The Dangers of Thingification
If you’ve never come across him before, I strongly encourage you to. He’s an engaging tweeter, an excellent performance poet, and a thought-provoking blogger and, as Andrew will gleefully tell you - he lives in Eastbourne.
One night earlier this month I was indulging in a late night twitter trawl (there must be SOMETHING diverting happening somewhere...), and stumbled across this tweet:
Beware Thingification. Grace, faith, Bible reading, prayer, sermons & discipleship aren’t really things.
If that’s not enough to intrigue you, well, you’re made of sterner stuff than me. I clicked the link, and discovered a gem. Here are a couple of extracts, but the whole thing is worth a read:
We’re always making a thing out of things that aren’t things. There’s a technical term for this but I’m just going to call it thingification. The name’s not important. What is important is that it’s ruining your Christian life. Let me show you how with reference to 5 things that are commonly thingified [By my count, there are actually six, but he’s so good with words I guess I’ll let him off the counting thing].
Prayer is not a thing.
“I need to work on my prayer life” we say. And we mean it. But so often what we mean is “I need to improve at this spiritual discipline because my lack of proficiency reflects badly on my stature as a Christian.” Or maybe we want to improve because we want to “improve our relationship with God.” In some ways this motivation is even worse because it pictures “my prayer life” as the thing that connects me to God, rather than Christ. Then it becomes very important to focus on “my prayer life” but as something quite separate from focusing on Christ our Mediator. So we force ourselves to go to the prayer meeting and hear someone pray: “Please may God bless this work…” And we think, “Huh? I thought we were praying to God? Are we? Or are we performing a thing called prayer in front of one another?” ... Has prayer become a thing that we do? Should it not be an enjoyment of our adoption before the Father through union with the Son in the joy of the Spirit? But so often, don’t we find that prayer becomes a thing we must get right. And a thing that stands between ourselves and communion with God?
Discipleship is not a thing.
...The Bible is not interested in disciple-craft. Jesus does not want us to be good at the art of following Him. He just wants us to follow Him. Yet, might it be that discipleship is one more concept that takes us away from Jesus Himself and makes us dwell on a thing in abstraction from Christ? It’s worth considering.
In my Small Group at church we have just started working through Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. I’m finding it excellent, the most helpful book I’ve read for many a year - possibly ever - but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I read Glen’s post sometime between ordering the book and its arrival. The spiritual disciplines are great, and important and transformative and necessary - but they will be worthless if they become ‘things’ in and of themselves. Thanks, Glen, for a very timely reminder.