These new spiritualities, coming as they do in all forms and shapes, are making several assumptions about which we need to be clear. These are the mechanisms of this spirituality from “below.” They are, first, that we have natural access to the sacred; second, that sin has not disrupted this access; and third, that spirituality is always a private matter, discerned intuitively and internally, not a matter objectively anchored in history. That is why it is so content to live with this public/private separation.
The thought that we have natural access to the divine is not new, and we in fact already considered it when thinking about the self movement. However, we need to revisit this briefly to set the contemporary context for thinking about the person and work of Christ.
[The movement from below] is going on in the garden variety evangelical church of a seeker sensitive or emergent kind. There you can see this very same consumer spirituality at work, completely unafraid, buying, matching product to need, at work in all these ways. Instant access! An experience to be sized up. Help when we want it, but on our terms
Here is earthly spirituality trying to move up to God. Here is the projection of the human spirit into eternity, trying to immortalize itself. And here the sacred is loved for what the spiritual seeker gets in return. What people want is their needs satisfied. Satisfaction is of a therapeutic kind, so it varies from person to person. Some feel abandoned and need comfort. Some feel lost and need to find direction. Some feel empty and need to be filled. Some are unsatisfied, even with the surfeit of our affluence, and need to taste something from another world.
But what always happens in every form of spirituality from below is that the seeker ends up controlling what is sought. We the seekers come to determine when we will seek, what we will seek, and when we will declare ourselves satisfied. Soon we will fall into the habit of thinking, since we receive no rebukes, that the sacred is there simply for our satisfaction and for our use. We use the sacred when we want, just as we do any other consumer goods we buy.
The Christian doctrines of creation and sin set this right. What is created is finite and dependent. The one who created it all is sovereign, self-sufficient, and independent. He is the one who makes himself known. It is not we who find him, and we especially do not find him in ourselves. This is the old habit that has surfaced throughout history. It is a pagan habit based on pantheistic assumptions, that the sacred can be found by searching the self, the psyche.
Here are the spiritual life and death distinctions. Across the ages the church has framed them by establishing some basic categories: natural and supernatural revelation (this is Protestant language) and nature and grace (which is more typically Catholic). The point about both distinctions is that, against the assumptions of this ancient and now contemporary spirituality, there is no natural access to God in a saving way…
Natural revelation – what is disclosed about the existence of God (Ps. 19:1-6; Acts ) and his moral nature (Rom -15) – is a disclosure that is general.It is made to all. It is a revelation that all people not only receive but renders them “without excuse” (Rom ) It is made, then, to us as humans. But it is not a saving revelation.
The revelation that leads to salvation is different. It is supernaturally given, given in the fabric of space and time in God’s redemptive acts in Israel’s history (e.g. Pss. 78; 80; 114; Acts 7:1-53). We have the inspired account of these acts and their meaning given to us in Scripture. We know that these acts were summed up and consummated in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. All of this constitutes a revelation made to sinners.
The point I am making is quite offensive to us today. It is that God hides himself from us that he cannot be had on our terms, and that he cannot be accessed from “below” through natural revelation. In the malls, and in much of life, we encounter nothing like this.We expect access. We expect to be able to get what we want, when we want it, and on our terms.Here this is not the case. Here we have to be admitted to God’s presence, on his terms, in his way … or not at all.We cannot simply walk into his presence. Here nature does not itself yield grace.God’s grace comes from the outside, not the inside, from above and not from within. It is not natural to fallen human life. We enter the presence of God as those who have been estranged, not as those who have been in continuity with the sacred simply because we are human. We are brought into a saving relationship through Christ; we do not put this together from within ourselves.
To speak of these contrasting approaches to spirituality, the one reaching down and the other feebly to reach up (or in), is simply to state that there is a boundary between God and human beings.This boundary is not self-evident at all. If it were, there would be no shadow culture of spirituality in America today. In fact, without God’s revelation we do not know that God is hidden from us and that we are blind…
…The kingdom of God, in the Gospels is never a realm. It is a rule. And it is the rule of God. The primary idea in this language is that God himself has begun to rule. It is present, but this reign still has to be concluded and consummated at some point in the future.
Let us not miss an important point here. It is that this reign, this rule, is something God is doing. The reason, clearly, is that this is not something that emerges from “below,” which we ourselves can get going. It must come from “above.” We cannot bring it about; only God can.
We can search for the kingdom of God, pray for it, and look for it, for example, but only God can bring it about (Luke 12:31; 23:51; Matt. 6:10, 33). The kingdom is God’s to give and take away. It is ours only to enter and accept (Matt. ; Luke ). We can inherit it, possess it, or refuse to enter it, but it is not ours to build and we can never destroy it (Matt 25:34: Luke 10:11). We can work for the kingdom, but we can never act upon it. We can preach it, but it is God’s to establish (Matt 10:7; Luke 10:9; ).
God’s inbreaking, saving, vanquishing rule is his from first to last. It has no human analogues, no duplicates, no parallels, and no surrogates. It allows of no human synergism.The inbreaking of the “age to come” into our world is accomplished by God alone. This is all about the spirituality that is from “above” and not at all about that which is from “below.”It is about God reaching down in grace and doing for sinners what they cannot do for themselves. For if this is God’s kingdom, his rule, the sphere of his sovereignty, then it is not for us to take or to establish. We receive, we do not take; we enter, but we do not seize. We come as subjects in his kingdom, not as sovereigns in our own.