Monday, September 26, 2011

On Spiritual Growth and Doctrine

Lately, I've been thinking that "spiritual growth" is a shibboleth (everything I say here about "spiritual growth" can also be applied to the fancy term "discipleship" as well). Lots of traditions argue that spiritual growth is essential, or think they have a hold on what it looks like. But almost any person or community who considers themselves more mature spiritually than others typically isn't, and when we start getting around to describing what spiritual growth looks like, we often end up with tautologies.

I'm not saying there are no spiritual giants. Clearly there are. I've met a few. I've read about even more. But often spiritual greatness is mixed in equal measure with depravity of some kind. And those who were mature sometimes slip back into juvenile behavior, while those considered immature show great spiritual insight.

All of which is to say that I'm skeptical of "growth." We are to return to our baptism daily. Every day we wake up infants. We do grow up--we study, we worship, we are strengthened in faith, we persevere, the spirit lives in us. But we also slip and stick--we don't study, we skip worship or enter it faithlessly, we doubt, we run away, we squelch the spirit.

As committed as I am to study, regular worship, and all the practices expected of those who are living wet, I just don't see the kind of growth everyone is talking about. God's grandeur and the grace of Christ levels the playing field, and I think we just live each day on that field, playing as children of God.

Recently a pastor in our ELCA Clergy Facebook group posted this comment for our common discussion:

‎"What we need in the Lutheran Church today is not more leaders who can recite the Confessions or argue with others about a pure understanding of grace, but those who have taken the hard journey of spiritual transformation, the necessary death and resurrection of self, and freely and joyfully embody the grace of God in Christ in every human interaction." Discuss.

Here's my response. I believe I myself fit somewhere in the response, not outside of it:

In my experience in the ELCA, there are very, very, very, very few pastors of the first type you mention. There are many who would like to think they are of the second type. We probably need more of the first than we think, and are unlikely to actually go on the journey that will get us to the second type. 

And ultimately, it's a false distinction. The people who wrote the confessions and took a stab at articulating a pure understanding of grace were also those who had gone (or were going) on the hard journey.

So, my analysis is that your overall thesis is unhelpful because it portrays the first person as dogmatic when they might not be, and the second person as the hero, when in fact their heroism might be vacuous and inflated.

1 comment:

  1. who chooses to take that "hard journey"? that would be my question. It is something that happens to us. the hard journey happens to us.