Book Review — Spiritual Theology

I have been working my way through Spiritual Theology by Simon Chan. IVP sent it to me as a review copy, but I’ve been lost in this marvelous work so much, I’ve lost sight of a “quick read” for a review.

Simon Chan is a Pentecostal in Singapore who makes a call for the Church to return to its roots, which in his case look a lot like Eastern Orthodoxy or, in a sense, Catholicism. It is not a call to go back to a pope. (I wouldn’t mind if Francis I was going to stay around.)

It is a call to understand the rootedness of Early Church tradition and to marry once again theology and practice. We have divorced the two, so those who study “theology” do so “professionally,” meaning they will only be useful in seminaries. Then there are the “practitioners,” who are the “pastors,” but they aren’t very good at theology.

Chan walks the reader through some very basic theology, but roots it firmly in the practical world. He then dives into practical theology. It is a strong call to spiritual formation.

Chan, as a Pentecostal, makes a call to return to the very basics. As a Pentecostal myself, it is refreshing that his view isn’t “speaking in tongues” and “long prayer meetings.” By the basics, it is VERY basic: back to the Eucharist. Center our lives back in the practice of the Eucharist… regularly.

Growing up Pentecostal, I have been enriched by my study of Eastern Orthodoxy and Luther’s theology and practice. I am going to dive more into Wesley’s theology and practice as well, because it is his views of sanctification that become the wellsprings of the Pentecostal movement.

As I have learned these things, I would say that there are probably more than a few Pentecostals who think I’ve left being a Pentecostal. I disagree. What I have NOT done is grow disenchanted with my Pentecostal roots so I can have more angst in my life, then write a blog that will get noticed by the Huffington Post (when angst driven former evangelicals find plenty of audience). I fondly call that site the “Huff and Puff Post.” You have to have some sort of bitterness toward your upbringing and pledge allegiance to some form of new liberalism to get posted there. But, I digress. 😉

I have only been strengthened in my Pentecostal practice by my understanding of Eastern Orthodoxy and the works of Simon Chan. I don’t wish to leave my roots (thus, no coverage in the Huff and Puff Post), but I do desire to ADD to my experience, and bring that depth to my congregation.

Simon Chan calls me to this. I love the depth of his theology and spirituality. It’s not a desire on my part to leave my Pentecostal roots and begin an Anglican form of worship. It is that I want to bring in the necessary components to grow a truly spiritually formed church, which happens to be Pentecostal.

Chan’s book is challenging. Those toward a more Zwinglian view of communion and an Anabaptist practice can hear what he is saying, but not agree. I have moved from a Zwinglian view of communion to a Luther (not Lutheran) view of communion. There is still a lot of Anabaptist in me when it comes to government, but I have been deepened in my faith by the practice of the Eucharist.

Let us walk with a new hunger for the presence of Jesus and for the knowledge of the Holy. Simon Chan makes that call.


Abusing prayer

Even with our technological advances, we can still be tempted with the ancient practice of magic in our prayers.

Magic is trying to manipulate natural or supernatural powers to serve our purposes. The self stands at the center of the universe, not God. Modern technologists are the successors to pagan magicians. The magical attitude exists among technologically minded Christians as well. If you have faith, they say, anything you ask in prayer will be yours. Prayer is a technique for twisting God’s arm to get what they want. Such prayers are an abuse of relationship. And to abuse a friendship is to lost it. — Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology 

We need our hearts set on prayer, but we need prayer to be based in relationship, not formula.


The preaching of the Word

The priority needs to be given to the public reading of Scripture. We need to systematically read the Scripture in public. The story needs to be impressed into our collective memories.

“If the sermon follows some form of lectio divina (in which the whole of Scripture is read over a period of time), we are more likely to avoid the habit of reading from a few favorite books (usually the Epistles) and preaching from our favorite texts… What we call the ‘exposition of the Scriptures’ should be the clarification of the Story so we can listen to it more attentively and relate to the events more fully.” — Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology


Missing theology

One of the least developed areas of theology in the evangelical church is ecclesiology. We just don’t quite know what to do about this whole concept of the Church. We know about “local church”… maybe. We are so bent on “me and Jesus” and those who theologically agree with me 100 percent… the whole idea of “church” just doesn’t get into our practice or thought.

Simon Chan, in Spiritual Theology, writes that part of the problem is evangelicals have focused so heavily on “the priesthood of all believers,” we’ve severely watered down the idea of church. The goal of the priesthood of all believers was noble. It should have lifted up all believers to have a hunger for spiritual activity and ministry. Instead, it has reduced us to the lowest common denominator.

“We wanted to make everyone in the church into robust saints but succeeded only in making mostly mediocre ones.”

Christianity — Rescued “from” and born “into?”

“The Christian story is not primarily about how God in Jesus came to rescue sinners from some impending disaster. It is about God’s work of initiating us into a fellowship and making us true conversational partners with the Father and the Son through the Spirit and, hence, with each other (1 John 1:1-4). Attaining heaven and avoiding hell represent just one aspect of the koinonia of God’s extended family.” — Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology.