Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Divine Embrace 2

What is Christian spirituality? If the popular meaning of spirituality is “experience of the Beyond or the transcendent or of God,” Robert Webber, in The Divine Embrace, contends Christian spirituality is about “God’s embrace.”
How do you define “spirituality”? What definitions are you hearing? Are our definitions comprehensive enough to be true to the Bible?
There are four words he explores in the Introduction:
God’s Acts and the Source of Spirituality:
1. God’s story: postmodernity has found its way back to story as a fundamental form of truth-telling. The focus now is on story, imagination, mystery, ambiguity and vision. The story of God is the story the Church tells of God’s redemption in Christ through the Spirit — it is the narrative of Scripture writ large in the very life of Jesus.
2. Mystical-union: God’s gift and work — not ours — empower us to live life as God intended, “in union with the purposes of the Creator and Redeemer of the world” (18). It is not about a journey into the self but the journey into God. The mystical is our union with the Trinitarian God.
Our Actions are:
3. Contemplation: prayerful pondering of the mystery God’s grace, a loving look at God, delight in God.
4. Participation: the denial of self in order to participate in God. Jesus is the primary example.
Put together, we have the Divine Embrace.
It is the mystical-union with God through Jesus Christ by the Spirit. It is situated in the story of God. It is incarnational.

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posted November 28, 2007 at 8:30 am

so much wisdom and maturity here…..

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Ruth Tucker

posted November 28, 2007 at 9:03 am

The best definitions for spirituality for my money come from Eugene Peterson. This is from an interview and sums up some of what he writes about in his multi-volume work:
Many people assume that spirituality is about becoming emotionally intimate with God.
That’s a na?ve view of spirituality. What we’re talking about is the Christian life. It’s following Jesus. Spirituality is no different from what we’ve been doing for two thousand years just by going to church and receiving the sacraments, being baptized, learning to pray, and reading Scriptures rightly. It’s just ordinary stuff.
This promise of intimacy is both right and wrong. There is an intimacy with God, but it’s like any other intimacy; it’s part of the fabric of your life. In marriage you don’t feel intimate most of the time. Nor with a friend. Intimacy isn’t primarily a mystical emotion. It’s a way of life, a life of openness, honesty, a certain transparency.
Doesn’t the mystical tradition suggest otherwise?
One of my favorite stories is of Teresa of Avila. She’s sitting in the kitchen with a roasted chicken. And she’s got it with both hands, and she’s gnawing on it, just devouring this chicken. One of the nuns comes in shocked that she’s doing this, behaving this way. She said, “When I eat chicken, I eat chicken; when I pray, I pray.”
If you read the saints, they’re pretty ordinary people. There are moments of rapture and ecstasy, but once every 10 years. And even then it’s a surprise to them. They didn’t do anything. We’ve got to disabuse people of these illusions of what the Christian life is. It’s a wonderful life, but it’s not wonderful in the way a lot of people want it to be.
Yet evangelicals rightly tell people they can have a “personal relationship with God.” That suggests a certain type of spiritual intimacy.
All these words get so screwed up in our society. If intimacy means being open and honest and authentic, so I don’t have veils, or I don’t have to be defensive or in denial of who I am, that’s wonderful. . . .
This corruption of the word spirituality even in Christian circles?does it have something to do with the New Age movement?
The New Age stuff is old age. It’s been around for a long time. It’s a cheap shortcut to?I guess we have to use the word?spirituality. It avoids the ordinary, the everyday, the physical, the material. It’s a form of Gnosticism, and it has a terrific appeal because it’s a spirituality that doesn’t have anything to do with doing the dishes or changing diapers or going to work. There’s not much integration with work, people, sin, trouble, inconvenience.
I’ve been a pastor most of my life, for some 45 years. I love doing this. But to tell you the truth, the people who give me the most distress are those who come asking, “Pastor, how can I be spiritual?” Forget about being spiritual. How about loving your husband? Now that’s a good place to start. But that’s not what they’re interested in. How about learning to love your kids, accept them the way they are?
My name shouldn’t even be connected with spirituality.
But it very much is.
I know. Then a few years ago I got this embarrassing position of being a professor of “spiritual theology” at Regent. . . .

