Friday, May 13, 2016

The Inward, Outward Journey

William James, in Varieties of Religious Experience, defined religion as “the feelings, acts and experiences of individual men (and I would add, women) in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the Divine.”  When writing about the contribution which the Quaker, George Fox, made to the religious life, James speaks of it as “a religion of veracity rooted in spiritual inwardness.”  James makes no mention of the Christian contribution to social transformations.  For James, Religion is “inwardness,” not efforts to make a better “outwardness.”

The Road of Life begins within the individual person,
 but leads to the healing and transformation
of this fragile world.
There is a fraction of truth in this attempt to reduce religion to what one does alone with God in one’s solitude, but only a fraction.  The Christian faith proclaims this inwardness to be foundational and essential because it is meant to lead to an outward journey of service and transformation in society.  Jesus both healed and prayed—doing, he said, the work of his Father.  The inner life of devotion and the outward life of service go together.  If there is only the life of devotion (inwardness)—one is a “half-Christian,” or as  John Wesley put it, “an almost Christian.”  The life of service (outward) is devoid of meaning when it has no inner roots (inwardness)—again we have only an almost Christian.  

Elton Trueblood, in The New Man For Our Time, suggested three elements are necessary in any genuine Christianity:  “first, the experience of inner vitality that comes by the life of prayer, second, the experience of outer action in which the Christian carries on a healing ministry, both to individuals and to social institutions, and third, the experience of careful thinking by which the credibility of the entire operation may be supported.  Religions tend to die when any one of the three is omitted…”

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