Theology and Formation
A while ago, I posted on Theology in a Vacuum of Experience. There is another temptation – experience in the vacuum of theology. Postmodern culture is moving more and more into a highly personalized and experience driven mindset, and one of the great dangers that may arise from this is that one is tempted to focus on religious experiences without having an intellectual structure in which to interpret and make sense of that experience. Either that, or the intellectual framework is restricted to those things that sparks a person’s interest without regard for the work of centuries that have come before.
Spiritual formation, for the most part, is accomplished somewhat willy-nilly by most. There is even the temptation to read books like Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and then go and engage in these suggested disciplines without really having a good foundation of how such disciplines integrate with the rest of the spiritual life or even really how they function apart from a very basic, and often rather inaccurate, understanding.
For most people, a robust theological knowledge that includes a critical assessment of eschatological theories and fully informed view of revelation may be overkill. It wouldn’t hurt to peruse a systematic theology textbook, but it might be more than what’s necessary. But a knowledge of the innerworkings of the basic tenets of the faith is still necessary to be well grounded and so that one doesn’t end up sliding off into strange places. There is a great deal of writing on meditation and contemplation as well as theories of growth, and some of them do conflict with orthodox theology. But rather than immediately shunning it all and avoiding things that may be of significant help, surely it is far better to have a solid foundation against which to compare. Bankers are trained to spot counterfeits by knowing what real bills look like. It would make sense to know what real theology and spirituality looks like.
The temptation to be drawn into emotion is not entirely a bad thing. We are emotional beings, and those emotions tell us a great deal about our character and nature. But we’re also rational human beings, and what we know and can know must be integrated into it. Spiritual formation is grounded on a spiritual theology. If one walks along a formation path without a map, what happens if the path forks?