SP2040 Introduction To Christian Spirituality
Through Diverse Spiritual Practice

Fall, 2003

INSTRUCTORElizabeth Liebert, San Francisco Theological Seminary
TIME:  Thursday, 2:10-5:00 p.m.


            Mature Christian spirituality is grounded in attention to personal and communal religious experience, critical study, and loving action in the world. Through reading, discussion, experience of a variety of spiritual disciplines and written reflection, students will examine the relationship of spirituality to biblical criticism, theology, history, cultural context, study/scholarship, body, environment, and vocation. Through practicing prayer disciplines relevant to each topic, students will also be introduced to group spiritual guidance and discernment. This course is designed for students who are seriously seeking to deepen their spiritual lives in preparation for ministry. It will require commitment to regular spiritual practice, willingness to try a variety of spiritual practices, to share these experiences with peers, as well as critical academic reflection. Learning strategies may include web-based discussion.


  1. To experience a spectrum of personal spiritual disciplines and begin to integrate into one's life patterns those that are most helpful. To share the experience of the variety of spiritual practices in a group setting.
  2. To articulate an understanding of Christian spirituality that includes both its uniqueness and its variety, its practice as well as its study.
  3. To develop a holistic understanding of spiritual formation.
  4. To reflect upon the implications of goals 1-3 for ministry.


McFague, Sallie. Super, Natural Christians: How We Should Love Nature. Minneapolis, Fortress, 1997. Intro, Ch. 1-2, 5-7.

McGrath, Alister. Christian Spirituality:  An Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999. Chapters 1-5, 7.

Mulholland, M. Robert. Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation.  Nashville: Upper Room, 1985. Chapters 4-5 and 10-13.

Oliver, Mary Ann. Conjugal Spirituality. Kansas City, Sheed and Ward, 1994. Chapters 1-7.

Paulsell, Stephanie. Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002.

Rice, Howard. Reformed Spirituality: An Introduction for Believers. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1991. Intro and Chapters 1-5, 7.

Sheldrake, Philip. Spirituality and History:  Questions of Interpretation and Method. Second Edition. Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis, 1995. Chapters 1-3 and 5-7.

Stewart, Carlyle Fielding III. Soul Survivors: An African American Spirituality.  Louisville:  Westminster/John Knox, 1997.

Several articles, on reserve in the GTU and SFTS libraries. If you so choose, you may make your own copies from these.


Driskill, Joseph. Protestant Spiritual Exercises:  Theology, History and Practice. Harrisburg, PA:  Morehouse, 1999.

Hayden, Christopher, “Lectio Divina and Historical Critical Method:  A Dialogue”  BSW 1 (1998): 1-10.  (BSW= Biblical Studies on the Web)  http://www.bsw.org/index.  Click on BSW Journal on the top menu bar, select Vol. I, scroll down table of contents to Hayden.


             Generally, each class session will begin with a period for "debriefing" a spiritual practice done during the preceding week, followed by input/discussion on the day’s topic, and conclude with the presentation and experience of a spiritual practice related to the day's topic to be practiced during the subsequent week. Other teaching/learning strategies include brief response papers, and a final reflection paper or creative summary.


  1. Mastering and participating actively in discussion of assigned readings. 
  2. Experimenting at least one time with each week’s spiritual practice; writing a brief  (one paragraph to one page) reflection on the experience that will be shared orally in the “debriefing” and handed in to the instructor, who will make brief comments on them. (The class may elect to share these comments with all through the internet; if this option is selected, the discussion will center more on the themes and issues discerned in the sharing via internet.) These reflections must be completed as part of the class, but will not themselves be graded. In two classes, Sept. 25 and Nov. 27, these papers will be replaced by content-oriented response papers. (The class may elect to post these papers on line, as well)
  3. Two content-oriented response papers of 3-4 pages typed:
    1. State your working definition of spirituality both as a phenomenon and as an academic discipline and your understanding of spiritual formation in relation to spirituality as you have defined it. One way to approach this paper is to discuss spirituality in light of the various topic headings for the weeks of class prior to this date. Due on Sept. 25 (no spiritual practice response due today).
    2. State your understanding of the holistic nature of spirituality, commenting on physicality, culture, vocation, nature, etc. Due on Nov. 27 (no spiritual practice response due today).
  4. A final integration paper (approximately 15 pages) which addresses, in any way chosen by the student, the following topics:
    1. What description of Christian spirituality most communicates your current understanding?  What criteria would you use to identify such a spirituality
    2. How is your understanding of Christian spirituality related to the Bible, the church and the world? (Locate it critically in some part of the scholarship.)
    3. What "rule of life" or embodiment of spirituality have you adopted at this point in your life?  What benefits and struggles have ensued from this process?
    4. How might spirituality affect your future ministry?

            If you choose an artistic medium as the primary vehicle to convey the above points, the written text may be shortened accordingly, but you must append a text which covers the above points explicitly enough that the connection between the creative medium and the integrative issues is clear to the instructor.

            This integration paper is due on Dec.12. Late papers will entail a penalty and none will be accepted after Dec.15.


            Course grade will based on discussion of assigned readings, the two response papers based on the content of the class, and the final integration paper. The written reflections on the spiritual practices, though they must be completed in order to receive a passing grade, will not themselves be counted in the course grade.


            Those who need special accommodation because of documented disability should make their particular situation and needs known to the instructor early in the course so that appropriate accommodations can be worked out.


Note:  The readings listed are to be prepared prior to that day's class.  Articles are placed on reserve in a looseleaf binder in each library. You may copy them for your own personal use.

September 4: Introductions, evolution, purpose and organization of the course, student expectations, terms.

Spiritual practices: Silence and Spiritual Journal

September 11: Describing spirituality.

Read:  Rayan,  “Spiritual Formation,” Ministerial Formation, Programme on Theological Education, World Council of Churches (Sept. 1987: 4-13. (on reserve). See also the brief description of the author filed with the reserves.

Schneiders, “Spirituality as an Academic Discipline,” Christian Spirituality Bulletin (Fall, 1993): 10-15 (on reserve).
McGrath, Christian Spirituality, Ch.1, 2.
Sheldrake, Spirituality and History, Intro, Ch. 2, 8.
Spiritual practice: Spiritual Reading (You might wish to use the Rayan article or some other devotional material from your personal library or from Scripture as the spiritual reading.)

September 18: Reformed Spirituality as an example of a particular Christian Spirituality

Read: Rice, Reformed Spirituality, Intro and Ch. 1-5, 7.

Spiritual practice: Closet/“Secret” Prayer

Write: Your working definition of spirituality, both as phenomenon and as academic discipline, and your understanding of spiritual formation in relation to the above. Due Sept. 25.

September 25: Bible and Spirituality

Read:  McGrath, Ch. 5

Mulholland, Shaped by the Word, Ch. 4-5,10-13 (on reserve)

Schneiders, “Biblical Spirituality: Life, Literature and Learning,” in Doors of Understanding: Conversations in Global Spirituality in Honor of Ewart Cousins, ed. Steven Chase. (New York: Franciscan Press, 1997): 51-76 (on reserve)

First reflection paper due (See Sept. 18). No written debriefing of spiritual practice due today.

Spiritual practice: Lectio Divina

October 2: Theology and Spirituality

Read:  McGrath, Ch. 3-4

Schneiders: “Theology and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals or Partners?” Horizons 13: (Fall, 1986): 253-274 (on reserve)

Spiritual practice: A Study Prayer

October 9: Spirituality and History

Read:  Sheldrake, Ch. 1, 3-4, 7

McGrath, Ch. 7
Spiritual practice: Recalling Spiritual Mentors 

October 16:  Holistic Spirituality

Read:  Callahan, "Noisy Contemplation" Wind is Rising: Prayer Ways for Active People. Washington DC: Quixote Center, 1978 (on reserve)

Rice, Ch. 6
Spiritual practice: Noisy Contemplation

October 23:  Reading Week (no class)

October 30: Embodiment and Spirituality

Read: Paulsell, Honoring the Body

Spiritual practice: Lectio with the Body

November 6: Spirituality and Vocation

Read:  Oliver, Conjugal Spirituality, Ch. 1-7

Rice, Ch. 6
Spiritual practice: A Prayer of Light for the Active Life

November 13: Spirituality and Cultural Context

Read:  Stewart, Soul Survivors

                        McGrath, pp.19-23 (review)

Write: Second reflection paper on the holistic nature of spirituality, commenting on physicality, culture, vocation, nature, etc. Due Nov. 27.         

Spiritual practice: Laments of the World

November 20: Happy Thanksgiving (holiday)

November 27: Environment and Spirituality

Read: Mc Fague, Super, Natural Christians, Intro, Ch. 1-2, 5-7.

Second reflection paper due today: on holistic nature of spirituality and spiritual formation; see Nov. 13 for details. (No written debriefing of spiritual practice due today).

Spiritual practice: Prayer With a Natural Object

December 4: Integration: student summaries of personal learning I

Spiritual practice: Awareness Examen

December 11: Integration: student summaries of personal learning II

Integration Papers due December 12 by 5:00 p.m
The following "virtues" of the SFTS MDiv program will receive particular attention:
  • knowledge of and respect for the Church and its mission; knowledge of, respect for, and intelligent use of its manifold tradition; a sense of how and why theological reasoning has been done in earlier times.  In particular, students should become aware of and experience spiritualities out of which theology grows.  Students should articulate, at a beginning level, the spirituality of the tradition to which they belong--for example, the particular characteristics of Reformed spirituality.  This course touches upon the historical tradition from the point of view of spirituality, but its main goal with respect to this virtue is to raise consciousness that spirituality is indeed an essential aspect of the lived tradition of the Church.
  • personal integrity, reflecting a healthy sense of self, healthy relations with other persons in which ethically appropriate behavior is enacted, boundaries respected and compassion exercised, and a well nurtured relationship with God.  In particular, students should learn ways to foster their own relationship with God; such a relationship fosters and sustains a healthy sense of self.  This course offers a model of collegial spiritual companionship upon which other ministerial support groups may be based. 
  • a sense for grounding theology in practical reality; awareness that theoretical reflection builds on practical wisdom and theological propositions must be tested by their consequences for the persons or congregations that hold them.  In particular, students should learn to balance both experiential and critical approaches to spirituality without reducing one to the other.  Students should also begin to articulate the relationship between their own experience of God and the theological language with which they articulate that experience
  • sensitivity to contrasting experiences and cultures and respect for otherness in the faith.  In particular, students should gain some sense of the variety of personal responses to a given spiritual discipline, and to respect the responses which differ from their own. 

At the conclusion of this class, students should show concrete development in the following skills:

  • articulate personal faith and nurture the spiritual life of the congregation.

The following skills will also be fostered, though more indirectly:

  • lead a congregation in (Reformed) worship
  • preach literate, thoughtful scripture-based sermons
  • educate a congregation in the faith
  • provide pastoral care and counseling