Thursday, June 13, 2013

American "Christian" Animism

If anyone actually reads this, it may stir up some pretty strong feelings. When Americans think of animism, we generally think of African traditional religions or the voodoo of the Caribbean. We don't generally associate animism with "normal" Americans. However....

I'm always a bit uncomfortable when I hear someone say something like, "Claim God's promises for you." It's not that I don't believe God is gracious; it's not that I don't believe that God has made and will fulfill his promises. I do believe both of those, but I also believe that often promises are taken out of context and applied to situations that God never intended. A colleague expresses it well when he says, "All the Bible was not written to me but all the Bible was written for me."

Several years ago, I taught a class on discipleship to a group of Kenyan pastors. When we talked about prayer, I used this phrase over and over, "Maombi si uchawi" (Swahili: Prayer is not witchcraft), to try to communicate that prayer is not a formula or ritual that we use to manipulate God into doing what we want. So, these paragraphs caught my attention.
Animistic salvation is utilitarian, selfish, human-directed, and this-worldly. An animist is chiefly concerned with self: He seeks power to fulfill his own earthly needs. Conversely, Christian salvation is a response to grace, altruistic and self-giving, God-focused, and includes the immediate as well as the eternal. A Christian, unlike the earthly focused animist, seeks to fulfill the purposes of God.
Such utilitarianism has also invaded the church. Prayer has frequently become a magical potion to extract human wants from God. When Christians order God to fulfill his promises, as "We claim the promises which you, God, have already granted us," they superimpose their own will upon God's sovereign will. Such prayers demand that God fulfill human desires. However, prayer should give homage and praise to God and plead with him to act while acknowledging his sovereignty.
(pp. 13-14 in Conclusion of Communicating Christ in Animistic Contexts, Gailyn Van Rheenen)
Often, not always, that kind of praying takes God's promises out of context. Any time we seek to manipulate God to do what we want rather than humbly bowing before Him, waiting to obey and receive what He wants, we're practicing animism rather than faith.

Running is a metaphor for a life of faith and obedience. Right now, I hope the metaphor doesn't describe my life — I rolled my ankle on Tuesday, so, my running is on the shelf for a few days. That's the 4th time in about 16 months and it's not fun. Frustrating.

Run well, y'all,
Bob Allen
Nairobi, Kenya
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