Chapter 5 of Michael Spencer’s book Mere Churchianity asks, and defines, What Does Jesus-Shaped Spirituality Mean?
Spirituality, as a term, is something that Michael Spencer sees the mainline church embracing and the traditional, conservative, evangelical church as rejecting.
At the risk of his phrase Jesus-shaped spirituality “sliding into the Christian-terminology sinkhole and never coming out”, Spencer presses on with his use of the phrase spirituality. He does so particularly in the case of those who have given up “talking about God and religion because it was such a frustrating dead end”. And while taking care to not use spirituality in the manner used by non-Christians.
Spencer moves on to talk about things that shape people: their pets, what they eat, what they invest their time in.
“Invest yourself in anything…and it will alter what kind of person you are…if humans are spiritual by nature, and we were created to relate to God, then our lives will bear the imprint of that interaction…it’s essential that we talk about and understand spirituality.”
The starting point for such a discussion, Spencer says, is recognizing that we are human beings created in the image of God. “..we all have the inclination to recognize God, but most of us prefer to create a God-substitute”, even those who deny God or any other gods.
Through our varied life experiences, God shows us aspects of Himself and His nature. “Spirituality grows out of life.”
Religion, in contrast, “claims to have plenty of spirituality available for anyone who comes in and plays by the rules.” Spencer asks if the church’s offer of spirituality is a “safe bet, a big con, or an offer that comes with a lot of small print that warrants a careful reading?”
Here, I will skip over Spencer’s commentary on influence of sports on the church because I believe it worthy of a separate thread, that I plan to post and discuss next week.
Moving on, he makes the claim that “North American Christianity may have the distinction of having promised more of God and delivered less of God than any single act on the stage of church history.” Despite all the resources available to Christians, many still don’t “experience God”, being told that “what the church and its activities deliver is the spirituality of Jesus.” Jesus is behind the church sign and all of the activities going on in the church from Sunday morning through the week in the various programs it presents.
People merely have to come to church, and get involved. In fact, one church implied a “continuing relationship with Jesus comes through being present and involved in that church.”
Another provocative Spencer quote:
“I’m going to suggest that many, perhaps most, of those who are leaving the church or are about to leave are doing so because walking away seems to be the only path to authentic spirituality.”
Before one links those people to seeking after whatever “new age” teachers are selling, Spencer suggests asking what the chances were of those people genuinely finding God in what was offered in the churches “that advertise Jesus is Here”. Many of those Spencer knew who left the evangelical church found homes in other Christian communities, often those conservatives viewed as sell-outs or liberals.
Spencer says Jesus-shaped spirituality may not be “dispensed…as advertised” within evangelical churches. “The truth is that many of the leavers, and those about to leave, are headed in the direction of a Jesus-shaped spirituality when they walk out the church’s door.”
Spencer lists the various types of spiritualities he saw within evangelicalism: church growth, the culture war, family and worship. He asks if “the transforming, revolutionary spirituality of Jesus” is found in those spiritualities. He then goes back to the idea behind the quote in my last paragraph and asks what other option is there for those who seek spirituality and not religion.
That other option, he says, is “religious junk food” in the form of the next building program, the next topical study, latest attendance figures.
A couple of more quotes:
“The problem does not lie with those who refuse to sit down, be quiet, open their wallets and do what they are told.”
“I’m looking for a spiritual experience that looks like, feels like…acts like Jesus of Nazareth.”