Being a professor of Christian Spirituality I am often asked for a concise definition of the term by my students and find myself balking at the possibility of such a summation. My reticence in proffering a tidy definition is due to the all- encompassing nature of the subject. However, when forced to provide a response I might reply with, “learning to live the with-God life[1], ” or “the endeavor to discover who you are in Christ and who Christ is in you.” These ripostes however feel cliché at worst and inadequate at best. Therefore I prefer to offer instead a few of the concomitants of the mature Christian life.

Christian Spirituality must be genuine in nature.

That is to say that one must be seeking to follow Christ out of a desire to grow in intimacy with Jesus and not out of the longing for acceptance from one’s family or community. Neither should the Christian life be employed as avoidance of facing the harsh realities of this temporal life as so many hyper faith and prosperity movements advertise nor from the fear of eternal conscious torture that awaits all those whose holiness is found lacking. Instead a healthy Christian walk is one motivated by love and hope. It is gracious in its tenor towards both one’s self and others. When trying to understand Christian Spirituality, I find the following four ideas to be incredibly helpful:


Authentic Christian Spirituality must be relational in it orientation.

Here, the insights of Scot McKnight prove to be very helpful in suggesting that we humans are “eikons” created for relationships in four directions, 1) with God, 2) with ourselves, 3) with others, and 4) with the whole of creation.[2] Indeed, whether one is concerned with familial relationships, economic systems or even quantum mechanics contemporary scholarship is stressing more and more the importance of relationship and connectedness in all things. Scripture’s challenge that “they will know you by your love for one another”[3] is not an option for the serious disciple of Christ. Our quest is not to ascertain a principle or master a proposition but it is instead to encounter a person and to embrace a presence.


Mature Christian spirituality is (w)holistic in its approach.

Being fashioned in the likeness of Christ must touch every part of what it means to be human. For far too long, the western church’s infatuation with the enlightenment has produced “bobble-head Christians”[4] who exist in the world with shrunken hearts and shriveled hands. Therefore, Christians today need to learn to engage not only their minds (orthodoxy) but also their desires (orthopathy) and their actions (orthopraxy). Today’s follower of Christ must seek to explode the artificial divide of the sacred and the secular and instead realize that Christ most assuredly plays in ten thousand places[5].


Genuine Christian Spirituality is sustainable.

A true faith is a faith that travels well. The genius of the gospel is that it is able to fill any cultural vessel that it encounters. This means that it must be dynamic in its character. Unfortunately we have failed to grasp that the Hebrew “good” is better than the Greek ‘perfect”[6] and as result have unrealistic expectations of what it means to be a devout Christian. This all too often has led to our acceptance of a “sin-management[7]” oriented gospel and as a result a walk that is more focused on guilt and shame than on hope and love.[8]


Christian Spirituality at its core is love …nothing more, nothing less.

God is love,[9] therefore, the quest to become more like God is to grow in the capacity to both give and receive love. Love the Lord your God, love your neighbor as yourself- this is the heart of our faith. We complicate things. We focus on the external instead of doing the deep work that is building intimacy with God, others, and ourselves. This is not a sloppy love that looks the other way or winks at those things that keep us from becoming the persons that God has envisioned us to be. No, true love demands all that we have…all that we are.

 We do this so that with God’s help we might become ourselves.[10]


[1] Thanks to Richard Foster and Renováre for the term.

[2] See McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet for a clear exposition of this concept.

[3] John 13:35

[4] I first encountered this image in James K. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom.

[5] As Kingfishers Catch Fire


As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.


I say móre: the just man justices;

Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;

Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —

Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Source: Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985)


[6] Reflect on the creation account of Genesis one and how the “good” of days one through five becomes “very good’ on day six. It appears to me that God saw fit to imbue creation with a dynamic nature rather than a static one.

[7] See chapter two, “Gospels of Sin Management,” of Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy for an in-depth treatment of this concept

[8] In light of this stark reality we should remind ourselves of Roman eight’s encouragement that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

[9] 1 John 4:8

[10] This prayer has been attributed to one of my hero’s of the faith, the Danish theologian and philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard.