How Then Shall We Live? : Nurturing Spirituality in a Hectic World
In today’s fast-paced and demanding world, many committed Christians find themselves grappling with the question of how to live out their faith amidst the busyness and chaos of everyday life. It is a common concern for believers to seek God’s will for their lives, both in terms of their vocation and personal relationships. However, the deeper question lies in discerning God’s calling to be and become and understanding how to maintain a vibrant spiritual life in the hectic and exhausting modern lifestyle. In this blog post, we will explore practical insights and strategies, supported by biblical wisdom, for nurturing spirituality in the midst of a busy world.
Discovering God’s Calling
At the heart of living a purposeful and fulfilling life is the journey of discovering one’s calling. This involves seeking God’s will and understanding the unique gifts, passions, and values that have been woven into our being. As we embark on this journey, we are reminded of Proverbs 3:6, which says, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” By engaging in prayer, self-reflection, and discernment practices, we can better understand God’s path. Exploring the perspectives of Ignatian, Quaker, Puritan, and Wesleyan traditions can provide valuable insights into discernment processes and broaden our appreciation for diverse approaches.
Integrating Faith in the Workplace and Marketplace
Many individuals spend a significant portion of their lives in the workplace and marketplace. The challenge lies in maintaining the vitality of one’s spiritual life amidst the demands and pressures of these environments. As we navigate these spaces, we are encouraged by Colossians 3:23, which reminds us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” By recognizing the theology of work and rest, we can view our professional endeavours as opportunities for worship, service, and personal growth. Understanding the concept of Missio Dei (the mission of God) helps us see our vocations as avenues to fulfil God’s purposes in the world. Embracing the Sabbath as a time of rest, reflection, and rejuvenation enables us to sustain a balanced and spiritually vibrant life, aligning with Jesus’ words in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
Cultivating Spiritual Formation and Transformation
Investing in spiritual formation and transformation is crucial to navigating the complexities of the modern lifestyle. This involves developing a disciplined spiritual life, engaging in practices such as prayer, meditation, Scripture study, and participation in the Christian faith community. As we embark on this transformative journey, we are reminded of Romans 12:2, which urges us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” By enlarging our knowledge base of spiritual formation processes and exploring various models and practices, we can find approaches that resonate with our unique needs and circumstances. Integrating these practices into our daily routines allows us to grow in our faith and character, enabling us to live out our calling authentically, as encouraged by James 1:22, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
In a world filled with constant demands, distractions, and busyness, nurturing our spirituality becomes a vital pursuit. By exploring God’s calling, integrating our faith in the workplace, and investing in spiritual formation, we can live purposeful lives that align with our beliefs and values. As committed Christians, let us embrace the challenge of navigating the modern lifestyle gracefully and intentionally. May we seek God’s guidance, rest in His presence, and continually grow in our faith as we strive to live out our calling in the world.
Remember, the journey of nurturing spirituality is a lifelong endeavour. “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” – Psalm 90:12. Let us support and encourage one another as we seek to live fully for God in the midst of this hectic world.
The stories we tell ourselves have a significant impact on how we understand the world and our place in it. These stories form the foundation of our worldview, which shapes our beliefs, values, and behaviors. Our worldview influences how we interpret events, how we interact with others, and how we make decisions. Therefore, it is crucial to be aware of the stories we are telling ourselves and the worldviews they are shaping.
Stories/Worldviews during the Time of Jesus
During the time of Jesus, there were various stories and worldviews that were prevalent in the Jewish community. These worldviews influenced how people understood their relationship with God and how they lived their lives. Some of the prominent worldviews during this time included:
The eschatological/future battle of God in the Psalms of Solomon: This worldview was focused on the belief that God would eventually bring about a final battle to defeat evil and establish His kingdom on earth. This worldview emphasized the need for obedience to God’s law and the belief that God would ultimately vindicate those who remained faithful.
The Maccabean and Zealot strategy of holy warfare: This worldview emphasized the need for militant action to establish God’s kingdom. The Maccabees and Zealots were groups that actively fought against the Roman occupation of Palestine in order to establish a Jewish state. This worldview emphasized the importance of taking action to bring about God’s will.
The Essence strategy of holy withdrawal: This worldview emphasized the need for holy living and separation from the world. The Essenes were a group that lived in the desert and separated themselves from mainstream Jewish society. This worldview emphasized the importance of living a pure and holy life.
The Pharisees push for great zeal for Torah obedience: This worldview emphasized the importance of strict adherence to the Torah (Jewish law). The Pharisees were a group that believed in the importance of keeping the law in order to maintain the right relationship with God. This worldview emphasized the importance of obedience to God’s commands.
