Spirituality & Recovery

Some Thoughts on Spirituality and Recovery
By Rick Peterson

The attraction for many Christians to religious syncretism is subtle and deadly. However, one reason for this attraction is the failure of the evangelical church to articulate (let alone practice) a meaningful, biblical spirituality. Those recovering from addiction are often told by treatment professionals they must “live on a spiritual basis.” This is especially true within Twelve-Step programs. And without a clear practice of daily spirituality within the church, professing Christians become attracted to other “spiritual paths.”

So, what is spirituality? Within the therapeutic community, spirituality is vaguely defined as a sense of connection which provides a transcendent view of the self. In Twelve-Step circles the material world is often portrayed as a hindrance to spiritual living as captured in the popular saying, “I am a spiritual being having a human experience.” But the Bible does not place the material in opposition to the spiritual. Both the spiritual and material are both creations of God, and are therefore, good. This one point alone separates biblical spirituality from all other forms of spirituality.

Human beings are created in the image of God, the very God who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1-14).To be “spiritual” in the Christian paradigm then means to be fully human, but human as God designed and intended, and not as sin has tragically distorted and redefined humanity. Contrary to popular philosophy, to error is not human, rather, to error is to be fallen. To be human is to walk in righteousness and peace with God and others, and to live in harmony with creation. In other words, to be spiritual is to walk as Jesus walked (I John 2:6; Philippians 2:5-11; I Peter 2:21-25). But there is a problem. The children of Adam do not walk as Jesus walked; quite to the contrary.

For after the fall Adam’s spirituality sprang from his fallen nature. When Adam chose to rebel, he became a child of his spiritual father, the devil (John 8:44), and he remains so today. But that does not mean he is not religious. Rather, than fallen man becoming an atheistic materialist, the Bible teaches that fallen man became an idolater, and his idolatry is designed to suppress the knowledge of the true God (Romans 1:18-25; Acts 17:16). Man-made religion serves as a suppressing agent to the fallen mind. On this point, Karl Marx was correct in saying, “Religion is the opiate of the people.” Eastern religions are attractive because they allow for fallen man to feel a sense of spiritual transcendence while at the same time denying the self-revelation of the true God, in whose image he is created. Fallen man is in fellowship with the devil and the spirituality from which he drinks is the cup of demons (I John 5:19; I Corinthians 10:20-21).

But it is not enough simply to denounce demonic spirituality. Christianity must set forth a spirituality grounded in truth. But to do this is nearly impossible while Christianity itself remains defined more by human tradition than biblical truth. To present a truly Christian spirituality requires, therefore, that we first be willing to examine our theology and ask hard questions, such as, ““Do I preach the Bible or a theological system and confession?” and “Is my spirituality based upon revealed truth or the teachings and speculations of men?”  For if we condemn religious syncretism while we ourselves are mixing biblical truth with man-made systems are we really any better than those whom we condemn? And tragically, most Christians are not willing to do the self-examination necessary to discover if the tradition to which they belong can be supported by the supreme authority of Scripture.

This unwillingness was the “Achilles heel” of the Reformation, and tragically, it remains the case for many churches who trace their origins to that period in church history. After a glorious start, the Reformation settled into a state-church formula that demanded serious compromise to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). What is worse, there have been others since the Reformation who have adopted doctrines based on a Solo Scriptura (I alone interpret Scripture); Dispensationalism, liberalism, and most Pentecostal groups, fall into this pattern.1 John Gerstner once estimated that 90% of Christianity is heretical, 8% is in gross error, and a good portion of the remaining 2% is hampered by man-made tradition. How can a biblical spirituality ever be developed in such an environment? No wonder Christians are seeking spirituality outside of their own faith.2

In order to develop a biblical spirituality, Christians must first examine their teachings against the historic rule of faith (regula fide)3 and above all, the supreme authority of Scripture. This is not a comfortable proposal, nor is it popular. For instance, is Peter Jones willing to apply the same biblical standards of examination in relation to the teachings of the PCA, as he does to his critique of neo-paganism? Is the local dispensationalist pastor who rages against the “New Age” willing also to trace the roots of his own system and examine them against Scripture? Tragically, most churches are filled with people who are not willing to leave their comfort zone to ensure they are following Jesus Christ, even the though the Bible commands such an examination (I Corinthians 3:10-11;II Corinthians 13:5; I Thessalonians 5:21-22; II Timothy 2:15; Hebrews 2:1-4; James 3:1; I Peter 4:17).

As already stated, the church must define and articulate true spirituality grounded in the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-4).

One reason I support New Covenant Theology is because it represents a deep commitment to a Christ-centered lens through which to read the Bible; a commitment which best reflects the historic rule of faith. And the best hope for developing a truly biblical spirituality will be that which is grounded in the promises of the new-covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:22-28; Hebrews 8-10). May the Lord’s blessing be upon us richly as we endeavor to magnify His name.

Sola Dei Gloria! 

© Rick Peterson. 2017.

[1] See Keith Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura for more on the folly of Solo Scriptura.

[2] John Gerstner, Handout Church History, available at www.Ligonier.com

[3] Regula Fide is Latin for “Rule of Faith” and refers to that which the church has taught throughout her history. It can best be referred to as that which is Christ-centered and in accord with apostolic truth. The two dominate systems of theology in the West, Covenantal and Dispensationalism, each have their origins outside the regula fide but have been accepted as if infallible.

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