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Background

After decades of teaching and observing Christian practice in multiple cultures and denominations, theology professor Roger Olson reflected on his experience on his blog and asked: What Is the Essence of Christianity? His answer: orthodoxy (right belief: doctrines), orthopraxy (right living: ethics/morality), orthopathy (right experience: spirituality), and he thinks the most crucial is actually orthopathy for which he argues in part two.

Another blog article also highlights the same 3 terms as part of Sanctification defining them:

  • Orthodoxy is correct doctrine/teaching. The content is right.

  • Orthopraxy is correct living. The lifestyle is right.

  • Orthopathy is right emotional and/or affections.

    Orthodoxy, Orthopraxy, Orthopathy

and then discussing them within the indicative, imperative, and subjunctive framework: enter image description here

C.SE and Spirituality related Questions

Does C.SE have good guidelines for these 3 areas?

  • I think C.SE has excellent guidelines for good questions on doctrines, by scoping orthodoxy to denominations, where they truly belong. Denominations are also tightly linked to theological camps, which help a lot in scoping questions.
  • Questions on morality are also handled adequately, but less satisfactorily, since there are a lot of overlap between theological camps, and the natural dividing line seems to be philosophical (divine command theory vs. natural law) which even influences exegesis. My (subjective) perception is that even in twenty-first century theologians from a theological camp that used to favor divine command theory (such as Calvinists) are appreciating more the natural law way of framing morality questions, although still a lot watered down compared to Catholic natural law practice.
  • But when it comes to spirituality, what is the guideline for scoping, tagging, focusing, and objectivity?

I found that in the area of "spirituality" C.SE has comparatively a lot fewer questions than the other 2 areas. At this point, there are only 44 tagged spirituality and 23 tagged mysticism. The rest (216) seems to fall under a "catch all" tag christian-living but only a small subset have spirituality as a topic with the rest are mostly morality or cultural.

How to ask spirituality questions?

The question that prompts this meta question is What does it mean to "seek" and "find" God?. I think this is a perfectly valid question to obtain a good definition and a good criteria of how Christians frame all their religious activities, which in Roger Olson's dichotomy falls under orthopathy (right experience / spirituality). The fact that the Bible use the terms (see examples) should be enough reason for the question's validity.

But the question is currently under criticism for

  • Need more focus ("does not focus on any particular denomination")
  • Opinion based ("These are matters of personal experience, not of stated doctrine.")

Using that question as a test case, my question is what is the guideline for scoping, tagging, focusing, and objectivity so that questions on Christian experience can be asked on this site? Given that orthopathy (right experience) is important (see Roger Olson's argument) there is inherent objectivity (which is important for this site), otherwise "ortho" wouldn't make sense.

Mitigation for objectivity

Some ideas to provide stable definition of Christian experience / spirituality to discuss this topic more objectively:

