(460) Spiritual Formation 2017.1 – EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY

We will begin a new series on the topic of SPIRITUAL FORMATION.  We have looked at this topic in the past but it was more along the lines of it being piecemeal.  I intend this series to be more comprehensive in scope.

I. INTRODUCTION – CONCEPTS & DEFINITIONS

One of the challenges in looking at this topic relates to the various definitions for the phrase SPIRITUAL FORMATION.  They range from the traditional, more common and more original meaning involving growth coming from a mystical & contemplative perspective.  Today, we find some combining this aspect with a more historical and biblical concept of discipleship or sanctification.

Here are few definitions by well-known authors today relating to this topic – the authors who have had a foundational impact on Evangelicals primarily include RICHARD FOSTER and DALLAS WILLARD, which we discuss further as we go along in this study. 

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Spiritual Formation – D.Simeone

=> Richard Foster  – Author of the Spiritual Formation Bible

“By now enough water has gone under the Christian Spiritual Formation bridge that we can give some assessment of where we have come and what yet needs to be done. When I first began writing in the field in the late 70s and early 80s the term “Spiritual Formation” was hardly known, except for highly specialized references in relation to the Catholic orders. Today it is a rare person who has not heard the term. Seminary courses in Spiritual Formation proliferate like baby rabbits. Huge numbers are seeking to become certified as Spiritual Directors to answer the cry of multiplied thousands for spiritual direction. And more.” Spiritual Formation, A Pastoral Letter by Richard Foster

=> Larry Crabb

“The next reformation is due. It will focus on what it means to know God with a power that changes who we are and how we relate. I predict the Spiritual Formation Forum will play a vital role in the Spirit’s next great movement.” Larry Crabb, The Association of Christian Counselors, Willow Creek Association

“The Practice offers Saturday morning meetings which provide a rhythm of worship, teaching on a particular spiritual discipline and time to experience or “practice” that discipline. This practice time allows participants to get a fuller understanding of how to incorporate the discipline in their daily lives.” Spiritual Formation at Willow Creek.

RESEARCH: SPIRITUAL FORMATION

SPIRITUAL FORMATION is the process of apparent spiritual development through engaging in a set of behaviors, termed disciplines. Advocates believe these disciplines help shape the character of the practitioner into the likeness of Christ.

Though superficially similar to discipleship, spiritual formation is not merely concerned with biblical exhortation and instruction in orthodox doctrine, but also with the teaching of “many practices that opened [the believer] to the presence and direction of God, and nurtured the character traits of Christ into fruition”.1

The Renovaré website states:

Spiritual formation is a process, but it is also a journey through which we open our hearts to a deeper connection with God. We are not bystanders in our spiritual lives, we are active participants with God, who is ever inviting us into relationship with him.2

HISTORY

1974
William Menninger 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 meditation 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

 

1978
Richard Foster writes THE CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE.=> This book launched spiritual formation into mainstream evangelicalism, and continues to be used today.

In The Celebration of Discipline, Foster shares the practices of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches that originated with the Desert Mothers and Fathers.

=> The Celebration of Discipline 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.”5

1988
Dallas 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.”6 

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.7 (For a comprehensive teaching on this passage in Matthew, read or listen to Dr. John MacArthur’s sermon, Jesus’ Personal Invitation, Part 2.)

Richard Foster founds Renovaré. 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.”8

PRESENT
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.”9

SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES

According to proponents of spiritual formation, various “spiritual disciplines” must be practiced in order to experience true spiritual growth:

Christian spiritual formation is a God-ordained process that shapes our entire person so that we take on the character and being of Christ himself.

Properly employed…these disciplines help us attain increasing levels of spiritual maturity so that we respond to our life circumstances with the mind of Christ.10

In his book, The Celebration of Discipline, as well as on his Renovaré website, Richard Foster lists these disciplines as:11

MEDITATION
Entering into a “listening silence” in order to “hear God’s voice.” Similar to the meditation of Eastern religions.
PRAYER
An “interactive conversation” with God. Practiced as contemplative prayer.
FASTING
“The voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity.”
STUDY
“The mind taking on an order conforming to the order of whatever we concentrate upon.”
SIMPLICITY
“The joyful unconcern for possessions we experience as we truly ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ (Matt 6:33).”
SOLITUDE
A “state of mind” for one to be “found by God and freed from competing loyalties.”
SUBMISSION
Letting “go of the burden of always needing to get our own way.”
SERVICE
“A pattern of service as a lifestyle…At the center is found a contentment in hiddenness, indiscriminancy.”
CONFESSION
Confession of sin to other professing believers.
WORSHIP
“Entering into the supra-natural experience of the Shekanyah, or glory, of God.”
GUIDANCE
Learning to “heed the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Jesus.” “It is the perception that we have heard the Kol Yahweh, the voice of God.”
CELEBRATION
Celebrating God in all facets of life.

Since the disciplines are not defined in Scripture, no concrete, definitive list is available. Consequently, Willard notes that we should not “assume that our particular list will be right for others.”12 This confirms the subjective nature of these practices.

[Christian Research Network]

 

Part 2 (2017.2) will continue on this subject matter in the next posting.

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