When Christians Say They Are ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’

For many Christians, being spiritual but not religious is an attempt to break away from severe sectarianism that has plagued their faith walk for years.

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Religion has become a dirty and dark word in our society. When people hear of religion, they think of legalism, family feuds and deadly divisions that cause far more harm than the little good that could come of such rituals. While non-religious governments and communities are not immune to similar atrocities, the perception of many is that much of the evil that has plagued this earth stems from the ideologies and doctrines of major world religions. The unpopular picture that has been painted of religion has resulted in many people embracing the “not religious but spiritual” label, distancing themselves from the many stigmas attached to major religions, including Christianity.

For many Christians, the label of being spiritual but not religious is an attempt to break away from the severe sectarianism that has plagued their Christian walk for years. For millennials in particular, church has become more and more irrelevant because of the destructive doctrines that have dominated church politics for decades. Many of them contend that they are still Christians, but reject the division the Christian church has created within the church structure and broader society. Yet, what I see from far too many of these Christians when abandoning religious legalism is an abandonment of church fellowship and community. I see permissiveness to postmodernist viewpoints that reject much of Christian teachings and an individualism ignorant of the value and necessity of church.

This desire to be “spiritual” rather than religious, especially for Christians, does not bring people closer to God. When many Christians use the phrase “spiritual not religious” they are often trying to accommodate their faith to secular critics who see religion as merely a control mechanism that keeps people from being themselves. The problem is that the spirituality that satisfies secular critics is as distant from the gospel of Christ as the very legalistic principles that many Christians are fleeing.

Below are three reasons Christians should reject the temptation to be religion-less in their spirituality.

Secular Spirituality Is Self-Centered

Without embracing the gospel of Christ, which is a fundamental part of Christian faith, one’s spirituality is self-centered, focused on satisfying and pleasing one’s self to fulfill their own desires and manifestations. This worldview is contrary to the teachings of Jesus which requires us to deny ourselves and seek to lose our lives. Christian spirituality is self-sacrificial, while secular spirituality is self-preserving.

Secular Spirituality Rejects Community and Accountability

We live in a hyper-individualistic society that coddles people into the lusts and sins of their own desires without repercussion or rebuke. Accountability is a strange and foreign word for many in our world today, because nobody wants to be “judged” or criticized for doing what makes them happy. Christian faith emphasizes the importance of community and fellowship. It focuses on the need for fellow Christians to edify and build up one another. This is why a strong Bible-centered church is essential for Christians seeking to grow deeper in relationship with God. Yet, many Christians who reject the “religious” label reject the need for church, citing that they can worship God on their own without being judged by others. Unfortunately, this worldview lines up nicely with our secular culture, which rejects any sense of community and accountability.

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Secular Spirituality Mirrors Conservative Legalism

There are two legalistic extremes in Christianity. One extreme, which is more conservative-leaning, focuses on law over love and grace. The other extreme, generally more progressive, focuses on love over law, but that love is often in name only and as unwelcoming and intolerant as conservative legalism. Furthermore, like conservative legalism, the permissiveness that inspires Christians to adopt blind secular spiritual principles focuses on processes and procedures that they are at odds with. Some progressives praise themselves for being open-minded, but often that open-minded spirituality is merely for the sake of being different and distinct from mainline Christian practices and customs. The focus is not on serving God and growing deeper as Christians, but rather on being different and intellectually superior.

This wave of spiritualism that is being promoted in media, schools and religious centers is intriguing. It sounds appealing and less restrictive than many of the church traditions and practices that so many are accustomed to. Yet, abandoning traditional religious circles to adopt more new-age techniques, while at the same time professing to be Christian, is not an adequate or sufficient answer to the sectarianism that saturates American Christianity. Christians fed up with religious doctrines and traditions must look to the gospel to affirm their spirituality, and beware of the idolizing progressivism with new-age tendencies disguised as spiritualism. Rather than trying to replicate New Age spirituality, it is essential that Christians revive the spirituality that is at the center of the gospel.


Jonathan Holmes is a Christian who has advocated for racial justice in Chicago for over two years. He has written about the intersection of race, class and Christian faith for multiple magazines and is an avid reader of both fiction and nonfiction. Follow Jonathan on LinkedIn.

Photo by petitefox


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