Transhumanism is a growing movement that seeks to use science and technology to transcend the limitations of human biology. It promises to enhance our physical and cognitive abilities, extend our lifespans, and even transform our very nature. However, the Christian faith has been critical of transhumanism, seeing it as a challenge to the created order and a threat to human dignity. This article explores the relationship between transhumanism and the Christian faith, looking at the theological and ethical concerns that arise from this movement.
Transhumanism is a rapidly growing movement that seeks to use science and technology to enhance human beings beyond their biological limitations. It promises to offer new possibilities for human life, from the ability to extend our lifespan to the possibility of merging with machines. However, this movement has also raised concerns about the impact of such enhancements on our humanity and has been met with criticism from various religious communities, including Christianity.
The purpose of this article is to explore the relationship between transhumanism and the Christian faith. We will examine the theological and ethical concerns that arise from this movement, and look at how these concerns might be addressed. Our goal is not to offer a definitive answer to these questions, but rather to provide a framework for understanding the complexities of this issue.
The Theological Concerns
One of the primary concerns that many Christians have with transhumanism is the theological implications of such enhancements. At the heart of this issue is the question of what it means to be human, and how our identity as human beings is related to our relationship with God. Christians believe that human beings are created in the image of God, and that this image is reflected in our capacity for rational thought, moral decision-making, and spiritual awareness.
For many Christians, the idea of enhancing these capacities through technology is seen as a challenge to the created order. They argue that our identity as human beings is grounded in our biological nature, and that attempts to transcend these limitations are a rejection of the very essence of what it means to be human. New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright notes, “There is something about being human that cannot be explained simply in terms of our DNA or our brain chemistry. It is a mystery that goes beyond these things, and any attempt to reduce humanity to these things is a distortion of the truth.”
Another concern that Christians have with transhumanism is the impact that it could have on our relationship with God. Many argue that by seeking to enhance our own abilities, we are placing ourselves at the center of our own lives, rather than recognizing our dependence on God. As theologian, Philip Hefner notes, “The danger of transhumanism is that it places the individual at the center of the universe, rather than recognizing our dependence on God and the interconnectedness of all things.”
The Ethical Concerns
In addition to these theological concerns, there are also significant ethical concerns that arise from the transhumanist movement. One of the most pressing of these concerns is the question of who will have access to these enhancements, and how they will be distributed. Given the potential for these enhancements to create significant social and economic inequalities, it is important to consider how we can ensure that they are distributed in a fair and equitable manner.
Another ethical concern that arises from transhumanism is the potential for these enhancements to be used for destructive purposes. For example, the ability to enhance our physical strength or cognitive abilities could be used to create new forms of warfare, or to further entrench existing power structures. It is important to consider how we can ensure that these technologies are used for the common good, rather than for the benefit of a privileged few.
Addressing These Concerns
So how can Christians engage with the transhumanist movement in a productive and meaningful way? One approach is to recognize that the Christian faith has a rich history of engagement with science and technology. From the development of modern science in the Christian universities of medieval Europe to the work of contemporary Christian bioethicists, there is a long tradition of exploring the ethical and theological implications of new technologies.
One way that Christians can engage with the transhumanist movement is to focus on the underlying values and goals that drive it. While there may be specific technologies or enhancements that are problematic, the desire to transcend our limitations and explore new possibilities is not inherently negative. By engaging with transhumanists on these shared values and goals, Christians can help to shape the direction of the movement in ways that are consistent with their own theological and ethical commitments.
Another way that Christians can engage with the transhumanist movement is by offering a robust theological critique. By exploring the theological foundations of the Christian understanding of humanity and our relationship with God, Christians can offer a counter-narrative to the transhumanist vision of human enhancement. This critique should not be dismissive or reactionary but rather should engage with the transhumanist arguments on their own terms, while also highlighting the unique contributions that the Christian faith can make to this conversation.
The transhumanist movement represents a significant challenge to the Christian understanding of humanity and our relationship with God. However, it also offers an opportunity for Christians to engage with new technologies and explore the ethical and theological implications of human enhancement. By focusing on shared values and goals, and offering a robust theological critique, Christians can help to shape the direction of the transhumanist movement in ways that are consistent with their own theological and ethical commitments. Ultimately, the goal of this engagement should be to promote a vision of human flourishing that is grounded in a deep and abiding respect for human dignity and the created order.
