What My Eastern-Religion-Leaning Friend Taught Me About Being a Christian

What if we are (almost) missing the point completely? Is it possible that an entire religion can jump the rails by forgetting something foundational?

About a week ago I got an email from my friend Jason. We’ve been buddies for many years, although now that he lives in western Canada I never see him. But, thanks to the interwebs, his physical location hasn’t stopped us from continuing conversations about our shared interests, namely philosophy and theology.

He has always sort of vacillated back and forth between Christianity and eastern religions, and I value his opinions, one reason being because I feel he is one of my few close friends who can accurately clue me in to what people outside the church think about things.

Which is why I was kind of surprised when he emailed me this:

…it seems that there is so much focus on Jesus, that the one major aspect to the Trinity that is supposed to help us live our daily lives gets ignored: the Holy Spirit. We live in a society obsessed with the rational mind, one that forgets about listening to emotion, experience, mystery…Isn’t this where the Holy Spirit is supposed to enter our lives?

I think Christians are losing sight of how to live as Christians by focusing too much on the Bible and Jesus as the only means to do that. There is also the human experience, the current moment as I am living it, and Jesus is not here anymore, nor is the Bible telling me personally exactly what I should do or not do in this moment. But the Holy Spirit does.

Or something like that.

Imagine that – a Buddhist reminding me of the Holy Spirit’s importance (he doesn’t claim to be a Buddhist – I think he’s actually a Christian living in denial).

He’s right, of course. We’ve turned Christianity into a scientific experiment, drawing our lines in the sand between Creation and Evolution, Young-Earth and Old-Earth.

We misinterpret the Bible to say, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…and voting a particular party.” The litmus test of Christians is no longer love, but having the correct stance on a variety of political issues.

We’ve created elaborate, stone structures, and if anyone tries to change them we freak out, probably because we know just how fragile they really are (churches call them Articles of Faith).

What do you think? Is Jason right – have we neglected the Holy Spirit to our detriment? Or is this rational modern mind the right way forward? Can we learn Truth from a source other than the Bible?

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:26

21 Replies to “What My Eastern-Religion-Leaning Friend Taught Me About Being a Christian”

  1. I think he is definitely on target. In our modern society we like to test, track, measure and have instant results. Which happens to be completely opposite of most aspects of Christianity . . . thus the huge popularity of self-help books, get rich with out working books etc. We hate to wait, but even more we hate relying on someone else for direction. We want, even need to be in charge or we go berserk!

  2. Isn’t this what Frances Chan explores in his book ‘Forgotten God’? I haven’t finished it yet, but he writes about the fact that many people ignore the Holy Spirit when in fact it is the Holy Spirit who both guides and convicts. He also points out that it was the Holy Spirit, not necessarily people, who were the driving force behind the viral spread of Christianity in the days of the early church.

    Thanks for sharing this! On this dreary storm-filled day in IL, I believe I will pick up that book again and calm my spirit.


  3. (he doesn’t claim to be a Buddhist – I think he’s actually a Christian living in denial).

    You can be both. I’m just sayin’. I know a guy in Texas who has been happily Presbyterian and Zen Buddhist for some years. Buddhism purposely refuses to rule on the issue of the existence of deities, and never disallows the possibility. (Consider also the cross-pollination of Buddhism and Shintoism in Japan.)

    Now I really, REALLY have to dig out my copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Living Buddha, Living Christ for you. Hmm.

    1. Thanks Gwyn. That book keeps coming up in conversations I am having. I wonder if the library in which I am currently sitting has a copy…

    2. Not that I’m trying to argue or anything, but aren’t Christianity and Buddhism absolutely opposite? Doesn’t Christianity teach that nothing but Christ can save, can heal, can make whole whereas Buddhism teaches that you can do those things yourself through your spirit? Doesn’t Buddhism teach that finding the center and core of yourself will allow one to find joy and Christianity teach that the only source of joy is outside ourselves and found in Christ? Just because Buddhism allows for the possibility of a deity doesn’t mean that Christianity allows for any tenets of Buddhism to be present in a Christian’s life.

