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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Comiskey


‘To recover the true sense of the spiritual, we must rediscover the mystery of the material…It may be our failure to enter deeply and respectfully into the material that inhibits our discernment of the spiritual.’

Fr. Robert Imbelli


A friend with whom I studied psychology in seminary years ago insisted that she hold the tension between studying the inner lives of persons (psychology) and theology, how and what we believe as Christians.


‘My childhood was all Spirit. We denied our messy humanity, covered it up with faith. If I want to know this Jesus, I need also to know who I am, who we are, how He made us.’

I never forgot her clarity. We refuse what is human to our peril. Christopher West describes this split as ‘angelism’ and ‘animalism’—the way Christians get into trouble when human desires, especially sexual ones, are denied (angelism) then become scandalous (animalism).


Quoting philosopher Charles Taylor, Fr. Robert Imbelli describes our flight from ourselves as ‘excarnation.’ God took on humanity (incarnation) to help us reconcile with our troublesome flesh. Yet we still tend to excarnate ourselves, opting to spiritualize what is material—our flesh—especially when we conflict with ourselves.


That was my first impression of IHOPKC. My son Nick found a good home for cultivating faith and spiritual discipline there. But I was a little concerned when I noticed that the topics in the bookstore—prayer, prophecy, deepening devotion—neglected any reference to what it meant to be a human being worshipping alongside hundreds of others.


Where was the equivalent of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, exploring what it means to be human, made in His image, in our sexual selves as male and female? These are primary questions for displaced young people trying to figure out holiness from the vantage point of need and longing—plus an authentic desire to glorify Jesus in all of it!


IHOPKC possessed a rich spirituality that was subject to deformation due to deficient human formation. Without teaching and staffing that regarded human need on par with spiritual growth, IHOPKC became imbalanced. Added to this was Mike Bickle’s inordinate emotional and physical bonds with certain women. That he could somehow spiritualize these bonds, thereby denying their danger, set an ugly precedent that brought down the house.


3 cautionary factors for any Christian community:


Christian denial of what it means to be human is a form of Gnosticism, a heresy as old as the New Testament. Gnosticism takes on many forms, but St. Paul appears to major on and combat two aspects of it. The first is a special knowledge or, in Greek, ‘gnosis’—a ‘secret’ truth that sets one spiritual group apart from another (1 Tim. 6:20-21).


Such elitism is fanned by a second component, the divide between what is ‘spirit’ and ‘flesh’: spirit good, fleshly humanity bad. Special spiritual knowledge grants one privilege over human complications (Col. 2:18-23), and in some strains, as at Corinth, human excess mattered little in the light of their glorious ‘gnosis’ (1 Cor. 6:12-13).


St. Paul countered that the body mattered. God made the body, God assumed one in Christ (incarnation) and thus Christians were responsible to steward well the reality of housing ‘spirit’ within the body itself. Sexual immorality violated both body and spirit; God gives His creation authority through Spirit and Blood to be reconciled to that original dignity (1 Cor. 6:14-20).


Over-spiritualizing one’s humanity and minimizing bodily violations results in my second caution: arrogance. Most Christian movements that glory in a special anointing tend to minimize looking at the human dimension of things. ‘Recovery’ stuff is often mocked as a navel-gazing tendency of the weak, never for the spiritually elite. (This relates to the old boy’s club mentality where interiority is deemed feminine and fussy.)


That mockery was sadly on display in this clip of Mike Bickle and Sam Storms as they laughed off attempts by an outside organization (in this case, a directive from the Vineyard’s John Wimber for Mike to get Christian therapeutic help) to reign in Mike by urging him to take a reflective look at his broken humanity. Sickening.


IHOPKC tended to cultivate pride in possessing a special awareness and commitment to Jesus that precluded taking care of the messier, mundane aspects of their corporate humanity.


The third and conclusive point about a semi-gnostic take on humanity? No authority to steward well the reality of one’s passions. Scripture is crystal clear here. What we deny or minimize about our humanity can overtake us and scandalize the whole. St. Paul said it best to the Colossians: ‘Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head…’ Their ‘regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence’ (Col. 2:18-19; 23).       


Let us learn from others’ missteps. Jesus assumed a body to help us reconcile with ours. We share a common struggle and dignity as embodied spirits. Let us ‘submit to each other in reverence’ (Eph. 5:21) ‘so that in everything’, including our bodily humanity, ‘He might have the supremacy’ (Col. 1:18).

Join Andrew on Desert Streaming each week as he dives deeper into his blog. Watch here or listen on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.


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