How Otherworldly Should I Be?

John ArmstrongSpirituality

 

It seems to me that much of the emphasis of evangelicals on piety and Christian living is rooted in a false dichotomy, or dualism. Spirituality, at least the way I learned about it, meant to withdraw from the world. And devotional life, or quiet time as we call it, means to get my battery charged so I can function in the world without being overwhelmed by it. The image is much like that of a modern battery-powered car. You plug it in overnight and then it runs for so many miles during the day. If you want to go the distance you need to charge the batteries all the more, thus spend more time away from the world. There is almost an equation here: the more time you spend alone the further your car runs in the real world. I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard the quote from Luther that he had a busy day before him so he would spend “three hours in prayer” that morning. Honestly, that has created more than a fair share of guilt for me for a long time.

I have a quiet place where I pray. I even have a place to kneel and reminders to help me. I use books, written prayers, my Bible, etc. But I still find I run down. Does this mean I need more time charging the battery in my car?

Behind this view is the idea that “true” Christian living consists of so-called “spiritual moments.” The busyness of real life is anti-spiritual and drains me. Time alone charges me. This means that time with people, working in the world, etc. is a threat to my spiritual well-being.

Lesslie Newbigin called this view the “Pilgrim’s Progress Model.” The emphasis, as many of you know from Bunyan’s classic, is on a decisive break with the world and a flight away from the “wicked city.”

In this model to be saved means to be saved from this world; spirituality means other-worldliness. But there are two major problems here and these problems are missed by modern evangelicals very badly. It is docetic to its core. It is rooted in the idea that matter is evil and spirit is essentially good. It is also Monophysite since the Christ of this form of spirituality has only one nature, the divine. Both of these heretical impulses have far ranging impact on modern evangelical versions of spiritual growth and life. Lesslie Newbigin suggests that this model needs to be supplemented by the "Jonah Model" of spirituality. In this model fleeing from the city is not the emphasis but rather we are "sent" to the city by a God whose heart is for the city and all its turmoil. We are not, in other words, called to escape the world but to live in it and to love it. Bosch_annemie David J. Bosch (1929-1992, photo with his wife at left) is correct when he concludes, "It is not a case of one model supplementing the other, for the two are absolutely indivisible. The involvement in this world should lead to a deepening of our relationship with and dependence on God, and the deepening of this relationship should lead to increasing involvement in the world" (A Spirituality of the Road, 13). Bosch suggested that Mother Teresa was a shining example of the indivisibility of these two models. By touching the poorest of the poor she was touching Christ and his body. Pouring out our love in our own context in the world is a prayer. We never stop doing one thing in order to do the other. Says Bosch, "Spirituality is all-pervading" (14).