Examing the “A Call to Spiritual Formation” Document

Al Call to Spiritual Formation

Recently, Renovare and the spiritual formation alliance came together to create a formal description of and call to spiritual formation for the Christian community.  In June, the document, A Call to Spiritual Formation, was finalized and spread for people to read, affirm, and sign.  Having heard of previous versions of this same document, I’ll give it points for its evolution, but I’m still not overly happy with it in many respects.

First, they state that the document was reviewed and edited by “over 150 writers and leaders in the area of spiritual formation”.  You will note, however, that none of these names are given anywhere that I’ve seen.  However, I do know a few of these folks, and I note that none of them have signed it.  For that matter, one of them noted that his/her input, critique, and suggestions were basically ignored.  It feels to me like these 150 contributors didn’t actually have much to do with it, yet the number still gets pasted up.  It just makes me question the motives, though perhaps I’m just being paranoid.

The first statement notes that spiritual formation is “the process of being shaped by the Spirit into the likeness of Christ, filled with love for God and the world.”  Booyah!  They got right the fact that it’s not something we accomplish!  It’s something accomplished by God in us.  That was the biggest hurdle, and they got over it.  …  And now for the bad news.  Nowhere in this first paragraph or the rest of the document does it discuss the fact that love is the transforming power.  Relationship with God through Christ and the Spirit is never once mentioned.  Love is the only motivator, the only means of being transformed, because it is what we were designed for in the first place.  It’s how we’re made – to be in a perfect, loving relationship with our Creator.

I’ll also note that in that first section, it gives the telos, the end of spiritual formation, as being filled with love for God and the world.  If you’re going to start talking about what the final goal is and you’re going to talk about love, then in an age where the Great Commission is held as the highest activity of the Christian life, then it would be wise to include love of oneself as well.  We are so often called to love God and love others that we end up neglecting ourselves and harming ourselves in the process, and once we are hurting, we end up damaging our own capacity to love God and others.  We must love our neighbor as ourselves.

In the second section, it goes one to say that we’re transformed by being rooted in Jesus and the Kingdom, and this places Christ squarely at the center of it, which is good (particularly in light of some disastrous commentary by the primate of the Episcopal church lately… *shudder*).  The cross is the crux (pun intended) of history and thus the crux of spiritual life and growth.

I’m going to skip a bit until we get to “Spiritual formation is, by its very nature, missional.”  Okay, number one, what does “missional” mean?  Having elements of Spanish Jesuit architecture similar to various buildings in the American southwest?  Miriam-Webster doesn’t know what it means either, so that makes me feel a little better.  The truth is, it’s a buzzword, and it feels to me like this section was stuck into the document, in part, to grab onto the latest trendy buzzword in Evangelicalism, particularly in the emerging church.  If you’re going to write a definition of spiritual formation, can we leave out the buzzwords and write something a little more timeless?

But even more than that particular issue, I don’t feel that including an entire paragraph about being missions-focused is appropriate for a definition of spiritual formation.  I would even go so far as to say that spiritual formation is not “missional”.  The argument is that spiritual formation will not leave us with our gazes firmly set towards our navels and that we will still go out to preach the gospel, and there’s some truth to that, but I have two concerns with having to say this.  First, if you’re going to include this particular goal of spiritual formation, then why aren’t you including paragraphs on other goals such as the elimination of fornication or the salvation of broken marriages in the church or any other host of issues?  If you include one secondary or tertiary goal, then it would only make sense to me to include the others, however many there may be.  The second concern I have is the motivation behind including the statement.  It feels to me like it is fear-based.  “We have to include this or else…”  Or else what?  Who are you going to offend or anger?  People who are particularly focused on the Great Commission (i.e., evangelicals on the whole)?  Your own convictions?  The future dispersion of the gospel?  The spread of the gospel is a crucial piece of Christian life that should flow naturally from love of God and others, but it isn’t part of the growth process.  Sorry, folks.  This one doesn’t work.

I kind of appreciate the effort that these people put in, but I’m not sure it was as well done as it could of been, in content, presentation, or development.  There’s some definite good here.  But it belies the cracks in understanding and character that still pervade the Christian world and spiritual formation movement.  Then again, we are fallen people; am I the fool for expecting more?


3 responses

  1. Hi Mathew,

    I share with you some of the concerns regarding the statement, A Call for Spiritual Formation . To me, the document appears out of the blue as I was not aware of it being worked upon. So I cannot comment on its creation except that I would like to know who are the drafters who appear to speak for the spiritual formation movement.

    I like your comments about “missional.” However I wonder whether it is just a buzz word or part of the convergence of spiritual formation, emergent and ressourcement.

    July 28, 2009 at 12:03 am

  2. I think there is a convergence, but I’m not necessarily sure it’s a completely positive one. I’ve found that those that tend to use the term, missional, also tend to talk about it with a sort of salvific drive, as if God needs us to take care of things for Him. That’s bad theology and spiritually unhealthy (is it possible to have bad theology that’s spiritually healthy?) as it gives us power and authority that aren’t ours. This missional movement too often seems to act more out of pride than it does love, and that pains me.
    Of course, what movement doesn’t have its negatives, and for that matter, what negatives can God not redeem? Perhaps I’m too harsh?

    July 28, 2009 at 7:39 am

  3. Alex Tang

    Not at all. I agree with what you saying about the emerging movement.

    “Bad theology that’s spiritually healthy” That’s an interesting thought. Jesus does mention that who’s not against us is for us and Paul did say what’s a little bad theology as long as Christ is being preached (my paraphrase of course). It also leads me to think of the kataphatic and apophatic spiritual movements. Hmm. Fascinating.

    July 28, 2009 at 10:34 am

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