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
A couple of years ago, I penned a piece, Some Questions I’m Asking While Off to My White Evangelical Church, that got a bit of attention. The piece was the product of growing concerns I had regarding where the racial reconciliation was headed. I had questions of whether we were legitimately seeking reconciliation or was an agenda being imposed on the body of Christ that actually is driving a wedge through it. And now that I’ve seen the movement morph into an anti-racist and social justice paradigm that adopts a worldview that seems to run contrary to a Christian paradigm in doctrine and practice, I stick by every word I wrote in asking the questions I had.
Speaking of which, there has been a lot of discussion on Critical Theory lately especially with the denouncement of whiteness in our churches. Neil Shenvi has done an excellent job in examining this theory and asking if integration is possible. Check out his website here and this hour talk. What I most appreciate about his work is that he doesn’t ignore the issues that Critical Theory is attempting to address given the very lengthy history that the false of construct of race has produced. We can refute Critical Theory as the means to bring correction but we can’t refute the annuls of history whereby the white “superior” race dominated every aspect of culture that subjugated those of the so-called inferior race (namely those of African descent) to a sub-human classification. That white superiority complex also has denegrating views of Jews as well.
So we do have to be honest with history and particularly churches’ complicity in maintaining this false construct. However, one of my concerns is how we imposing the weight of history on to the present as if slavery and Jim Crow are very much enforced and we’ve made no progress at all. Surely, we can recognize changing attitudes that have weakened the hold of racism on institutional and cultural infrastructures.
But that doesn’t negate the fact that there are still issues, particularly with prevailing mindsets that uphold some kind of racial superior mindset and wants to preserve white heritage…against Blacks, Latinos, and even Jews. And yes, even in our churches. Continue reading
The past few days, I’ve watched the internet ablaze over this statement on social justice and the gospel. I read the statement and largely agree with many of the points and had trouble with others. My overall take, as I read through it was it seemed to set up a dichotomy where one was either for the gospel or for social justice as if orthodox believers can’t be involved in matters of social justice and still hold to biblical Christianity as historically articulated.
In his response to the statement, Joel McDurmon has expressed my concerns well;
In the name of a “closer examination” of the issues, the document not only offers no real “examination,” but precludes any future discussion on aspects central to the topic. It brings unnecessary division, demagoguing, grandstanding, pigeonholing, and fearmongering—all while neglecting any defined or substantial discussion of some of the actual points of disagreement or denial.
This document is not about issues, even though it uses pointed buzzwords. It is about power and alignment—tribalism. In the name of standing firm for Gospel truth, it works to solidify one group of believers against another group by demonizing the other with broad, undefined labels. The result is something like the following sentiment: “social justice” (undefined) is evil, and either you agree with us (sign the document), or you are dangerous to the church.
The aspect about power is a hefty charge that I’m not sure about. But I wholeheartedly concur that underneath the nebulous buzzwords lies a dividing stake that says either you are with us and for Christ or against us and against him. I’m pretty sure the crafters of this statement were sincere about upholding Christian orthodoxy and wanting to take a stand on factors that, at least in their mind, worked against it. But the the premise of the concern rests in an area in which there is a spectrum of beliefs that all do not work against the church. Continue reading