A Theology of Spiritual Formation: Fruits of the Renovare Institute

The theological grounding for spiritual formation in Christ is found in answering two fundamental questions with the same answer: What was God’s hope for the creation of humans and why did Jesus live, die and resurrect?

God’s loving desire from the beginning has been that he might extend the fellowship enjoys in the Trinitarian community and enter an interactive love relationship with humans.  It seems that divine love is constantly finding and creating new objects of love.  God intended that in this relationship these created beings would come willingly to God in full surrender and obedience such that God would be able to entrust to them free use of his power for good.  And this is still God’s good intention for humankind and in order for it to be realized, people—broken and spoiled by the fall—will need to be formed into the character of Christ...one who, by virtue of his humble submission to God’s will was given “all authority in heaven and on earth.”  

Furthermore, Jesus lived, died and rose again not merely to get people into heaven, but to illustrate authoritatively the possibility of regular humans living in this interactive relationship with God that he desires, and to show the shape that a human life, lived in the Kingdom, would take.  Thus Jesus didn’t just come merely to get people into heaven, but to show them what it is like when heaven gets into people and to show them the way to this divine life.

Spiritual formation is the process, intentional or otherwise, that gives a definite character, shape and texture to a person’s inner life.  “Christian spiritual formation...is the redemptive process of forming the inner human world so that it takes on the character of the inner being of Christ himself” (The Great Omission, 105) which is, in fact, the very character of the God.

The process of Christian spiritual (trans)formation (like all other personal change) occurs through a predictable pattern: It is initiated by an act of God, very often through the Word of God presenting itself to the bodily senses or directly to the mind of the individual.   This could be through a sermon, a vision or an encounter with one who lives the “with God” life.  This experience gives to the individual a vision of what their life might be like.  If the vision is compelling enough, the individual (by an act of the will) will decide to pursue this life, and will do so by using certain means as seem appropriate to the desired change.

An analogy can be helpful for describing God’s role, and our role in our transformation.  We are like a sailboat and God’s spirit, the wind.  If we do not hoist our sails through intentional efforts and practices, we will scarcely move, but only a fool would suggest that the sails themselves caused the boat to progress.

The wisest route to pursue formation in Christlikeness takes into account the parts and functions of the human self and thus recognizes that cooperation with God in this process must begin with exercising the authority of the will by directing the mind toward those things which will cultivate the vision of the good and beautiful God and the good and beautiful life with God. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind...” (Rom. 12:2).  Intention is an effort of the will, but can only be maintained if the mind has been faithful to endure in the vision.

The best resource for “enthralling the mind with God” is Scripture, particularly the gospels, as they portray Jesus, whose life most clearly made visible the invisible God.  Creation, too, has a way of revealing God’s “invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature” (Rom. 1:20).  Willful attention to Scripture, Creation and anything that is lovely, praiseworthy etc. is the way to reform the mind, leading it to act accordance with what is true, namely, the reality and goodness of God.

The overall formation of the person takes place in key ways.  First and foremost, the one seeking formation must learn to approach the normal events and experiences of the day as the venue of God’s presence and transforming grace.  People, places, jobs, interruptions must be captured as the place where personal change happens.  Spiritual formation includes set times and practices, but transformation is occurring every minute of every day, we constantly become more or less like Jesus, and thus the portion of the day which makes up the biggest part is the most important to enlist in the process toward Christlikeness.

As indicated, the process of spiritual formation also involves purposeful interruptions from everyday life for concentrated attention of the mind upon that which will reorient it to reality.  This includes all the classical practices such as engaging Scripture, praying, Christian fellowship, solitude, fasting and the like.  These practices are most effective when they are not limited to mental exercises, but include bodily involvement.  Thus, the “sin which is in our members” is purged so that our bodies become allies in our formation process.

Spiritual formation in Christlikeness touches all part of the person, including notably their social relations, which include their financial dealings and vocation.  Christ taught that the measure of spiritual maturity is fulfillment of the inseparable commandments: Love the Lord your God with your whole being, and love your neighbor as yourself.

No comments:

Post a Comment