- Theistic Religious Traditions
How God and the human interact and inter-relate is the primary
concern of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, and all three share a
common message, to a large degree (though you wouldn't guess,
sometimes, by the way we get along). A few themes you will find in
all three are as follows:
1. God is transcendent -- a Being whose existence is immeasurably
greater and beyond anything conceivable to the finite human spirit.
2. God created all that is. Creatures owe their lives and existence
to God. This fact is the basis of religion -- that our lives ought
to be oriented toward God, our Creator.
3. God is also good, beyond all human knowing, but not in an
anthropomorphic sense. Because God is good, what God creates is
good, and that includes human beings.
4. Sin has damaged the relationship between God and human beings.
By sin, here, what is meant is the misuse of human freedom and
intelligence in such a manner as to assert the human spirit
over-and-against God. Terrible consequences have come to the human
race from this transgression, none the least of which is the loss
of a sense of intimacy with God.
5. God has taken the initiative and revealed a way back to right
relationship. In Judaism, that way is the Law; in Islam, it is
expressed through the Koran; in Christianity, that way is Christ.
Granted the many practical differences in #5, one can nonetheless
appreciate all that these theistic religions hold in common.
- - -
- Theistic Christian Spirituality
With all these pieces from conferences 1, 2, and the above on the
table, now, we can begin to say something about Christian
spirituality. In its purely theistic manifestation, we note that it
is a spirituality focused on the revelation of God through Christ.
Revelation is the telling factor, here, with Jesus viewed the Way,
the Truth and the Life, providing connection between the human
spirit and God.
As the Truth, Jesus shows us Who God is and what God expects from
human beings, thus satisfying the thirst of our rational
intelligence for clarity and understanding concerning God.
Furthermore, through his resurrection and ascension, Jesus shows us
something of our human destiny, answering those deep questions we
have concerning the ultimate meaning of life.
As the Way, Jesus shows us through teaching and example how we
ought to live, bringing proper orientation to the human will. This
Way is shown to be love -- insanely generous love! -- which gives
to those in need out of one's own need, responds to evil by doing
good, and, ultimately, sacrifices one's life for the welfare of
As the Life, we experience our self-awareness to be informed
through identification with Christ in such a manner as we come to
know ourselves to be sons and daughters of God. This new identity
cannot be taken away from us, for its foundation is in heaven,
where it cannot be destroyed.
Obviously, theistic Christian spirituality offers a significantly
different way to form the human spirit than one finds in Judaism
and Islam (not to mention the Eastern pathways). It draws its
meaning and focus from Christ, who is considered the definitive
revelation of God, and, hence, the One upon Whom we can build our
human lives knowing that we have, in Him, a solid cornerstone.
This way of Christian spirituality is summed up nicely in an
Internet course on Christian spirituality offered by St. John in
the Wilderness Episcopal Church:
- see http://www.stjohnadulted.org/spir_1.htm
"Christianity Spirituality is the quest for a fulfilled and
authentic life, that involves
taking the beliefs and values of Christianity and weaving them into
the fabric of our lives so that they "animate," provide the
"breath" and "spirit" and "fire" for our lives."
- - -
Theotic Christian Spirituality
If the Word incarnated in Christ had only died, risen and ascended,
it would have been enough to contribute to a very high theistic
spirituality, such as outlined above. In addition, theological
implications such as heaven and hell could have been affirmed,
along with a vast array of ethical, ecclesial, and liturgical
practices. But the ascension was not the end of the story, as we
know. In fact, this Sunday, we celebrate the next great surprise in
the unfolding Christian story -- Pentecost, the day God shared with
us the Holy Spirit. This marvelous Gift enables us to participate
in God's very life and, through this intimate exchange, find our
own human life transformed into a likeness of Christ.
The Greek term, theosis, captures best this new dimension of
spirituality. It is difficult to translate into any language,
meaning something like "divinization" or "deification" --
literally, becoming God. It is what St. Irenaus, writing early in
Christian history, meant when he wrote that "God became man so that
man might become God." By this, he is not intending to say that we
will eventually be transformed so that our human nature disappears
and we turn into God. The paradigm for this process is Christ, who
perfectly joins the human and divine in such a manner that the
divine life informs everything about his human life. Our destiny in
God is in Christ, made possible through the power of the Holy
Spirit working within us.
"If we are capable of loving, it is because we are responding to
God's love: God first loves us. Love becomes incarnate and comes to
us in Jesus. The Holy Spirit is this love that is poured out in our
hearts. Thus we are loving God by means of God; the Spirit enables
us to share in the love which the Father loves the Son and the Son
the Father. Love casts us into the Trinitarian realms; the
Trinitarian realms are those of love."
- Olivier Clement, "The Roots of Christian Mysticism" -
This quote communicates something of the difference between theistic
Christian spirituality and theotic Christian spirituality in the
phrase, "we are loving by means of God." Not only that, but even the
functions of awareness and intelligence become infused with God's
very awareness and intelligence.
"After all, the depths of a person can only be known by his or her
own spirit, not by any other human being, and in the same way the
depths of God can only be known by the Spirit of God. Now instead
of the spirit of the world, we have received the Spirit that comes
from God, to teach us to understand the gifts that God has given
us. Therefore we teach, not in the way in which philosophy is
taught, but in the way that the Spirit teaches us: we teach
spiritual things spiritually . . . we are those who have the mind
- 1 Cor. 1: 11-16
We are no longer talking about a transformation of character based
on valuing what Christ valued in the way he valued it (theistic
Christian spirituality), but actual participation in God's very
life so that out human ways of perceiving, valuing and knowing now
operate "in the way the Spirit teaches us." This Spirit is more
than enthusiasm for Christ, but the Divine Principle Itself,
dwelling within the human soul, coaching, guiding, informing, and
transforming us all throughout our lives.