The question of why there is suffering in the world has been a subject of philosophical and theological debate for centuries. It is a complex and multifaceted issue that cannot be explained by a single factor. Many people turn to religion to find answers to this question, and the Bible offers several insights into this matter.
The Bible acknowledges the reality of suffering and offers different explanations for why it exists. One of the most prominent explanations is that suffering is the result of human sin. In Genesis 3:16-19, God tells Adam and Eve that they will experience pain, toil, and hardship as a consequence of their disobedience. This passage suggests that suffering is a natural consequence of human rebellion against God’s will.
Another explanation for suffering is that it is a test of faith. In James 1:2-4, it says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” This passage suggests that suffering can be seen as an opportunity to grow and develop spiritually.
Moreover, the Bible acknowledges that suffering can be caused by natural disasters or other events beyond human control. In Job 1:16-19, it describes how Job lost his livestock, servants, and children in a series of natural disasters. This passage shows that even the righteous can suffer because of circumstances beyond their control.
Furthermore, the Bible teaches that suffering can serve a redemptive purpose. In Romans 5:3-5, it says, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” This passage suggests that suffering can lead to spiritual growth and ultimately bring about a positive outcome.
Christian theologians have also wrestled with the question of why there is suffering in the world. One such theologian is C.S. Lewis, who in his book “The Problem of Pain” offers insights into the nature of suffering. He writes, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Lewis suggests that suffering can be a means of waking people up to the reality of God’s presence and drawing them closer to Him.
Another writer who has written about the problem of suffering is Joni Eareckson Tada, who has lived with quadriplegia since a diving accident at the age of 17. In her book “A Place of Healing,” Tada writes, “God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” Tada suggests that suffering can serve a greater purpose in God’s plan, even if it is difficult for us to understand at the time.
Theologian Timothy Keller, in his book “Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering,” offers a nuanced perspective on the problem of suffering. He writes, “Suffering is at the very heart of the Christian faith. It is not only the way Christ became like and redeemed us, but it is one of the main ways we become like him and experiences his redemption.” Keller suggests that suffering can be a means of experiencing the presence and love of God in a deeper way.
N.T. Wright writes in “Evil and the Justice of God,” a perspective on the problem of suffering from the perspective of God’s justice. He writes, “God has promised to set the world right in the end, and we are called to work with him to that end, not to speculate about how he might be doing it, or whether he is doing it at all.” Wright suggests that even though we may not understand why there is suffering in the world, we can trust in God’s justice and work towards bringing about his kingdom on earth.
In conclusion, the question of why there is suffering in the world cannot be answered in a simplistic way. The Bible offers several explanations for why suffering exists, including human sin, a test of faith, natural disasters, and a redemptive purpose. Regardless of the cause of suffering, the Bible encourages believers to trust in God and to find hope in the midst of difficult circumstances. As it says in Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Christian theologians offer various perspectives on the problem of suffering, ranging from its redemptive purpose to its role in God’s plan for the world. Regardless of the theological explanation, the Christian response to suffering is one of trust in God’s love and faithfulness, and a commitment to work towards bringing about his kingdom on earth.
Keller, T. (2013). Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. Penguin.
Lewis, C. S. (2001). The Problem of Pain. HarperCollins.
Tada, J. E. (2010). A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty. David C Cook.
Wright, N. T. (2006). Evil and the Justice of God. IVP Books.
Painting: St John of the Cross by Salvador Dali (1951)
Exploring the Concept of the Dark Night of the Soul: significance in St. John of the Cross’s writings
The “Dark Night of the Soul” is a term that has been used to describe a spiritual crisis in which an individual experiences a profound sense of spiritual emptiness and separation from God. This concept has been explored by many mystics and spiritual writers throughout history, including St. John of the Cross, a Spanish Carmelite friar and mystic who lived in the 16th century. In this article, we will explore the concept of the Dark Night of the Soul, as well as its significance in the writings of St. John of the Cross.
