Every now and then there are certain phrases that just grip my mind when I read. One such phrase is “personalized spirituality” in his book Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World by David F. Wells [(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 109]. And I can’t seem to shake it off, but more and more such phrase seems like a dead-on conclusive analysis of our present time. But more tragically, it can be found in our churches.
One of chief characteristics of postmodernism is denial of the absolute truth, and to embrace plurality of opinions. But to me the bigger problem is that there seems to be categorical confusion between what is truth and what is opinion. Those two are not the same. What is happening in our churches is that people think of biblical truths as preferences and opinions, rather than the absolutes. That is why every now and then you hear people say things like “There are many ways to look at that verse” or “There are many ways to interpret the Bible” or “You can say whatever you want to say from the Bible” and etc.
The traditional approach to hermeneutics are gone, namely, by literal-grammatical-historical. Now, new hermeneutics are here – i.e., the meaning of the text is driven by the interpreter, not the text itself! Whatever interpreter feels or thinks (in theology we call this mysticism) is the meaning of the text. Since people operate under the premise that there is no absolute truth but to embrace plurality of opinions, one’s interpretation of the text is good as another person’s. Hence the term “personalized spirituality” or what I call customized Christianity.
All that is to say, self is now the authority. What is true is determined by me. I may go to church (“though I don’t really have to go to become a Christian or be a Christian”) as long as my self is not pricked, disturbed, exposed, or sacrificed. Where I go to worship and how I worship is determined by my choice and preference. I will “grow” on my time and my way. Hence, out with the pastoral authority, corporate accountability, and individual responsibility. And because these people assume that spirituality is personal and private it can develop, as David Wells points out “without the guidance of religious institutions” (p. 112). However, what most people don’t realize is that such attitudes and actions have both immediate and eternal consequences.