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An Adventist Spirituality?

From Sabbath school discussions to blog comments, there’s no doubt that Adventism involves dialectic and debate. Rooted in the rationalism of modernity, with prominent heretics known for doubting this or that belief, many an Adventist conversation devolves into questions of hermeneutics or rhetoric with little attention to Near-Eastern languages, ferreting out footnotes, cultural analysis, or even checking out a monograph or two.

Most debates never get to epistemological assumptions. How do our texts, traditions, experience and our reason represent meaning? Of course it is essential to have these conversations. Humans must share information, define boundaries, grow faith. But all too often it seems that doctrinal or theological debate has to carry most of the burden for defining our faith and we are left with the unbalanced presumption that what someone mentally conceives i.e., believes tells us how spiritual they are.

Let’s face it, Adventism sucks at spirituality. Most folks mix spirituality with everything from defining a campus climate to candles to “spiritual warfare.” We understand the import of the “what” of doctrine, and we increasingly hone the “how” –from keeping the Sabbath to helping the poor. But how many make the connection to the “why” of connection itself.

Too harsh? Define current Adventism. That definition often emphasizes ideas or duties, but are there good spiritual reasons to be Adventist too?

Of course one can argue that spirituality transcends particular religions, but it seems to me that while we rush to debate over the true understanding of say, the nature of Christ or creation, we often don’t stop to ask what a particular belief means for our sectarian spiritual health.

It’s clear how our doctrines function. They are cultural markers, like clothes or language. If someone expresses doubts about a literal six-day creation, it’s fair to ask how that impacts their Sabbath-keeping or their ecology. But outside of emotional displays, it’s hard to tell someone’s spiritual state. And frankly in this economy, is the average Adventist leader, evangelist, seem very concerned. As long as we pay tithe, go to church on Sabbath, don’t question beliefs, and call myself an Adventist, do we have a vested interest in promoting anything deeper than the now old mantra about “a relationship with God.” Every relationship I have is with people in the flesh. At least for me, GOD is a bit more profound than a friend or a lover. Humans require more than relationships. We need spirituality:

  • We need more plain reading of scripture in churches.
  • We need more silence.
  • We need more varieties of music.
  • We need more art.
  • We need more experiential sermons applied to contexts. Promote self-awareness mixing: an Adventist, a citizen, an earthling, a spiritual being.

I have occasionally had the chance to practice lectio divina with other Christians. By letting the passage sit in silence and through verbal repetition, the scriptural text takes on richer meaning.

Albert Schweitzer observes:

It is not merely that Paul was the first to champion the rights of thought in Christianity; he has also shown it, for all time, the way it was to go. His great achievement was to grasp, as the thing essential to being a Christian, the experience of union with Christ. Out of the depths of the expectation of the Messiah and of the Messianic world this thought wells up in him, a thought to which expression had already been given by Jesus when He spoke of the mystery of the consecration of believers through fellowship with the unrecognized future Messiah who was dwelling among them. By penetrating to the depths of the temporarily conditioned, Paul wins his way to a spiritual result of permanent value. . . . So we too should claim the right to conceive the idea of union with Jesus on the lines of our own world-view, making it our sole concern to reach the depth of the truly living and spiritual truth (The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, 377ff).

In reflecting on the revealed truth that Christ dwells among us, this is what’s occurred to me: Not only do we need to pursue spiritual depth for our own sake, but true spirituality moves us – as members of various communities, particularly Adventism – beyond ideological divides and fear of the Other. Why? Because the doctrinal, the social, and the spiritual are interrelated. In John 14 Jesus states: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. . .” Thus, in Christ we have the essence of faith: our ethic, our doctrines, and our life-giving spiritual connections. As Rick Rice might say: behaving, believing, and belonging.

Yesterday, I had a conversation with David Asscherick, one of the subjects of this weekend’s reporting. Through our spirited and ultimately constructive conversation, I found a brother in Christ. We concluded the call by both praying. Our ideological frameworks did not shift much, but our connection improved, in part, because we shared the spiritual.

In fact, I think that it’s the spiritual that saves us – individuals and communities – from destroying ourselves. It’s easy for liberals to prioritize ethics and for conservatives to focus on doctrine. I think that spirituality – Connected Life – is what helps both sides find equipoise. This spiritual symmetry occurs, not by focusing on the Other side, but by looking inward and BEYOND.

Now I wonder: Where can we emphasize the spiritual in Adventism?

Now modified, this originally appeared in May 2007 on the old Spectrum Blog.

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