Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Phenomenology of Spiritual Formation

For my Jan 2017 Spiritual Formation class for Payne Theological Seminary.  


SPIRITUAL FORMATION
My Method
a.    A phenomenology of spiritual formation.
b.    A description.
                                          i.    I am going to describe the process of spiritual formation and transformation as I have seen it, as a result of teaching and coaching 2500 pastors and Christian leaders over the past 36 years.
c.    ‘Phenomenology’ - “The discipline of phenomenology may be defined initially as the study of structures of experience, or consciousness. Literally, phenomenology is the study of “phenomena”: appearances of things, or things as they appear in our experience, or the ways we experience things, thus the meanings things have in our experience. Phenomenology studies conscious experience as experienced from the subjective or first person point of view. This field of philosophy is then to be distinguished from, and related to, the other main fields of philosophy: ontology (the study of being or what is), epistemology (the study of knowledge), logic (the study of valid reasoning), ethics (the study of right and wrong action), etc.” (“Phenomenology,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

What is spiritual formation?

Dallas Willard - “Spiritual formation can be understood as the process by which true Christlikeness is established in the very depths of our being.” (Willard)
§  “Spiritual formation” is “a term for those processes through which people are inwardly transformed in such a way that the personality and deeds of Jesus Christ naturally flow out from them when and wherever they are.” (Willard)
§  "When we talk about spiritual formation we are talking about framing a progression of life in which people come to actually do all things that Jesus taught. So we are obviously going for the heart. We are aiming for change of the inner person, where what we do originates." (Willard)
·        
Jeffrey Greenman - "Spiritual formation is our continuing response to the reality of God's grace shaping us into the likeness of Jesus Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, in the community of faith, for the sake of the world."
- Jeffrey Greenman, 
Life in the Spirit: Spiritual Formation in Theological Perspective, 24 
      
·         Henri Nouwen - "Spiritual formation, I have come to believe, is not about steps or stages on the way to perfection. It’s about the movements from the mind to the heart through prayer in its many forms that reunite us with God, each other, and our truest selves." (Nouwen, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, Kindle Locations 152-154) 
o   "Spiritual formation requires taking not only the inward journey to the heart, but also the outward journey from the heart to community and ministry. Christian spirituality is essentially communal. Spiritual formation is formation in community. One’s personal prayer life can never be understood if it is separated from community life. Prayer in the spiritual life leads to community, and community to prayer. In community we learn what it means to confess our weakness and to forgive each other. In community we discover our own woundedness, but also a place of healing. In community we learn true humility. Without community, we become individualistic and egocentric. Therefore, spiritual formation always includes formation to life in community." (Ib., Kindle Locations 309-315)
    
5 stages – a phenomenology of spiritual formation.
      1. The Need – recognition of how needy we are of personal, inner change.

2. The Gap – realization as a revelation of the holiness of Christ, and of the great gap between ourselves and Christ.

3. Recognition of the magnitude of the needed transformation. God wants to metamorph the human heart into Christlikeness. (Gal. 4:19; Rom. 12:1-2)

4. Only God can do this – realization that we cannot self-transform by our own striving and will power into Christlikeness.

5 . Therefore, consistently get into the presence of God. Abide in Christ. You cannot consistently dwell in Christ and remain unchanged.


What is “spirit?”
o    
o   “Spirit” Defined"
o    
o   Biblically and systematically, it is appropriate to identify the heart and the spirit of the human being and the will as roughly the same thing. (From Dallas Willard)
o   The spirit is that part of the human being that has the capacity of moving without being moved. (=”free will”]  
o   It is the depth of the human being where freedom really exists. It is that part of us that is self-determined. That's the heart.
o   That's why evil and good come out of the heart, it's because that's the part of us that is really us.
o   It's really ours. And spirit is of that intensely personal nature.
o    
God is spirit. Therefore God is wholly self-determined.
o   We are self-determined only in a very small way. 
o   This part of the human being--the spirit, the will, the heart--is the place where the work of spiritual formation has to be done.
o   Remember the words of Samuel: "Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart."
o   Functionally the will is the executive center of the self.  [= choice-making; decision-making]
o   When it comes to life in God through the new birth, its task is then the re-formation of the whole self in co-operation with God.
o   Will is not exactly character, but is formed into character as it becomes habitual and automatic.

o   The human will exists in three conditions or dimensions.


Three aspects of the human will (From Dallas Willard)
o   The vital or impulsive will
§  .    “This is a willing that is outwardly directed and moved by and toward things that are simply attractive. You see this in a baby. A little baby very quickly begins to be attracted to things, to reach for them, and move in relationship to them. And that's all there really is to will in the baby.”
§  b.  This is: “I want to,” and “It pleases me.” E.g., “I want to eat ice cream, therefore I will eat ice cream.” (Especially Graeter's Ice Cream in Columbus!)
§  c.    You simply choose what you desire.

o   The reflective will
§  The reflective will is oriented toward what is good for the person as a whole, not merely to what is desired. And so we have the conflict that we all know too well, as human beings, between the good and the bad, and the good and the not so good, and the good and the better. This conflict goes on constantly in our lives…”
§  b.    Reflective will is the will oriented toward what is good for the person as a whole, not toward the merely desired.
§  c.    Instead of just doing what you want or desire, you choose for what is good. For Jesus-followers, you choose what God wants.
§  d.    This is the “WWJD” stage.

o   The embodied will
§  Embodied will – this is who you really are.
§  Now watch closely: ”Spiritual formation in Christ transforms your embodied will. It transforms your embodied will so that what comes out of you automatically are the words and deeds of Christ.” (Willard)
§  This is the point where we can stop thinking about our responses.
§  This is the point where we have the mind of Christ.
o   Willard says: “Christian spiritual formation is the process through which the embodied/reflective will takes on the character of Christ's will. It is the process through which (and you know Gal. 4:19) Christ is formed in you and me. Think of Paul's magnificent statement: "The life which I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." Not faith in, but the faith of. I have taken his faith into me. I am now being inwardly the person that Christ has called me to be, and this inward faith has now spread throughout my socially embodied self.”
o   Willard: “Spiritual formation in Christ would, then, ideally result in a person whose reflective will for good, fully informed and possessed by Christ, has settled into their body in its social context to such an extent that their natural responses were always to think and feel and do as Christ himself would. Their epidermal as well as their deliberate responses are then those of Christ.” [Cmp. Nouwen – that the truths of the mind would descend into one’s heart.] 
§  This reverses Romans 7:19. There, Paul writes:  "The things that I would not that I do, and the things that I would, that I do not."