The End of Religion - Spirituality

In this book, the author is making a case for the definition of spirituality based on Jesus' use of the word "faith". On page 43 of the book, the author describes spirituality as one's connection with God (ultimate reality) directly, above and beyond the systems and institutions of religion. On page 44, he clarifies this, noting a difference between relating to God through systems of doctrine, codes of conduct, inherited traditions, or institutions of power and relating to God directly; soul to soul, mind to mind, and heart to heart. Without the second, the first is meaningless.

For me, one thing this highlights is the difference between thinking about God (theology and doctrine) and experiencing God (which can both reinforce and dismantle doctrine). There is tension in the reality that no matter what we do or think, it is pleasing to God when we do it with a renewed heart, which comes from repentance and is given to us by Jesus alone as a result of his work on the cross. I would add though that our hearts need daily renewal, because we have a tenancy to take the reigns back from Jesus and mar the new heart he gives us. In this light, I also think (both theologically and from my own experience) that salvation is as much a process that "wells up to eternal life" as it is the event that secures our place within God's eternal family.

As Christians, what we do then (our works - both good and bad), are not a marker for whether we are saved or not. Instead, the things we do serve to impact the scope and nature of our need for daily renewal and repentance, and the scope and nature of our partnership with the living God in the reality of His Kingdom on earth. Our lives, though temporary, have become more than temporary because we are living eternally now. The more good we do, the more in tune we will be with the God of all goodness, and the less we will require major scopes of repentance. Repentance, by it's very nature, turns us toward what God is doing. Of course, we will always be repenting of the attitudes and things we do which miss the mark of God's holiness - but the change as Christians is what the scope and breadth of that repentance will be in our day-to-day lives. The crux of both our repentance and our salvation is then the attitudes of our heart rather than the outer shell of what we do, which is something that only we and God can see.

It's clear that Christian culture to the right values the intellectual side of experiencing God more than the mystical side of experiencing God. But to the far left, God seems to be reduced to a proverbial dopamine pill - so what people think about God (theology) is virtually inconsequential compared to the spiritual/emotional experience. Both sides have major pitfalls: If we fixate on theology, then our spirituality becomes nothing more than an intellectual exercise ("faith without works..."). Along this line, if our works are that we patrol our doctrinal boarders for perceived infractions, we will almost certainly miss the new ways that God is engaging the world to redeem it for himself. I think of the Pharisees who thought they had the scriptures figured out because they interpreted and followed Torah to the letter, which caused them to completely miss the real point of the Law: Love for God and neighbour (Matthew 9:13). At the same time, if we focus only on our emotional experience with God, then any theology will suffice as long as it supports our experience, which can lead a dead faith that is highly personalized, segregated and ultimately disconnected from God's work in the world. I think here of the zealots who were so worked up about being under Roman authority that they completely missed the messiah they had been longing for.

We need to follow Jesus with reckless abandon because though we may stumble, we WILL NOT fall. But when we start halfheartedly following Jesus; when we fixate on the experience (good, or bad) or on the theological (doctrine), theoretical (philosophical) and/or metaphysical (how spiritual things 'work'), we can easily lose the essence of our connection with God - trust - our real spirituality. Experience and theology are good things, but we need to have the kind of trust in God and humility that is willing to let our man-made foundations of experience and theology give a little to make more room for the foundation of the words of Jesus (Matthew 7:24-28).

When we lose this, that is when bad stumbles happen.


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