The Sadducee strategy of realism by cooperating with Rome: This worldview emphasized the need to work within the existing power structures. The Sadducees were a group that collaborated with the Roman authorities in order to maintain their status and influence. This worldview emphasized the importance of pragmatism and working within the system.
What are some of the stories/worldviews we listen to today?
Today, there are various stories and worldviews that are prevalent in our culture. These worldviews influence how we understand ourselves and our relationship with the world. Some of the prominent worldviews today include:
Individualism: This worldview emphasizes the importance of personal freedom and autonomy. It emphasizes the importance of individual choice and personal responsibility.
Consumerism: This worldview emphasizes the importance of material possessions and consumption. It emphasizes the importance of acquiring goods and services as a way of achieving happiness and fulfillment.
Moral relativism: This worldview emphasizes the idea that moral values and beliefs are subjective and relative. It emphasizes the importance of individual choice and personal autonomy in determining what is right and wrong.
Scientific naturalism: This worldview emphasizes the importance of science and reason in understanding the world. It emphasizes the importance of empirical evidence and rational thought in understanding reality.
New Age: This worldview emphasizes the importance of spiritual experiences and alternative forms of healing. It emphasizes the importance of personal growth and self-awareness.
Postmodern tribalism: This worldview emphasizes the importance of group identity and belonging. It emphasizes the importance of collective identity and the rejection of dominant cultural narratives.
Salvation by therapy: This worldview emphasizes the importance of personal growth and self-improvement. It emphasizes the idea that therapy and counseling can help individuals overcome personal problems and achieve fulfillment.
McDonaldization: This worldview emphasizes the importance of efficiency and predictability. It emphasizes the standardization of goods and services as a way of achieving greater efficiency.
Disneyization: This worldview emphasizes the importance of fantasy and escapism. It emphasizes the importance of entertainment and imagination as a way of escaping from the stresses of everyday life.
As Christians what are the stories we should tell ourselves?
As Christians, it is important to recognize the stories and worldviews that are prevalent in our culture, but we must also evaluate them in light of our faith. We should ground our worldview in the Bible and the teachings of Jesus. Here are some of the stories we should tell ourselves as Christians:
The story of creation: We should recognize that God is the creator of the world and that we are stewards of His creation. This story emphasizes the importance of caring for the environment and the world around us.
The story of redemption: We should recognize that we are sinners in need of salvation. This story emphasizes the importance of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as the way to eternal life.
The story of the Kingdom of God: We should recognize that God’s kingdom is both present and future. This story emphasizes the importance of living according to God’s will and working to bring about His kingdom on earth.
The story of love: We should recognize that God’s love is the foundation of our faith. This story emphasizes the importance of loving God and loving others as ourselves.
The story of justice: We should recognize that God is a God of justice and that we are called to work for justice in the world. This story emphasizes the importance of fighting against oppression and working to promote equality and fairness.
The story of community: We should recognize that we are part of a larger community of believers. This story emphasizes the importance of building relationships with others and working together to advance God’s kingdom.
The story of hope: We should recognize that our ultimate hope is in Jesus Christ. This story emphasizes the importance of trusting in God’s promises and looking forward to the ultimate fulfillment of His kingdom.
Our story should be one of redemption, reconciliation, and love. We should embrace the belief that God has a plan for our lives and that we are called to be part of His kingdom. This means that we should reject the worldviews that emphasize individualism, consumerism, and moral relativism. Instead, we should embrace the values of faith, community, service, and love for others. We should seek to live out our faith in tangible ways by serving those in need, advocating for justice, and being a voice for the marginalized. We should prioritize relationships over possessions and strive to live a life that reflects the love of Christ.
At the same time, we should not shy away from engaging with the world around us. We should be willing to listen to others and engage in thoughtful dialogue. We should seek to understand the worldviews of others and be willing to challenge them when necessary.
Ultimately, as Christians, we are called to live out a different story than the world around us. Our story is one of hope, grace, and redemption. It is a story that can transform lives and bring about real change in the world. By embracing this story and living it out in our daily lives, we can be a witness to the transformative power of the gospel.
This paper seeks to evaluate Alex Tang’s “Holistic Spiritual Formation Crucible Paradigm” (Tang 2014, 13, 244ff.), henceforth referred to as the Crucible Paradigm (moniker by the writer), by using Jeremiah Gruenberg and Annang Asumang’s “Axes of Formation” model of assessment (2019). Tang is a medical specialist and a spiritual director and teaches Christian spirituality, spiritual formation, and biomedical ethics at graduate seminaries in Malaysia and Singapore. Gruenberg and Asumang are with the South African Theological Seminary; the former being a PhD candidate with a submitted thesis in theology and spiritual formation (2019); the latter a medical specialist and faculty and post-graduate supervisor in biblical studies, theology, spiritual formation, and education.
