September 21, 2018

Post-Evangelicals and the Path of Catholic Spirituality

fossil-blue.jpgIn Ian Morgan Cron’s book Chasing Francis, (reviewed below) burned-out pastor Chase Falson calls his Uncle Kenny- A Franciscan priest- to begin his path of rediscovering his faith. His pilgrimage takes him through the world of Saint Francis and into a discovery of the faith-tradition of Catholicism. Falson returns to his evangelicalism with a rich appreciation for what that tradition offers to all Christians.

Falson is a product of the evangelical movement. The evangelism explosion of the s. Inter-Varsity. Baptist Seminaries. Church growth models. Purpose driven spirituality. Apologetics and theology with a rational answer for everything.

The accidental death of a child in his congregation exposes the cracks and deadness in his soul, and he falls apart. Looking around for a place to begin again, he remembers his uncle, who lost his family to tragedy and began again as a Catholic, and eventually as a Franciscan.

As Falson journeys back, he becomes a pilgrim: one who is going from place to place where God has met people in the past; where the echoes of God reverberate in the present. It is Catholics who mark such places and remember such stories. And it is catholic spirituality that many of us turn in similar circumstances.

One of the reasons I liked this story is I completely understand it. When my experience with Jesus “runs out of gas,” as Falson says, I also consider where I can go. Where in my evangelical, conservative Baptist tradition can I go for spiritual renewal?

I must admit to you that the thought of going to a revival or a conference most always seems like a wrong turn. One of the seminal experiences of my conversion was a “vigil,” where I spend two hours alone with God. It was difficult then, and it would be difficult now. Difficult, but extremely fruitful. It was a continuing clue that it would be among those who value silence that I would find spiritual resources for the journey.

That is not to say that preaching is of no value to the spiritually dry person. While I am not as sacramental about preaching as some Christians, I believe the Word proclaimed has power and that God often finds me out through it. Similarly, music has an uplifting and renewing power. I frequently turn to music when my soul and spirit are empty. Many times God speaks to me. These paths of Protestant spirituality are often, however, more encounters with the theological states of mind of the communicators than with God by way of the Holy Spirit.

The Lord’s Supper? Evangelicals are in a state of total disarray. Finding the Lord’s Table on a given day is a challenge for most of us. In my situation, it’s impossible.

The revivalistic tradition of spirituality has not lost all contact with my own journey, but there is clearly a reason, a difference that matters, between evangelical spirituality and the broader catholic tradition. It’s not entirely easy to explain this difference, and I realize all of the differences may not be good.

Still, it seems to me that the picture Cron paints of evangelicals is devastatingly on-target. (This will be proven by the number of theological watchdogs who will be shaking their fingers at me for writing this post and for not having the right theology. Yawn.) We are distinctively unspiritual people, by and large. Individualistic to a fault in many ways, yet looking for our churches and pastors to provide spiritual experience as a commodity. We criticize Catholic rosaries and visual spiritual aids, yet have a multi-million dollar chain store stuffed with Christian trinkets and merchandise in every mall. We buy and sell spiritual experience shamelessly.

If our Catholic friends were charging $50 to come to a mass at the local stadium, we’d all be shocked, but the major CCM groups make millions from tours and record sales. Even Osteen sells seats to hear his vapid talks. Tetzel was the bad guy in the reformation, but it’s among evangelicals that Paula White, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar and Joyce Meyer proliferate and profit from the devotion of the Christian public; all because they promise genuine spiritual experience.

I haven’t seen any Catholic teachers openly promising a dollar return on your financial giving lately. Evangelicals have enough such con-artists posing as ministries to fill several television channels. I loathe indulgences, but I’ll take them over the promise to get rich by way of Jesus.

It is among evangelicals that one can write literally endless books promising more, more, more and more spiritual experience. We are Experiencing God, but we still want Our Best Life Now and our Purpose Driven Life courtesy of the Prayer of Jabez. We all know the next 7 easy steps to Being a Better You is in the mail.

Christian consumerism is just one witness to the state of our spirituality. There are many others. Ministerial burnout. Pornography addiction. Divorce. Prayerlessness. Church hopping. Sexual promiscuity. Rampant materialism. Pastoral turnover. Addiction to fashion, sports, pets, opinions. Hours spent in front of video game screens, staring at web sites, reading MySpace, talking to our friends on the cell, saying nothing.

And then we’ll go to church on Sunday and hear the minister say the LOST are living empty lives and don’t have the joy of the Lord. It’s a good thing the few lost folks in our churches are too polite not to laugh out loud.

