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Monday, December 5, 2016

The Spirituality of Parenting Part 1

This is the first of a two-part paper that was submitted to the Singapore Bible College as part of the requirements for my Graduate Diploma. It was for the module "An Introduction to Christian Spirituality".

Reflecting on Christian Spirituality

Christian Spirituality as based on the Bible has to do with “things that are of God”. It incorporates aspects of being, thought, speech, actions, passion and relations (Lang, 2016b). This definition of spirituality adopts an integrated approach and considers a person’s relationship with God in a holistic manner; not only focussing on traditional spiritual disciplines such as the reading of God’s Word, prayer and worship, but also a person’s purpose and calling, and how his or her actions serve as a Christian witness to the larger social group and global community.

This paper will discuss the “Spirituality of Parenthood”. It will examine how as parents, our understanding and practice of Christian Spirituality has a direct impact on our immediate sphere of influence - our children; and how this bears witness to the larger global community. The paper will focus on three aspects of spirituality discussed in the course, An Introduction to Christian Spirituality i.e. the role of the community, the role of temperaments and the role of missions, and how each of these three aspects have shaped my understanding of parenting.
Each of our two boys has a different temperament; and this has a significant impact on how we parent them.

The Community & Christian Spirituality


The early Church in Acts is often seen as a model for the Christian community. Acts 2:44 notes that “all who believed were together and had all things in common” (English Standard Version). The early Christian community devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. They broke bread and prayed together. For them, community included the selling of possessions and distributing the proceeds to all, as according to individual need (Acts 2:42-45). Given the deep sense of belonging, it was considered a serious transgression if a member of the community chose to lie to the community, or to deal dishonestly with property that was intended for the community. The story of Ananias and Sapphira is a case in point (Acts 5:1-11). In this instance the couple sold their property to give the proceeds to the Church. But they lied regarding the amount of money, and were struck dead by God.

Gerald Sittser, in his book Water from a Deep Well (2007), shared about how the early Christian community had a deep sense of belonging to each other. Sittser pointed to the implications of what it could be like if today’s church adopted the model of the early Christians. He noted that God calls the church to be a “community of belonging for broken people” (p. 65). Such a community of believers would then be a testimony of the power of the Gospel to transform lives and to provide a sense of belonging for all who are outcast and alone.

While the early Christians emphasised community-based spirituality, many modern-day Christians are of the opinion that spirituality should be an individualised affair (Lang, 2016a). Spirituality is seen as a personal responsibility, and that it should be private, with religion confined to the private sphere and prayer conducted in a secret, secluded place. Moreover, the emphasis on individual spiritual disciplines such as quiet time, memory verses and personal evangelism seems to suggest a more personal form of spirituality. However the Bible is clear that spirituality is often community-based, with instances of righteousness and sin being transferred across familial and generational lines (Lang, 2016a).

Scorgie and Reimer (2011) argue that Christian spirituality is relational in nature. They present the thesis that God is triune in nature, and given our role as bearers of His image, that we should also be relational in nature. Moreover, loving God and loving others is inextricably related, and we cannot detach our devotion to God from our affections towards others (pp. 77-8). A key for moving away from individual-based spirituality lies in the realisation that we are not alone in this spiritual journey, and that as individual Christians that we must rely on others to help us, given our own weaknesses and blind spots (p. 80). Scorgie and Reimer quote the work of David Benner, whose book Spiritual Companions identifies people who not only provide pastoral care, but are also spiritual directors, spiritual mentors and spiritual friends (p. 81). Undergirding the idea of a spiritual community is the foundational work that such a community has on individuals, building them up in spiritual truths through elements such as Bible study and biblical preaching.


Christian spirituality is relational in nature and we need fellow believers to give us a helping hand in times of need.

Temperaments & Christian Spirituality


Robert Solomon, in Chapter 29 of the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (2011), discusses the study of Christian spirituality in context. Solomon argues that spirituality can be examined from three dimensions - personality and life stages, culture and society (p. 205). Solomon observes that the personality and life stage approach considers that an individual’s brand of spirituality is determinant on his or her personality type and life stage (p. 206). Robert Mulholland (2016) takes this concept further and comments that just as psychology should not be used as a substitute for spirituality, neither should spirituality replace psychology (p. 56). He elaborates by stating that spiritual formation should not be seen as the panacea for all the worries encountered by a Christian; and that should there be any psychological issues, that these issues should be resolved through psychological means.

