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Spiritual formation may refer either to the process and practices by which a person may progress in one's spiritual or religious life or to a movement in Protestant Christianity that emphasizes these processes and practices. It may include, but is not limited to,
- Specific techniques of prayer and meditation
- A focus on spiritual disciplines and practices
- Reference to historical religious philosophy and techniques
Many authors have attempted to define spiritual formation. Christian religious writers and institutions have differing definitions due to their various conceptions of it. Some authors suggest that it is discovery of "leadings of the heart," renewal of the mind (sanctification), walking in the spirit, or a type of character formation. In Care of Mind, Care of Spirit, psychiatrist Gerald G. May offers, “Spiritual formation is a rather general term referring to all attempts, means, instruction, and disciplines intended towards deepening of faith and furtherance of spiritual growth. It includes educational endeavors as well as the more intimate and in-depth process of spiritual direction.”
- 1 Christianity
- 2 History of the Protestant Movement
- 3 Controversy
- 4 References
- 5 Further reading
- 6 External links
Christian spiritual formation is often understood as a long-term process in which a believer desires to become a disciple of Jesus and become more like him. This process requires engagement of various sorts by the individual and religious community but is enacted and guided by the Holy Spirit. Dallas Willard wrote that “spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.”
Approaches to Spiritual Formation
- Theological Training
- Certificate Programs in Spiritual Direction
- BA and MA Programs accredited by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities
- Bible Studies
- Independent study/reading the classics from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library
- Corporate worship
- Volunteer service
Practice of religious exercises
- Lectio Divina
- the study of scripture
Ordinary experiences of everyday life
- Work and play
- Family life
Some people regard leadership development as a process of spiritual formation. Building on the emphasis of Christian spiritual formation in leaders, leadership expert Timothy H. Warneka wrote:
Today's world cries out for people who can lead with a global perspective. We need leaders who lead from the heart as well as the mind, leaders who understand that decisions made about even the smallest of organizations affect the entire global community. We need leaders who can act ethically, intentionally, and with respect for existing citizenry as well as for future generations. We need leaders who can address problems from an integrated, holistic perspective—the only place that solutions for today's most pressing problems will be found. Most of all, we need leaders who understand that the primary function of a leader is to serve, not to be served.
- Isaiah 43:1 (New International Version)
But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
- Ephesians 4:11-13 (The Message)
He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ's followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ's body, the church, until we're all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God's Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.
- Romans 8:29 (New International Version)
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
- Romans 12:2 (New International Version)
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
- 2 Corinthians 3:18 (New International Version)
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
- Galatians 4:19 (New International Version)
My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you...
Many authors and speakers write that believers can attain spiritual growth through the practice of religious disciplines. Such disciplines may be understood as means of exercising and strengthening one's religious and spiritual capacities, a means of accessing a spiritual reality directly, or a manner of making oneself available to the activity of God.
Spiritual disciplines, as a strategy towards spiritual formation, have risen and fallen in popularity over the centuries. Christianity asserts two things: first, transformation of the heart is a work only God can accomplish, and second, we are saved not by our works or efforts, but by God's grace, that is, His unmerited favor; the church has often been tempted to marginalize the usefulness of these disciplines so as not be confused with preaching "justification by works."
However other scholars respond by saying that, it is not salvation that is at stake, but rather the need to develop people of genuine Christ-like character to live in the world and confront its values.
Quaker theologian Richard Foster in his book, Celebration of Discipline, includes several internal, external, and corporate disciplines one should engage in through his or her Christian life. These include the following internal disciplines: Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, and Study. External disciplines include: Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service. Finally, corporate disciplines, those that are completed within the body of the church are confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.
History of the Protestant Movement
Spiritual formation in general has been integral to most religions, including Christianity. The religious ideal typically presupposes that one be changed in some manner through interaction with spiritual realities. Therefore, to trace a historical origin of spiritual formation is to examine the history of religion in general.
However, the history of spiritual formation as a specific movement within 20th century Protestantism is possible. James Houston traces the history of the movement to post-Vatican II reformers within the Roman Catholic church, who sought to find ways to educate and train new priests in a manner that was appropriate to Vatican II ideals. This formative perspective began to spread into and was adopted by the Association of Theological Schools, and as an increasing number of evangelical schools began joining them in the 1970s and 1980s, the ideals spread throughout the academic and theological strata of Christianity, particularly in the United States. While initially aimed at academic and pastoral leadership, Houston notes that the Protestant ideal of the priesthood of all believers pushed churches to expand this formative ideal to all individuals.
