How the Reformed tradition revolutionizes our approach to the spiritual life.

Spirituality is a buzz word these days. But sometimes the impression is left that Catholicism, with its long tradition of spiritual formation, is the only game in town. A well-known series of the “classics” of Western spirituality, notes Presbyterian pastor and scholar Hughes Oliphant Old, omits many of Protestantism’s most important figures. Some might conclude that there is no such thing as a Protestant spirituality.

As Old demonstrates, nothing could be further from the truth. Here he assesses the rich insights the Reformed tradition brings to piety and prayer. This is the first in an occasional series on how varied traditions can enrich our understanding of God and the spiritual life.

The Protestant Reformation was a reform of spirituality as much as it was a reform of theology.

For millions of Christians at the end of the Middle Ages, the old spirituality had broken down. Spirituality had been cloistered behind monastery walls for centuries. To be serious about living the Christian life had meant leaving the world and joining a religious community. At the heart of it all was a celibate, ascetic, and penitential devotion.

With the Reformation, the focus of the Christian life changed. Rather than separating from society, Christians began to conceive of devotion as living everyday life according to God’s will (Rom. 12:1–2). Spirituality became a matter of living the Christian life with family, out in the fields, in the workshop, in the kitchen, or at one’s trade.

Those in the tradition of Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, John Knox, and the English Puritans therefore came to speak of the doctrine of the Christian life when discussing what Roman Catholics ...

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