3 Important Issues We Need to Know about Christian Spirituality
Christian theologians from the different traditions would agree that the Christian spirituality is in essence a life with the triune God made possible by the works of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, one question that remains is the nature of Christian spiritulity: whether it is exclusively an inner life focused on contemplation of God or an outer life focused on the physical world. Various people have created the perception that Christian spirituality is primarily concerned with the life of the soul as a separate compartment in the Christian life.
For example, Jordan Aumann, one of the leading Catholic scholars in Spiritual Theology, defined Christian spirituality as “a participation in the mystery of Christ through the interior life of grace, actuated by faith, charity and other Christian virtues.”
However, this seems to miss the point that medieval churches used the physical world as a source of genuine spiritual life to lead people into the reality of the gospel. After all, if Christianity acknowledges God as the Creator of the world, then we will have to recognize the unity of the non-material and material aspect of creation. It is here, therefore, that I offer an investigation into terminologies such as Christian spirituality and spiritual formation that we need to take note of.
The inherent Christian nature of “Christian Spirituality”
The first thing to note about Christian spirituality and spiritual formation is that the nature is inherently Christian. As Francis Schaffer stated, “it is impossible to even to begin living the Christian life, or to know anything of true spirituality, before one is a Christian.” By this, it means that the person who is practicing the Christian life has to be someone who accepts the finished work of Jesus on the cross as the basis for his justification before God (Rom 3:25).
The acceptance of Jesus’ work is moreover by faith, which John Calvin defined as “a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence towards the believers founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”
However, a person is not automatically living the Christian life just because he is a Christian. To become a Christian and have the knowledge of God’s salvation sealed within the heart through the Spirit is to join the people of God by the Spirit and to live the life of the saved person. Therefore, Christian spirituality starts from the beginning of Christian conversion but it does not end there. There is a journey of progress which the Christian has to go about in the cultivation of the Christian life.
This is where discipleship comes in. And this is the reason why Paul described his ministry as calling the people to come to obedience that comes from faith (Rom 1:6). And that’s why there needs to be a maturing process that comes after our conversion.
A correct understanding of “spirituality”
The second thing to note for Christian spirituality is the term “spirituality.” The term is used vaguely to refer to many things. It has its origin from the Greek adjective “pneumatikos” and has been referred in early Christian writings as “one’s appropriation of the Spirit of Jesus in life and ministry.” Philosophically, it also refers to the non-material aspect of the human being. This resulted in “an unfortunate rejection of bodily and material existence in favor of the pursuit of the spiritual life” within the Christian tradition.
However, spirituality cannot be simply seen as the pursuit of growth of the human soul and spirit. Instead, broadly speaking, it should be seen as a conscious and deliberate way of living holistically in order to connect with God and establish a transforming connection that will shape who we become and how we will live.
In Christian spirituality, this holistic way of living is defined by the Christian’s relationship with the triune God of Christianity, which is essential to distinguish itself from spiritualities outside of the Christian faith and it has to entail all dimensions of life. According to Dallas Willard, it is “the holistic quality of human life as it was meant to be, at the center of which is our relation to God” and this view cannot be understood unless Christians see spirituality in its entire sum, with our entire physical world as an integral part of our spirituality.
Therefore, Christian spirituality is living all of life, spiritually and physically, before God such that the Christian can progress after his conversion.
What is Spiritual Formation then?
The third thing to note is the definition of spiritual formation. If living the Christian life entails a transformation that will shape who the Christian becomes, then this implies that there is a Christian life that needs to be formed. Similar to the term “spirituality,” the term “spiritual formation” is a technical term where its actual meaning is sometimes not precise. It is nevertheless a general term referring to the exploration of the means by which growth is fostered in the Christian life and entail the intentional processes by which the Christian become more fully conformed to the image of Christ.
We can take reference from Diane Chandler’s definition when she defines spiritual formation as “an interactive process by which God the Father fashions believers into the image of his Son, Jesus, through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit by fostering development in seven primary life dimensions,” of which physical health formation in the individual is the life dimension which sustains the other six dimensions. By fostering development and progress in conforming to the image of Jesus, it will also entail not only growth in Christian characters but also growth in dealing with the sins that ensnares the physical body such as gluttony and sexual impurity.
A lot of what I have described seems theoretical but they have huge implications if we bring them to their most logical conclusion. If our spiritual formation and Christian spirituality are to be holistic, this means that they are not merely confined to prayer, studying the Bible or even attending church. Surely the material and physical aspects of our existence has to come into the picture. Surely we can be spiritual by appreciating the nature that God has created, by engaging in science, by participating in sports etc, if the “Christian” element is being brought into the picture when we engage in such activities.
What are some of these other activities that you can think of? Let me know in the comments and I will love to hear from you.