WHAT IS SPIRITUALITY?
What is spirituality? What does it look like? What does it
feel ' like? Is everyone spiritual, or is it the exclusive
property of Christians?
To encapsulate spirituality in one word yields a diverse
crop. To some, it is meekness. To others, it is primal - a return
to animalistic instincts. To some, it is stoicism the proverbial
"stiff upper lip." But to others, it is feeling.
Some see spirituality everywhere. Others believe it to
reside most fully in sacred times and sacred places. Some look
for the realization of spirituality in crisis, that is, in a
moment. Others insist that true spirituality is a process, taking
a lifetime to cultivate.
In scholarly circles it has been described as our "ultimate
concern" (Paul Tillich), a "blind leap into the dark" (Soren
Kierkegaard), and "a great instinctive truth" (Joseph Ernest
Renan). Even in modern Evangelicalism, there has been a revival
of this "great instinctive truth" through the practice of
spiritual disciplines. An excerpt from a recent Leadership
Journal article captures this dynamic within today's conservative
"There is a movement not only back to the disciplines, but a
kind of instinctive, if not fully articulated desire to know the
whole heritage of Christianity," says Phyllis Tickle, an expert
on religious publishing and author of a best-selling series of
books on fixed-hour prayer, The Divine Hours. According to
Tickle, this movement back to such ancient disciplines signals a
radical shift in the direction of postmodern Christianity, a
possible new Reformation.
(2005 Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal)
Could this resurgence of spiritual practice be a merging of
conservatism and mysticism? Mystical traditions emphasize
experience over dogma, and are found in every world religion. In
Judaism, experience reigns supreme among the Cabalists. In Islam,
it is the Sufis. In Buddhism, mysticism flourishes through Zen.
And in Christianity, seeking the divine has for centuries found
fertile soil in hermits, monks, wasteland wanderers and, right
here in America, in the Quakers and modern Charismatics.
What do these seemingly disparate views all have in common?
They believe metaphysical realities can be sensed in the present;
some even insisting it is not necessary, or wise, to wait for
"the sweet by and by."
Such spiritual ambition can leave many "orthodox" and "good
of boys" feeling uneasy. "Why can't you kids just read your
Bibles, believe the Gospel, and wait for heaven to feel good?"
Well, perhaps what has happened is that the first of this
threepart advice has been taken to heart.
Today's post-modern Christian has read the Bible, or, at
least, major portions of it. The distinction between devoted old
Christian and devoted young Christian is not rooted in their
reverence for the Bible - for their reverence is much the same.
Both believe the Scriptures to be the Word of God. Both believe
God's will is found within the sacred text. And both embrace the
major themes of the Bible: the need for divine intervention in
the human saga, salvation by grace through faith, God's final
victory over rebellion, etc.
The distinction is to be found in the emphasis today's
postmodern Christian draws from the Bible. The Christian of 2006
reads the Bible stories of Abraham, Moses, and Jeremiah and
thinks, "They experienced a great God, I should be able to also!"
He reads of the travels of Paul and thinks, "What adventure! 1
want some of that!" He reads the accounts of the passion of
Christ and thinks, "I'd die for such a savior." The emphasis is
on experience and application to modern life.
This, of course, does not mean that there is no doctrinal
deliberation over biblical texts. It does not mean that proper
hermeneutics is necessarily ignored.
It does not mean that precision in study cannot be achieved.
It simply means that one particular biblical truth is, at this
time, in the spotlight:
Bible folks experienced God... the postmodern Christian
desires such experiences, too.
Should we think it strange that various emphases shuffle and
vie for center place in Christian devotion? In the early
centuries, the emphasis was upon Christological issues. Who is
Christ? What is the nature of His pre-existence? What is His
relationship to the deity of the Father? Questions like these
occupied much time of the early Church Fathers and councils
through the fifth century. It is interesting to note that Church
of God (Seventh Day) is still asking these old, old questions.
(What a shame, these questions should have been put to bed
decades ago, if not centuries ago - Keith Hunt).
In the Reformation era, focus was applied to the priesthood
of all believers (Luther), the complete sovereignty of God
(Calvin), and a general drive to protest (thus the title
"Protestant") against papal abuses. These hallmarks of the
Reformation do not encapsulate every thematic truth contained in
the Bible, but certainly are valid biblical conclusions.
Or, as Alan Watts has put it: "No one's mouth is big enough to
utter the whole thing."
Once one particular emphasis is seen as central, other themes
will necessarily be peripheral. That is simply the nature of
concentration; it is difficult to focus on two or more things at
What would be ideal is for various historical emphases to
come together like individual threads and patterns in a grand
tapestry. An eclectic approach to spirituality would value the
good that has been gleaned in the past, yet also would allow
considerable freedom for modern exploration. Must we be tethered
to the past so tightly that contemporary expressions of Christian
experience are automatically discarded? No. For such an attitude
does not even do justice to those who have gone before us.
The early Fathers and Reformers saw it as their duty to be
the custodians of God's Word. That duty has been passed down to
us. In this age, we are the custodians of God's Word. In so
being, we must value the past - drawing from its good points,
being careful to not repeat its ignoble momentsand take our
present responsibility seriously by threshing out fresh paths of
spiritual and theological travel.
How is this done? It is accomplished by recognizing the
limits of devotion (i.e., spirituality) and theology (i.e.,
doctrine and dogma). Each can serve in ways the other cannot.
When the role of one element is made the exclusive monarch
over the other, imbalance is the result.
The Christian who exalts devotion above all else runs the
risk of becoming a tree hugging hippie, a sappy sort of fellow
merely craving his next warm fuzzy. On the other end of the
spectrum, the Christian who exalts theology above all else may
become a crusty curmudgeon, a grumpy, overcritical sour puss that
no one wants to be around.
Recognizing and appreciating the unique contributions that
devotion and theology make will create a balance to the Christian
Devotion can deepen our awareness of God's love and grace.
It can deepen our love for others. It makes the Spirit-led life
an adventure of trust and surrender. Spirituality transforms
attitudes. It gives life a sense of purpose.
What can it not do? It cannot understand the historical,
cultural, structural, and linguistic forms, in Scripture. It
cannot provide rational explanations and defenses of religious
matters. It is helpless to construct a systematic paradigm from
which to understand the themes of Scripture. And devotion alone
cannot show the Christian religion to be substantially different
from other religions. But guess what can do these things?
IT DEEPENS OUR LOVE FOR OTHERS
IT MAKES THE SPIRIT-LED LIFE AN ADVENTURE OF TRUST AND SURRENDER
Therefore, spirituality needs theology and theology needs
spirituality. The two can be held in what has been called
"dialectical tension" - each one balancing and gently correcting
the other. It is a principle described as "harmonious opposition"
by the eighteenth century Methodist clergyman John Fletcher. In
Buddhism it has been called "the middle way."
Truth is neither to the extreme left nor the extreme right,
but happily lives in the delicate and subtle middle. It is a
place of serenity and understanding, It is a place void neither
of doctrine or passion. It is a place where, this author
believes, Jesus' state of mind continually abided. He could
argue, but He could also love. And He did both better than anyone
ever has. May the Church follow her Messiah's example, and tred
that middle path of true spirituality.
A version of this article appeared m the April May 2006 Issue of
Bible Advocate and was entitled "The Middle Path"
Pastor Alex Ciurana M.TS., is the Senior Pastor at the Houston
(English) Church of God (7th Day) In Houston, Texas. He is the
author of the book Basic Apologetics. You may find out more
Information about his ministry and his book at: