Seven Obstacles of Spiritual Maturity

 I’ve been making my way through this outstanding book: Love God with All Your Mind by J. P. Moreland (Colorado Springs, NavPress, 1997).  Among other things, I appreciated Moreland’s discussion of the “seven traits of the empty self” that are so prevalent in many Westerners today.  And these seven traits, Moreland argues, undermine and stand in the way of spiritual growth and maturity.  In other words, if we as Christians want to grow in Christian maturity, we’ll have to fight obstacles like these.  This post is a bit longer than usual, but I  urge you to take a moment to read these seven – they are very astute observations.

1) The empty self is inordinately individualistic.  …The empty self-populating American culture is a self-contained individual who defines his or her own life goals, values, and interests as though he or she were a human atom, isolated from others with little need or responsibility to live for the concerns of a broader community.  Self-contained individuals do their own thing and seek to create meaning by looking within their own selves.

2) The empty self is infantile.  It is widely recognized that adolescent personality traits are staying with people longer today than in earlier generations, sometimes manifesting themselves into the early thirties.  Created by a culture filled with pop psychology, schools and media that usurp parental authority, and television ads that seem to treat everyone like a teenager, the infantile part of the empty self needs instant gratification, comfort, and soothing. …Boredom is the greatest evil, amusement the greatest good.

3) The empty self is narcissistic.  Narcissism is an inordinate and exclusive sense of self-infatuation in which the individual is preoccupied with his or her own self-interest and personal fulfillment.  The narcissist evaluates the local church, the right books to read, and the other religious practices worthy of his or her time on the basis of how they will further his or her own agenda.  God becomes another tool in a narcissistic bag of tricks….

4) The empty self is passive.  The couch potato is the role model for the empty self, and without question, modern Americans are becoming increasingly passive in their approach to life.  We let other people do our living and thinking for us.  From watching television to listening to sermons, our primary agenda is to be amused and entertained.  Such an individual increasingly becomes a shriveled self with less and less ability to be proactive and take control of life.

5) The empty self is sensate (preoccupied with sensations).  As Christopher Lasch has observed, ‘Modern life is…thoroughly mediated by electronic images.’  Lasch goes on to point out that today, we make decisions and even judge what is and is not real on the basis of sense images.  If it’s on TV, it’s real.  Advertisements sell us things based on images, not on thoughtful content about a product.  The widespread emergence of the sensate self has caused us to be shallow, small-souled people.

6) The empty self has lost the art of developing an interior life.  …The self used to be defined in terms of internal traits of virtue and morality, and the successful person, the person of honor and reputation, was the person with deep character. [Today], however, the self has come to be defined in terms of external factors – the ability to project a pleasurable, powerful personality and the possession of consumer goods – and the quest for celebrity status, image, pleasure, and power has become the preoccupation of a self so defined.

7) The empty self is hurried and busy.  …The empty self is a hurried, busy self gorged with activities and noise. …A frenzied pace of life emerges to keep the pain and emptiness suppressed.  One must jump from one activity to another and not be exposed to quite for very long or the emptiness will become apparent.  Such a lifestyle creates a deep sense of fatigue in which passivity takes over.

Moreland is exactly right.  These are some brilliant observations about the “empty selves” of our culture.  He wrote these observations 15 years ago – these traits seem to be more pronounced today.  These are indeed the things which stand in the way of growing in Christian maturity – these are the things that stand in the way of the renewing of the mind, the taking up of our cross, denying ourselves, and fighting the good fight of faith on the narrow road to the Celestial city.  Get this book (Love God with All Your Mind), reflect on these seven traits (Moreland says more about them), and fight against them in your own life.

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

3 thoughts on “Seven Obstacles of Spiritual Maturity”

  1. excellent – was it prophetic 15 years ago? please review the humiliation of the word by Jacques Ellul he said this 40 years ago. if your readers are ready for the kind of critique above, please also serve up the meat and potatoes of this fine reformed thinker on our modern time – jake


      1. so delighted to get your response -Shane – would you consider before reviewing humiliation of the word the 8 early lectures by ellul compiled by Marva Dawn – he was in his early 20’s when he wrote these and are the foundation for all his future writing. Marva Dawn actually did her P.h.D. on the principalities and powers embedded in all of ellul’s writings. thank you i am so encouraged by your immediate response – most people have written him of as a pessimist – jake


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