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, etc...in 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.
Okay...now I am done.