I often stand in the presence of my Asian students, whose culture sees spirituality as the way of the monk, and I wonder “What must they think of the American claim to be ‘spiritual?'”

In Catholicism, the saints preserve the path of spirituality. Yes, there are some whack jobs and grevious errors in the story, and the Truly Reformed can throw darts at Catholic spirituality all day. Some of those darts are on target. But let’s be honest for a moment, shall we? Evangelicalism’s individualistic, spiritual illiterate consumers and fans are, by and large, not much of a product statement for our spirituality. Nor are its ministers, scholars or bloggers (to be sure.)

This isn’t a competition. It’s a confession. When I go to St. Meinrad or Gethsemani I’d not admitting that I agree with the infallibility of the Pope. Far from it. What I am doing with an Anglican rosary, a copy of Celebrating Common prayer and an appointment with a spiritual director at a monastery is trying to reclaim the power of a deeper spiritual tradition than my Baptist community offers me. Walking the aisle; praying harder; witnessing more; doing more church work; going to another conference or revival: These have not proven to be the path of spiritual rootedness and fruitfulness for me, and I suspect for many others.

Perhaps many evangelical friends will use the comments of this post to point us in directions of what has been helpful to them. I hope so. But I must conclude, from my perspective, that recent evangelicalism is, as Ian Cron says, excellent at introducing people to Jesus, and extraordinarily deficient in showing us the Christian life in terms of helpful spiritual practice.

This is the reason many of us who are post-evangelical shake our heads when we are accused of abandoning the faith. What we are abandoning is the starvation and deprivation of faith. What we are looking for is the soil where faith will take root, grow deep and bear much fruit. We seek nothing more or less than what Jesus meant when he invited us to abide in him.

Comments

  1. Michael writes: Similarly, music has an uplifting and renewing power. I frequently turn to music when my soul and spirit are empty. Many times God speaks to me.

    I’m with you — although, these days, I find that most of the music I listen to is non-lyrical. When I read your words just now, I closed my eyes and tried to think of what Christian music would move me the most, and what came to mind was the Streams album of 1999 — however, it wasn’t the radio-format songs that came to mind, but instead the last four tracks, the instrumentals.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t some Christian lyrics that I find of value — from that same album, I adore the opening song, “Job,” and the 4Him/Jon Anderson collaboration, “The Only Thing I Need” — but more and more, the CDs I load into my car stereo are instrumentally rich and vocally silent, from John Williams to Photek.

    (I find myself wanting to write the following as a tag line: “All of which is just saying that sometimes Christians would do better just to shut up.” That’s both uncharitable of me and unsupported outside of my own tastes, but at this point I don’t know how else to wrap this up… which only makes me evidence of my own point, doesn’t it?)

  2. Patrick Kyle says:

    I have come to view Evangelicalism as an ‘easy on ramp’ to the Christian faith. It attracts those who would never look at a more traditional church, and in the best cases gives them some very basic tools to work with. As Christians mature they outgrow it, and those who survive it move on to deeper traditions.

    That being said, Evangelicalism is in major trouble. Read this-
    http://nancybeach.typepad.com/nancy_beach/files/morgenthaler_article.pdf

    What a sad commentary. Morgenthaller’s solution to her dilemma is to explore different methods. When you let methodology dictate theology instead of the other way around you set yourself adrift.

  3. Actually, I’ve now had another stupid thought that you may all ridicule! 😀

    Remember the end of Fantasia, the combination of Night on Bare Mountain and Schubert’s Ave Maria? The demon and his summoned plaything are having a revival — lots of dancing and spiritual fire. The Christian pilgrims are just slowly walking towards the light in the distance.

    Eh, maybe that’s banal. Shutting up now.

  4. When I first went to comment on your last post, I meant to tell you thanks for bringing this book this book to my attention. I am quite certain we will read it for our book club in the near future. So, I appreciate you delving into the book even more in this post. Besides, if you can judge a book by its cover, the cover to ‘Chasing Francis’ is way cool!

  5. Michael,

    My sentiments exactly.

    I’m a Calvinist. When I sunk into the dark night of the soul – a serious depression – it was a Presbyterian pastor who introduced me to the works of St. John of the Cross. From there, I went to Theresa of Avila and also more modern Catholics like Merton. Saved my life. Absolutely saved me.

    Sure I felt tempted to become Catholic, but just knew that in the end it wasn’t a place to rest my head. (I don’t think I have found that one place ANYWHERE)

    Here is a post I wrote recently on my newfound twice-daily praying the Rosary. I tweaked it a bit, reducing Mary (I’m sure she’s fine with that.)

    http://pillowfreechristianity.blogspot.com/2007/08/my-rosary.html

    I love your blog. God bless.

