Praying Circles

(Volume 21, Issue 5 Sep/Oct 2015) Prayer is surely one of the most blessed of all privileges afforded the child of God. Just to think that sinners, even forgiven sinners, are invited to approach the throne of grace where we will receive mercy and grace in our time of need (Heb 4:14-16) is nothing short of astounding. In prayer we worship and praise our Lord (Psalm 34:1-3); in prayer we call on God to fulfill His great purposes (Matt 6:10), ask for our daily provisions (Matt 6:11), request forgiveness (Matt 6:12), and plea for protection from temptation (Matt 6:13). In prayer we ask for deliverance from the wickedness of others (Psalm 31:1-2), make our requests known (Phil 4:6), cast all our anxiety on the Lord (1 Pet 5:7), and much more. Christians love prayer, even when they foolishly do not take time for it. No believer is against prayer and…

Roots of the Spiritual Formation Movement

Dear Friend of TOTTs, This is the 20th anniversary of our Think on These Things Ministries. I began writing papers on current issues challenging the church at the request of a mission organization for the purpose of keeping its missionaries apprised of current trends and theological concerns taking place in America. By God’s design TOTT quickly expanded and is now received by hundreds of believers and churches around the globe. On our website you can find a couple hundred articles and 500 or more book reviews that have emerged from this ministry. I believe the Lord has blessed these feeble efforts far more than I would have ever imagined. Over the years TOTT has never charged for sending our study papers, nor asked for donations and has been funded by royalties from my books and an occasional gift from some of you. However we began to run a deficit a…

Biblical Discipleship – The Transforming Life

(May/June 2014 – Volume 20, Issue 3) Those knowledgeable with the biblical counseling movement, stemming from the ministry of Jay Adams, will be familiar with the put off/put on/renewal-of-the-mind principles relative to progressive sanctification. Drawn from a number of the epistles, especially Ephesians and Colossians, the teaching is that if people desire to change and grow spiritually they need to put off sinful behavior, replace that behavior with godly practices and foster new, biblical ways of thinking. This method, which is rooted in Scripture, seeks to aggressively and directly deal with sin, develop new habits that foster spiritual growth, and acquire a biblical mindset. In contrast, the approach taught within spiritual formation and contemplative spirituality looks to ancient, man-made disciplines and extra biblical experiences rather than the Word of God. In this paper I want to explore the put off/put on/renewal-of-the-mind strategy common within the biblical counseling movement and recommend…

Biblical Discipleship – Fellowship

(March/April 2014 – Volume 20, Issue 2) As we continue to pursue the specific means found in Scripture that the Lord has given us to aid in spiritual growth, we now turn to the subject of fellowship. We are reminded at this point that some within the Spiritual Formation Movement claim that virtually anything can become a means of spiritual formation. But without specific biblical support it is presumptuous on our part to infuse some activity, no matter how spiritual or pious it may seem, with qualities which aid our progressive sanctification. If we are to be true to the inspired text of Scripture we must search for instruments which the Holy Spirit has explicitly proclaimed to be means of promoting discipleship. So far we have found that both biblical prayer and the Scriptures are two such activities. Now we will examine another, that of fellowship with other believers, and…

Biblical Discipleship – the Scriptures

(January/February 2014 – Volume 20 Issue 1) When we speak of discipleship or Christian maturity, it must be understood from the beginning that all spiritual transformation is a supernatural work of God. Just as the natural man cannot will himself to be born again, so the Christian is dependent upon the Lord for inward change and growth. In Ephesians 3:16-17 Paul prays for the Ephesian believers “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…” But before He strengthens us with power the Lord must give us new life. This new life is the result of a spiritual birth, being born again (or from above) (John 3:3), or regeneration. Titus 3:5 reads, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in…

