Thursday, February 10, 2011


“The idea of cultivation and exercise, so dear to the saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture.  It is too slow, too common.  We now demand glamour and fast flowing dramatic action.  A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals.  We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God.  We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar.

“The tragic results of this spirit are all about us.  Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit: these and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul.”
--A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

          If not from the somewhat dated language—the “gospel meeting” has gone the way of Billy Sunday and Billy Graham—it would be natural to assume that Tozer is describing the state of modern Christianity and contemporary Christians.  Well, he is, but not intentionally so.  Tozer began writing The Pursuit of God on a train trip from Chicago to Texas in the late 1940’s.  He wrote through the night, and by the time he arrived in Texas the rough draft was done.  Before the Internet, which allows you to find an answer to just about any question in a matter of minutes if not seconds; before microwave ovens which allow you to go from freezer to a hot-cooked meal in less than five-minutes; before Netflix and On-Demand in which you can decide to watch a movie, decide which movie to watch, and be watching in just a few minutes; before all the “time-saving” devices which have conspired to speed life up and actually leave us with more to do in less time, Tozer lamented that people had grown too busy and impatient to endure the slow development of the spiritual life.  The resulting impoverishment to our souls not only depleted our spirits but also distorted our religion and corrupted our churches.
        And it hasn’t gotten any better.  I’m not one to assert that things have gotten worse across the board—that our culture is less moral, less caring, less spiritual, less, well, everything than in the good ol’ days.  There was a lot of immorality in the good ol’ days, a lot of callousness, and a lot of materialism in the good ol’ days.  More, less, I honestly don’t know, and I don’t know that anyone is in position to make that judgment.  So maybe it has always been true that people have been too impatient and too busy to adequately nurture their souls, and Tozer’s words from 60 years ago are evidence of that.  Two thousand years ago Jesus warned people not to allow the cares of the world to crowd out the things that feed the soul, so this is nothing new.  It’s not just an issue for the modern human in a consumerist culture; it’s a human issue, period.
           But yet…I can’t get away from the feeling that this problem which has always been there hasn’t somehow metastasized in a critical area in our hearts and souls and moved from a chronic condition to an acute condition.  Our attentions have deficits, and if we try something and don’t see results pretty quickly, we give up.  We conclude that this is just the way it is, or that spiritual nurture is for those really dedicated fanatics, or that we’re just not wired that way.
            But if it’s the way it is, it’s not the way God intends it to be, nor is it the way it has to be.  And it is for the really dedicated, but that isn’t supposed to be an elite group any more than people dedicated to living is supposed to be an elite group.  And we’re not wired that way, we are wired for spiritual living because we are spiritual as well as physical beings—but the wiring has gotten messed up over the course of a few thousand years.  And there is no quick fix for a problem that has been developing for thousands of years.
          Eugene Peterson describes discipleship as a long obedience in the same direction, and surely he’s on to something.  
          I just sometimes wonder if I’m too busy to listen.

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