Only in the past 5-10 years have I come to an awareness of the gnostic dualism that permeated all of the different stripes of evangelicalism that I grow up in – from the revivalist Beachy-Amish strain to the contemporary, liberalized Mennonite strain I find myself in now. What is this gnostic dualism? It’s a tendency to mark off things as “spiritual” and everything else as “less spiritual” or “not-spiritual” because, well they’re not “spiritual” (as defined by teachers/preachers). It teaches that ‘spirit’ is the part that God is most interested in, or that it’s the only channel where God/man connect. It teaches that ‘spirit’ is at the top of a hierarchy and everything else is lesser. It often implies that individualized, subjective feelings/emotions/thoughts are the path to God. It teaches that if you get the ‘spirit’ part right, then the outward stuff, like good works, community, unity with believers, etc will follow…
The outcome of these propositions? There are numerous consequences of this line of thinking, but one I’ll mention now involves an unspoken table with two columns (dualism); one being “spiritual” and one being “earthly”. And subsequently the more stuff you do in the “spiritual” column, the better, spirit-filled Christian you are, and the more likely you are to “fall in love with Jesus and have an ‘intimate’ individualized relationship with Him.” One astute writer describes this kind of christianity too perfectly… “Just being a decent human being for one hour [at restaurants for brunch] each Sunday and the world sees us in a whole new way. But it’s not going to happen. Because behavior at lunch isn’t considered to be “working on your relationship with God.” Behavior at lunch isn’t spiritual.” (My emphasis)
Now there are some shades of this dualism in Scripture, and I will not deny that or dismiss out-of-hand someone’s proof-text in support of this dualism. But we’ve (especially the revivalistic-pentecostal/charismatic strains of evangelicalism) too often overemphasized these proof texts and ignored others that balance out the dualism. And more recently the part of christianity I’m most familiar with has gone beyond more ‘traditional’ spiritual things, and added new ones or replaced old ones in the ‘spiritual’ to-do column… Here’s just a quick list of some of these.
- Mental faith/hope/belief (mental assent…)
- Getting ‘into’ contemporary worship set
- Reading/listening to ‘Christian’ radio, books, movies, music.
- Reading the Bible every day (The collection of books that were canonized/bound 300-400 yrs after Christ’s death & resurrection)
- Personal, individualized signs and wonders experiences
- Feeling really good, positive and happy about God and yourself
- Being alone with God
- Aggressive witnessing; Intense, emotional preaching/arguing/praying (With respect and no animosity on my part, but I feel brother Denny Keniston exemplified this the best)
Now go and search the Scriptures and find the passages (not just one verse) that show Jesus and the apostles emphasizing those listed above to the exclusion of other things. Is not spirituality both seen and unseen? Is the “spirituality” in the NT not openly visible and tangible? Is it always individualized and just personal?
Recently I’ve come to feel that many other things besides the list above can be considered spiritual activity. Here are some things I find to be ‘spiritual’ as well:
- just being with fellow believers, eating, talking, playing, etc.
- sharing food and fellowship with non-believers
- being in and with nature
- learning new things
- family life
- self-sacrifice/sacrificial giving
- being a decent, kind, empathetic, non-violent human being
- enjoying, participating with or even making transcendent beauty
- Intellectual study/rumination
- doing anything that is not contrary to the tangible, can-see, can-do love/peace/justice/abundance of the Kingdom of God
Now a second challenge… Show me what is not spiritual or transcendent or miraculous about those things… How can those things not cause one to praise and worship the Creator and Lord of all things? (unless you’re going through life hurriedly and unthinking…) I know there’s room for misunderstanding me here: I’m not saying you shouldn’t do the things in the first list. What I’m saying is those aren’t the only things that are spiritual. The kingdom of God is more expansive than the few things modern western dualistic christianity deems to be “spiritual”. Earth and heaven and whatever else is beyond will be God/His people’s space, and it will be filled with activity, much of which may not fit into the ‘spiritual’ column we’ve been taught to focus on. And that space isn’t going to be some ethereal vapor-land with disembodied souls floating around singing non-stop. It’s going to be pinch-yourself physical, albeit “glorified”! What a hope we have and if you’re following Christ now, you are partaking in some measure, of that glorious kingdom already!
For an easier to understand, more coherent read regarding this subject, see this article: “The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity” (quoted above)