Is “spiritual” the right word to describe our friends and neighbors interested in God, prayer, and the mysterious? Jonathan Edwards thinks not:
Now it may be observed that the epithet “spiritual,” in these and other parallel texts of the New Testament, is not used to signify any relation of persons or things to the spirit or soul of man, as the spiritual part of man, in opposition to the body, which is the material part: qualities are not said to be spiritual, because they have their seat in the soul, and not in the body: for there are some properties that the Scripture calls carnal or fleshly, which have their seat as much in the soul, as those properties that are called spiritual. Thus it is with pride and self-righteousness, and a man’s trusting to his own wisdom, which the Apostle calls fleshly (Col. 2:18).I think Edwards is spot-on here. Now, it’s not worth correcting the people we are trying to reach. But it’s really more accurate to stay an increasing number of Westerners are religious, not spiritual.
Nor are things called spiritual, because they are conversant about those things that are immaterial, and not corporeal. For so was the wisdom of the wise men, and princes of this world, conversant about spirits, and immaterial beings; which yet the Apostle speaks of as natural men, totally ignorant of those things that are spiritual (I Cor. ch. 2). But it is with relation to the Holy Ghost, or Spirit of God, that persons or things are termed spiritual, in the New Testament. (Religious Affections, 198)