Random Musings on Lunar Chinese New Year Celebration

This year will be the the ‘Year of the Rat’ according to the Chinese Zodiac.

2020-01-21 09.05.06

The greatest annual human migration on earth often goes unnoticed by the world. Every year, between January 10 to February 18, billions of Chinese people will rush home to celebrate the Lunar New Year Spring Festival with their families. This year CNN estimated 3 billion people are making the trip by rail, cars, air, and sea. This tradition to spend the dinner with their families (reunion dinner) on Chinese Lunar New Year Eve is the major festive event on the Chinese calendar. Spring is a time of new birth, where the old year is left behind, and a new year is welcomed. The Chinese will make sure all debts are paid before the year ends. This is similar to the Jewish Passover and Jubilee festival.

The seasons of death and rebirth is deeply ingrained into the Chinese culture due to their close observation of the four seasons. The ancient Chinese are monotheistic. They worshipped a one god called Shang Di, whose attributes are very similar to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Unfortunately, under the Emperor Qin Huang Ti, the dragon replaced Shang Di as the centre of worship, and he himself became the ‘ancestral dragon’. The dragon in Chinese culture is regarded as good and beneficent, unlike the dragon/serpent in the West. Thus the Chinese people were deceived and underwent generations of intense suffering and pain under the Deceiver. We have only to look at their long history of suffering under their Dragon Emperors, warlords, and recent history under the Communists.

Every Lunar Chinese New Year brings a theme of hope. A new year with a fresh start. The possibility of being better than the previous year. That is why it is such an important Chinese festival, and why so many Chinese make their annual long journey home. Some will travel days or weeks. It is to be with family at the close of the old year and to welcome, hopefully, a better year with family. During the New Year day, the Chinese wish each other “Gong Hei Fat Choy” meaning “wishing you prosperity in health and wealth”.

Every New Year brings hope of spiritual renewals. Isaiah noted that the Messiah will deliver the people from darkness, including the Chinese people!

Isaiah 49:12 (NKJV)  “Surely these shall come from afar; Look! Those from the north and the west, And these from the land of Sinim.”

The Hebrew word Sinim in the Masoretic Text means Chinese. Most scholars found it strange that Isaiah mentioned Chinese, so they looked around for a similar sounding tribe. They found a tribe, the Syennites, who lived near the Aswan, which is in the  south.

Isaiah 49:12 (NIV) “See, they will come from afar—  some from the north, some from the west, some from the region of Aswan.”

The only reason Aswan was chosen is because the translators and scholars were trying to fit everything into the context of what Isaiah was saying. Isaiah mentioned north and west. It was the translators and scholars who chose the Syennites (south) instead of the Chinese (east). It is strange that they did not look east. Nevertheless, Jesus will deliver the Chinese people from the darkness and this new decade will see a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit among a country which is unleashing another level of persecution on Christians and other religious traditions. Out of this refining fire will come a stronger Church; one purified by suffering and pain. The Lunar Chinese New Year brings hope. Hope for new beginnings, new life, and a prosperous new year.


2020-01-21 09.13.13

in Malaysia and Singapore, the Overseas/Diaspora Chinese celebrate Lunar Chinese New Year with their friends of other ethnic groups by tossing a salad called Yee Sang

Dream Interpretation Seminar

Another seminar in the Spiritual Formation Institute Seminar Series 2020.

Dreams – gateway to our soul

In today’s workshop we will explore the mysterious and mystical world of our nightly dreams. I will share my approach to dreams which is with playful curiosity and possibilities. Together, we will look at ways to help remember and record our dreams as well as begin to explore the many ways you can begin to seek meaning and understanding from our dreams. Please bring along a dream you have remembered (even if it is from many years ago).


Dr. Kristen Hobby is a spiritual director, retreat leader and workshop presenter based in Singapore. She has recently completed her doctoral thesis in the area of children’s spirituality.

2020-01-16 17.19.46


The Church needs to Reinvent for Each Generation

2020-01-10 20.17.39-1


Recently, when I was in Disneyland with my grandchildren, I come across a more ‘teenage’ Mickey Mouse than I am used to. Disney as a company is well aware of the necessity to reinvent itself for each generation. Hence the need for an updated and cool Mickey with his coffee. Again, I am reminded of the need for the Church to reinvent itself for each generation in order to remain relevant. I am not talking about core doctrines here. These should not change. I refer more to how we do church and be the church for the present generation. I remember reading it somewhere about the church is only one generation away from extinction.

Steve Rabey, in his book on Authentic Faith, said “this generation is falling through the cracks of Christendom and the modern church is sleep-walking their way through oblivion.

There an urgency to review and revise how we do and be the church in this interconnected, digital citizen generation with the Internet of Everything.

