IO 86: Your “Spiritual-but-not-Religious” Neighbor

by Dr. Peter Jones on January 27, 2012

Sharing the Gospel

When I came to the States in 1964, the great enemy of the Christian Faith was Marxism, with “Commies behind every bush.” My wife recently told me that as a child she would lie awake at night worrying that she would give up her faith when persecuted by godless Soviet commissars.  In 1966 at Seminary, I studied the “Death of God” theology, which, we were told, represented the final triumph of secular humanism.

For a century and a half secular humanist scholars predicted the demise of religion, which Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud dismissed respectively as the opiate of the people, and a mental illness. But the materialistic utopia never materialized. Instead, people have awakened to “spirituality.” Not God but materialistic secular humanism is dead.

One of the Death of God theologians, David Miller (whom we did not read in class) later gave the game away. In his book, The New Polytheism (1974), he made the shocking claim that “at the death of God we would see the rebirth of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece and Rome.”  The Postmodern deconstructionist, Mark Taylor, observed that “the 21st century will be dominated by religion in ways that were inconceivable just a few years ago.” A secular literature conference in 2006 boasted the title God is Undead: Post-Secular Notions in Contemporary Literature and Theory and included a lecture entitled “Secularism in the Elimination Round.”

When I was studying the Death of God theology, I never thought that years later I would read an academic book entitled Postsecularism (Cambridge: 2009). Its British author, Dr. Mike King, describes how secular humanists are becoming spiritual, open to questions of the spirit while retaining, of course, the secular habit of critical thought. However, not all “spirits” can apply.

The “in” spirituality includes

  • Quantum Physics, which shows “the human being as joyously co-extensive with and co-creator of that cosmos”;
  • Transpersonal Psychology, since it is both scientific and spiritual (it is actually occult shamanism);
  • Nature worship, which gives us both morals and spirituality;
  • Goddess worship, practiced by cutting-edge modern feminism.

This intellectual openness allows only one spirituality—pagan spirituality, or One-ism. Two-ism is unthinkable. Postsecularists seek to be liberated from two opposing “extremist” forces: traditional religion and atheistic secularism. Post-secularism delivers us from both these dead ends. While atheism is no longer valid, neither is traditional theism. For the postmodern the way forward is pantheism.

This is not just theory.  At his seminary’s annual Convocation, called “Evolving World, Emerging Church,” the dean of Bangor Theological Seminary said that “there is a spiritual revival …afoot, but it is not religious.” The new spiritual icons are rock star Bono, former President Jimmy Carter and celebrities like Angelina Jolie and her partner Brad Pitt. “Salvation in the 21st century is being a good human being.” Appropriately, the dean calls this “humanitarian spirituality.”

How do Christians speak of Jesus to this rising generation of very spiritual people who have had a “personal experience of the pantheistic “god-within”? This new Postsecular context demands a worldview approach to our Gospel presentation.

Our “spiritual-but-not-religious” neighbors believe that

  • all is one and that god exists in everything. According to the Bible, there are two kinds of reality: God and creation, and God in His being is distinct from His creation.
  • everyone shares in the divine power and can bring the world to new levels of happiness and peace. The Bible says that, though made in God’s image, there are two kinds of people: those who are reconciled with God and those who are in rebellion against Him, and that only God can truly save the world.
  • since each religion has some of the truth, we only have to put them together to discover the whole truth. The Bible describes the timeless religious conflict between the Truth and the Lie, and that every human being must worship and serve the true Creator God.
  • our human problems are a result of forgetfulness: we have forgotten that we are divine. The Bible says creatures trying to be God is what created all our problems from the beginning!
  • we should look within to find inner divine power. The Bible tells us to look to God, and His Son, Jesus, who by the power of His Spirit, independent of our efforts, reconciles us sinful creatures to Himself.

Make no mistake; spiritual post-secularists will be as formidable opponents of the Christian message as their secularist forebears. Thus Christians, in order to love these new “spiritual” neighbors, you must understand their worldview to share the Gospel in categories that challenge their view of reality. Only in this way can the contemporary Church be faithful to the task Jesus gave us, of making disciples of all nations.

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