“Airy Impotence”

MODERN SCEPTICISM OF SPIRITUALITY dominated the twentieth century. James Lapsley has argued that “By the early twentieth century the word spirit had come to connote a vague sense of airy impotence, almost to the point of meaninglessness, in western theology”.[i] The modern theologians who did consider the issue of spirituality in the twentieth century, showed a much closer affinity with biblical ideas than had most of their more recent predecessors.[ii]

Reinhold Niebuhr’s (1949) The Nature and Destiny of Man, posited nature and spirit as basic constituents of human beings. Although, significantly, he later abandoned ‘spirit’ for the secular concept of ‘self’ to refer to human beings. Paul Tillich (1963), Teilhard de Chardin (1959), and Wolfhart Pannenberg (1985) also used spirit as a major category. Tillich took the position that the spirit of human beings is a distinctive created spirit, whereas Teilhard and Pannenberg both argued for an identity between divine and created spirit which is thought to characterize all of life.[iii]


[i] James N. Lapsley (1990) ‘Spirit and Self’, Pastoral Psychology, v.38 (3), Spring (1990), 136.

[ii] Ibid, 135-7.

[iii] Ibid, 135-7.

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