Spirituality – Its Missing Dimension

by Barry Newton
Sitting in the dimly lit municipal auditorium, I listened to Eugene Peterson describe our materialistically and consumeristically saturated society erupt with a prevalent hunger for spirituality. Searchlights throughout our world seek to illuminate every concealed corner to discover spiritual answers.
This conference claims to cast a light upon The Jesus Way for spiritual renewal. Thumbing through the 250-page workbook, the irony began to be overwhelming. Unstated, yet everywhere evident from page to page, a theme slowly began to emerge in the shadows, eluding the light of being named.
Do you want to grow in spirituality? The answers cascade forth from the conference: Be like Jesus in being relational with others and in persevering in living his way of life. Die to yourself, thus being released to be God’s servant. Devote yourself to prayer. Catch God’s kingdom vision and live it out. Worship God. The list goes on.
Although I heartily agree with these points and many others, I have not yet found any page addressing what Scripture would suggest is a blue-whale-sized missing dimension.
Taken by itself, the workbook is a compilation of practical steps on following Jesus. Yet, where is the observation that by themselves no amount of prayer, worship or “Jesus Way” living either creates or increases spiritual life from deep within us?
Paul corrected a common human-centered perspective of spiritual life when he wrote: “now that you know God — or rather are known by God” (Galatians 4:9).
Spirituality’s starting point involves God recognizing us as his own, thus bestowing spiritual life. There can be no genuine spirituality unless God has first granted it. God bestows spiritual life when in baptism we rely upon Jesus’ death by being buried with Christ and raised with him to spiritual living (Colossians 2:11-13; 3:1f).
In all fairness to the convention, I’ve not read every page of the workbook nor attended every session. Furthermore, such an observation regarding God’s work when we are buried with Christ would be rejected out of hand because the participants are from every corner of Christendom. But how can a convention on spirituality occur without accurately describing the start of spiritual life?
There can be no genuine spirituality unless God first knows us.

2 Replies to “Spirituality – Its Missing Dimension”

  1. The great reformer Martin Luther suffered similar preoccupations in his time. He obsessed about sins, he feared God’s wrath, he longed for a divine welcome. His awakening to what he called an “alien righteousness” (something provided by another for him) shattered his self indulgent illusions and opened up a world rooted in God’s amazing grace and mercy. Luther learned what so many have had to learn since; namely, that salvation is the gift of God’s grace. We can’t earn it, work for it, wrestle it to the ground, or fight for it. It is God’s gracious, merciful gift (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9).
    Now, the yearning for righteousness, Christlikeness, and a devout life is an admirable goal; indeed, it is an essential goal! But the great mistake is to somehow assume that this demands withdrawal and isolation from culture and society. Not so. As the French theologian Jacques Ellul said, “The yearning for holiness is not at odds with the desire for relevance. For while holiness sets us apart unto God, it is God who calls us into the world.”(1) We are called to God and sent by God into the world.So let us wait patiently for Sprituality in the right positions for you can’t wait for an airplane in the bus stop.

  2. Thank you for your reflections. Your emphasis upon God granting life (“salvation”) as a gift is on target.
    However, if I have conveyed that the general message of the convention promoted a type of spirituality characterized by withdrawal from the world, I apologize for this would be misleading. Perhaps there were some sessions emphasizing a mystical self-withdrawal experience, but what I heard and read was very relational including being salt and light in a dark world.
    Because of the religious climate in which we live, I feel compelled to clarify an ambiguous point. Truly, God’s gift is not based upon our efforts at demonstrating righteousness (works), but rather we receive the gift of life by reliance upon Jesus (trusting in Jesus by being baptized).
    To merely say that we are saved by faith is ambiguous in our world. Why? Because many believe that how we trust in Jesus is by saying a sinner’s prayer, instead of responding to Christ in baptism.

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