Contemporary Christian Spirituality
The landscape of spiritual life in America is undergoing rapid transformation. The multi-faceted character of the Christian tradition is becoming apparent. It is clearly far more appropriate to talk about Christian spiritualities than it is to talk about Christian spirituality. Alongside the recovery of ancient traditions that marked the development of the church in the west, there is an ever greater awareness of and interest in the spiritual traditions of individual Christian communities that lie outside that broad tradition. Each community has been shaped by differences in theological vision, race, gender, ethnicity, and history and their involvement in the conversation has helped to underline the extent to which all four factors have helped to make the Christian spiritual tradition what it is today.
As the larger global community becomes a reality, the church also finds itself in a conversation with other religions. Inevitably, many of those conversations focus on the differences in spiritual practice, but the similarities are of great interest as well. Conversations between East and West are the leading edge of a global conversation that has only just begun and it will assume greater complexity as time passes.
In addition, an evermore complex array of personal spiritual practice is taking shape. Highly eclectic in character and shaped by radically different goals, these practices defy easy characterization. In fact, an increasing number of people distinguish between spirituality and religion, and to some extent, spirituality and theology. In making these distinctions spirituality is often construed as something both universal and positive while religion and theology are characterized as the creatures of organizational life.
It is in this context that today’s students of theology are called upon to shape their own spiritual practice and to guide others in the effort to do the same. They do so, drawing on long-held and profound convictions which mark Christian spirituality in all its forms – the conviction:
that Christian spiritual formation is centrally about an encounter with God in Christ
that spiritual formation is essential to the life of the baptized
that formation is an inherently transformative experience
that a distinctively Christian spirituality is informed by life in community
that spirituality, rightly understood, issues in engagement with the world and its needs
that spirituality and theology inform and strengthen one another