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On the divine drift

The world we inhabit affects us in many ways. It impacts the way we think about everything, including religion.

It has been suggested that the sacred is migrating. Under contemporary conditions, individuals have grown leery of externalities. Our world seems fragmented, tumultuous, and inhospitable. Despite all our comforts and conveniences, our souls groan. Peter Berger has called it psychological homelessness. Spiritual people are far more interested in believing, not belonging (as Grace Davie puts it), or seeking instead of dwelling (as Robert Wuthnow puts it). The weight of modern life compresses the divine from the outside (churches, synagogues, mosques, Bible, Torah, etc.) to the inside, nestled deep within the individual. For the self to bear the existential brunt thrust upon it by modern conditions it must muster a sacredness. And so it is that the self becomes divine (see Wuthnow, After Heaven, 147). The sacred, then, has migrated to the self.

This divine drift has implications for Christians. Most importantly, this contemporary understanding of the self as sacred or divine is problematic for Christian spirituality which believes that the divine is only accessed from without, not within. David F. Wells puts it this way: whereas contemporary spirituality begins from below, traditional Christianity begins from above (Above All Earthly Pow’rs; The Courage to Be Protestant). Christian spirituality does not connect to the divine by looking inward but upward, specifically to the work of Christ. These are polar opposite starting points with polar opposite ends. The former ends in condemnation and destruction; the latter ends in salvation and life. Contemporary spirituality is problematic because, says Wells, it “sounds plausible, compelling, innocent, and even commendable, but, let us make no mistake about it, it is lethal to biblical Christianity” (The Courage to Be Protestant, 178).

Author: Casey Shutt

View more articles by Casey Shutt.

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