Being Human: The Nature of Spiritual Experience (BH) by Jerram Barrs and Ranald Macaulay – this book appeared at a crucial time in my walk as a young Christian and exerted a powerful influence on my entire life. Its message continues to play a valuable role, causing me to examine and evaluate the perpetual and ubiquitous ebb and flow of new movements, trendy philosophies and sure-fire techniques, rising and receding within the contemporary Christian culture. America has been appropriately described as a disposable society and the church has not only adopted a superficial, sanctified brand of consumerism, but might even teach the folks up on the Mad Avenue a few tricks!
Rather than give a blow by blow review, I want to describe, in a few sentences, how this book enriched my relationship with Jesus, brought radical change to my understanding of how I relate to Christian community and how the Gospel continues to reorient me in my desire to be human, created in the image of God. Then, I’ll let the book speak for itself from the back cover and with a few quotes under each chapter title. They are gems and will give you a good idea of what you to expect from Being Human.
I think the greatest impact BH had on me was revealing how evangelical Christianity had, by the 20th century, adopted a very platonic view of spirituality, dividing the Christian life into higher and lower, sacred and secular — insisting that the ideal Christian life is one of spirit, completely divorced from anything “earthy.” At the same time, the influences of modernism moved the Christian culture in the west to become mechanical and “technique” driven, seeking just the right template to impose and improve upon each and every aspect of the Christian life. The result? Christians have been pulled in two directions, away from the Biblical model of what it means to be human — a spiritual and physical being, created in the image of God. BH sought to remedy the situation over 30 years ago, but I find it refreshingly relevent and helpful today!
From the back cover:
Who is right about what it means to be human?
The Greeks envisioned an ideal humanity. Their ethereal sculptures depict a transcendent, spiritual model. But today many scientists view human beings as mere machines. And some believe we will be able to make machines with human-like intelligence in the near future.
The biblical view of humanity is different from both of these. For the writers of Scripture, to be human is to be in the image of God. Guided by this view, Ranald Macaulay and Jerram Barrs discuss the nature of spiritual experience. As the pursuit of true spirituality takes us away from sinfulness, it moves us closer to what God intended us to be. When we are truly spiritual, we are fully human.
Macauley and Barrs begin by stressing the centrality of Christ. Then they distinguish between self and the sinfulness of self, argue for using our minds in spiritual matters, and illuminate the many ways God guides us. Their chapter on the family discusses the vexed issue of authority. And they conclude with a look at the evidence, judgment, hope, joy and reward of faith.
In the Likeness of God
Sanctification (becoming holy), then is essentially an affirmation of life. The whole purpose of the Christian life is the recovery of the original image of God, in other words, the recovery of the kind of human experience which God intended Adam and Eve to have before the Fall.
The Biblical Framework and Two Alternatives
The Bible’s authority is undermined by our culture in every area, whether natural science, social sciences or history. Unless we are convinced that the attacks on the Bible’s authority in these areas are groundless, our spirituality will necessarily be affected. This impoverishment caused by materialism’s influence leads to a confusion about what genuine spirituality is. In the search for “life,” Christians often turn in the same direction society turns and simply reflect its answers. This “turn” can take two basic directions — either to experience or to techniques.
The Centrality of Christ
Therefore, every teaching which suggests that we can move on to greater blessings than those which we have received through our initial faith in Christ is, in some way or other, actually adding some human work to the work of Christ and, consequently, dishonoring him.
God has made us in his image and we are to reflect the personal relationships which exist within the Trinity and to practice toward others the love, kindness and humility which God has expressed toward us. Therefore, as we begin to love others, to forgive, to forbear and be humble, we are fulfilling our nature as the image of God and we will consequently enjoy the fruits of such a life.
The Holy Spirit and the Self
Living the Christian life is analogous with the writing of the Scriptures. Though penned by human authors and bearing the mark of their personalities, the Bible is authored by God and is therefore free of mistakes in whatever it says, whether in the area of theology, morals, history or science. Even in giving us his infallible Word, the Spirit did not override the significance of those who wrote the various books. Nor does he do so now as he works in us who believer and who press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Affirming the Self and Denying the Self
[Luke 18:18-30] The rich man was faced with the choice to have a different center for his life, a different integration point than he had had previously. This is of course the choice for anyone — to turn from whatever has been the center (another God, a religious system, a person, or things) to the living God of the Bible. And it is never an easy choice.
What we have seen in our culture is that disregard for the mind can produce an evangelism that is merely technique. This is dehumanizing both to speaker and to hearer. Personal evangelism should be characterized by sensitivity. One is talking to another person, not into a tape recorder. The Bible nowhere gives a code for evangelism.
But how do we bring together our need for guidance and God’s ability to guide? The great danger here is to erect a mechanical model and seek mechanical solutions. But this is how astrology and fortunetelling devices operate… God deals with us as persons. So the believer should never be troubled by the idea of making a decision, as if to do so is to encroach on God’s territory.
We may even say, therefore, that a person is the image of God only in community, though this does not contradict what has already been said about each individual being the image of God. A human is fulfilled not primarily as an individual alone, but rather in relationship with others.
The Believer’s Judgment
We will not be condemned because of all the worthless things we have built; rather, we shall be saved because of Christ in spite of our failures. But we will experience the loss of all that was wrong, all that was done with false motivation… In his love, God approves the good that remains, for it is presented to him on the foundation of Christ.