The Superspiritual


Saint Dan of PhotoshopolisA number of people I know have had recent encounters with strange persons who appear to be on the increase in the ranks of Christians in America. There’s no known genus and species name for these unusual creatures, so most people are forced to refer to them by their collective name, The Superspiritual.

I’m sure at least a few folks out there have crossed paths with this particular beast. For those unacquainted with The Superspiritual, a few of their traits stand out:

  1. They have a tendency to get up before the sun and have incredibly long quiet times that rival those of the great saints of old. In fact, the saints of old were pansies compared to these folks.
  2. They’ve memorized large swaths of the Bible—and in multiple translations. Ask them to quote a specific passage—they’re dying to share it with you.
  3. They have an answer to every possible theological question anyone might have. The best of them will offer multiple perspectives given by a chosen set of favorite authors. Always a very narrow selection of authors. Come to think of it, those authors always agree with each other on everything, so there isn’t much variation of perspective when you get right down to it.
  4. Their library of Christian books, if sold on eBay, could feed a hundred AIDS orphans in Africa for a decade, though it is doubtful they’d ever part with those books. Go ahead, try to snatch one out of their hands. (Fast reflexes, eh?)
  5. If they own a business, that business will be founded on, run by, and ever beholden to “Christian principles.” Those principles appear to include making as much money as possible by any means available.
  6. If you’re a heathen—meaning you’re not as spiritual as they are—you’re held at arm’s length until you ARE as spiritual as they are.  (Good luck! Typically it’s taken decades for them to reach their own peculiar nirvana.)
  7. “Christian practice” is defined as going to church on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, Wednesdays nights, and at least a small group or two on a free night. Oh, and there’s a number of church boards to sit on, too. Christian practice is critical for enhancing one’s standing in order to maximize #5 above.
  8. They talk, talk, talk about family values, and you can’t help but think they’ve got the insular family thing down to a T, seeing that no one else associates with them. Just don’t bring up their middle child in conversation.
  9. They do an outstanding job of  telling you what the Bible says we should be against, but stumble a bit when pressed on what the Bible says we should be for.
  10. They have a way of making anyone who stands near them feel oddly guilty.

Sound familiar now? Certainly you’ve met one of these folks.

As to #2 above, their memorization skills are indeed impressive, but The Superspiritual seem to have mentally misplaced a few verses. Consider the following verses that routinely get overlooked:

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
—Luke 6:31 ESV

For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
—James 2:13 ESV

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
—Matthew 22:37-40 ESV

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
—1 John 4:20-21 ESV

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”
—James 2:1-4 ESV

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
—James 2:14-19 ESV

All joking aside, I’m growing tired of hearing stories about people afflicted with the disease of Superspirituality. And it  truly is a disease because it infects impressionable people who come under the tutelage of those already diseased.

  • What explains the Christian businessman who fires employees to cut costs rather than examine the careless way in which he doles out company money to ministries in order to get on their privileged donor list?
  • Or an upper-middle-class church that splits over outreach to a Hispanic neighborhood because the people they sought to evangelize in that neighborhood had the nerve to actually start showing up in the church on Sunday?
  • Or a radio ministry that promises a helpful book that can aid those who are struggling with long-term unemployment and its resulting financial ruin, but when calling in it’s a mandatory $30 “love gift” for the book—which Amazon sells for $8.99?
  • Or the Christian company that requests a prospective employee twice fly out for a job interview, only to later fail to reimburse the prospect for the plane flights or even bother to give her a follow-up phone call about the job?
  • Or the Christian organization that exists solely to help people with one specific kind of problem, but who gets a client in further trouble by failing to file critical paperwork because they were too busy preparing for a big evangelistic outreach they sponsor?

Don’t those just rip your heart out? What should be done with folks who have every appearance of being paragons of Christian virtue, yet they purposefully ignore the most basic aspects of the faith?

What would happen to us as a Church in this country if we spent the next year doing nothing that even vaguely resembled Superspirituality, instead simply doing unto others as we would have them do unto us? How hard is it to ask ourselves whether or not we like to be treated as badly by other Christians as we sometimes treat others?

I don’t think The Superspiritual ever ask themselves that kind of question.

A number of years ago, a friend, noting the sheer number of trivial things I know about highly useless topics, congratulated me on having filled my mind with so many facts. My response to him? I’d trade it all to be able to know the Bible inside and out.

