Alister E. McGrath is Principal of Wycliffe College, Oxford. His previous publications include Science and Religion (Blackwell Publishers, 1998), The Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion (Blackwell Publishers,1998), An Introduction to Christianity (Blackwell Publishers, 1997), Christian Theology: An Introduction, Second Edition (Blackwell Publishers, 1997) and The Christian Theology Reader (Blackwell Publishers, 1996), amongst many others.
There has been a remarkable growth in interest in the general area of spirituality in recent years. A resurgent cynicism concerning the value of material possessions has led to much greater attention being paid to the spiritual dimensions of life. A growing body of evidence suggests that personal spirituality has a positive therapeutic effect on individuals, pointing to an increasing recognition of the importance of spirituality to human fulfillment and well-being. Alongside a gradual general decline in appeal of institutionalized forms of religion in western culture, there has been a clear rise in popular interest in spirituality, including the various forms of Christian spirituality. This work aims to serve as an introduction to these specifically Christian forms of spirituality.
In this brief opening chapter, we shall explore something of what is understood by the term "spirituality" in general, before moving on to consider what is meant by the more specific term "Christian spirituality." This introductory chapter is intended simply to clarify some of the terms used in the discussion of Christian spirituality, before moving on to engage with the subject in more detail in the following chapters. To stress the introductory nature of this chapter, we shall adopt a "work-book" approach. This has the merit of encouraging engagement with the material, and will be used more extensively in the final chapter.
The word "spirituality" draws on the Hebrew word ruach - a rich term usually translated as "spirit," yet which includes a range of meanings including "spirit," yet extending to "breath" and "wind." To talk about "the spirit" is to discuss what gives life and animation to someone. "Spirituality" is thus about the life of faith - what drives and motivates it, and what people find helpful in sustaining and developing it. It is about that which animates the life of believers, and urges them on to deepen and perfect what has at present only been begun.
Spirituality is the outworking in real life of a person's religious faith - what a person does with what they believe. It is not just about ideas, although the basic ideas of the Christian faith are important to Christian spirituality. It is about the way in which the Christian life is conceived and lived out. It is about the full apprehension of the reality of God. We could summarize much of this by saying that Christian spirituality is reflection on the whole Christian enterprise of achieving and sustaining a relationship with God, which includes both public worship and private devotion, and the results of these in actual Christian life.
A Basic Definition of "Spirituality" Spirituality concerns the quest for a fulfilled and authentic religious life, involving the bringing together of the ideas distinctive of that religion and the whole experience of living on the basis of and within the scope of that religion. A Basic Definition of "Christian Spirituality" Christian spirituality concerns the quest for a fulfilled and authentic Christian existence, involving the bringing together of the fundamental ideas of Christianity and the whole experience of living on the basis of and within the scope of the Christian faith.
The term "spirituality" has gained wide acceptance in the recent past as the preferred way of referring to aspects of the devotional practices of a religion, and especially the interior individual experiences of believers. It is often contrasted with a purely academic, objective or detached approach to a religion, which is seen as merely identifying and listing the key beliefs and practices of a religion, rather than dealing with the manner in which individual adherents of the religion experience and practise their faith. The term is resistant to p