The Dark Night of the Soul:
The Dark Night of the Soul is a term that was popularized by St. John of the Cross in his poem, “The Dark Night.” In this poem, St. John describes a spiritual journey in which an individual must pass through a period of darkness and desolation in order to achieve union with God. According to St. John, the Dark Night is a necessary part of the spiritual journey, as it helps the individual to detach from the things of this world and to focus on the divine.
St. John of the Cross believed that the Dark Night of the Soul was a period of intense spiritual suffering in which the individual experienced a sense of abandonment and separation from God. This suffering was necessary, according to St. John, in order to purify the soul and prepare it for union with God. St. John writes:
“Souls begin to enter into this night when God draws them forth from the state of beginners – which is the state of those that meditate on the spiritual road – and begins to set them in the state of the progressives – which is that of those who are already contemplatives – to the end that, after passing through it, they may arrive at the state of the perfect, which is that of the Divine union of the soul with God.”
In other words, the Dark Night of the Soul is a necessary step in the spiritual journey, as it prepares the soul for union with God.
St. John of the Cross believed that the Dark Night of the Soul was not just a period of spiritual suffering, but also a period of spiritual growth. During this time, the individual was forced to confront their own limitations and weaknesses and rely on God for strength and guidance. St. John writes:
“In this night, the soul feels itself to be as it were placed in a dark prison, and bound with a chain, in which it sees and feels nothing but the hand of God in its afflictions.”
According to St. John, it is only through this process of suffering and surrender that the individual can achieve union with God.
The Significance of St. John’s Writings:
St. John of the Cross’s writings on the Dark Night of the Soul has had a profound influence on Christian mysticism and spirituality. His emphasis on the importance of detachment and surrender in the spiritual journey has resonated with many seekers throughout the centuries. His poetry and prose have been studied and admired by Christians of all denominations, as well as by those who are not Christian but who are interested in spirituality.
St. John’s writings have also been influential in the development of the Catholic Church. His works were initially met with suspicion by the Church authorities, who viewed them as too radical and dangerous. However, over time, St. John’s writings came to be recognized as a valuable contribution to the spiritual tradition of the Church. Today, St. John of the Cross is celebrated as one of the greatest mystics of the Catholic Church, and his writings continue to inspire and challenge spiritual seekers of all backgrounds.
It is worth noting that the concept of the Dark Night of the Soul is not limited to Christianity. Similar ideas can be found in the mystical traditions of many other religions, including Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism. It is a testament to the universality of the spiritual journey, and to the fact that the search for God is a fundamental aspect of the human experience.
In today’s world, where we are often caught up in the busyness of our daily lives, it can be easy to lose sight of the spiritual dimension of our existence. We may find ourselves feeling disconnected and unfulfilled, longing for something more but unsure of where to turn. The writings of St. John of the Cross can serve as a powerful reminder that there is a deeper meaning to life and that the path toward spiritual fulfillment is one that is open to all of us.
In conclusion, the Dark Night of the Soul, as described by St. John of the Cross, is a spiritual crisis that can be a necessary step in the spiritual journey toward union with God. It is a period of intense suffering, detachment, and surrender, in which the individual is forced to confront their limitations and weaknesses, and to rely on God for strength and guidance. St. John’s emphasis on the importance of detachment and surrender in the spiritual journey has had a profound influence on Christian mysticism and spirituality, as well as on the development of the Catholic Church. His writings continue to inspire and challenge spiritual seekers of all backgrounds to this day. As St. John himself wrote, “O guiding night! O night more lovely than the dawn! O night that has united the Lover with his beloved, transforming the beloved in her Lover.” (St. John of the Cross, 1953, p. 93)
St. John of the Cross. (1953). Dark Night of the Soul (E. Allison Peers, Trans.). Image Books: Garden City, NY.
The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross. (1991). Translated by K. Kavanaugh & O. Rodriguez. ICS Publications. – This is a collection of St. John’s writings, including “The Dark Night” and “The Ascent of Mount Carmel,” which explore the spiritual journey and the pursuit of union with God.
Teresa of Avila, S. (2007). The Interior Castle. Translated by E. Allison Peers. Penguin Classics – St. Teresa was a contemporary of St. John of the Cross and also a mystic and writer. The Interior Castle is her most famous work, in which she describes the journey of the soul toward union with God.
