Biblical Spirituality

Posted on 27 March 2008

Evangel 9:3 (Autumn 1991)

Biblical Spirituality

Evangel 9:3 (Autumn 1991)

‘Spirituality’ has, in recent years become one of those buzzwords that so afflict Christianity. As with other such words (‘ecumenical’ and ‘charismatic’ readily come to mind) it is a word which lacks precision and while essentially biblical can cover a multitude of sins which undoubtedly are not so!

Too readily ‘spirituality’ becomes a word used for techniques of prayer and worship. Such techniques may not be wrong in and of themselves (though some derived from eastern mysticism seem too readily and uncritically embraced into ‘Christian spirituality’). However, it would appear that there is a real danger, which is not always avoided, which leads to a confusion between ‘spirituality’ and ‘spiritual’. This, in turn, deflects the pursuit of holiness into an emphasis on the search for an existential rather than an ethical demonstration of the presence of God.

Equally dangerous is the assumption that a similar spirituality or preferential piety is itself a witness to a common relationship with God. At this point the ‘spirituality’ movement can walk hand in hand with the ecumenical movement, seeking a unity divorced from confessional agreement. The widespread ransacking of spiritual writings from other traditions (sometimes of real value) can, in fact, lead to an uncritical acceptance of traditions which, at the most charitable estimate, are near to teaching another gospel.

But perhaps the greatest danger is that the believer’s walk with God is grounded in the wrong place. True, biblical, spirituality is to be defined as an encounter with God, by the Spirit, in the Word, which has an ethical entail. However, too much that is written and spoken of today is divorced from the Scripture. Spirituality arises from my experience, not my experience and actions from the Word of God.

We cannot, however, be entirely negative nor can we escape the challenge that the spirituality movement brings us. We do need to recognise our different temperaments and personalities and to allow within our biblically generated piety patterns of prayer and worship which are conducive to such God-given variety. We need, too, to recognise truth and a real encounter with God in other traditions than our own.

Equally, we cannot simply claim that the present spirituality movement is a reflection of a culture which is more experience-centred. While this is undoubtedly true (and not necessarily wrong) it is also true that all too often contemporary evangelical piety has been presented as both sterile and intellectualist. If those of us who teach and preach have failed to convey in our ministries the sense that we have encountered God in his Word, it is scarcely surprising if those who hear us look elsewhere for a living encounter with God! And if arid intellectual discussions have replaced (as too often they do) the sharing of a living encounter with God in his Word it is not surprising that men and women seek God apart from (or so it often seems) the mind.

The final word is, perhaps, this; evangelical piety today is often itself an aberration. Our predecessors seemed far more able to engage mind, heart and will together in their experience of God and to discover God in the Word by his Spirit. In a generation which despises the past, may we rediscover their balance to our blessing and good.

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