The intended outcome of the study is a learning opportunity in critiquing a spiritual formation system that the writer, a Singapore resident, has been learning, practicing, and exploring in its possible integration with other disciplines. It would also be intriguing in using a standardized assessment model which apparently sought to plug a gap in the “academic venture into Christian spiritual formation” and hopefully contribute in a small way toward a better understanding of one such approaches in the discipline toward a larger meta-theory (Gruenberg and Asumang 2019, 3-4). Another reason for this choice is its claim to be able to assess theories of spiritual formation by meeting five requirements: “ecumenically applicable [in any denominational or traditional context], receptive to interdisciplinary approaches, biblically grounded, theologically sound [which reflects historic Christian orthodoxy], and comprehensive in scope [through various facets of Christian spiritual growth and maturity]” (Gruenberg and Asumang 2019, 4-5).
Tang’s Crucible Paradigm
The assessment will be done on Tang’s Till We are Fully Formed: Christian Spiritual Formation Paradigms in the English–speaking Presbyterian Churches in Malaysia (2014). A related instrument developed by Tang, “Spiritual Formation Inventory,” will provide supplementary material as well (Tang 2018, 14-19). Tang’s definition for Christian spiritual formation is “the intentional and ongoing process of inner transformation to become like Jesus Christ himself, to become with others a communal people of God, and to become an agent for God’s redemptive purposes” (Tang 2014, 6). In this paper, spiritual formation and formation are terms used interchangeably for Christian spiritual formation. A Christian faith community is a “gathering of believers who meet regularly and consistently to worship, learn about their faith, and encourage and support one another”; it includes those from parachurches and marketplace and home fellowships that are not part of any church (Tang 2014, 6).
The Four-Axis Formation Assessment Model
Joe Rodgers, a psychology professor and researcher, stated that a model is one which “matches the reality that it describes in some important ways” and “is simpler than that reality” (Rodgers, 2010, 5; quoted in Friedman, et al 2010, 81). The four-axis model seeks to describe reality although it may fall short in some ways as it is a simplified version of reality. This is the inherent limitation of any such model and is acknowledged here. According to Gruenberg and Asumang (2019, 5), the four axes of this model are: 1) the intended goal/s of spiritual formation according to the theory, 2) the key concept/s undergirding it, 3) the theological foundations of the theory, and 4) the formational activities associated with it. In using the model, Gruenberg and Asumang (2019, 6) outlined three stages of application: 1) identification, systematic description, and analysis of each one of the four axes, 2) description and assessment of the interrelation of the four axes, and 3) final critique of the theory as a whole. This paper will follow the three-stage methodology as above.
In this first stage of assessment, the goal, concept, theology, and activity as axes of the paradigm are individually described and analysed.
Goal of Spiritual Formation (First Axis)
The intended outcome of Tang’s theoretical approach sees Christian spiritual formation not just “for self-development, but also part of God’s larger plan of redemption for his created order, which includes nurturing a people committed to him and restoring the created world” (Tang 2014, 1). The goals of such a formation are, therefore, “ Individual believers’ acquiring a Christ-like character;  Development of a people of God;  Establishment of the kingdom of God and the healing of the whole of creation” (Tang 2014, 86). The three formative strands that will achieve the desired goals are, “ Person-in-formation [to Christ-likeness];  Persons-in-community formation [to become a people of God];  Persons-in-mission formation [in the kingdom of God and the healing of creation]” (Tang 2014, 86, 88, 91, 93). Tang used the following (Figure 1) to show the inter-relatedness of the three strands as part of a unified process where “their functions overlap and are indistinguishable from one another” with the Holy Spirit as the active agent in all three formative strands (Tang 2014, 86-8; figure is adapted from Angela Reed’s diagram, “Three Foundations of Spiritual Formation” 2010, 160).
Figure 1: Formative strands of spiritual formation (Tang 2014, 88).
In analysing Tang’s three goals of formation, it is recognised that 1) “becoming Christlike individually” is a common goal shared with other formative theories (e.g. Gruenberg and Asumang [2019, 7-8] listed nine major works on formation showing the same goal) and reflects biblical concepts of believer’s growth (e.g. Gal 4:19; Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18) toward the restoration of imago Dei and classically affirmed by theologian Anthony Hoekema (1986, 27); 2) “becoming a people of God as a community” in formation as less common (though affirmed by Steve Kang [2002, 146-49], professor in interdisciplinary studies) and Tang seeing a) God actively calling out a people to Himself in both the Old Testament and New Testament (e.g. Exo 6:7), b) Paul’s use of “the called-out ones” or ekklesia as an image of the Church (e.g. “church” and “churches” in Rom 16:4-5, cf. Thayer and Smith, Greek Lexicon entry for “Ekklesia”), and c) Pauline references to individual believers as “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19) and to the church as “temple of God” (1 Cor 3:16-17) underscores the workings of the Spirit through individuals and collectively as a whole (affirmed by Richard Averbeck [2008, 43], a theologian); 3) “becoming missional for the kingdom of God and the healing of creation” by bringing Christ’s atonement and reconciliation to the individual, community, and creation is consistent with Paul’s “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Eph 1:10, NIV) which F. F. Bruce (1984, 261) described as “the unification of a divided universe.”
Paradigmatic Concept (Second Axis)
The key ideas behind this paradigm are as follow. Tang’s favoured metaphor for the spiritual development of a person-in-formation is that of a journey (Tang 2014, 89); crucible or womb as analogical containers of development for the persons-in-community formation (Tang 2014, 91-3, 185-86); and persons-in-mission formation as redemptive agents of God’s holistic shalom in his kingdom and to both the human race and creation (Tang 2014, 93-5, 108-16).
Spiritual formation for a disciple of Christ describes the sanctifying and transforming process as a journey (discipleship pastor Bill Hull 2006, 35, quoted in Tang 2014, 73) and it is not linear and predictable like a pilgrimage but the journey “is like an unfolding drama, with unpredictable twists and turns in the plot” with “fits and starts, sudden shifts and surprises, as well as imperceptible growth” (educator Suzanne Johnson 1989, 104, quoted in Tangs 2014, 89). The formative processes are to be carried out in a crucible which parallels the faith community where formation and transformation takes place (Tang 2014, 133-36, cf. theologian LeRon Shults and psychologist Steven Sandage’s intensification model as basis for the crucible analogy 2006, 31). Tang also used the womb analogously as “a nurturing crucible” which “supplies not only nutrients but also growth-enabling elements” (Tang 2014, 185-86). The concept of shalom is important to Tang’s theory on spiritual formation and is deeply connected with the kingdom and the mission of God: “Shalom signifies the state of wholeness of the pre-Fall creation, the redemptive acts of God, and the gathering of a people to promote the kingdom of God” (Tang 2014, 116). I.e. shalom is God having “a whole person, a whole people of His own, a whole earth, and a whole creation in interconnected relationship” (Tang 2014, 109). God’s people then “have a mission to reveal his righteousness and share this love” (theologian Chris Wright 2006, quoted in Tangs 2014, 107). Spiritual formation sees the need for holistic social justice and creation care beyond communicating the gospel (Tang 2014, 117).
In analysing the journey metaphor for personal formation, the crucible analogy as community for formative nurturing of its members, and the shalom concept intrinsic to the kingdom of God and his mission, we see Tang’s formational orientation toward process of transformation, context of community, and missional eschatology.
Tang’s premise is that “a holistic Christian spiritual formation paradigm based on a crucible of spiritual formation elements [italics for emphasis]” in the context of ESPCs’ “unique socio-political and psychocultural” environ will achieve the goal of spiritual formation (Tang 2014, 7). It is holistic in seeing the three formative strands as noted above being an intrinsic part of the formation paradigm. Spiritual formation is therefore personal but not individualistic, shows a balance of both relational and service-orientation within the faith community, and is not just about “being” but also about “doing” as well. The seven spiritual formation elements are “growing into Christ-likeness, building relationships [with God, self, others], being missional, pursuing intentionality, seeking spiritual learning, being dependent on the Holy Spirit, and developing community” with the formational community as the context and supporting “crucible” for such development (Tang 2014, 175). The formative crucible is the faith community where these spiritual formation elements are nurtured and allowed to flourish. Tang’s “Spiritual Formation Inventory” instrument reordered the elements into the acrostic SHALOM to help individuals assess their spiritual development (Tang 2018, 14-19). In folding the seven elements into the six SHALOM components, Tang left out explicit mention of the Holy Spirit as conceptually “it is understood to be incorporated into all the other elements” (Tang in WhatsApp message to writer, 9 December 2019).
Theological Underpinnings (Third Axis)
Figure 2: The nature of spiritual formation (Tang 2014, 118)
The theological and philosophical foundation is the “substance” answering the “why” questions behind the theory whereas the paradigmatic concept is the “shape” (Gruenberg and Asumang 2019, 12). Christian spiritual formation is a process involving “restoration, relationship, and shalom” in the context of three major biblical and theological concepts: 1) Restoring the imago Dei; 2) Relationship with the triune God; 3) Shalom and the kingdom of God (Tang 2014, 95). The following diagram (Figure 2) shows the nature of spiritual formation (Tang 2014, 118).
