Winter  2002
Volume 6 Number 2

Academic Theology and Christian Spirituality | Augustine: For and Against Spirituality | Tourists into Pilgrims: Walking the Labyrinth | Ministering to Future Ministers 

(Continued from previous page)

The third question: What motivates us to begin the Christian life? Here again we find a long list: fear, remorse, guilt, confusion, loneliness, a desire for justice, for truth, for understanding, a sense of awe and mystery. Variety is valuable because each of us begins for a different reason.

The fourth and fifth questions form a pair: What helps us make progress in the Christian life, and what hinders us? Prayer, meditation on Scripture, alms, and retreats are often mentioned. Lack of faith, flagrant sins, and, paradoxically, pride in our progress are commonly cited as hindrances.

The sixth question is closely related to this pair: How do we measure progress? Luther strongly objected to the notion of progress because it smacked of works righteousness, but Calvin uses it with great frequency. The biblical term "maturity" seems to me to be the best nomenclature on this matter. 

The seventh question we may ask: What are the fruits of the Spirit? Among the fruits usually mentioned are love, joy, peace, friendship, discernment, and victory over death. The classic texts are Isaiah 11:1-4 (the seven gifts of the Spirit of the Lord) and Galatians 5:22 (the fruits of the Spirit, nine in number).

These seven questions are not exhaustive, but they do indicate the material in the writing of the great theologians that is not usually highlighted in conventional seminary education. I myself would prefer less emphasis on establishing certificates and degrees in spirituality and more on the way an awareness of the spiritual material that can be uncovered in classical theology should affect the way we teach all subjects in seminary, from biblical studies to Christian education and pastoral care. Otherwise, we will increasingly acquire yet another specialization in an era of overspecialization. It must equally be emphasized that far too much of Christian spirituality is marred by the lack of strong doctrinal guidance. (Similar criticism has been made of Christian education and pastoral care in the recent past.)

I was asked, if possible, to say something about spirituality and the September 11 events. As you know, we witnessed an amazing surge of church attendance and prayer immediately afterward. We are still groping to find out what else we can do. We tend to take for granted the great advantages we have living in the United States. This tragedy should lead us to take a hard look at our society in the light of Christ's teachings. Have we abused our freedom and our wealth? If we recognize abuses, what, as individuals, can we do to amend them?

This is not the first time the people of God have faced great difficulties or had to enter uncharted waters. I suggest we might follow the example of a person who also lived in a frightening and destructive time. In response to the appalling destruction of churches by the Puritans during the English Parliamentary War of 1641-1647, he built a beautiful church in Staunton Harold, Leicestershire, one of a handful of churches built during the dark period of the Commonwealth, as a defiant gesture against a joyless regime. Carved above its entrance is this inscription:

"In the year 1653 when all things Sacred were throughout the nation Either demolisht or profaned Sir Robert Shirley, Barronet, Founded this church; Whose singular praise it is, to have done the best of things in the worst of times, and hoped them in the most callamitous. The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance."

So, too, can we, whoever we are, seek to increase all those practical actions of justice, kindness, and mercy that build up the kingdom of God in our midst. For some it may be to become reconciled with their spouse, their children, their parents; for others to give time and money to those in need; for some it is to teach a Sunday school class or tutor children in difficult and limited circumstances; for some even to foster or adopt a child. There is no end of good works we can seek to do. And we can do them precisely because we are to do "the best of things in the worst of times."

Diogenes Allen is the Stuart Professor of Philosophy at Princeton Theological Seminary. He has taught at PTS since 1967 and will retire at the end of June 2002. He is working on a forthcoming book, Steps along the Way, about the spiritual journey. It will be published in 2002 by Church Publications, 445 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York. 

Academic Theology and Christian Spirituality | Augustine: For and Against Spirituality | Tourists into Pilgrims: Walking the Labyrinth | Ministering to Future Ministers 


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In This Issue

Features

Renewing a Right Spirit

For Such a Time As This: PTS Campus Community Responds to September 11

Windows on a Shattered World

"A Witness to the Truth": Martin Luther King Jr.'s Eulogy for PTS Alum James J. Reeb

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