Christian Spirituality and the Quest for Identity: Toward a Spiritual-Theological Understanding of Life in Christ (1): We Live in a "Spiritual" Era. in a Manner Unprecedented Is the Late Modern Era, Contemporary North American, Appear to Be Open to the Spiritual Dimension of Life. (2)

By Grenz, Stanley J. | Baptist History and Heritage, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Christian Spirituality and the Quest for Identity: Toward a Spiritual-Theological Understanding of Life in Christ (1): We Live in a "Spiritual" Era. in a Manner Unprecedented Is the Late Modern Era, Contemporary North American, Appear to Be Open to the Spiritual Dimension of Life. (2)


Grenz, Stanley J., Baptist History and Heritage


Hence, the word "spirituality," which seemed to have been banned from the vocabularies of people living in a scientific culture, is now not only common parlance but even fashionable. This is the case even among those who eschew organized religion.

In fact, a growing number of North Americans have concluded that spirituality is not necessarily dependent on adherence to religious beliefs or participation in religious practices. Many people today would likely agree with Peter Van Hess's assertion that "being spiritual is an attribute of the way one experiences the world and lives one's life." (3) The findings of several recent polls bear this out. It appears a mere 60 percent of Americans "think a person needs to believe in God to experience the sacred." (4) Eighty percent of the students in one professor's religion classes at the University of San Francisco consider themselves as "spiritual," even though the same percentage claim that they are "not religious." (5) Although less than 25 percent of adult Canadians attend church regularly, 82 percent see themselves as "somewhat" or "very spiritual," and about half report that their lives have become more spiritual in the last several years. (6) The readiness of people today to divorce spirituality from religious practice in general and Christianity in particular has lead many to claim that they have discovered spiritual meaning in non-religious activities. Proponents of this viewpoint, which is sometimes known as "secular spirituality," (7) routinely use terms that were once closely connected with the Christian tradition--such as "soul"--while purging from them the theological meanings they formerly carried. (8)

The current mushrooming of interest in spirituality, leading to what we might term a "secular spirituality," marks a grave challenge to the church. Above all, it issues a call to Christians to ask anew the question, What is spirituality? (9)

Evangelicals in general and Baptists in particular have generally understood spirituality either as merely another term for discipleship, which Donald Durnbaugh lists as one of the central characteristics of the believers' churches as a whole, (10) or in the context of the typical Reformed depiction of sanctification as the journey of the growth of the Christian that begins with conversion and climaxes in eschatological glorification. (11)

Although the traditional Baptist concerns for discipleship and "spiritual growth" are legitimate, spirituality cannot be reduced to either. On the contrary, the challenge posed by the contemporary interest in spirituality requires that we explore the intellectual framework within which the quest for the spiritual rightly transpires. Or, stated from the perspective of theology, spirituality can only be understood truly and fully, when it is viewed within a theological framework. Placing it within the purview of theology leads to an understanding of spirituality that is both wider and deeper than is engendered by the narrowing of the discussion to "practical Christianity" viewed as either discipleship or spiritual growth, as important as these are. In short, the contemporary quest for spirituality entails a call for a renewed theology of spirituality that can provide a robust understanding of the unique perspective that the Christian faith--and the particular Baptist vision of the faith--offers to people who are searching for fullness of life.

The goal of this article is to engage in this pressing discussion. What follows, then, is an exercise in spiritual theology. According to the Roman Catholic theologian Jordan Aumann, spiritual theology "defines the nature of the supernatural life, formulates directives for its growth and development, and explains the process by which souls advance from the beginning of the spiritual life to its full perfection." (12)

Rather than developing a spiritual theology in the complete sense that Aumann envisions, my purpose in these paragraphs is limited to the first item on his list. …

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Christian Spirituality and the Quest for Identity: Toward a Spiritual-Theological Understanding of Life in Christ (1): We Live in a "Spiritual" Era. in a Manner Unprecedented Is the Late Modern Era, Contemporary North American, Appear to Be Open to the Spiritual Dimension of Life. (2)
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