Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Spirituality or Personality?

I am just about finished reading Coffee Shop Conversations--a book that is designed to help Christians improve their skills in conversing with unbelievers about their faith--the Christian's and the unbeliever's. It is a very good book that has challenged my thinking in a number of areas. I hope to put many of its principles to use in my future interactions with unbelievers.

I was thinking about the book and its ideas yesterday and it occurred to me that those who read the book may not experience the same level of success with its principles as the author (or in this case, authors) did. In fact, it is likely that many readers will not. This is not in anyway meant to denigrate the authors or their ideas. I'm simply recognizing the fact that the authors have personalities that are well-suited to approach the issue of "spiritual small talk" according to the methods in their book--obviously. They are, after all, the ones who had the ideas in the first place! Not everyone who reads this book (and I think many Christians should) will have personalities that are as well-suited for the type of conversations described in its pages. In their defense, the authors do not in any way market their book as a fool-proof method for personal evangelism nor do they make any ridiculous guarantees of success for those who buy and read a copy. Their approach is very conversational and easy-going in tone. However, my reading of the book and the thought-process it sparked do raise a point that I feel needs to be made.

There is a very common and very costly mistake that we as Christians make within the Christian community we know as the church (both in its universal and local manifestations). I can best summarize this mistake by quoting from none other than...myself. Several months ago, I placed the following sentence as a status on my Facebook page, "Andrew Doan has been wondering lately--if a person in our cultural context (21st century America) lived the Christian life exactly the way God meant it to be lived, what would it look like?" The question sprang out of a frustration at trying to sort through all of the advice we as Christians are inundated with through preachers, podcasts, and Christian book distributors. Everyone seems to have the principle to make it all work or the standard of success to which we all should aspire. For some time now I have been attempting to sift through the pulp and get to the genuine heart of Christianity--as the tag line of this blog indicates. While there is nothing wrong with this search itself, I (along with many others) are making a mistake when we assume that two individuals (or 2,000 for that matter) living the Christian life "the way it was meant to be lived" will manifest this in exactly the same way. It is a mistake to assume that "spirituality" (although I don't really like that term) will look exactly the same for each Christian. In fact, I would submit that it will not look exactly the same in any two individuals because no two individuals are exactly the same. We know that we are all different, but I fear that we forget this basic fact when it comes to determining a person's level of spiritual dedication. (Which, by the way, is something that is very difficult to do without sinning.) To put it simply, many of us as believers confuse spirituality with personality. This often occurs when we listen to a pastor, speaker, author, or other "Christian celebrity." We take the specific manifestations of their walk with God as it exhibits itself through their personality, and we assume that we, if we are going to be truly spiritual, must look and act the same way. I just don't believe that is true. Furthermore, I think it can be frustrating and unhealthy to try living this brand of "Mockingbird Christianity." I think that because I have tried it and found it to be frustrating and unhealthy.

What does God list as the true marks of spirituality? I can think of no better answer than the fruit of the Spirit as it is listed in Galatians 5. These attributes, as I understand them, are the natural outgrowth of a Christian who is walking in the Spirit and abiding in Christ moment by moment. The fruit of the Spirit is true spirituality. However, even these 9 items will not necessarily look the same in each person who exhibits them. Not everyone expresses love, joy, peace, exactly the same way. This is a simple concept that we all can understand. Yet, when we are told (or believe) that "good Christians will do such and such or act in such and such a way or fit a certain mold," we are ignoring one of the basic characteristics of our humanity as God created it--diversity. To assume that all good Christians will look and act the same is just as foolish as assuming that all evil people will look and act the same. Look at the fruits of the flesh that are listed just prior to the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Is it realistic to assume that every person who is angry or lustful or drunk or envious or a murderer will exhibit these vices in the same fashion? What if I were to preach that those who are "truly carnal" will look and act very much like an Adolf Hitler or a Ted Bundy? That is an outrageous and untrue statement, and that is why I typed it. I hope it causes you to think about the danger of confusing spirituality with personality.