Restoring the Imago Dei
At creation, God made man and woman in his own image as the imago Dei (Gen 1:26-27). Reformed theologian, Anthony Hoekema, then explicate two results when they disobeyed God resulting in the Fall: 1) a functional aspect: rupture of man’s threefold relationship with God, with others, and with creation; 2) a structural aspect: the “original image” became the “perverted image” at the Fall, and from the “renewed image” becoming “perfected image” through Christ’s redemption (1986, 75-96). Hoekema noted, “the purpose of redemption is to restore the image of God in man” (1986, 27). In restoring the imago Dei in a person, that person is becoming more like God which “also means becoming more like Christ” (Hoekema 1986, 89). The Church is then made up of those who are restored to the divine image. The theological underpinning of the person-in-formation is the restoration of imago Dei (which is an epistemological dimension of formation).
Relationship with a Triune God
A theological foundation of spiritual formation is having right relationships with God (vertically), with self and others (horizontally). The Jewish Shema reveals God’s heart in wanting a community of God’s people in love relationship with the triune God for his glory (Jn 17:20-25; Eph. 3:11): “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4-5, NIV). Theologian Scot McKnight (2004, 6) called it the “Jewish creed of spiritual formation.” Jesus Christ gave the Great Commandment derived from the above passage in Mark 12:29-31 (cf. Matt 22:37-40 and Lk 10:26 27). McKnight (2004) labelled it the “Jesus Creed” reflecting the heart of Christian spiritual formation. In Romans 8:27-29, Paul connects the triune Godhead with its outworking in the spiritual formation of believers. The triune Godhead invites believers to join in the perichoresis or dance of the trinitarian community (Tang 2014, 104; this is another epistemological reality of formation). The faith community of believers is to demonstrate to all others what shalom as perfectly whole and complete relationship is (Tang 2014, 106). Christian faith communities can thus learn from the perfect triune model of relationships amongst the Godhead (Tang 2014, 106-7). The persons-in-community formation should look to the example of the trinity in their relational behaviour (Tang 2014, 108).
Shalom and the kingdom of God
Shalom in the Old Testament occurs 250 times (Mounce 2006, 503) and means “a state of wholeness, completeness, well-being, prosperity, health, contentment, salvation, righteousness, and justice” (Beck and Brown 1986, 777; Kittel, Friedrich, and Bromiley 1985, 406-20, as quoted in Tang 2014, 108) and is often used to describe relationship to God. In the New Testament, the equivalent Greek word is eirene which occurs 91 times. Shalom is a key concept in Christian spiritual formation viz: 1) Christ as the Saviour is the mediator of shalom, reconciles people to God, and brings wholeness to people and the world (Eph 2:14-18; Col 1:20; Gal 6:15); people-in-formation thus experience growth in shalom (Tang 2014, 111); 2) The kingdom of God as a “shalom world” with “the rule of God in the hearts of His people” (Tang 2014, 112); 3) Mission of God carried out through shalom by Christians and their faith community as persons-in-mission; Missiologist Leslie Newbigin (1995) suggested a trinitarian model for the mission of God: a) proclaim the kingdom of God as faith in action, b) share the life of the Son as love in action, and c) bear witness of the Holy Spirit as hope in action (Tang 2014, 113).
The biblical and theological foundations of the Crucible Paradigm are based on the theological concepts of a process of being restored to the image of God, becoming a people of God, and as agents for the mission of God. Tang’s psychosocial foundations of Christian spiritual formation integrates educator James Loder’s (1989) “logic of transformation,” theologian LeRon Shults and psychologist Steven Sandage’s (2006) “intensification model,” and Dallas Willard’s (2002) “renovation of the heart.” There are sound biblical, theological, and psychosocial foundations for the Crucible Paradigm of formation.
Role of the Spiritual Formation Community
A Christian spiritual formation community with underlying spiritual formation and discipleship coupled with committed leaders and members to spiritual formation will provide the impetus, vibrancy, and identity to the spiritual dynamics of congregational life. The community will need to demonstrate a good mix of relational and service-oriented ministry to support the Crucible Paradigm of formation.
Role of the Spiritual Formation Elements
Within the crucible of a formational community, Tang listed the following five elements as key to generating synergy within the community: 1) Growing into Christ-likeness; 2) Building relationships; 3) Being missional; 4) Enhancing spiritual learning; 5) Developing community (Tang 2014, 259). He left out the other two as listed below.
Role of the Holy Spirit and Human Intentionality
According to Tang, “the Holy Spirit is the generator that powers the elements of spiritual formation while human intentionality is the engine that drives it.” He concluded, “the Christian spiritual formation paradigm may be described as a spiritual formation community that acts as a crucible for the spiritual formation elements to act with the formative assent of individuals and transformative action of the Holy Spirit.” While the role of the Spirit is seen here as sovereign (and thus separated out from the other five elements) perhaps there could be more discussions on how the Spirit does act transformatively in response to certain trigger events or states, if any.
Formational Activities (Fourth Axis)
The formative activities advocated by the crucible paradigm may be grouped under the spiritual formation elements for which examples are provided by Tang (2014, 295-332). These seek to help Christians ameliorate negative external socio-political an psychocultural influences. According to Tang (2014, 332), it is aimed at a holistic and integrated approach using socialisation or enculturation principles. Some of these include: 1) Growing in Christlikeness by being restored from spiritual brokenness “through the spiritual disciplines, critical thinking, and mentoring” (Tang 2014, 295-300); 2) Building relationships with God and with each other “through their spiritual lived experiences to enrich one another” (Tang 2014, 300-15); 3) Spiritual learning by “taking personal responsibility for learning and learning through the catechetical process” (Tang 2014, 315-23); 4) Developing community “by using Christian practices, through intergenerational composition, living by community rules, and sharing testimonies and celebration” (Tang 2014, 323-29); 5) Being missional through social engagement by “caring for the sick, poor, and oppressed” (Tang 2014, 329-32).
In analysing this axis, it is noted that Tang used 37 pages of his book in providing rich suggestions and relevant examples as possible activities in implementing the Crucible Paradigm. He used the spiritual formation elements as the framework for these actionable items.
Relationship Between the Four Axes of the Crucible Paradigm
In this second stage, an assessment will be made in the interrelatedness among the four axes of the paradigm. In general, there appears to be good fit and alignment between all the four axes. The common constructs include the three goals of spiritual formation, the associated three formative strands, and the seven/five plus two spiritual formation elements. There may be apparent exception when the second axis, paradigmatic concepts, is compared to the third axis, theological underpinnings. The metaphor of the journey (second axis) may not seem aligned with items on the third axis. This may be reconciled if the “process of becoming” is seen as part of the “journey” of person in formation.
Critique of the Overall Crucible Paradigm
In this third and final stage, a critical assessment of the unified paradigm is made. Tang presented a theoretical construct of the holistic spiritual formation crucible paradigm that is systematic in its approach, comprehensive in scope, relevant in its intent and actual study, and contextual in its suggested application. The use of womb as an analogy for a nurturing environment may well fall short as the growing foetus does not need to do anything for growth. This is not Tang’s approach toward spiritual development and he has prescribed active participation in formative practices to aid the process. The shalom concept is so fundamental to this paradigm that a suggestion is now made for the inclusion of the term in the paradigm description itself, within the outcome goals, or in the name of the paradigm, e.g. holistic shalom formation crucible paradigm.
The Holistic Spiritual Formation Crucible Paradigm was assessed through breaking it down into the four axes covering the goal, concept, theology, activity, and the interrelatedness between axes and the critique of its unified paradigm. The four axes were found to be consistent conceptually and the overall unified paradigm acceptable with a suggested tweak to the name or description of the paradigm. One of Tang’s future research suggestion is exploring the paradigm applicability in other Asian situations in the region. While the assessment by this paper has not directly addressed the point, it does appear to be relevant in its theory and approach beyond Malaysia or the Presbyterian Church (Tang did note some practices and lessons from the Presbyterian Church in Singapore, for instance). It is also noted that the initial research done by Tang utilized Western philosophy and practice but he has had been able to extract the relevant and contextualise them accordingly.
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When Senior Pastor Rev. Dr Chuah called me yesterday whether I could deliver a eulogy on behalf of the Church, I had no hesitation whatsoever to accept this honour for a man of God who had devoted more than forty years of his life to the faithful service of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Hailed from Batu Pahat, Pastor Nicholas Yeo was the first Asian to take over the ministry Holy Light Church (English) or HLCE when he answered God’s call in December 1973 as a preacher. At this time, he was 31 years old and a former secondary school teacher who had just graduated from the Singapore Bible College. On 31 August 1979, Pastor Nicholas was officially ordained as the church’s first Asian minister.
The Rev George Hood, founder of HLCE wrote later that when the hopes of getting an Asian pastor were realised, it was like rain falling on dry ground, bringing new life and growth of the seeds that the foreign missionaries had planted.
Pastor Nicholas retired from full time service on 1 October 2009. In his more than 30 years of full-time ministry at HLCE, Pastor was fully supported by his wife, Lee Swee Keng. Our sister Mrs Yeo Swee Keng went to be with the Lord on 10 October 2018.
Much had been said and written about Pastor Nicholas Yeo. I would first like to repeat what was said about him in the obituary placed by the Church in The Star today:
“Always patient, kind and never envious nor rude, Pastor Nicholas was also not self-seeking or easily angered. Neither did he delight in evil. He always rejoiced with the truth and kept no record of wrongs. He would always protect, always trust, always hope and always persevere. As a shepherd looking after the flock in Holy Light Church (English), we had the best pastor with us.” I should also add that Pastor, often described as exceptionally handsome, had an impeccable command of the Queen’s English and possessed an elephant’s memory. Not to mention, all of us also loved his voice and yes, his singing.
