For much of my Christian life I have heard this distinction made between the spiritual Christian and the carnal Christian based on what Paul writes in 1 Cor. 3:1-4 in addressing the missteps of the Corinthian church. This goes back to what he says previously in 2:14-16 where he makes this contrast between the spirit of the world and the spirit of Christ. Unfortunately, what gets missed is that in context of vv. 6-12, he is making a contrast between those who are not Christians (of the world) and Christians (of the spirit). Yet, his admonishment in 3:1-4 has been taken to mean there is a 2-tier type of Christianity: spiritual Christians and carnal Christians.
I’ve come to reject this notion of creating such a hierarchy. All Christians can behave in ways that are carnal even when it looks spiritual. And you can bet that creating such a hierarchy can lead to pride, elitism, and partiality. I love what Gordon Fee says in his commentary on 1 Corinthians about this particular passage;
The paragraph has endured a most unfortunate history of application in the church. Paul’s own point has been totally lost in favor of an interpretation nearly 180 degrees the opposite of his intent. Almost every form of spiritual elitism, ‘deeper life’ movement, and ‘second blessing’doctrine has appealed to this text. To receive the Spirit according to their special expression paves the way for people to know ‘deeper truths’ about God. One special brand of this elitism surfaces among some who have ‘special revelation’ from the Spirit their final court of appeal. Other ‘lesser’ brothers and sisters are simply living below their full privileges in Christ. Indeed, some advocates of this form of spirituality bid fair to repeat the Corinthian error in its totality. What is painful about so much of this is not simply the improper use of this passage, but that so often it is accompanied by a toning down of the message of the cross. In fact one is hard pressed to hear the content of ‘God’s wisdon’ ever expounded as the paradigm for truly Christian living.
Hear what he is saying. An elitism built on this hierarchy basically is no different than what Paul is admonishing. I have found you don’t even have to ascribe to ‘higher life’ theology to create this kind of two-tier Christianity. A telling sign is how much you separate your ‘spiritual’ Christianity from those ‘carnal’ Christians. Fee’s admonishment continues and gives much food for thought in this regard; Continue reading
I’ve been a Christian for a long time. Even if you count it from my repentance in 1999, that’s 20 years of following Christ, striving to be faithful, committed to the local church and desiring to be an instrument for his use. I’ve plodded through dark, trying times, experienced dry seasons, moved a few times and saw some beautiful peaks. As I mentioned in a recent piece I wrote for Reformation21, a passage of Scripture that has gripped my heart is found in John 6:66-69. There is no greater joy than being in the sweet arms of Jesus, being reconciled to the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit. But here’s one thing I’ve found through all of this…
The Christian life is hard.
Now you may scoff at that idea but I’m guessing this statement resonates with the lionshare of Christians reading this. By saying its hard doesn’t mean its not fruitful or worth it or that we love the Lord any less. But we can be honest about what it’s like being a pilgram of another kingdom while navigating through this earthly one.
First, consider that Jesus did say his kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom operates by a different set of principles than what is naturally acceptable according to worldly philosophies. Sure, there are fingerprints of God’s goodness particularly in more civilized societies. But Jesus let his disciples know that the world would hate them because the world hates him. “The mind set on the flest is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law” (Rom. 8:7). This mind is at work in the children of disobedience, those who do not bow their knee to Christ (see Eph. 2:1-2). This is the grain that we have to navigate our lives in. Continue reading
Last year around this time, the statement on Social Justice and the Gospel came out and set off a firestorm. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was sitting in a breakfast joint in Hartford, CT just hours away from my flight back to Dallas. As I scrolled through the statement, I found myself nodding a lot. But the more I nodded, the more I also grimmaced. As I wrote about in The Problem is Not About Social Justice, I saw pretty clearly the set up of the statement–you were either for Christ (and the framers of the statement) or against Christ. There was no middle ground. I suspected that the statement would have the effect of reinforcing camps that would devolve into tribalistic disputes. People would be accused, and sometimes unjustly, of aligning with a pro- or anti- social justice camp with just the utterance of a few statements. I suspected the result of the statement would spawn more feuds than fruit, even though there were many good points in it. That’s what happens when you set up that kind of dichotomy.
