Editorial: “Spirituality” –Caveat Emptor -- By: Stephen J. Wellum

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 10:4 (Winter 2006)
Article: Editorial: “Spirituality” –Caveat Emptor
Author: Stephen J. Wellum

Editorial: “Spirituality” –Caveat Emptor

Stephen J. Wellum

Stephen J. Wellum is Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Wellum received his Ph.D. degree in theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has also taught theology at the Associated Canadian Theological Schools and Northwest Baptist Theological College and Seminary in Canada. He has contributed to several publications and a collection of essays on theology and worldview issues.

Most astute observers of our contemporary culture will acknowledge that “spirituality” is in. One cannot watch the TV, read the newspaper, listen to the radio, or peruse the blogosphere without being confronted with the topic of “spirituality.” However what passes today for “spirituality” needs to be stamped with the old Latin phrase, caveat emptor—“Let the buyer beware.” No doubt, it must be acknowledged that some of the reasons for the rise of spirituality in our day are beneficial. For example, in contrast to a crass philosophical materialism of a previous era and a constant preoccupation with the horizontal, the focus of many on spiritual matters is welcome. However, most of today’s discussion regarding “spirituality” is so eclectic and syncretistic that it is imperative that Christians do not confuse contemporary discussions and forms of it with true biblical spirituality. As the old adage goes, “Ideas have consequences,” and the ideas surrounding current thought on spirituality, if not grounded in a Christian worldview centered in the gospel, will, in the end, lead to spiritual disaster.

In fact, many people in recent days have made this precise point and probably none better than theologian and cultural critic, David Wells. In his very helpful analysis of the contemporary landscape, especially in his books, Losing our Virtue (Eerdmans, 1998) and Above All Earthly Pow’rs (Eerdmans, 2005), Wells has argued that, due to a whole host of factors such as modernization, secularization, and even immigration patterns, western society has seen a rise in “spirituality,” but spirituality which too often has been uncoupled from the centrality of God in his blazing holiness, Christ and his glorious cross, and the entire truth of God’s Word. In this “new spirituality” the focus, unfortunately, is not upon the glory of the triune God, but too often upon the human self; not upon the glory of Christ and the cross, but that which is private, internal, and psychologically driven. In the end, Wells argues, much of today’s spirituality is syncretistic, pluralistic, and downright pagan. This is one of the reasons why an incredible number of Americans see themselves as “spiritual” but without any reference to God and especially the God of...

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