In celebrating his life today, something which was not often said or written about and which must be said today for the sake of posterity is the crisis which our Church went through in the early 1990s. We have so much to learn from this child of God in the way he had handled it.
Of course, during that tumultuous period, Pastor Nicholas and his wife had gone through emotional distress and suffering, but what impressed the most of us was his calmness displayed publicly in the midst of all that. This had also prevented young believers from being discouraged. Indeed, many hearts might have been pierced and such wounds had taken time to heal. But they did heal eventually only by Christ’s stripes and His abounding grace.
To me, the reason was because Pastor Nicholas was forgiving and had suffered in silence. When defending himself, he did not retaliate or attack his accusers, knowing that this would only harm the body of Christ further in HLCE. Remember, Jesus, Job and Moses all went through the same experience. Like them, Pastor Nicholas had let God defend him and he only needed to be silent. Armed with these godly assurances, Pastor Nicholas continued to walk with dignity and honour. God later honoured his obedience when the English-Speaking Presbytery exonerated him.
Through him, he had also nurtured and brought many young people to know Christ. He was a Chaplain of the First Johor Bahru Company of Boy’s Brigade for many years. Indeed, we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and stedfast.
Likewise, God has also, through Pastor Nicholas Yeo, raised a younger and dedicated second echelon of leaders in our Rev Dr Chuah Seong Peng, Pastor Raymond Ho, Pastor Gan Kim Choon, Elders Lee Kim Chai, Koh Seong Kooi, Quek Tee Ken, Alex Tang, Tommy Leong and many more. Just as Paul said, ‘I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.’ Indeed, neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who will make things grow. Hence, with that promise and assurance that the younger group of leaders would advance God’s work in HLCE, he handed over the leadership of the Church to Rev Dr Chuah in late 2009.
Church, he would surely want us, leaders and members alike to remember to take God’s word seriously and to always remain steadfast in the principles expounded in the Scriptures. After all, each time when he went through a difficult period of his ministry, he had always emerged in strong defence of the truth, always radiating the joy and gladness of the Lord in His service.
During his leadership at HLCE, he also experienced a roller-coaster tussle with the authorities over the acquisition, withdrawal of acquisition, the approval and finally the development of HisLand. He never lost hope of losing the land as he prayed unceasingly over two decades for HisLand project to come into fruition. And came it did finally. He was so passionate about it. He laid the first foundation brick and so when the Church gave him a lump sum as a love gift upon his retirement in 2009, he had it all channeled to HisLand development fund.
In our tribute to him today, we must always remember that Pastor always took us back to the basics in our walk with the Lord. He was not so interested in following the latest trend in Christian marketing strategies. He often took us back to finding out what God wanted to do here in HLCE. He wanted to see God do a work that could only be attributed to the power of God. In this sense, he was uncompromising in upholding the inerrancy and infallibility of the Word of God. He wanted his colleagues to be an exemplary preacher, and he taught them how to honour the absolute veracity of the Word of God in preaching. Needless to say, he was a faithful shepherd and warrior of God who had a deep love for God. For that reason, he was a leader among pastors, an encourager and influencer of ministers across the English Speaking Presbytery.
To his children and grandchildren, the Church would like all of you to know what a great man of God all of us had. May you always look to him and at his life to draw strength and love from time to time.
Dearly beloved, Pastor Nicholas had indubitably fought the good fight, finished the race and had kept the faith. He was a true shepherd at HLCE, but now just as it is written in Revelation 7:17 that the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be his shepherd, He will lead Pastor Nicholas to springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear from his eyes.
Till we meet again our beloved Pastor Nicholas Yeo Kok Peng, rest in peace and enjoy your reunion with Mrs Yeo. We love you and will miss you dearly. This Church will be eternally grateful to you and you shall remain a source of inspiration to us, our children and our children’s children for many, many generations to come. Your life and contributions would be registered for posterity as a testimony of God’s faithfulness in HLCE.
May I now humbly pray that a copy of this eulogy be kept in the archives of Holy Light Church (English) till the ends of the Earth.
I am designing a course on the biblical imagination and spirituality of Eugene Peterson.
Eugene Peterson’s lifelong focus is on soul care, especially on spiritual formation and pastoral nurturing. This course will be a dialogue with his thoughts, teaching, and applications using his Eerdmans spiritual theology series: Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology (2005);Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (2006); The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus Is the Way (2007); Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers (2008); and Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (2010).
