‘The deeper life’ that isn’t

“We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” (2 Corinthians 10:12)

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

“They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’” (Genesis 11:1-4)

My research into “the deeper life” started when I saw a banner ad on a site I use frequently referring to “the deeper life in God.” I thought about it for a moment and realized I didn’t know what it meant. Deeper how?

I get the metaphorical sense of going beyond or further but couldn’t translate that into practical terms. So I googled it, of course, and turned up some clues.

Some of the content was from an author you would instantly recognize as not just respected but in some circles revered. I’m sure I have at least a couple of his books. (Somewhere. Such is life living out of plastic totes.)

And what I read really didn’t surprise me. The deeper life is “a revolt against the ordinary in Christian experience and the insatiable yearning of a few discontented souls after the deep, essentially spiritual and inward power of the Christian message.”

Whew. Don’t come up to the surface too fast. Gas bubbles in the blood, that sort of thing. You know, the bends from ascending from your deep dive into “the deeper life.”

He goes on: “It includes the thought of the indwelling Christ, of acute God-consciousness, of rapturous worship, separation from the world.”

So how do I get this? What will it cost me?

“If it should seem like a heavy sacrifice for anyone to make, let it be remembered that Christ is Lord and can make any demands upon us that He chooses, even to the point of requiring that we deny ourselves and bear the cross daily.”

Hmmm. There’s a red flag. What do you mean by even to the point of requiring that we deny ourselves? The way Jesus said it made it sound like “deny yourself” was a universal requirement for all disciples. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24. Whoever means everyone, right?

The DLT (“deeper life” translation) sounds like there’s First Class and Coach, and while Coach is the cheaper option, it ultimately reaches the same destination. It’s just a pity that so many settle for “the ordinary” while “a few discontented souls” in First Class yearn for something more. There’s a distinction emerging here I don’t feel comfortable with.

But while the language was a little overwrought at times—what is “acute God-consciousness,” for example?—in general there was nothing really discordant among all these elegant phrases. Sounded pretty spiritual to me.

I just didn’t want any of it. I didn’t feel there was something out there, some missing piece or pieces that I lacked. I wasn’t feeling any “insatiable yearning” welling up from inside. I didn’t feel much of anything, to be perfectly honest.

I often have a very tangible sense of the Spirit bearing witness within me when I happen upon some new or especially apt expression of biblical truth. Not this time.

And given the stature of the author, my next thought was, What is wrong with me?

And the answer is, absolutely nothing. And the reason why was because I was reading a 20th-century version of what Paul confronted in 1st-century Colossae. We call it “the deeper life.” Paul would put this in the category of “hollow and deceptive philosophy,” a substitute for “in Christ you have been brought to fullness” (Col 2:8,10).

And before I go any further, I don’t care who you, the reader, are, because Paul had every believer “in Christ” in mind when he wrote “you have been brought to fullness.” You means you. “Fullness” isn’t accumulated piecemeal; “in Christ” you have it.

Paul had a specific group of hyper-spiritual persons in mind when he issued this warning, meant as an encouragement to us ordinary jars of clay:

“Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow” (Col 2:18-19).

Everything “the deeper life” claims to offer is a counterfeit. Its humility is “false.” The greater revelations described in “great detail” (e.g., book-length visions) are actually “idle notions” issuing from an “unspiritual mind.” They aspire to get closer to God when in fact “they have lost connection with the head.” This is why Paul said these notions were both “hollow”—no real fullness–and “deceptive.”

“The deeper life” has a long pedigree—all the way back to Genesis, the book of beginnings. The people of “the plain of Shinar” (where Babylon would be located) apparently were dissatisfied that “the whole world had one language and a common speech.”

So they decided to buck the trend of spreading outward to fill the earth, the creation mandate. They were going to build something for themselves, “a tower that reaches to the heavens,” and thereby “make a name for [ourselves].”

In this pre-scientific age they may have thought this would get them closer to God or show their devotion, because the vast, unknown space above them had to be the dwelling place of God. There’s a vestige of this belief (like the phrases sunrise and sunset) in the way NFL wide receivers point skyward after catching a touchdown pass, giving a nod to God as if he’s up there.

Throughout church history, persons have been trying to make and enforce distinctions among the people of God that the Lord never intended. For centuries there were clergy in western Europe who spoke, read and wrote in Latin rather than the local languages the people spoke and parceled out the knowledge of God like a butcher sells you cuts of meat.

By the end of the 15th century, the people were being bled dry to purchase forgiveness. They worshipped relics, the remains of persons who were distinguished by the title “saint” when the Bible made no such distinction, calling all who are in Christ “saints.”

In case you think I carry an anti-Catholic bias, the “deeper life” article I quoted from was written by a prominent Protestant. And “deeper life” movements have appeared in Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant forms as well as myriad groups and sects unknown to most.

There’s a reason they’re mostly unknown. Like the builders at Babel, God scattered them. They turned into distinct, exclusive groups that, because they were so distinct and exclusive, eventually “will not understand each other” (Gen 11:7). They separate from others, their “fullness” dissipates and they sink into obscurity or irrelevancy. So much for “making a name for ourselves.”

The Father has “exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (Phil 2:9). It’s all right to be “just” a follower. It’s all right to be included in the whoevers named in Jesus’ teaching. We have all the fullness we need—and no need to go deeper.

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