My critique then of the three prominent forms of evangelical spirituality, is simply this: they all situate spirituality the self. “I keep the rules”; “I know God in a system of thought”; “I had a born again experience”. In contrast, historic Spirituality situates spirituality in the story of the Triune God, who creates, became incarnate, took my humanity up into his, entered suffering by the cross, and rose from the grave. God drew me up into himself, and did for me what I could not do. He Himself restored my union with Himself. Now having been baptized into that great mystery, I contemplate God’s work for me and the whole world, and I participate in God’s purposes for the world revealed in Jesus Christ. Spirituality is a gift, and the spiritual life is a surrendered life. (The Divine Embrace, Robert Webber)
The spirituality that came into existence as the consequences of post-Augustinian thought are as follows: a spirituality of legalism (keeping rules), a spirituality of the intellect (building a theological mind), and a spirituality of personal experience (my relationship with Jesus). Dr. Webber’s observations get to the core problem produced by dualistic Post-Augustinian thought. He points out that the consequence of dualism is to separate God and man. Even in our spirituality, the west turns all its focus on the one doing, or practicing the spirituality, rather than towards God who is Spirit. Note his summary of these systems: “I keep the rules”; “I know God in a system of thought”; “I had a born again experience”. This falls hard on our western psyche, because it exposes our incredible overdevelopment of self-centeredness.
In pre-Augustinian spirituality we find an outward-focused spirituality (extra nos), namely a God-focused spirituality. Consider the way that Dr. Webber identifies the earlier forms of spirituality: God drew me up into himself, God did for me what I could not do, God Himself restored my union with Himself. The focus then is this: because God drew, God did, and God restored, this causes me to respond by contemplating Him and His love for us, and yes even me. As a result of this contemplation, my heart and mind are raised up to Him. As a consequence of this, a desire grows within me to live in His present work, and therefore I surrender myself, I take the gift which is Himself, and deliver Him to the world. This spirituality faces outward; yet, it does not leave me out of the mix, instead, it wraps me up in Him, & as it does so I am launched out into the world. That is Apostolic spirituality!