Alan Andrews (ed.), (March 2010), The Kingdom Life: A Practical Theology of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation, Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
It is heartening to note that there are many new books on spiritual formation that moves beyond teaching spiritual disciplines and a contemplative life to engage on the theology of (Christian) spiritual formation. In September 2002, a group of theologians, pastors, authors and church leaders got together to form the Theological and Cultural Thinkers (TACT) group to serve as a think tank on spiritual formation. This book which is a collaborative effort of some best in the field which reads like a list of who’s who in spiritual formation and discipleship: Dallas Willard, Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, Keith Andrews, Bill Hull, Keith Meyer, Peggy Reynoso, Paula Fuller, Bruce Demarest, Michael Glerup, Christopher Morton, Richard Averbeck and Alan Andrews.
TACT defines seven process elements of spiritual formation and three theological elements in this book. Each of these elements is expanded upon by one of TACT’s members as a chapter in the book. The process elements of spiritual formation are:
The gospel of the kingdom is the realm of God’s active goodness in forming us in Christ as we follow Him. The kingdom of God is grand, majestic, and full of beauty. We come to understand the kingdom by repenting and simply becoming apprentices of Jesus in His kingdom.
Spiritual formation is rooted in relationship with God and one another. Communities of grace and trust open the door to gaining permission to share truth among fellow believers and the unbelieving world.
Spiritual formation into Christlikeness involves an intentional public, personal, and communal commitment to living as Jesus’ disciples who are being transformed into His image in all aspects of our lives as we learn to obey His commands.
Spiritual formation is a lifelong pursuit of being conformed to the image of Christ from the inside out and not a matter of external activity alone.
Spiritual formation is a continual process of transforming the whole person, including the healing of woundedness and rebellion, by the power of God, not to be confused with mere technique or program.
Spiritual formation occurs when God, in His grace, invades the destructiveness of suffering that result from the fall of man and uses the pain of suffering that results for His redemptive purposes in His people. There is also unique suffering that shapes the formation of believers as they enter into the call to love a lost world and the inevitable suffering that result from that love.
Spiritual formation in Christ is a process of growing in kingdom living and participating in God’s mission. This begins with our personal reconciliation with God and results in an irrepressible manifestation of God’s good news. Disciples of the kingdom labor in community for reconciliation with God and one another as a central priority of mission. They also pursue justice and compassion for all people and work to correct institutional sin inherent in human structures.
The theological elements of spiritual formation are:
The theology of spiritual formation emerges from the Trinitarian nature of God – relational, loving, gracious, mutually submissive, and unified in will.
Spiritual formation takes place by the direct work of the Holy Spirit, regenerating and conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ as the Spirit indwells, fills, guides, gifts, and empowers people for life in the community of faith and in the world.
Spiritual formation is based upon the Bible as God’s reliable and authoritative revelation. The Bible, our primary source of truth, guides and informs the use of spiritual disciplines and models of spirituality as they have emerged worldwide and throughout time.
These key process elements of spiritual formation as highlighted by TACT is an intentional lifelong process that transforms with suffering as one of the agents of learning and with healing of “woundedness and rebellion” of a person from “inside-out” to the image of Christ. This involves “kingdom living and participating in God’s mission” and is lived out in communities and in relationships with others. The basis is the nature of the Trinitarian God and is the direct work of the Holy Spirit with the Bible as God’s revelation. While it is crafted by Evangelical authors based upon churches in the United States in North America, it nevertheless represents most of the universal elements of spiritual formation. Unfortunately they are not able to totally dissociate themselves from their cultural context of individualism. While there are references to the community, the process elements are more suited for spiritual formation in individuals who together with other individuals undergoing the same process are involved in building communities and missional ventures rather than the communities themselves have a role in the formation It is about “persons-in-communities” rather that “persons-of-communities.” Communities, especially Christian faith communities should have a bigger role to play in the TACT perspective.
A comparison of TACT’s elements of spiritual formation may be made with A Call to Spiritual Formation drafted by another study group on spiritual formation and proclaimed during the Renovaré International Conference in June of 2009, at San Antonio, Texas, USA. (http://acalltospiritualformation.info/history.aspx accessed 20 July 2009)
Christian spiritual formation is the process of being shaped by the Spirit into the likeness of Christ, filled with love for God and the world.
