I have watched people walking on Oxford Street in London, Orchard Road in Singapore, and Jalan Wong Ah Fook in Johor Bahru. They all have the same look; a hurried expression on their faces as if they must rush because of a great urgency. They all have the same stance; the body leans forward with rapid long steps. They do not look each other in the eyes; lonely souls in a sea of souls. Do you feel that your life is out of control? That you are on a roller coaster that is not only going faster and faster but is even now in free fall? Our lives are so crowded with meetings, appointments, and do-lists. Our labor-saving devices, electronic organizers, and computers have failed to save us time. Even time seems to have speeded up. What, it’s May already? Didn’t we just celebrate Christmas?
Our hurried and busy lifestyle is killing us. Our bodies are so stressed that we are aging before our time. We are suffering from stress-related diseases like anxiety syndromes, depression, hypertension, and coronary heart disease. We destress by escaping into a ‘make-believe’ world provided by Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Others find relief in consumerism by shopping. Most of us are addicted to caffeine, tranquilizers, and Prozac. We all feel trapped in a lifestyle in which we are neither content nor happy.
The opposite of busyness is not idleness. It is a simple lifestyle. It is a life where we live for what is essential and are willing to forego the rest, no matter what our neighbors have. It demands the courage to go against the ways of the world. A simple lifestyle does not mean possessing less but being detached from our possessions. It is freedom from the chains of materialism. Once we are detached, we can let go…and find that we do not really need much to lead a contented life. Jesus taught in Matthew 6:19-21 that where our treasure is, there our heart will be. If our treasure is accumulated material things, and there is no end to that accumulation, our whole focus (heart) will be on that. That is like chasing after the wind. It is only when we focus on the eternal that we are able to detach ourselves from the chains that bind our hearts and our minds. Then we will be free and less anxious and less driven. We will have time to look around and be aware…of our own needs, our relationships, and God’s creation.
In the journey of life, we often encounter wounded souls seeking solace and healing. Tilden Edwards (1980), in his profound exploration of spiritual friendship, beautifully compares the role of a spiritual friend to that of a physician attending to a bleeding wound. Like a skilled healer, a spiritual friend approaches their role with reverence and humility, recognizing that their task is not to directly heal, but rather to create an environment that nurtures and supports the natural process of healing within the wounded soul. In this article, we will delve deeper into the concept of spiritual friendship as a sacred and transformative practice.
Creating an Environment for Healing
Just as a physician tends to a bleeding wound, a spiritual friend first cleanses the wounded soul. By offering a compassionate and non-judgmental presence, they create a safe space where individuals can acknowledge and explore their pain, doubts, and struggles. Through active listening and empathetic understanding, they help the wounded soul cleanse emotional wounds, fostering a sense of release and liberation.
However, the role of a spiritual friend extends beyond merely cleansing the wounds. They also facilitate the alignment of sundered parts within the wounded soul. By gently guiding and supporting individuals, they assist in the process of integration and self-discovery. This alignment involves bringing together fragmented aspects of one’s being, fostering inner harmony, and encouraging personal growth.
Nurturing the Birthing of a Whole Soul
The essence of spiritual friendship lies in its ability to nurture the birthing and nourishing of a whole soul. Recognizing the sacredness of this process, a spiritual friend approaches their role as a midwife, deeply aware of the profound interconnectedness between themselves, the individual seeking healing, and the Divine.
In this three-way dynamic, the spiritual friend serves as a bridge between the person struggling to find wholeness and the Divine presence. Their primary focus is to create an environment that allows the individual’s relationship with the Divine to deepen and flourish. Through gentle guidance, prayerful support, and shared spiritual practices, the spiritual friend encourages the wounded soul to cultivate a more profound connection with the loving, healing, and guiding Spirit that permeates all of existence.
The Transformative Power of Spiritual Friendship
Spiritual friendship holds transformative potential for both the wounded soul and the spiritual friend themselves. As the wounded soul experiences healing and growth, their newfound wholeness radiates outward, positively impacting their relationships, communities, and the world at large. Witnessing this transformation is a deeply rewarding experience for the spiritual friend, reinforcing their commitment to this sacred practice.
Moreover, the spiritual friend’s own spiritual journey is enriched through their role as a midwife for the soul. By participating in the process of nurturing and supporting others, they deepen their understanding of compassion, empathy, and unconditional love. The mutual exchange of wisdom, vulnerability, and spiritual insights strengthens the bond between the spiritual friend and the wounded soul, fostering a sense of interconnectedness and shared purpose.
In the realm of spiritual friendship, Tilden Edwards beautifully portrays the spiritual friend as a midwife for the soul. By cleansing wounds, aligning sundered parts, and providing a nurturing environment, the spiritual friend enables the natural process of healing and growth to unfold within the wounded soul. This sacred practice brings about transformation, not only in the individual seeking healing but also in the spiritual friend, who is enriched by the profound interconnectedness and shared journey of the spiritual friendship. May we all embrace the role of spiritual friendship and contribute to the birthing and nourishing of whole souls, honoring the Divine presence within each of us.
Nouwen, Henri J. M. The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey through Anguish to Freedom. Doubleday, 1998.
Palmer, Parker J. A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. Jossey-Bass, 2004.
Rohr, Richard. Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. Jossey-Bass, 2011.
Tilden, Edwards. Spiritual Friend: Reclaiming the gift of spiritual direction. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1980.
Smith, James Bryan. The Good and Beautiful Community: Following the Spirit, Extending Grace, Demonstrating Love. InterVarsity Press, 2010.
Bernard of Clairvaux, a renowned theologian, and abbot from the 12th century, left a profound legacy with his teachings on love. His insights continue to inspire and guide seekers of spiritual enlightenment even today. We shall delve into the wisdom of Bernard of Clairvaux and explore his profound teachings on love, which encompass the love of God, love of self, love of neighbor, and the practical aspects of love.
The Four Degrees of Love: Bernard of Clairvaux described the four degrees of love, which serve as a guide for spiritual growth. The first degree is self-love, focusing on personal interests. The second degree is loving God for one’s own sake, motivated by seeking personal blessings. The third degree is loving God for God’s sake, transcending self-interest, and embracing a selfless devotion to the Divine. The fourth and highest degree is loving oneself for God’s sake, recognizing that true self-love arises when it is rooted in love for God.
Love of Neighbor: Bernard emphasized the inseparable connection between the love of God and the love of neighbor. He believed that genuine love for God should naturally lead to compassion and care for others. Recognizing the divine spark in each individual, he encouraged the cultivation of empathy, kindness, and forgiveness toward fellow human beings. Bernard’s teachings remind us that our love for God should manifest in our relationships with others, fostering a harmonious and compassionate society.
Humility and Love: Humility played a significant role in Bernard’s teachings on love. He believed that true love cannot coexist with pride and self-centeredness. Instead, he urged individuals to embrace humility as a gateway to authentic love. By recognizing our own limitations and surrendering our egos, we create space for love to flourish. Bernard’s teachings remind us that humility is essential in building genuine and lasting connections based on love.
Forgiveness and Reconciliation: In his writings, Bernard stressed the importance of forgiveness. He recognized that love involves extending mercy and grace to others, just as we have received it from God. By embracing forgiveness, we break the chains of resentment and animosity, allowing love to heal and restore relationships. Bernard’s teachings remind us that forgiveness is a transformative act of love that brings freedom and reconciliation.
Bernard of Clairvaux’s teachings on love continues to resonate with seekers of spiritual truth and offer timeless guidance on cultivating a deep and meaningful connection with God and our fellow human beings. His insights on the degrees of love, the interplay between the love of God and the love of neighbor, the role of humility, and the power of forgiveness remind us of the transformative and all-encompassing nature of love. By embracing and applying these teachings in our lives, we can nurture a love that transcends boundaries and brings us closer to a more compassionate and harmonious existence.
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.
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.
Averbeck, Richard E. 2008. “Spirit, Community, and Mission: A Biblical Theology for Spiritual Formation.” Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care 1, no. 1: 27-53.
Bruce, F. F. 1984. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.
Coyle, Adrian. 2011. “Critical Responses to Faith Development Theory: A Useful Agenda for Change?” Psychology of Religion 33, no. 3 (September): 281-298. Accessed: December 21, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1163/157361211X608162.
Fortosis, Steve. 1992. “A Developmental Model for Stages of Growth in Christian Formation.” Religious Education 87, no. 2 (March): 283-98. Accessed: December 21, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1080/0034408920870211.
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.
Rodgers, J. 2010. “The Epistemology of Mathematical and Statistical Modeling: A Quiet Methodological Revolution.” American Psychologist 65, no. 1 (January): 1-12. Accessed: December 21, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018326.
Shults, F. LeRon, and Steven J. Sandage. 2006. Transforming Spirituality: Integrating Theology and Psychology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
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.
Gordon MacDonald, writing in Leadership Journal Winter 2016 in an article entitled The Day I Hit a Wall
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coined the word ’empty souls’ as when busy Christians run on empty because of their busyness. I like what he writes about preventing this:
Over time I have comprised a bulleted list of the insights that resulted from that December day so many years ago. I include them not because I have mastered them, but because they represent the direction in which I like to walk each day.
• My allocation of time and energy must begin by inserting Sabbath pauses into my calendar before work begins … not after work ends. Because ministry work never ends.
• I have come to appreciate the importance of searching events and personal encounters for the embedded messages of wisdom and discernment that God offers.
• I have tried to be sensitive to the various ways God makes his presence felt: in creation’s beauty and art, in suffering, in study, in various forms of private and corporate worship, in the wonderful stories of Jesus.
• I have gathered a small cadre of personal friends who know my heart (and I, theirs) and who are not reluctant to either encourage me or rebuke me when necessary.
• I have pursued the discipline of intercessory prayer for my family and friends, for the church in the world, for global leaders, for those who suffer.
• I have treasured the insights that come from the biographies of great men and women of God who have lived through the centuries
• I have come to love the Bible, to draw from its pages the thoughts and purposes of God.
• I have understood the importance of readily repenting when I am wrong and quickly forgiving when others have hurt me.
• I have made it a priority to move toward those who are weak and vulnerable with words of hope … as Jesus did.
• I have sought to discipline my lifestyle: to keep free of clutter, to downsize, to keep simple, to accept the obscurity that comes with the aging life.
• I have heard the call of God in my older years to be a spiritual father to any younger people who want to welcome me into their experience.
• I have determined to daily return to the cross and reaffirm my conversion and call to follow Jesus.
We need to avoid ’empty soul’ syndrome and Gordon gives very good advice.