Wednesday, February 06, 2008

What is Christian Spirituality - Part 1 - Unearthing the Story

All of life is shaped by some story. “The way we understand human life,” wrote the Lesslie Newbigin, “depends on what conception we have of the human story. What is the real story of which my life story is a part?”[1] This question is principal to what it means to be human. Deep inside of each of us is a deep longing to know, “what am I to do?”. As fundamental as this may be, the answer isn’t found inside of one’s personhood, existentialism or exercised efforts in self-actualization. Rather, it is embedded in the very fabric of the overarching story and meta-narrative in which one finds their existence. Alasdaire MacIntyre states that I “can only answer the question of ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of which story do I find myself a part.’”[2] Robert Webber, in his book The Divine Embrace, recognizes the formative influences of the overarching story in which one lives. This is remarkably true as it relates to the sphere of one’s spirituality. “Each spirituality,” writes Webber, “is grounded in a particular story.”[3]

To understand a given spirituality, one must unearth the embedded story in which it is situated. This greater awareness is found not only in the central characters and shapers of the plot, but the culture(s), time(s) and place(s) that have been instrumental in its origin, including the historical unfolding thereafter. The conception of Christian Spirituality is lodged in the story of Scripture. This story, His-Story, continues to unfold throughout the ages, but our initial and predominate understanding of what Christian Spirituality emerges from our understanding of the meta-narrative of God’s “romance with the world – God’s unquenchable and gratuitous love for humankind.”[4] For essentially, “biblical spirituality is simply living that story.”[5]

"Spirituality is theology on two feet."
Philip Sheldrake

The question then becomes, who is our comprehensive understanding of the Story of Scripture, His-Story that has unfolded through the ages since the conception of the Church, and exactly what story do we find ourselves a part of…?

[1] Leslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans
Publishing Company, 1989, 15.
[2] Craig G. Bartholomew, Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation,
Zondervan, 2004, 145.
[3] Robert Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life, Grand
Rapids: Baker Books, 2006, 110.
[4] Stevens & Green, Living the Story, ix.
[5] Ibid, Living the Story, ix.


Barbara said...

“To understand a given spirituality, one must unearth the embedded story in which it is situated.”
This is so true. Might this be evidence to prove the real importance of Christians becoming more familiar with Christian/Church history?
I was recently in on a discussion at—touching on churches’ apparent lack of interest in history (at least in our experience). One member asked, “Why has the evangelical church been divorced from church history, even the history we deem as truthful and biblically accurate? How much of our spiritual malnurishment is due to a complete ignorance of many voices who could offer us much insight?”
These voices not only offer insight, but they also give us a glimpse of what God is up to—the big picture. I’ve grown up in the church and have only just begun to discover this rich Christian heritage. Without a grasp on this larger story, of what God’s been up to, how can the Church effectively engage in the continuing of that story? I wonder why in the world this great story is not given a more prominent place in the church “curriculum.”
Anyway….just some thoughts.

Jerrell Jobe said...

For much of the evangelical church there indeed has and is a large 'knowledge gap' in regards to our understanding and relationship to God's ongoing and unfolding Story in the world.

For most I suspect it is more of mere lack of understanding than it is intentional separation. After all, history as it is typically packaged can appear somewhat less than invigorating.

Yet, some would say that all of history is nothing more than the unfolding of "His-Story," which begins to take on a new scent and flare.

Barbara, I agree, we need to recover the art of reading Scripture as the meta-narrative that it is - as the story that it is - for the story in Scripture, is our story as well.

Further, we need to grow in our depth of understanding of the ongoing story that's unfolded since the conception of the early church - for their story, too, is our story. They cannot be separated, or at least there is a price to pay when they are.

Denominational movements, though each has much to offer and a significant role to play in history, often spend enormous amounts of time separating themselves from those who journeyed before, the very one's who laid the foundation that they now stand on...