Artisanal Spirituality: Creating Space for Hand-Crafted Faith

Occasionally, I listen to a podcast called “Homebrewed Christianity” hosted by a handful of PhDs in Theology and Religion who also happen to be involved in local church ministries of various sorts. (They also happen not to be teetotalers, as you may have guessed.) Episodes feature interviews with a huge variety of authors, thinkers, artists, and scholars who contribute in some fashion to Christian thought and practice. The tagline usually contains some variant of “…bringing you the best nerdy audiological ingredients so you can brew your own faith.”

Adult beverage metaphor aside, I’d like to explore this notion of brewing one’s own faith, or what we’ll outmodedly term “artisanal spirituality.”

Granted, this trendy moniker has long since been rendered meaningless by its commercial overuse, and its obituary has been written; but still, the spirit of the artisanal lives on, lures on.

The other day, I found myself half-way through a bag of Kettle brand potato chips—you know, the bags that say “great taste . . . naturally” and whose font has a sort of hand-crafted, woodcarving-y look—when the thought struck me that I would feel way more self-loathing if it had been a bag of Lays or Doritos instead of this higher-priced Kettle brand. Yet, in reality the nutritional value of what I was eating was hardly different (I checked). Sure, maybe a couple higher quality ingredients near the end of the list, but it was still a bag full of deep-fried starch.

Or, just think about what’s happened to coffee. It was not too long ago that holding a Starbucks cup was perfectly acceptable, if not a way to project an air of cultured importance. But now, at least in the office where I work, I find myself transferring the contents of a Starbucks cup into a generic container, lest the office coffee snobs ridicule me for not having patronized a local roaster. And not just any local roaster, but the preferred local roaster. Even better would be to use one of several gadgets we have around the office to hand-grind the locally roasted beans and hand-pour our own cup of craft coffee.1

One could find plenty of people equally “passionate” about their kimchi, harissa, salsa, pickles, mustard, ketchup, kombucha, and artisan bread. Corporate, global, and mass-produced are out. Homebrewed, hand-crafted, micro, nano, heirloom, and artisanal are in.

And while these words may have become cliché and meaningless (and great fodder for satire), the deeper something they tap into still works. High quality, unique, close-to-the-source, local, sustainable, fair trade, healthy. All these create a compelling aesthetic.

That deeper thing, I think, is a spiritual hunger for what is good, what is true, what is beautiful, and it is driven by a spiritual intuition that such Creator-crafted things are present throughout the world and not confined to religious spheres. I suspect this deep hunger must be somehow related to spiritual-but-not-religious preferences expressed by so many. If Religion is a corporate, institutional, pre-packaged set of beliefs that you “buy into,” no wonder it is falling on hard times.

It is not uncommon to take a critical view of these trends toward the hand-crafted or individualized forms of spirituality and faith, diagnosing them as symptoms of radical individualism, cafeteria religion, navel-gazing spirituality, Oprah church,2 or just, you know, those entitled Millennials.

But I agree with Diana Butler Bass, who thinks that too often these critiques “smack of intellectual superiority and moral defensiveness, carrying a whiff of judgment if not outright insult.”3 I confess the times I have invoked similar critiques, as I have not only come to a sympathetic appreciation of this hunger but also come to recognize it in myself.

I hunger for encounters with the Creator in whatever is “true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best and the beautiful” (Philippians 4:8, The Message)—wherever they happen to be found. And while I happen to love stained glass, pipe organs, hymns, liturgies, sacraments, stellar exegesis, and thoughtful small group discussions, these Pauline Spirit-virtues are at least as likely to be found by looking out into the world as inside a church.

Yet, as a self-professed proponent of religion-at-its-best, I am eager that we find ways to respond to this hunger in religious contexts. One option, I suppose, is for churches to slap on an “Artisanal” label, get some wood paneling and hip branding, and see if they can convince people to come sign up for a while.

I am not certain that is a good option, though. Instead, what if the role of religion shifted to become something more along the lines of creating a space where participants receive the tools, the inspiration, the resources, and even the encouragement to brew or craft their own faith? What would this look like?

It might look like ice cream and ketchup. My mom loves to recount a near-mythic family story of how she would frequently find me, as an early grade-schooler, awake pre-dawn in the kitchen, mixing all sorts of things together—the most memorable concoction being ice cream and ketchup. My mother, bless her, refrained from scolding me, and even, as far as I can gather, from “correcting” my choice of paired ingredients. Instead, she encouraged me to continue this playful and curious experimentation, which (she insists, and I agree) led eventually to my propensity for and enjoyment of cooking good food.

