I started a lecture series on spiritual formation last night, taught by professors from Biola University’s Institute for Spiritual Formation. If we’re honest, most of us at some point have thought, “Christianity just doesn’t work for me.” “I must not be doing it right.” Or, “I just don’t get it.” Spiritual formation examines where we may have gotten off track. I’m going to blog my notes here on Thursdays – the lectures are free – in case they can help anyone else.
To begin: the problem of spiritual maturity in the church is a lack of understanding (and lack of engagement) with the transformational resources available in Jesus Christ through His Spirit.
Richard Lovelace called it a Sanctification Gap. There is an “Ideal” Christian life, and we know what that’s supposed to look like. We’re good at the product – not the process. But then there’s the “Real” Christian life, and the gap between the two is a gap of knowledge, teaching and spiritual formation practices.
This is partly the result of the evangelical church’s drift towards a reductionist Gospel. Meaning, we’ve reduced the Gospel message to forgiveness of sins and eternal life, becoming disconnected from the vital process of sanctification (“to make holy, or purify”). Holiness is just not such a popular topic or goal in today’s consumer culture.
Our likely responses to experiencing “the gap” are: 1) pretense – we just act like we think we’re suppose to, 2) despair – the result of repeated cycles of trying and failing, 3) programmatic and personal solutions – reading books, undertaking studies, attending 7-week lecture series… 4) moral formation -we simply undertake to perfect our behavior in the power of self, by sheer willpower. This often breeds autonomy and self-righteousness. And 5) ministry activism – we keep busy doing and serving.
Spiritual Formation is a process of unlearning/deconstructing, and relearning/reconstructing. In Galatians 4:19 Paul refers to pains of labor until “Christ is formed in you.” And that’s the true goal of a believer.