WHI-1251 | American Spirituality

Sunday, 29 Mar 2015

The New World was a place of all kinds of new experiments, experiments in liberty, and experiments in religion. It was a place where people felt like they could go and not only have the political freedom to practice their religion, but they were also liberated from external forms and church structures. And so, it’s not surprising that the search for the sacred in America has often taken on a very radical kind of form.

Americans are very religious, very spiritual, very interested in spirituality. Of all American adults 92% say they believe in God. 63% say that the Bible is the Word of God. God, apple pie, and mom just go together when you say the word, “America.” But is that the way it really is once you scratch the surface of this phenomenon?

It gets a little murkier. Take belief in God for example. According to a Pew Study, 92% of American adults give a nod to belief in God, but only 60% say they believe in a personal God. I don’t know what the statistic would be if you narrowed it down to the Holy Trinity, and then a Holy Trinity identified by the attributes we find in the Scriptures. In fact, only 79% of those who’ve identified themselves as Evangelical, Born-Again Christians said that they believe in a personal God. So, despite the public nod to the Bible, most Americans rely on their own ‘Inner Light’ to determine what they believe, and why they believe it. They have their own spiritual playlist, according to the same Pew Study I referred to. Most Americans, including most American Evangelicals, say that there are many paths to salvation.

What does it even mean to say we believe in God? What does it even mean to say that we believe the Bible is the Word of God? What do these slogans, these phrases that roll off our lips, so easily even mean in our contemporary context? Join us this week on the White Horse Inn as we look at the spirituality of America.

HOST QUOTE
“What does it mean to be Evangelical? What does it mean to be Born-Again if Jesus isn’t bodily raised at the right hand of the Father? The findings are pretty clear: spirituality is booming and Christianity is on the decline. Religion is seen an entirely subjective affair between you and God… It’s a personal affair between you and God, no external authorities, don’t fence me in. As John Wayne says, ‘I like God until he gets under a roof.’ That’s the rugged individual, American spirit.”
– Michael Horton
TERM TO LEARN
Therapeutic Spirituality
Today’s spirituality is novel in the sense that it is based upon a person’s felt needs, as opposed to an authoritative person or text. Self-expression has become the new form of worship in both traditional and innovative religious practices, rather than a practice of self-denial. This spirituality adopts preference as a means of self-actualization (i.e. a way of becoming the fullest expression of yourself as a human being). The commitments to these preferences are deeply personal and subjective, which results in the expression, “Your own personal Jesus” who neither confronts with his transcendent ‘Otherness’ nor deals in categories of sin, hell, or judgment. Therapy as a model of spirituality has replaced traditional norms due to the secularization of culture (i.e., the cultural shift that has resulted in religious beliefs becoming wholly individualized and disassociated from the social sphere). Divine Providence over mankind has been replaced by the invisible hand of economic forces. Whereas the Almighty beneficent being was previously seen as integral to daily life and well-being, today, he is seen as a cosmic bell-hop who comes at our beck and call.
With the loss of life’s ‘center’ by these competing visions of reality, faith has been left only with an interior and subjective expression which allows ‘believers’ to cope with the ‘real-world’ science and technology have given them. In the face of this modern nihilism (i.e., the belief that there is no true reality beyond that which is apprehended through the senses), religion has often attempted to fill the vacuum through such therapeutic modes of expression. Even in traditional, conservative contexts orthodox worship and practice may succumb to this mode of spirituality, ultimately leaving little effect upon the practice of the worshipper or in the public square at large. Concrete, external liturgical practices (such as the reading of the law, corporate confession, a declaration of pardon, and corporate supplication) are often displaced by personalized small groups which help believers in their life journey. This is deemed as more ‘relevant’ to the therapeutic man, and an improvement upon the ‘dead rituals’ that don’t speak to the hearts of worshippers. Worship thus becomes a therapy ‘session’ something akin to Alcoholics Anonymous, a place where kindred spirits can hear one another’s stories and help one another cope with their weaknesses and failures, rather than a place of divine judgment and salvation where sinful people meet with a holy God, and through faith in their Savior, by the power of the Holy Spirit, are forgiven for their rebellion, and comforted by the assurance of their salvation.
(Timothy W. Massaro, “Therapeutic Spirituality”)
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