Darrow Miller, in his superb book, LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day, describes the split between the spiritual and the physical that exists within evangelical Protestantism as evangelical Gnosticism. He says this dualism is especially evident when Christians emphasize "spiritual" activities like prayer and Bible study, and see "professional" ministry as the one truly satisfactory way to live out our Christian lives. Evangelical Gnosticism views the things of this physical, temporal world as unimportant, and working in fields that deal with matters like the environment, government, art, justice or public health is a less-than-Christian calling.
I can really relate to this, because my own background led me to tell my Mother, when I was about twelve years old, that there are only two professions in life worth doing: being a pastor or a missionary. I do not recall any church leader saying this outright. But I picked it up between the lines. I recall the rationale behind the statement I made to Mom: saving souls was the only work worth doing in this life. Everything else was a waste of time. Eternity is all that matters.
When I sang songs like "turn your eyes upon Jesus...and the things of earth will grow strangely dim...," I lumped Miller's list (the environment, government, art, justice and public health) into the "things of earth," along with everything else that had to do with this temporal world. One of the favorite songs of my youth group was, I'll Fly Away: "Some glad morning, when this life is o're, I'll fly away..."
Gnosticism, as Miller points out, developed prior to Christianity. It claimed that the physical world was evil. This material world was something to escape. Later, some Christians attempted to mix Gnosticism with Christianity, going so far as to deny Christ had a physical body. This false teaching was addressed by the Nicene Council of AD 325.
While such views like denying Christ's physical body are not held by evangelicals today, the broader idea that this material, temporal world is of no real value, and of no real importance to God, is widely held. The challenging part about evangelical Gnosticism is that there are some elements of truth in the mix. Sifting through truth and baloney takes effort.
I'll attempt to do a bit of sifting over the next few posts.