Winter  2002
Volume 6 Number 2

by Diogenes Allen 
Academic Theology and Christian Spirituality | Augustine: For and Against Spirituality | Tourists into Pilgrims: Walking the Labyrinth | Ministering to Future Ministers 

In recent years there has been a surge of interest in spirituality that shows no signs of abating. Although

 embraced by some theologians, it is neglected or even dismissed wholesale by most academic theologians. Without a doubt, much of so-called spirituality is appallingly self-centered, naive, and often covertly or even explicitly pagan. But much of it is not. The newly edited Classics of Western Spirituality series by Paulist Press is studded with acknowledged Christian theologians of the highest stature, such as Gregory of Nyssa, Origen, and Augustine.

Why, then, is spirituality so widely ignored by academic theologians? Largely because of Albrecht Ritschl's influential three-volume study The History of Pietism (1880, 1884, 1886). Ritschl argued that German Pietism, which arose in the 17th century as a reaction to Lutheran doctrinal rigidity with a stress on an individual's experience of grace, actually owed its origins to Roman Catholic mysticism, and that Roman Catholic mysticism in turn was based on pagan mysticism. Pietism's spirituality was pagan, not based on biblical faith.

The influence of Ritschl's claim shows itself mostly in the way great theologians of the past are taught. For example, the longest section of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is on sanctification or the Christian Life, as Calvin calls spirituality. In contrast to Roman Catholic teaching, which equates justification and sanctification, he stresses that the two are not the same work, although they are so closely related as to be twins. In justification we are saved wholly by God's grace; in sanctification we are regenerated by God the Holy Spirit, who brings to fullness the work of Christ in us as individuals and as a people. 

Calvin's great attention to and emphasis on sanctification did not affect the way I was taught the full-year course on the Institutes (not at Princeton, I might add). Nor was it even mentioned that the longest chapter in the Institutes is on prayer, the very heart of Christian spirituality. Bengt Hoffmann shows that this is also true of the way Luther has been taught for centuries. (See his "Introduction" to Theologica Germanica, in the Classics of Western Spirituality series.) Luther himself brought out two editions of the Theologica Germanica, a work by a group of mystics called the Friends of God, and said that next to the Bible and Augustine, it was the most important book he had read.

I believe this neglect of spirituality in teaching great theologians can be remedied to a significant degree if we realize that Christian spirituality concerns sanctification. As I have said, sanctification concerns the work of God the Holy Spirit, bringing to fullness the work of Christ, in the church, the body of Christ. Sanctification runs through the entire work of all the great theologians of the past and colors virtually everything else that they wrote by addressing seven questions. These questions also specify the field covered by Christian spirituality.

The first question we may ask of any theologian is: What is the goal of the spiritual life? Among the answers given are such things as the vision of God, union with God, and participation in God's life. For Calvin it is "to know God and to enjoy God forever." Other descriptions of the goal focus on what we may become: We may realize the divine image, become like Jesus, become more holy or more perfect with a pure love of God. All of these ways of expressing the goal are based on the conviction that Christ has united himself with us. 

In contrast to the ultimate goal, there are proximate and more immediate goals, such as learning to control our emotions (the passions, as it used to be put) so as to be better able to love our neighbors.

The second question to ask is: What is the path to the goal? There is a wonderful variety of answers given by theologians because people have different intellectual interests, emotional temperaments, gifts, and roles in life, and live in different periods of history and in different kinds of societies, all of which affect which path is emphasized.

continued

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Academic Theology and Christian Spirituality | Augustine: For and Against Spirituality | Tourists into Pilgrims: Walking the Labyrinth | Ministering to Future Ministers 


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Renewing a Right Spirit

For Such a Time As This: PTS Campus Community Responds to September 11

Windows on a Shattered World

"A Witness to the Truth": Martin Luther King Jr.'s Eulogy for PTS Alum James J. Reeb

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