If you follow the Faith on View page on Facebook you know that we post a lot of quote memes. We’ve been collecting the quotes for years and we pair them with images of my artwork or my wife’s photography.
Several years ago, I ran across a quote that has become one of my favorites.
“There are two kinds of people in the world. There’s philosophers and drug addicts. And, Christianity is the drug of choice for a lot of people.” -Jack Crabtree
I like this quote so much that it has made its way into the syllabi I use when I teach at Christian colleges. It gets at what I believe is a significant truth and invariably it leads to a good conversation.
Jack Crabtree is a philosopher and New Testament scholar who was one of the founding faculty members of Gutenberg College. If you haven’t heard of Gutenberg College, join most of the world. It is a tiny college with a current enrollment of only 20 students. But, it is an excellent little school that has done very well in the Faith on View Christian College Rankings. There was a time when I listened to a lot of podcasts put out by the college. I don’t always agree with everything they say. For example, they are reformed in their theology while I lean more free will. But, they teach with a sober thoughtfulness and questioning that is far too rare today. They were a real voice of reason for me at a time when I was struggling.
What is the difference between a Drug Addict and a Philosopher?
So, what is the difference between a drug addict and a philosopher?
A philosopher is, at the very core meaning of the word, a lover of wisdom. The Christian who is a philosopher seeks truth and wisdom…there is no wisdom that is not also the truth.
A drug addict, on the other hand, is seeking the next high. In this case, it isn’t a physiological high, but a spiritual high. One might argue that all Christians seek wisdom since they seek the truth. Ideally, that is true. But, I think we all know, given the vapidity of a great deal of Christian teaching, the emotive, orchestrated worship styles in most evangelical churches, and the glaring lack of reflection by many congregants, that many are seeking a spiritual high over wisdom.
I am not saying that there is anything wrong with a spiritual high. They happen in the course of living life and seeking God. But, it becomes problematic when it is the goal. Years ago, my family attended a Christian family camp. My sister commented on how different she and her husband were. He would go to the classes to learn while she, in her words, went there “for the spiritual high.”
Jack Crabtree’s point is that people fall into these two categories seekers of truth and seekers of pleasure or comfort. This is true for all people not just Christians. Yet, considering Christianity’s claims regarding truth it is especially problematic when we are not of the philosopher mindset.
A Spiritual High or Spiritual Maturity?
A real problem occurs when Christians let their desire for a spiritual high bleed into how they define spiritual maturity. For too many believers, spiritual maturity is defined as being able to better and better maintain a spiritual high, though no one uses those words. When you dig behind the talking points about how to maintain closeness with God and what attitudes and behaviors are seen as mature, it becomes clear that there is at the very least a strong tacit relationship between maintaining a spiritual high and perceptions of spiritual maturity. Look at Christian Pinterest boards and their motivational, aspirational, positive thinking, bubblegum quality compared to the angst and struggle that the Psalmists leaned into. Look at the average Christian bookstore that houses far more Christian kitsch quotes and bobbles than resources to help believers search the depths of scripture and God. Look at the few Bible studies that they sell and you see more about success and happiness than truth and wisdom.
Again, there is nothing wrong with a spiritual high. They are good. But, they fade.
The only way to maintain a spiritual high is to get better and better at lying to ourselves. We gloss over the very real pain and struggle that comes in this life with platitudes and busyness that allow us to suppress that pain and put on a happy face.
When we define spiritual maturity as being more and more able to maintain a spiritual high, we are actually defining spiritual maturity as becoming increasingly better at lying to ourselves. The exact opposite of spiritual maturity.
What is Spiritual Maturity?
I would define spiritual maturity as gaining, on the spiritual level, a greater and greater consonance with reality…with the truth. Ultimately, since Christ is Truth and God the ultimate reality, this means gaining greater consonance and a true connection with God.
That simply can’t be done by lying to ourselves. We have to face what is true even if, especially if, we don’t like it. There is no virtue in a Candy Land faith.
The spiritually mature are not those who can evade any challenging thought or situation. They are not those who have vain platitudes for the hurting and wounded. They are those who see the world as it is. They are those who have walked through pain and can now walk beside others in their pain. Not those who encourage others to be happy despite pain but so they can lean into that pain with them and journey with them toward healing.
The spiritually mature are those who have built their house on the rock of reality, the rock of Christ.
Why Does it Matter?
It matters for a couple of reasons.
The first is that we should seek to be spiritually mature. When we misunderstand the spiritual life we strive for a wrong-headed goal that is actually unhealthy. There are many who are putting all their effort into living a lie because they mistake happy-talk for spiritual maturity. They think they are working tirelessly pursuing Christ. But, we cannot pursue Christ and a lie at the same time. The pursuit of Christ is a sober pursuit of Truth not good feelings.
The second is that it ruins our witness. Let’s face it, many in the world see us Christians as fakes. If we are truthful we will admit that many of us are. In fact, we have an entire church culture that promotes this fakeness. The irony is that we often think we promote this fakeness to preserve our witness. But, the watching world isn’t stupid. They see right through our facade. They see our hypocrisy when we deny our pain and forge forward with a happy-looking mask.
Our witness requires honesty. If we are in pain, we need to admit it. If we question, we need to admit it. If we are happy, we need to admit it. But in all this, we must long for Christ. Long for Truth. That is a faith that a world, which is tired of our falseness, can respect. That is a faith that leads toward Truth even if we struggle to grasp it.
This essay is from our Anastasis Series where we resurrect articles from the past that are either still relevant today. This piece was first published on December 5, 2018, and has been lightly edited and updated.