A philosophy of spiritual formation

In a little over four days from now I, along with 18 other stellar individuals, will graduate from a 3-year foray into an M. A. in Spiritual Formation and Leadership. Part of our final synthesis/integration class was to encapsulate in 2 pages or less our personal philosophy of spiritual formation. Well, as a guy generally wallowing in my own self-important verbosity with ne’er a hope of eschewing obfuscation, what follows is mine, such as it is.

The term, spiritual formation, presupposes a number of things. It assumes that we are possessive of a spirit to which spiritual matters of concern point and from which emanate certain characteristics. The word formation is both a practical and a conceptual word suggesting that whatever spirit is, it can and should be formed in some way. Together, they presuppose the possibility and potential for such change to occur.

God is. God’s self-revelation tells us all we need to know about who God is, who we are and how we inter-relate (1 Cor. 1:30; Gal. 4:4-7; 1 John 3:2). Our very existence testifies to a God whose boundless desire to express Godself is bespoken through the created order in which we share (Psalm 19). We exist because God did before us and spoke all things into being (Gen. 1:26-31; John 1:11-5). We are like God (Psalm 8). More importantly, God is like us (Matthew 1:22; Luke 2:7-20; Gal. 4:4; Hebrews 4:15-16). Before he ever spoke a word, Jesus, as God-with-us, made it astonishingly clear that this God loves us and desires to identify with us (John 3:16-17). Spiritual formation begins in our awakening to these mysteries.

I am. When we awoke this morning, what we saw in the mirror gazing back at us was a complex being indeed. We are polyvalent but indivisible beings possessive of a mind, heart, body and soul; all of it “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). We grow to become the amalgam of our every thought, word, relationship, joy, pain, experience, decision and whim. Everything shapes who we will become. When all of the varied parts of one’s life are functioning optimally under God’s leadership, integrated and moving toward the singular end of “holiness”, we may be said to be a spiritually formed person. Our growing awareness of this, the intentionality with which we capture this reality and the ever-increasing depth of our relationship in the Triune God may be said to be the process of spiritual formation. 

The gap between God’s self-revelation as both immanent and wholly other and our existence as good and perfect beings, but marred by sin, is the region of our redemption, the place wherein God finds us in Christ Jesus and begins, in partnership with us, the process of re-formation (Luke 19:10; 2 Cor. 3:18, 5:17; Gal. 3:19-20; Eph. 2:4-9; Phil. 2:20-21; Col. 1:19-20). It is less about obedience to a prescribed body of law as it is about wholeness and integration of all the varied and complex facets of our human existence under God (Rom. 1:17, 4:3, 9, 22, 10:4; Gal. 2:16, 19, 20). We join God in something God, in love through grace, has already started. As such, spiritual formation is more about the Who than the what and how (John 14:6-7; Col. 1:15-18; Rev. 1:8; 4:8b, 9b-11; 5:9-14).

God as perfect community, eternally existing as Father and Son, whose mutual love is the Spirit, portrays the fullest expression of communal love. God’s desire is that we share in this love. “The aim of God in history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons with God himself at the very center of this community as its prime Sustainer and most glorious Inhabitant (Eph. 2:19-22; 3:10).”[1] To the extent that we live out our lives in similar loving community we in fact mirror the Trinity.

Hence, the goal of all authentic spiritual formation is the tri-fold love: God, neighbor, self, as shared by Jesus in the “Great Commandment” (Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:26-28). All self-discovery when under the guiding rubric of a humble seeking after all that is true will result in a simultaneous self-love with love for the One whose fingerprints we bare (John 14:21). The result, in keeping with God’s self-giving nature, is a love for all God loves (John 13:34-35; 1 Cor. 13; 1 John 3:14, 16, 23; 4:7-21).

As distinct from prevailing marketplace spiritualities, Christian spirituality will, in cruciform identification with the Savior, always lead to our death whether real or symbolic (Matthew 16:24-26; 2 Timothy 4:6-8). Nurtured inwardly but expressed outwardly, Christian spiritual formation aims at Someone else for everyone else (John 15:12-14; Phil. 2:1-11; 3:7-11).

God’s forming work is done in an effort to make us more like the archetypal human person, Jesus.  Until we are as he is in all things, the oft-painful road of spiritual formation is the one we must travel. It is the road I choose.

[1] The Life With God Bible – New Revised Standard Version Richard J. Foster, editor HarperOne Books

One thought on “A philosophy of spiritual formation

  1. Rob, This is incredible. I wish I had a fancy word to better say it. I enjoy your blog (your thoughts) and always look forward to what you have to say. Thanks for posting this….and congratulations, again.


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