      1. I do not know enough about Buddhism to be able to speak to what they believe. I think there are certain Buddhist influences or practices which we as Christians can learn from. Richard Foster, for example, talks about the importance of meditation (albeit with different objectives); Paul talks about the importance of subduing the flesh (an important aspect of Buddhism, from what I gather).

        Some people are not comfortable looking at other religions and saying, “Hey, that’s something we can learn from,” and I can understand that. But I enjoy seeing how other people interact with God and seeing if there is a Christian application.

        Thanks for your thoughts. And feel free to argue :)

  4. I’m not a Christian in denial, I’m a Christian in exile as Spong writes about. What is a “Christian” anyway? Someone that calls themself one? : ) In many ways I am equally exploring both spiritual viewpoints for something that brings clarity to my everyday life and experience. Anyway, I guess it’s not that simple.

    Thanks for writing about your friend, means a lot. It was a good piece and I”m not just saying that. : )

    Gwyn, there’s another book out there called something like How the Buddha Helped Me Be a Better Christian, or something like that.

    I have Hanh’s book and don’t find it all that appealing. It’s good don’t get me wrong, I guess I was expecting something else. Not sure what though.

    1. Jason, see what happens when you set up expectations and concepts about something before experiencing it? Kwaaaatz!

      Er, that is, LBLC isn’t a book I keep by my bedside (like my Sibley Guide to Birds), but I think it’s pretty foundational in a discussion of Christian-Buddhist interfaith dialogue in our century.

  5. I think he is definitely on to something. Though I wouldn’t necessarily focus less on Jesus. I would bring the Holy Spirit into the conversation. The HS is moving us and working in us to make us look and live more like Jesus.

    Good thoughts. I always like questions like that.

  6. I want to give your friend a hug. I can’t believe in a Father who protects, because I have not been protected. I can’t believe in a Jesus who would die for some and not for others. But I can wholeheartedly love a Holy Spirit who is with me always, never leaving or forsaking, no matter what happens. I don’t see the Spirit has the Great Manipulator, but as the Soul’s Biggest Fan – cheering us on to whatever leads to wholeness, love, and everything good.

  7. I have noticed this as well, which is why I am currently writing two books on the Holy Spirit—I went through on a Bible reread recently carefully looking at where he is mentioned and also talking with other people about their experiences—that Person of the Trinity is just as worth thinking about as Jesus or God the Father. I applaud you for bringing this problem up!

  8. From time-to-time, I’ve had urgings–impressions, if you will–that I thought were from the Spirit. Some panned out, and others fell flat. But I guess that’s the nature of a faith-led life, right? It’s sort of a crapshoot–x could be from God, but not necessarily, yet I’ve got to be willing to try. And be willing to risk trusting Him, that He’s big enough to absorb (if not answer) my questions. I suppose this is where the Spirit comes in, namely that He gives me the faith to step out of my exile time-and-time again.

  9. Interesting Shawn, I’ve been reading in the book of Romans and Paul was talking about being led by the Spirit. It reminded me that we as Christians seem to forget that God gave us his Spirit to lead, guide, and comfort us after Jesus left this earth. The Holy Spirit is here to replace Jesus in the flesh. Good post Shawn!

  10. You might ask your friend what his thoughts are on how Christians can increase their love — which seems to a theme your blog has raised for a while now.

  11. I think we do tend to neglect the Holy Spirit too often, but I don’t think the answer is putting less importance on Jesus or the Bible. The Bible is the way God speaks to many of us. I occasionally get nudges from the Holy Spirit throughout the day, but if I am earnestly desiring to hear the voice of God, I find that in the Bible. That is where I go to hear from my Father. And we can’t ignore or lessen the importance of Jesus. Saving knowledge is all about knowledge of Jesus. The Bible never allows for saving knowledge to come about through the Holy Spirit. That’s tricky because the Holy Spirit is the one that allows us to understand the saving knowledge, but knowing the Holy Spirit does not save anyone. Jesus does. So while I think more emphasis needs to be placed on the Holy Spirit in churches, that doesn’t mean we need less emphasis on the Bible or Jesus.

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