Is it hard to be an intellectual in your church? Do you respond more deeply to theology than worship or devotions?
Part of me resonated strongly with a new piece at Relevant by a Twin Cities writer (and Bethel Seminary student) named Bonnie Kristian. Like her, I don’t tend to “get swept up in emotional worship experiences” and I’ve had a hard time finding the right kind of small group to connect to.
But certifiably introverted egghead though I may be, I couldn’t connect with the heart of her complaint:
…the American church has done an excellent job of catering to a devotional or emotional style of spirituality—and that’s a good thing! But it’s also a bad thing, because it leaves a lot of us, the ones for whom “nothing happens” when we try to grow closer to God that way, out in the cold.
This is a shame, not only because of the feelings of frustration and inadequacy it can cause people like me, who don’t fit the devotional mold, but also because Jesus showed He was more than capable of loving and ministering to both of these spiritual styles.
For one, I’m not sure I’d equate “devotional” and “emotional” in the realm of spirituality (but then I read “devotional” and think “contemplative,” which conjures up restraint rather than abandon). I certainly wouldn’t set “emotional” against “intellectual”— even when Kristian argues that Jesus affirms both Mary and Martha (in John’s account of the death and resurrection of Lazarus), who occupied “the opposite ends of the emotional-intellectual spectrum of spirituality.” As my wife could tell you, I’m as likely to be caught up in feeling or lost in thought. And I attend a church that is highly educated (in our last census, 25% had a master’s degree or higher; we host a lecture series on topics like doubt and belief) and puts out its own Lenten devotional on themes like “Adventurous Spirituality” and “Longing for a Change of Heart.”
But perhaps Kristian’s piece (which also includes some helpful advice from C.S. Lewis and her own suggestions for how to be an intellectual in an emotional church) strikes a chord with my readers:
- If you’d identify as an intellectual… Have you often felt out of place in American churches? (I think Kristian particularly has in mind evangelicalism, but perhaps it’s also true of other Christian subcultures in this country.)
- Do you respond more fully to theology or other intellectual disciplines than to worship or devotional practices? (Just this past Monday night I was making the case for my Senior Seminar students that the practice of history is itself like an act of prayer, so you can tell I’m not likely to accept this binary…)
- Do you agree that there’s an “emotional-intellectual spectrum of spirituality”?
Here’s the full article.