The Siamese twining of “spiritual” and “theology”

Reviewing Julie Canlis’ book Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension, Eugene Peterson writes:

Theology is about God, and God is Spirit—so why the adjective? Maybe because we have accumulated a lot of experience in the Christian community of persons treating theology as a subject in which God is studied in the ways we are taught to study in our schools—acquiring information that we can use, or satisfying our curiosity, or obtaining qualifications for a job or profession. There are, in fact, a lot of people within and outside formal religious settings who talk and write a lot about spirituality, things of the spirit or the soul or “higher things,” but are not interested in God. There is a wonderful line in T. H. White’s novel of King Arthur (The Once and Future King), in which Guinevere in her old age becomes the abbess of a convent: “she was a wonderful theologian but she wasn’t interested in God.” It happens.

So—spiritual theology, lived theology—not just studied, or discussed, or written about; not “God” as an abstraction but God in a participating relationship; not God as a truth to be argued; not God as a weapon to be wielded in the culture wars. Rather, the conviction that everything of God that is revealed to us is to be lived relationally in the dailiness of our human lives on this local ground on which we have been placed. Nothing disembodied, nothing impersonal, nothing in general.

And spiritual theology. God (theos) is the subject—not primarily me, not my potential, not how I can leverage some supernatural assistance into getting ahead, not using God as ticket to heaven, or to a better job, or to a compliant spouse, or to peace of mind. Rather, God in whose love I practice love, God in whose holiness I become more human, God by whose forgiveness and grace I become the person I am created and saved to be.

– “Living with the Triune God” in Books & Culture (September/October 2011)


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