Spiritual things

dualismOnly 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
  • science
  • art/creativity
  • 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
  • intimacy
  • 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)

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Palestine/Israel: Tears and Blood

red-heart1Many hearts around the world, including mine, break and sigh under the cloud of violent news coming from Palestine/Israel. Interceding and beseeching God seems to be the only thing to do anymore. The supposed “neutral” arbiters seem more impotent than a dead weed. As a bystander, I’ll won’t offer much in the way of solutions either, but I would offer these thoughts and suggestions.

  • I believe God’s heart is with those suffering on both sides of this conflict. Those who stand unscathed in the places of power and command and privilege are most likely far from His favor as they rain down death and destruction knowing they’ll continue to be “safe”.
  • Please, please read and study the stories of both sides. But especially to us who have grown up in the american evangelical radio/bookstore bubble, please read the story of the Palestinians. I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of us have heard the Israeli side, many times and from many angles. That’s only half the story. Please know the other side too. (And that’s not a recommendation to read Hamas or some other terrorist group’s rhetoric. Read the Palestinian story – there is a difference)
  • Try, even if it’s just for theoretical/thought-experiment purposes, to separate this conflict from the “biblical prophesy” stuff that’s energized us american evangelicals for so long. Look at the context and history through other glasses besides the “book-of-Revelations” one and see how that effects your perspective. Remember, the pre-millennial dispensationalist “Left Behind” eschatology is a very recent innovation/interpretation (early 1900’s). It is not the only logical, viable interpretation and therefore it (and its uniquely Western bias, and its emphasis on the modern state of Israel could be wrong; way wrong. I’m also pretty sure adherence to it (mainstream evangelical eschatology) is not necessary for the salvation of one’s soul… so take a second look at the situation, through some other glasses.  Read some early church father’s or Reformers take on Revelations… God may show you something new.
  • Tune out the partisan politicians and TV news and websites, especially those who dogmatically shout for only one side or the other. At the least, hold what they say lightly and don’t swallow it whole. Be a Berean and search them out a little. Vet their rhetoric. And hold it up to the Light of Jesus’ teaching and example. If your eschatology/end-times ideas make you sound/come across like a bloodthirsty heathen, then your eschatology/end-times ideas may be far from the way of Jesus.

Finally, pray and study and listen. May Jesus’ peace and hope come to Palestine/Israel sooner, rather than later. It will be a huge step towards God’s restoration of earth and humanity.

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Simplistic thinking + Our fallen nature = Destruction

karlMarxIf you took note of the books I’m currently reading (Listed in the GoodReads widget to the right, under the header), one of those books was the Communist Manifesto. This may cause some consternation among some of you. If you stick with me past this paragraph, you may be surprised. Here’s a bit that came out of my reading of the Communist Manifesto.

First and foremost, it’s large on generalities and short on complex details or thoughtful solutions to complex problems. It tries to build a case for one simple solution to an incredibly complex situation. That situation was the industrial revolution that began rocking the West in the mid 1800’s and into the 1900’s. Continue reading

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Going the second mile for liberals, gays, Muslims, atheists, gun-haters, feminists, animal rightists etc.

woodsRoad_1I love the circles of mainly christian/evangelical, middle to upper middle class friends, family, work and acquaintances in which God has placed me. These spheres have multiple up-sides. Familiarity, less relational stress, religious/spiritual rapport and encouragement are just a few. But there’s a downside…

Especially vexing at times is how we in this clique tend to talk about those who are outside of this comfy ghetto. In our conversations and by extension, in our attitude, people who are liberals/Democrats, gays, Muslims, atheists, urbanites, environmentalists, gun-control advocates, mainline christians, animal rightists, feminists, or secular academia are generally feared, reviled or dismissed. Our chit-chat often mocks these people. We love jokes that make fun of these kinds of people. We imagine their thoughts and actions are ever plotting to persecute and destroy us. We celebrate their downfalls. We talk as if we know and understand their minds and intentions very well, but we rarely actually quote them (let alone sit down with them and hear their side). We repeat what we’ve heard media/religious ‘experts’ write or say about them, which is always how awful they are. We easily slip into exaggerating their faults and beliefs. We make them into unreconcilable monsters who deserve our scorn and who deserve retaliations via media, preaching/teaching, education, lawsuits, politicking or other end-justifies-the-means worldly machinations short of real violence against them. Continue reading

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Too intimate before it’s time…

mystery-couple-talkI remember many years ago listening to Focus on the Family and a discussion of the 12 steps to intimacy.  I’ve wondered about this process as it relates to the Church and its relationship with her suitor, Jesus Christ. Can a connection be made between the caution expressed in the 12 steps of intimacy and the feelings/emotionalism/romanticism emphasis of modern evangelical christianity? Could  the caution to not get too deep, too quickly apply to our relationship with God too? (individually and corporately) I don’t want to suggest that ‘not seeking to draw nigh to God’ is the right path, but is there an emphasis in our evangelical christianity that might push people to jump over or rush through needed steps in our path towards ultimate fellowship with almighty God? Continue reading

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What am I reading now? See the newly added widget.

Books: Lights of learning

Books: Lights of learning

One of the latest web things I’ve found and really like are online personal book catalogs. Recently I began using LibraryThing for our church library and I’ve started using a similar one called goodreads for my personal use. The great thing about both of these is the ability to link your book lists to widgets/code that shows and updates on your blogs or other social media. (An aside: In the little bit I’ve used them both, I’m leaning towards LibraryThing as the better of the two) So if you look at the top right of this page, you’ll see the goodreads box with the title “I am currently reading” on top, and there you’ll see book titles/covers I’m currently reading. Neat aye!

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I’m tired of…

tired-guyI’m grateful for the local church family that God has placed me in, and I believe God is using us together in some way despite our shortcomings. But there are times I feel an overwhelming sense of exasperation and disillusionment with the mainstream evangelical american stream of christianity in which we/I live and breath (church, work, facebook, basically everywhere) What follows is critique, but for me it’s also catharsis.

Continue reading

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