2020-01-10 20.20.18-1

Christ plays in Ten Thousand Places

A wonderful poem in how we reflect Christ. Christ plays in ten thousand places


Spiritual Formation course in Biblical Graduate School of Theology (BGST), Singapore

I will be offering this two Saturdays course in Singapore in January and February 2020 in Singapore.


CS207 : Dynamics of Spiritual Formation (1.5 Credit)

Academic Year : AY 2019-2020 Sem 2

About this course

We are living in a time where we are drawn into a tsunami of rapid socio-economic and technological changes. Education institutions are in taters, seminaries are in retreat against the onslaught of emerging technologies, and churches are emptying of the younger generations seeking to be ‘spiritual but not religious’. In a time of fluidity and change, is it possible to nurture healthy spiritual growth? Is it possible to develop into Christlikeness, become a people of God, and helps in the expansion of His kingdom in this postmodern secular world?

Christianity has weathered more than two millennia of such climatic changes and each time, Christians have weathered these changes and nurtured deep spiritual growth in very adverse conditions. This course will examine the dynamics of spiritual growth (spiritual formation) in two sessions (Saturdays). The theme for the first session is drinking from deep wells where we will examine the nature of spiritual formation, and how it will lead us to know God, and to know ourselves better. The second session will be drinking from dry wells – about nurturing spiritual growth in our hectic, hurried, stressed-out lives in the marketplace, workplace, home, church, or schools.

more details here


Recommended Books on Education, Discipleship and Spiritual Formation

I will be teaching a module on Education, Discipleship and Spiritual Formation. This is my recommended reading list.


Required texts

Howard, Evan B. 2018. A Guide to Christian Spiritual Formation: How Scripture, Spirit, Community, and Mission Shapes Our Souls. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics.

Tang, Alex. 2014. Till We Are Fully Formed: Christian Spiritual Formation Paradigms in the English-Speaking Presbyterian Churches in Malaysia. Kuang: Malaysia Bible Seminary

Wilhoit, James C. 2008. Spiritual formation as if the church mattered: Growing in Christ through community. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.


Other references

Andrews, Alan, ed. 2010. The kingdom life: A practical theology of discipleship and spiritual formation. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Anderson, Keith R., and Randy D. Reese. 1999. Spiritual mentoring: A guide for seeking and giving direction. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Astley, J., and L. Francis, eds. 1992. Christian perspectives on faith development. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Bass, Diana Butler. 2002. Strength for the journey: A pilgrimage of faith in community. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

———. 2004. The practicing congregation: Imagining a new old church. Herndon, VA: Alban Institute.

———. 2006. Christianity for the rest of us: How the neighborhood church is transforming the faith. New York: Harper One.

Bass, Dorothy C., ed. 1997. Practicing our faith: A way of life for a searching people. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

———. 2000. Receiving the day: Christian practices for opening the gift of time. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Carlson, Kent, and Mike Lueken. 2011. Renovation of the church: What happens when a seeker church discovers spiritual formation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Chan, Edmund. 2014. Radical Discipleship: Five defining questions. Singapore: Covenant Evangelical Free Church

Crisp, Tomas M., Porter, Steven L., and Ten Elshof, Gregg A. eds. 2019.  Psychology and Spiritual Formation in Dialogue: Moral and Spiritual Change in Christian Perspective. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Everist, Norma C. 2002. The Church as learning community: A comprehensive guide to Christian education. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Foster, C. R. 1994. Educating congregations: The future of Christian education. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Foster, Richard J. 1989. Celebration of discipline: The path to spiritual growth. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

———. 1998. Streams of living water: Celebrating the great traditions of Christian faith. New York: HarperCollins.

Fowler, James. 1995. Stages of faith: The psychology of human development and the quest for meaning. New York: HarperCollins.

Frost, Michael, and Alan Hirsch. 2003. The shaping of things to come: Innovation and mission for the 21st-century church. Erina, New South Wales: Strand.

Guder, Darrell L., ed. 1998. Missional church: A vision for the sending of the church in North America. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.

Hawkins, G. L., and C. Parkinson. 2007. Reveal: Where are you? The answer will transform your church. Barrington, IL: Willow Creek Resources.

———. 2008. Follow me: What’s next for you? Barrington, IL: Willow Creek Resources.

———. 2011. Move: What 1,000 churches reveal about spiritual growth. Barrington, IL: Willow Creek Association.

Herrington, J., M. Bonem, and J. H. Furr. 2000. Leading congregational change: A practical guide for the transformational journey. New York: Jossey‑Bass.

Johnson, Suzanne. 1989. Christian spiritual formation in the church and classroom. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Kline, Peter, and Bernard Saunders. 1993. Ten steps to a learning organization. 2nd ed. Salt Lake City, UT: Great River Books.

Kouzes, James M., and Barry Z. Posner, eds. 2004. Christian reflections on the leadership challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Loder, James E. 1989. The transforming moment. 2nd ed. Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers and Howard.

