Monday, May 23, 2005

I am Jack's Ripped Spirituality
There's a scene in the nihilistic movie Fight Club where Jack (Edward Norton) nudges his friend Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and gestures toward a Calvin Klein advertisement featuring a buff, bare-chested underwear model. "Is that how a man looks?" asks Jack. "Self-improvement is masturbation," Tyler retorts.

I feel that way about spiritual discipline sometimes. Growing up in ATIA, where one's maturity was measured by the number of disciplines he practiced, I have a respectable resume of spiritual self-improvement. For years, I rose early in the morning to pray and read Scripture. I've memorized whole chapters and a few short books of the Bible, and read biographies of great Christians. I kept a journal full of insights and rhemas. I tithed regularly. And this was all during my teenage years.

I was not alone -- I was joined by a company of other dedicated young people, all improving our spiritual fitness, increasing our stamina, and occasionally flexing to compare our spiritual muscles.

Our chief model and example, of course, was Mr. Spiritual Universe himself: Bill Gothard. He's rumored to have memorized the entire Bible (in at least three different versions), he fasts, he gets up at 4:00 a.m. to pray...and then there's the whole 70 years of celibacy.

But somewhere in the drive to increase my spiritual discipline, I lost focus of the true goal: a relationship with Christ. My disciplines, however well-intended, became an end in themselves. Whenever I sinned (which happened regularly enough), I would try to compensate by increasing my level of discipline. Somehow it seemed to make up for my unworthiness.

Self discipline is an essential part of the Christian life, but it is not a replacement for holiness. If I gauge my spiritual value by how disciplined I am, it will inevitably lead to pride and independence. In that respect, spiritual improvement is a self-satisfying act and a destroyer of intimacy with Christ.

These days I'm not quite the spiritual superman that I once was. But it's okay. I'd rather just be a follower of Jesus.


Blogger Semirrahge said...

Ahhhhhh.... Another reason for me to love that movie - X-er relates it to Anti-IBLP-ism. Subarashi!

"I am Jack's Ripped Spirituality," indeed. And also Jack's Denial Complex. Denial of the bold facts that your ripped spirituality leaves you empty at night.

But then, like Jack, it takes us many sleepless nights, some exposure to the underbelly of the world, and maybe an annoying girl to bring us to grips with cold reality - and it always ends with a very real and important part of ourselves getting shot in the head.

All in the name of, not self-improvement (kinda puts a whole new spin on reading the Bible, no? Almost freakishly so, even), but in the name of self-sacrifice.

Kudos, X-er-sama. As always, your sarcasm is inspired of a higher order.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Seabhag said...

"In that respect, spiritual improvement is a self-satisfying act and a destroyer intimacy with Christ."

I do believe that you meant "a destroyer OF intimacy with Christ."

Wow.. Way to put into words what I've felt for a while about IBLP but couldn't find the words to say. Again some scarcasm mixed with truth I like it.


6:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

X-er, you ought to collect up your best blogs and publish them as a book. I'd buy a copy.

9:32 AM  
Anonymous forliberty said...

Have to admit that I prefer my spiritual disciplines to following Jesus, but praise God that He doesn't give up on me; the call is extended again and again.

11:32 AM  
Blogger Walt said...

Okay, X-er, normally I can follow what is sarcasm and what isn't with relative ease... But tell me, is the majority of this post really sarcasm...?

2:50 PM  
Blogger Semirrahge said...

No, Walt, most of the post _isn't_ sarcasm. In fact, there is very little sarcasm here. It's all pure biblical truth from a modern frame of mind.

What X-er is saying is that Christianity is not about what you do - but why. It does not matter at all what you do. This is a very difficult concept to grasp, but think on it a while. Read your Bible, the New Testament and the books of Paul in particular, with a focus on Romans.

What we do can have NO effect on our salvation. Think about it. If salvation - grace - is a gift undeserved and unearned, and faith a gift equally unearned and perhaps more misunderstood than grace... What MORE can we do to be LESS of a Christian than when God gave His Son for us?

