The Christian Research Network, illustrates the recent history of “Spiritual Formation” ties in its early church traditions to contemporary Roman Catholicism:

  • => 1974 – WILLIAM MENINGER discovers the book, THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING:
    In 1974, Father William Meninger, a Trappist monk and retreat master at St. Josephs Abbey in Spencer, Mass. found a dusty little book in the abbey library, The Cloud of Unknowing. As he read it he was delighted to discover that this anonymous 14th century book presented CONTEMPLATIVE MEDIATION as a teachable, spiritual process enabling the ordinary person to enter and receive a direct experience of union with God. [3] THOMAS KEATING, BASIL PENNINGTON, and others who were students of Menninger disseminate these teachings. [4]
    This book launched SPIRITUAL FORMATION into mainstream evangelicalism, and continues to be used today. In The Celebration of Discipline, (COD) Foster shares the practices of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches that originated with the DESERT MOTHERS and FATHERS

COD presents spiritual formation as attainable through the “spiritual disciplines.” These disciplines are seen as a means of growing in spiritual maturity and depth. “In fact, the implication was that without the use of these ANCIENT CONTEMPLATIVE methods true ‘spiritual formation’ was not possible.” Really ? ? ?

  • => 1988 DALLS WILLARD a close associate of Richard Foster, writes The Spirit of the Disciplines.
    This book “reveals how the key to self-transformation resides in the practice of the spiritual disciplines, and how their practice affirms human life to the fullest.” The Spirit of the Disciplines is based on Willard’s understanding of Matt. 11:29–30. Willard teaches that the “yoke” spoken of by Jesus in this passage is to attempt to emulate the life of Christ in every way possible.

Willard teaches that this emulation occurs through the practice of the disciplines.

Richard Foster founds RENOVARE. This organization seeks “to resource, fuel, model, and advocate more intentional living and spiritual formation among Christians and those wanting a DEEPER connection with God. A foundational presence in the spiritual formation movement for over 20 years, Renovaré is Christian in commitment, ecumenical in breadth, and international in scope.”

Present Day The ideas presented by Foster and Willard continue to be propagated through the works and teachings of others.

Spiritual formation is a primary teaching found in what has come to be known as the emerging church. BRIAN McLAREN, a key leader in that movement, has acknowledged that both Foster and Willard are considered “key mentors for the emerging church.”

Before Foster’s book, it is difficult to find references to spiritual formation in Protestant church history back to the Reformation – with a few exceptions such as the QUAKERS, ROMAN CATHOLIC & EASTERN ORTHODOX groups.

Even though we can make words mean anything we want them to mean, words do have (proper) meaning. Words such as Spiritual Formation have meaning in the way they are defined and who defines them. Is the concept of spiritual formation biblical? If we define spiritual formation as being formed into the image of Christ as we meditate upon God’s Word, seek Him in prayer, and open our minds to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, certainly it is biblical.  

But, it should be stated that the phrase “Spiritual Formation” is coming from an original background which introduces unbiblical concepts such as CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER and MYSTICAL elements found eerily similar to EASTERN RELIGIONS with little to no biblical foundation.  These concepts can be found historically practiced by the DESERT FATHERS.  Many of whom were monks living separated from civilization following a monastic and isolated lifestyle while following  ASCETIC, MONASTIC, and MYSTICAL practices.  That is very concerning because of several potential problems not the least of which it promotes a departure from what the Bible teaches.  They depart from biblical teaching, and instead  mimic other non-Christian religious practices, and hold up EARLY CHURCH TRADITIONS (Roman Catholic monasticism) resulting in an approach that again, is not one which is taught by Jesus and the New Testament writers.  If a teacher today promotes SPIRITUAL FORMATION, however he defines it, does he open up the possibility of pointing others to these non-biblical teachings (e.g. asceticism, Eastern mysticism,….etc.)?  Yes.

–> No matter how earnest the intention is, why would any teacher, author, pastor, disciple, Christian…etc., want to even bring up a phrase which historically represents these types of unbiblical teachings centered more on ancient monastic practices and Eastern mysticism rather than the Bible?

The apostle Paul warns believers not to follow after popular philosophies based on the traditions of men and false teachings.  He admonishes believers at Rome “not [to] be conformed to this world but [to] be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).

BUT, as Gary Gilley states, that when the term spiritual formation is used according to its original, widespread meaning, it describes CONTEMPLATIVE SPIRITUALITY, CENTERING PRAYER, RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE based on MYSTICAL involvement. However sincere its proponents may be, it is certainly not biblical. If by spiritual formation we mean blending the meditative techniques of PRIESTS and MONKS or NON-CHRISTIAN RELIGIONS with biblical ideas to achieve some sort of SPIRITUAL ONENESS with the so-called SPARK OF DIVINE within us, this is not biblical at all. (Gary Gilley)

We will elaborate further in Part 4 on the similarities between what we commonly see today under the title “Spiritual Formation” and ancient Roman Catholic mysticism (& the Desert Fathers) along with Eastern Mysticism / Eastern Religions and the New Age.



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