Evangelical Anxieties over Spiritual Formation

Recently I read a timely article in the Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care – http://wisdom.biola.edu/sfj/ that discussed  current anxieties over Spiritual Formation the list of anxieties offered were:

  • SF is just another passing fad
  • SF is Catholic
  • SF is New Age
  • SF is contrary to the sufficiency of scripture
  • What ever happened to old fashioned obedience
  • SF encourages works righteousness
  • SF is overly experiential
  • SF neglects missions/evangelism

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13 thoughts on “Evangelical Anxieties over Spiritual Formation

  • May 26, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    There is similar fervor over the house church movement, organic church, and the emergent views. I believe it is a fear based on change.

    The evangelicals have a lot invested in the current system. If people start doing “church” a different way or start growing spiritually outside of their neat little programs, then it makes waves. If people start leaving organized church systems for alternative worship (like house church) then it takes away from their tithe base and income – it begins to affect jobs and the system itself could collapse. Simple economic view.

    But I think that NEEDS to happen! Why spend tens of thousands of dollars a month on programs and “attractions” when that money could be spent on the poor, elderly, and orphans! If every church shifted from a building based model, to an economy-free model, we wouldn’t need government welfare!

    Anyway, I digress. Spiritual Formation, Soul Care, House Church, Life Transformation Groups – they all put the emphasis on responsibility and discipleship. At the end of the day, Discipleship is true evangelism – living examples versus hollow words.

    Life transformation is what Christ wants from us – Do not be conformed to this world (with theater seats, loudspeaker systems, fancy music, and emotional speakers) but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (by mentoring and discipling others, fearing God, and keeping His commands!)

  • May 28, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    So let’s look at the first objection: Spiritual Formation is just a passing fad. If one knows the history of Christendom you know that the means of Spiritual Formation (Spiritual Practices) have been with us since the beginning. Even more important they were abundantly and continually modeled by Jesus. Beginning in the the 4th century when the church began to get cozy with the state a slow erosion began and character produced by discipline was slowly replaced with comfort and a perception of less need for sacrifice slowly seeped into the culture of the church. Spiritual Formation is far from a fad it was the norm for more than four hundred years. It just has been lost on the comfort, consumer driven church for too long a period. It is time to rediscover, reorient to the content of apprenticeship to Christ through the Jesus Way. There is no fad here only a solid path to the abundant life promised by Jesus in John 10:10

  • May 28, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    SF is Catholic. If catholic is defined as UNIVERSAL – then true. However, if catholic is defined merely as Roman Catholic, then false. Spiritual Formation is for the universal Church. We are all called to leave the foundation and advance (Heb 6.) We are called to go from milk to meat. That is spiritual growth.

    Christ wants relationship with us. Just like any other relationship, it requires spending time together, learning, listening, being in community. So Spiritual Formation is our way of developing that relationship. It’s a process of going deeper with Christ.

  • June 1, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    Spiritual Formation is New Age. New Age teachings are certainly not found in scripture but as I have pointed out in the initial post, scripture is replete with Jesus modeling several spiritual practices. As with everything else we examine as apprentices of Christ we must look to the scriptures as our reference point. I have read where journaling was looked upon as new age but I offer the fact that much of what Paul has written and the majority of the Psalmists work is profound journaling from the inmost depths of their mind and hearts.


  • June 8, 2009 at 9:12 am

    Spiritual Formation is contrary to the sufficiency of scripture.

    Let me just cut to the chase on this one. The means of a more intimate relationship with the Trinity and being formed to Christlikeness are what is called the spiritual practices, means to abide with Christ, means to help us do something we ordinary are unable to do on our own.

    Take a look at these verses and you decide if anything contrary to scripture is going on.

    Matthew 4:1-4
    Matthew 9:10
    Matthew 14:23
    Matthew 27:32
    Mark 1:35
    Mark 6:31
    Mark 6:46
    Mark 6:47
    Mark 9:2
    Mark 14:32
    Luke 4:14-20
    Luke 4:42
    Luke 5:16
    Luke 6:12
    Luke 9:18
    Luke 9:28-29
    John 2:1-10
    John 11:41-42
    John 13
    John 17

    These are just some of the verses where JESUS is engaged in spiritual practices.


  • June 13, 2009 at 8:22 am

    The objection I most often hear is that SF leads to
    a spiritually unhealthy focus on the self. I think
    the best way to refute all of these objections is
    simply to live your life out of the richness that
    comes from living intimately with Christ. As Jesus
    said in John as he was washing their feet, and getting
    the disciples ready for what was ahead – (paraphrasing)
    they will know your words about me are true if you
    will love.

  • June 13, 2009 at 8:48 am

    Debbie: Very true. In reality the aim of Christlikeness should be missional-incarnational, a life of sacrifice that embodies the life of our Master, Teacher, Lord and Savior. What worth is it to say hey man I’m a modern day monastic and sit in your little world impacting nothing more than your time. It’s all about being Christ to others everywhere in everything.

