I read a lot these days about our culture’s need for a spiritual revival of some sort. That assessment is generally accompanied by a recital of the ways we are, collectively, failing to reflect or exhibit certain qualities or characteristics which the author associates with righteousness. I used to agree with that. In fact, I used to write that kind of article myself.
In those days, as recently as ten years ago, I lamented the breakdown of the nuclear family, the growth of threatening influences like the new-age movement or the LGBT community, and the general decline of the Judaeo-Christian ethic in American society. I also took two Excedrin caplets most days around 4:00 p.m., to dull the tension headache that had been building all day, and I chewed antacid tablets like they were candy. Some people look forward to a cocktail before dinner. I looked forward to an Alka-Seltzer.
Then things began to change. I taught a course called Peace, Justice, and Simplicity at the Bible college where I worked. It literally changed my life. As part of my course prep, I read a book called Kingdom Ethics (thank you, David Gushee), and the Sermon on the Mount, which had taken on fresh meaning when I became an Anabaptist in the mid-80s, began to pulse with new vibrancy and relevance. At the same time, an introduction to the liturgical tradition completely transformed my perception of public worship. For about a year, I felt more alive, more spiritually vital, than ever before.
Things sort of came apart after that. I lost my job, my mother died, my wife developed cancer. I fell into a deep depression from which I am only now emerging. And I still have bad days, even seven years later. Overall, however, I am healthier now than I was then. Afternoon tension headaches are mostly a thing of the past, and I can’t remember the last time I took an antacid.
The change in my circumstances brought about a change in my circle of friends and associates. I began to entertain doubts about my ingrained presuppositions, and, at the same time, I became more inquisitive and more open to different viewpoints. My reading tastes changed. A new appreciation for the beauty of the earth and the grandeur of the universe filled my heart and mind with awe.
Most significantly, my perception of God changed. It became, well, simpler. And that simplified my theology. I used to criticize liberal Christians for reducing the faith to a single word, love. Ironically, that is precisely the station at which the train of my spiritual pilgrimage has arrived. God’s essential characteristic is love. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God’s love. The heart of Jesus’ teaching is contained in what Scot McKnight calls “the Jesus creed”—love God and love one another.
I still lament influences and attitudes that impede the development of Christian values in our culture. What some continue to think of as threats to a “Christian way of life,” however, I now regard as evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in our world. And, if you cut through the gloom that still enfolds me far too often owing to some difficult personal circumstances, you will find an inner spirit renewed in love and rejoicing in hope for the future.
From my perspective, the revival has already begun.