———. 1998. The logic of the spirit: Human development in theological perspective. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Osmer, Richard Robert. 2005. The teaching ministry of congregations. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Peterson, Eugene H. 1996. Take and read: Spiritual reading, an annotated list. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.

———. 1997. Subversive spirituality. Grand Rapids, MI.: William B. Eerdmans.

———. 2010. Practice resurrection: A conversation on growing up in Christ. Grand Rapids,   MI: William B. Eerdmans.

Petit, Paul, ed. 2008. Foundations of spiritual formation: A community approach to becoming like Christ. P. Petit. Grand Rapids, MI: Kruger.

Reed, Angela H. 2011. Quest for spiritual community: Reclaiming spiritual guidance for contemporary congregations. New York: T&T Clark International.

Schwarz, Christian A. 2000. Natural church development: A guide to eight essential qualities of healthy churches. 4th ed. Emmelsbüll, Germany: ChurchSmart Resources.

Tacey, David. 2020. The Postsecular Sacred: Jung, soul, and meaning in an age of change. New York: Routledge

Volf, Miroslav. 1998. After our likeness: The Church as the image of the Trinity. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.

Willard, Dallas. 1988. The spirit of the disciplines: Understanding how God changes lives. New York: HarperCollins.

———. 1998. The divine conspiracy: Rediscovering our hidden life in God. New York: HarperCollins.

Willard, Dallas and Black, Gary. 2014. The divine conspiracy continued: Fulfilling God’s kingdom on earth. New York: HarperCollins.


Till We Are Fully Formed


Asian Christianity and the Shame/Honor Culture

2019-08-28 14.05.48

Asian Christian Theology (2019). I enjoyed reading this volume as it is written mostly by Asians to give an Asian perspective. I count many contributors as my personal friends which is an added bonus. It is an excellent collection of contextual theology scholarship.

I am surprised that none of these Asian writers writes from the eastern (Asian not Orthodox) shame/honor perspective. Instead, all of them approach their contextual theology from a western guilt/innocence perspective. Yes, I know, all our theological education are taught from the western guilt/innocence perspective. I have hoped our Asian scholars will take up the challenge to address the imbalance.

Our interpretation of the bible has always been transactional. The analogy is that of a law court. If you are guilty, you will have to pay a price. Jesus Christ came and paid the price. That is guilt/innocence.

What if Adam and Eve brought shame the Lord and caused Him to lose honor by their disobedience? They have dishonoured God. The need to redress that for is reconciliation and a repair of a broken relationship which affects not only the people involved but also the community and society. That is shame/honour. Jesus came to remove our shame and restore our honor with God.

Two-thirds of the world population functions from the eastern shame/honor perspective. Yet, we approach them with the guilt/innocence approach.

Would not it be time for our Asian scholars to teach and write on the eastern shame/honor perspective?

What is more important, is not our bible written from the shame/honor perspective?

Discernment as the Ontological Act of Knowing: A theological-pyscho-social examination of the act of discernment during spiritual direction

Discernment as the Ontological Act of Knowing: A theological-pyscho-social examination of the act of discernment during spiritual direction

Dr Alex Tang, MD, PhD

Adjunct, East Asia School of Theology (EAST) in Singapore and Seminari Theologi Malaysia (STM) in Malaysia.

Discernment is a critical component in the process of spiritual direction. Spiritual direction is the process in which a spiritual director aids the spiritual directee to discern which of the multiple choices or numerous pathways is the best for the directee. This discernment is an ontological act of knowing. The directee uses various resources to help in his or her discernment. What will be the context in which will help the seeker to receive discernment. It is the purpose of this paper to present that discernment is an ontological act of convictional knowing. Using Shults and Sandage’s intensification of spiritual transformation as the framework and context, with Loder’s convictional learning model, and Dallas Willard’s dimensions of human nature, discernment will be reframed as an ontological act of knowing in spiritual direction. The context of this paper is in the Judeo-Christian tradition.




My stance coincides with that of integrated faith-development theorists. Anthony A. Hoekema (1986) mentions movement from the “perverted image” to the “renewed image” and then to the “perfected image” in his structural model of spiritual restoration. Movement from each of these implies a crisis point or a point of ‘knowing’. While these cannot be considered actual stages, I do not discount stages of faith development completely. However, I am deeply influenced by Calvin’s theology of faith development as a process of becoming who the redeemed person already is (rediscovering), especially in light of Paul’s discussion of his spiritual journey in Romans 7.[1] In the following section, I will focus on three of these integrated theories in the process of becoming:

  1. Loder’s “logic of transformation” (1989)
  2. Shults and Sandage’s intensification model (2006)
  3. Willard’s “renovation of the heart” (2002)

