Christian Spirituality: Changes in the Inner Landscape by Peter Neilson

(in The Expository Times journal, 2006, Vol. 117, No. 7, Pp. 277-281)

Peter Neilson is an elder of the Fresh Expressions movement in the Church of Scotland.  This is an interesting little article obviously motivated to equip Christians for ministry in and beyond the Church.  He explores the question of why “many people find Christendom patterns of spirituality no longer sustain them” from developmental, historical, cultural and pastoral-missional perspectives.

For me, development ‘stages of faith’ don’t really hold enough explanatory power to account for such a widespread shift in spirituality, no matter how good your process model is.  (Neilson draws on John Drane, Hagberg & Guelich and David Lyall.)  However, it is helpful to realise that historical and cultural shifts do draw people into a ‘critical’ and ‘postcritical’ or ‘integrative’ stage of faith development more quickly than they might otherwise have arrived.  Neilson sums this up when he says, “the concern to be engaged with the outer landscape of the culture affects the inner landscape of our spirituality.”   So, “ministers engaging with the missionary challenges of our culture speak of the experience of an inner deconstruction in order to be reassembled for the task in hand.” Absolutely!

Neilson references Alan Roxburgh’s models of leadership in a period of liminality, Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead’s model of subjective meaning systems and the biblical testimony of homesickness from Jeremiah 29, as resources for this kind of ministry and mission.  However, it’s the reference to Henri Nouwen that most resonated with me:

“the Christian leader must be able to be an interpreter of the inner landscape and be the ‘first to enter the promised but dangerous land, the first to tell those who are afraid what he [sic] has seen, heard and touched’.  People seek wisdom not information.”

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