Today, I realize that this response was Superspiritual. In reflecting about this issue of Superspirituality, it occurs to me that the less Superspiritual answer—and the one closer to the heart of Jesus—is this: that I be able to put into practice the amount of Bible I already know, rather than simply marinating my brain with it.

I mentioned this in a post last week, but what is the point in correctly learning and handling the Scriptures?

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
—2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV

The end goal is good works. Good works are always others-centric. If we’re not putting into practice the things we already know, investing ourselves in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ, in the lives of the poor and needy, and in the lives of the lost, then all that Bible knowledge we’ve crammed into our craniums has no outlet. It puffs up our heads and leaves no room for our hearts.

The lost around us will argue our facts and figures, but they find it hard to argue when they’ve had a serious illness strike their household and we show up on their front porch with a homemade dinner. They used to refer to such selfless benevolence as “the milk of human kindness.” Trust me, folks; that’s “meat,” not “milk.”

James says this:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
—James 1:27 ESV

And we already know that all the prophets were reiterating the same message of God: God desires that men love Him and love their neighbor as themselves.

Superspirituality is all too easy to catch, but there’s a way to avoid its disease. If we surrender ourselves lovingly to God and give of ourselves to our neighbors, there’s not a lot of us left over for that awful virus to infect.

Have a blessed week! And please show the love of Christ to someone this day who might not otherwise experience it.

{Image: Major apologies to the artist who crafted the icon of Saint Columba}

34 thoughts on “The Superspiritual

    • Dee, I spent far more time looking for exciting artwork that reinforced what I was trying to say. I finally gave up and whipped this one up in about twelve minutes.

      Trust me, I don’t have the time.

    • Don,

      My experience (with PKs especially) has shown that it’s the middle child that “kicks against the goads.” My middle brother was the one who was sort of the problem child (although mildly).

      I married a middle child, so I hope she doesn’t read this! 🙂

      • My middle child certainly shows that, but she did before she was a middle child. Actually, she did that before she was born. We were in the delivery room and she was alying on the umbilical cord which meant distress at every contraction. Off to the C-section room where my wife was completely preped for the operations and the surgeon had scalpel in hand, hovering over her belly. Then, the baby turned and was no longer on the cord or in distress. Back to the delivery room for a normal delivery.

        The shadow of things to come. 🙂

        I have a real soft spot in my heart for kids like my Emily. They wear everything on their sleeve and they aren’t afraid to say or do what’s on their mind. The transparency is a very good thing, but boy does it make them a big target. Kids who hide their feelings and desires sometimes get away with stuff and may not get the training and intruction they need. It’s true what 1 Timothy 5:24 says:

        The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them.

        Sorry about getting so far off topic.

  1. I, too, am awed by your Photoshop skills. 😉

    But seriously, while I agree with most/all of what you said here… it seems that there can be Godly motivations for the traits you mentioned, and the “anti-Superspiritual” attitude can be just as easily motivated by a hard heart.

    That said, it sounds like you and Codepoke are eating out of the same bowl! 😀

    • Travis, et al.,

      If I said it was The GIMP and not Photoshop, do I lose awe points?

      A couple weeks ago, another site that was critical of me had a commenter who said that I shouldn’t be rebuking churches that hurt people because God uses that hurt to discipline us.

      I guess that commenter has a different answer than “By no means!” to Paul’s question, “Should we sin more so that grace may abound?”

      No doubt that the commenter was right on a very basic level, but so much of what transmorphs into Superspirituality is correct on the most basic level. It’s only when it exists for no other reason than for itself that Superspirituality is wrong. When people get lost or hurt in the process, then whatever The Superspiritual are doing needs to be reexamined.

      For instance, I’m not against someone saying they run their business on Christian principles. But when you make that the cornerstone of what you do, you better darned well take ALL Christian principles into account, plus you better follow through on those principles! My own experience is that when a company claims to run on Christian principles, 9 times out of 10, I’m going to have some serious conflict with them over something dumb they do. I tend NOT to have that same issue with companies that DON’T say they operate out of Christian principles.

      Why is that, though? Just last week, I talked to a guy who hired an avowedly Christian business to do his job and they’ve taken his money and left part of the job undone—a major part of the job. The guy’s willing to cut them some slack because they’re Christians (even though he might lose a couple thousand dollars by having to hire someone else to finish the work), but I’m not. There’s no excuse for that kind of stuff. I don’t care at what time the owner of that biz gets up to pray and for how long, he ripped off this guy.

      We see the effects of Superspirituality all the time—sadly, more and more in the national news. The recent case of the pastor’s wife who shot her husband to death is a prime example. On the outside, everything looked good, but the inside was obviously rotten.

      The Web looks like this at times. We’ll defend our particular brand of doctrine to the point of namecalling and character assasination, but what kind of picture is that? I’m not against people defending doctrine! We just need to do it humbly and with care for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

      I hear so many people in the Godblogosphere trying to defend meanness and spite as “tough love,” but I don’t seem them starting off with the “soft love” first before they progress to the tough kind. Always dishing out “tough love”, while never offering any other kind of love, is Superspirituality to the bone.

  2. Dave S.

    I sure hope that you have some actual cases that back up your examples (businessman lays off staff, non reimbursed travels expenses etc) because I’d hate to think that you’ve made these up. Actually, I don’t know anyone like you mention. I’m wondering if you would you care to share a post where we can learn from YOUR shortcomings, or aren’t there any? You should rename your website Cerulean Sanctimonious.

    • Dave,

      It appears you didn’t read all the post as I confessed to my own bout with Superspirituality in the latter third of the post. I also invite you to read past posts, because my own shortcomings come out regularly. I take it from your comment that you don’t regularly read Cerulean Sanctum.

      This blog asks how we can better the American Church, in essence recovering the best days of the first century Church. Unless we’re willing to address our current shortcomings, we’ll never get there.

      As to the examples, all have their basis in fact. A few of the exact details have been only very slightly modified in order to protect the individuals involved, but they are most certainly real. Two happened to me personally, two were told to me by close friends to whom it happened, and one I read about a few years back.

      If you’ve never encountered The Superspiritual, you are either exceptionally fortunate or are not observing closely enough. I encounter The Superspiritual almost every week. The Godblogosphere is filled with Superspirituality, for instance. The comment I related in my comment to Travis above was taken from another blog just a couple weeks ago. Anytime we hide behind Christianity to justify bad behavior, we’re being Superspiritual. Anytime we use Christianity to place ourselves above other people, we’re being Superspiritual. Those kinds of incidents happen all the time.

      Thanks for stopping by.


      • Philippa

        You are bang on the money, Dan.

        The Godblogosphere is filled with Superspirituality, for instance.

        I have come across some great Christian blogs but sadly the Godblogosphere is sometimes no different from any other blogosphere: it can parade self-righteousness, ranting and trollish behaviour.

        And there are many of us who have encountered all of this in church circles, of every possible stripe … from people who claim God on their side if you dare challenge them. It truly is the dark side of religion. And church history is littered with it, and non-Christians say, in disgust: “well, if THAT’S the way a Christian behaves, I want no part of it.”

        The Superspiritual lurks within all of us. It is perhaps one of the most subtle and deadly forms of pride. May the Holy Spirit cleanse us of our foul religious pride and self-righteousness and drive us to our knees, in tears, before the Father.

        • Philippa,

          Yep. I think we can do better. At least I hope we can do better. I sense a shift in the air that will change some things in this country for the better, if it’s not too late.

  3. Anyone smell the irony in Dave’s post? Must be a exposed nerve somewhere.

    I do agree that the “superspiritual” do a great deal of harm when judments flow out of them. I’ve been on the receiving end and the giving end. But, we must be careful to not lose the good with the bad. To long to spend the first portion of the day to be with the Lord in order to make your soul happy in God is good. And to memorize, meditate, and let your mind be saturated (marinate, to use your word) with Scripture is good. And I would argue that this is the means by which our emotions, attitudes, and conscience is changed. Scripture is soaked up by our soul and the Spirit uses the Word to help us to put to death the deeds of the flesh (Perhaps this is what David is getting at in Ps 119.11). This discipline also allows the Christian to know the Will of God and seek to pray it back to Him.

    But you listed serious problems, which I agree with. The main problem is the desire to do these things. Is the desire to earn more grace, appear more godly, or help those deemed less fortunate? Or is it a desire to plead for more grace, be transformed, and receive help from Christ?

    Thanks for again pressing on the body of Christ to find the infection.

    • Elijah,

      If we do those spiritual things only as an end unto themselves, then we’ve missed the whole point of the Faith, which is always others-centered and not self-centered. I believe too many Christians learn and learn and learn but never do. In that case, what then is the point? As 1 Cor. 13 says, there are plenty of qualities and knowledge I may possess, but if I have not love, it’s all pointless.

