In research for a book project on spiritual maturity, I fear I am discovering that “spiritual maturity” as a term no longer has any currency in Christian talk. I spent some time in a bookstore yesterday, talking with the manager about this matter and looking at books on the shelves. “Spirituality” has become the generic term, which, of course, I knew, but the idea that people don’t recognize “spiritual maturity” is more than a little worrisome.
I think I’ve blogged before (I admit, I didn’t check my archives) about the Barna Group – now over a year ago – doing a phone survey on this very matter. They discovered that neither church leaders nor rank-and-file Christians know how to define “spiritual maturity.” In fact, the most commonly offered attempt at a definition was “following the rules” (See “Barna Update” for May 11, 2009, http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12). To say the least, we ought to be concerned about this shocking lack of awareness.
I don’t remember which Supreme Court justice said it, but, in hearing the challenges of obscenity laws back in the 1960s, said something like, “I don’t know how to define ‘obscenity,’ but I recognize it when I see it.” I think the same could be said for spiritual maturity, or, at least, I’d like to be able to say it. Can we recognize spiritual maturity when we see it even if we can’t define it? Or do we really think that merely “following the rules” satisfies? If this is the case, we have drifted a far, far distance from the mark.
Which brings me back to my question: does the term “spiritual maturity,” or “spiritually mature” mean nothing any more? If so, what word goes in its stead? “Spirituality” does not cut it for me. I work in higher education and “spirituality” has crept into our discourse as a replacement for “religion.” Generally, writings from this quadrant oppose the terms “spirituality” and “religion.” “Religion,” it is said, has to do with external, institutional and legal matters. “Spirituality,” on the other hand, refers to expanded consciousness, compassion, openness toward (the omnipresent) “other,” justice, and the like. To be too blunt (I admit, I’ve become quite frustrated with this constant and ironic barrage about “bad religion,” “good spirituality”), most of the stuff I’ve read in this genre is incoherent and badly argued, filled with sweeping assumptions and redefinitions. Maybe I’m just reading the wrong stuff.
So, I don’t like “spirituality” as a replacement for “spiritual maturity.” And I’m worried that most Christians – if the Barna Update is accurate – don’t understand an absolutely fundamental aim of the Christian life. Golly, if we don’t understand this point, what do we think being Christian is all about?
My question offered to anyone willing to respond: does “spiritual maturity” no longer have meaning for Christians?