Spiritual vs. Religious

In a recent survey, 72% of people ages 18-29 defined themselves as “more spiritual than religious.” I want to make the case that this is not necessarily a bad thing.

This statistic comes from an interesting article link over at GenMin Connection. In that post Anthony Mullins links to an article about a survey by LifeWay Research that shows that the majority of people in their 20’s (about 60%-70%) do not read the Bible, go to church regularly, or pray with others.

As a principle of life I am very much in favor of reading the Bible, going to church, and praying with others. However, I am even more in favor of doing all these things in the knowledge of who you are as the adopted child of the Father in Jesus Christ.

The problem with religion is that it is always about appeasement, not adoption. In broad terms, there are two forms of this:

1. You must appease God by doing good works and following the rules.

2. Jesus appeased God for you and now you must do your part to appease God by believing that Jesus really exists.

I know I’m over simplifying, but I’ve also been a pastor long enough to know what’s going on in the minds of a lot of religious people.

I think about this issue in terms of my own kids. If my kids are going to read the Bible and think it’s talking about an angry God who wants to burn them up, but will relent if they say the sinner’s prayer, then I would truly rather them just skip the Bible reading for today. Their fallen human nature, just like mine and yours, is already susceptible enough to Satan’s lies about the Father – why reinforce it by reading the Bible incorrectly? If they’re going to go to church and hear their 1,000th sermon about “7 points on how to live the good life now” and not hear anything about their adoption into the life of the Father, Son, and Spirit, then I’d rather them go play golf.

I know I run the risk of sounding harsh and judgmental when I critique American Christianity in this way, but I truly have reached a point where this is my basic attitude about our current form of Christianity:

All these folks are my brothers and sisters in Christ and I know they, like me, are doing the best they can with what they know. But the vast majority of Christians in American do not believe or share the good news of Jesus as the Vicarious Man who shares the things of God with humanity and things of humanity with God (Rom. 5:18, Eph. 2:15, Heb. 2:11-13, St. Athanasius in Against the Arians, 3.39; 4.7).

I’d put it this way: I want my kids to grow up to believe in their adoption as children of the Father in the humanity of his Son Jesus. I want them to read the Bible from this belief and go to a church that preaches this truth. But if that doesn’t happen, then my second choice for them is that they would be spiritual and not religious. I’d rather them not get caught up in running on the religious hamster wheel of modern American Christianity.

That’s why I don’t think this “spirituality” thing is all bad and I’m not surprised that most twenty-somethings don’t want to have much to do with the Bible or the Church. I think the Holy Spirit is keeping them away from the Church, shielding them from our legalism and false doctrine, until such time as the reformation he has started among us has reached  a stage where we are truly ready to preach the good news of how the faith of Jesus Christ  has made humanity right with the Father and made us all the Father’s children forever (Gal. 2:20, Eph. 1:5, Col. 1:19-20).

~ Jonathan Stepp

8 comments so far

  1. Kimberly Spyker on

    Amen to this blog entry! The mere thought of returning to
    “the religious hamster wheel of modern American Christianity” is a bit gut-wrenching. My daughter is 9 and the thought of her living on that “wheel”, trying to drive blind is a scary thought. Although we have received some painful persecution for the Spirit’s illumination of our adoption in Jesus, no way, would we ever desire to be that blind, that much in darkness again no matter the pain. Thanks be to our Triune God! Our loving Father, Son and Holy Spirit inclusion! We remain excited even in our weariness to share this good news with our brothers and sisters!!

  2. Pastor Jonathan on

    Thanks, Kimberly, I’m glad to know I’m not alone in thinking this way!

  3. Dyann on

    Hi Jonathan,

    You are DEFINITELY not alone in thinking this way!

    Really appreciate these blogs and all that you are doing.

    Hope you and yours are ok after all the flooding.

  4. John Geerlings on

    Hi Jonathan
    A very responsible blog! Your thoughts and mine flow along the same vein and I appreciate your boldness in speaking out! I find that from within I am pressed to relate in communion with others in Trinitarian thought.

    Religion in this secular world tries to bring some meaning through a god into my life as compared to spiritual in the secular where Father, Son and Spirit are convincing us of the true meaning of life. The latter has become my heart throb! Where would you rather have your family spend their time?

    Spiritual reformation is never the mindset of the masses but through the few over time becomes the thought of the many. It is Father who wills to do by the Spirit the good work of His Son already completed in all of humanity. The timing is in his grip. jg

  5. Pastor Jonathan on

    Thanks for the good words, guys. We made it through the floods just fine, though the basement of the building we rent for church did get some water in it. Thanks for all your prayers!

  6. Ted Johnston on

    Hi Jonathan,

    I concur with your concern to shield young people (and old ones too) from false gospels (which are no gospels at all).

    I address this concern in a Surprising God post, which warns of the *moralistic deism* prevalent in many churches.

    See http://thesurprisinggodblog.wcg.org/2010/05/false-gospel-of-moralistic-deism.html

  7. Pastor Jonathan on

    Thanks, Ted, I really appreciated your comments about this on the Surprising God and the video you included. “Moralistic Deism” is a great way of describing it – hopefully everyone will check out your post.

  8. shadowspring on

    Aw, please don’t abandon this blog! I just found it. Actually, I just found “God Likes You” and it drected me here. Is this one closed now as well?


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