Monday, April 23, 2007

Living Spirituality

I just finished reading Living Spirituality: Illuminating the Path by Dr. Greg Laughery, who lives and ministers in Switzerland at L'Abri.

I'll be honest: I'm not neutral about L'Abri. Wendy gave her life to Jesus Christ as a result of reading a book by L'Abri's founder, Francis Schaeffer, entitled The God Who Is There. And my parents were very involved in the beginning of L'Abri Canada, so I'm definitely a fan of L'Abri.

But on to Dr. Laughery's writing...

Greg (can I call you Greg?) builds this short-but-packed book around two thesis phrases: increased ambiguity and spiritual impoverishment. Right away, you realize that reading a book by any author out of L'Abri is going to be philosophical and challenging, and Greg is no exception. Here's an early quote on increasing ambiguity:
"One of the major, if not-so-obvious ways (Christians) contribute is through our tendency to succumb to false, but powerful absolutizing forces that may approach us or even reside in us. Some, for example, assume that Christian spirituality is absolutely anchored in reason, seeing, feeling, or experience. This type of asolutizing may seem to counter ambiguity, but it actually increases it by attempting to encapsulate spirituality in a one-dimensional manner and to do away with a necessary dialogical tension." (page 8)
Greg's depiction of impoverished spirituality includes a rather accurate, if stinging, assessment of churches that have become "institutionalized":
"This is partially due to the fact that Christians often seem to be primarily interested in themselves: propogating their programs, building their churches, even manipulating some of their own in order to achieve social status and accomplish their goals and aims. People are left behind in the wake of promising words that give the pretense of care and concern, but translate into intolerable levels of neglect and inconsistent waffling." (page 15)
Greg then takes us on an insightful journey, rooting his understanding of a "living spirituality" in the Creation account. From this "Creation map", Greg moves forward into Covenant, and deals with an assortment of theological and ethical implications for missional Christ-followers, as he admonishes us to "choose life, and not death". Here's a few gems:
  • On the problem of evil: "Furthermore God, as creational, personal good precedes personal evil, thereby restricting it to a parasitic status."

  • On Christian responsibility to steward Creation: "As God has not left creation or humans to desolation, decay, or ultimate death, neither should we consent to dying forms of spirituality that have no capacity to redeem the created."

  • On Jesus and the Kingdom of God: "In so doing, He defies Satan (referring to Jesus' temptation), begins to invade his territory and stronghold, thus signifying that God's rule is breaking in to defeat death and to bring about redemption... God's Kingdom usually refers to the explosive sphere of God's dynamic reign or rule that has both already arrived and is not yet complete."

  • On the effect of sin: "All that is sinful fails to contribute to life in any living way. Whatever its pretensions, or our assumptions, it offers us zero, brings us no real advantages, and leaves us aimlessly wandering away from the path to life."

  • "Christians are facing two dangers: become as entirely ambiguous, or exhaustively certain as anyone else on matters of knowledge. When it comes to knowledge, we too often tend to embrace the perspective of total ambiguity or complete certainty, in exchange for sufficient knowledge, which is truly spiritual... When Christians take the role of 'know-it-alls' or 'know-nothings', they are contributing to impoverished spirituality."

  • "Memories may haunt or revive you -- but either of these outcomes may contribute to losing the path. If you are always returning to your past and reliving pain or vanity, then you are following your own map, not God's."

  • "Our actions will never be perfect, but nevertheless we are to continue to seek to demonstrate love in the midst of sin... We have, generally speaking, become unskilled and illiterate map readers, and this is bound to carry with it grave consequences for our spirituality and our communities."

    And finally (SO many gems I wish I could include here!)...

  • "Reversing spiritual impoverishment is dependent on a growing awareness that, in the midst of the brokenness and sin, God already -- through Christ -- restores that which He made, and He will do so completely at the end of time."
To sum up, I really really enjoyed this book. The chapters are short and to the point, and something that I could picture in my mind's eye as I read were various L'Abri students (whose stories are sprinkled throughout the book) coming up to Greg and saying, "Yeah, but what about...???" And then Greg wrestling through answers for real people, and not just an intellectual exercise.

Aside from the spiritual depth of this writing (which is considerable), one of its most endearing features for me was this sense of authenticity; you can easily spot that much of what Greg writes has been tested and refined in the fires of conversations over a meal, in classic L'Abri fashion, with actual people voicing deep and penetrating questions.

All in all, I found this book to be insightful, thought-provoking, and very encouraging.


  1. Yes good review.

    One that caught my attention was the distinction between total ambiguity and complete certainty. That seems to be the source of the conflict between the anti-emergents and those in the emerging conversation.

    While I would say that the majority of emerging people would agree with the idea of sufficient knowledge, they are characterized as standing for total ambiguity because they are not willing to agree with complete certainty.

    I appreciated this point because it explained why those arguments always end the same way.

    I enjoyed all of the other nuggets also - consenting to dying forms of spirituality, the power of memories, reversing spiritual impoverishment, good stuff!

  2. Greg also has blog, named the same as this book.

  3. Robby,
    I'll add my sincere thanks for an excellent review. I very much liked the way you highlighted important points throughout the book. I also appreciated your perceptive insights into some of the "real life" situations of living in community that are expressed in these pages.

    Grace's comment here, off your review, is well worth pondering. Many difficuties we have in conversing are due to polarizations, which tend to divide and not bring about unity in the body of Christ. Such polarizations tend to De-powerize Word and Spirit, which can only lead to spiritual impoverishment. As we seek to take the gospel to the ends of the earth may the Spirit unleash the wisdom and strength needed for each step along the way as we attempt to be living spirituality.

  4. Such polarizations tend to De-powerize Word and Spirit, which can only lead to spiritual impoverishment.

    this sentence alone makes me instantly like you, greg. the book sounds interesting,too.

    good write-up robby.

    (so greaaaaaaaat to be back in the blogosphere after a bit of a hiatus!)

  5. That was me... Cindy-lu

  6. Robby,

    I've been devouring Schaeffer over the last year. It's great to know there's still good stuff coming out of L'Abri! I'll have to get myself a copy.

  7. Greg,

    Thanks for stopping by, and I'm glad you enjoyed the review. You're written a great resource.

    Polarization usually ends up in what I've heard many refer to as "false dichotomies", where people feel forced to choose between what basically amounts to exaggerated caricatures. Not a good way to foster accurate communication, good will, or unity.


    Welcome back! Looking forward to working with you, Grace, and Brother Maynard in the very near future (emails are comin' your way).


    You won't be disappointed!

  8. Matt,

    Thanks for the link, and don't worry -- I'm sure you'll adapt to speaking and writing English very soon! :)