This parent-gifted freedom, it is worth noting, did not damn me to pursue a life of consuming and disseminating ketchup and ice cream. The learning process works, and my mom trusted the process. Fear and misgivings about my unorthodox experimentation would only have short-circuited the whole thing.

In running some of these ideas past my unmistakably millennial youth pastor colleague, I said that I thought religion should “make room” for this sort of artisanal spirituality, in which people are free to craft their faith from experiencing God in the world. He responded, “I don’t think religion should just ‘make room’ for that, or tolerate it; that should be the thing religion is about.”

Touché. I more and more agree.

Perhaps, on this weekend in which Christian churches around the world turn their focus toward Pentecost (Acts 2) and the emergence of the church through the pouring out of the Spirit, it is appropriate to suggest that we religious, churchy types need to trust Spirit more than we do.

“God’s Spirit-Wind-Breath blows wherever it wishes,” Jesus told Nicodemus, “and it’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8, CEB).

What if Religion’s branding sounded something more like, “We trust the Spirit, and we trust you”? What if Religion took seriously its claim that people are hand-crafted in the image of the Creator?

I hope we can keep exploring what it mean to make our message sound something like, “Here’s some space in the world and some tools from the best of our time-tested traditions; now go into the world, look for the Spirit, and craft your own faith, and then come back and share the best of it with us and with the world.”

Notes: 1. Should my coworkers read this: Yes, I am familiar with the idiom about pots and kettles calling each other out. 2. Diana Butler Bass, Grounded (New York: HarperOne, 2015): 22. 3. Bass, 22.

Vaughn Nelson is Pastor for Discipleship and Nurture at the La Sierra University Church in Riverside, California.

If you respond to this article, please:

Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
1 Like

An enjoyable essay.
However the Author MUST have sensed that this Spiritual [not Religious] Journey is NOT CONFORMITY.
SDAism, as promoted by the GC at this time, is Unity by Conformity.
This writer would not be welcome in many [most?] SDA churches.
I would enjoy being on the same Spiritual Path as this writer.
I could see that it would be a very joyful, joyous journey.

When we get along the Path of our Spiritual Journey Trail, we tend to become friends with many types of persons who are also there.
Persons that we would not have been speaking to if we were on the Religious Journey Trail. On the Spiritual Journey Path we are not all that concerned with a “Pure Church Congregation”.

EDIT-- Elmer “Religion and Spirituality” Perhaps it is the way we see Religion. My Sunday religion has these Religious Beliefs – I believe [trust] in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, communion of saints [that is why I meet in a group], forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the body, the life everlasting. [Nicene Creed]
Putting that to practice, I continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, breaking of the bread, in prayers. Persevere in resisting evil, repent and return to the Lord whenever I fall into sin. Proclaim by word and example the GOOD NEWS of God and Christ. Seek to serve Christ in all persons and attempt to love my neighbor as myself. Strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.
This allows me to enjoy FELLOWSHIP on the Journey with persons unlike me. Other Denominations, other belief systems – Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, persons still searching for a God, or who have temporarily found their “God” in drugs and alcohol.

Jeremy-- One does NOT Have to leave SDAism to have Religion AND Spirituality. Expanding one’s “religious practices” allows for FREEDOM. Freedom to find more ways to express one self to God. Ways to say, Thank You. Freedom to engage in worship with the un-numbered multitude, and not just with the 144,000. Freedom to SHARE one’s SDA religious practices with others, enriching theirs, as your’s becomes enriched.
Maybe you and Allen, and some others see ONLY One Way to worship the Creator-Redeemer, and if NOT that way, Leave. But, one does not have to leave, one can Embrace many and include them in the Worship Circle. Become like Jesus in practice. Embracing, Inclusionary with all. There is Room at the Table. Room to feed on the Body and Blood of Christ in community.


