Have you have wondered what exactly it is that people are talking about, when they use the phrase “Christian spirituality”? The word “spirituality” pops up all over the place (for example, if you search for “spirituality” on Amazon.com, it returns over 174,000 books!) and it is certainly one of the current buzz words in North American Christianity. But what does it really mean? Let me offer an answer to the question in two ways.
First, I think we can contrast “spirituality” with “theology”. Perhaps we can do it like this: The primary goal of good Christian theology is to fully and accurately understand biblical truth, whereas the primary goal of good Christian spirituality is to effectively and sustainably integrate theology into everyday life. Do you see how they fit together? They complement, not contradict, each other.
Another way to “wrap our heads” around what Christian spirituality is, is to use the model of seven metaphors suggested by Bradley Holt in Thirsty for God: A Brief History of Christian Spirituality. He suggests these metaphors:
- Rescue, redemption, or justification – Jesus rescues the sinner from the powers greater than any person: sin and death.
- Growth, unification, and healing – gradual changes of being put “back together”.
- Walking, journeying, climbing and homing – we are on the move, we have not arrived yet, but we have a destination.
- Death and resurrection -falling away and restoration, sin and forgiveness, despair and hope.
- Vocation – call and response; the call comes from God, self or the world to indicate who we are to be and what we are to do.
- Battle – internal struggle with spiritual powers, the old self, and the world.
- Thirst and hunger – the human need for God; we are not self-sufficient.
If I were to pick just one metaphor, I would probably say that “vocation” is the image that best describes my understanding of my own life and experience. And it terms of being a motivating factor for how I live my life, vocation seems to be the most significant. Although thirst, hunger and journeying are also pretty strong in me.
What about you? What do you think? How do you see theology and spirituality fitting together in your life? Which metaphor(s) describe your experience the best?