"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Reformed Spirituality: Defining Spirituality

In exploring the topic of Spirituality, our first question is: “What is Spirituality?” In consulting many non-religious sources, most gave a definition of

1) There is no definition


2) An Experience with the Divine

The first definition is of course nonsense. The second however is telling. Spirituality is an existential concept in popular thought. Our concern, however, is Christian Spirituality. Therefore, our concern is not merely with a “Divine” essence in general, but the Christian God in particular. Consulting various Christian definitions given by people such as Alister McGrath and Richard Foster, a broadly Christian definition tends to include at least 3 aspects:

1) Involves Spirit, (since it is called spirituality)
2) experience of God
3) is about the Christian Life over time.

If we want to find something less generic and more Reformed, we will find these elements to be insufficient. In constructing our definition, we need to look at more than Christian Spiritual Gurus and to the principles of Reformed Christianity.

Reformed Christians generally accepted and took up the name “Reformed” not merely as a reforming of Catholicism, but from their principle that the human person must be “Reformed by the Word.” By this, we understand that Spirituality must be based on the Word made flesh (Christ) and the Word written (Scripture). Since we know Christ by means of the Scripture, a Reformed approach to Spirituality must be Scriptural. Because our approach must be Scriptural, our definition is as follows:

Spirituality is the Christian Life centering on Christ by the power of the Spirit as Christ reveals God to us as taught by and through Scripture.
The focal idea here is that the principle object of our contemplation, affection and instruction is Christ. Our shorthand definition then can be:

• “Encountering God in Christ.”

This may bring up certain objections and questions. First, if our approach must be scriptural, why do you draw the conclusion that it must be centered on Christ? Wouldn’t it be centered on Scripture? Scripture indeed is our true guide in the faith. But it is our guide to somewhere else. Jesus tells the Pharisees in John 5:37-40

“the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life."

The role of Scripture is to testify and lead one to Christ. Our center then is not on Scripture, but through Scripture to Christ.

Secondly, if we are talking about Spirituality, why is the Spirit not the focus of our contemplation, guidance and instruction? In John 15:26, Christ teaches his disciples what the role of the Spirit is:

"But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”
The role of the Spirit, like Scripture and working with Scripture is to lead the believer to Christ. The Spirit works through the Scripture to bring the believer to Christ for substance. A Reformed, or we might merely say Scriptural, view of Spirituality then is a pursuit of how we understand the principle need, source and means of Spirituality. In all, Spirituality is about “Encountering God in Christ.”


Andrew said...

Good post. I never knew that 'Reformed by the Word' thing, though it makes sense. Reminds me of C.S. Lewis':

"It is easy to think that the Church has a lot of different objects—education, building, missions, holding services... the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose."

Spirituality and Sanctification are important

M. Jay Bennett said...

Excellent work Jared! I like the way you began with question and definition.