    Joe
    http://www.pillowfreechristianity.blogspot.com

  6. Packer’s “Among God’s Giants” (on the Puritans but I forget what the US title was) and the books of Martyn Lloyd-Jones were my doorway to John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, B. B. Warfield, Calvin, the Westminster Confession. But from where I came from this was evangelical theology.

  7. Michael,

    As a convert from Catholicism, I can sympathize with you. Looking around at all of what evangelicalism has to offer, I can’t help but feel that something is terribly wrong. Our expressions of spirituality barely scratch the surface of what I see in the New Testament.

    I remember looking at the tabernacle during mass and thinking that God is too big to fit into that box. Looking at the crucifix, I used to think say to myself that the Savior is not dead. Looking back on that now, while I still feel that way, I long for times set apart for reverence to what those symbols reminded us of.

    While I haven’t come to terms with catholic spirituality like you have, I can appreciate what a deeper spiritual tradition can lead to.

    Don

  8. The Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Office. Singing and praying before the Eucharist.

    I am not as faithful as I desire, yet it is extraordinarily comforting traveling through the readings and prayers universally with so many faithful servants of Christ; I am not alone even as I sit quietly by myself.

    I’ve also mentioned before here when I received my first Eucharist I was so blown away by the hyper-
    awareness of love for each individual receiving corporately; how beautiful His people all were coming as one at table. Sinners, saints.

    I love and believe the Eucharist really is the center of the cosmos, it has healed me of years wandering in Post-Evangelicalism.

    I guess I’ve found the desire to refuse the “mediation of matter” (sacraments/sacramentals)
    combined with an appetite of Evangelical Consumerism is the recipe for starvation.

    As Always, Best!

    Jenny

  9. I certainly understand this attraction to the ancient, beautiful Catholic way, Michael. Through my life as an atheist *and* as a Presbyterian, I found nothing in either camp that would “feed my soul” in very hard times. And the thought of going to a revival meeting or anything similar would — if it had entered my head — have seemed as appropriate and soul-satisfying as spending the day after a child’s funeral at a carnival.

    In the very hardest times of my life, I used to “sneak in” to the local Catholic church when no one was in the sanctuary, and pray in front of the statue of Mary holding the Christ Child. Salvaging some shreds of Protestantism, I told myself I wouldn’t “pray to” her, but would just talk to her. Then I’d just kneel there in silence, with the quiet and the holiness of the church surrounding me. That, and the 12-Step programs, got me through a few tough years.

    I’ve tried to take Catholic “instructions” twice, but each time I gagged on them, and now have no more interest in going that way. In contrast to the beauty and spirituality of the Catholic rituals and surroundings, I found Cathlic *theology* to be dead, dry, legalistic, and cold. (No offense to any Catholics here; doubtless if I had been brought up in Catholic beliefs, such theology would appear right and meaningful to me.)

    Now, in the Episcopal Church — or as some call it, Catholic Lite 🙂 — I have found a home that I hope to live in hereafter.

    There’s a quip that might have some truth in it: “New Age-ers want spirituality without God; Fundamentalists want God without spirituality.” I guess the moral would be: Be careful what you want; you might get it.

  10. Ah, you’ve touched on something to which I can completely relate. I think the main problem evangelicals have is that they keep trying to have a God experience. It’s like evangelicals are desperately hoping to have a major life-changing feeling (i.e. experience), so they keep going to all the Christian pep rallies (conferences) and buying all the merchandise that shows the world how much they love Jesus.

    I keep referring to evangelicals as they, instead of we, simply because I can’t buy into the merchandising, pep rally, touchy-feely business that has infiltrated our churches. We seem to have lost touch with the everyday relationship with God in an attempt to experience him, whatever that means. It’s like we’re trying to play at Extreme Faith instead of simply being faithful.

  11. I have been reading your site for a couple of weeks now, and I still have yet to figure you out…as if it were possible to figure out another human. Sometimes you seem leaning toward more liturgical worship, at others a purely protestant, Baptist view. I clicked on your “What I Believe” Link and it was empty…purposely?

    In one post you seem to knock evangelicals turning to Rome, and then here you seem sympathetic to it.

    What does it mean to you to be “post evangelical”? Why do people say you’ve abandoned the faith?

    Am I missing something here?

    I ask only because I am trying to form a cohesive view of what it is you are getting at, rather than just dissatisfaction with the easy, canned answers that are available to us for only $19.95 at the local Christian Bookstore.

