If the world has not approached its end, it has reached a major watershed . . . equal in history to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will demand from us a spiritual blaze. —Alexander Solzhenitsyn1
o hear some people talk you would think that individuals in our culture have given up on the possibility of God and spiritual realities. Actually the exact opposite is the case. People in our day are as much or more interested in the “spiritual” or the “transcendent” as they were at the turn of the twentieth century. Pollster George Gallup, Jr., quotes church historian Martin Marty as saying “Spirituality is back, almotst with a vengeance.”2 Visit your local bookstore—if your community is lucky enough to still have one—and take a look at the religion and metaphysics sections. You may be shocked at the number of books that deal with transcendent themes. But when I warn you to get ready, my caution is based on more than sheer quantity. You will find a myriad of volumes ranging from UFO abduction to palm reading to alternative health practices to the spirituality of gardening. This same interest is demonstrated by movies such as Inception, Avatar, and The Dark Knight Trilogy—all of which deal with transcendent themes. Television programming will not be outdone either, with such shows as Fringe or Lost.
Many secularist prophets of the last century predicted that the urge to connect with something or someone beyond the physical world would pass off the scene as modern man came of age. This has not been the case, at least not in North America, as polls continue to show a high level of religious belief.3 Try as we may to get rid of this urge, it seems like the proverbial beach ball that someone tries to hold underwater. The more one tries to shove it down or hide it, the more it pops up in other places. This seems to be what is happening to us regarding issues of spirituality early in the twenty-first century. Actually this surge of interest in spirituality is perfectly in keeping with what we should expect of human beings who are “made in the image of God” (Gen. 1:26–28). The Bible is clear that God never ceases to make Himself known to us, His image bearers (Ps. 19:1–2; Rom. 1:20–21).
The renewed interest in spirituality is certainly encouraging. It might lead us to believe that we are on the brink of a renewal of authentic Christian faith. However,the revival of interest in spirituality might not result in any real change. My own reading and research in the area of spiritual formation has convinced me that in order for us to see some of those who are hungering for spiritual reality come to true faith in Christ, we must understand the shape the present search is taking.
In much of the new material on spirituality, the word transcendence continues to surface. Used in its traditional sense, this word refers to God’s separateness from the rest of creation. The new spiritualities imply something quite different, however. Alan Roxburgh puts it correctly when he comments on the present use of the concept, “Transcendence is often used as a synonym for mystical experiences of direct connection with what is perceived to be the true reality behind ordinary life.”4 This connection between the individual and something beyond is primarily experiential, nonhierarchical, and based on feeling rather than reason. Reason is seen as one of the main contributors to the sense of separation or dualism that is so much a part of modern experience. In many people’s minds, the modern mechanistic world has produced a sense of alienation from life by its fixation on measuring, quantifying, and explaining everything by the use of reason. Therefore, in many people’s minds Christianity has contributed to the sense of separation, especially when it has used reason to support its claims.
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