16 Sep 2008

When Spirituality is "Too Spiritual"

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Discipleship, Holy Spirit, Ministry, Prayer, Spiritual Disciplines
“There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant for man (i.e. Humans, B.V.) to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 65)

C. S. Lewis points to a core biblical truth, embraced by historic Christianity.  Yet it is one that is often misunderstood by many Western Evangelical Christians today.

Spirituality is a something we all desperately desire and yet often fundamentally misunderstand. The great American author, Emily Dickinson, captures what many imagine spirituality to be. Dickinson lived across the street from her “church” yet refused to attend. She would lower cookies from her window to the children on the street below to show her kindness towards them. She gave gifts, but only from a distance yet the fellowship across the street was meaningless to her.

She considered herself very spiritual however.   She testifies “I do not care for the body. I love the timid soul, the blushing, shrinking soul.” She goes on to say “the mind alone without corporeal form” is what is really important. Her’s is a classic interior, and disembodied, spirituality.

Spirituality” is seen to be an inner journey cut off from community and from the world. She typifies the understanding of so many as she thinks “spirituality” is simply flight from the contamination of creation … from matter, from the physical … from the flesh. But Lewis says such a view is not what Christians believe … or at least should not believe.

C. S. Lewis is correct however! When we embrace a world denying “spirituality” we have, ironically, become too spiritual. Lewis’s views reflect the worldview of biblical and historic Christianity, while Dickinson’s comes dangerously close to Gnosticism. But the physical and material body is important to God. He made it, as Lewis says. Paul says we eagerly await the “redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8.23). It is in the body that we worship and serve God (Rom 12.1-2). Creation is the realm of “SPIRIT-uality.”

One of the consequences of embracing a biblical worldview is that Spirituality is taken out of the extraordinary and placed back into the realm of ordinary. Sitting in silence for days is not necessarily spirituality. It can, however, be a spiritual discipline. Rather biblical spirituality is embodied just as much in serving the poor as in cloister. Paul prays that true Spirituality will manifest itself through the recognition of genuine community within an ethnically polarized “church” (Eph 1.18). Biblical  Spirituality is communal not individualistic. Spirituality, in its biblical expression, is “earthy” in nature. However, we often understand that word (due to our history) with post-Enlightenment eyes and it is redefined as immaterial, interior and private. We must be on guard against this distortion of our faith. Spirituality often becomes spirituality … more pagan than biblical.

Seeking Shalom,
Bobby V

7 Responses to “When Spirituality is "Too Spiritual"”

  1. nick gill Says:

    That is one of Lewis’ best moments! I love that passage.

    When he says, “You do not have a soul. You ARE a soul. You have a body.” I’m not as impressed… am I reading his idea wrong there?

  2. rich in ca Says:

    “When Spirituality is To Spiritual”
    when i figure everyone that i meet are swine and i judge not to share the gospel.

    if i am to be judged.

    how can i refuse share grace knowing that i to am so unworthy of the father’s favor.

    we do all have our cross to bear joyfully at times

  3. Cheryl Russell Says:

    I like this post a lot. It is a great encouragement to see that so many are seeing the essentiality (is that a word) of community. I don’t want to be spiritual to the point of not needing the people in my life.

  4. kingdomseeking Says:

    Great Post!

    When I lived in Ithaca, NY, one would see a lot of “spirituality” being sought and practiced. One day as I with someone else and driving by Loaves & Fishes (a soup kitchen ran by a local church), I was asked what I thought of all this “spirituality” I responded by saying that I believed spirituality was taking place at Loaves & Fishes, more so than I did in the ways most people thought of practicing spirituality.

    Grace and peace,


  5. tammy Says:

    So true that we all give gifts from a distance, such as a smile or a friendly gesture. But I do believe that embracing the “body” goes beyond the 4 walls (church)and reaching out to the needy as we are not conditioned to step out of our comfort zones to promote this kind of love…..but Jesus did! When we are to be like Him, is that to spiritual?

  6. AncientWanderer Says:

    We work from 9-5 why not spiritual from 10-11? 😉

  7. Joshua L. Pappas Says:

    I agree with Lewis, Wright, Lipscomb, Paul & Jesus.

    BTW, I’m not sure what Lewis meant, but I agree with the statement that I do not have a soul, but am a soul, I do, however have a spirit and a body. Check out my humble few latest blog posts and let me know what you think. I gave it my best shot.

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