  12. It starts out in what seems to be such a pious way. We want to remove something that has become an idol, therefore, remove all church art. Yet preaching, or perhaps the “good” preacher, is a modern idol.

    The thought occurs to me that some of the success of the prosperity “gospel” comes from this same longing and looking for spirituality. These people are generally bland enough to offer something without immediately creating suspicion. My most recent find was a wedding guide touted as non-denominational by Copeland. It was absolutely prosperity gospel. And it offered a “spiritual” theology of marriage. I say this because it talked about when the vows are spoken God (or maybe god would be more appropriate) is constrained to enact a spiritual effect.

    We need to offer better alternatives before the church collapses. No these people will not destroy the church, but our shortcomings and their excesses will make ministry a struggle for years to come.

  13. Lanier Stevens says:

    Michael,
    I’m a 66 year old Church of Christ minister who daily thanks God for the internet where preachers and Christians other than myself have the opportunity to read the thoughts of men such as yourself! I’ve always said that the most painful examinations we’re ever exposed to are genuine, honest, self-examinations and you help us all to do that regularly.
    The Christian world is in desperate need of another reformation or true revival (in my opinion)and guys such as yourself need to continue to ‘cry out’ in spite of the critics who’re so ready to attack when you question our ‘establishments’. In the community where I live, every Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. I’m privileged to meet with the following preachers to pray for each other….for our people in our churches….for lost people in our community…..and ALL OF THE THINGS YOU’VE DESCRIBED ARE PRESENT IN OUR CHURCHES…OUR FAMILIES….OUR MINISTRIES…..something IS WRONG.
    Here’s our group: Myself (Church of Christ), 3 White Baptist Preachers, 1 Black Baptist preacher, One (occasionally 2) Methodist preachers. 1 United Pentecostal preacher, 1 Charismatic independent Full-Gospel preacher…..Occasionally some other pastor might drop in as we rotate our meeting place from church to church…..Conspicuously absent is the Catholic priest and the Episcopal Vicar..and I fear they’ve not been made to feel welcome….and they truly have something to bring to the table. But it seems we are fearful in the very ways that you’ve described.
    As you can imagine, we’re roundly condemned and censored by those other churches and even those in our own churches who “have all the answers”.
    Michael, on months which have 5 Sundays we rotate a ‘community-wide’ worship service on Sunday evening between those churches whose pastors meet to pray…where we urge our members to attend and encourage others to do so.
    I believe more communities, more churches, and more pastors need to be doing what we’re striving to do..and your writing motivates me…..and I share it with quite a number of my friends who are not afraid of that very painful process….TO THINK!…..Keep Challenging!

  14. Nicholas Anton says:

    …..
    I am concerned about the present state of the church of Jesus Christ. Because of what I perceive to be universal apostasy, I feel no particular affinity to any denomination. That brotherhood/sisterhood is reserved for believers from many denominations.
    Nevertheless, various issues must be addressed. That is where the problem exists. It seems virtually impossible to even discuss issues without offense. That is my dilemma.

  15. I have clearly stated this on several occasions: Comments calling me a hypocrite, etc aren’t going on this blog. I’ll post any comment that’s on topic, but when it turns to me being a hypocrite for implying Mother Teresa is a Christian, I’m not going to post the comment.

    I appreciate your contributions, but the personal side is going to be edited or not posted.

  16. Terri:

    There is a post evangelical category on the sidebar. Go back to the early posts explaining that term.

    Sorry I’m not easier to fit into a label.

  17. thanks, Michael…your thoughts here capture many of my own convictions. appreciate the ministry God has given you.

  18. Quote:

    “I often stand in the presence of my Asian students, whose culture sees spirituality as the way of the monk, and I wonder “What must they think of the American claim to be “spiritual?””

    Check out “Finding Sanctuary: Monastic steps for Everyday Life” by Abbot Christopher Jamison; a good primer for introducing disciplines such as silence and contemplative prayer into the modern lifestyle.

  19. Tom, your comment didn’t make the cut, but I’ll answer your question.

    I am part of a Christian community that lives in the mountains of Eastern Ky and ministers to students. There are no Anglican churches within an hour, and no orthodox ones within three. Plus I’m a Baptist. And there’s not a reformed Baptist church within 90 minutes.

    This post isn’t about me people. I am not publishing your personal commentary about me.

  20. @Patrick Kyle: I just read Nancy Morgenthaler’s article, and I don’t see her turning to methods to solve the problem she describes. Rather, she seems to be telling her readers, “Don’t expect methods to be the one formular for success”, and “Methods need to be backed up by lived reality”, and this seems good advice.

