Over the past few weeks on our journey of looking at various types of spirituality we looked at the two least popular types of spirituality within the United States. With the exception of my generation, which had its pull towards the mystic spirituality, most of America is mostly comfortable with a God that is revealed, understandable, and seen. Though, whether the heart or the mind drives that is a real debate.
The spirituality we are looking at today is at the heart of the mega-church or evangelical movement. This is a “heart” spirituality. A witness of God that someone in this spiritual type might say is that “I know God because I can feel God.” The big difference from the type we looked at last week and this is that while both are into feeling a spiritual presence, the person in the heart spirituality at some point needs to know or see God. In other words, God needs to be known and tangible.
There is always a great tension between people in this spirituality and the one we will talk about next week because of specific needs and understandings concerning God. A person in this spirituality does not accept a logical understanding of God; for them the only true experience of God is when God is felt.
We see this played out in its extreme in the Pentecostal movement. If you have ever been to a Pentecostal service the witness of the Holy Spirit is often seen through dancing, speaking in tongues, and other tactile ways. This is not held only to the Pentecostals. Many non-Pentecostal movements follow this emotiondriven spirituality.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, the Christian church was filled with the revival movements. Culminating in the great awakening and second great awakening, these revivals were filled with preachers competing for crowds and music that would spur emotion revealing a euphoric feeling. To the group that would lead these revivals it would ultimately bring people to God at a time when church and faith were really not an important part of the society.
Unfortunately, this is also a type of spirituality that is easily susceptible to abuse and exploitation. Though, at the time of the great awakening the abuses were seen in fake revivals by charlatans; in their extreme, we see groups like, on the liberal side, the Peoples Temple founded by Jim Jones or, on the conservative side, the Branch Davidians in Waco. It is susceptible to these abuses because of the emotion-driven nature and a particular ability to manipulate emptions.
However, despite the potential abuses, this spirituality adds a great deal to the understanding of Christ though their witness and Experience of God. For example, while the great awakening was not an intellectual exercise, it both challenged and impacted traditions rooted that way in rethinking how they were connecting to the contemporary needs, just as the Evangelical movement today is challenging the mainline traditions to ask how we are relevant to our communities.
Personally, I think one of the greatest gifts of this spirituality is to remind those of us now here of the need to connect with God outside of the mind. When I have been in conversations at ministerial groups, the images that pastors from these traditions give enlighten how I see God and challenge me to think and grow.
Click here for a link to the book This I Believe
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Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen