Friday, May 06, 2011
Sorta Tracking A Series
For some time now, I have been frustrated with what has been happening in the area of spiritual formation. Yes, I've read lots of the literature and especially benefited from the works of folk like Henri Nouwen and deeply appreciate some of the things Richard Foster has been trying to draw our attention to, in the Church Fathers for example.Boy is there a boatload of discussion there. - I agree with almost all of it, most especially the using feelings as a barometer of spiritual formation and how narcissistic current spiritual formation discussion is. Of course, there is a lot of interrelation between those two points as well.
My unease has been caused by several factors: 1) monastic models of piety frankly don't work for busy normal Christian people. They are not only too demanding, they require too much time away from the very things God in fact most needs them to be committed to doing; 2) I have also been disturbed by the individualistic and frankly self-centered nature of much of this literature which ignores that the dominant place where spiritual formation does and should happen, according to the NT itself, is when the body of Christ comes together, not when I go off alone into the woods. This is not to say there is not a place for spiritual retreats from time to time. There is. But it is not the stuff of day to day spiritual formation; 3) the connection between spiritual formation and sanctification, or spiritual formation and conversion or spiritual formation and ecclesiology, or spiritual formation and ethics, is too seldom explored. Rather, we get models of spirituality that are disconnected even from religion in general and Christian worship in specific. At least in the Christian tradition, this ought not to be the case. 4) As a Wesleyan person I have also found much of the spiritual formation literature too quietistic, by which I mean, too disconnected from things like works of charity, and even from things like Communion, which Wesley saw as perhaps the major means of grace for all Christians, the major means of spiritual formation. 5) The way the Bible has been used in the spiritual formation literature is often painfully wrong. The Bible in itself has lots of 'spiritual' content. It does not require a sort of gnostic spiritual reading of the text to get this, and it certainly doesn't require an anti-historical anti-academic reading to get at this. And lastly, 6) too much of the spiritual formation literature is indebted to modern psychology with its fixation on human feelings. Feelings, however, as Eugene Peterson once said, are no good barometer of where your relationship with God really is. Spiritual formation, in the primary sense, is what God does in and for us in the person of the Spirit. And that Spirit is a spirit of holiness.
I the rest of the series, Witherington goes on to track through some of this stuff. I intend to walk with him for the next few posts here, though not exactly in his footsteps. But for now the overwhelming question in my mind is how do we pull ourselves out of ourselves? I'd like to start by looking at Witherington's first point on monasticism. I agree that is not the model for this age, but consider this throw away he made, "They are not only too demanding,...."
That chilled me - the demands that true spiritual formation makes on us are total. We really must give up everything, not perhaps physically to the church, but we must let go. We cannot eliminate any consideration based on demand or else the result will be less than full formation. One of the root problems is, I believe that we do not demand enough of those that come to be disciples. We do so to keep them as disciples because if we demand too much they walk away.
So let's ask ourselves why the apostles did not walk away from Christ? In the end Christ asked their very lives of most of them. I would respond by saying it was Christ's winsomeness. They were not attracted by ideas or wealth, they were attracted to Jesus.
So, the place to start when it comes to spiritual formation is with ourselves - how do we become so winsome that people will follow us when we demand "too much?"
Not sure I know the answer, but I do know where to start - on my knees in humble confession of how very ugly I am at this point.