One of the many children of the original “Wretched Urgency.”
In his outstanding, must-read book, The Myth of Certainty, Daniel Taylor uses a narrative method in some portions of the book that I’m sure many of you can relate to. The protagonist, a moderate Bible teacher who finds himself teaching at a fundamentalist Bible college, is constantly surrounded by Christians who operate on a set of assumptions he doesn’t share at all. In conversation after conversation, he finds himself saying as little as possible as his co-workers proceed on with their various crusades of certainty, fear, mythology and anger.
Such a narrative device bears more than a little resemblance to real life for many Christians. Surrounded by those with whom we share a basic faith, we’re constantly confronted with our non-participation in various causes and adventures that have, from our point of view, almost nothing to do with Jesus. Many Christians live out a kind of spirituality that shares the facts of belief with us, but beyond that, things get strange and stressful.
Such experiences have prompted me to think about three kinds of spirituality. (I’m sure there are plenty more.)
A spirituality of Desperation
A spirituality of Activism
A spirituality of Kingdom Living
Let me say a few things about “Desperation Spirituality,” a subject that seems to increasingly surround me.
A spirituality of certainty is all about proving that God is real, the Bible is true and Christianity is the truth. I’m sure I don’t have to enumerate all of the specifics or name names to talk about this kind of spirituality.
I have no problems understanding the impulse to find and confess the truth of the faith. I’d recommend it as a very healthy exercise for every kind of Christian. I also understand and practice the value of basic apologetics. While good apologetics doesn’t seek to “prove” things in a scientific way, apologetics does help us see the different kinds of evidence and lines of thinking that undergird Christian belief.
But let’s take the current goings on with Todd Bentley and the Lakeland healing revival. This is the latest in a series of so-called revivals that demonstrate what seems to be a kind of desperation on the part of a large segment of evangelicalism all over the world.
I’m not a cessationist, but I’m confident that these kinds of miracle obsessed movements are not genuine Christianity, but are a desperate aberration. With apologies to Jonathan Edwards and other defenders of genuine spiritual activity in the midst of excess, these kinds of movements amount to demands for God to prove himself. It’s the same temptation Satan offered Jesus when he suggested he cast himself off of the temple. It is a testing of the claim that God is real and will do the same kinds of miracles as occurred in the Gospels.
But there are two problems. First, none of these movements do anything resembling the kinds of miracles that occur in the Bible or the Gospels. Secondly, Jesus made it clear that subjecting God to our “tests” and our need for “proof” is wrong.
Most religions that teach God is personal and present have a segment of believers that constantly demand more proof and greater proof so that “faith” can be exchanged for certainty.
Out of this segment comes misplaced zeal, exaggerated claims, bad science, phony experts, conspiratorial mindsets, lies about miracles, a spirituality of desperation and an attitude of constant crisis in regard to what other Christians must support, accept and believe.
It’s interesting to note that there are hints in the New Testament that some Christians created a kind of spirituality of desperation certainty about the immediate return of Jesus. And Paul- who believed in the emminent parousia- told these Christians to go back to living normally and call off the crisis mindset. The “proof,” Paul says, is in the letter written by your lives. All other kinds of certainty are provided by the Holy Spirit. Calm down.
Note that in Mark 8, Jesus refused to do the sign the Pharisees said would convince them. Considering all the miracles recorded in the Gospels, it’s odd that Jesus would refuse to do one. Unless, of course, of course, miracles don’t create certainty or true faith at all.
One of the primary differences between a spirituality of desperation and a spirituality of Kingdom living is that life in the Kingdom is a matter of experiencing the Holy Spirit in normal life, and there is not a constant need to create situations where God proves himself by interventions and messages or Christians constantly must assert their certainty about matters where certainty isn’t required or even possible.
Kingdom living doesn’t live in a desperate mindset, afraid that atheism, secularism or Islam will “win” while Christians lose. Kingdom living doesn’t try to create an alternative universe where every intellectual issue is dealt with by adopting a Christian alternative, i.e. Christian math, Christian biology, Christian experts, Christian everything. (And trust me, I’m not just talking about Protestants or Fundamentalists here.)
One thing that has stayed with me from sabbatical is how many Christians I met who are devoted to Christian media, especially radio, were in an angry, desperate mindset, convinced that homosexuals and atheists were going to take away their rights, children, churches and culture. It wasn’t the Kingdom Jesus taught, but a conception of Christian culture created by those who want proof and the assumption of superiority to be constantly dominant. And those involved in it were desperate, fearful and angry, and thought I should be as well.
I’m not here to argue these issues, especially with those convinced we are in various kinds of end times crises. I’ve found long ago that when one Christian has an authoritative source that another one doesn’t share, the discussion is….well….not.
I just want to make the point that the Holy Spirit shapes us like Jesus, that his Kingdom has his character and his character is one of Kingdom living that is expressed in the work of the Holy Spirit in normal life and normal callings. In Kingdom living, we don’t need to demand God prove himself or require others to buy into the various kind of props we’ve built and pills we’ve taken to keep our faith intact.
Listen: If you faith is falling apart in the world in which you live, the answer is Jesus and the Holy Spirit, not more Christian radio, more miracles and more people shouting at you and the rest of us. Find a community that leads you to live your life in the Kingdom and don’t fall into the ditches of this crisis or that crisis. Replace a spirituality of desperation with the peace, love and joy of the Holy Spirit in the here and now of your life.