Each of these theories will be examined in some detail because I intend to integrate them into a single theory to describe the process of discernment in spiritual direction. I will investigate whether these theories have the elements of person-in-formation, persons-in-community formation, and persons-in-mission formation involved in the process of becoming which forms the foundations of spiritual formation and direction.

a.   Loder’s “logic of transformation”

Reformed theologian, psychologist, and educator James E. Loder (1989) offers an explanation that contributes to the understanding of the process of faith formation. Loder’s interest is in explaining how the Holy Spirit brings about transformation in a person. Broadly, a change may be considered first-order if it involves coping mechanisms to reduce anxiety. Primarily behavioural, this transformation is confined to the context in which the person finds himself or herself. Thus, first-order change may be considered an early phase of faith formation or “functional transformation” (Shults and Sandage 2006, 20). In a Christian context, a person may find that he or she fits into a faith community by adopting his or her behavioural practices to experience a sense of belonging. First-order change is not lasting, however, without second-order change.

Second-order change or “systemic transformation”[2] is more complex and involves the development of a new way of knowing and relating to a person’s perception of reality. It entails profound changes in self-identity and understanding the “meaning of life.” In religious terms, it means a new revelation of the sacred akin to “convictional knowing” and is considered a transformation of the human spirit (Loder 1989, 93–122), which is solely the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 10–16). “Convictional knowing,” writes Loder, “is the patterned process by which the Holy Spirit transforms all transformations of the human spirit” (1989, 93). The act of transformation may be instantaneous or it may take place gradually over a few years. Paul’s autobiographical account of his spiritual journey in Romans 7 is helpful in defining formation and transformation. Formative acts involve a person’s continued and active participation in the process of faith development. Transformation, on the other hand, involves discontinuity as the Holy Spirit intervenes. Paul’s description of his tour in heaven (2 Cor. 12:2) thus may be interpreted as a transformation. In my opinion, Loder’s “convictional knowing” is the point when discernment occurs in spiritual direction. Spiritual formation forms the matrix for this to occur.

The key to faith formation and transformation of the human spirit is both the work of the Holy Spirit and the willingness of a person to yield to such guidance. However, formative acts may not lead to transformation. They provide only the fertile soil in which transformation may occur. Many writers, as already mentioned, use the metaphor of seeds and germination to describe formative acts. In contrast, the dynamic process of transformation is often prompted by a period of conflict. Loder presents his “logic of transformation” by building on the foundation of his “four dimensions of [human] being” (1989, 67–91).

According to Loder, four dimensions make up a person’s being: self, world, void, and the Holy. The “lived world” denotes people’s experiential construct of reality, which is the foundation on which they form relationships. The “void” is the source of people’s fears because it represents a negation of their world. Whenever the void encroaches on a person’s lived world, it creates conflict and anxiety. The self will then try to restore a balance because it is unable to live with conflicts and anxiety. “The Holy” offers the self a sense of transcendence, which is an antidote to the void.[3] The way the self deals with the conflict caused by the void is a process that Loder calls the “logic of transformation,” which is a series of steps to resolve the conflict (1989, 35–44).[4] The resolution of conflict requires the assistance of the Holy to create a new balance and world. This new balance and world is what Loder associates with “convictional knowing” because it entails a new way of looking at things.

Another way of understanding Loder’s “convictional knowing” is as worldview.[5] Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton define a worldview as “a model of the world which guides its adherents in the world. It stipulates how the world ought to be, and it thus advises how its adherents ought to conduct themselves in the world” (1984, 32). It is, in other words, an ontological perception. Christian author and philosopher James W. Sire initially defined a worldview as “a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic make-up of our world” (1976, 19). This is largely an epistemological description. Twenty-eight years later, he offered a more refined definition:

A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being. (2004, 122)

This expanded definition combines ontological, epistemological, and ethical implications. It still has a cognitive component (presuppositions) but allows for other ways of knowing (learning by storytelling). In addition, it allows for a transformed way of thinking and living. In other words, Sire’s (1976) more comprehensive definition implies not just head knowing but also heart knowing as it operates in everyday life, which aligns closely with convictional knowing. Christian faith formation and transformation are the processes by which people align their worldviews with Christ’s teachings.

Loder (1989) conceives of the logic of transformation as a cognitive event because it is the process whereby the self comes to discover a new way of knowing. The logic of transformation occurs in a series of steps involving both continuity and discontinuity: (1) conflict, (2) interlude for scanning, (3) constructive act of imagination, (4) release and opening, and (5) interpretation.

Conflict occurs whenever discontinuity arises in a person’s lived world. It may result from an accident, an illness, the loss of a loved one, or a sense of restlessness that threatens the continuity or stability of our lived world and provokes painful anxiety. Because the self cannot live with this anxiety, it begins scanning for possible ways to resolve the conflict and reduce the anxiety. This period of scanning may last moments or years until suddenly a solution appears. The solution may not be due to logical reasoning but is a constructive act of imagination. I propose that this ‘constructive act of imagination’ is what discernment is. It lead to ‘convictional knowing’. Two or more non-compatible solutions may come together to produce a workable resolution to the conflict. Loder describes this key event of transformation as “insight felt with intuitive force” (1989, 3). The appearance of the solution—sometimes known as the “aha” moment—is then accompanied by a release of energy, which is the response of the unconscious and reduces the anxiety level. Simultaneously, an expanded knowing or consciousness occurs, resulting in a new lived world in which people are able to see things more clearly than before. The final stage is interpretation, which occurs when people use their transformed knowing to reconstruct or improve upon their lived world. This reworking may be oriented both forward and backward in time. In the reworking of people’s lives forward, which Loder calls correspondence, they now have a renewed sense of identity and purpose. In reworking backward, which the theorist terms congruence, people are able to understand past experiences in a new light because of their expanded understanding. Correspondence and congruence is the result of ‘convictional knowing’.

This process may describe the way how discernment works. The logic of transformation is facilitated by the Holy in the person of the Holy Spirit. Convictional knowing may lead to a deeper experience of self and greater insight into God, which, in turn, changes the outlook and lifestyle of the knower.

b. Shults and Sandage’s intensification model

Theologian F. LeRon Shults and psychologist Steven J. Sandage, in their intensification model of spiritual transformation (2006), build on Loder’s work to clarify the Christian faith journey of formation and transformation. They correlate the Christian faith formation tradition of purgation, illumination, and union with Loder’s five steps of the logic of transformation as follows:

The dynamics of purgation seem naturally correlated to experiences that Loder described in terms of the conflict and tension that lead to scanning. The dynamics of illumination are more easily connected to what Loder called imaginative insight, the construction of a new way of understanding one’s self as spirit in relation to one’s neighbors and God. Finally, the unitive dynamics of the classical third way can be described in terms of the release and opening of the human spirit into a new sense of relational unity and intimacy. (29)

Further, Shults and Sandage (2006) suggest that the dynamics of intensity, intentionality, and intimacy in relationships shape a person’s faith formation (29). Loder’s (1989) “logic of transformation” deals largely with a person as the knower. Shults and Sandage bring into the equation relationality. They recognise that relationship is a foundational concept in faith communities and argue that relational intensity is essential for human well-being. Intentional relation to others and the need for relational intimacy are essential for the development of personhood. Spiritual transformation occurs when the dynamic of these relationships leads to “redemptive intimacy,” which is a deepening relation with God (89). Shults and Sandage define spiritual transformation as “a process of profound, qualitative change in the self in relationship to the sacred” (163). While Loder’s theory is similar to the formative strand of person-in-formation, Shults and Sandage cover the formative strands of persons-in-community formation. It may be noted that Shults and Sandage moved the understanding of faith formation from the purely cognitive (transformational logic) to involve the relational or communal aspects.

Shults and Sandage (2006) suggest that faith formation does not occur independent of other spiritual knowers or seekers. It involves communities and spiritual journeys. The dynamics of their theory correlate with the findings of American sociologist Robert Wuthnow (1998), who discovered a continual movement between “dwelling” and seeking in people’s spiritual journeys.[6] Spiritual “dwelling” is a place of comfort that offers a balance between the void and the Holy. A conflict between these dimensions is often what thrusts some people into a spiritual seeking or quests. Such seeking continues until a resolution that involves a transformation is achieved. When such resolution is not achieved, people continue to wander in their seeking.

Figure 1 illustrates the relation between spiritual “dwelling” and seeking in the Shults and Sandage model[7].

In this intensification model, the inner ring represents the “cycle” of spiritual “dwelling”. It includes “connection to a spiritual community and tradition that legitimizes certain rituals and spiritual practices and provides a sense of continuity to spiritual experience” (Shults and Sandage 2006, 32). Staying in the cycle of spiritual “dwelling”, however, may lead to boredom and spiritual stagnation. This stagnation, in turn, may prompt some persons to move toward the outer cycle of spiritual seeking, which involves “systemic and redemptive transformation.” When transformed, such people may re-enter the cycle of spiritual “dwelling” with a renewed sense of purpose and a deeper relationship with God.

Figure 1. Balancing spiritual dwelling and seeking. Source: Adapted from Shults and Sandage 2006, 33.

Shults and Sandage’s (2006) model seems to emphasise the outer ring of spiritual seeking more than the inner ring of spiritual “dwelling”. While fundamentally agreeing with their model, I would suggest that, in addition to boredom and spiritual stagnation, crises in life may drive some to move into the cycle of spiritual seeking. As shown in Loder’s (1989) dimensions of being, any discontinuity in a person’s lived world will create the impetus to seek a resolution.

