Biblical Spirituality

Article excerpt

Biblical spirituality must strike a delicate balance between historical-critical engagement with scripture and opening oneself to the Word's life-transforming potential.

This issue of Interpretation reflects an enduring convergence of Protestant and Catholic concerns since the 1960s. Structuring their faith and life around the Bible, Protestants have tended to be suspicious of the term "spirituality" as too suggestive of a works-righteousness approach to justification and sanctification. Catholics, however, have a long tradition of interest in, and development of, spirituality but have long been alienated from personal involvement with the Bible, which was left in the hands of clerical experts and mediated to the faithful by the teaching office of the church.1 In the wake of Vatican II, which recognized scripture as the "pure and perennial font of the spiritual life"2 and urged pastors to make the riches of the scriptures available to the people of God, Catholics have become increasingly involved with scripture, often with the help of Protestant Bible study groups and techniques. Meanwhile, Protestants have discovered anew the importance of spirituality, not as a substitute for or competitor to grace but as a way of cooperating with grace. After participating in Catholic forms of spiritual practice, many Protestants have begun to rediscover the riches of their own traditions of spirituality. It is hardly surprising that this convergence has led to a keen interest among all Christians in the issue of biblical spirituality.

I prefer "biblical spirituality" to "Bible and spirituality" because the latter suggests that scripture (as Word of God) and spirituality (as a personal religious enterprise) are separate realities that may or may not be related to one another. In fact, authentic Christian spirituality is biblical in some sense, and all salvific engagement with the Bible (as opposed to a purely secular, scientific study of the text as history or literature) shapes and nourishes spirituality. This claim immediately raises the question of what is meant by "spirituality."

By Christian spirituality I mean the lived experience of Christian faith. To be more explicit, Christian spirituality casts the process and project of life-integration in terms of the ultimate horizon and basic coordinates of Christian faith.3 The ultimate horizon of faith is the triune God revealed in Jesus Christ into whose divine life we are incorporated by the gift (grace) of the Spirit. The basic coordinates of the life of faith are the believing community (i.e., the church) in which we live that faith; word and sacrament, which nourish faith; and mission-based ministry, by which we express and share our faith. Thus, Christian spirituality is a self-transcending faith in which union with God in Jesus Christ through the Spirit expresses itself in service of the neighbor and participation in the realization of the reign of God in this world. Christian spirituality, thus understood, is necessarily biblical and it is adequate only to the degree that it is rooted in and informed by the Word of God.


The term "biblical spirituality" has various meanings, of which three are especially pertinent.4 First, and most fundamentally, biblical spirituality refers to the spiritualities that come to expression in the Bible and witness to patterns of relationship with God that instruct and encourage our own religious experience.

One result of the development of redaction criticism in the latter part of the twentieth century was the realization by scholars of the theological pluralism in the Bible.5 Scholars became aware of the influence of diverse historical settings-e.g., the cosmopolitan context of the Corinthian church, the gentile environment of Luke, and the quasi-sectarian situation of the johannine community)-on the texts that emerged. The New Testament presents diverse understandings about God, Christ, church, world, morality, salvation, and eschatology. …