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Christian theology

Spirituality and the Spirit

I have previously written about spirituality in what might be called a generic sense: as a human capability. A simple way of understanding the spiritual side of human nature is to see it as the capacity for self-transcendence.

candle-tipI have explored this idea here:

As I say, it is possible to see all of this as “spirituality” in a generic sense. It’s a human capacity.

But, to go further in discussing this, I need to draw on ideas explicitly from Christian theology.  At this point, the Christian perspective gives us some help in understanding how human spiritual capabilities connect us with God and with the world around us. The helpful concept in this case is the idea of the Holy Spirit. Our human capacity — and yearning — to reach out beyond ourselves is answered by the reality of God’s Spirit reaching to us. This is only natural to expect. We have an desire to connect with a higher reality than ourselves. Our desire to breathe is answered by the air around us. Our desire for food and water are answered the reality of food and water. Our desire for a connection with God  — which would give a framework of meaning to our lives and our moral choices — is answered by the Holy Spirit of God. (more…)

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R.I.P. Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014)

Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014)

Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014)

Wolfhart Pannenberg is one of the first theologians that made any sense to me — and I never really encountered his theological writings until after I graduated from Seminary. I came into Seminary out of a background in the physical sciences. My undergraduate degree was in Chemistry. I attended Asbury Theological Seminary, and I am thankful for the education I received there — and for many of the professors that were teaching there at the time.

But, theology didn’t make sense to me. Instead of appealing to common criterion for proof and rationality it seemed forever attempting to avoid them. If that was the case, how could Christians claim anything that they said was in any sense “true” — or more true or right than anything anyone else said? Furthermore, it appeared to me that the Christian faith did not pay sufficient attention to inductive forms of reasoning. (more…)

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Adam Clarke on Prayer

Adam Clarke (1760–1832)

Adam Clarke (1760–1832)

“PRAYER has been defined, ‘an offering of our desire to God for things needful, with an humble confidence to obtain them through the alone merits of Christ, to the praise of the mercy, truth, and power of God.’ And ‘its parts are said to be invocation, adoration, confession, petition, pleading, dedication, thanksgiving, and blessing.’ Though the definition be imperfect, yet, as far as it goes, it is not objectionable; but the parts of prayer, as they are called, (except the word petition,) have scarcely anything to do with the nature of prayer. They are, in general, separate acts of devotion; and attention to them in what is termed ‘praying,’ will entirely mar it, and destroy its efficacy.

“It was by following this division, that long prayers have been introduced among Christian congregations, by means of which the spirit of devotion has been lost: for, where such prevail most, listlessness and deadness are the principal characteristics of the religious services of such people; and these have often engendered formality, and frequently total indifference to religion. Long prayers prevent kneeling, for it is utterly impossible for man or woman to keep on their knees during the time such last; where these prevail, the people either stand or sit. Technical prayers, I have no doubt, are odious in the sight of God; for no man can be in the spirit of devotion who uses such: it is a drawing nigh to God with the lips, while the heart is, almost necessarily, far from him. (more…)

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Some Quotes from the Internet

internet-wrldBoze Herrington gives us a heart-rending account of his involvement in a prayer group (associated with the International House of Prayer) that evolved into a dangerous cult. The account centers around the death of the cult leader’s wife (Boze’s friend) Bethany. He writes: “But it is clear that when Bethany died, she was part of a community shrouded in fear and hatred, a community where those who spoke out were treated as though they didn’t exist. Their loves, desires, opinions, feelings, and whole personalities were invalidated, all in the name of God.” At The Atlantic here: The Seven Signs You’re in a Cult.

Jonathan Merritt on the public’s response to Christian leaders: “The point is that people don’t like mean people and judgmental people and power-hungry people, regardless of their religion. Most people dislike Christian jerks because they are jerks, not because they are Christian. (According to a 2013 Barna poll, about 51% of self-identified Christians are characterized by having the attitudes and actions that are “Pharisaical” as opposed to “Christlike.”)” Here: What the Pope’s popularity says about American culture. (more…)

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The Ecstatic Structure of Human Spirituality

blessing-prayerLast week I posted on What is Spirituality?”. This was my attempt to get a handle on what it might mean to call something “spiritual.” While spirituality is certainly a subjective phenomenon, I believe there is a way of talking about it and analyzing it, to some extent. I said:

Human spirituality is self-transcendence. A spiritual experience is something that lifts us beyond our selves. The true essence of spirituality is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind; and our neighbor as much as we love our own self. (See Luke 10:27, etc.) There is both a vertical (God-ward) axis and a horizontal (other-ward) axis to this. But, spirituality is always being lifted out of ourselves. Spirituality connects us with God, with the community of faith and with the needs of other people outside the community of faith. These vertical and horizontal axes correspond roughly with the idea of God’s transcendence and God’s immanence. Traditionally, Christian theology has affirmed both God’s transcendence and God’s immanence.

Here is another way of saying it: there is an ecstatic structure to human spirituality. A spiritual experience is something that lifts us beyond ourselves. It may provide us a sense of connection to a higher reality or it may provide us with a sense of connection with other people. Or, it may do both. But, in any case, it lifts us beyond ourselves — outside ourselves.

I realize that this assertion (especially the language of “ecstasy”) is very much open to misinterpretation, so I feel the need to say more about it. (more…)

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