What Exactly Do You Mean by That?

A spoonful of this and a dash of that make for good soup but bad theology.

imgresRecently another gentleman and I shared an elevator. I recognized him as one who worked around the same location as I. As we waited for the elevator to arrive, I joked with him that it was forgivable if I took the elevator, since I’d exercised at the gym earlier in the day. He laughed and we began to chat about the day’s events. Casual conversation. The elevator arrived and we entered.

As we entered the elevator, we had several floors to go up. There was that pregnant pause we’ve all endured when we’re in elevators during interstices of our workday, when we’re unsure whether we should speak. Is it worth it? Will I be thought rude if I remain silent? Will it be banal if we speak of the weather? Should I ask him if he’s following the Olympics in Rio?

As it turned out, he spoke first. Upon seeing the cross upon my uniform, he asked, “So what are you working on, chaplain?” I told him about one of the ministries I was working on, and about where I was driving later that day as part of that ministry. He said, “Well, we need some spirituality around here.”

I said, “Sir, we witness the structure crumbling but fail to acknowledge we’ve erased the foundation.” Then the elevator bell sounded, and we both exited onto the same floor, but headed in opposite directions.

I hope I did not come across as rude, but a spoonful of this and a dash of that make for good soup but bad theology. What do I mean? Well, my little conversation in the elevator is symptomatic of a larger issue.

Much of the world wants spirituality, but then falls short of specifying what that means. What type of spirituality? Whose spirituality? What does that term—spirituality–even mean? Does the Islamist have the same idea of spirituality that I have as a Christian? What about the atheist? Does he want spirituality in his world? Mormon spirituality? Jehovah’s Witnesses’ spirituality?

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not taking issue what I think my elevator friend intended—namely, that we are eroding due to a loss of spiritual moorings.

But we are living in a time of syncretism. Syncretism is comprised of syn meaning “with” or “together.” If you search for synonyms, you search for words meaning the same, or nearly the same, thing. A synagogue, for example, is where people of the same faith gather together. If you synchronize watches, you set it to the same time as another’s time (chronos).

But we are living in a culture that is turning to everything except that which is eternal, fixed, and sure. We’re witnessing an overt blending of worldviews that teach opposite doctrines. There may be superficial similarities but fundamentally they are different systems, and they teach different doctrines.

Syncretism in the culture is seeking to harmonize mutually exclusive ideas, often under the moniker of spirituality, and then to often relativize ideas, as if ideas are equal. They’re not. All ideas are not equal. There is such a thing as being wrong. The fact that we even have to say that indicates how juvenile many have become in their thinking. And thus, the cauldron of ideas that is supposedly going to synchronize itself into spirituality is boiling over.

Bits of one theology are blended into others, doing violence to each idea.

My elevator conversationalist phrased it as “spirituality.” This spirituality is so nebulous, vague, and unclear that it’s impossible to say what it even means. If we are not clear, we’re wasting time.

I agree with my elevator conversationalist that we’re in need of spirituality, but we must clarify that. What does that term mean? Whose spirituality? After all, different worldviews teach mutually exclusive concepts regarding spirituality.

We must have the courage to ask people what they mean by their terms. And we ourselves must be clear. There are many ways that may seem right, yet end in horror (cf. Proverbs 14:12).

A spoonful of this and a dash of that make for good soup but bad theology. I hope to continue the conversation with him again soon, in an elevator or another place, and hear how we might go deeper into the spirituality question, because I have some good news for him.

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