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Randy Holl

posted November 28, 2007 at 10:03 am

Great quotes, Ruth. I’ve really come to appreciate his perspective.
His remark about evangelicals requires more analysis. We do often claim and talk about having a “personal relationship with Christ” but that relationship– both what it is presently and what it could be…are not explored in substance by very many Christians. ( they probably not readers of this blog!)
Thank you.

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posted November 28, 2007 at 11:20 am

On my blog, I just finished writing some stuff about spirituality. It is on the second page, so you have to look for it.

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John L

posted November 28, 2007 at 12:47 pm

What is Christian spirituality? Loving God. Loving others. Unscripted. Unrehearsed. Why? Because we are loved. As Eugene Peterson said above, “no cheap shortcuts.”

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posted November 28, 2007 at 1:57 pm

Considering numbers two and four together seem to create a familiar paradox. Just as the fruit of the Spirit isn’t our effort of the flesh, yet it doesn’t come effortlessly either, for example, so our life in union with God is God’s gift, not ours (point 2) yet we deny self and participate (point 4). I can’t do it apart from God, but neither can I sit back and wait for him to do it for me.

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posted November 28, 2007 at 2:25 pm

If I hear what you’ve summarized here correctly, this is what was taught in our church last week. It is a series, chunks taught week to week and last Sundays has me feeling like it’s imcomplete and I can hardly wait to see how this coming Sunday’s wraps it up.
That said, if I heard him right, he was saying spirituality is what God has made us in Christ through the Spirit. And that is, holy, without bleminsh and without condemnation. That those are a present reality to be lived out in our lives. That is, if I am understanding what he is saying, that is the identity for us to live in and when we sin it’s because we have lost grip of that being our identity. I don’t know, there’s more to it that will come this coming Sunday.
It’s got me quite passionately interested in what it means to apply to my life that that is my identity. For example, when I hear myself guilting myself, to stop and say “no, that is not who I am in Christ; that has no place with me.”
Anticipating this coming Sunday’s wrap up on this.

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John W Frye

posted November 28, 2007 at 4:35 pm

Ruth (#2),
Thanks for bringing Eugene Peterson’s comments in. With them I’d like to remind us all of what Father Richard Rohr stated: “God most often comes to us disguised as our ordinary life.”
Somehow the popular redefinition of spirituality rules out or trumps the ordinary. That leads back to the old Gnostic error, and that error causes us to so often miss the burning bush(es) of our lives.

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Dana Ames

posted November 28, 2007 at 5:12 pm

Seems to me there is an inward/outward movement among the four points as well; inward toward God, outward toward others. Very Trinitarian. Very Jesus Creed :)

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posted November 29, 2007 at 1:35 am

I appreciate Ruth’s comments a lot. I think the better question than “what is Christian spirituality?” is to ask “What is Christianity?” That’s the question that many of us haven’t examined very closely and I think we often identify things that flow from Christianity as being Christianity itself.
I’ve always had a bit of a different take on spirituality and maybe that’s because I come from the Catholic tradition. To my ears, spirituality translates to “accent”. There’s one faith — universal tongue if you will, for purposes of the analogy — but many accents. One might also call it a personal charism. So you will hear Catholics speak of a Carmelite spirituality, the charism of Communion and Liberation, etc., but they are all seen as contextualizations in the lives of individuals of an expression of the one faith.
Like Ruth I worry that the way we have come to speak about spirituality has led many to live Christianity as if it were a dualism.

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Doug Wilson

posted December 3, 2007 at 12:47 pm

Thanks, Ruth (#2)! Others might be interested in reading the rest of the Petersen interview: I found it at

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