Mark Galli (HT: Alex Webster) has an interesting story in CT Online about the power of religious euphoria. He likens the attraction to, indeed the addiction to euphoria to attraction and addiction to a drug. Galli writes:
We disdain faith that is mere intellectual assent or empty formality. We want a faith that is authentic, that makes us feel something—in particular, one that enables us to experience God. When we describe the one time in the week when we put ourselves in the presence of God, we talk less and less about “worshipping God” and more about “the worship experience.” The charismatic movement, with its emphasis on experiencing the Holy Spirit, has penetrated nearly all churches. This religious mood, which characterizes our era, is epitomized by the title of Henry Blackaby’s continuing best seller, Experiencing God.
Now, Galli notes, it is possible to replicate the “worship experience” with a drug. Of course, for those of use who can remember the 60s and 70s won’t be much surprised. It was common to hear hippies talk then in terms now reserved for evangelical use.
Sometimes people object to my critique of the QIRE (see RRC) as if I’m just a kill-joy. I’m not. One great problem with the QIRE is that not only can you achieve the experience you crave with the right drugs, you can also do it with other world religions. In other words, it’s a natural phenomenon. It’s not supernatural. It’s not inherently Christian (just like the modern “tongues” movement, anyone can do it). Galli explains:
There are many reasons to question the amount of attention our age gives to helping people have memorable religious experiences. For one, other religions seem to be equally capable of giving people an encounter with transcendence. For another, as we now increasingly see, drugs seem to be able to do the same thing.
In other words, you don’t need Jesus to have that experience. If you don’t need Jesus to achieve the experience you want, then the experience you want isn’t Christian. I’m not saying that it’s demonic; it’s just natural but nature isn’t grace and redemption from sin.
You also don’t need Jesus to be good. The emergent folks want to take us back to early 20th-century liberalism, “deeds not creeds,” but Galli warns:
…what Christians bring to the world is a message embedded in a story, and nothing less than a God-given, God-revealed message and story.
What is distinctive about Christianity is its history and doctrine of redemption. Euphoria and good deeds (which are the building blocks of what many people today consider to be Christianity) aren’t distinctively Christian.
Once more, I’m not against genuine religious experience but I am against the QIRE. I’m not against good deeds, but I am against defining Christianity as good deeds. We manifest our faith (James does say, “show me your faith”) but our good deeds, to the degree they are good (they’re always tainted with corruption and sin) are always and only fruit of our union with Christ.
The Christian faith is, at its core, not about ethics or religious experience, but a message about a God who has gone to extraordinary lengths to be and remain on our side, to become the-God-with-a-name, Emmanuel, “God with us.” Christians are not primarily mystics (those who experience God in a special way) or activists (those who live the way of Jesus). We are mostly witnesses of who God is and what he has done and what he will do in Jesus Christ, the God who in Christ has “a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10).
He’s exactly right. Reformed people should understand this. We confess total depravity. We confess that God acted for us and that he has revealed himself to us chiefly in Christ and that his Spirit operates not apart from the Word written but through it and with it. We long for genuine experience of peace, joy, love etc but we long for them in Christ, by his Spirit, through his Word, in community with his people, through the due use of the ordained means. Our experience ought to be as Christ-centered as his Gospel is. Our good deeds ought to flow out of the Christ-centered gospel. More than that, our faith and life ought to be Trinitarian and insofar as that is true, it transcends natural euphoria (whether religious or narcotic) or our sanctity is not mere deeds but the grace of God the Spirit.
This post first appeared on the Heidelblog in 2010.