I'd noticed it on the cover of Blue Like Jazz, the subtitle "Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality." It sounded like hip/pseudo-radical marketing garbage, and I simply moved forward in hopes that it was. But then, right after "felt needs," came this passage:
For me, the beginning of sharing my faith with people began by throwing out Christianity and embracing Christian spirituality, a nonpolitical mysterious system that can be experienced but not explained. Christianity, unlike Christian spirituality, was not a term that excited me. And I could not in good conscious [sic] tell a friend about a faith that didn't excite me. I couldn't share something I wasn't experiencing. And I wasn't experiencing Christianity. It didn't do anything for me at all. It felt like math, like a system of rights and wrongs and political beliefs, but it wasn't God reaching out of heaven to do wonderful things in my life. And if I would have shared Christianity with somebody, it would have felt mostly like I was trying to get somebody to agree with me rather than meet God. I could no longer share anything about Christianity, but I loved talking about Jesus and the spirituality that goes along with a relationship with Him.Hooey.
—Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz
I could be more polite, I'm sure, and say things along the lines of, "Miller and I seem to be experiencing different truths" (and since politeness often passes for graciousness, it would almost certainly come off better if I were). But when I read a sentiment like that, the most diplomatic internal response I can honestly come up with is, "Hogwash."
Basically, Miller seems here to be making up jargon so he'll be invited to explain it, and so he can jettison any baggage associated with Christianity. He's not alone—this is just a great example of the epidemic, made even more pronounced by a simultaneous shedding of "religion" and "Christianity." And many will nod their heads because they want something fresh and hip and countercultural. By itself, it's still mostly harmless (like Earth), except that it panders to a pretty basic and selfish desire: "I want words and ideas I can be excited about." My fear is that, unknown to most, there's something darker under that desire, something we'd rather not face or admit about ourselves (that's all in "Lingo (Part III)").
Last time I wrote about jargon, I mentioned the "emerging church." Again, I'll readily say that I'm largely very much on board with this camp. The language play, however, is sliding toward meaninglessness in a post-modern search for meaning. At a recent emerging church conference, a participant suggested abandoning the phrase "Every knee shall bow" in connection with Christ's return, because it didn't have context and meaning for people today. This drew agreement from the other participants and (thankfully) shock from the facilitator. But when something like that can happen, we're far closer to the edge than I believe to be beneficial, all for the sake of tickling our eardrums. Trying to make the gospel less offensive is risky business.
Beyond that, it's often just stupid. It's still Christianity, which is still religion. I understand that people have mixed experiences with both terms. But look at it logically: we don't stop calling them "cars" because people have been killed in accidents by them, taken uncomfortable trips in them, paid unfair insurance rates or outrageous gasoline prices for them, had trouble finding parking for them, and so on. They're still cars, they've still done all the good they've done for us (past and present), and they're still part of our society today. If some schmoe came trying to sell me a car, but insisted on calling it a "mobility enhancer" because "car" wasn't a word he could get excited about and didn't capture the depth of the concept, I'd think he was an idiot. Regardless of what else it is, it's still a car. My faith and relationship with Jesus is much more than Christianity or religion. But it's still included in both constructs.