Faith development is not static but dynamic. Shults and Sandage’s (2006) description of the spiritual life allows for times of movement and times of rest. In this way, faith development is like biological growth: It occurs in spurts, not continuously. Their theory involves communities as the site of spiritual “dwelling” and seeking. They refer to such communities as “containers” in which spiritual formation and transformation take place and use the metaphor of a crucible of spiritual transformation. The crucible is defined as a “container or melting pot for holding intense heat and pressure that can transform raw materials and catalytic agents into qualitatively different substances” (31). Alternative metaphors include “holding environments” or “cultures of embeddedness.” (172). Sandage writing in his section of the collaborative book (2006) elaborates that “[t]hese systemic cultures of embeddedness can provide a supportive relational context out of which spiritual formation and transformation can emerge. This holding and shaping function has been likened to developmental scaffolding” (172). The intensification model of transformation involves faith-formative processes as well as a container within which these processes interact.

To Loder’s (1989) “convictional knowing” through the “logic of transformation,” Shults and Sandage (2006) add the role of community as a crucible for spiritual “dwelling” and seeking. Community is the context for the Loder’s logic of transformation. They also add a sense of dynamism and movement to faith formation. However, these two theories both portray knowers who are very cognitively oriented. There is much knowledge but no passion. The key emotion that drives transformation seems to be anxiety. Where, then, is the motivational passion that drives faith formation?

Shults and Sandage (2006) emphasise relational intentionality that leads to redemptive intimacy. They underscore the role for volitional intention in faith formation. A person has to want to grow or develop spiritually. The next theory deals with the heart of the process. However, not all people want to relieve their conflicts or anxiety by entering into Loder’s (1989) transformational logic or the intensification model of spiritual transformation. Instead, they deal with their anxiety or conflict by distracting themselves with entertainment, alcohol, drugs, or others forms of distractions.

c. Willard’s “renovation of the heart”

Dallas Willard underscores the importance of personal volition, intent, or intentionality in faith formation when he begins Renovation of the Heart with the declaration that “we live from our heart” (2002, 13). By heart, he means “the executive center of a human life. The heart is where decisions and choices are made for the whole person” (30). Discernment occurs when the participant wants to be the knower i.e. the involvement of intentionality and volition.

Willard (2002) postulates six “dimensions” that make up human nature:

  1. Thought (images, concepts, judgments, inferences),
  2. Feeling (sensation, emotion),
  3. Choice (will, decision, character),
  4. Body (action, interaction with the physical world),
  5. Social context (personal and structural relations to others),
  6. Soul (the factor that integrates all of the above to form one’s life). (30)

In Willard’s model of human nature, the mind consists of thought and feeling. The will is synonymous with his definition of heart and spirit. The soul is that which functions to integrate the other five dimensions.

Willard (2002) defines spiritual formation as the “Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself” (22). He elaborates:

Spiritual transformation only happens as each essential dimension of the human being is transformed to Christ-likeness under the direction of a regenerate will interacting with constant overtures of grace from God. Such transformation is not the result of mere human effort and cannot be accomplished by putting pressure on the will (heart, spirit) alone. (41–42)

Willard (2002) proposes that spiritual formation is character formation as a result of personal choice interacting with grace from God (19). However, as a philosopher, he notes that “psychological and theological understanding of the spiritual life must go hand in hand” (74). He coins the acronym VIM to describe his model of spiritual formation. VIM stands for Vision of living in the Kingdom of God now, Intention to be a “Kingdom person,” and Means of spiritual transformation (85–90). The latter pertain to “replacing the inner character of the ‘lost’ with the inner character of Jesus: his vision, understanding, feelings, decisions, and character” (89). Doing so is achieved by identifying and modifying the six aspects of human personality (nature)—thought, feeling, choice, body, social context, and soul—that prevent us from becoming like Jesus. Once these failings have been identified, a person can take steps to reorient his or her inner self to a new worldview and cultivate new habits, attitudes, and feelings. Willard’s approach involves volitional intentionality on the part of individuals to take the necessary steps.

The chief means of spiritual formation suggested by Willard (2002) is the study of the Scriptures and practice of the spiritual disciplines. His model of faith communities aligns living in the kingdom of God with intentional efforts to emulate Jesus Christ. Agreeing with Willard, Evan B. Howard relates the VIM model to his own insights on faith communities:

Christian spiritual formation involves a reorientation and rehabituation of our lives. It aims at full harmony with Christ. It is divine insofar as it responds to divine grace; it is human insofar as it is intentional and ongoing. It is expressed in life. (2008b, 270)

Both Willard and Howard have identified the salient aspects of spiritual formation: reorientation and harmony with Christ, human intentionality, divine grace, and ongoing process.

