OK, following on from a previous post, here is the first (although these aren't in any kind of order) of many things I got out of the book Total Church.
There are a couple of things which have nagged me (by which I mean, I've felt there was something wrong, but couldn't definitely put my finger on it) as I have thought about 'spirituality' over the past few years. One is that, as evangelical Christians, we don't seem to be very good at spirituality. And so I've been encouraged lots to venture outside of my own theological tradition to 'be spiritual.' Prayers, icons, candles, whatever. I don't necessarily have a problem with learning from others, but it bothers me when I don't have a gospel-centred alternative to compare things to.
The other thing which has nagged me is the individualism that seems to be a big part of being spiritual. We tend to focus a lot on personal and private prayer and Bible study. Again, not necessarily bad things, but I think it's part of the reason why we can be very personal and private about our faith in general. So that when we get together, we're just a collection of individuals who happen to all be worshipping God in the same place. I went to a CU meeting once (I won't say where) which was mostly silence. I think we were meant to listen to God. I lasted about 30 seconds and started thinking about something else.
Chapter 9 of TC is about Spirituality, and it addresses both of these things. The authors point out that God's Word should be central to our spirituality. We don't need to just sit quietly until God pops something into our heads - he's already spoken through the Bible! Our spirituality should be marked by passionate engagement in the world and in prayer. And it will happen in the context of community.
A really helpul way the TC boys look at the role of coummunity in spirituality is to look at the Bible story emphasising first the individual, then the community. Both stories are true, but the individualistic version misses out a huge part of the picture. And they explain how this should work in practice. We should prioritise prayer together over prayer on our own. We shouldn't separate our relationship to God from our relationship to those around us, as one affects the other. And we need the constant exhortation and encouragement that comes from being together as a community.
When we make spirituality about certain practices, we set up what TC calls a 'spirituality of achievement' - you're more spiritual the more/better you do. The goal is often union with Christ. But that is upside down. Union with Christ is not the goal of spirituality, but its foundation. Basically, the gospel is all we need. Paul makes a big deal about that in Colossians. It reminded me of something pretty mind-boggling that Andy Shudall said at a Relay conference. We can fall into the trap of thinking of the gospel as the door we walk through to become a Christian, which we then leave behind. But that's rubbish. The gospel is the car we drive, the petrol in the engine, the map we use to find our way... you get the idea.
Should I feel guilty that I don't find candles and chanting particularly helpful? Does that make me immature? No. And it's good and healthy to be spiritual by spending time with God's people, marvelling at the gospel together.
My boss once asked me a question which was something like, "what do you think is the key to maintaining the spiritual life?" My answer what that we maintain the spiritual life by holding tight to the gospel. We don't need to move on to other things - in fact, that will lead to disaster. What we need is to have our heart and mind opened more and more to the transforming, reconciling, humbling power of the gospel.