I don’t know what kind of spiritual disciplines you have put in place in your life. For most people there’s some prayer or meditation, maybe some reading of scripture, maybe reading devotional books or books about spiritual practice.
I’ve done these things in the course of my Christian discipleship, but as a New Testament geek there has been one spiritual practice that has been more needful than any other: I have committed myself to shutting off my exegetical critic while listen to sermons or reading non-academic Christian books.
I realized at some point during my Ph.D. program that if I insisted on what I considered to be sound exegesis before being willing to discuss “application” that (a) I was just going to be an antagonistic jerk to any poor preacher who happened to have me as a parishioner, and (b) I was probably never going to get around to doing anything, “applying” any message, because the whole of my life would be spent in intellectual criticism of what was said.
Generally speaking I’ve been a good boy. But lately I’ve been wondering…
Over the past few weeks I have been meandering through Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward. I will pick on Rohr because (a) he can take it, (b) he won’t care about what I say, (c) you’ll read him anyway so this won’t hurt his book sales (cf. “a”), and (d) his book is genuinely insightful and helpful and commendable despite what I’m getting ready to say.
Truly, point (d). Rohr is a matchless spiritual director and practitioner. He has eyes to see the human spiritual journey as it has been espied by Homer and Jung and Eliot no less than the mystics of the church. This is a rare gift. Read this book. It will change your life in all the right ways.
But here’s what happens as I read.
I’m merrily reading along about the process of growing and maturing as a human when out of the blue I’m sucker punched with, “And this is what Jesus is talking about when he says…” And all I can do is shout in my mind (or my margins), “No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! It has NOTHING do with what Jesus was talking about!”
Lessing’s Ugly Ditch
But that’s just the symptom. Here’s the underlying problem: