Saturday, May 06, 2017

The Emperor's New Faith

Self deception
Premier Christianity is a broad church magazine; although it keeps within the moderate evangelical tradition it will, nevertheless, publish articles from gay-marriage endorsing Steve Chalk right through to the censorious charismatic fundamentalist R T Kendall. The May issue held a sympathetic interview with the non-evangelical Christian theologian Robert Beckford and the April edition held an interview with radical rebel Christian "Moby" (Richard Melville Hall). The magazine seldom carries the kind of spiritually superior editorial diatribes against "heretical" Christians or atheists that one sometimes sees in strictly orthodox evangelical publications; if anything Christianity's editorial staff endeavor to adopt an empathetic understanding of those who do not hold their views. And yet Christianity will also include guest articles by RT Kendall in its mix. There have been two recent articles by Kendall, one in August and another in April. As you would expect given Kendall's background, in both articles he severely censors the UK church. He would very likely condemn Steve Chalk and Moby as typifying the spiritually "dead" Christians who are the cause of Christianity's demise in the UK!* Such, then, is the diversity of opinion that Christianity magazine is prepared to showcase. For that I would give it full marks! things as they really are not what you think they are or would like them to be. 

But there's more. Every so often one of the contributors to Christianity magazine writes an article that is close to my own interests; in particular the mythos vs logos dichotomy which is superimposed on modern Western Christianity. One of those articles appeared several years ago, But the latest article which piqued my interest can be found in the April edition of Premier Christianity; the self same edition in which the gnostic Kendall lets rip. The article has been written by evangelical leader Krish Kandiah. Given the modern ethos among many Charismatically oriented Christians which expects (moreover demands) that a state-of-the-art spirituality should be a very existential affair of the heart involving deeply felt mystical epiphanies (or "encounters" or "touches of God") I was absolutely fascinated to read the following candid admissions from Kandiah:

I'm in the middle of a worship service. The band is in the zone, the song choice is perfect, the congregation are absorbed in worship. And yet I am surprisingly unmoved and underwhelmed. Sometimes I go to prayer meetings and while everyone else seems to be enjoying God's undivided attention I feel disconnected. 

Apparently this isn't just Kandiah's "problem" because (My emphases):

It turns out I'm not alone...others talk of an emotional distance from God, while others bemoan a practical  isolation from God.  We're embarrassed to admit it. but it is often as though there is a huge obstacle between us a God. and we don't know what to do about it [The big difference is that the true Gnostics, of course, know what to do - get an inner light initiation!- TVR]. We the estranged, struggle to admit it at church, because week in week out we are taught that God wants to be our friend, our confidante, our rock, our aide and has died to make that possible. But what if he is not that to us?

Frank admissions indeed! Well done Kandiah! I'm glad to hear that his next job is principle of London School of Theology (Although unfortunately Christian academics have a way of being ignored in favour of spiritual rabble rousers). Some parts of evangelicalism really need a dose of this kind of authenticity and realism. But unlike the popular old fable revelations like this are not echoed generally and no one else remarks that yes, the emperor is actually naked!

Kandiah goes on to say that the epistemic distance of God is a Biblical theme. None of this is to say that people don't have intimate encounters; of course they do. But his complaint, if I'm reading Kandiah right, is that these encounters have too often become the gold standard of Christianity, particularly Charismatic Christianity with its quasi-gnostic tendencies leading it to focus on inner-light experiences as a required initiation into the true fellowship. In today's gnostically influenced church music errs toward  a one-size-fits-all walk with God (my emphasis):

It can be disconcerting when our worship songs speak to eloquently about experiencing the presence of God. We sing of how we feel God near us, his comforting presence enfolding us. This language is there in the Bible but alongside that  there is also a lot about God's absence and distance

Kandiah then goes on to justify that statement. But he seems to be aware of the difficulty that this "emperor's new clothes" lesson will have in getting a purchase:

The problem is doubly compounded when everyone else gives the impression that they are permanently in touch with God. But the Bible does not promise us an uninterrupted experience of the glory and presence of God....

What if we're made to wrestle with God, rather than blindly accept what we've received?

Wrestling with God is certainly more in line with my own personal experience of Christianity!


I don't know whether an article in the May Premier Christianity magazine was intended as a follow up to Kandiah's article but in this latest issue we can read an article entitled "Mid-faith Crisis" by Nick Page. Here's how the article starts:

You're standing in church, singing a worship song and suddenly nothing makes sense. Admittedly that's often the case with worship songs, but this is a more powerful, more overwhelming avalanche of nothing makes senseness. 

Deep breaths, It's Ok. Don't panic. You're just having a mid-faith crisis. 

Page goes on to develop the thesis that this apparent faith crisis is more a metamorphosis toward higher things than a death of faith


Both articles are worth reading. They are candid admissions that being an "in-the-spirit-Christian" isn't quite such a spiritual quick-fix  that some make out. As Nick Page says:

The thing is that church is really built for the early stages [of faith]. It's good at delivering certainty and security in the early years of your faith but for this bit [i.e. the mid-faith crises] you are on your own.

...and whilst swathes of the charismatically oriented church err toward a gnostic existential fix paradigm of faith, mid-faith Christians with a mid-faith crises will remain on their own.  Trouble is, if other articles I've seen like this are anything to go by their lessons will be ignored because they simply don't mesh with the ingrained false dichotomies of contemporary Western Christian gnosticism; Viz: Spirit vs Word, head vs heart, mythos vs logos, supernaturalism vs. naturalism, fideism vs reason. 

In my experience gnostic Christianity has an inner logic which brings about an all but inevitable sequence of events: When Christian gnostics see a church where intimate encounters with the divine are not formally promoted as an initiation rite into gnosis, gnostics  will  sometimes wheel in a "high-priest" from a Gnostic church in the hope of trying to force the pace of spiritual change. In the process valuable spiritual work is ignored and marginalized, perhaps even looked down on as "not-in-the-spirit". Because Christian gnosticism's one-size-fits-all paradigm is actually false church's will often fail to graft the new initiation into inner-light. If the church doesn't respond to the opportunity for initiation gnostics will find themselves deeply frustrated by an apparent lack of progress toward their spiritual aspirations and may then loudly blame the church for resisting the Spirit. I have seen this scenario played out more than once. If only these gnostics would take a more complementarian view that different Christians have very different pilgrimages, then we might have a church that is comfortable with both "encounters" and "mid-faith" crises and knows how to cope with both.

* For Kendall the solution is a new Pentecost. Viz, in his April article he writes: "It is when the word and spirit ultimately come together as on the day of Pentecost. This simultaneous combination of the Word and the Spirit resulted in spontaneous combustion" (In this article Kendall then goes on to prophesy a huge world wide revival involving millions of conversions, a revival which he says is "coming soon") That Kendall, from the outset, conceives a "Word" vs. "Spirit" dichotomy is symptomatic of Western dualism. Go to a black church and they simply won't make sense of this dichotomy. For them there is no such thing as a difference between a Christian of the Word and the superior gnostic Christian who is "moving in the Spirit". For them there is only a spectrum of power and not a fundamental distinction.

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