January 15, 2021

iMonk Classic: What Is Jesus-Shaped Spirituality?

This weekend, as we mourn Michael Spencer’s passing, thank God for the hope of eternal life, and comfort one another in our time of loss, IM will feature classic posts from the Internet Monk.

What Is Jesus-Shaped Spirituality? (2/24/09)

The past year and a half has been the most personally tumultuous time I’ve ever experienced as a Christian believer. At one time or another in this past year, I have re-evaluated every area of my Christianity, often with many tears, prayers and hours of reading. Much of this has been in response to the questions raised by my recent encounters with Roman Catholicism.

I entitled this adventure Jesus Shaped Spirituality. It’s a catchy and provocative label, but I’m not sure I could have come to your church and given a talk on what I meant by the phrase.

Today, I’m at a different place on that journey. I’ve now come to the place that Jesus shaped spirituality has some feel, form and substance for me. I have some confidence and comfort in expressing what I’ve discovered, reaffirmed and began to express to others.

I want to be clear that I am not trying to “return to primitive Christianity” or “reinvent the church.” What I am doing is developing a tool, a grid or filter, to interpret Christianity wherever I encounter it, by asking basic questions about Jesus. If I am going to be faulted, it will be for this: I am determined to be satisfied with nothing short of a Jesus-shaped Christianity, as best I can understand what that means.

This isn’t a staking a claim for a new denomination, but simply an expression of the shape of discovering, knowing and following Jesus as the one who reveals both the Father and the shape of human experience.

What does Jesus-shaped spirituality look like?

1) It is a spirituality rooted in the Biblical story. It is a spirituality that grows up in the narrative of the Bible and within the categories of the Biblical worldview. Most particularly, it is a spirituality of the Biblical story that is finally and completely about Jesus and understood in Jesus.

2) It is a spirituality where God comes to all people: in Jesus, through the incarnation, the Gospel, Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit.

3) It is a spirituality where God is available, immediately, through the mediation of Jesus, to all people, in the power of the Spirit as revealed in the Gospel.

4) It is a spirituality where Jesus is the ultimate sacrament, and all sacraments are visible, actual participations in Jesus as salvation.

5) It is a spirituality where the Kingdom of God is present everywhere and God’s people are called to be workers for and proclaimers of the Kingdom wherever God has placed them.

6) It is a spirituality especially manifested where the Gospel is explicitly heard, believed and practiced.

7) It is a spirituality where God is known, experienced and worshiped as Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit as revealed by Jesus in scripture.

8] It is a spirituality of the compassion of Jesus for the whole range of human brokenness. It is a spirituality of kindness, gentleness and generosity to the hurting, the lonely and the wounded.

9) It is a spirituality where all people are called to the decisive act of public, intentional discipleship, inaugurated in baptism and continued, when possible, in a local church.

10) It is a spirituality of grace as understood in the teaching and actions of Jesus, and through the grace of God revealed in the Gospel.

11) It is a spirituality of inclusion, particularly imitating Jesus’ inclusion of outcasts, touching of lepers, respectful treatment of women, outreaches to Gentiles and liberating miracles for those who were considered beyond help, hope and forgiveness.

12) It is a spirituality that takes place in a movement of cross-cultural church planting. Jesus shaped spirituality is formed in the context of the outcomes and values that contribute to cross-cultural church planting, particularly in places where the Gospel has not been heard.

13) It is a spirituality that is shaped, whenever possible, in local churches and under the ministry of local church leadership. It is a spirituality that receives the ministry of the Spirit through the broadest possible experience of the church of Jesus.

14) It is a spirituality that announces and practices the end of religion, because all religion is fulfilled in Jesus. What remains of religion and religious practice is completely transformed by Jesus into a New Covenant understanding of the people of God.

15) It is a spirituality that calls all persons, and especially disciples, to continual personal transformation by grace in every area of human nature, experience and relationship.

16) It is a spirituality formed by the practice of prayer, reading scripture, worship, servanthood, mission and simplicity, both individually and, whenever possible, in community with other disciples.

17) It is a spirituality that is consciously, exclusively and intentionally Jesus-centered. The center and the boundaries of Jesus shaped spirituality are Jesus himself, as revealed in scripture, especially in the Gospels. It is a spirituality that takes all study of Jesus seriously, but affirms that Jesus is revealed with the authority of God in scripture.

