“Many complain that the church has become incapable of cultivating Christian habits in its people. No wonder, when for so many the starting point is not God but spiritual experience. How can we sustain any spiritual growth if it is grounded in something as transitory as what we feel, individually or corporately?”
(Darren C. Marks in Christianity Today March 2010 “The Mind Under Grace”)
Marks’ critique lands a solid blow against the thought of cultivating spiritual disciplines for the sake of spiritual experiences. Seeking the experience of the presence of the Lord in our daily life is by no means a bad thing, but when that is the goal of cultivating healthy habits we land short of the true goal – knowing the person of Jesus Christ. In a healthy relationship we seek to know the other party and not just the feelings and experiences that we have when with them. No matter how wonderful the sensations, there will ultimately be a realization of something unsatisfying because growth in relationships is based upon more than self-seeking emotional desires. When we start to realize this dissatisfaction due to having a “me-focused” Christian life based on “feeling good from God” the desire to cultivate Christian habits for spiritual growth withers.
While the terms doctrine and theology can bring negative reactions from some, especially “inner-life” and “charismatic” oriented Christians, because of experiences in dry and seemingly dead church environments, they are very necessary for sustainable Christian growth. James Smith puts it this way, “Theology is not some intellectual option that makes us ‘smart’ Christians; it is the grace understanding that makes us faithful disciples”. Doctrine and theology inform us of the person of God lest we start twisting God into our own image instead of His transforming us into His image. It is this knowledge that enables a thoughtful and emotional connection with our Savior and God that keeps us longing for more of Him and faithful to Him rather than just the feelings that we may get from His presence.
Darren Marks makes a couple other statements worth noting as a closing warning and exhortation to base our Christian life on more than subjective desires:
A theology grounded in experience ultimately fades into soft moralism, humanism, or, in the unique case of American Christianity, a civic religion wherein God and country are easily confused.
It boils down…to one basic principle: Do whatever makes you feel good about yourself, and preferably in 10 minutes or less.