Monday, September 10, 2012

Religion, Spirituality, and Worldviews

I was sitting in a coffee shop with a student yesterday. He had some health issues and we were finally completing his last assignment - and oral exam. Here in the midst of a crowded Bridgehead we talked about one of my favourite subjects - spirituality. Specifically the course (Religion, Culture, and Diversity) was designed to give students some functional understanding of how religion works and how we can take that into our interactions with each other in the diverse cultures we live in today. A big part of the course is riddling through what part is religion, what part is spirituality, and what part is worldview. These things are pretty hard to pull apart, meaning we all see different ways to divide them up. For example, some people vilify one over the other saying they are spiritual but not religious or pretending that spirituality has no influence on worldview.

I want to challenge us to think of these as essential parts of what it is to have a faith life. I think this is important as it will help us to value each part. Certainly, like it or not, we (speaking to the Vineyard folks here) belong to a great religion (Christianity) which is full of rich diversity. Religions, like most complex systems, have good and bad aspects to them - this is true regardless of how valid their theological claims may be. One of the challenges of looking at religion from a functional perspective is that you have to put aside the arguments for and against specific doctrines and talk about why doctrines matter within a religion. My experience is that when I know why doctrines matter and how they function then am better equipped to appreciate them and navigate them. I love what Walter Kasper once said on this subject: "The problem with the creeds is that they are true." Truth requires navigation, appropriation, exploration - all of which religion can give us a safe ground to do.

One of the interesting ideas we explored in that coffee shop was religion as the custodian of spiritualities. We were discussing the fact that spirituality is formed within religious contexts, influenced by the religion and ultimately influence the religion (lest we think that religions are static affairs). We were also discussing that spirituality is always embodied in a person, that person is shaped by their spirituality as much as they shape their spirituality - sometimes through experimentation, sometimes through God moments. Where religions can play a beneficial role is to provide a basic trusted foundation on which to explore spirituality as well as a community in which spirituality is able to be tested and even questioned. This is the hard stuff of walking out our faith - but oh so important. We need that community.

Then we moved onto worldviews. Worldviews function in a very similar way. In fact one way to understand them is as the secular counterpart to a robust spirituality. Take for example consumerism which functions like a religion, has a spirituality complete with practices, and produces a particular view of the world. There is an inter-relatedness between all of these aspects of consumerism (just as in Christianity), so much so that we think of it as all one thing. Spiritualities can be thought of as the way we navigate our faith within our religious commitments (how we love Jesus for instance) and worldviews how we understand the world informed by our faith. Much more can be said, but let's move to the practicalities before we get overly technical.

Why does this matter? 

Practically speaking we are called to be faithful to our beliefs (which is why we invite people to join our religion; specifically we invite them so they can meet the Jesus we have come to know as faithful and true just as our religion reveals to us), to express the implications of our beliefs in the world (our spirituality can be thought of as the lived out component, how we express that relationship we've come to have with Jesus), and to adjust our thinking along the way (Phil 4:8; living with Jesus always challenges the way we look at the world). Certainly we do not just call people to a religion, but to a religion that expresses itself in beautiful spiritualities that shape and mold our views towards the world that God so loves. These aspects of faith are all inter-related; getting the connections helps us know, pastorally and personally, what to encourage and what to question. But above all it helps us see that religion, spirituality, and worldviews are all essential parts of a healthy life of faith.

May your religion serve your faith, revealing Jesus and calling you to live out a life worthy of a follower of Jesus. And may God ever shape your view of the world so that you always see what God is doing and have a heart willing to do those things you see.

Frank Emanuel - Ontario Region.

1 comment:

  1. Frank this is very thought-provoking...and reminds me of reading Amos Yong's work 'Beyond the Impasse'. Good stuff!

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