“Christian” Ideas that Aren’t (7)

1.    “I’m more of a New Testament Christian.”
2.    “The Old Testament is legalistic and about law; the New Testament is about love and grace.
3.    “God helps those who help themselves.”
4.    “Those who do not work should not eat.”
5.    “Minds are like umbrellas.  They work best when open.”
6.    “My faith is private/personal and nobody else’s business.”
7.    “We need to be more spiritual.”

This is one of the most seductive ideas that lingers nearby whenever Christian living is discussed - and one of the most dangerous!  It’s not that the Bible denies that the reality of the human spirit, it doesn’t (see Rom.8:16).  But it flatly rejects the dualism we’ve inherited from Plato and his followers that we are made up of two “parts” – one material/physical/outer and the other spiritual/immaterial/inner and that when the Bible or the Christian faith speaks of something “spiritual” it refers to this immaterial/inner “part” of us which is the really important part.

Truth be told, the Bible and the Christian tradition at its best view human beings as psycho-somatic unities – “embodied spirit” or “ensouled bodies.”  Or we could say the body is the form our soul presents to the world.

Therefore the spiritual and the material, the inner and the outer, the mind and the body, cannot be separated or played off against one another.  When a person makes a change or a new commitment in their lives the total way of life of that person will reflect that change or commitment.  The old hymn still says it best:  “trust and obey, trust and obey, for the no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.”

The platonic dualism that so deeply marks the western world has made it easy and seemingly self-evident to separate what we claim is going on within us from what is reflected in our outer way of life.  “Trust and obey” – they intrinsically go together.  There’s no perfect or complete congruence, of course.  But there is a real and discernible interlock between them such that a substantial and discernible disconnect over time renders claims to belief incredible.  If we claim to believe something, we will “just do it” (as Nike has famously put it).

Another aspect of this matter is that we tend to get so enamored of our own “spirit” (inner, mental life) that our “spirituality” becomes a form of narcissistic self-therapy.  The New Testament insists, however, on putting and keeping things the other way around.  It’s God’s Spirit who initiates, directs, and transforms our lives.  The Spirit keeps us other-directed and on task with the mission of God in the world.

In fact, I think it would be a good and theologically sound idea to begin talk of Spirit-uality to speak of Christian growth rather than spirituality.  This might be a way for us to begin to overcome the deleterious dualism mentioned above.


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