Americans increasingly identify as “spiritual but not religious.” Radical faith goes beyond both.
We hear a good deal today about “the triumph of the human spirit.” Books and movies about disasters are frequently marketed as triumphs of the human spirit, even though they often portray examples of human depravity. This emphasis on the human spirit first impressed itself upon me when, 32 years ago, our family was undergoing a crisis. I received a long, compassionate letter from a friend on the West Coast. Although the letter was wonderful, one line bothered me. My friend wrote, “Your spirituality will get you through this.”
When I read it, I recoiled. Whatever “spirituality” meant, I was keenly aware that I didn’t have any of it. In and of myself, I had nothing adequate for what was facing us at the time. I had only the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
As Barna and other research institutions have reported, there is a fast-growing category of so-called “Nones”—those who, like my friend, identify as “spiritual but not religious.” Generally speaking, people use this self-definition to mean that they want no part of the “institutional church” but seek a connection to some sort of transcendent dimension. Many millennials define themselves in these terms, so it is important to address these conceptions with warm pastoral sensitivity as well as audacious theological imagination.
Nonetheless, I would argue that the biblical witness is neither “spiritual” nor “religious.” Both of these categories present us with serious problems concerning the proclamation and teaching of the gospel.
When I use the word religion, I am using it the way Freud used it in The Future of an Illusion. He argues that religion is the projection of human …