  1. Use definitions from standard textbooks on Christian spirituality such as Protestant Alister McGrath's Christian Spirituality: An Introduction or Catholic Jordan Aumann's Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition.
  2. Create good tag definitions that further divides spirituality to serve as scoping mechanism. For example, mysticism is a proper subset of spirituality.
  3. Consult websites such as gotquestions.org What is spiritual theology, wikipedia Catholic spirituality, etc.
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  • What is spirituality? Part of the difficulty is the lack of consensus on what it even is.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Oct 21 at 13:27
  • 2
    @curiousdannii I added a few ideas to create consensus, which I think should follow academic circles. This is an important area that I recommend C.SE to truly embrace, given its importance for being a Christian. For Roger Olson to term it orthopraxy is a good sign that there exists some standard and that to create standard we need stable definitions. Who knows someday there will be a council to define orthopraxy the way Nicaea & Chalcedon defined orthodoxy? Because of Charismatic movement there is so much confusion nowadays on what counts as authentic Christian experience. Oct 21 at 13:44
  • Try asking Hilary Clinton? She's spiritual, but not religious.
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Oct 21 at 15:10
  • 1
    @PeterTurner I take that comment to be facetious. All the more reason why we need to define Christian spirituality, to expose people like her :-) . There are too many counterfeit Christians nowadays. Oct 21 at 15:32
  • 1
    An additional problem with spirituality, is that is constantly changing and evolving according to the historical and cultural climate of a region a Christian is living in. For example, French missionaries of the 18th century, focused on the real possibility that one would never return home (martyr or disease). The average life span of missionaries in Africa alone was three years. That makes for a solidly based spirituality to be fixed in prayer and sufferings generously offered, United to Christ's sufferings. Oh, how we have changed.
    – Ken Graham Mod
    Oct 23 at 5:29
  • @KenGraham Yes, that's rather heart-breaking to see how we have changed. Regardless of whether spirituality is a good topic in C.SE, back to my point about Olson's orthopathy importance, what can Christians do about it? My own view is to collectively detect and discern bad vs. good spirituality, define good ones, and distribute (promote) the good ones as bringing the light of Christ to the world. Oct 23 at 17:51
  • I feel like this orthopathy is not "spirituality" to Christians, but rather more what the Charismatics preach. They are heavy on the "experience". If that description is right, I have bad news for you. Most Christian theology hardly accounts for this at all, and even some dismiss it outright as pagan, haughty, sinful, etc. Ergo, many such questions I think you envision are answered simply "This isn't really a consideration for most Christian theology." However, that "relationship with Jesus" theology so common in American non-denominationals is sure suggestive of the whole thing, no?
    – fгedsbend
    Nov 7 at 16:56
  • @fredsbend I see a lot of Christians compartmentalizes too much between reason, will, and emotion when it comes to theology until the study & scope of theology itself suffers as a result, in the post-enlightenment era. In the old days, we have theology sub-disciplines that engage those 3 aspects of the human soul: 1) Dogmatic theology engages reason, measured by orthodoxy; 2) Moral theology engages reason & will & emotion, measured by orthopraxy; 3) Mystical/Spiritual theology engages the whole experience, measured by orthopathy. Nov 8 at 6:12
  • In this way of conceiving theology as broadly as possible, we have a place for the evangelical emphasis on being born again and "relationship with Jesus", as well as Catholic liturgical, sacramental, spiritual exercises, and prayer practices. But I agree with you that recent interest in orthopathy is prompted by charismatic excesses which worry orthodox Christians because they insist on certain "experience" (such as speaking tongues) as the norm. Another concern is how New Age dilute the true spirituality, or how cult preachers require certain performance that dilute salvation by faith only. Nov 8 at 6:16
  • In my opinion it's very much conceivable that the reason charismatic movement became so popular is precisely the neglect of theology to include emotion and experience in Bible study, sermon, small group, creating a vacuum to be filled by the charismatics. I'm studying how Aquinas actually said a lot about the Holy Spirit activity and about Holy Spirit gifts centuries before Pentecostals. Nov 8 at 6:30
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While I agree it's a little bit awkward, I think scoping questions about spirituality should be the same as the scoping for doctrine. Why do I think that, despite spirituality being a cross-cutting concern between denominations?

Sourcing

Ideally (despite that ideal often not being reached) answers should be opinion-free, with sources backing what is said. In case of spirituality, this probably means quotes from spiritual leaders discussing spirituality. Which leaders though?

I think this question is a good example. Despite being a very general question that I would put in the category spirituality, the appropriate scope here is, at least in my opinion, a catholic answer, since the question is clearly from a catholic POV (synodal path being a current topic among catholics in Germany). So I provided a quote from the Pope. Did the Pope say anything that any other leader of any other denomination couldn't also have said? No. I still feel it is appropriate to provide quotes from people that are authorities in the scope of the question, if possible. Without scoping, it's hard to tell who counts as authority.

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When I suggested things like this in the past, it was suggested to me to start a new site. When my several attempts at doing this failed and then the Area51 requirements got tightened to the extent that it was highly unlikely that a religious site was ever going to gain critical mass again, it just seems like a unlikely to go anywhere.

