Until now, I have hesitated to use these words in the media: spiritual formation. Why? Oh…because I hate conflict. It seems the term is on some sort of “watchdog” list that an organization has created to point out erring trends in Christianity. A few people I know keep a close watch on the list, and perhaps they feel the term points to heresy.
So let me tell you what spiritual formation for the Christian is and what it is not:
First of all, everyone is spiritually formed by someone or something, just as we are physically formed. Our physical formation is first nourished by our mother’s body, and then by the food we eat and the exercise we do during our lifetime. Likewise, the events in our lives shape us (form us) emotionally, intellectually, socially, and spiritually. I don’t think we can argue with that.
Dallas Willard, in his excellent book, The Great Omission, states this: “Spiritual Formation in the Christian tradition is a process of increasingly being possessed and permeated by such character traits (referring to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.) as we walk in the easy yoke of discipleship of Christ, our teacher” (p. 16). Christians have long called this formation “spiritual growth” or sometimes, “sanctification.” We should not be afraid of this Christian process, no matter the popular name. It is the process of becoming a disciple. It makes us not just a fan, but a follower of Jesus. It is the process of being transformed into His likeness. Have I used a term that your tradition connects with? I hope so.
For the Christian, spiritual formation is not a seeking out of mindless existential experiences that are filled with emotion and void of God’s truth. Oh, there are groups who go that route, but they do not hold license to the term. What a Christian should remember is that all truth originates from God, and that Satan will try to imitate and pervert all things that God has done. Therefore our growth, our formation, our discipleship is based on the truth of God’s Word.
I would like to write more about growing as a Christian and becoming more like Christ. I hope you will follow and dialog with me.