Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Gospel Against Hyper-Spirituality

So relax.
-- the last line in Abide, a book on Spiritual disciplines

Today is gorgeous. 72 degrees out in the clean New England spring air. Nothing but blue skies. I rolled my windows down, cranked up some Van Morrison, and drove through the Vermont countryside -- and all of Vermont is countryside, really -- my heart lifted by the rising waves of green all around me. I was doing nothing explicitly spiritual, but man, did that one hour errand-run make me love God more!

A while back I got big-time hated on for writing that because of the gospel we are free to watch a little television (among other things). I was especially derided for this line: "The gospel frees us to chill the heck out." That part really irked a lot of people who didn't have any trouble expressing their feelings on the Internet. :-) Justin Taylor, Ray Ortlund, and Kevin DeYoung all publicly supported what I was saying, and I was encouraged by them greatly, but their support also resulted in fresh barrages of rhetorical arrows slung my way.

This experience led me to believe that we have a huge problem with understanding what "taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" looks like. And that realization led me to devote an entire chapter in the forthcoming Gospel Wakefulness to the subject of hyper-spirituality. Here is an excerpt from the chapter titled "Freedom from Hyper-Spirituality":
The best way I can illustrate hyper-spirituality is like this:

Imagine I give my daughters a new dollhouse. It’s a beauty. It’s four stories tall, ornately detailed, equipped with working lights and windows that slide up and down, and contains ample room for all their many dollies and dolly accessories. I give it to them and tell them I love them. But for some reason they think I don’t really expect them to play with it, but rather to spend any awareness they have of the dollhouse standing before me, thanking me for it. They somehow get it into their heads that to go into another room and play with the dollhouse is ingratitude, that I won’t feel properly thanked (or even pleasure in giving them the gift) except in their direct thanks to me. They don’t ever enjoy the dollhouse; they just show how much they love the gift of it by thinking of ways to thank me other than actually playing with it.

This is the view of God that belongs to the hyper-spiritual.

In the illustration—hypothetical, I assure you, since my daughters would be exponentially more enamored with a new dollhouse than with their lame ol’ dad—my daughters are zealous for something good: thanking their dad for the gift. But they have missed the point of both the gift and my relationship to them as a loving Father who gives good gifts. Echoing Romans 10:2, they have a zeal, but not according to knowledge.

Hyper-spirituality is what happens when we (usually implicitly) think that obedience to God and giving glory to God is about payback. We turn astonishment over the gospel into fuel for measuring up. We assume God requires a nearly monastic attention from us, a focus so self-consciously rigorous it must understand the concept of freedom in Christ in ways that don’t sound much like freedom.
Today I read this excellent piece from John Piper on (essentially) not wasting our summer. It's a good piece, and while this would not be Piper's fault, I am fearful some may hear what he is not saying.

Is Jesus' burden hard? Is his yoke heavy?

This summer go swimming. Lay out in the grass and count the clouds. Sit on the porch and drink some lemonade. Catch fireflies. Feel the wind in your hair. God gives these good gifts to be opened and enjoyed.


Ryan Phelps said...

Great. Just great. Though I draw the line at catching fireflies.

Jared said...

If your kids wanted you to catch fireflies with them, would you say no? ;-)

Jacob said...

Thanks Jared. I don't do this well, if at all. Regular job, part-time ministry job, and part time seminary take up almost all of my time.

David King said...

This seems to be the warning of the Preacher, "Be not overly righteous" (Eccl 7:16). Instead, eat, drink, find enjoyment, work heartily, all under the fear of God.

Keep bringing it!

Ryan Phelps said...

@Jared, I would probably go collect dog poop off the street if my kids asked me to. However, if you ever catch me, by myself, out at night, running around like a lunatic with a jar in hand, well... :-]

Josh Collins said...

Having recently read Piper's chapter on creation in the Pleasures of God, I think he's a big fan of enjoying summer as well.

Excellent illustration about the dollhouse too.

Rob Holliday said...

Like Jacob said, I don't do this well either, but man, is it essential. I echo the compliment on the dollhouse illustration, nicely put. Thanks for the offering, this needs to be said and taught often, IMHO.

Jamie said...

Honestly, I so struggle with this. To some extent, enjoying God's creation is an easy out on the question.
How does this same logic include Van Morrison, television, or, sinful of all pleasures: watching the Celtics?
I want to believe these things are okay, but its hard to justify to myself.

John Blake said...

Thanks for the reminder that God gives me all things richly to enjoy. I labored for years under the yoke of a taskmaster--but now just trying "to chill the heck out." ;) -John

Jared said...

Jamie, there is obviously no command to enjoy certain things like TV or what-have-you, and all wisdom and discernment is still in order. If your conscience is not clear, it is wiser to abstain than indulge. Let's just be sure it is really our Spirit-formed conscience, not a moralistic anxiety.

Dominick said...

yes! woohoo!

Roberta said...

Every good and perfect thing comes from above for us to enjoy. I think this is enjoying God! Drinking deeply of Scripture or gentle breezes and green grass or both at the same time is a little like Heaven, I think.

michael said...

Great stuff. I think we regularly see the same sort of idea play out in evangelism when we either end up not doing it because we think we can't answer every question, or steamroll somebody with a million answers to questions they are probably not asking. When we understand the gospel we can share it and chill the heck out while the Holy Spirit does the work!