Transformational Spirituality (Jul-Aug 2003)

By Matt Dabbs

by Rubel Shelly
July – August, 2003

Maybe it should be called Oprah-ized faith. Or the gospel recast for New Agers. Perhaps it is Christianity Lite or Jesus the Facilitator. Whatever it is called, I don’t like it—not because it is personally distasteful but because it perverts the orthodox gospel. It abandons truth and righteousness as meaningful categories.

Oprah appears to have become the nation’s television therapist. She communicates the message that life is both a narcissistic and circular experience. Get comfortable with yourself, love yourself, quit feeling guilty over the messes you’ve made; nobody but you can make judgments about your life. This is simply old-fashioned, self-absorbed narcissism. Life is only a recurring cycle of comfort followed by pain followed by discovery leading to new comfort and so on; this is the ancient Babylonian and modern New Age doctrine of recurrence. We keep coming back to the same starting point again and again in the circular experience of life.

Don’t get me wrong. What many decry about our “therapeutic culture” is, in my opinion, very helpful and very Christian. A person is willing to be confessional about lust and pornography. Another wants to deal with repressed guilt and anger over childhood sexual abuse. An alcoholic is willing to call himself “a drunk” and invite people into his life for accountability on his quest for sobriety. All these are good things and fully compatible with the gospel.

What is not compatible with Christianity in many of these subcultures of therapy is that they expect, affirm, and embrace continued failure. Jesus is Savior and Lord, not a warm-and-fuzzy therapist who reflects acceptance without assessment. When he rescued the woman taken in adultery, he neither accepted her past nor expected her to repeat it in the future. She had sinned. She deserved what she was about to get. And in showing her grace, he pointed her to a new life at a nobler level. He rebuked her hardhearted accusers, but he also admonished her. “Go your way,” he told her, “and from now on do not sin again.”

It is the expectation of transformation that Christianity Lite has omitted. It is the demand to “get rid of” anger, drunkenness, lying, or promiscuity and instead to “clothe yourselves with” kindness, self-control, faithfulness, and other elements of the authentic spiritual life that is patently unorthodox. Jesus is not the church’s facilitator for self-help therapy or the catalyst for self-discovery. For a Christian, he is Lord, Master, and Sovereign —whose heart, mind, and lifestyle are paradigms for us to imitate in the power of the Holy Spirit.

No more circling the same mountain. No more 40-year wanderings in the wilderness. Christianity is linear, not circular. Faith goes somewhere. Without the arrogance of self-righteousness and while being confessional of our vulnerability and failures, let’s expect to make progress. Let’s hold one another accountable for leaving the old life behind. Let’s accept the Spirit’s power in order to give God the glory of a righteous life. If the challenge of doing this is too much to contemplate, perhaps we have trivialized the meaning of being in Christ.

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).New Wineskins

Rubel Shelly

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About...

Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1584 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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