    She also does not seem to touch much on theology, since she’s writing in a specific magazine, the theology is presupposed, so I don’t know where you see her methods driving her theology.

    But as this only peripherally touches on the topic on this post, if you want to continue this conversation, please mail me.

  21. Amen and again I say, Amen.

    This post could be coming from me. It was because I had seen people brought into Baptist churches, and left untaught other than the bare basics, and there was nothing for those of us who had been believers for many, many years. “Read the Bible, that’s all you need” but it wasn’t for me. I need stories, of human saints and saintly humans, parables both ancient and modern. I need the tangible.

    I ache for the disunity of Christians. Perhaps that is why, for my confirmation name, I took John Chrysostom. So, now, between my raising and many years of service as a Baptist, my Catholicism and through St. John Chrysostom I have a connection to the Eastern Orthodox. (FYI, their worship service is called The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).

  22. Michael…I’m not sure if your reply to me is sarcastic…it seems that way, but so much is lost in writing.

    I meant no offense when I made my comment, and am not trying to “label” you. I am just trying to understand the perspective you’re coming from, so forgive me if my comment came off in the wrong way. I didn’t mean it like that.

  23. AMEN, AMEN, and AMEN!

    I’m glad you’ve gone back to a So. Bapt. church. It seems to have rekindled the fire and ire in you again! Awesome post.

  24. Terri:

    No sarcasm intended. Not knowing where you are coming from in your own background, it’s impossible for me to judge how you are measuring my posts. If you are a Phil Johnson fan, you may have heard that I’m one thing. If you’re an emerging church sympathizer, you’ve probably heard another. I don’t fit comfortably into any labels, and for that I am genuinely sorry. I have a lot of stuff out here to be read, and it’s self-consciously not reflecting one “team” or another.

    The sidebar category “post evangelicalism” is my standard answer when anyone asks about that. I just can’t rewrite the answer each time someone asks. I’m sure you can understand.

    Sorry to have offended.

    MS

  25. I didn’t come from anywhere…just stumbled onto your blog. So, perhaps that is why I feel like I walked into a conversation that is already in progress. I don’t consider myself a “fan” of anybody, or a “sympathizer” with any particular group…so I understand not wanting to be labeled.

    I have found that no one group has a monopoly on God’s truth, so I tend to be pretty open to where people are coming from in their faith walk, as I would hope others would be with me.

  26. Monk, good thoughts. Growing up I was a hard core Baptist who sincerely believed that Roman Catholics were going straight to hell.

    Now I see the stupidity in that way of thinking. I knew NOTHING about Catholicism or church history, yet I thought I knew the truth.

    These days I’m much more ecumenical and I appreciate what the RCC has done for the faith through the centuries. Yes, the RCC has its share of heresies, but so does North American Protestant Evangelicalism.

  27. Guy Barnhart says:

    Michael,

    I stumbled into and began reading your blog since 12th grade, as a student was finally getting serious about God. I was raised in a Fundamentalist Charasmatic church, began reading Lewis for “apologetics” and what I found was a devastatlingly beautiful spirituality. I searched in college and eventually settled down at small Orthodox parish (OCA)in my home town.

    Evangelicalism is still my passion, and it is upsetting to see this current trend of consumer Christianity making so much headway, but I believe that the Emergent Church (McLaren, Miller, Bell, not the wishy washy liberals, those who afirm historic Christianity) are the future. Eugene H Peterson is finally getting more popular, Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright, Jim Wallis, these theologians, dare I say prophets, are going to be the new reformers of Evangelicalism. I hope.

  28. I wish I had read something like this years ago, when I was first trying to figure out why I didn’t belong anywhere spiritually. I felt somehow guilty for not finding a way out of the dryness of my spiritual life within the Reformed tradition. I finally started reading church history and eventually my husband and I started going to Mass and to RCIA Inquiry. My husband has since joined the Catholic Church. Now he and I, and sometimes one or more of our children, go to Mass most Saturday evenings, and then we go to our protestant church on Sunday morning. My children are very involved there with youth group and friends. Also, every couple of months we attend a small church led by a friend that has a more “emergent” church feel. It’s a little hectic, but also rewarding. We find we are connected in all three places, so there is a sense of community. We’ve been enriched by broadening our spiritual experience beyond the confines of one faith tradition.