18) It is a spirituality with a hopeful, optimistic eschatology of the Kingdom of God, inaugurated now and coming in fullness, announcing in advance God’s judgment of the world and God’s vindication of his people.

19) It is a spirituality that is not dispensed or controlled by institutions, but is accomplished by the work of the Spirit through whatever means God chooses as the shaping, forming element.

20) It is a spirituality of creativity, freedom and cultural diversity. We are constantly discovering and rediscovering Jesus in new ways. It is a spirituality that honors and appreciates the discovery of Jesus by those who have known Jesus before us.

21) It is a spirituality that receives and evaluates tradition, authority and theology within a living experience of discipleship to Jesus.


  1. creepy…..we’re sharing a brain or something: out of all Monk’s archives, this is the post that I shared with a friend or two to get a taste of what Michael was all about. After my quiet time in the word, this is what I’ve been meditating on here and there throughout the day.

    I’m thinking his book will flesh these out……can’t wait.

    Blessings, peace, and rest on you Chap Mike
    Greg R

  2. There is not one thing in this list of Michael’s that I disagree with. Although this particular post was not one that was “designed” to be heart-wrenching, it still makes me teary with its thoroughness, thoughtfulness and beauty.

    Thanks for re-posting it, Chaplain Mike.

  3. The Guy from Knoxville says


    What’s interesting as I read this post is that I can almost hear in my mind Michael’s voice as
    though he were teaching or preaching – there is a wealth of knowledge and wisdom in this post and one could spend many group studies or even a sermon series on each of those 21 items on the list.

    It’s quite an insight to where he was going, where he was headed from where he came from – where he started this walk that saw many lost in this find a home. Just sends shivers as you
    read and think on it.

    Thanks for the re-post Chaplin Mike!

  4. I was just talking with a friend this morning about this in a roundabout way. She said you can’t discuss politics with friends if you are on separate sides. My reply was that I see everything in the light of Christ, and who would He be more inclined to spend time with? Bill O’Reilly or Rachel Maddow? The Jesus I have come to know and love is very real and present in my life, and I can’t see him hanging with Bill in his present form….I just can’t. There is right and wrong, black and white, lies and truths.
    Many of us are almost as political as we are spiritual, and I have been having a day of reckoning with myself. Can I remain political and keep in step with Christ? It seems to create the atmosphere of us vs. them, of choosing sides and judging people as right or wrong. That seems to be out of line in some way. I don’t harbor hatred for anyone at all, even Bill O. If he were in need of help I would give to him without hesitation or ill feelings. I would be delighted as a child of God to be able to help anyone who needs it. It’s just that I tend to judge those who agree with him as ignorant sheep if I don’t stop myself short of that judgement. That’s wrong thinking, and I am convicted in my spirit this morning.
    This is a long rant, and I apologize for taking things here today. These are the emotions that these posts from Michael regarding social issues always brought forward. He was a gentle soul with me, and I miss him more than I can say.

  5. “11) It is a spirituality of inclusion, particularly imitating Jesus’ inclusion of outcasts, touching of lepers, respectful treatment of women, outreaches to Gentiles and liberating miracles for those who were considered beyond help, hope and forgiveness.”

    I think we have an easier time touching lepers than our brothers and sisters in the faith, with whom we differ on doctrine or denomination. If we spent less time trying to convert the converted, perhaps we could focus on seeking and saving the lost.

    • Graham (the other one) says

      Boy, is that comment “on the money.” I recall a conversation with a friend about how his pastor lamented that folks in our town weren’t responsive to his evangelistic efforts. Pursuing that, I learned from my friend that the pastor’s efforts were basically to convert folks from other denominations to his. I pointed out to my friend that at least half of the U.S. population is unchurched and suggested that perhaps the pastor’s outreach vision could be broader.

      That church is Reform Presbyterian, but that kind of thinking certainly is not unique to that denomination. I’ve had much the same discussion with some folks in my church (RC).

      We really need to find a way to work together on this.

      We need more Michael Spencers pricking our consciences to keep us thinking and praying about how to do that.

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