by Brian McLaren
At the Southern Baptist Convention this year it was announced that membership is at a significant decline. More and more people are turning away from Christianity in western societies around the world. In England people are going even as far as to get certificates that void their baptisms. What drives this disturbing trend? Quoted in the book, famous speaker Dr. Peter Senge suggests that Buddhism, for instance, is a way of living, and Christianity is a system of belief.
In Finding Our Way: the Return of the Ancient Practices, Brian McLaren teaches about just this issue. As an introduction to a series of books about the traditions of Christianity, he talks about the purpose and intention of ancient practice. He explains that practice makes life possible and that we practice to build relationship and endurance against adversity. Specifically, McLaren describes three parts of the ancient way, on which hang many particular practices.
One of the main criticisms of psychology is that the ultimate goal is self-actualization. As a counselor I can say that this is a valid concern. In a sense the Ancient Way is the same journey, but after self-actualization, the ultimate goal is unity with God in mind, spirit, and will. It is a simple, yet challenging way of self-evaluation and can be a way of designing a life of spiritual discipline.
The Gospel of Self
Spiritual discipline is not a bad thing in and of itself. In a very real way the disciplines that are described in the book and in the rest of the series can lead someone to a better life and it can give people the strength of self-discipline. However it can be fully and completely misleading with certain ends in mind. It is very easy to slip from wanting to follow the Lord in obedience to seeking after God and trying to have a closer relationship with Jesus.
It is imperative to remember that as Christians we believe in a God who comes. This means that we believe in a God who has stepped into our history and acted to draw us to himself. We did not choose God, but he chose us. We are completely incapable of pleasing God apart from our redemption by way of the sacrifice of Christ. Our righteousness is dirty rags and having an emotional experience does not mean that there is anything spiritual there to accompany it.
Self-actualization is completely a-biblical, yet if spiritual discipline can be a part of setting aside our own human desire (including the desire for self-actualization) then it can be useful to train our minds to the mind of God. In reading and studying the Bible, it is important to set aside what we want to hear and listen for what God actually is saying through those words. Seek discipline, but remember that God is here and all the work has been done for you by Jesus on the cross.