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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Spiritual Elites on the Left and Right

Some years ago I learned of a conversation between a couple of evangelical acquaintances of mine concerning Christian Rock music. They were discussing the merits of Amy Grant. One was a fan, but the other thought Amy's music lacked depth and was only suitable for "baby Christians" but not mature Christians like him. His reference to "baby Christians,"drew on a passage from the Apostle Paul's first letter to the Corinthians in which he criticized the Corinthians for their lack of spiritual maturity:
Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to mature Christians. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk and not with solid food, because you couldn’t handle anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your own sinful desires. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your own desires? You are acting like people who don’t belong to the Lord. (1 Cor. 1-3).
Although Paul certainly did not lack for confidence (the New Testament scholar, Krister Stendahl wrote he had a "robust conscience" -- see his "Paul Among Jews and Gentiles"), I hesitate to call him a spiritual elitist. I think he was just trying to motivate the Corinthians into getting their house in order. However, when I hear people refer to others as "baby Christians," my first thought is that they are.

Spiritual elitism is anything but new, of course. As New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman notes:
Christianity in nearly all its forms has always had a spiritual elite, the insiders who have a special insight into the true meaning of the faith, a cut above the rest of us in their nuanced understanding of God, the world, and our place in it. The Gnostics virtually fetishized this notion of an elite, a group of people in the know, who recognized the true nature of the church's profession of faith, of its Scriptures, of its sacraments (Bart Ehrman, "Lost Christianities," pp. 132-133).
Spiritual elitism isn't limited to theological conservatives, either. We have our modern day gnostics on the left who believe that conventional religion is shallow and that they're in possession of knowledge (i.e., gnosis) that gives their faith more depth (i.e., it makes it better). To be sure, there's a fine line between being confident in what one believes and thinking that one faith's is better than others. Unfortunately, there seem to be quite a few folks, on both the left and the right, who have crossed that line. Perhaps a little humble pie is in order.

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