Merton, T. (2002). No Man is an Island. Mariner Books. – Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk and writer who was greatly influenced by the writings of St. John of the Cross. No Man is an Island is a collection of Merton’s essays on spirituality, which includes a chapter on the Dark Night of the Soul.
Underhill, E. (2008). Mysticism. Image Books – Evelyn Underhill was a British writer and mystic who wrote extensively on the subject of mysticism. Her book, Mysticism, provides a comprehensive overview of mystical traditions across religions and includes a section on Christian mystics such as St. John of the Cross.
Anonymous. (2002). The Cloud of Unknowing. Translated by A. Spearing. Penguin Classic – The Cloud of Unknowing is an anonymous medieval Christian text that explores the concept of contemplative prayer and the pursuit of union with God. The author of the text is often compared to St. John of the Cross for his emphasis on detachment and surrender in the spiritual journey.
St. John of the Cross. (2002). The Dark Night of the Soul. Translated by E. Allison Peers. Dover Publications
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) and also his others books, videos, and lectures. Eugene, a ‘pastor of pastors’ had much to offer all pastors and to all followers of Jesus Christ in forming and developing their Christian Spirituality.
The Lecturer: Dr Alex Tang
Dr Alex Tang, MD PhD, has a deep interest in Christian spirituality and formation, practical theology, biomedical ethics, and spiritual direction. He teaches in seminaries in the Asian region. Alex is a spiritual director and facilitates retreats. He has authored several books and contributed to journals, book chapters, and conferences. Alex is a Research Fellow with Centre of Disability Mission of Asia (CMDA) in Singapore. His interest is in interdisciplinary studies and he enjoys conversations about the Christian imagination.
The Lord of the Ring (LOTR) trilogy is made up of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and the Return of the King. These books are now the classics. Being a classic means everybody knows about them, but nobody has read them! Peter Jackson’s movies on LOTR are now more than 20 years old now but still remain a favorite amongst Middle-Earth fans. In this seminar, I will use a narrative approach to the LOTR to tease out some of the theological principles J.R.R. Tolkien had embedded into his excellent story.
This is a good time to review these books and movies, especially during the time of Lent.
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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Loder, James E. 1989. The Transforming Moment. 2nd ed. Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers and Howard. (Quoted in Tang 2014, 128-33.)
Lowe, Mary. 2010. “A Summary of the Findings of the Study: Assessing the Impact of Online Courses on the Spiritual Formation of Adult Students,” Christian Perspectives in Education 4, no. 1: 1-18. Accessed: December 21, 2019. http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cpe/vol4/iss1/3.
McKnight, Scot. 2004. The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press.
Reed, Angela H. 2010. Quest for Spiritual Community: A Practical Theology of Congregational-based Spiritual Guidance. PhD diss., Princeton Theological Seminary.
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Shults, F. LeRon, and Steven J. Sandage. 2006. Transforming Spirituality: Integrating Theology and Psychology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
One of my challenges as a Chinese Christian is to decide whether I am a “banana”, “mango” or “durian” Christian. There are many dilemmas and landmines as we seek to follow Christ while practicing our culture. Here are some of my own reflections about the Chinese New Year
The delicious Chinese New Year’s Eve Reunion Dinner. Selections vary with dialects, geographical regions, and traditions.
In this season of Advent, let us consider Mary, an ordinary young girl who was chosen for an extraordinary task. Mary’s song or Magnificat is a hymn that not only reveals Mary’s faith in God but also who Mary is (her character).
This is a totally online module. It will be both synchronous and asynchronous. This module is designed to enable leaders in Christian ministries to reflect on spiritual growth in a time of fluidity and change. Education institutions are in taters, seminaries are in retreat against the onslaught of the pandemic and emerging technologies, and churches are emptying of the younger generations seeking to be ‘spiritual but not religious’. In this module, we will examine the underlying principles and theology of Christian education, discipleship, and spiritual formation processes. We will also evaluate the inner life of educators, spiritual formation communities and its missional aspects. We will look at pedagogy in faith communities in this digital interconnected world, the digital world, and the Metaverse.
This is a 4-credit core module both for the EdD and Theology programs and a 5-credit module for DMin.