Evangelical Casualties I - Restless Experientialists
The church has failed in how it relates to individuals in Western society. The external evidence of this has been suggested on many fronts, but whatever the reflection of the failure may have been, the results of it are seen in three groups of people. We shall call them the restless experientialists, the entrenched intellectualists, and the disaffected deviationists. These are not organized groups of opinion, but individual persons with characteristic mentalities that one meets over and over again.
First, the restless experientialists are a familiar breed, some of whom are certain to stumble by this blog. In fact, they are so common that observers are sometimes tempted to define evangelicalism in terms of them. Their outlook is one of casual haphazardness and fretful impatience, of grasping after novelties, entertainment, and ‘highs’, and of valuing strong feelings above deep thoughts. They have little taste for solid study, humble self-examination, disciplined meditation, and unspectacular hard work in their callings and their prayers. They conceive the Christian life as one of exciting extraordinary experiences rather than of resolute rational righteousness. They dwell continually on themes of joy, peace, happiness, satisfaction and rest of soul with no balancing reference to the divine discontent of Romans 7, the fight of faith of Psalm 73, or the ‘lows’ of Psalms 42, 88 and 102. Through their influence the spontaneous jollity of the simple extrovert comes to be equated with healthy Christian living, while saints of less sanguine and more complex temperament get driven almost to distraction because they cannot bubble over in the prescribed manner. In their restlessness these exuberant ones become uncritically credulous, reasoning that the more odd and striking an experience the more divine, supernatural and spiritual it must be, and they scarcely give the scriptural virtue of steadiness a thought.
It is no counter to these defects to appeal to the specialized counseling techniques that extrovert evangelicals have developed for pastoral purposes in recent years; for spiritual life is fostered, and spiritual maturity engendered, not by techniques but by truth, and if our techniques have been formed in terms of a defective notion of the truth to be conveyed and the goal to be aimed at they cannot make us better pastors or believers than we were before. The reason why the restless experientialists are lopsided is that they have fallen victim to a form of worldliness, a man-centered, anti-rational individualism, which turns Christian life into a thrill-seeking ego-trip. Such saints need the sort of maturing ministry that I shall present at the end of this series.