My point is this--I think we need to allow people the freedom to express their individuality without questioning their spiritual dedication or commitment to Christ. As a teacher, I have been guilty of judging teenagers in this way many times, and it is wrong. To live a life that is in direct opposition to God's way and God's word is one thing. To walk with Christ according to the "beat of your own drum" is another. The first is sin. The second is...well, I guess I can say it's spirituality.

Just some thoughts for your consideration and comment if you feel so inclined.

As a brief appendix to this post, I would like to list several areas of our Christian walk where we tend to confuse spirituality with personality. Feel free to add more as you think of them...

1) Personal Evangelism/Witnessing - not everyone is the tract-passing, door-knocking, street-preaching type of person. Yet, to hear some talk, that is the only way truly spiritual Christians go about sharing their faith.

2) Corporate Worship - not everyone is the hand-raising, glory-shouting, amen-saying type of person. Someone (like myself) can be a bit a more reserved and private about their worship and still truly engage in this important activity.

3) Confession of Sin - not everyone is the chest-beating, tear-shedding, sackcloth-wearing type of person. Psalm 51:17 makes it clear that it is the condition of a person's heart attitude and not the external show of contrition that God is looking for.

One last thought--I am not saying that these personality-driven manifestations of spirituality are wrong. On the contrary, I think every Christian should live true to God and true to themselves at the same time. What I am saying is that a lack of similar manifestations should not be considered probable cause for a lack of sincerity or genuineness as a believer. I am done.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Reflections on Reaching My 30th Birthday

A quick glance at my last post tells me that it has been over a month since I have blogged. The reason for this is simple--I haven't really had much to blog about. Usually there is some line of thinking circling my brain about which I want to write, but this has not been the case over the last few weeks. So...I haven't.

Yesterday was my 30th birthday. It just seems to me that such an occasion warrants a few comments, they are.

1. At the risk of sounding trite, I have to echo the sentiments of many who've gone before me--time passes quickly...much too quickly. It is odd for me to think of myself as having completed 30 years of life. I really do feel like I am still a teenager. (One look in the mirror and a glance at my proceeding forehead reminds me that I am not.) One of the strongest feelings I have at this milestone is a profound sense of the need to redeem the time. By this I don't necessarily mean I want to get more done, be more productive, or work harder or longer. (Although I probably should do some of those things.) I mean I want to make the most of each moment. If I am working, I want to work hard. If I am playing, I want to play hard. I want to enjoy my wife, kids, and the world around me as much as I can. I want to develop my walk with God to the fullest. I want to live a completed life with few (if any) regrets.

2. Unlike others I've heard of, I never really had a very specific set of goals for where I wanted to be or what I wanted to be doing by the time I reached 30. That being the case, it is somewhat difficult for me to evaluate how "successful" I have been in life thus far. To be transparent, there are times when I do feel somewhat discouraged by the fact that I haven't really done anything "great" in life yet. (I guess I've always had this secret desire to be known for doing something outstanding. It's an issue of pride, I know.) Overall, however, I have to say that I am very happy with the life I have been given. My wife never ceases to thrill and amaze me with her joy, forgiveness, and companionship. My kids amuse, frustrate, and delight me day after day. I have family and friends who challenge and intrigue me with their various personalities and viewpoints. I have a job that I love (most of the time) and hobbies that enrich my journey. I am privileged to live a very comfortable life with much more "stuff" than I need or deserve. Although I have my difficulties and doubts, when I step back and look at the big picture, I have to say...the first 30 years have been a great ride!

3. As my friend and employer, Brian, likes to say, "The more you know the less you know." I agree wholeheartedly. In many ways, I feel as though I know less about life in general and the Christian life in specific at 30 than I did when I graduated from high school. Various experiences over the last decade have caused me to step back, rethink, and reevaluate many aspects of my life and beliefs. I don't view this as a bad thing, however. I really feel that I am at a point in my life where my searching and questioning are constructive rather than destructive. I don't mind at all that I seem to have more questions than answers in many areas. Maybe that's just what I need. I am confident that God will guide my thoughts and steps. As a song I heard recently says, "These things take time."

Other than those quick thoughts, I have tried not to think about turning 30 too much. After all, it's just a number.

In the meantime,

Still looking for genuine...