Christianity is at once personal and communal, the author put them together nicely., denominationalism is rigid conformity that holds forth the trapping of fellowship without the spirit. A coat of armor rather than a wedding garment. Let us be sure that wedding garment fits. It is the best armor. TZ


artisanal spirituality and hand-crafted faith are all that is real…we can see religion in our parents, teachers and authority figures in church, but until religion is brought into the mind through a humbling of the heart, earnest repentance, diligent study and consistent victory against natural inclinations, we have nothing…there can certainly be no motivation to belong to any denomination under this circumstance…

but i think leaving adventism is the correct choice for some…no-one should be encouraged to drag out a miserable life of duplicity and hypocrisy…until people can work out their own reasons for being adventist, or anything else, there’s no point in going through the motions…


Sadly, religion has become a corporate, institutional, pre-packaged set of beliefs that converts must “buy into” and in the world where personalization and DIY is most important, it is experiencing hard times.


With only ‘the bible as our creed,’ this pretty much must have described the first Seventh-day Adventists. So you are calling for revival and reformation among Seventh-day Adventists, right, Vaughn?

Feels good to me, too.

That said, faith is measured to each of us by God, rather than home brewed. That is Paul’s sense. Not to worry, though, faith is no less individual than if it were home brewed, and certainly more robust (1 Corinthians 13).

Either way, though, such faith is truly anti-religion.

And that’s the catch.

We’ll know it is catching on when the General Conference launches a Department of Anti-Religion. How small of a step would it be? We’ve got the Three Angels Message logos already in place. And if there were ever an Anti-Religion metaphor in scripture, Revelation 14 surely is that.

Here’s a (rhetorical?) question, is religion itself universally inevitably Anti-Christ?

Revelation 14 sure reads that Babylon is universal, as is Babylon’s collapse at the clarifying (loud) voice of the everlasting gospel by the First Angel.

By the way, John was more than bold in describing the religious aspects of Babylon as fornication. Please feel free to pick up with that in another column, Vaughn.


This article reminded me of this little piece of satire:


Religion is characterized as being community focused. It is observable, measurable and objective. Its rituals and tenets are formal, orthodox and organized. Religion is behavior oriented with outward practices. Its doctrines separate the good from evil. Spirituality is individualistic, less visible and measurable and more subjective. It is less formal, less orthodox and less systemic. It is emotionally oriented and inward directed. It is not authoritarian with little accountability. It tenets primarily are unifying and not doctrine oriented.

I believe that as one becomes more spiritual, the lesser religious he becomes and as one becomes more religious, the lesser spiritual he becomes. Additionally, the brain regions involved with religion and spirituality are separate and not the same thus yielding different cognitive meanings and emotions. A person cannot be at opposite sides of the spectrum at the same time. As Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”


Thanks, 2ndOpinion, I agree! So much so that I linked to it in the original article. :wink: (My favorite part is when he pulls out the ginger! Totally laughed out loud.)

Elmer, you seem to put Religion and Spirituality on opposite ends of a single spectrum so that they are incompatible. This is precisely the characterization of these two realms that I’m interested in rethinking. Besides the way it sets up the “spiritual” types to treat the poor, unenlightened “religious” folks condescendingly (the very attitude Paul is fighting in 1 Cor 12 and 13), I think it sells religion (religion-at-its-best!) short. Granted, much religion infantilizes people–no argument there! But I don’t think it is always the case that people who are deeply spiritual “outgrow” religious community and traditions. They do, however, certainly approach it in a different way. Paul Ricoeur’s term “second naïveté” captures this well, I think: a return, post critical analysis, to the beauty and delight of narratives and traditions.

I’d venture that this Spectrum forum, which is certainly a source of some sort of meaning for many, makes sense only within a religious context. And that’s a good thing, I’d argue.


Spirituality has been defined as the personal quest for the “transcendental relationship between the person and a Higher Being, a quality that goes beyond a specific religious affiliation…” whereas religion “involves subscribing to a set of beliefs or doctrines that have been institutionalized.” The transitional space where the search (spirituality) transitions to the destination (religion) and vice versa is more what I am referring to, not that spirituality and religion are at opposite sides. One cannot go on a personal quest with a final destination in mind anymore than one can be spiritual and religious at the same time. Case in point: When one joins a religious denomination and expresses a spiritual concept not consistent with the denomination’s creeds, the concept is not deemed as “spiritual” but heresy instead, e.g., GC2015 WO hissing and booing.

However, I’d like to see how spirituality and religion can be formulated to create “space for hand-crafted faith.” Keep on exploring.

Elmer – had to answer you on my ONE REPLY Above. Thanks for seeing.

1 Like

I enjoyed the piece, and its impetus for us to craft a nuanced and healthy, custom relationship with God.

I also found myself distracted by the coffee part for, probably, the traditional reasons.