Overcoming Gaps in Christian Experience

The Spiritual Maturity Project aims at overcoming two gaps in the experience of many Christians.  These gaps stunt growth and steal joy because they blind us to God's actions.  

The first gap lies between Christian scholarship and so-called practical books, books on "Christian living." Scholarly writings in the Christian tradition are generally thought of as "theoretical," as virtually the opposite of practical, written in abstract, highly technical language that normal Christians can't understand, anyway, so why bother? Most Christians interested in growing spiritually therefore turn to books written at a popular level, found in the "Christian living" category. 

In spite of any number of good, edifying books written in non-technical language, the popular Christian book market is flooded with stuff that stays on the surface.  Sometimes such books become bestsellers and being a bestseller is the signal that they are meeting a need and helping people grow.  But too often they are simply appealing to some perceived (as opposed to real) need and little, if any, growth happens. How do we explore the depth and riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God if we always stay in the kiddie pool?  

The second gap is closely related to the first. It's the gap that people think exists between faith and knowledge.  The vast majority of us have been taught to think of faith as an exercise of the will done in the absence of knowledge. This gap must be closed. Faith and knowledge are part of the same exercise. 

Far and away the dominant bias about knowledge in our culture is that it must be factual and provable.  Any claim that cannot be proven by this method is dismissed as unworthy of thinking people's time. In matters of faith, you can believe anything you want. An attitude insinuates itself through the back door of our minds, that our Christian faith is useful only for private values and certain kinds of ethical judgments. We become convinced that faith and knowledge have nothing to do with each other, that this gap is necessary, almost itself a moral good. The result, however, of what seems at first glance so sensible, is a fragmented life.  Stunted growth and stolen joy.

I was reminded, as I listened to a podcast recently, of atheists who converted to Christianity (a not insignificant list, mind you) often reveal a common narrative.  For a number of reasons, these erstwhile atheists started out with the usual prejudices about religious people - especially of the more traditional and orthodox types - that we believe a bunch of nonsense.  But, these atheists, hungry for the truth,  when they actually started reading the scriptures and studying the doctrines of the Christian faith, they found not nonsense, but truth, compellingly beautiful, captivating truth. 

C.S. Lewis is probably the most famous example, but there are plenty of others.  And if you've read any of Lewis' writings, you know how spiritually enriching they are.  

The Christian faith is about real knowledge.  It is publicly available for anyone to scrutinize. We need healing from the epistemic sickness that splits faith from knowledge and the scholarly from the practical.  We will receive it by reading, by honestly examining the content of our own minds, by talking and listening, by practicing as we go.  

Lately I have pondered again and again Matthew 11:28-30, words of comfort from Jesus, who invites all who are weary and heavy laden to come to him and he will give us rest. Smack in the middle of this promise are these words: "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me." 

Jesus is the Master Teacher. To grow spiritually means to learn and to learn means to grow intellectually. We don't have to become scholars in the conventional sense, but we do need to become students, serious ones.  

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