That being said, I don't have any problem with opening up the scope of Christianity.SE to include things that we've never allowed before that the powers that be will never allow on another StackExchange site, but we need

Profound Community Buy-In

in order for us to change the scope of the site and not just close questions about matters of spirituality that aren't qualified by some sort of doctrine (i.e. non-denominational spiritual, but not religious questions of faith)

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  • Thanks for the input. I suspect that much. Unlike Catholicism question traffic that can justify creation of another site, I recommend to use C.SE as an "incubator" until things become too unwieldy. My role is to be an advocate / sponsor / campaigner for the cause. I hope my answer shows some objectivity as well, since it is founded by solid Biblical basis (courtesy of John Piper). Oct 21 at 15:35
  • @GratefulDisciple the site that I was asked to start was actually more like "Christian Living" I focused it on "Catholic Life and Learning" though, the scope was probably a good reason why it failed to reach critical mass. But I think a Christian Living site would be great - not sure if that's what you're getting at.
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Oct 21 at 16:16
  • I'm new to the Area51 process, will take a look. Do you think there is enough interest based on closed questions on this site, though? But still, don't you think it's just kicking the same objectivity issue to another site? Or can an SE site forgo objectivity and voting based on the most helpful opinion? Oct 21 at 16:19
  • @grateful You almost need to form an offline (off stackexchange) group to get people involved enough to want to form an Area51 site, which is probably why we only get new ones around blockchain and content management systems instead of broad topics or liberal arts nowadays. We can do whatever we want on this site, nobody is going to force us to follow the rules that we cooked up 10 years ago if they don't make the site useful today, but we're not going to abandon objectivity on a whim. I thought that viewpoint tagging answers could help with that.
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Oct 21 at 16:27
  • 1
    I just don't want a stellar mormon answer to have to be fair-to-middling non-demoniminational answer on the same question because I think that's unfair to the answerers. I never really minded subjective answers or opinionated answers as long as they were grounded in something the OP could independently verify.
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Oct 21 at 16:29
  • So the conclusion seems to be: 1) spirituality / experience related questions are fine when using the same scoping mechanism for doctrines. 2) opinionated answer is fine if it is independently verifiable. Fair enough. I can live with this until we have another test case. At any rate, for this question, the resolution seems to be to scope it to Protestantism. Unless you think it still need more focus. Oct 21 at 17:01
  • @GratefulDisciple yep. I personally rely on Dannii and the community's input for whether Protestantism is too broad. I'm learning, but I can't keep everything straight enough to know how big a net has been cast. Protestantism usually means sola scriptura which means a lot of Bible quotes and private interpretation. I never like that but when I delete peoples answers it just comes of like I'm trying to explain why sola scriptura is wrong, which most Protestants don't appreciate. So if all this can be avoided, I prefer it because it's more thinking and reading for me, but it's ok.
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Oct 21 at 17:08
  • Hi Peter, i just came across this discussion by noticing that @GratefulDisciple had asked a question that I felt might be pertinent to a new site I proposed. I then realized how he had been able to help me clarify and strengthen the idea so well so quickly, which is that you guys had already been discussing it. I also noticed that you had made an attempt to launch a site for reasons similar to my own. I take this as a sign that it is an idea whose time has come. You even suggested a similar name to one I came up with, “Christian living”. Mine is "Bible Applications" which may be more neutral. Nov 7 at 7:12
  • It seems like the idea I floated was not as well received on this site as on the Meta BH site. I would like for it to have the support of both the existing sites which I think would help it launch successfully. I believe it will reduce confusion on each and draw in a fresh new audience. I think the current form of the spirituality Q is fine for C. The same Q on BA would probably receive different kinds of answers. I'd be interested in hearing any feedback you may have on the process. Does the proposal, as laid out by GratefulDisciple in table form, address your concerns adequately? Nov 7 at 7:24

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