You’ve heard it, the phrase “spiritual but not religious.” It’s now part of the pop culture lexicon of our times. It’s cool to be SBNR!
In this context “spiritual” is an umbrella term covering whatever one has discovered as a way of connecting to “God.” Typically this entails an inner pursuit of “truth,” “reality,” “depth,” or the like by the individual, often seeking a “peak” experience or some sort of breakthrough from ordinary life to another plane of reality. Even when done with others the focus remains on individual, personal growth.
Some have pushed back arguing the opposite – “religious but not spiritual” (RBNS). Most recently Lillian Daniel has offered a multifaceted description of the way of life entailed in in this RBNS in her book, When “Spiritual But Not Religious” Is Not Enough. It is corporate, quotidian, and marked by an attention to time and place often missing among SBNR types.
I want to suggest a third view. I call it “Spirit-ual But Not Religious.” By “Spirit-ual” I mean the formative work of the Holy Spirit in among the community of faith conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ. This is the only “Spirit-uality” (always with the capital “S”) that finally matters. Such Spirit-formation stands over against “religious” as the accommodated, privatized, moralism that so evidently marks the “religion” that the SBNR’s reject.
Though there a good bit of overlap with Daniel’s RBNS approach, I think “Spirit-ual But Not Religious” points unambiguously to the biblical focus on the Spirit as “the Lord and Giver of Life” (Nicene Creed). It also draws on the powerful critique of religion forged by Barth and Bonhoeffer in the first half of the last century and carried on by more recent writers like Ellul, Stringfellow, Yoder, and, in our own day, Peter Rollins. I believe “Spirit-ual But Not Religious” is a better counter-pose to the SBNR posture than an RBNS one.