What Makes Spirituality Christian? -- By: Steve Harper

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 26:0 (NA 1994)
Article: What Makes Spirituality Christian?
Author: Steve Harper


What Makes Spirituality Christian?

Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is professor of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary.

“Spirituality” is a popular term today. As I have browsed through bookstores, I have seen it connected with such topics as nutrition, aerobics, business management, stress reduction, counseling, marriage enrichment, recovery programs, human sexuality, and religion. Publishers and authors seem to think that if they can associate a particular topic with its respective “spirituality,” they will sell more books! Likewise, the daily talk-shows regularly parade across the screen a wide variety of gurus and spiritual “experts” in the never-ending quest to help the American people feel better, transcend their circumstances, overcome past abuse, find their true selves, and know God. Everyone from Jerry Falwell to Shirley MacLaine uses the word. And therein lies our dilemma.

Somewhere along the line it is inevitable, natural, and essential to ask, “What makes spirituality Christian?” We need a controlling perspective to provide boundary and guidance. In a culture where spirituality is attached to everything from soup to nuts, we must have some idea of what it means when it is connected to the

Christian life. We must be able to speak authentically of “Christian” spirituality, otherwise we are merely putting a thin veneer over a wildly undefined phenomenon. In this article I hope to provide a general framework to assist you in developing a spiritual life which is characteristically and genuinely Christian. Because the readers of this journal come from a variety of traditions, I must speak generally, trusting that you can take this framework and interface it with the distinctives of your own theological and ecclesial systems.

Furthermore, it is important to speak generally as a means of reminding ourselves that just as we must avoid a spirituality that is unbounded, we must also avoid any definition of Christian spirituality which imprisons it in a single tradition, denomination, or point of view. In fact, I have come to believe that Christian spirituality can provide a basis for true ecumenism at the very time in history when “labels” mean less and less to people. Christian spirituality provides an avenue for mutual appreciation and united activity in Jesus’ Name. Christian spirituality offers us the opportunity to discover how large, deep, and rich the Body of Christ really is! But none of this can happen as it should unless we wrestle with the question, “What makes spirituality Christian?”

Preliminary Considerations

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