Religious, not Spiritual: Toward a Christian Faith that Matters
Contemporary Christian faith is often an overly spiritualized, escapist faith focused on the guarantee of life after death as the main end of Christian living. Escapist ideas like the Rapture, once on the fringe, have become understood both within the church and without as central to the Christian message. Such a faith can seem disconnected from the real-world issues that so many people face and, as a result, becomes less and less appealing to those who are looking for a faith of substance.
Religious, Not Spiritual is a review and reaffirmation of the often neglected but deeply material nature of Christian faith. Examining traditional doctrines of Creation, Incarnation, Sacrament, Resurrection, and New Creation, the book demonstrates that Christianity has everything to do with the physical world and our place in it. In the book, we discover that far from promoting a spirituality that looks toward the day when we can escape the world and live in heaven with God, Christian faith has always affirmed the world as the place of God’s salvation, which God does not abandon, but seeks to redeem and restore. Religious, Not Spiritual reminds us that Christianity is deeply engaged with our physical being, our embodied existence, and life in the here and now.
- Publisher : CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2nd edition (October 7, 2017)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 152 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1976465842
- ISBN-13 : 978-1976465840
- Item Weight : 7.5 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.98 x 0.33 x 9.02 inches
- Customer Reviews: 5.0 out of 5 stars 2 ratings
- Editions: Paperback, Kindle
Part I—The Nature of the Problem
Chapter 1 – The Need for a Faith of Substance
Chapter 2 – How We Got Here
Chapter 3 – The Purpose of the Gospel
Chapter 4 – On Union of Body and Soul
Part II—The Materiality of Spirituality
Chapter 5 – Creation
Chapter 6 – Incarnation
Chapter 7 – Sacrament
Chapter 8 – Resurrection
Chapter 9 – New Creation
Part III—The Word Made Flesh
Chapter 10 – Incarnating Faith
Chapter 11 – Living Into the Kingdom
Chapter 12 – A New Sacramentalism
Chapter 13 – The Here and Now
Chapter 14 – Solidarity and Salvation
Christianity has a relevance problem. It seems to be coming more and more detached from people’s everyday experience. Quite simply, a great many people just don’t care what the church has to say.
Fearing a catastrophic loss of membership, many churches have looked for ways to become relevant. Often this relevance involves mimicking popular culture, having a contemporary service, or a pastor who is “cool” and has tattoos. Perhaps it means making the worship service more entertaining, with Christian rock music taking center stage over the traditional sacraments and liturgy.
But the relevance the church lacks has little to do with the style in which its message is presented. Indeed, were the message being presented actually relevant, it could be done in almost any style and be meaningful. The relevance that the church lacks is the ability to speak meaningfully to the ordinary, the everyday, and the material.
Somewhere along the way, the church became more focused on proclaiming a message of a heavenly afterlife than on bringing heaven to earth. Christians placed “getting saved” at the forefront rather than meeting people’s material need. And this detachment from the concrete, ordinary, day-to-day material concerns of average people meant that the church has drifted ever further away from being relevant in people’s lives. That needs to change.
In order to effectively proclaim a world-transforming gospel message, the church needs to reassess its relationship with the material world. Our overly spiritualized, hyper-individualistic faith no longer speaks with the same power to a world in need. If Christianity is to play a meaningful role in the transformation of the world, Christians need to reengage with the world. We need to get our hands dirty in the dust and mud of the earth.
To that end, I have set out to write a defense of a material spirituality. In so doing, I have not purported to reinvent Christian faith, rather to help others rediscover the authentic heart of their faith tradition. It is my firm belief that an encounter with the deeper, more ancient affirmation of the material world can be a powerful and motivating experience for the person of faith.
I remember my own experience in seminary, learning that the ancient Church believed not in going to heaven when you died, but in sleeping in the earth until the Resurrection of the Dead. It was as if a light went on and suddenly all the mysteries of Christian faith began to make sense in a new and exciting way. Suddenly, my faith was not about some detached, otherworldly promises but about very real, physical redemption here and now. I believe this understanding of our faith to be empowering and motivating, and I believe it’s the birthright of every Christian to claim this faith.
It wasn’t always my intention to write a book on the subject, but my growing frustration with the otherworldly way that Christianity was being portrayed in the popular culture—and very often by Christians themselves—was making me feel that I should lend my voice to lifting up a different way.
In the spring of 2011, when Harold Camping managed to convince thousands that the Rapture was imminent and then tried to convince them again that the Rapture was imminent in the fall of that same year once it failed to arrive in the spring, I’d had enough. Ranting to a colleague about the dangerous belief in an otherworldly, disengaged Christian faith that the Rapture represented, she said, “It sounds like you have a book in you.” And so, I began to write.
Although the sentiments and the ideas of this book have been on my heart for a while to write, to the extent that this book should have any merit, it is not on account of its author. Rather, should this book have its intended effect and actually help to bring about some change within contemporary Christianity, it will be because the ideas expressed herein resonate with a generation willing to be open to them. If that be the case, it will be due less to my talents and more to the pedigree of the ideas, which have deep roots in Christian faith and have only suffered from neglect in their implementation.
I understand that this book will likely make some people uncomfortable, as it challenges some commonly held beliefs long held by many. It is not my intention to mock or disparage such beliefs, only to point out that a much deeper, more ancient belief provides even more hope and a greater foundation for living out our faith.
In this book, the terms First Testament and Second Testament will be used in place of the customary Old Testament and New Testament. Doing so emphasizes the continuity between the two testaments and avoids any of the complications or other associations that the terms “old” and “new” may have. With regard to the translations of scripture used, all translations of the Biblical text are my own unless otherwise noted. In those translations, where the Tetragrammaton—the four-letter name of God— is encountered, I do not follow the customary English translation practice of writing Lord in small caps. I choose to translate it as “Yhwh,” without vowels, to create the same visual impression, and preserve some of the same mystery, as is found in the Hebrew text. If, for some reason, you should have occasion to read this book aloud, feel free to substitute “Lord,” “Yahweh,” “Jehovah,” or even the Jewish “Adonai” when reading. And finally, I endeavor to use the word “they” throughout the text as a gender-neutral third-person pronoun, the way we all already do but our grammar teachers tell us is impermissible. I may also use other grammatical constructions like split infinitives and prepositions at the end of sentences, both of which are perfectly permissible in English and were only prohibited by academics who believed that English grammar should more resemble Latin’s. These usages are intentional. I also use serial commas; it’s just the way I was raised.