The essence of chp 3 of Robert Webber’s The Divine Embrace makes a simple contention: no matter how we turn the dice, the numbers of the earliest spirituality are not turning up in contemporary evangelicalism’s understanding of spirituality. He believes contemporary evangelicalism both got back on the right track with the Reformation and yet, again during the Reformation, got off the track. Here’s what I mean:
The Reformation situated spirituality in the divine embrace of the incarnation, death and resurrection, but contemplation and participation (themes in the union with Christ) were replaced by justification and sanctification. (One way of saying what Webber says in this chp is this: The Reformation is not Eastern Orthodoxy; it is an Augustinian theology come alive.) The shift was from an incarnational reality to transactional salvation. There was too much rational spirituality.
The Reformation correctly emphasized the absolute inability of humans and the divine initiative. But, still, Luther, Calvin and the Anabaptists each has strains of “union with Christ.” But, the overemphasis on justification had a negative influence on Christian spirituality and led to two developments: an intellectual spirituality and an experiential spirituality.
Intellectual spirituality abandoned the Story as the central element and turned it into an object of study. Liberal intellectuals, like Rauschenbusch, shifted the influence toward the moral influence of Jesus’ teachings while conservatives emphasized spirituality as right belief. Conservative intellectuals, like those who were into apologetics, saw justification as the foundation and sanctification as the implication. It also rooted everything in facts and evidence and demonstrable proofs. The faith was too much about what one believed and facts to be believed and the relational dimensions were abandoned. Thus, Christianity lost the essential relational character grounded in the divine embrace. It was more found in a forensic transaction.
Experiential spirituality, as one finds in Pietism, Revivalism, Jonathan Edwards and a theology of changed life, shifted from contemplation to the personal feelings derived from God’s embrace. The emphasis has become what happens to me, to individualism, etc..