the weblog of Alan Knox

Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered

Posted by on Dec 24, 2008 in books, discipleship | 7 comments

The title of this blog post comes from James C. Wilhoit’s latest book: Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ through Community. I picked this book up a few months ago, but I’ve only recently been able to start reading it. While I haven’t read much, I am excited about it so far – primarily because this is not a book that teaches a works based sanctification. Instead, he says that spiritual formation (transformation) occurs primarily as God works through a community of believers.

In his introduction, Wilhoit says:

While patterns of formation emerge, there does not exist anything approaching a “technology of spirtual formation.” Formation remains a messy and imprecise business, where character, wisdom, and faith play a far greater role than theories and techniques. Ironically, one value of engagement in deliberate formation is that it drives us to prayer because it reminds us, more than popular how-to books do, that true formation comes from grace and by grace, channeled through our humble efforts. (17)

Here are a few more quote to whet your appetite:

So many initiatives aimed at spiritual formation seem to have lost their bearings and have settled for secondary goals. We’ve learned a new terminology while maintaining the old lack of healthy spirituality. Sadly, many of these spiritual formation programs seem like third-rate manufacturers that crank out mediocre products and never seem to catch on that their manufacturing processes are finely tuned to consistently produce shoddy goods. Yet one must conclude that the program is perfectly designed to bring the disappointing results that it constantly gets. (33)

Spiritual formation does not take place primarily in small groups and Sunday school classes; instead, it mostly takes place in the well-lived and everyday events of our lives. (38)

[W]e must pattern our lives after Jesus and recognize that our perception of his example and our faithfulness in following it will be limited… Imitating Jesus’ practices of spiritual growth will include the classical spiritual disciplines but must take us far beyond them as well… True imitation respects the tension between the reality that the Holy Spirit ultimately brings about our imitation through conforming us to Christ’s likeness and the reality that we must work hard and carefully at imitating Christ by adopting his lifestyle and patterns of life… I do not intend to soften the language of command, but rather to recognize that Jesus is inviting us to a certain way of living. He is not content to simply order us to do such and such; he wants “us” far more than our action. (43-44)

I have identified four spiritual commitments, designated as the four pillars of formation; these serve as the framework for cultivating the practice of Jesus’ great invitations [to love God and love others]. They are receiving, remembering, responding, and relating… The receiving dimension highlights our need to focus on Jesus and be open to his grace for spiritual formation. Christian spirituality’s concern that we learn from Christ and receive God’s enabling grace separates it from the cultural assumption that any spirituality will do as long as we follow it sincerely. Remembering describes the process of learning to remember, deep in our heart, who we are and, more importantly, whose we are. The next dimension, responding, reminds us that the enterprise of formational changes of character and action do not exist for our own private ends but to enable us to serve others and the world through love. Finally, relating affirms that spiritual formation takes place best in and through community. (50-51)

I’m enjoying this book tremendously so far. He has helped me think through and combine some concepts that have been circling around in my mind for a while.

What do you think of these quotes?


7 Comments

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  1. 12-24-2008

    I really like the last quote about receiving, remembering, responding, and relating. I think this is a good succinct summary of spiritual formation.

  2. 12-24-2008

    “…spiritual formation (transformation) occurs primarily as God works through a community of believers.””

    Amen.

  3. 12-24-2008

    Yes Sirr! Sounds lovely! I still need to work on my Community Hermeneutics post. I was looking through some of your stuff.

    The last paragraph is where it is at. It is funny that all of the spiritual formation books that I read (Willard and others) all have to do with vertical alignment and none of them has even began to deal with the horizontal alignment where the truth of the one anothers (the fruit of the Spirit brought about by personal disciplines) should be flushed out. It is cool with me and God but as soon as other people get involved that is when my Christianity is tested!

  4. 12-24-2008

    Susan,

    I enjoyed that section as well. I think receiving, remembering, responding, relating is a good way to think of spiritual formation.

    Andy,

    Yes, the community aspect is the reason that I bought this book.

    Lionel,

    I haven’t read any of Willard’s books. But, he wrote the forward for this book, and he seems to be excited about the community aspect of transformation.

    -Alan

  5. 12-24-2008

    What do I think of the quotes?

    I am going over to Amazon and ordering the book !!

  6. 12-24-2008

    Jeff,

    I hope you enjoy it!

    -Alan

  7. 12-26-2008

    I purchased the book myself!