I just finished to listening to a lecture given by Dr. James Schaap of the Christian Reformed Church entitled, “What About a Bicentennial.” It is basically a sociological examination of the current trends in the West and how they impinge upon the question of whether or not the CRC will be in existence to celebrate a 200th anniversary.
There is a great deal that Schaap goes into that merits conversation. It would easier to analyze if I had a transcript but one thing that jumps out is how he deals with the issue of ‘Spirituality.’ Now Schaap’s lecture is devoted to making sociological observations. As near as I can tell he is being descriptive far more than prescriptive and consequently he is just laying out the way things are without (sociologically speaking) without necessarily directly offering his thoughts about whether what he is describing is good or bad.
What catches my attention about the issue of ‘Spirituality’ is how in the last 10 years or so it has become the latest ‘be all end all.’ In the 70’s if you didn’t have a church bus ministry you obviously didn’t love Jesus. If in the 80’s you didn’t train people in Evangelism Explosion then you obviously weren’t serious about reaching people for Jesus. If in the 90’s you didn’t embrace Church growth methodology you didn’t care about the lost and dying. So now, since the turn of the Century, if you don’t talk about ‘Spirituality’ you can’t be taken seriously in the Church or in the Seminary.
Well, the only success that I ever saw in Church bus ministry as a teenager in the 70’s was the success that came with making out in the back of the bus on the way back from the youth outing. In the 80’s I memorized Evangelism Explosion cold in Seminary and came away thinking that using the approach was like trying to sell a used car. In the 90’s I largely decided that Church Growth methodology smelled of sulfur and was from the pit. And I am afraid to say that all the urge towards Spirituality leaves me spiritually cold.
Still, no one can deny that it is all the rage. Go to any Barnes and Noble book store and head to the ‘Spirituality’ section and you will see it maxed out with everything from Aura to Zen. Flip on the television and the Spiritual realm jumps out at you. Look through the catalogs of most Seminaries and you will find a heavy emphasis on ‘Spiritual formation.’
Sorry, but I’m just not buying. I am sure it is the contrarian in me (though some are more likely to say the proper word is ‘curmudgeon).
This is the way I figure it. Branch Rickey once said that, ‘luck was the residue of hard work.’ Similarly, it is my conviction that ‘Spirituality is the residue of understood Theology.’ If you want to see Christian Spirituality in somebody then teach them Biblical Theology. If you want Spirituality from your ministers that resonates with passion then teach them about the beauty of God and quit with the ‘three easy steps to acquiring passion in your spiritual life.’ The way to develop spiritually sensitive people is not by sending them to some kind of Spiritual lamaze class but the way to develop spiritually sensitive people is by teaching them a Christology that naturally gives birth to Spiritual sensitivity.
Look, if you are having problems with the eggs that a chicken lays you don’t spend your time looking at the egg. Rather you spend your time considering the Chicken’s diet. It’s the same with Spirituality. Spirituality is a byproduct of something prior.If you get the something prior correct you will get the right byproduct. The something prior for Spirituality is Theology. Theology is the Chicken that lays the golden eggs of Spirituality. Deformed Spirituality in people comes from an improper Theological diet. Change the diet and you won’t have to worry about egg.
Now some people will inevitably conclude that Theology is dry, arid and boring. If that is what your experience is with Theology then I can only recommend that somebody expose you to Theology for the first time. The problem with people who’s study of Theology has left them Spiritually arid can only be corrected by exposing them to genuine heart rattling, soul stirring, eye opening, hunger stirring Theology.
When we teach people Spirituality in our Churches apart from Theology we give people the equivalent of a fluffernutter sandwich. All the calories and twice the sugar. When we work on ‘Spiritual formation’ in our Seminaries students as if following some kind of ‘Richard Foster connect the dots spirituality coloring book’ we end up mass producing something that is so contrived and blatantly phony.
Just teach Theology. Give them Augustine. Give them Edwards. Given them Tozer. Give them Owen. Give them Turretin. Give them Bavinck. Give them Dostoevsky. Give them Solzhenitsyn. Give them Dickens. Give them Blake. Give them Dante. Give them Bastiat. Give them Van Prinester, Give them Nock. Give them Chesterton. Give them Belloc. Give the Van Til. Give them Clark. Give them O’Connor. Give them Mencken. Give them Dickinson. It’s all Theology. Make them participants in the great conversation of the West that has been going on for 2000 years. Put them at the Battle of Waterloo. Make them march with Hannibal as he crosses the Alps. Have them walk with Shire through the rise and fall of the Third Reich. Put them in Charlemagne’s court. Have them think about the Dreyfuss affair. It’s all Theology.
Tell them if they want Christian Spirituality then they will have to accrue it the old fashioned way by laboring to enter into the conversation. Tell them that True Spirituality doesn’t come from a few semesters of smarmy ‘think deep thoughts and meditate real hard on your inner self’ curriculum. Tell them that if they are blessed by God they might develop true Spirituality before they die… if they never stop crying out for it day and night. Tell them that Spirituality doesn’t come about apart from living in family and covenant community life. Tell them that Spirituality requires brushing up and looking real close into the eyes of the reluctant dying a few times. Tell them that if they want to be real Spiritual they will need to scrub a few bathroom floors, change a few diapers, comfort the bereaved all the while putting food on the table.
Trying to form Spirituality in people without saturating people in the great conversation is like, paraphrasing C. S. Lewis, bidding the gelding to be fruitful before its grown any gonads. It’s like slamming the oven door while the cake is still cooking. It’s like trying on a size 3 dress before the dieting has started. Spirituality is a byproduct and people will never hit it by aiming at it.
Spiritual formation is the residue of understood Theology.
If you want to Christian Spirituality quit aiming at it and go wade hip deep into the great conversation.