Our disciplines have no effect on our spiritual condition. I'm not (and X-er's not) preaching license ("How shall we who are dead to sin live any longer therein?"), but a different focus.
Let me try an illustration. Take two opposite actions, let's call them A and B. Now, NOT doing action A is different from DOING action B. Are you, to use an IBLP term, "avoiding the appearance of evil", or are you striving to follow God? They aren't the same.

With the first you are focusing on the evil - otherwise you wouldn't be able to avoid it, right? It consumes your thoughts and governs every action.
With the second, you are focused on God and His Word. It consumes your thoughts and every action is measured against it. The processes are the same, but the end result is very different.

The (very long) point here is that our sole purpose in life, the only action we can take, is to love God. That's it. If you love God, the disciplines will come. You'll want them to come - not because it will make you a better Christian, because you are already perfect in your Father's eyes - but because God is the total focus of your life you desire more than anything to be like Him.

Did that help, or did I make it worse?

7:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I'm not Walt, but that was a good and clear explanation about a point I often trip up on myself. I was never in ATI, but it's too easy for any of us as Christians to rely on pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps rather than realizing that we can never do it on our own, the reason that Christ had to die in the first place

8:22 PM  
Blogger Walt said...

No, that helped a lot.

I thought it was a superb post with some excellent thoughts/points and would have been a little sad and confused if it was said in sarcasm...

Thanks Semi.

4:57 AM  
Blogger IDigAK said...

wow...thanks x-er...and thanks semirrahge for your exposition. very well stated, and exactly my perspective. i only wish it weren't so vague for so many people to understand.

9:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And then there are those of us who were only on the IBLP fringe--not truly ATIAers--but still in that super-conservative homeschooling movement of the late 80s/early 90s.

I look back and I DID have the spiritual disciplines and DID have the relationship with the Lord.

And when I turned 29 I hated that I felt like I had been a better Christian, better person, better wife, better mother, better everything I wanted a decade before. And it has all gone to pot since then. (Figuratively.)

Yeah, a lot was souped-up-spirituality. Yeah, a lot was focused on doing the "right" things. But a lot of it was real.

They say that sseeing your sin more clearly is a sign of sanctification. Well I sure hope to hell it is. Because it seems like at 19 I was a lot closer to what I wanted to be than I was at 29. I'd rather it be my perspective rather than reality.

1:06 AM  
Anonymous mk himself said...

In response to the last anonymous poster--

Walking in grace means learning to accept God's unconditional love-- something that nearly blew me to pieces when I started to get even an inkling of what it really was. Take for example the picture of God in the prodigal son parable: a wealthy Jewish farmer who's son squanders his dad's money on wine and women, comes home broken, desparate, penniless, and reeking of pig manure (remember, this is a Jewish home), and gets not a lecture and a list of things he needs to change, but his father's hug and kiss, a party, and those dear words "My son has returned". Someone said "almost no one knows the POWER of being loved". That kind of love DOES change us. Not all at once (I've wandered back to the pig pen WAY too many times). But every time, He welcomes me home again. And I hope it's started changing me all the way down to my desires (to WANT to be in my father's house, enjoying HIS presence). The older son in the story didn't know his father's heart either, or he would have rejoiced with Him when his brother returned. Instead, he secretly wanted to party with his friends, while all the while blaiming his little brother for doing it.

"And from my smitten heart with tears two wonders I confess --
The wonder of redeeming love, and my unworthiness!"

The younger son

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Oink. I'm a pig! said...

Amen, X-er!

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have hairy arms.

6:59 AM  
Blogger Jerfy said...

Man you rock X-er, I used to work up there too. I would too follow the disciplines but took focus off my relationship with Christ. The institute is too much into doing disciplines then they are in understanding who Christ is. They have lost focus on what Christ has done, and understanding His Grace. That gives me greater peace of mind rather than, oh my if I don't fast once a week my relationship with Christ will slump. No on in IBLP is real, they are all Gothard Clones. Little clones in Blue Suits and White Ties.

1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"These days I'm not quite the spiritual superman that I once was. But it's okay. I'd rather just be a follower of Jesus."


3:37 PM  

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