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America is enjoying a fascination with spirituality. Browse through a bookstore and you will find a bulging list of titles in the field. Spirituality is promoted and packaged along with diet, health, ecology, counseling, job performance, and mountain bikes. On occasion, it also breaks into religion and the church. A generation ago a famous theologian (yes, a German) asserted that no one who believed in electricity could also believe in miracles. So much for the theologian. Spirituality is out of the closet and within arm's reach at the checkout aisle, along with batteries, toothpaste, and the National Enquirer.
Anyone familiar with the history of ideas could have predicted this resurgence of interest in spirituality. When realities and ideas are denied or repressed, they often, like the seven spirits in the story of Jesus (Matt. 12:43-45), make surprising comebacks. The dominance of naturalism since the Enlightenment and the unquestioned application of the scientific method to fields other than science has resulted in an arid, one-dimensional rationalism devoid of God, mystery, and the possibility of finding meaning in human life.
Many Christians, however, are confused about the resurgence of the spirituality that rushes to fill the vacuum in America. Is spirituality per se Christian? Is it neutral? Or are all non-Christian spiritualities anti-Christian?
I find it helpful to think of spirituality like I think of reading. We normally think of reading as an intrinsic good, but further reflection shows it to be an instrumental good. In other words, it depends on what we read. Reading can be a means of gaining information and knowledge, of promoting critical thinking and maturity. When it does these things -as it usually does—it is a good thing. But if one's only option is reading pornography or violent novels, then illiteracy may actually be preferable.
Like reading, spirituality is not an absolute good, nor should it be mistaken for one. "Do not believe every spirit," ...