  29. First is reading the Bible frequently, and having the forensic view of justification as a foundation for interpretation. Daily believing the gospel, that Christ completely paid for my sins and brought me onto the ground of a loving relationship with God, gives me peace, allows me to find the joy in all the other “great and precious promises”, and gives meaning to the everyday.
    Even in our church where there is an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, and a Psalm every Sunday, it’s not enough. I need to be reading frequently myself. After almost 50 years on the Christian pilgrimage, I have to devise strategies to keep it actually feeding faith, not just sliding across my eyeballs. C. S. Lewis advises reading sometimes in a modern paraphrase. I also use reference tools like Strong’s and W. E. Vine to try to dig further. Here is a webpage with some examples of how it works for me. Listening to the Bible on my iPod is great, too. The point is not quantity, but nourishment–taking hold of the revealed facts by faith so that growth in grace happens (be it ever so sloooowly).

    Second is frequent communion, because it renews and refreshes the joy and peace of the gospel. It always brings m back to the beating heart of faith. But it’s tricky, because it’s difficult to find, and if you do, it can become commonplace. The import of the Lord’s table is that Jesus told us to do it because it nourishes faith. The more I’ve learned to understand it, the more meaningful it has become to me. I’ve found that the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer (the 1928 version is the one I’m familiar with) helps to connect with the many layers of meaning. Reading some of it before communion helps to deepen the experience. The answers to the questions on communion in the various protestant catechisms (Heidelberg, Westminster, Lutheran) are also helpful. A recent discovery, N. T. Wright’s little book, The Meal Jesus Gave Us, is fantastic. I have the blessing of attending a church that practices weekly communion, but if there weren’t one in our community, I think we would attend the best church we could find, and celebrate communion in our home on Saturday or Sunday evening. It’s that essential. As Jenny commented, “I love and believe the Eucharist really is the center of the cosmos, it has healed me of years wandering in Post-Evangelicalism.”

    Third is taking an hour or more to be alone with God to take stock and take time in prayer. I have my Bible, my journal and a pen, my prayer lists, a hymnbook, maybe my iPod. I review what I’ve been seeing in scripture, and assess my life for areas that need to be brought more in line. I review answers to prayer–that is an amazing help to faith! I pray for all the requests on my lists that I don’t frequently get to–that relieves my conscience immensely! I spend some time just talking with God. I always come away with renewed faith and some idea of how my life can contribute to the kingdom of God, at least to some extent.

    Fourth is fellowship with at least one other believer, where we know and trust each other enough to be honest, where we can confess our failings, ask for prayer, and, best case scenario, actually pray together. This may not be too hard to find out there these days in evangelicalism. If you move in Reformed circles, you have to work at it. Another aspect of fellowship has been getting input from many Christians past and present who have forged ahead of me on this journey. This includes the internet, such as Michael Spencer’s blog, as well as books, which keep the perspective before me that it’s not just me and my struggles; there are a huge company of pilgrims of every stripe on this journey and their witness encourages my faith. If the spiritual dryness is deep, one-on-one is necessary with another believer I deeply respect.

    Fifth is dealing realistically with depression. This should probably be first, actually. Depression is difficult to admit–Christians are supposed to have the joy of the Lord–but there is a physical component that is helped, for me, at times, with medication, proper rest, etc. When it lifts, voila, suddenly faith is easier and dissatisfaction with one’s church isn’t quite so biting.

    None of these things require chasing after something that is “out there somewhere”. I’ve been there, done that. Tried different churches, done the “rededicate your life” altar call (many times), gone to conferences, jumped on this or that bandwagon. As Ewokgirl says, it was like ” trying to play at Extreme Faith instead of simply being faithful.” The bottom line for me, is that spiritual renewal is more about faith than anything else. Being reminded, or finding out, what God has said and believing it. Music helps in that regard, if the spiritual dryness isn’t too deep; it’s great on an everyday basis. But the all out “dark night of the soul” requires intensive treatment with the Word, communion, fellowship with a few trusted individuals, at least one private spiritual “retreat”, and probably the good old depression Rx again. Preventing a recurrence involves the same things (minus the Rx)at a less intense level, I find.

  30. Michael, I submitted my comment to soon. I meant to add an opening sentence: Here are some things I have found helpful to combat spiritual dryness and find

  31. Nuts, that one went too soon, too (I have a touchy touch pad). Here is it: “Here are some things I have found helpful to combat spiritual dryness and find an authentic experience of God.”

  32. Evan Donovan says:

    I’ve been reading your writings, Michael, for about 10 years now, I think – ever since the days of the Antithesis.com discussion board. I appreciated your presence on there, because you were another person who found good in both the Reformed tradition and the works of Thomas Merton. Since then, I have always profited from your honestly.

    It’s difficult to answer a question like this, because individuals are so different in how they benefit from the various means of grace, and the particular season of life we’re in makes such a difference too.

