I heard a man explain the difference between theology (our understanding of God) and spirituality (how we live out what we believe) with a good analogy. He explained that the rules of playing basketball are like theology. Each of us could read a book on the fundamentals of basketball and learn all the game's ins and outs, rules, and basic concepts to gain an understanding of the sport.
On the other hand, our spirituality is like actually playing on the basketball court and reflects what we believe or don't believe about God. It's where we have the ball in hand and we are dribbling down the court taking our shots, guarding our opponent, or getting blocked when we shoot for 3!
The distinction is important because I need both my theology and spirituality to grow and reach wholeness. Theology is our understanding of God that continues to grow as life moves forward. Spirituality is how we live out that understanding and experience God in life. We truly live out what we believe. We all need theology and spirituality, but both are not always easily defined or understood. Both need our attention because they influence each other.
I was raised Catholic. I was so dedicated as an altar boy that a well-seasoned priest felt I had a call on my life to become a priest. This was my theology and it was all that I knew at the time. Much later in life when I was completely at the end of my rope I had an encounter with Christ that changed my trajectory in living life as I knew it. My experience put pressure on my theology which invited me to explore what I believe/understood now about God. I searched the scriptures and sought counsel to gain clarity.
Theology is the framework for how I understand God and therefore how I interpret my life, my relationships in the world, with others, and how I live under God's care. Calvin said, "One could not truly know God without knowing oneself and that one couldn't truly know oneself without knowing God." This fits for me. Knowing God and living my life accordingly is a discovery of Him and myself. It is where I play ball so to speak.
The way I live solidifies my theology. When my theology is deepened I live life differently. I see the world from a different perspective and I relationally change to all that is in my life. Reflection, discussion, and mediation "fleshes" this out in me. My theology is much different than I was raised in the Catholic Church as an altar boy. My theology is much different than when I graduated from Seminary in 1998. I am grateful for my growth and I am grateful for my heritage. My journey is so meaningful and informative as I continue on self-discovery and who God is.
When Jesus walked this earth, he messed with people's theology. He put pressure on the religious institutes, the common folk, fishermen, and even the government. Their experience of His presence invited them to consider what they really believed and how they lived their lives.
My walk with Christ is a relationship with the reality of Him being who He is and I, who I am. Like any relationship, we are impacted by the interaction, experience, and journey with another. Relationships flourish when they continue to grow in curiosity, but become stale when there is no room for discovery. This is the same with our theology and spirituality - faith.
My theology is the framework for living in my life. My spirituality presents real life to my theology to see if that theology is valid or not. Over the years I have observed that those who are informed by both theology and spirituality seem more whole. Theology grounds us and spirituality infuses us. I have met people who have these lop-sided. One seems cold and calculated and the other seems flighty with no footing. I have been both at times and I intentionally now try to keep a holy tension between the two for my growth.
My theology gets stale when it is no longer a consideration for me anymore. In other words, I quit growing and learning. My spirituality can get spooky if I no longer consider the framework of what I believe and why. I stay pretty shallow in either arena without the other but holding to both, I take a deep dive.
How is your theology informing you and how is your spirituality being played out in your life?
Do you have a space to talk this out? I would enjoy being present with you in that space as you take your deep dive.