God calls us all to become like Jesus. Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”* We experience this abundance of life – here and now – as our passions, character, understanding, and relationships are increasingly aligned with those of Christ. This lifelong transformation within and among us is the continual gift of God’s Spirit. We are called to be renewed into the likeness of Jesus – but we do not always fully embrace this calling. Sometimes we seem content to be known as “Christians” without intentionally engaging with this work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Other times we desperately long for a new way of life, wanting to grow in our walk with Jesus, but needing help and encouragement. We, therefore, commit to pursue passionately and to receive joyfully God’s grace to be more fully transformed into the image of Jesus Christ (John 7:37–39;*John 10:10;Romans 8:29;1 Corinthians 11:1;1 Corinthians 15:49; 2 Corinthians 3:17–18;2 Corinthians 4:16–18; 2 Corinthians 5:16–21;Galatians 4:19; Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 3:16–19;1 John 3:2;1 John 4:17)
As we are rooted in Jesus and in the kingdom he proclaims, we are progressively transformed. Jesus is the center of all life and history, both the source and goal of all creation. God shaped this universe as a place where the love and life of Jesus Christ might flourish. Because we are formed in the divine image, we have the capacity to receive and express this life and love. Although human disobedience corrupts the divine image in us, God still forms a people able to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love their neighbors as themselves. Jesus makes this possible through his life, death, and resurrection. In him we experience a restored relationship of love with God and one another, and continual transformation into his likeness. We are becoming a reconciled and renewed community – which is both the goal and the substance of life in God’s kingdom. This is the good news we proclaim with joy to the whole world. (Genesis 1:26–28; Genesis 3:1–7;Proverbs 8:22–31;Isaiah 42:5–9;Jeremiah 31:33–34;Mark12:28–34;John 1:1–18; John 13:34–35;Romans 5:9–11;Romans 8:1–11;Romans 8:19–23;Ephesians 2:11–22;Colossians 1:9–23;1 Thessalonians 5:23;1 John 2:7–11)
Our engagement with God’s transforming grace is vital. Renewal into the image of Christ is not a human attainment; it is a gift of grace. God mercifully uses all our experiences, including our suffering and trials, to teach and transform us. Even so, transformation requires our involvement and effort. We need to make ourselves available to the Holy Spirit’s work in all our life experiences, particularly through intentional engagement with historical Christian disciplines, including Word and sacrament. These practices open us to the presence and grace of God. As a result, we become, through time and experience, the kind of persons who naturally express love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. (Matthew 5:43–48; Matthew 11:29–30; Luke 6:40; John 7:38; John 15:5–17; Romans 12:1–2; Galatians 5:16–25; Philippians 2:12–13; Philippians 3:12–16; Titus 2:11–14; Hebrews 5:13–6:1;Hebrews 12:7–13; James 4:7–8;1 Peter 2:2;1 Peter 4:1–2)
Spiritual formation happens in community. As we long to know and follow Jesus and be formed into his likeness, we journey with those who share this longing. God is calling the church to be a place of transformation. Here we struggle to fulfill our calling to love. Here we learn to attend to the invitations of God’s Spirit. Here we follow the presence of God in our midst. Spiritual community is the catalyst for our transformation and a sending base for our mission of love to the world. (Matthew 18:20; Luke 6:12–19; John 17:20–26; Acts 2:42–47; Romans 12:4–8; 1 Corinthians 12:1–7; Galatians 6:1–2; Ephesians 4:1–16; Hebrews 10:23–25;1 Peter 2:4–10)
Spiritual formation is, by its very nature, missional. As we are formed into the likeness of Christ, we increasingly share God’s infinitely tender love for others. We deepen in our compassion for the poor, the broken, and the lost. We ache and pray and labor for others in a new way, a selfless way, a joy‐filled way. Our hearts are enlarged toward all people and toward all of creation. (Isaiah 60:1–4; Matthew 5:14–16; Matthew 28:18–20; John 3:16–21; John 20:21–23; 2 Corinthians 5:20; Galatians 6:10; 1 John 4:7–21)
We invite all people, everywhere, to embrace with us this calling to become like Jesus. By God’s grace, we will seek to become lovers: lovers of God, lovers of people, and lovers of all creation. We will immerse ourselves in a lifestyle that is attentive and responsive to the gracious presence of God. We commit ourselves to the community of Christ’s beloved, the church, so that we can learn this way of love together. We entreat you to join us. (Matthew 5:1–10; Matthew 13:44–46; Mark 1:15;Luke 9:23–24;Romans 12:1–2; 2 Corinthians 6:1; 1 Timothy 6:11–12; Revelation 21:2;Revelation 22:17)
The elements of A Call to Spiritual Formation are similar to those suggested by the TACT group. Again, the weakness seems to be the lesser role of the Christian faith communities as compared to the role of the individuals involved. The role mentioned is that the “church to be a place of transformation.” The church or Christian faith community is not just a place for transformation but should be a transforming agent itself. Unlike the TACT group, the drafters of A Call did not give any theological grounding except numerous biblical references. For more details, see my Critique of A Call to Spiritual Formation
This book The Kingdom Life deals mainly with defining the nature and process of spiritual formation. The question a discerning reader will ask is how these process elements of spiritual formation may be applied in a church setting. In the epilogue, Alan Andrews and Christopher Morton mentioned some guiding principles of what they called ‘spiritual-formation church.’ These guiding principles are:
Guiding Principle 1:
Spiritual formation occurs in believers as they engage in intentional personal formation, community formation and missional formation. These three dimensions of spiritual development must not be compartmentalized or separated but organically connected.
Guiding Principle 2:
The center of the spiritual-formation church is Jesus and His kingdom. The Bible is a Christocentric book. Jesus’ primary message was about the immediate nearness and availability of His kingdom to us.
Guiding Principle 3:
Every spiritual-formation church must be rooted in the soil of the lost, the vulnerable, and the least.
Guiding Principle 4:
The spiritual-formation church should seek to create an environment of grace that welcomes everyone who will come to the “rivers of living water” (John 7:38, NASB) that resides in the culture of God’s kingdom.
Guiding Principle 5:
The spiritual-formation church must seek to reach, teach, and practically engage the people in spiritual formation. This means intentional spiritual formation must be the central passion of the church.
Guiding Principle 6:
Equipping people for ministry is critical to the health of the spiritual-formation church.
Guiding Principle 7:
The spiritual-formation church develops new leaders for the advancement of the gospel and the spiritual formation of the people of God.
Guiding Principle 8:
The Bible uses multiple metaphors to describe the people of God, but the primary descriptors are organic – for example, body and family (p. 301-312).
Andrews and Morton pointed out correctly that “intentional spiritual formation must be the central passion of the church.” The central passion of the spiritual-formation church is the place for “intentional personal formation, community formation and missional formation.” This implies that the spiritual-formation church is not just a place where believers practice the spiritual disciplines and be missional. It means more than that. The question to be asked is whether the present institutional church with its formative practices is the ideal model for spiritual formation and discipleship to take place. Is there a need to reorganize the formative practices and even the structure of the church itself? These are important questions if the central passion of the church is intentional spiritual formation.