Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Word I Don't Like

There is a word, a religious word that is used today to the point of mind-numbing suffocation. That word is spirituality. It means anything and everything, a veritable one-word melting pot that can accommodate every religious faith and tradition every crackpot religious philosophy from rubbing magic crystals on your forehead to channeling 10 century Chinese emperors. You can be “spiritual” and be a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, an atheist, a pantheist, a Wiccan, a consumer and even a sports fan (some sports – I’m thinking Southeastern Conference college football – have all the trappings of a major religious and spiritual movement).

It’s the word I’m having the most trouble with in Michael Spencer’s Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality. I almost wish he had used the word faith instead.

I’ll get over it. I’m actually he will, but the end of the book, enable me to rehabilitate the word in my own mind.

Spencer, having defined the problem the first four chapters of the book as one of church-shaped spirituality rather than Jesus-shaped spirituality, finally asks the question: What does Jesus-shaped spirituality look like? He’s going to spend the rest of the book answering that question, but he’s clear on what it is not.

It is not, Spencer says, a spirituality “measured by attendance figures, buildings and budget, all part of a spirituality that Jesus repudiated.” (That alone is enough to give every evangelical church in America great pause.)

It is not a culture-war spirituality, whose “kingdom is the eventual triumph of moral conservatism, and its spirituality is conflict and argument.”

It is not a spirituality of “emphasizing the Christian family as the central community in the Christina life.” Whoa!

And it is not a spirituality of worship experiences, of prophecy and seeking revival, of the “obsessive pursuit of doctrinal and theological precision,” or of health, wealth and prosperity.

Nor, I would add, is it a spirituality that equates Christianity with the United States and the Bible with the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

If that’s what it’s not, which pretty well encompasses a lot of what we think Christianity is, then was it this Jesus-shaped spirituality that Spencer talks about?

He writes: “I’m looking for a spiritual experience that looks like, feels like, sounds like, lives like, loves like and acts like Jesus of Nazareth. It’s that simple.”

And starting with the next chapter, we’re going to see how Spencer begins to answer the question. And if it is, really, that simple.

(Nancy Rosback at Bend the Page has been leading us in a discussion of Mere Churchianity. Check her place for the various links.)


Anonymous said...

i agree, the s word does cover a lot of territory. we could use "thing" and do just as well.

great post, glynn.

Cassandra Frear said...

It will be interesting to hear more about this book from you.

Shashidhar Sharma said...

Why is it a problem, if the word Spirituality encompasses the whole gamut of consciousness, subconscious, super consciousness, faith and belief systems... etc. Is it not good that we can say one word without stepping on some one else's perceived hurt toe?
I agree with you on the Churchianity though... would love to read more about it and will follow you on this blog...
Om Namah Shivaya

H. Gillham said...

He writes: “I’m looking for a spiritual experience that looks like, feels like, sounds like, lives like, loves like and acts like Jesus of Nazareth. It’s that simple.”

This made me take a breath this morning....

The key word is the word "simple" -- a life that many of us Christians are far, far away from --- we all think we want Jesus's experience perhaps until we really recognize what that means -- loving those who are different from us to the point of sharing meals and time with them, living without comfort, and being willing to put ourselves in physical danger for our faith and belief in Jesus Christ.

BTW: I have had many conversations with students over the year with what is spirituality. The definitions were as varied as the children who spoke them....

Thanks for an morning jolt to the brain, Glynn.

Kathleen Overby said...

This is like a four shot 20 oz. caffeine drink this morning. :) I'm awake, now.

Sandra Heska King said...

Kathleen makes me laugh. :)

Maureen said...

I finally caught up on the reading. You've pulled together very well the elements of the chapter. I'm pulled to read on to discover what's meant by the phrase.

Beth said...

You summed this chapter up well.
I am reading ch. 6, because I want to find out where he's going. This chapter irritated me and I too didn't like his choice of word.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I think it is difficult to pin down "spirituality." However, I like using it simply because it is less "religious" and biased with all the things he says it is not. People can get over traditional ideas of Christianity by thinking about spirituality instead. Maybe it is even beneficial for Christians to look at other forms of spirituality - Buddhism, Hindu, monastic, jewish, etc. to shake off the cultural handcuffs we have churched ourselves into.

I really like the things he says it is NOT. Because, he is right - it is those things that Christianity has been attached to in the last 50 years.

Very interesting stuff.

Timoteo said...

I do like his ideas as you've presented them here. Spot on!

SimplyDarlene said...

I have that book, my Bible, my notebook, and your page all open. Indeed this chapter twisted me in all manners. And like you, I would have preferred he used "faith" instead of the lingo he chose. I am about out of my mind with all that he rattled--I may have to skip ahead.

I will be posting on this chapter soon...when I can find my own thoughts and pull them to the surface.

Your first paragraph is a neat and tidy summary though.