Thursday, May 24, 2007

An "Egoistic" Spirituality

An “I, Me, Myself” Spirituality

What is the Focus of Spiritual Life? Scot McKnight asks in an article in The Christian Century, September 7, 2004, p. 22-24. In this article, he defines discipleship as “refers to a Christian who is radically committed to obeying Jesus Christ, one who studies Jesus’ teachings and puts them into practice.” It is this radical commitment that defines discipleship. However, to develop radical commitment, one has to develop or commit to spiritual disciplines. McKnight thinks that this is not enough.

He encourages us to look beyond discipleship to a spiritual formation of love. This process of spiritual formation of love is based on combining the Shema (Deu.6:4-9) and Lev. 19:18. What comes out is “loving God and loving others” (Mk. 12: 28-31). McKnight calls this the Jesus Creed, and identifies it as the focus of the spiritual life.

There is however an interesting paragraph McKnight writes while delineating the limits of discipleship;

Just as the barnacle of legalism can grow onto the (spiritual) disciplines, so also can the barnacle of individualistic pietism. Individual piety is a noble good that produces other goods like sanity and tranquillity. But it can also lead to an egoistic spirituality that assigns God the task of serving me – of making me a better person, of making the world clear to me, of swooping down to earth just for me. People who fall into this error can be identified by what social scientists call “attribution theory,” a cognitive game in which Christian claim to understand why everything in the course of human events is occurring and what meaning specific events – like getting a flat tire or losing one’s job - have in their lives. That is, “God made my tire flat so I would hear a specific song on the radio so I could use those words in a personal relationship with someone else who needs to hear just those words on this particular day.

I wonder how many of us suffer from this type of “egoistic spirituality”. I know I do all the time. If I am to believe that God is interested in all aspects of my life, why should I not believe that he will use all and every circumstances or opportunities? I do not believe in coincidence. There is no coincidence to God the Creator. Every coincidence is a deliberate line of code in the chaos theory in the system which is the created order.

However I do not believe God does it only for me. I believe he does it for his greater plan of which I am a part. If I am in need of a new heart and suddenly a compatible donor heart became available because its owner had an accident, I will thank and praise God. However, I do not believe that God will cause the accident so that I will get a new heart. That will be indeed an “egoistic spirituality”.

What do you think?

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Blogger lilian koh said...

Hi Alex, I do agree with you that it is egoistic spiritually to believe, as you say, that "God caused an accident so that I could get a new heart"! What would be the perspective for the family of the accident victim then?
I do believe that events and experiences in our lives do tell us something. Every bush is burning if only we have the eyes to see! But very often, it is not so much the external things we should focus the flat tyre episode...with the song etc. I believe that it would be more important spiritually to try to discover how the experience is affecting our conformity to Jesus Christ. What does it tell us about ourselves and our responses to life as God's classroom? What might God be trying to get our attention about? If we have responded well, we can thank Him. If not we can ask for the grace to do better next time. I think this would be the contemplative attitude rather then egoistic consumer attitude.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi lilian,

I do agree with you that our response to external and internal circumstances tell us a lot more about ourselves, our attitudes, and our attachment to this life.

Hence we need to constantly examine our lives. That should be our "contemplative" spiritual walk.

4:09 PM  

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