Spiritual Formations Overview
The term Spiritual Formation is used quite differently today than it was once intended for or the Scriptural use. Scriptural ideas such as sanctification, discipleship, prayer, and silence have taken on new meanings in many universities and seminaries under the heading of Spiritual Formations (also Spiritual Disciplines). Many churches and pastors have adopted the new meanings as well. They instead stress things such as: contemplative spirituality, contemplative prayer, centering prayer, visualization, cosmic christ, practicing the presence, sacred reading (lectio divina), entering the silence, prayer labyrinths, ancient wisdom, enneagrams, and automatic writing.
Spiritual Formations Roots
The beginnings of this modern day version of the movement actually started and grew with three popular authors:
- Celebration of Discipline (1978) by Richard Foster
- The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry (1981) by Henri Nouwen
- The Spirit of the Disciplines: How God Changes Lives (1988) by Dallas Willard
Richard Foster is a Quaker and founded Renovare (renovare.org) in 1988. He studied at George Fox and Fuller Theological Seminary. Dallas Willard (1935-2013) was Professor of Philosophy at U.S.C. and a founding member of Renovare. Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) was a Catholic priest and a prolific author. All of these men were ordained ministers and they each spoke widely at various universities, seminaries, churches, conferences.
Spiritual Formation Teachings
Spiritual growth and the sanctification of the saint according to the Scriptures is a real thing to be sought after. However, spiritual formation (under a broad category of “spiritual disciplines”) is quite different even though it might use Scriptural language (spiritual, discipleship, Biblical, prayer, silence, etc.) to convey its ideas. Our radar of precaution should be working when we see some of the following teachings in any setting: contemplative spirituality, contemplative prayer, centering prayer, visualization, cosmic christ, practicing the presence, sacred reading (lectio divina), entering the silence, prayer labyrinths, ancient wisdom, enneagrams, automatic writing, and other such practices. We should also take special note when the following teachers or books are brought before us:
- Ignatius of Loyola (Co-Founder of the Jesuits, leader in the counter-reformation), The Cloud of Unknowing, Madame Guyon (Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ), St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis DeSales, the desert fathers (catholicism), Thomas a Kempis, Bernard of Clairvaux, and others.
Spiritual Formations Leadership
Thomas Merton, Ruth Haley Barton, Eugene Peterson, John Ortberg, Larry Crabb, Brennan Manning, Sue Monk Kidd and others.
The promoters of spiritual formations are wide-spread. Universities and seminaries have institutionalized “spiritual formations” within their particular setting. And denominations, church pastors, and teachers have embraced for themselves and taught the spiritual formation ideas found in the books within their own setting as well. Unfortunately, it is very subtle and many teach spiritual formations without wanting you to know who they are or what they are doing.
For More Information on Spiritual Formations (Infiltration)
What is the Spiritual Formation Movement? Got Questions
The Dangers of Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Disciplines – A Critique of Dallas Willard and The Spirit of the Disciplines By Bob DeWaay
Roots of the Spiritual Formation Movement By Gary Gilley Think on These Things Ministries
Solitude and Silence By Gary Gilley Think on These Things Ministries
More False Movements in the Church
→ Overview of each of the following false movements
→ Spiritual Formations “Infiltration”