I have been thinking lately about the combination of church and culture in the hearts of American Christians. Actually, as a pastor, you might say this issue is ingrained in what I do on a weekly basis, but nonetheless, it has been on the surface in recent days. Where does church fit into our priorities and schedules? How are we acculturated to view our spiritual selves? How much of that do we bring into our weekly church habits? Is church (as we know it) really all that important in the long run? So, as any decent blogger, I thought I would think out loud about a few things.
There are no major, publicly accepted institutions that enforce the importance of the spiritual.
The biblical view, which I believe is the accurate anthropological view, is that everything is spiritual (with apologies to Rob Bell). Though we are accustomed to a view in which our normal, day-to-day lives are lived in a non-spiritual and wholly “secular” world, it is more accurate to say that there is nothing that is not God-soaked.
Three of the primary influences in our culture create and reinforce the compartmentalization of our spiritual awareness: politics, journalism, and the university. In the world of politics, religion and spirituality play a unique, if not corrosive role. It is not uncommon, even among the least personally spiritual politicians, for candidates to invoke God or religion in some way. But even if they call it a “personal matter” or utter phrases like, “God bless America,” it is understood that their personal religious beliefs will remain private. They claim it in the public sphere, but they claim it to be only subjectively meaningful. And that is why I call it a corrosive role. We end up learning that the only right role for religion is subjective – religion does not belong in the public square. But because many of our public leaders claim some kind of religious conviction, we are lulled into the sense that a completely private spirituality is all we need. Our political sensibilities simply do not help us understand the proper role of Christian spirituality in our lives.
Journalism is even worse. An industry that is dedicated to up-to-the-second information with little to no context leaves us little to no room for rumination and reflection. If you wanted to, you could find a way to be inundated with “facts” and information 24/7. You would be, in one sense of the term, “informed” but you would have little to know actual understanding about anything you now have rolling around in your head. Headlines are poor substitutes for thought. Come to think of it, a lifestyle of headlines becomes a roadblock to sustained thought.
Add to that the growing reality that most of what passes for mainstream journalism is heavily influenced by a point of view, and you have a recipe for group-think.
For centuries Christians have been known as “people of the book,” meaning not only that they are guided by Scripture, but that they ought to be comfortable with the kind of intellectual and spiritual work that is done through the Book. We are not headline people who jump to quick and dirty conclusions. We are people who soak in the wisdom of the ages through each and every season of life. The wise Christian is a different creature than the well-informed news-junkie.
And then there is the ubiquitous influence of the western university. More and more these institutions have become degree factories in which students pursue a technical degree aiming at getting a high-paying job on the other end. Along the way, some of them are forced to take a required number of “humanities” credits, which in my experience, is not always a welcome experience for them. “Will this help me find a job?” seems to be the guiding principle for both the school and the student.
“Will this help me be a better human being?” is a question neither knows how to answer. But it is ultimately the question for all of us to answer. The Christian’s primary concern here is about the spiritual formation of the human person under God and not how much money they will make in their lives or how much technical skill they possess. If a person becomes wealthy is neither here nor there. Wealth is a tool that can be used virtuously by the well-formed soul, or viciously by the malformed soul. But this is not how we are trained in the world around us, and these concerns are left unanswered and un-addresses by our typical university system.
So then, who will teach us what the spiritual life under Christ looks like? And maybe it is more a matter of modeling/living out the importance of the spiritual than teaching it (in the sense of instructing it).