Books

Are You a Pilgrim or a Tourist?

I'm currently reading David Wells' new book Above All Earthly Powers: Christ in a Postmodern World. As with Wells' other books on postmodernism and Christianity (No Place for Truth; God in the Wasteland; and Losing Our Virtue), Above All Earthly Powers is a stimulating mix of social commentary and theology.

Using the motiff of a "journey", Wells contrasts the new spirituality of postmodern seekers with the older, doctrinally-defined spirituality of John Bunyan, who wrote the classic book, The Pilgrim's Progress.

"In classical Protestant piety following the Reformation, this [journey as a spiritual concept] was explored and set forth perhaps most memorably in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. There are, however, stark and jarring differences between the way Bunyan understood this spiritual journey and the way the postmoderns are thinking about it . . . If Bunyan had presented his Christian pilgrim as wandering through life with his burden of sin still on his back all the way to the end, and if Bunyan had seen the river of death as the means of cleansing Christian's soul, he would, indeed, have been thinking in postmodern terms. In fact, however, the journey does not even begin - and it does not begin for anyone - until the burden of sin has been deposited at the Cross. This happens at the beginning of the journey. The story is not only about the struggle to get to the Gate of the Celestial City; it is, most fundamentally, about who has a right to enter that Gate, and that is settled, not at the end, but when the journey first begins at the foot of the Cross. And the purpsoe of the river of death is not to cleanse but to sweep some into unfathomable depths and others into the presence of God. For Christian, the pilgrimage through life is all about its destination, not about the experience of wandering or, in contemporary parlance, of being a spiritual seeker. Christian always knew where he was headed; postmoderns on the spiritual journey do not and their modus vivendi is to experiment rather than to imagine they know the destination to which they are headed . . . . It is really [the] metaphor of the tourist that best describes this new spiritual search. Tourists are not rooted in the places they visit. They are just passing through, just looking. They are there only for their pleasure and entertainment. They are unrelated to any of their fellow travelers. They contribute nothing to the country they are visiting (except their cold cash) because they are only there to look and to take in a fresh set of experiences. Tourists never stay; they are always on the move. It is this image, rather than that of the pilgrim, that appears to describe most aptly this new, privatized, experimental spirituality."

Which metaphor best describes you? Are you a pilgrim or a tourist?

No comments: