Last week I was travelling with an evangelical clergy colleague to an event, and mentioned that I was writing something on evangelical spirituality. ‘That’s a bit of an oxymoron!’ came the immediate response, followed by laughter. Some years ago Michael Green, former Principal of St John’s College and Rector of St Aldgate’s in Oxford, had a similar conversation. His response was simply ‘That will be short!’ There is a suspicion within the church that evangelicals don’t take spirituality seriously, and that for serious reflection on the spiritual life, you need to reach for other traditions. Derek Tidball expresses this perception well in his book Who Are the Evangelicals?:
Many would…question whether evangelicals have much to offer by way of spirituality. Evangelicalism appears to be such an activist faith that the essential characteristics of spirituality can too easily appear to be squeezed out.
Another perspective is offered by Gerard Hegarty:
Roman Catholic usage has come to associate ‘spirituality’ with the ‘inner life,’ or the ‘interior life,’ thus making the connection with the mystical tradition…It is not difficult to see how this sits ill at ease with the evangelical emphasis upon practical devotion having a direct influence on character and ‘good works.’
And yet, if evangelical leaders lose their vital connection with the life of God, the outward focus of evangelical activity becomes a hollow shell and loses the essential touch of grace.