Spiritual Consumerism's Upside
Now she is attending an independent charismatic congregation; "I am attracted to that sort of thing," she said. At the same time, though, her theological perspective is increasingly being shaped by Reformed theology. "I know that one of these days soon I have to make a decision," she said with a hint of tension in her voice. "I have to decide whether I go under the care of a presbytery and work toward ordination in the PC(USA), or whether I am going to move in the direction of something like a Vineyard-type ministry." Then she added, "Or maybe even something else. Who knows what the Lord has in store for me?"
That is the kind of story that has led me to remark on occasionand only half jokinglythat more and more of our theological schools have become "seeker seminaries." I do not consider that to be a regrettable development. I do not want to disparage the ministries of those who have followed a more traditional path. I have been blessed by pastors who have never had a question as to what denomination they might serve. But we can no longer take that kind of path for granted. Increasingly, the question of denominational affiliation is a matter of choice, even for those who are preparing for significant church leadership.
Healthy spiritual consumerism
In the case of the young Fuller student, I sense genuine excitement. Her Christian journey begins in a rather unencumbered encounter with the living Christ. Soon she is introduced to the life of a local congregation and then encouraged to pursue theological studies. At seminary, she is confronted with a rich variety of theological options and styles of being the church. And all she can say for sure about the present stage in her journey is that the God who has surprised her several times very likely has more surprises in store. Is that "consumerism"? Perhaps. But it is also an exciting spiritual and theological quest.
In an important sense, her pattern is not all that different from what has long been experienced by people in the Roman Catholic tradition. Consider a young man raised in a Catholic parish, serving as an altar boy and attending Catholic schools in his youth. As a university student, he is actively involved in the campus Newman Club, and in that context experiences a profound personal renewal in his relationship with Christ, so much so that he begins to experience a call to the priesthood. Back home he talks with his parish priest, who in turn sends him for a conversation with the local bishop. But the young man feels uneasy about diocesan priesthood, so he begins a personal exploration. He looks into the Franciscan order and checks out the Dominicans and the Jesuits. Ultimately, he senses God's call to a Benedictine monastic vocation.
The Roman church, perhaps more than any other, has encouraged many different spiritual flowers to flourish in its ecclesial gardenindeed, it has even been willing to live with considerable structural (and ecclesiological) messiness, as anyone knows who is familiar with the many stories of tensions between, for example, abbots and local diocesan bishops.