      What set the early Christians apart, especially in Rome, is that they embodied a community that was not only fully relational among the strong members, but incorporated the weak, such as the sick, the orphan, and the widow. Ordinary Roman society had no love for the marginalized. The very fact that Christians took care of the sick rather than abandoning them like so many other Romans did made the rest of Roman society sit up and take notice of the new sect. Studies of the early Christian communities showed them to be highly others-centered, so much so that Christianity stunned the civilizations in which it prospered.

      But Superspirituality is ultimately self-centered. No matter how much of the Bible we know, or how much we pray, if it’s only done for selfish reasons, then we’re not being true to the Gospel.

  4. T-dog

    Hey Dan!

    Cannot believe you linked to our site! You are too cool. 🙂 I printed off your blog book (all 37 pages) for light reading tonight. LOVE the picture!

  5. Wow, Dan, I’ve read your ten points, and, honestly, I can’t say I’ve met anybody like what you’re describing, at least not in the “Meatspace”, albeit I’ll concede that things might possibly different in the Blogosphere.

    I guess I’ve lived a pretty sheltered life.

    • Oengus,

      You know, it’s funny. Whenever I do a post like this, I get half the comments saying, “I have no clue what you’re talking about, Dan!” and the other half give me a “Dan, every day I encounter the people/situations you write about. I thought it was just me!”

      You’ve never done business with a Christian company that trumpeted their values and had their owner tell you he prays like four hours a day and then they try to bill you for work they didn’t do or something stupid like that? Never? You’ve never met Christians who didn’t want to associate with you because you weren’t their kind of Christian? You’ve never heard of a church split over some ridiculously sanctimonious claptrap or other? Man, Oengus, you really have been fortunate! Seriously. I encounter Superspirituality a couple or more times a week! I think The Wall Street Journal has at least one article a week talking about something like I describe here.

      • Dire Dan: “You’ve never done business with a Christian company…”

        Nope. I never had the opportunity to work for a company that claimed itself to be in some way peculiarly “xtian”. I guess xtian companies just don’t want to hire me for anything. But from what you’re telling me, perhaps I should avoid ever working for one.

        Dire Dan: “You’ve never met Christians who didn’t want to associate with you because you weren’t their kind of Christian?”

        I simply don’t recall anything memorable. I might have bumped into one or two people like that over the course of my life. But it definitely hasn’t been too often, nothing radically out in the open. Howbeit, I suspect that many years ago a sizable number of Southern Baptists (where I started out in my xtian walk) decided that all Catholics were automatically going to Huh-Huh. But I think even these attitudes have changed somewhat since that time. Also all the Southern Baptists I know seem to have no problem associating with me, even though I’m a flaming, tamborine-shaking Pentecostal. As I recollect, back when I was young, I got the impression conveyed to me that the “holy rollers” were raving lunatics, and possibly demon possessed ones at that.

        Dire Dan: “You’ve never heard of a church split over some ridiculously sanctimonious claptrap or other?”

        Well, my mom’s old, small town church did split over the pastor leading things down the path of increasing “Rick Warrenization”. But I don’t know if that qualifies as “ridiculously sanctimonious claptrap”. Can you tell me?

        Nonetheless, let me also say that I think your points are well and good, and they should be made. And I think that, by and large, the church has taken on too many of the characteristics of our hard-core, libertarian, materialistic society, where Mammon is the supreme god. Greed is a powerful force for evil in this world, which is a fact that is often overlooked.

        Dire Dan: “Man, Oengus, you really have been fortunate”

        Perhaps, but not entirely. But that’s a long story. It’s just that I’ve encountered different things than maybe you have.

  6. Abie Thomas

    Our church accountant tore his shoulder helping in church and ended up not being able to use his left arm. During this time, the church felt he could not do his work competently and fired him from his job. He had a family to feed and a house mortgage like everyone else and a non christian organization, gave him a job and made adjustments for his permanent disability. The accountant refused to lodge a claim against the church feeling it was not the right thing to do.
    Thank you for your site and the insight it holds. I guess, I am like that many a time. God help us to be more like Christ.

  7. Yes, maybe Dave has not had the good fortune to sit in Sunday School with those who profess, “I never have a problem trusting God.” I guess we all have a right to be young and idealistic once in our lives. 🙂

  8. Dan Edelen,

    Just passing through on the trail of another…

    Dan your name sounds very familiar to me. Would you happen to know Mike Nichols of “Resurrection Fellowship.” Or perhaps I have seen you over at Phoenix Preacher a time or two?

    At any rate I have a good sense in my spirit, If I could call it that, of you when I read your name.

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