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What is Global Christian Spirituality?

DR. TODD M. JOHNSON

PROFESSOR OF GLOBAL CHRISTIANITY AND MISSION


Christian spirituality is at the center of Christian discipleship. British theologian Alister McGrath describes Christian spirituality as a set of beliefs, a set of values, and a way of life (Christian Spirituality: An Introduction. Wiley, 1999). More specifically, he defines Christian spirituality as the quest for a fulfilled and authentic life, which 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.

At least three questions come to mind when discussing Christian spirituality: First, when in history does it refer to (Early Church, Medieval, Modern)? Second, which Christian tradition is it from (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Independent)? Third, what culture does it represent (European, Latin America, African, Asian, Pacific Islands)? This last question, in particular, brings us to our discussion. As with leadership and theology (in previous posts), there is a strong tendency to frame Christian spirituality within the limits of a Western cultural context.

British theologian Rose Dowsett warns us that, “We too often read into Scripture Greek dualism, thus profoundly misunderstanding texts that speak of the soul (e.g. Matt 16:26). Modern Western culture, in the wake of the Enlightenment, emphasizes (entirely falsely) that the spiritual and the rational/material are totally separate, the latter being objective and the former subjective and beyond verification (and therefore unreliable).” (Spirituality in Mission, John Amalraj, Geoffrey W. Hahn, and William D. Taylor, eds., William Carey Library, 2018, p. 7)

As Dowsett explains, Western culture fails to deliver a holistic spirituality. We need a spirituality that involves the whole person—in every dimension of life, in community, and in dialogue with other cultures. Global Christian spirituality is holistic, indigenous, and interconnected with other cultures from whom we can listen and learn. Puerto Rican missiologist Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi states that “global-Christian spirituality:

  1. Recognizes the difficult but crucial cross-cultural dynamics in any cultural encounter;
  2. Acknowledges the complex and multiple realities—economic, social, gender, ethnic—in a particular context, and the way in which those realities affect other contexts;
  3. Discerns and participates in the missio Dei with an awareness and critical perspective of the above dynamics; and
  4. Continues to grow and develop (through spiritual disciplines and cross-cultural training) in the Christian faith.” (Mission: An Essential Guide, Abingdon Press, 1995, p. 107)

Similar to tenets of global leadership, Cardoza-Orlandi describes global Christian spirituality as complex, cross-cultural, and contextual. With spirituality at the heart of different cultures, one would expect it to be diversely represented in global Christianity. And yet, at the same time, Christian spirituality—if focused on Christ—is pointing to the same purpose. We see the interplay once again of the local and the global; Global is not an overarching non-contextual form of spirituality but a conversation between various local cultures about differences and the commonality of Christian spiritualities.

Finally, gender also plays an important role in global Christian spirituality. Indian theologian John Amalraj writes, “Women are considered more spiritual than men in most cultures. Women are the bearers of culture… In the Indian context, it is the devout women who sacrificially set aside money, rice, wheat, etc. for the cause of giving to missions. It is the mothers who most often dedicate their sons to become pastors or missionaries. It is the mothers who are always praying for the prodigal son or daughter.” (Spirituality in Mission, p. 17)

Yet, despite this reality, the vast majority of writings and reflections on spirituality are from men of the Global North. Understanding global Christian spirituality means overcoming this limitation and favoring the voices of women to truly represent what is happening in our communities. By representing the world’s cultures, especially those of the Global South, and highlighting the contributions of women, we can begin to comprehend a truly global Christian spirituality.