Friday, December 05, 2008

Social spirituality

The final chapter of Mulholland's book 'Invitation to a Journey' is on Social Spirituality. He begins with this incredible prayer:
O God of peoples, nations and history; you who became incarnate in the midst of economic, social and political injustice; you who call us to incarnate the reality of your kingdom in the midst of the world's destructive values, structures and dynamics: we confess that we would much rather limit our relationship with you to the comfortable confines of our own insulated world. We are prone to withdraw and to create islands of security within which we can live in some degree of peace and comfort without having to see the pain and anguish of the world outside. We are tempted to limit our spirituality to the narrow boundaries of our self-circumscribed world. O God of justice and mercy, help us see that to be conformed to the image of Christ is to be thrust out into the world as agents of your redeeming, healing, liberating, transforming grace. Help us to see that our growth toward wholeness in Christ cannot move toward its fruition apart from our life in the world. Guide us in our consideration of this reality in this chapter, and help us to be open and responsive to what you are saying to us.

That right there, my friends, is a prayer of prayers; the prayer of my heart. Wow.

The author says "social spirituality designates our spiritual pilgrimage within and for the culture we live in." But he warns, "Just as there is no personal holiness without social holiness, so also there is no social holiness without personal holiness. The mistake we have made is to break the two apart. Some people emphasize personal holiness, others emphasize social holiness. The problem is that neither group ends up with ANY holiness." (both are needed)

He quotes Kenneth Leech: "In our day Christianity is widely seen as a religion of personal pronouns, a purely individual faith; and this understanding is felt to be traditional, though it is in fact of recent origin. The traditional social doctrine of orthodox Christianity has been largely forgotten and replaced by an individualistic theology." And Mulholland adds, "Privatization of faith is as damaging in the social arena as it is in the community of faith - individualized spirituality undercuts any vital witness in the social order we live in."

In speaking of Biblical tension he says on 160:
"Attempting to worship God while closing one's eyes to dehumanizing injustices in the social, political and economic realms - or, worse, while engaging in practices that contribute to injustice - is regularly denounced as totally unacceptable. Iniquity joined with solemn assembly is an abomination to God... The New Testament regularly conjoins love for God with love for one's neighbor, and indicates that the godliness that is pure and faultless is to look after marginalized and powerless people (Ja.1:27). As Leech puts it, 'To dissociate the divine justice from the struggle for justice within the human community is to make nonsense of the biblical record.'"

Two key paragraphs on 161-2:
"There must be a creative tension between our spiritual pilgrimage and the world in which it is lived out. If we attempt to undo this difficult tension, we move either in an 'unworldly' spirituality that isolates us from the world or into a 'worldly' spirituality that insulates us from the radical demands of a vital relationship with God. In the first resolution God becomes our private possession, in the second a domesticated support for the status quo. In neither instance is God allowed to be the One who calls us out of life in the world on its terms in order to thrust us back into the world on God's terms."

"Holistic spirituality is a situation of being never at home yet fully at home in the social order. We are never at home, for our lives are not shaped by the values, structures and dynamics of the world around us; yet we are fully at home, for in the midst of those destructive and dehumanizing values of the world we live out the values, structures and dynamics of God's new order of being in Christ."

Yowza. He does a nice job of putting this all into perspective using John's vision set forth in the book of Revelation. He says, "John's vision is not about the rapture, and it is not a blueprint of the future. Instead, it is a profound vision of what it means to be a citizen of New Jerusalem in the midst of a world that is shaped by the destructive values and dehumanizing powers of Fallen Babylon. This is what social spirituality is all about."

He then shows how it is played out in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation (the good, the bad, and the ugly). Nice stuff here.

On 164-5:
"Christian realism... is motivated not by a theology which seeks to baptize a current social order but by a theology of the God-inspired future which draws future vision into present reality. As our lives are increasingly shaped toward wholeness in the image of Christ by the values, dynamics and structures of God's order, we come into conflict with the dehumanizing and manipulative structures and dynamics of the fallen order within which we live. We begin to live holy lives in an unholy world."

And later... "Such a life - lived by the values and perspectives of God's new order of being in Christ in the midst of the destructive values of Fallen Babylon - is the essence of all social spirituality."

(166) "If we don't have a corporate spirituality of accountability to one another for our pilgrimage toward wholeness in the image of Christ, we are going to be subverted by the values and the perspectives of the fallen order around us. As a church we will fall captive to the culture... Now, this does not mean that the church sets itself against the culture. The church is not called primarily to be confrontive, but to be obedient and faithful to God's presence and purposes in the culture... Our purpose should be to live out the values and dynamics of New Jerusalem in the midst of the values and dynamics of Fallen Babylon."

He sums up with these two thoughts on the last page:
"We are being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others within the body of Christ AND for the sake of others outside the body of Christ. Corporate and social spirituality are inseperable elements of the wholeness of our journey in faith."

"Holistic spirituality is a pilgrimage of deepening responsiveness to God's control of our life and being."

This ends the series on this book. Sorry about the length of some of these posts, but this is one of my favorite books from my seminary days. Spiritual Formation is probably one of my favorite subjects. It seems odd that this book was written in 1993, because so much of it is still so true. I've only given a few glimpses here and there... I highly recommend the book for anyone serious about the journey of faith.

Peace out; and in.


Jim said...

Good stuff - I've really liked this series. But I laughed out loud at, "It seems odd that this book was written in 1993, because so much of it is still so true." Because if truth is based on how recent the telling of it is, we're in the wrong religion, buddy! :o)

dan h. said...

Good point, Jim. In seminary they said that our notes from our Bible classes would be good indefinitely, but we could throw away the notes from all of our other classes within ten years because they would be out-dated. Spiritual Formation stuff would probably fall closer to the Bible classes than the Church Growth stuff though.

Glad you enjoyed the series.

grace said...

A way late comment...

I really enjoyed the posts about this book also. Thanks for writing them.