphasized yesterday, a bad theology will kill any prospects of a spirituality that comes from life in Christ.

. . . [L]ife in Christ, and therefore biblical spirituality, has to do with obedience to Christ . . . [L]ife in Christ is a matter of the "spirit" . . . [S]piritual life is a matter of living our lives from the reality of God . . . Christian spirituality is supernatural because obedience to Christ is supernatural and cannot be accomplished except in the power of a "life from above."

The will to obey is the engine that pulls the train of spirituality in Christ. But spirituality in many Christian circles has simply become another dimension of Christian consumerism. We have generated a body of people who consume Christian services and think that is Christian faith. Consumption of Christian services replaces obedience to Christ. And spirituality is one more thing to consume. I go to many, many conferences and talk about these things, and so often I see these people who are just consuming more Christian services.

Some reflections:

1. I like that Willard begins with an indictment of Spiritless religion but immediately draws in the equally errant alternative -- Spiritless "spirituality."

2. The integration of theology and spirituality! Yes. What tends to happen in evangelical communities these days is an either/or tyranny. Either a church is mired in soulless intellect, or it radiates an emotionalist spirituality. And neither option, regardless of lip service, is vitally connected to Jesus Christ.
Jesus said that true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. This is why discipleship, obedience, community worship, and true religion are necessary (that's worshiping in spirit). And this is why theology, study, reflection, preaching, and teaching are necessary (that's worshiping in truth).
After all, the Great Commandment does not give a buffet option to the choices of "heart, soul, mind, and strength."

3. Which brings me to my favorite thing about this passage, and that is the connection Willard makes between "being in Christ" and "biblical spirituality." I read reviews online for a certain book by a certain famous speaker/writer today, and while many of them championed his vision for the Kingdom of God and the implications for such a counterculture, the most obvious thing that seemed to be missing from this Kingdom description was the most important one -- namely, that the Kingdom of God thrives on Jesus Christ as King. The vision of the kingdom I read about as explored in this book was all about personal fulfillment and cultural expansion, community revolutions and political and artistic renaissance. Those are all great things, as far as they go. But none of them gets to the heart of what it means to be a Christian, what it means to really enjoy Christian Spirituality, and what it means to really live and love in the Kingdom of God now present.

So many churches today define themselves -- and advertise themselves! -- based on what they are against, or what they are not. This often works in appealing to people, especially if it reflects current fashions on what (or who) is not fashionable.
And too many times these self definitions and advertisements creep into the philosophical culture and collective identity of the community, so it becomes less about marketing and much more about message.
America has an abundance of churches that are against boredom, "religion," traditionalism, sophistication, formality, insensitivity to seekers, etc. What the world is really in need of -- and what the call of Scripture upon the biblical community mandates -- is a church that is for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that worships, lives, eats, reflects, follows, and revolves around Jesus Christ. And that isn't ashamed or afraid to say so, market research be damned.
The point of Christianity is Jesus Christ himself.

My prayer is that Bellevue Community Church continues in its great love for the Savior, which as many of us have discovered, only multiplies and magnifies its love for the lost, for the broken, for the hurting, for the impoverished, and for each other.
That is Spirituality. That is life in Christ.


At 6:57 AM, Anonymous Dirk said...

Jared, you know I say this with admiration and respect for you - too many times comments on a blog can be interpreted as an attack - and in this case it is certainly not.

My reaction to the excerpt you've called attention to is this: It makes a lot of sense. My reaction is also, "and now this is happening". Now I'm to measure myself and my church up to this theological danger. That's just where I am.

Is there a way you might circle information back and apply it to the life of BCC? Or is that something you'd prefer the reader to do?

At 7:03 AM, Blogger Jared said...

No, I don't mind doing that at all. I was sort of trying to make that connection with my final paragraph.

The application I think BCC can (and is!) making, just like any Christian or church should make, is that spirit and truth are not an either/or proposition. They are a package deal. And what I tend to see is churches trying hard to specialize in one or the other.
So, on the one hand, you can have some fringes of the charismatic community really reveling in "spirit" but going clear off the rails doctrinally, and on the other hand churches in very heavy liturgical or traditional communities that mind all their doctrinal p's and q's but look as if they're having a root canal while they're doing it.

I think, at this time, BCC is doing a great job. There's always room for improvement, and since nobody and no church is perfect, there's always room for valid criticism, but I think we are on a great upward trend, getting closer as we grow to where Spirit and truth intersect.


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