However, Richard V. Peace points out that Willard’s model, in its emphasis on personal introspection, may produce very individualistic Christians (2004, 164). Holistic spiritual formation is personal but not individualistic. Willard does devote Chapter 13 in his book to the idea of community. He reveals “God’s plan for spiritual formation in the local congregation,” suggesting that it consists of (1) making disciples for Jesus Christ, (2) engaging these disciples in the Trinitarian relationship, and (3) inner transformation so that disciples follow “the words and deeds of Christ” (2002, 240–51). Jeff Sickles similarly concurs with Peace that Willard’s model tends to focus on developing individualistic Christians (2004, 180–81).[8]

Willard has contributed much to the study of spiritual formation. However, I agree with Peace (2004) and Sickles (2004) that Willard’s (2002) approach to faith communities is individualistic. His approach places considerable emphasis on a person’s volition or decision-making. The role of the Holy Spirit is acknowledged, but the precise nature of spiritual transformation is not explored in depth. Moreover, his division of human nature into mind, body, soul, and spirit is artificial. The process of spiritual formation involving these dimensions may not be as simple and orderly as he conceives it to be.

The heart as the “executive centre” is Willard’s (2002) thesis for his faith formation. His focus is on cognitive understanding and disciplined development of Godly habits. Willard does not seem to take into account the affective role of the heart. Emotions are perceived as something to be controlled rather than something to be experienced and redirected. I suggest that faith communities also involves identifying, accepting, and redirecting a person’s emotions. Passions, when under rational cognitive control may be a powerful motivator in faith communities.

Biblical writers refer to the human heart as the centre not only of commitment and conscience but also of the emotions. It is the source of strength for physical activities. Old Testament scholar Bruce K. Waltke explains that, in the Bible, the word heart denotes “a person’s centre for both physical and emotional-intellectual-moral activities” (1996, 331). According to Kittel, Friedrich, and Bromiley, the New Testament displays a “rich usage of kardía (heart) for a. the seat of feelings, desires, and passions; b. the seat of thought and understanding; c. the seat of the will; and d. the religious centre to which God turns, which is the root of religious life, and which determines moral conduct” (1985, 416). Commenting on Matthew 22:37, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart,” Waltke observes that “love here is more than emotion[;] it is a conscious commitment to the Lord” (1996, 332). This approach suggests that the heart is both the executive and emotive centre of a human being, which I refer to as the biblical heart.

The role of the biblical heart as emotive centre in faith formation has been considered in the literature. Affections are important in faith formation. The heart controls the mind, not the other way around, as psychologist and philosopher William James, a pioneer in the study of the phenomenon of religious experience, points out in his seminal essay “The Will to Believe” ([1897] 1956, 1–31). The true motivators for faith formation come from the biblical heart. These motivators are (1) a deep sense of sin and (2) an insatiable hunger for God. This idea links back to the intrinsic human yearning to restore the fallen imago Dei. In Loder’s (1989) model, human yearning is the self’s attraction to the Holy. It is often not an intellectual understanding of theological doctrines but a passionate heart for God  that leads to spiritual growth. An appropriate paradigm of spiritual formation will include passion or the biblical heart as a motivator via the work of the Holy Spirit.

The biblical heart is susceptible to influences that affect spiritual formation. These influences may be sociopolitical, such as religious pluralism, political and personal freedom in the community, or socioeconomic status and relationships. They may also be psychocultural, such as heritage, personal health, life events, lived experiences, level of education, and underlying philosophy of life. Hence, the Bible warns to guard the biblical heart (Prov. 4:23).


In the spiritual process of “becoming,” Loder (1989) contributes to the understanding of formation and transformation in an individual, and Shults and Sandage (2006) contribute to the idea of dynamic movement in the spiritual journey and its tie with the person’s faith community. Discernment is the convictional act of knowing which happens when there is a leap of faith during the process of scanning, seeking, and searching when seemingly unrelated and even paradoxically events come together to reveal an elegant solution in a spiritual direction situation. We call this event discernment. Discernment is an ontological act of knowing because it affects the past, present, and future worldview of the recipient. In Williard’s approach, knowing comes before action. Volition leads to formation and transformation of the individual.



Further reading

Loder, James E. 1989. The transforming moment. 2nd ed. Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers and Howard.

———. 1998. The logic of the spirit: Human development in theological perspective. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Shults, F. LeRon, and Steven J. Sandage. 2006. Transforming spirituality: Integrating theology and psychology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.



Questions for Discussion

  1. What is the psycho-social nature of discernment in spiritual direction?
  2. Will this definition and understanding of the process of discernment be applicable across borders and cultures?
  3. What are the tools or techniques that will be useful to help our directee achieve the ‘constructive act of imagination’?
  4. Will there be place for intervention from Higher Power or is the process purely a psycho-social one?

[1]. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss who the “wretched man” is in Romans 7:24. My personal inclination is that Paul is referring to himself and that Romans 7 gives us a glimpse into his spiritual journey.

