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a case for spiritual formation

July 20, 2011

I was talking to one of my former seminary professors a few weeks ago when I heard that spiritual formation is now vogue within many Evangelical circles. Being a man who prides himself on knowing and predicting trends, I was quite disheartened to hear that I missed this. But as my frail ego was being glued backed together, I was encouraged, because, depending on what one means by spiritual formation, the shift is a good one and worth pursuing.

Dallas Willard writes, “Spiritual formation in the tradition of Jesus Christ is the process of transformation of the inmost dimension of the human being, the heart, which is the same as the spirit or will. It is being formed (really, transformed) in such a way that its natural expression comes to be the deeds of Christ done in the power of Christ.”

In the past, Evangelicals have emphasized learning over formation resulting in an emphasis on things like Bible Studies, sermons, and classes. For one to pursue mind renewal is certainly good and right (Romans 12:2) but it is not to be the only thing. We are not just to think the right things but rather we are to be the right people. To pursue the latter, we need formation, which is holistic, as opposed to just learning.

James K. Smith invites his readers in Desiring the Kingdom (which I highly recommend) to “re-vision Christian education as a formative rather than just an informational project.” His plea is based on the presupposition that we are primarily desiring creatures as opposed to thinking ones. In other words, you and I are intellectually, emotionally, and spiritual driven by what we love. Because of this, Christian Education should be about more about shaping our loves so that we will live rightly in God’s created order.

I agree with James Smith. Jesus said if we love him, we will obey his commands. Though Jesus seems to be saying our obedience is tied to loving God, I think he saying much more. We live obedient, faithful lives when we love in the ways we were created to love.

So, at the end of the day, it seems that Spiritual Formation is worthy to pursue, as it is a means of shaping our loves.

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