Friday, October 28, 2005

We Must Not Choose Between Spirituality and Theology

I recall being alarmed and befuddled by the results of a survey of more than 800 lay people, pastors, and seminary professors published in Christianity Today (subscription required) in 1994. Participants were asked to identify and rank the top five qualities that the ideal pastor would possess. Lay people responded that spirituality was the most important trait, followed by relational skills, character, communication skills, and theological knowledge. I was amazed by the disconnect. How could spirituality be so highly valued at the same time theological understanding was esteemed so little?

Yesterday I was reminded of this tragic disconnect when I read the following paragraphs in Eugene Peterson's Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology:

Spiritual theology is not one more area of theology that takes its place on the shelf alongside the academic disciplines of systematic, biblical, practical, and historical theology; rather, it represents the conviction that all theology, no exceptions, has to do with the living God who creates us as living creatures to live to his glory. It is the development of awareness and discernments that are as alert and responsive in the workplace as in the sanctuary, as active while changing diapers in a nursery as while meditating in a grove of aspens, as necessary when reading a newspaper editorial as when exegeting a sentence written in Hebrew.
Some may want to simplify things by keeping the spiritual and throwing out the theology. Others will be content to continue with the theology as usual and forget the spiritual. But the fact is that we live only because God lives and that we live well only in continuity with the way God makes, saves, and blesses us. Spirituality begins in theology (the revelation and understanding of God) and is guided by it. And theology is never truly itself apart from being expressed in the bodies of the men and women to whom God gives life and whom God then intends to live a full salvation life (spirituality).


Leigh Ann said...

I am not a theologian (not even sure how to spell it), but i understand your point. Do you think it's true that some people get so wrapped up in theology as head-knowledge (learning it, reading it, writing it, debating it, etc...) that they neglect the spiritual side that is tied to it? When do they have [literally] time to just listen to the Holy Spirit, let the knowledge take root at the 'heart' level and practically apply to every life-situation? Or does this all happen at the same time - head-knowledge and heart knowledge?

KP said...

Hi, Leigh Ann

We're all theologians in one sense or another. The important question is whether we're good ones or not.

While I know what's meant by it, I prefer not to speak in terms of head knowledge vs. heart knowledge because it obscures the biblical meaning of "heart." In our culture, "heart" is associated primarily with the emotions whereas biblically, the heart is the control center of the person, responsible for feelings, will, and reasoning. I find it more helpful to think in terms of James's warning against deceiving ourselves and being hearers and not doers of the word.

As Peterson points out, it's possible to so concentrate on the theoretical that we lose sight of God's intent that His word transform us. Likewise, it's possible to be so concerned about the immediate application that we disparage the necessary (and sometimes hard) intellectual labor. We are to love God with our whole heart and that requires the engagement of all our faculties.

Leigh Ann said...

well put -
thanks for the clarification.