Mulholland considers the impact of personality on spirituality by studying the four essential preferences as identified by Carl Jung, namely extraversion and introversion, sensing and intuition, thinking and feeling, judgement and perception. Mulholland notes that for each set of choices, individuals generally prefer one of the pair, and this then shapes their overall personality, and constitutes an individual’s “creation gifts” (p. 61-3). In making preferences, Mulholland suggests that individuals tend to choose spiritual practices that appear more suited to their personalities; for instance thinking persons could be more “theological, analytical and structured”, while perception-oriented persons could adopt a brand of spirituality that is more unplanned and unstructured (p. 70). This “one-sided” approach towards spirituality could lead towards spiritual disintegration, and Mulholland suggests that despite one’s preferences in personality, that it would be prudent to still adopt a balanced approach towards the pursuit of spirituality.


What are our "creation gifts"? What makes us who we are?
Christian Spirituality and Missions

The biblical mandate for missions can first be found in Genesis 1:26, when God gave man dominion over all the creatures of the earth. The call to missions was again mentioned in Matthew 28:18-20, when Jesus charged His followers to make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of God. These traditional verses have been used as the basis of missions, to spread the Word of God to all the peoples of the earth.

Kraft (2000) notes that the mission of the church is to “introduce people to Christ”, to “make them aware of God’s purposes for all human beings”, and to “assist them in responsibly becoming bearers of His good news”. She observes that the church must meet felt needs when communicating about the Gospel to the unreached peoples; and that felt needs must be met in order for spiritual growth to occur.

Gallagher (2012), in analysing the role of spirituality and mission from various Protestant missiological works from 1940 to 2000, noted that there were three major themes in these writings, that of Bible study, worship and prayer, and the role of these three elements in missions. Gallagher noted that the missiological works did not focus much on Bible study, but they did mention that as people studied the Bible, that the Holy Spirit would show them that the Scripture is a missionary book. People would then realise their “responsibility to witness both locally and globally - in proclamation and social activism”. Regarding worship, it was seen as an important aspect of missions, with the heart of worship coming from the “adoration and worship of Jesus”, which stems from an “inner personal communion with our Lord”. As for prayer, Gallagher noted that the missiological works did not emphasise much on this, with only some writings calling on the importance of prayer as the “most important thing Christians can do for God’s mission”. This was as our communion with God shapes our communication with people.

Missionaries always describe the “call” as the reason for their entrance into the mission field. Consider the case of William Carey, who founded the first Protestant mission in the non-English-speaking world. Barlow (1976) writes that it was in a small English town that Carey first heard the call while reading the Last Voyage of Captain Cook. Last Voyage of Captain Cook. Barlow observes that to many, the book was a “thrilling story of adventure”. But to Carey, it was a “revelation of human need”. The young English cobbler then began to read every book on the subject. He then became more and more convinced that “"the peoples of the world need Christ." Finally Carey uttered the words that Isaiah once cried out, "Here am I; send me!” Thus began a difficult journey to the mission field; but it also became a voyage that would change the course of many lives in India.


What is our "call"? How will we answer the call of God?

The second part of this paper will 
elaborate on how each of the three aspects mentioned above - the role of the community, the role of temperaments and the role of missions - have shaped my understanding of parenting. You can read the paper here.


References

Barlow, F. (1976). William Carey: Missionary-Evangelist. In Barlow, F. Profiles in Evangelism. Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord Publishers. Retrieved from http://www.wholesomewords.org/missions/bcarey1.html.


Chapman, G. & Campbell, R. (2012) The 5 Love Languages of Children. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.


Gallagher, R. L. (2012). Mission from the Inside Out: An Analysis of the Role of Spirituality and Mission from Selected Protestant Missiological “Writings” from 1940-2000. Retrieved from http://www.wheaton.edu/~/media/Files/Graduate-School/Degrees/Intercultural-Studies/Gallagher-homepage/Articles/Mission_From_Inside_Out.pdf.


Kraft, M. (2000). Spiritual Conflict and the Mission of the Church: Contextualization. Nairobi: Lausanne Movement. Retrieved from https://www.lausanne.org/content/contextualization.


Lang, D. (2016a). Lecture: Communal/Social/Familial Aspect of Spirituality.


Lang, D. (2016b). Lecture: Missions/Evangelism & Spirituality.


Ma, W. & Ross, K. R. (Eds.) (2013). Mission Spirituality and Authentic Discipleship. Regnum Edinburgh Centenary Series, 14. Retrieved from http://www.ocms.ac.uk/regnum/downloads/Mission_Spirituality_and_Authentic_Discipleship-final-WM.pdf.


Mulholland Jr., M. R. (2016). Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.


Scorgie, G. C. & Reimer, K. S. (2011). Spirituality in Community. In Scorgie, G. G., Chan, S., Smith, G. T. & Smith III, J. D. (Eds.). Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. (77-83). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.


Sittser, G. L. (2007). Water from a Deep Well. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.


Solomon, R. (2011). Contextual Spirituality. In Scorgie, G. G., Chan, S., Smith, G. T. & Smith III, J. D. (Eds.). Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. (205-10). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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