[2]. Shults and Sandage, using the framework of systems theory, describe systemic transformation as dealing with the “healing or reordering of the broader relations within whom a person’s spirituality is embedded. . . . [F]ocus is on the health and wholeness of the human spirit in all its relational contexts” (2006, 20).

[3]. The Christ event, according to Loder, is a “double negation.” The death of Christ on the cross is a negation. At the crucifixion Christ became sin, thereby causing all sins to be cancelled. The resurrection is another negation, cancelling all so that new beings in Christ may come to be. This double negation is the central thesis making Loder’s “logic of transformation” possible (1989, 159–161, 223).

[4]. Loder expanded on this concept in his later book The Logic of the Spirit: Human Development in Theological Perspective (1998).

[5]. There are Christian worldviews but not “the” Christian worldview. While remaining within the biblical framework, a Christian worldview may change in response to culture, politics, or social influences.

[6]. Although Wuthnow’s 1998 study is not specifically focused on the Christian faith and is based on data from North America, his conclusions are recognised as universally applicable.

[7]. Shults and Sandage credit educators Barbara and Don Fairfield of Lanham, MD, with developing the original diagram. Sandage first adapted it for his crucible theory of transformation in couples’ relationships and then, together with Shults, for their intensification model of spiritual transformation (Shults and Sandage 2006, 33).

[8]. Individualistic Christians are more concerned with their own inner spiritual lives than with the world at large. They are inward-looking in their spirituality and perceive their CFC as a supplier of spiritual goods rather than as a community they are a contributing part of.

Bede Griffiths on The Jesus Prayer


Fr Bede Griffiths on Jesus Prayer: “If anyone asks me how I pray, my simple answer is that I pray the Jesus prayer. Anyone familiar with the story of a Russian pilgrim will know what I mean. It consists simply in repeating the words: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I have used this prayer now for over 40 years and it has become so familiar that it simply repeats itself. Whenever I am not otherwise occupied or thinking of something else, the prayer goes quietly on. Sometimes it is almost mechanical, just quietly repeating itself, and other times it gathers strength and can become extremely powerful.

I give it my own interpretation. When I say, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God”, I think of Jesus as the Word of God, embracing heaven and earth and revealing himself in different ways and under different names and forms to all humanity. I consider that this Word “enlightens everyone coming into the world”, and though they may not recognise it, it is present to every human being in the depths of their soul. Beyond word and thought, beyond all signs and symbols, this Word is being secretly spoken in every heart in every place and at every time. People may be utterly ignorant of it or may choose to ignore it, but whenever or wherever anyone responds to truth or love or kindness, to the demand for justice, concern for others, care of those in need, they are responding to the voice of the Word. So also when anyone seeks truth or beauty in science, philosophy, poetry or art, they are responding to the inspiration of the Word.

I believe that that Word took flesh in Jesus of Nazareth and in him we can find a personal form of the Word to whom we can pray and to whom we can relate in terms of love and intimacy, but I think that he makes himself known to others under different names and forms. What counts is not so much the name and the form as the response in the heart to the hidden mystery, which is present to each one of us in one way or another and awaits our response in faith and hope and love.

When I say, “have mercy on me, a sinner”, I unite myself with all human beings from the beginning of the world, who have experienced separation from God, or from the eternal truth. I realise that, as human beings, we are all separated from God, from the source of our being. We are wandering in a world of shadows, mistaking the outward appearance of people and things for reality. But at all times something is pressing us to reach out beyond the shadows, to face the reality, the truth, the inner meaning of our lives, and so to find God, or whatever name we give to the mystery which enfolds us.

So I say the Jesus prayer, asking to be set free from the illusions of this world, from the innumerable vanities and deceits with which I am surrounded. And I find in the name of Jesus the name which opens my heart and mind to reality. I believe that each one of us has an inner light, an inner guide, which will lead us, through the shadows and illusions by which we are surrounded, and open our minds to the truth. It may come through poetry or art, or philosophy or science, or more commonly through the encounter with people and events, day by day. Personally I find that meditation, morning and evening, every day, is the best and most direct method of getting in touch with reality. In meditation I try to let go of everything of the outer world of the senses, of the inner world of thoughts, and listen to the inner voice, the voice of the Word, which comes in the silence, in the stillness when all activity of mind and body ceases. Then in the silence I become aware of the presence of God, and I try to keep that awareness during the day. In bus or train or travelling by air, in work or study or talking and relating to others, I try to be aware of this presence in everyone and in everything. And the Jesus prayer is what keeps me aware of the presence.

So prayer for me is the practice of the presence of God in all situations, in the midst of noise and distractions of all sorts, of pain and suffering and death, as in times of peace and quiet, of joy and friendship, of prayer and silence, the presence is always there. For me the Jesus prayer is just a way of keeping in the presence of God.”


Quoted by Adam Bucko