The expected major outcome of this course is that students will have reflected on where they are in their spiritual journey, understand the dynamics of formative and transformative aspects of their spiritual lives, and be equipped to nurture their and communal spiritual growth both physically and in Cyberspace. The focus on this course is on spiritual formation and spiritual theology.
The virus, when it came, came like a thief in the night. It was unexpected, and we were unprepared. Though there was some news about a viral outbreak in China in November 2019, nobody paid it much heed. After all, there were always sporadic outbreaks of chicken and swine flu. The last worrisome outbreaks were Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012, and Ebola in 2018. SARS was first reported in Asia in February 2003. The illness spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before the SARS global outbreak of 2003 was contained. Closer to home, SARS was limited to Singapore and, for some unknown reason, did not cross the causeway. With MERS, we in Malaysia were on alert because of the large number of people going to the Middle East. Fortunately, no cases were reported here. Ebola and Africa seemed far away.
In December 2019, when I was at Disneyland with my grandchildren, I came 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 are the church for the present generation. I remember reading somewhere about how 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 sleepwalking their way through oblivion.” There is an urgency to review and revise how we do and are to be the church in this interconnected, digital citizen generation with the Internet of Everything.
Little did I know how my thinking would be brought to the test in the subsequent months when the storm warnings were sounded in Wuhan China about a new coronavirus, initially named novel SARS-CoV-2, because of its close resemblance to the SARS virus. Alarming news started coming in rapidly. The infected and death tolls started rising. Different countries were reporting cases, and the global spread was impressive. Then countries started reacting by placing their populations under lockdown. We were told of the need to “flatten the curve,” meaning to contain the spread by lockdown while allowing time for our healthcare facilities to be expanded. We observed healthcare facilities being overwhelmed in Italy and Spain as the virus spread.
Since COVID-19 is caused by an RNA virus, I expected it to mutate. I expected that, like its cousin, the SARS virus, it would mutate and become non-lethal in a few months; in fact, I was optimistic that it would be over by July 2020. Little did I know that, by limiting its spread, we were also limiting its mutation. By the end of 2020 we have gone through a roller coaster ride revealing the brokenness of our society, removing the delusions we have been living with, and resetting the way we shall live in this future.
This book chronicles some of my reflections as I struggle to find love, faith, and hope in this fateful year. It started with apprehension as I watched nation after nation fall under the onslaught of this pandemic. What is worrisome is that these countries are developed countries, with superb healthcare infrastructures. At home, we were celebrating the auspicious Chinese New Year of the metal rat. Then came the lockdowns and the orders restricting movement. It was sobering, because this is the first time I have experienced travel restrictions. With the lockdowns and the closing of onsite church services, I am forced to rethink who we are as a church and how we do church. I had more opportunities to explore cyberspace as the churches went online. I also try to understand the digital church in its various manifestations and how it will work with the physical churches.
For those Christians working in the marketplace or other places, do you feel that your work is second-rate compared to those work that carries the name ‘Full Time’ workers (such as pastors, pastoral staff etc)? Do you feel that in your innermost being, if all things being equal, you should give up your job and go ‘full time’? I shall address this in this webinar on discernment in vocational calling and holiness.
This webinar is also for those in ‘full time’ work especially if the bulk of your service is carried out by laypeople. Fulltime worker such as pastors have a day off (often Monday). Laypeople who help in the church do not have any time off. They work 5-6 days a week and give the weekends and some weekday evenings to the functioning of the churches. Are pastors aware of the strain they are placing on their members?
We shall try to unpack this can of worms in this webinar. Please register and join me.
Spiritual formation inventory is a spiritual assessment tool to obtain a snapshot of our spiritual life at a certain moment in our spiritual journey. This tool will help us to discover what areas in our spiritual practices are strong and what the weaknesses are. For effective spiritual formation or spiritual growth, balanced spiritual life and practices is essential. Too much emphasis on one aspect of our spiritual practices at the expense of others may lead to an unhealthy spirituality.
The essential elements or components of the spiritual formation may be summarized by the acronym SHALOM
Story-telling is the living our lives in communion with God
Heart is to abide in Christ or growing into Christlikeness
Action is in ministry to others or service
Learning is living in the Word or spiritual learning
Opening to the community as in fellowship and community building
Missional is living as a witness to the world
Shalom is a Hebrew word often translated as peace. However shalom means more than peace (as the absence of strive) as it also denotes perfection– as in perfection of God’s original creation, Jesus as the perfector of our faith and himself, and as the perfection of man’s reconciliation with God.
You are invited to join me for this Zoom session. Even though it is for Medical and Dental professionals and students, you are welcome to join us even if you are not a healthcare worker. It is open to all who are interested in Christian spiritualities in this pandemic period.