Total Church 18: Spirituality

This is part 18 of our series Total Church by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester. Blame and credit for these posts must be shared by the Wednesday morning Total Church reading group:

This was probably the chapter that I disagreed with the most (and most of our reading group too) in the book.  It was not so much with what was said but that we felt it was at times an over-reaction to some specific abuses.

The heart of the chapter is that true spirituality is not about “contemplation, silence and solitude” – it is about the Gospel Word, the gospel community and the gospel community.  As I said earlier – this is hard to argue with – and in fact I agree with much of what is said.  It is the “either-or” dichotomy that I feel is too clean a break.

I think true spirituality recognises that there are in fact rhythms of life – engage and withdraw; together and alone etc.  This is one of the gifts that Celtic spirituality does give us.

Spirituality and the Gospel Word

I agree that primarily all of our spirituality is Word based spirituality.  But we may meditate on it – in silent contemplation on our own (not detached but engaged with the Word) or in noisier, communal mediation (1 Corinthians 14:29).

“Biblical spirituality is a spirituality of the Word” (p138) and “we meet God in his Word” (p138) are helpful correctives to the kind of detached spirituality that many are passing off as Christian today.  A robust, strong, Christian spirituality is that which fills the mind with the Word of God and meditates on that Word in silence, solitude and communally.

Spirituality and the Gospel Mission

Given my earlier comments it must be said this section is a great section with a much needed corrective to the common misconception of spirituality in many Christian circles today.  “Biblical spirituality is a spirituality of the everyday in which God is glorified in all of life.” (p141).

If more Christians could understand that to be spiritual is to be busy with God’s mission in the everyday mess and ordinariness of life, in the midst of broken lives – we could rescue many from feelings of inadequacy and “lesser spirituality”.  We could rescue many from the perpetual search to be close to God and therefore “more spiritual”.

Our primary spirituality is as we engage with God’s world with his mission.   And as we do this our spirituality will probably be worked out less in dispassionate silence and more in passionate petition!

“If we are engaged with the world around us, then we will care about that world.  We will be passionate about people’s needs, our holiness and God’s glory.  We will not be still in prayer.  We will cry out for mercy with a holy violence. If we are silent, it will be because in our distress, words have failed us.  This is the spirituality of the Psalms – a spirituality in which all our emotions are engaged.” (p143)

Spirituality and the Gospel Community

We have a Christian culture that is overly obsessed with the “personal relationship with Jesus.”  This is our primary and superior form of spirituality.  The church then is simply a group of individuals gathered in one building.

The biblical reality is that God is always calling to himself not a person but a people.  The Bible suggests that primarily our spirituality has a far more communal orientation.

“I have a relationship with God because we have a relationship with God.  There are persons of God because there is a people of God.” (p145)

We need to see that what we do together is as significant (if not more) than what we do when we are on our own with “just me and my Bible”.  Biblical spirituality happens in the messiness of community as well as the silent contemplation in solitude.


~ by John on November 10, 2008.

2 Responses to “Total Church 18: Spirituality”

  1. John, thanks for putting these thoughts together from our group discussions. They are a good summary.

  2. I suspect that the spirituality/religion distinction has been overdrawn, particularly in the modern context where the two blur. I have just posted on it. In case you are interested, here is the link.

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