I was recently asked to participate in a group that is creating a curriculum in the area of “spiritual formation.” I have never really written or spoken much on this, but my nerve endings are a bit sensitive when the subject is introduced. In other words, I can hang with it for a bit, but when it is talked about in terms of “curriculum” or “discipleship” or forming the “whole spiritual person,” I start to back out.
What is “spiritual formation”? I am trying to be fair and representative of it, but I know there will be those who feel I have left something out. Nevertheless, here it goes:
“Spiritual formation describes a process or path to spiritual wholeness though a practice of specific disciplines including prayer, meditation, study, fasting, solitude, confession, and worship. The end goal is that the person would be more Christ-like.”
Nothing wrong with that. Right? After all, who would argue against the necessity of confession, prayer, and Bible study?! These are all staple food groups in the food pyramid…errr…circle (or whatever it is now) of the Christian life. And it is the beginning of a new year. Time to set new goals, agendas, remake ourselves, right the wrongs, and discipline ourselves in ways we failed to in the previous year. So, how can I have ill will toward such things? I don’t, but hang with me.
In the last ten years, “spiritual formation” has become quite popular. I took a course called “Spiritual Formation” in seminary. Many well-respected colleges and seminaries are even offering Master’s degrees in spiritual formation. It is nothing new and there is everything right about being disciplined. But the current practice seems to have evolved into some sort of perceived spiritual antibiotic to all sin, malnutrition, and disease.
At one time, I tried to get in with the spiritual formation thing. At least, I tried to understand it as a movement. I even offered an elective course at Stonebriar Community Church through the Center for Biblical Studies of Dallas Theological Seminary. Why? Well, everyone else was doing it! I am not going to mention any of the gurus in these circles (many of whom I have great respect for and from whom I have learned much), but I do have some things about which I don’t mind taking liberty to be somewhat offensive.
First, a confession: for me, listening to or reading books of this genre is like listening to an organ. I know, you love the organ. I don’t too much. It drains the life out of me. I only have enough breath to make it though half a sentence in each organ-led song and the sentences are not long. When I read spiritual formation books, it is the same. It takes me half a day to get through a paragraph and the paragraphs are not that long. When I finish the book, I usually think to myself, “That could have been said in a lot less space. Did I just lose a week off my life?” Dramatic? Yes. But I am speaking for myself here.
(Calm down and keep reading.) Continue Reading →