by Ingrid Schlueter
As a part of the job that I do in Christian radio, I have to fight my way through a blizzard of catalogs from Christian publishers across the nation. I also get a number of secular catalogs as well. There is one predominant theme now from both non-Christian and Christian publishers alike and it cannot be denied. That theme is spirituality and how to experience an authentic spiritual life.
The New Agers, or “transformational teachers”, as they now prefer to be called have books filled with the theme of finding personal peace through various methods. Five steps to this, ten steps to that. Each individual guru has his or her own path for you to follow that they claim will help you achieve “authentic” spirituality. Millions around the world are buying into each new offering from publishers who promise the ultimate spiritual answer.
It is no secret that like its secular counterpart, Christian publishing is largely a money-making business. Without a constant flow of new books that capture the imagination of the evangelical public, publishing houses would quickly grind to a halt. This reality, however, is often at odds with what is best for Christians in their spiritual lives. The publishing world and Christian media have created an array of celebrities who are looked to as spiritual experts upon whom we must depend to hear from God for our own lives. How many Sunday school classes today rely not on the Bible itself, but on the latest books about the Bible from the current raft of authors and teachers put forth from Zondervan, Nelson, Word, Intervarsity, and so forth? Many “Bible” classes today are taught by authors and celebrities on DVD, rather than a humble member of the church who has immersed himself in the Word of God.
Compounding this problem is often the content of the books themselves. One mainstream Christian book catalog I received offered all kinds of ways to find the right kind of spirituality. Here are some of the book titles they are promoting: The Path of Celtic Prayer: An Ancient Way to Everyday Joy, Spirituality Old & New: Recovering Authentic Spiritual Life, Flirting with Monasticism: Finding God on Ancient Paths (this is an evangelical publisher!), Fasting: Spiritual Freedom Beyond our Appetites, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, and The Deeper Journey. Like the medieval Roman church prior to the Reformation, finding God and experiencing Him is accomplished through a variety of methods and practices, not opening His Word, the Bible.
The conservative Christian publishers are at times no better. Here are a few titles offered by a more conservative publishing house. 30 Days to Taming Your Tongue, The Sassy Girl’s Checklist for Living, Loving and Overcoming, Take Back Your Life, Prayers for Emotional Wholeness, 30 Days to Taming Your Stress, 15 Minutes Alone with God. There are thousands upon thousands of books like this that hit the market every year, and enough people are buying them to keep Christian publishing a lucrative business. While some of these books may have good things to say about given problems in the lives of believers, the real question is this: If the Bible truly contains what we need for life and godliness, why are so many evangelical Christians seeing the Bible through the eyes of someone else? If the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth through His Word, than why are so many Christians looking for ten steps to freedom from this or that spiritual problem, or 30 days to being a better person? In short, why are billions of dollars a year going into supporting Christian publishing when we have the whole counsel of God in our hands?
Christians down through the centuries had nothing but the Scripture and their unquenchable faith in the Lord. They didn’t have the kind of celebrity media culture of today where we are told over and over that we need to buy this latest book or DVD to really understand how to encounter God. Yet those Christians of old were the ones who faced lions, fire, the sword, imprisonment, torture and the loss of every earthly comfort for the sake of the Gospel. How did they manage to do all of that without stacks of self-help books, guidance manuals and elaborate seminars on how to achieve real spirituality? The answer? They had something far more powerful than Christian publishing. They had the power of the Holy Ghost in their lives and utter confidence in what God had told them in His Word. That was enough.
This kind of deep Christian faith is not achieved by reading the Word through another’s eyes or adopting the practices or methods of the evangelical celebrity of the hour. It is discovered by delving into the vast riches of God’s Word for ourselves and by seeking God in earnest and prevailing prayer. It is astounding how we can spend our entire lives reading about the Bible, reading about a deeper spiritual life and a deeper relationship with Christ and yet never achieve it. Even those in ministry who are out fighting false doctrine and spiritual error can sadly fall prey to this. This kind of virtual Christianity is why our ministries and churches are so often full of carnality and flesh and lacking in spiritual power. Only a spiritual walk with God through daily immersion in His Word and faithful prayer will keep us from this state.
There is a place for solid Christian literature, without doubt. I have been greatly helped by the writings of faithful and godly men and women, past and present. But when the writings of others become the primary source of our spiritual food, we are missing out on what God has to say to us through the Word, directly. There is also no substitute for time away from the noise and clamor of our commercial culture (that includes much of evangelicalism as well, sadly) and time with the Lord Himself.
Our souls are restless, as Augustine once wrote, until they rest in God. Our souls are hungry, and they are only satisfied when they are in fellowship with our Creator. That will not come by learning how to chant mantra prayers, or clutching prayer beads or burning candles or listening to some expert on “spiritual formation.” It will also not come by listening to every new emerging teacher to produce a DVD on the ultimate whiz bang way to encounter God or by reading yet another author’s take on what God has to say to us. The Scriptures tell us that He who has begun a good work in us will be faithful to complete it. (Phil. 1:6) That’s why our eyes need to be on the author and finisher of our faith, and not on the hot new release from profit-driven Christian publishing. The old gospel song says it best:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
and the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
in the light of His glory and grace.
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