Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How does Christian Spirituality fit with Evangelicalism?

While the concepts of the Christian growth and maturity have always been a part of biblical faith, the terminology of spiritual formation is rather new to evangelicalism. The year 1978 served as a watershed as Richard Foster published his first edition of Celebration of Discipline and James Houston assumed the Chair of Spiritual Theology at Regent College.

Although a few Evangelical publishers have been reluctant to broach the subject, most have recognized that spiritual formation is part of the mainstream of evangelical faith. A quick look at the bibliography below shows the tip of the iceberg of evangelical works on spiritual formation and the history of Christian spirituality.

As mentioned previously, there is good reason to be cautious about anything promoting “spirituality” in our day, since so much of what is written comes from a perspective of New Age or Eastern Religion. An alarming number of Protestant and Catholic writings—as well as retreat centers—have uncritically adopted New Age thought. Nevertheless, we do not need to abandon the concept of Christian growth simply because various writers and speakers have distorted it.

While soundly biblical and evangelical, the study of Christian spirituality or spiritual formation includes a much broader Christian discussion. Such a broader approach is absolutely necessary to save evangelical thought from its limited perspective. Because of this broader appreciation of the Christian faith, many fundamentalists will not subscribe to the developments in Christian spiritual formation. Nevertheless, the vast majority of evangelicalism recognizes its value.

Throughout the centuries, great figures have clearly articulated Jesus’ atonement and salvation by grace, especially Augustine of Hippo, Bernard of Clairvaux, Anselm of Canterbury, and lesser known figures such as the German preacher Johannes Tauler. Although many Protestants today do not realize it, Martin Luther and John Calvin deeply appreciated Augustine, building most of their theology on the foundation he laid. They also respected Bernard, with his unflagging commitment to Scripture, and Anselm, with his emphasis on Christ’s substitutionary atonement on the cross. Luther stated that next to the Bible itself, the Johannes Tauler had the greatest impact on his theology. Therefore, spiritual formation today seeks to bring the writings of such key figures to a contemporary audience.

Thus the best thinking on spiritual formation includes Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox perspectives—all Christians who recognize that faith must be lived out personally in a vital relationship with Christ and who receive salvation through Christ’s death and literal resurrection. Such an orthodox understanding of the faith has always been part of the historic Church and is perhaps summarized most clearly by the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed.

© 2010 Glenn E. Myers

Selected Bibliography on Christian Spirituality and Evangelicalism

Bloesch, Donald G. Spirituality Old and New: Recovering Authentic Spiritual Life. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-8308-2838-8.
Chan, Simon. Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998.
Foster, Richard J. Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998. ISBN: 0-06-062822-7.
Foster, Richard and Gayle Beebe. Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005. ISBN: 978-0-8308-3514-0.
George, Timothy and Alister McGrath. For All the Saints: Evangelical Theology and Christian Spirituality. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2003. ISBN: 06642-26655.
Gordon, James M. Evangelical Spirituality: From the Wesleys to John Stott. London: SPCK, 1991. ISBN: 0-2810-4542-9.
Richards, Lawrence O. A Practical Theology of Spirituality. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987. ISBN: 0-310-39140-7.
McGrath, Alister. Beyond the Quiet Time: Practical Evangelical Spirituality. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995. ISBN: 0-8010-5708-6.
__________. Spirituality in an Age of Change: Rediscovering the Spirit of the Reformers. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994. ISBN: 0-3104-2921-8.
Schmidt, Richard H. God Seekers: Twenty Centuries of Christian Spiritualities. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-8028-2840-8.
Scorgie, Glen, et al, eds. Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.
Sittser, Gerald. Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007.


  1. Glenn, do all roads lead to GOD? Does every religion profess the way to GOD, or I what JESUS said true. "I am the way the truth and the life, and no one comes to the FATHER but by me" Do you believe this to be true.

    A response to this question, and the other I posted yesterday would be most appreciated

  2. No, all roads and all religions certainly do not lead to God. Jesus is the only way!

    Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox are all Christians--those who believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to earth, died for our sins and was raised from the dead.

    Although not every person in those denominations may have a personal faith, the gospel is clearly there.

    Although I am an Evangelical within Protestantism, I have found so many Bible-based believers in these other streams of the church who clearly have a personal relationship with Jesus as their Lord and savior.