A Spirituality of Quitting

I’m a great quitter. It’s one of the few things I do well. I come form a long line of quitters. My father was a quitter, my grandfather was a quitter… I was raised to give up. 

— George Costanza | Seinfeld, Season 4, Episode: The Old Man

Eric and I interviewed at the same time for the PhD program at Southern Seminary. Same interviewing team, same concentration, same result—accepted. Eric and I also were both granted the same gift of being supervised by Dr. Donald S. Whitney, author of Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian LifePraying The Bible, and many more. Eric and I attended the same intro seminars with the great Dr. Jonathan Pennington. We were both pinching ourselves, amazed that we made it into the program.

During the middle of the first semester, I texted Eric about our upcoming seminar covering the first eight centuries of Christian spirituality, and I learned Eric had quit the program. I was surprised. Our texts basically went like this:

  • Eric: “Hey, Jeff! Man, I forgot to tell you, but I decided to drop out of the program. It was a tough decision but I needed to do it.”
  • Me: “Man, that’s tough. Everything ok?”

Eric quit the Phd program and I couldn’t be more impressed.

Why Crucifixion?

We should have many questions about crucifixion.

Why crucifixion? We know how vile it was. We hear how revolting, dehumanizing, and despicable crucifixion was—so why did Jesus die this way? 

Would Jesus dying at the hands of a mugger been enough? Why couldn’t Jesus have died of old age with friends and family praying at the foot of his bed, rather than some friends abandoning him as he’s stripped naked and nailed to a cross in front of his family and a few remaining friends?1

As Peter preached in Acts 2:23, why was “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God,” for crucifixion (Acts 2:23)? 

God ordained crucifixion for at least four reasons.

Spiritual Formation by Attention

There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.” — G. K. Chesterton

People love to focus on the high points or mountain top experiences when it comes to the spiritual life. While God certainly grants these super-concentrated spiritual experiences, have you considered that you can’t live on a mountain? What grows on a mountain top? Lush grass, fields of tulips, and large herds of sheep are found down in the lowly, mundane, normal parts of the earth. And in the Christian life, there is so much joy to be found by simply paying attention to the ordinariness of life—that’s what I learned from Pixar’s movie, Soul.

God is Beautiful. It’s Not Weird.

For years I struggled with understanding God’s beauty. If I’m too honest, I used to roll the eyes of my heart at worship songs that called our attention to God’s beauty.

  •  “Oh, Lord, you’re beautiful…”
  •  “Beautiful One, I love. Beautiful One, I adore.”
  •  “What a beautiful name it is, the name of Jesus.”

I balked at this language, but not because it’s unbiblical. It’s plenty scriptural. David prays that he could “gaze upon the beauty of the LORD” (Psalm 27:4). Dave desired God’s beauty. So what was my problem? I bet I’m not alone.

Practicing Embodied Prayer

Prayer is more than a mental exercise. It’s physical too. I want to encourage you to embody times of prayer. Let’s consider our postures when we pray.

We know prayer is spiritual, but we should also understand the physical side of prayer. Spirituality doesn’t ignore physicality. As new creations in Christ, we are learning how to pray. We teach people about supplication, intercession, and prayers of thanksgiving. There is another how to our prayers that is overlooked. Kneeling, arms stretched out, lying face down, eyes looking upward, or hands cupped like we are ready to catch the rain. We need to spend time and attention to how we embody our prayers. Our posture preaches.

What is Spiritual Theology?

Spiritual Theology is not another branch of theology. It’s not wholly different from Christology, the precious doctrines on Christ, or Trinitarian studies, or even Eschatology. Spiritual Theology isn’t the snooty cousin, a holier-than-thou practice of theology, looking down on systematic textbooks and Hebrew grammars. That is fleshy theology. No one can look down while focused on the things above, where Christ is sitting.

Spiritual Theology reminds us of the telos—the end, the point—of theological work is the heart, the soul, the life. Loving God with our heart, soul, mind, and loving our neighbors. Spirituality wants to crucify any cul-de-sacs of theological learning. The risen Christ reminds us that there are no dead ends.

Theology is meant to go from the classroom to the living room, from a stack of books to serving others. Christian theology is all-terrain. Spiritual Theology is the friend that wants to connect our hearing to our doing. Theological information is for the purpose of doxological transformation in the Christian.

“Spiritual theology is simply theology lived.”
— Eugene Peterson

Spiritual Theology pays attention to the interior reality of the Christian, asking:

  • So what?
  • What now?
  • What am I to do?
  • Who am I becoming?
  • How am I to follow Jesus?

There is a glorious symbiotic relationship in Spiritual + Theology.

Spiritual reminds us that theology cannot be an empty exercise. It’s for life in Christ, in the local church, in the world. Keeping in step with the Spirit is not optional for the theologian.

Theology keeps our spirituality from spinning out of control into something that has the form of godliness but not the power.

Theology is a governor. Spiritual is an oxygenator.

“The purpose of doctrine is to ensure that those who bear Christ’s name walk in Christ’s way.”
— Kevin Vanhoozer

The late Eugene Peterson said it well:

“A great deal of theology has to do with doctrine, with getting it right. Spiritual theology aims to bring that together within a lived life. The conviction behind spiritual theology is that the Bible—and all of Christian belief—is livable. It’s not just something to be held in your head or performed through your actions and ethics, but actually embodied. The model for spiritual theology is the incarnation, and spiritual theology is understood in the context of the Trinity, where everything is relational. There is no disembodied Christian truth. There’s no abstraction about the Christian life. It is all intended to be lived in a coherent way.”

Truth renews us. The word of God is living and active for our living and actions. Living water is learned, enjoyed, energizing us to pick up our cross and continue our apprenticeships with Jesus of Nazareth. Spiritual Theology keeps our eyes on the books and on our Lord, where we hear again, “Follow me. Come to me.” Yes, Lord.

What you will find here at SpiritualTheology.net are writings, devotionals, bread crumbs, and other resources that keep us on the trail of lived theology. Welcome. Let’s learn to walk with our chin up, leaning forward, looking to our risen Lord. As our brother Samuel said, “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.” May we have ears to hear, hands to serve, hearts to love.