I was introduced to John Mark Comer maybe a year or so ago through his podcast with Mark Sayers, This Cultural Moment. My sense is that Comer and Sayers really have their finger on the “cultural moment” we currently find ourselves in as citizens of the Western, and American, setting. Western Europe is already there, and has been for a long time. Some major urban metropolitan areas of the US are also. But more and more, we are emerging as a postmodern, post-Christian context in America, though places like the Bible Belt where I reside are white-knuckling to hold on to a “Christianized” past. Their podcast has been so good that I now have my students listen to it in courses related to mission and ministry.
The focus of the book is how to properly recognize and resist the three enemies of the soul – the world, the flesh, and the devil. I know, I know. Sounds fundamentalist, doesn’t it. Preaching against those wicked enemies.
We don’t talk about these three concepts much these days, at least in the sense of how they were discussed a few decades back within a more Christianized culture. Because of the way these were discussed and preached on from our forbearers, we steer clear of them. The images of hellfire and brimstone preaching has run its course. I know I have tended to avoid talking of these. Or, when I talk about “the world”, I speak primarily to the goodness of God’s created world and our call to see the creation flourish as we head toward the new creation.
Yet, as Comer addresses these three enemies, this is the fresh framework he utilizes.
Those concepts, I think, are much more helpful than how they may have been approached in the past.
As to the deceptive ideas, which flow from the father of lies, the Satan, we rarely even realize they are present. They aren’t cataclysmic. The enemy knows we won’t be drawn in through some massive scheme. Rather, we are drawn in through deceptive lies (he does masquerade as an angel of light, 2 Cor 11:14). And it’s these lies over time that lead to disordered desires. Again, not major perverse ideas. Instead, these are socially and religiously-accepted, wherever you fall on the spectrum. And as they amass in our brains and bodies, they move out into society.
Comer’s point is not only to highlight these three enemy realities, but also how we might overcome. This is through specific practices of spiritual formation, or spiritual growth and development. In particular, he offers five practices. I’ll let you discover what those are as you are able to read the book yourself.
One thing that really caught my attention were these words:
Spiritual formation isn’t just a follower of Jesus thing; it’s a human thing. We’re all being formed every minute of every day. We’re all becoming someone. Intentional or unintentional, conscious or subconscious, deliberate or haphazard, we’re all in the process of becoming a person.
The question isn’t, Are you becoming somebody? but Who are you becoming? (p73)
We are all being formed. Each of us, and society as a whole. And most of the time we are not even aware of such formation. Whether through social media, conspiracy theories, cable news, political platforms, family backgrounds, religious traditions, consumerism, and the like, we are all being shaped into the image of that which we behold on a regular basis.
Sometimes we don’t like who we are. And I think that’s ok. Perhaps in the midst of love for oneself, we should be willing to dislike, or even sickened, by that which has malformed us into an image very different from that of Christ.
Our problem? Well, the devil, the flesh, and the world, yes. Yet, Comer offers a major anchor within our flesh (or disordered desires) in our modern setting. It is our insatiable love, or lust, for individual freedom.
At first glance, individual freedom seems a good thing. And it can be. The question is, how do we understand and use freedom. Comer believes we are enamored with what he calls “negative freedom”. This is freedom from, or the “removal of any and all constraints on our choices.” In its place, Comer champions “positive freedom,” or freedom for (p136).
But that’s not Paul’s view of freedom [freedom from any and all constraints]. Or Jesus’s. Or most luminaries of the human condition prior to the modern era. They put more emphasis on positive freedom. Freedom not just to choose but to choose the good. For them, freedom isn’t about autonomy from authority but about liberating loving relationships from sin. And positive freedom means we need a kind of power from outside ourselves . . . to overcome our (strong) desires for self-gratification and fulfill our (deep) desires for self-giving love. (p137)
Freedom can be, and has become, a serious disordered desire in our individuality-saturated world. Sure, we have been donned with freedom of choice, by God, or what we like to call “free will.” But if one is attached to a disordered desire, they are not free. Right? They are a slave.
Specifically, Comer navigates many addictions and disordered desires of our day and time. Some of these will step on our toes. Perhaps all of them will. But he is not just quoting the Bible and moving on. He anchors deep into the church fathers and mothers, history, philosophy, and theology. This is not your typical manual on spiritual formation.
For anyone interested in a fresh look at discipleship and spiritual growth, I would offer that you give this book a read. I have, and I know I will quote it in my PhD dissertation that I’m currently working on.
May we be ever formed into the image of Christ.