Many now refer to themselves as spiritual versus religious. They’re looking to free themselves from religious dogma and highlight the spiritual experience of faith. From his book, The Future Of Faith, Harvey Cox writes, increasing numbers of people who might once have described themselves as ‘religious’…want to distance themselves from the institutional or doctrinal demarcations of conventional religion…. It’s a trend that will continue, and for good reason.
People are tired of restrictive religious creeds that have little meaning or application to them – or that require a degree in theology to understand. We want the freedom to live life to the the fullest. Dogma hinders our experiences and our spirituality. Dogmatic beliefs, too often, become the focus, versus the living out of one’s faith. Cox continues, We have been misled for many centuries by the theologians who taught that ‘faith’ consisted in dutifully believing the articles listed in one of countless creeds they have spun out.
What’s clear in Christianity is that its centerpiece, Jesus, has been misunderstood, misinterpreted, and mis-taught, for centuries. The creeds and dogma have not expressed (or have failed to be contextualized for our generation) the freedom or the incredible power of the kingdom that Jesus taught and modeled for us.
Christianity, in many respects, has done exactly what Jesus spoke out against. Jesus provided ample stories, scenarios, and warnings to not be like the pharisees. When Christians define faith as whether or not one has said the sinner’s prayer, or if one has accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, they’ve set up a gate. It’s like setting up a toll booth on the highway to discovering God. The booth is unnecessary. Those on the spiritual journey to God have a speed pass. They can zip right through, and much faster than the posted speed limit. They will of course be wise to allow those who understand the kingdom to set their GPS.
There is a natural fear of the “spiritual.” It’s too broad. It allows for too much drifting. Drifting from what? Doctrine. In the minds of some well-meaning religious folk, the journey to God is a dogmatic path – it’s what they know. Yet the message of Jesus is one of freedom in a new kingdom, an empire – the kingdom of the heavens. This can and should include freedom and creativity of expression. It’s not about doctrine. It’s about entering into God’s family (His Church) and allowing His spirit to empower, enrich, and enliven us. It’s tuning into God’s realm of passion, creativity, love, life, community, peace, grace, and happiness.
One has to wonder if the creeds and doctrines are fear based (they were addressing specific issues and concerns of their day for sure). In other words, rather than trust the freedom and the power of the kingdom, they prefer the safety and security of their own articles of faith. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, nor should we pass judgment, as few of us walk without fault, or without security blankets. Just like in our own lives, perhaps a focus on living out our faith versus defining faith would bring better results.
I don’t call myself a Christian for a variety of reasons (I have changed this approach – I am indeed Christian), although I do follow the teachings of Jesus. It would be silly not to listen to what Jesus has to say. But the label of Christian, similar to religion, creates too many walls. It pulls in too much history, too much hypocrisy, and too much institutionalism.
The Good News of the kingdom can’t be spread with a creed. It’s spread through changed lives, compassion, empathy, love, real powers of example, community, and the spirit of God – His Church. This works better than words. We do want to be careful not to trample on core beliefs. At the same time, we should have enough faith in God to work through us creatively, powerfully, and without dogmatism.
Losing our religion to spirituality is not a bad thing. It’s a cultural demand for something better – something with more meaning. So give it to them! The Good News hasn’t changed. The prophets are out in force. Their forms and mediums may sound strange, even offensive. This is normal. The karma has indeed run over the dogma. Take the spirituality and embrace it with kingdom values and kingdom mission, and watch what God can do.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson
(I was clearly wrestling with the institutional church in this post. It’s interesting to see how many of my beliefs and thoughts have changed, and that the Church is indeed the hope of the world – not that it’s perfect – it too functions between the times. Nov 4, 2014)