On a popular level, the formation movement emerged, in part, with the publication of Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline in 1978, which introduced and popularized a set of spiritual disciplines as historical practices beyond Bible study, prayer, and church attendance that may lead to religious maturity and spiritual growth.
Validity of Ideals
While some Christians understand spiritual formation to be an integral part of their religion, others perceive it as a diluting of the faith or an attempt by competing religious ideals to infiltrate Christian doctrine and lead adherents astray. Some individuals and organizations, such as Lighthouse Trails Research, interpret spiritual formation as a front for non-Christian mysticism or Roman Catholic influence to enter the Protestant church, which they see as damaging religious doctrine and leading Christians to engage in dangerous practices or leave the faith entirely.
Because spiritual formation has been used, in recent decades, to describe a loose but semi-coherent set of practices and ideals within American Protestantism, many have accused it of merely being a "fad". Such persons dismiss it because of this trendiness, but others have argued that to relegate it only to a small sub-group within the church is to neglect its necessity to Christian practice.
- E.g., Keating, Thomas (2009). Intimacy with God: An Introduction to Centering Prayer. The Crossroad Publishing Company. ISBN 0824525299.
- E.g., Foster, Richard (1998). Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 0060628391.
- E.g., Hall, Christopher A. (1998). Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers. IVP Academic. ISBN 0830815007.
- Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca Laird. Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit HarperCollins Publishers, 2010, p xix
- Larry Christenson, The Renewed Mind: Becoming the Person God Wants You to Be Bethany House, 2001
- Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship InterVarsity Press, 1993, p. 909.
- Tennant, Agnieszka. "The Making of a Christian", Christianity Today, London, 27 October 2005. Retrieved on 14 August 2014. ] ,
- May, Gerald G. Care of Mind, Care of Spirit: A Psychiatrist Explores Spiritual Direction. 1st HarperCollins paperback ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992, p. 6.
- Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2002) p. 22.
- Warneka, Timothy H. (2007). Black Belt Leader, Peaceful Leader: An Introduction to Catholic Servant Leadership. Asogomi Publishing International. ISBN 9780976862758. Retrieved 2014-09-03.
- Willard, Dallas (1999). The Spirit of the Disciplines. HarperOne. p. 4. ISBN 0060694424.
- Keating, Thomas (2006). Open Mind, Open Heart. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 11. ISBN 0826418899.
- Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg (2015). Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. IVP Books. pp. 17–20. ISBN 0830846050.
- Foster, Richard. Celebration of Discipline: A Path to Spiritual Growth. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998). pg v
- Houston, James. "The History of Spiritual Formation - James Houston and Bruce Hindmarsh | Open Biola". Open Biola. Retrieved 2017-04-25.
- "Seven Things I Hate About Spiritual Formation". CT Pastors. Retrieved 2017-04-24.
- Dallas Willard. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2002).
- Dallas Willard. The Spirit of the Disciplines. (New York: Harper & Row, 1988).
- Ken Boa. Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).
- Gerald G. May. Care of Mind, Care of Spirit: A Psychiatrist Explores Spiritual Direction. (San Francisco: Harper, 1982).
- Richard Foster. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1978).
- David Benner. Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998).
- Oswald Chambers. My Utmost for His Highest (Discovery House Publishers, 2014).
- Thomas A Kempis. The Imitation of Christ (Lulu Press, 2010).
- Henri Nouwen. Spiritual Formation. (Harper Collins, 2010).
- John Bunyan The Pilgrim's Progress. (Uhrichsville Ohio: Barbour and Company.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Cost of Discipleship. (Simon and Schuster, 2012).
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Life Together. (Simon and Schuster, 2012).
- Don Postema. Space for God: Study and Practice of Spirituality and Prayer. (Faith Alive Christian Resource, 1997).
- Apprentice Institute
- Grafted Life Ministries
- Kairos: A Center for Spiritual Formation
- Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation
- The Upper Room (United Methodist Church)
- The Foundation Stone: For Your Spiritual Growth
- Discipleship Tools, a resource for Spiritual Formation
- The Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care
- Spiritual Formation: Extensive online resources for Spiritual Formation (Tyndale Seminary)
- Spiritual Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough & Transformation
- Spiritual Formation and Discipleship Blog