Book Review:

“Ten Things I Learned Wrong from a Conservative Church”

by John Killinger

Sixth wrong teaching:

Spiritual People Don’t Drink, Dance, or Come Out of the Closet


As we consider this chapter we will touch on the important topic of sanctification in the life of a Christian and how this is misunderstood by Killinger and many others like him. We will see that many people prohibit what God has not prohibited, while others condone what God has prohibited. Both of these ditches will be clearly seen in this chapter, offering us an opportunity to review the very real dangers of both legalism and libertinism. We will also look at “spirituality” and compare how the world views spirituality with what God says about spirituality.

What is Spirituality?

You may hear people use the term “spiritual” regularly in daily conversation. At first it may seem like a very positive, Christian sounding term. But this term can be very deceptive because it has a very broad meaning. Literally, "spiritual" has to do with things related to your soul (spirit), in contrast to physical things. In a sense everyone is "spiritual" because we all have an innate desire to know about the things we can’t see. In this sense even an atheist is spiritual! But in the Bible we find a very different and more specific meaning. In the New Testament the term "spiritual" indicates that a person is a new creation who has been brought to faith, and is now living in and being led by the Holy Spirit. So “spirituality” is being conformed to the will of God, and having the mind of Christ (Romans 8:6; 1Corinthians 2:15; 3:1; 14:37; Colossians 1:9; 1Peter 2:5).

Spirituality according to the World

Throughout this chapter Killinger speaks of “spirituality” – but in a very different sense than that described in Scripture. He understands spirituality in the same subjective way as the world understands it: Living according one’s own set of moral standards. For some this means establishing rules in addition to what God has given (Legalism) and for others this means removing laws that God has established (Libertinism). Both can have serious ramifications for the Christian’s eternal welfare. Let’s consider how...

Moral Legalism

The first danger is to set up human laws that go beyond what God has established in His Word. This is what the Pharisees did in the years leading up to the birth of Jesus. Many Christian religions have done the same thing today in their condemnation of alcohol use, work on Sunday, dancing, etc. Killinger says: “It was not long before I realized how completely unrelated to Christianity this issue was, and how right Luther was to flout the smaller social conventions that passed for spiritual morality in his environment. Conservative spirituality, in fact, was not spirituality at all, but legalism, and had little to do with the greater issues of the soul’s welfare with evil in the world” (p. 103). He continues, “Spirituality for conservatives and fundamentalists is essentially self-righteousness. It is following Jesus because he was a teacher of righteousness and trying not to live only by the Ten Commandments but by the much more difficult rules of the Sermon on the Mount.” (p. 106).

He is correct when he notes that many Christians have become self-righteous by demanding adherence to such man-made rules. When Christians begin to believe that their salvation is dependant on how they keep certain laws, they have essentially become heathen.

   Matt. 23:13-16,23-30; Luke 16:14-15; 18:9-14; Rom. 10:3-4; 11:6; Gal. 2:18-21; 5:1-4; Phil. 3:7-11.

Note: Drinking and dancing are not sinful in themselves, but they can become sinful practices. Jesus turned water into wine (John 2) and Paul told Timothy to drink wine for health reasons (1 Timothy 5:23). It is only the abuse of alcohol that is condemned (Proverbs 23:29-35; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:18). Similarly, there is a “time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). The Psalms are full of exhortations to dance (Psalm 30:11; 149:3; 150:4). The danger is when dancing leads to lust. There are many warnings throughout Scripture concerning lust (Proverbs 6:25; Matthew 5:28; James 1:14-15; 1 John 2:16).

The other ditch: Libertinism

The Southern Baptist church Killinger grew up in and many strict moral policies: no cursing, drinking, smoking, dancing, etc. But Killinger points out that hypocrisy was rampant. Pastors and elders drank, smoked, told off color jokes, and even had affairs. Seeing this hypocrisy and coming to the realization that we cannot keep God’s law as he demands had a powerful effect on Killinger. It played an important role in his drift away from the Baptist tradition and led him into the ditch of libertinism on the other side. This is brought about in one of two ways: “Jesus has saved me from my sin, so I can do whatever I want!” or “Since we can’t keep God’s law anyway, we might as well stop trying!” Both of these thoughts stem from a misunderstanding of the relationship between justification and sanctification.

Killinger writes: “Of course we fail and cannot keep the promises we make. But that is part of the genius of moralistic religion. It tantalizes us with the hope of a better existence and urges us to try harder. And when we fail, it slaps us in the face with our guilt and urges us to try again. It is a never ending cycle, and it gives the church a way of perpetually controlling our existence. It also validates our need for a Savior who died on the cross for our sins. It is evident that we cannot ever merit salvation ourselves, for we consistently fail in our attempts to follow him.... True spirituality of the kind Jesus knew transcends this pattern of endless failure. It has to do with finding such delight in the presence of the Wholly Other that we spend more and more time there, until our very beings begin to be transformed by the experience. The pattern of failure is broken or simply evaporates” (p. 107).

As Christians we do not strive to keep God’s law to earn our own salvation. We recognize that we are sinful and will continue to struggle with our sinful flesh as long as we remain on this earth. But we try to live as God would have us out of love for God and what He has done for us (2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 John 4:19-21) because it is the spirit-worked response of the new man (Galatians 5:22-25; Ephesians 2:10; James 2:14-18), and in order to glorify God (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:9). So while good works do not merit salvation, they are an outward evidence of faith in Christ which alone saves. (The Apostle Paul strikes a proper balance between the ditches of legalism and libertinism in Gal. 5:1,13.)

A New Age Influence

This chapter reveals that Killinger is attempting to combine his own version of Christianity with New Age philosophy. He has rejected the necessity of Christ’s atonement for sin, but he still wants to retain Jesus in his particular religion. He sees the law of God as a burden, but believes that an experiential transformation is possible through the “presence of the Wholly Other.” He also says: “If I am perfectly honest, I will admit that I find far more spirituality, or true openness to the presence of the loving and the sacred, in the pages of New Age magazine than I ever did in the Sunday school or church services of my conservative past” (p. 106).

The New Age Movement replaces the reality of a personal God with the idea that humanity is the center of all things and makes spirituality a subjective standard. Such spirituality can never be sufficient for eternal salvation (cf. Hebrews 11:6). True spirituality is brought about by the Holy Spirit through the knowledge of the one true God and trust in Him and in Jesus as the Christ (1 John 5:13; 2 John 1:9).

Note: This study was prepared for the Bible Class at Zion Lutheran Church, Lawrenceville, Georgia by Pastor Nathanael Mayhew.

If you would like more information about this study,
please contact Pastor Mayhew