Unfortunately, this is precisely what I’ve seen play out over the past year. Even my own orthodoxy has been called into question because I won’t lock step with anti-social justice advocates in repudiating wholesale social justice even though I have issues with it depending on what you mean by “social justice.” But when you lump the term into a nebulous definition (that can have a range of meaning) and slap a “social gospel” or “anti-gospel” label on it without digging into the weeds to separate the wheat from the chaff, that’s what you’re going to get.
As I stated a year ago, I can appreciate the concern of the framers. They felt something was at stake and the gospel needed to be preserved. After all, the church has seen its fair share of opposition to orthodoxy and councils and such were formed to contend for the faith that was handed down ala Jude 3. Continue reading
It’s been a few months since I’ve written here. Part of that is because my writing just hasn’t flowed and I don’t like to force it when it get stuck. Though I have had an opportunity to produce a couple of pieces for Reformation21–one regarding the incident involving David Platt’s prayer over Trump and most recently, a reflection about leaving the faith and hence the title of this post. But I’ll get to that in a minute. Another reason that I haven’t written much is because of some very interesting life changes with a new job serving a local nonprofit that is focused on celebrating the multiethnic diversity in Roanoke (as in internationally) and also a new ministry project that I’ll be sharing more about in the days to come.
Regarding my recent piece published over at Reformation21 (link here), it was a reflection of my own testimony in light of the public deconversion of Josh Harris where he announced in an IG post that he was no longer Christian. Since that time Marty Sampson of Hillsong fame also announced that he was having doubts and reconsidering Christianity (though he did later clarify it didn’t mean he was leaving the faith).
This resonated with me since I was a prodigal for 13 years (1986-1999). While I never denounced Christianity, I lived as though I had nothing to do with it. As I wrote in the Ref21 piece, the mindset was pretty much the same;
While I never denounced Christianity or indicated I was no longer a Christian, my line of thinking definitely echoed what I hear Harris and Sampson utter–there was a deconstruction, if you will. But really, it was flat out rebellion. I could not live within a Christian construct any longer, foolishly believing that it was freedom. I lived as one who did not believe, doing what was right in my own eyes, and making many foolish decisions along the way.
Over at the Washington Post, Eugene Scott has written an interesting opinion piece regarding Mike Pence’s commencement speech at Liberty University. Scott is concerned that warnings about Christian persecution fall into a victim complex that is not all that helpful for navigating through fruitful citizenship. Now, I do agree with some of what he says. But the more I read through it, the more I think some parsing is in order to get to the real concern. He says;
Religious persecution is real. The congregations of three black Louisiana churches that were recently burned down for reasons that some suspect were racially motivated know this. And so do the congregants of the synagogue that was attacked last month by a gunman; the suspect pointed to his conservative evangelical theology as justification for his hatred of racial minorities.
But accusing “Hollywood liberals,” the media and “the secular left” of persecuting Trump-supporting evangelicals might do little, if anything, to prepare the next generation of leaders to be good citizens working toward the common good in a religiously diverse nation. At worst, it could perpetuate the victim mentality that is so pervasive in our culture wars and that some believe has made this country more politically divided than at any other point in recent history. Such a framing may win you some political battles, but in the long term, it makes it much more difficult for the United States to become “one nation under God,” as Pence and so many others often pledge.
Now, I do think he’s right in that we can form a persecution complex and engage in fear mongering. After all, Jesus did say that we would have trouble in this world. We can’t surely expect that a secular culture will align with Christian values. Even though religious liberty was ensconced in the framework of this country’s founding, we do need to consider it is also not a guarantee to live out faithful Christianity. That’s not to say we should not care or make efforts to preserve it. But we can at least expect a Christianity believed and lived faithfully will be at odds with a culture that seeks to live for self. Continue reading