Continuing discussion of Chester and Timmis Total Church: a radical reshaping around gospel and community
Chapter 9 is on Spirituality
Work has been a bit manic lately. Now there are few things more yawn inducing than moaning about how busy you are. And there can be something especially irritating about someone involved in ‘Christian ministry’ seeming to assume ‘Christian busyness’ is somehow of a different, higher, order than the busy pressurised daily lives most people live trying to earn a living and a 1001 other things.
Anyway, that wee rant out of the way, the reason I mention busyness is that Chirstian spirituality needs to be about following Jesus in everyday life – and our lives tend, for good or ill, to be busy. Spirituality therefore is not just for when we can retreat or get away from everyday life – to escape to the quietness of solitude or whatever …..
Of course there is a place for this – but Chester and Timmis have a go here at a sort of Christian elitism; an advanced spirituality of silence, contemplation and solitude that is actually at odds with what they call a biblical spirituality. Namely, reading and meditating on God’s Word; participation in community; and involves speaking, praying, engaging with others in real life.
This is the sort of spirituality that evolves from they dual thrust of this book – a gospel word and gospel community. According to the authors it stands in tension and even opposition with the more meditative type of spirituality. In this they are actually quite bullish about an evangelical spirituality of activism, mission, Bible study, preaching, pastoral care and so on. Activism is of course one of David Bebbington’s quadrilatoral marks of evangelicalism.
Rather they say, we don’t need ‘more’ than the gospel, more than Jesus and all the spiritual riches he gives us. We don’t need ‘more advanced’ levels of discipleship than following Jesus daily, in community and in service. [And if I have a criticism here it is their virtual silence on the Holy Spirit – they need to make much more space for integrating the Spirit into a theology of Christian spirituality].
The authors’ view in this chapter goes straight against a pretty wide consensus that evangelicals are pretty bad at the ‘inner spiritual life’ and have much to learn from more ‘spiritual’ and ‘mystical’ traditions that have a place for silence, contemplation and prayer.
What do you think? Do you equate ‘spirituality’ with ‘special experiences’ of some sort? Experiences that are to be sought out, tend to be rare, and take you to a deeper communion with God? Or is ‘spirituality’ better understood as making that decision not to say something negative about someone behind their back?
Now I’m framing this as an either / or choice which is unreal. It’s hit me afresh looking at Mark each week just how ‘manic’ the scenes are around Jesus and how busy with ministry he was. Yet there is a response of retreat, prayer, space before re-engagement. But I think the general question stands – how would you describe what ‘spirituality’ is?
And another question comes to mind. Does far too much talk of Christian spirituality tend to assume there is a ‘right’ model to be found that will somehow ‘unlock’ the key to spirituality?
It’s taken me a long time to feel free of that straitjacket. Silence, contemplation and solitude have never worked too well for me (but sometimes they’ve been helpful). Neither has the evangelical ‘quiet time’. So I feel an affintiy with the authors on this one – I tend to work out spirituality as I live life – sometimes alone reading Scripture, reading other Christians, reflecting on issues in writing, praying with others and alone, discussing with others, speaking and teaching, being active in a small community, being a father and husband etc …
The problem with these is the assumption that there is a ‘one size fits all’ form of spirituality. Yet we all have different personalities, are in different contexts, live in different cultures, have been formed by different experiences and face different challenges.