Posted by: reformbama | December 5, 2011

Religious Excitement

On Mars Hill, the Apostle Paul addressed the Athenian philosophers: “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device”(Emphasis mine, Acts 17:29). The word “device” is interesting. The word was formed from the preposition en, meaning in, and a noun thumos, meaning “strong feeling, passion.” Literally, we should not liken God to be a graven image carved “in passion by man.” Evidently, as evidenced by the Exodus Israelites, Paul viewed that passion is integral to both idolatry and immorality. People feel strongly about their gods. All of which brings us to evaluate the relationship of religious excitements to genuine Christian spirituality.

Excitements can be manufactured. There are mechanisms that can be used to trigger states of self-transcendence. For example, drugs, drumming, and dancing can deliver participants out-of-themselves. These deliverances masquerade to be genuine encounters with the divine. Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), a British expatriate who spent his adult life living in Los Angeles, and was obsessed by interests in psychedelics, mysticism, the paranormal, and the occult, once remarked of the power possessed by mechanical means of arousal. He wrote: “. . . all we can safely predict is that, if exposed long enough to the tom-toms and the singing, every one of our philosophers would end by capering and howling with the savages.” As a manner of evangelistic speaking, the philosophers would be “converted”! Theologian Robert L. Dabney (1820-1898) observed that, “Blinded men are ever prone to imagine that they have religious feelings, because they have sensuous, animal feelings, in accidental juxtaposition with religious places, words, or sights.”

Frequently, I hear persons announce that they are “really passionate” about this or that. What they mean is that they feel quite strongly about a particular issue, subject, or belief. Increasingly, Christians are determining the rightness or wrongness of their belief based upon how passionate it makes them feel. Bypassing revelation and reason, they feel their way to faith. Theirs is a religious epistemology by experience (The word epistemology concerns how we know what we know, and why we believe what we believe.). I think of the person who declared, “I refuse to believe in a God I cannot feel!” As Dabney observed, “People are ever prone to think that they are feeling religiously because they have feelings . . . about religion.”

So the pan-evangelical movement has and is continuing to develop spirituality not based upon the clear teaching of the Word of God, but rather upon manufactured sights, sounds, signs, and sensations that generate religious feelings within them. Theirs has become a faith based upon desires, not doctrine.

The New Testament has much to say about desires and lusts (Greek, epithumia). True, they have their good side. Paul desired to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23), and to again see the believers at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:17). But desires also possess a dark side. Often they can lead us spiritually astray. Thus the New Testament employs the word to mean “evil desire” as frequently translated by the word “lust.”

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