Spiritual Formation is a movement within Christianity that
encourages the development of Christian spirituality in disciples.
This concept is not a new one for the Catholic church, as the monastic
orders (especially the Benedictine monks) have been practicing many
of the disciplines for centuries. The movement is extending that
quest for spirituality into many Protestant believers.
The concept of Christian spirituality was largely rejected during
the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther, who was a monk in the
Order of St. Augustine, made the remark, "If anyone could have
gained heaven as a monk, then I would indeed have been among them."
So, since the ascetic practices of the monastic orders was insufficient
to earn salvation, they were believed to have little value for Christian
The modern spiritual formation movement is currently championed by
Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, who met in the 1970s at a
Quaker church in Woodland Hills, California. After developing the
concept and practice of spiritual formation in this church, Foster
founded the organization Renovaré (which means "to renew" in
Latin) to encourage believers in all walks of life to commit themselves
to following spiritual disciplines, exercise spiritual gifts, and
perform acts of service.
Many Protestants object to the spiritual formation movement. Some
see it as a return to monastic asceticism. Others see it as encouraging
Pentecostal/charismatic attitudes and actions, or promoting the practices
of Eastern religions. Then, there are some
that like the ideas put forth by the movement, but object to its name.
Bill Hull writes,
You might wonder why I have used 'discipleship' instead
of the currently popular term 'spiritual formation.' I cast my lot
with John Stott on this matter. 'I've never liked very much the
phrase spiritual formation,' Stott said to an American interviewer,
'any more than I like the word spirituality. They seem to perpetuate
the disastrous division between spiritual and secular...The second reason I
don't like it is because it's not really a biblical phrase. The biblical
phrase for spirituality and spiritual formation is discipleship.'
Despite opposition, spiritual formation is becoming very popular, especially
in America. Many seminaries are teaching classes in spiritual formation
and in encouraging and leading spiritual formation. Many churches (especially
larger ones) are creating spiritual formation ministries, often devoting a full
time pastor to develop that ministry.
Renovaré website - http://www.renovare.org
Christianity Today - Three Temptations of Spiritual Formation - http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/013/4.46.html
Choose the Life, Bill Hull