Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Spiritual Formation: What It Is

St. Mary's, in Monroe

I begin teaching my Spiritual Formation class at Payne Theological Seminary today. Spiritual formation is the shaping of the human heart into Jesus-likeness. Paul's prayer in Galatians 4:19 expresses this: 

My dear children, I feel the pains of birth upon me again, and I will continue in labor for you until the Anointed One is formed completely in you. (The Voice)

We see this idea in Romans 12:1-2, where the word "transformed" is from the Greek word metamorphe. Meta-morphe is a "change of form." It is like a caterpillar changing into a butterly, only more profound (because, I think, it involves changing of essential, not merely contingent, attributes).

Offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God, a sacred offering that brings Him pleasure; this is your reasonable, essential worship. Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete.

Here is what some others say about 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 

Michael Battle - “I define spirituality in the African context as the formation of self through communal being or relationality. For me, spirituality means a rite of passage or a way of practicing a better life. This means at the heart of Christian spirituality is prayerful personhood seeking mutuality with God and neighbor.” (Michael Battle, The Black Church in America: African American Christian Spirituality)
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) 

"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)