    I have found great benefit lately in reading the works of Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer – just trying to really think through what it means to be a disciple and to have the joy and freedom in Christ that is ours by virtue of His atonement.

    I also am greatly blessed when I can talk to others and try to enter into their struggles for a minute, and see how the Spirit works in them as I share the words of Scripture which He has used in my life in the past.

    Finally, I feel like the Lord has been trying to tell me for years that I would never be at peace as long as I was trying harder to understand than I was to serve others. On the other hand, I know that some people, because of their own temperament and besetting sins, are tempted more to minister to others in their own strength and are drained by it. I, on the other hand, am tempted to intellectualize my faith and my struggles and to avoid action. So just to be involved in the work of a community is a big step forward for me.

    There’s no magic cure for what ails us – that’s actually what I find dissatisfying with evangelicalism as generally practiced. Anything that is driven by technique and which can be evaluated in numbers is of dubious spiritual worth, in my opinion. God works with us organically over time as we exist in fellowship with other believers and in service to the world. And He has been at work since the foundation of the world – any tradition which is unwilling to learn from other Christian denominations or traditions is not something I want to be a part of.

    I am at peace with my identity as a Reformational Protestant. I know that the doctrines of the Reformation, as expressed in confessional standards like the Heidelberg Catechism and Westminster Confession of Faith, will continue to be relevant as long as pride is deeply rooted in the human heart. Still, I find much I can learn from the Eastern Orthodox tradition (especially their liturgies), from St. Bernard of Clairvaux, from George MacDonald, from St. Athanasius.

    If I am honest, I am glad that evangelicalism exists, for the reason which one of the commenters mentioned: it is a good point of entry to the faith, and evangelicals reach many people who wouldn’t come to church otherwise. But I think evangelicalism is breaking apart as a distinct entity; it needs the work of the confessional churches to sustain itself.

    I pray for the day when all may be one in the truth, Though I can’t imagine yet what the Church will look like in that day, I believe it will come before the Lord returns. And that hope, also, sustains me.

  33. Catholic or evangelical, somehow the money flows in to fill the coffers. After all the Pope and his Cardinals are still living in the Vatican.

    As an evangelical Christian, I can well understand, though, why a number of evangelicals are converting to Roman Catholicism. What does evangelicism have to offer: a choice of 39+ flavours, and a “pope” wanting his plot of land in evangelicalism to lead and guide the sheep into the truth as he sees it. After a while one does get quite fed up with all the confusion and roller coaster rides. The RCC with its road map to spirituality begins to look very appealing. One has to love the stability of the hierarchy and the dictates of the RC church fathers, both early and more recent, to guide one into a closer relationship with God.

    Sorry, I haven’t read all the comments. Someone may have already made the same point.

    MarciaM

  34. Michael:

    There is something terribly ironic about the term, “post-evangelical”. The term “Evangelical” was originally given to the first Lutherans because of their emphasis on preaching the Gospel. In that context, the true post-evangelicals are those who have replaced the Gospel message with pharisaic human rules, gimmics, sugar-coated spirituality, and self-help plans. This has been a post-evangelical or post-gospel country for a very long time.

    The journey back to truth is not through prayer books or rosary beads – although I personally use them, too. The journey must lead back to a manger, a cross, and an empty tomb. American Evangelicals need to be “evangelized”: that nothing can be added to the finished work of Christ.

    Thank you for your posts.

  35. Dumb Ox:

    Post evangelical means post evangelical subculture and back to the sources of evangelicalism.

    No one is suggesting that the “truth” is “prayer beads.”

    I agree with you, but every tradition, including Lutheranism, contributes to the current state of deprived and demeaned spiritual practice. I know enough Lutherans to know that even serious talk of a devotional life will have someone crying “legalism!” I am not talking at allabout justification or salvation, but spiritual formation. The argument that there is no meaningful formation beyond justification is, in my opinion, part of the problem.

  36. “I remember looking at the tabernacle during mass and thinking that God is too big to fit into that box”

    Don,

    As I thought also, perhaps recalling Christ came first in Nazereth in a box, a feed box, can allow us to wonder at God’s Incarnational condesention.

    Regarding the crucifix, yes, we celebrate a risen Lord and along with Paul determine to know nothing but Christ, and Him crucified.

    In our parish, in front is a huge carved altar of the “City of God” with statues of the Apostles and Jesus and His sacred heart at center (although a crucifix is required to be at the altar, a small one is).

    I do focus a lot upon Him (risen) yet I have noticed when I travel and attend mass at a parish with a huge crucifix, within me emerges greater contrition and repugnance for my sin as I kneel quietly prior to the liturgy.