    Thanks for the comments! You are always welcome.


  • June 15, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    What ever happened to good old fashioned obedience?
    This objection is a bit ironic when the whole premise behind Spiritual Formation is an utter trust and obedience in Christ as our Master & Teacher for our everyday lives moment by moment. So few folks who find themselves in a church “building” really want to visit the trust and obedience everyday issue. They clearly have no problem with trusting Christ for their place of dwelling upon assuming room temperature on this earth but after that it all becomes a little shaky. When the real trust and obedience Christ talks about is in every aspect of their lives, every moment,every decision. The evidence shows masses of church attenders have been unable to do this as survey after survey points to those who take the name of Christ really do not live lives that dissimilar to those who will have nothing to do with Christ. Good old fashion obedience is a great concept but fairly absent in the church today.This is where Spiritual Formation and Soul Care comes in. Spiritual Formation points the way to a means that enables us to do what otherwise we are unable to do- The Spiritual Practices of Jesus, modeled continuously by Him in the Gospels. You might say good old fashioned obedience!


  • July 9, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Hey Kev!
    Thanks for your comments! I myself don’t usually get too involved in writing responses to comments on blogs, but I had a few minutes today so here goes.

    “Life transformation is what Christ wants from us – Do not be conformed to this world (with theater seats, loudspeaker systems, fancy music, and emotional speakers) but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (by mentoring and disciplining others, fearing God, and keeping His commands!)”
    You stated above (below) that Christians are not to conform to this world, and then you compared theater seats and such to “mentoring and disciplining,
    fearing God and keeping His commands”

    Do you really think that just because someone sits in a theater seat that he/she does not fear God? Or hears a sermon over a loud speaker that they are not involved with discipleship? What exactly is your point here? Are you just being reactionary to a caricature of the church (that you have self defined)?

  • July 11, 2009 at 1:08 am


    It was slightly in gest, my point being that Christ calls us to Go and Do – not sit and stay.

    For me Church is about developing relationships, reading and teaching the Word, dealing with conflict with my brothers, and edifying and building up the body.

    When I read in Acts 2 and 1 Cor 14 about them sharing life together, everyone participating in worship, eating meals together, etc, I have a very hard time imagining that in the context of “church.”

    My comment was just that, my comment, born out of my opinions and experience. I grew up Southern Baptist – which probably was a caricature! My theology has shifted to about 80% Reformed 20% Apostolic. I love the Puritans, John Edward, Baxter, J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, etc. Apostolic in function – being based as much as I can on the evidence and practices of the New Testament Church found in Scripture.

    I’m just a sinner, saved by faith in Jesus Christ by the Grace of the Sovereign God, trying his best to follow the Scripture and live according to the commands of Christ.

  • July 19, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    While the current attention to Spiritual Formation has helped us find ways to talk about it better and to glean a better understanding of centuries old practices, the reality is that most churches practice some form of SF. Sometimes it helps to take what they are doing, add a dimension and begin using multiple terms to refer to it.

    For example Lectio Divina – Most churches read scripture. I’ve used a model of read – reflect – respond (pray it back) – then receive (listen) in churches that had no clue what lectio is. Some appreciated a new way to look at reading scripture. Months later into the conversation I begin introducing new words like lectio divina. That also helped me introduce listening prayer and other “holy habits’ or “spiritual practices” and before they knew it they were advertising Spiritual Formation classes.

  • August 29, 2009 at 11:03 am

    The next concern is:

    I believe those who operate in this concern are dealing with a serious misunderstanding of spiritual formation and scripture.

    Our righteousness, our justification, is clearly imputed by the work of Christ on the cross. Nothing we can do to attain or realize this but to believe in our hearts and confess with our lips that Jesus, God’s only son, died on the cross for me and for you.
    We are saved by grace apart from works.

    Having said that may I ask are we formed to be like Him, act like Him, think like Him apart from effort.
    I think not. Paul in Philippians 2:12-13 says “work our your own salvation with fear and trembling. for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

    Dallas Willard puts it as grace is not opposed to effort. I recently heard a Wheaton College student challenge Willard on the basis at the very core of this post. He replied that indeed we are saved by grace apart from works but if it stops there it becomes a very passive Christian life with little formative evidence of one’s Christlikeness.

    The effort Willard talks about here is the means to our becoming Christlike or living life in the kingdom NOW!- the spiritual practices. Again note the word MEANS as opposed to END. The effort, the disciplines are a means to and END- being formed more like Christ.

    Another thought on this from Willard is “There is absolutely nothing in what Jesus or His early followers taught that suggests you can decide to trust Jesus for your salvation at Jesus expense and have nothing more to do with Him.”

    May I suggest those who are engaged in the anxiety of works righteousness as an obstacle to taking up their apprenticeship with the Master Jesus really are having nothing more to do with Him.”


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