Alister McGrath on Biblical Spirituality

Alister McGrath on Biblical Spirituality as I found it posted at Metamorpha from 2011.

When I began my life as a Christian, I found my attention focussing on understanding my faith. I continue to regard this as being of the utmost importance. There is a marvellous coherence to Christian doctrine, and wrestling with the great truths of our faith provided me with both spiritual encouragement and intellectual challenge. Yet it often seemed to me that my ‘knowledge’ of the Christian faith was rather dry and cerebral. My faith seemed to lack depth. It was as if my emotions were untouched by what I believed. Sometime, it seemed to me, was wrong.

My realization of the importance of spirituality began about 1989, but really blossomed from about 1992. I was invited to lead a regular summer school course in Oxford on ‘medieval and Reformation spirituality’. This allowed me to engage with some of the great texts of Christian spirituality. As my students and I wrestled with these texts, we found ourselves challenged to deepen the quality of our Christian faith though being more open to God. I found that the quality of my Christian life deepened considerably as a result.


Enjoyment? Yes! ‘What’, asked the Shorter Westminster Catechism, ‘is the chief end of man?’ The answer given is rightly celebrated as a jewel in Christianity’s doctrinal crown: ‘to glorify God and enjoy him for ever’. This brief statement sets us on a journey of personal exploration – to gain a fresh apprehension of the glory of God, so that we might return that glory to God and have our spiritual lives enrichened by the knowledge of such a God. To catch such a glimpse of the full splendor of God is also a powerful stimulus to evangelism. Was it not by catching a glimpse of the glory of God in the temple that Isaiah reponded to the divine call to go forth in service? Good theology is essential to mission and evangelism! By catching a vision of God in all his radiance and glory, we long to serve him now and finally be with him in the New Jerusalem.

So how can we deepen our faith in this way? As I wrestled with deepening my appreciation of the rich spirituality of the Bible, I found three principles to be helpful:

1.  When dealing with a biblical image, it is essential to pause and allow the passage to generate a mental picture. We have to enter into the world of that image. We need to project ourselves into the image, and become part of it, experiencing its richness and implications. Our faith stimulates our imaginations as well as our minds! One of the reasons why writers such as C S Lewis and George MacDonald enjoy such popularity is that they nourish both reason and imagination.

2.  When dealing with a gospel story, we must enter into it, standing alongside those who witnessed the saviour of the world. We need to meditate on these gospel narratives as though they were happening in the present moment.

3.  When dealing with a biblical idea or theme, it is not enough to understand it. It needs to be applied to our lives, so that it becomes a lived reality, rather than an abstract and lifeless notion. Christianity is not simply about ideas; it is about the transformation of spiritual reality. It needs to become real to us, instead of just rattling round inside our min