    Best,
    Jenny

  37. brain fart… Bethlehem.

  38. It’s important to get beyond redemption and move toward sanctification. Admittedly, it is one step forward and two steps back much of the time. But I believe salvation requires both. Spiritual formation, discipleship are vital. Once I am “saved,” then what? I think our Christian traditions can be mutually enriching. As a Catholic, I find many evangelical writers very satisfying: Richard Foster, Philip Yancy, and possibly Cron, we’ll see. I also find Susan Howatch’s Church of England novels extremely enriching as well.

    Jenny is right in pointing out that it is not a Catholic understanding of the Eucharist to believe that we have Jesus in a box. At the very least, how can he be in a box at Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility AND St. Ralph’s at the same time? That should give anybody some pause. Nonetheless, I can see how non-Catholics might get that idea.

  39. Michael:

    My reference to Lutherans was strictly historical; I guess there has been enough sectarian egotism going around lately for you to assume diffently. The things you find detestable in modern evangelicalism would have been equally detestable to the reformers – Calvin and Luther alike. Without first restoring the gospel message as they did – and more than just a bait-and-switch to get “sinners” through the church door – any restoration of ancient practices will result in yet another set of spiritual gimmics. I would hate to see the Eucharist sold as a means of personal health and prosperity rather than a means of God’s grace. The Rosary has always been a meditation on the gospel message, but I have already seen it sold as a means of personal success – similar to abuses of the past. I just lament that the term “evangelical” has been dragged into the mud of American pseudo-spiritualism.

  40. I think part of the problem is this. No one knowingly believes a falsehood. So when we look at the Baptists, the Catholics, the Methodists, the Brethren, and we see bad doctrine, we only see things that disagree with us. It takes a lot of work to get to the point where we say, “I am wrong on something, even if I don’t know what it is yet.” I think that’s where the animosity comes into denominational debate–we see our own viewpoint as 100% correct (because no one wants to believe heresy), with maybe a token nod to “I’d change if I were wrong.”

    That also makes it hard to find a church–where are you going to find a sizable group of people who believe the same things you do? You either have to separate yourself from all but a tiny minority in the name of orthodoxy, or you have to prioritize your beliefs. I’ve gotten to the point lately where my “What I Believe and Can’t Budge On” list is tiny; most doctrines, from my viewpoint, just really don’t matter enough to warrant separation.

    On the other hand, coming from a “independent, fundamental, King-James-(AV-1611 is optional here unless you’re really spiritual)-Bible-believing Baptist” background, we tend to lump everybody in with their entire denomination. I.e., all Catholics/Lutherans/Methodists/non-Baptists are lost because they believe X instead of Y. Southern Baptists are almost lost, because they’re in an organization; but God might have mercy on a few every so often (but only because we can’t change His mind on that). The entire viewpoint becomes one of arrogance, rather than one of humility. After all, when one has God’s perfect, inerrant, inspired Word, preserved in the English language, how can we go wrong? /sarcasm

    The difficulty comes in discussing one’s life with one’s fellow church members without mentioning books, authors, or ideas which would result in anything from isolation to church discipline. Why can’t we admit we don’t have all the answers?

  41. Chris Stiles says:

    If you ever do an updated version the “Imonk Devotional Time” posts, I’d be interested to know how you use an Anglican Rosary.

  42. Chad Winters says:

    chris: I agree it interesting. I did find this….http://gigibeads.net/prayerbeads/prayers/prayers1.html

  43. Heisthatheis says:

    “Your vain traditions make void the word of God”
    both catholic and protestant

  44. Great post! Here is a great article written by Dr. Gene Veith about this issue:

    http://www.confessionallutherans.org/papers/touchgev.html

    In Christ,

    Eric
    http://www.wittenbergtrail.com

  45. The problems being discussed in this post are also highlighted by Todd Wilken.

    He states, “Many Christians today think of themselves as conservative. They are pro-life, pro-family. They listen to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. They watch FOX News. They vote traditional values. But can you be politically, socially and morally conservative without being theologically conservative? Oh, yes you can.” Wilken further states, “You see, many Christians think of themselves as conservative Christians. But they have confused cultural conservatism with theological conservatism. Theologically these Bible-believing Christians have a lot in common with liberals.”

    Todd’s article is:

    http://www.issuesetc.org/resource/archives/wilken3.htm

    Eric

  46. This is a really good website on how to use Anglican prayer beads:

    http://kingofpeace.org/prayerbeads.htm

    Also worth checking out (for use of the Jesus Prayer in Protestant traditions):

    http://www.anamchara.org.uk/index.html