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What is the Difference between Spirituality, Religion and Theology?

Updated: Jun 28

Video from That Theology Teacher

What is the Difference between Spirituality, Religion and Theology?

"What is the relationship between spirituality, religion, and theology? Can you be spiritual, but not religious? Or religious, but not spiritual? Or can you practice theology without being either religious or spiritual? Today we are going to look at the differences and relationship between these three terms. Spirituality can best be described as “lived relationship with _____.” I intentionally leave the end of the sentence blank, because you can be spirited at anything. Think school spirit for example. You can certainly attend a school…. but if you don’t have a lived or active relationship with that school -- you don’t get involved, you don’t make any connections with your teachers, peers, or subject matter, then you aren’t really going to feel any sort of school spirit. It’s a pep assembly without the pep! Spirit, in Hebrew, is “wind” or “breath” and these terms I feel adequately describe the role of spirituality. Since wind is a force that moves you. Breath is a force that provides life. If you are connected enough with something, whether it’s school, or sports, or God, you will be moved….. and it will provide you with life. Religion is best defined as an organized group of worshippers who share beliefs, practices, and a moral code. The Latin root, religio translates “to bind together.” If you have a group of spiritual people -- that is a group that feels a connection with each other and God and they join forces and organize they become a religion. And this religious identity binds them together. Think Pentecost in Acts 2. What many people don’t realize is that Pentecost was actually a Jewish Feast Day (Known as the Feast of Weeks) that celebrated the gift of the Law to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. Fifty days after the resurrection of Christ, the Apostles were together a room celebrating this religious holiday when they encountered spirituality in a new way -- being described as like tongues of fire appearing over them. They spoke different languages but understood the meaning. At that religious ritual, the Apostles felt a connection to God and with each other in a way that they hadn’t before. This motivated them to be willing to risk persecution by going out in public to preach the good news of Jesus. The key to this story is -- they felt binded by a connection! Have you ever felt a connection that was so strong in a group that you and the other members were motivated /inspired to just go out and do something about it? If so, that’s a feeling of spirit! So what about theology? Theology is Greek for “god-talk.” And in short, it’s people talking about God. I’ve described in past episodes that a good way of understanding theology is people making sense of stuff. Or people providing meaning to things that have inexplicably happened to them or the answers to life questions. The key word here is “meaning.” So, what is the relationship between these three words? Can you be spiritual, but not religious? Yes, but as CS Lewis describes... religion is like a map. It provides a sense of direction when you’re out at Sea. Could you sail the Atlantic without a map and have a moving experience? Absolutely! But it’s easier to have a map helping you keep your barings. Religion is a tool that aids one’s spirituality and keeps us on course. Can you be religious, but not spiritual? Unfortunately yes. I think we’ve all had experiences in church where there’s a absense of spirit -- there’s no connection with the community, the text, or the rituals. It’s when people say, “I get nothing out of going to church.” The ritual of going to church is a religious action, but if there’s no connection, then it’s not spiritual. You’re part of the group, but you’re not connected to the group. In 2013, Pope Francis made headlines when he told nuns not to live their vocations as “old maids.” He asks all religious clergy and lay people to remember the spirit of their calling -- the spirit should be lively, not sad and grumpy. In this case, Francis was talking about people who are religious, but no longer spiritual. Can you practice theology without being spiritual or religious? Absolutely, but I think it’ll be sloppy. The Judeo-Christian tradition has almost four thousand years of commentary, or instruction to help guide meaning when doing theology. It would be shameful to not at least tap the resources that religion can provide. Further, I think there’s an advantage to doing theology if you a spiritual Again, spiritual means you’re connected to it -- so if you’re trying to make sense of God, it’s easier writing from experiences you can relate to." Video transcript


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