Biblical Discipleship – Prayer

(November/December 2013 – Volume 19, Issue 5) The Spiritual Formation Movement has rocked the church. Ancient disciplines, most often practiced within the monastic movement in the early centuries of Christianity, have been dusted off, repacked, and resubmitted to believers as the means for obtaining spiritual growth. There is increasing discussion about fasting, journaling, pilgrimage, simplicity, solitude, silence, contemplative prayer, and spiritual direction in Christian literature. What can be learned from this renewed interest in spiritual formation and what are the dangers? The last eight editions of “Think on These Things” have been written to interact with the history, teachings and dangers of the Spiritual Formation Movement. I want to now turn from the disciplines practiced in modern spiritual formation to the biblical alternative to spiritual formation, as described in the earlier articles. We will examine the means, or disciplines if you choose, which the Word of God clearly identifies as…

Fasting and Spiritual Direction

April/May 2013,Volume 19, Issue 2 The list of spiritual disciplines that has been adopted within the Spiritual Formation Movement is almost endless. We could analyze the divine office, Benedict’s Rule, use of the Rosary and prayer ropes, monasticism, journaling, the Eucharist, and pilgrimage, among many others. But we will conclude our study of the disciplines with fasting and spiritual direction. Fasting Of course fasting is not a practice unique to spiritual formation. Christians of all theological stripes have fasted since the inception of the church, and the Old Testament saints, not to mention those of pagan religions, made fasting part of their religious life. In order to get a handle on fasting it would be good to break our study into three parts: what spiritual formation leaders teach about fasting, how fasting is understood within more evangelical circles, and what the Bible says on the subject. Spiritual Formation and Fasting Dallas…

Discernment and Revelation

February/March 2013 – Volume 19, Issue 1 Discernment, one would think, is an extremely positive quality. In a world in which there are incalculable numbers of voices calling us to travel many different directions, discernment is invaluable. However, when used by those involved in spiritual formation, discernment is defined as the discipline that enables one to know when a person has supposedly heard the voice of God. Spiritual formation leaders do not question that God speaks to us today apart from Scripture, but they do believe that since God is speaking there has to be a means whereby we can discern the voice of God from our own thoughts. Adele Ahlberg Calhoun writes in her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, “Discernment opens us up to listen to and recognize the voice and patterns of God’s direction in our lives.” [1] Ruth Barton further explains, Discernment is a quality of attentiveness to God…

Ignatius

December/January 2012/2013 – Volume 18, Issue 6 One of the most popular and strongly promoted activities within spiritual formation is known as “The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola.” As the name implies, these are exercises or activities invented by the Roman Catholic monk Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century to enhance spiritual life, first his own and then that of the monks within his monasteries. The exercises are complicated and difficult, and were practiced almost exclusively by Catholic monks for over 400 years until the birth of the modern Spiritual Formation Movement in the latter part of the 20th century. Today there is no doubt more interest in the exercises than at any other point in history. To grasp Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises, we will begin with a short history of Ignatius, including the society of monks he founded, move to the original 16th century exercises as found in Ignatius’s…

Spiritual Formation at Worship

October/November 2012 – Volume 18, Issue 5 Within spiritual formation and similar circles, there has been much criticism of worship as found in evangelical Protestantism. Much of this criticism is aimed at the seeker-sensitive churches with their push for polished performances, entertainment, and the desire to keep the seeker (i.e. unsaved people who are attending the services) as comfortable as possible by offering them an environment and experience similar to what they would encounter at a secular gathering or concert. The idea is that people unfamiliar with church life feel more at home and will be more likely to return if they do not encounter something foreign or “weird” in the form of worship. This approach is obviously working, if one evaluates a church on the basis of nickels and noses, as the largest churches in the world have adopted this philosophy. But there has been a considerable push back…

Solitude and Silence

(August/September 2012 – Volume 18, Issue 4) In a world filled with noise, many of us long to “unplug” and find a quiet spot far from the hum of technology, the demands of work, the cries of children, the ubiquitous call of advertisement, the hype of politicians and the bombardment of world news.  To escape, even for a few minutes, and find rest for our souls is an almost universal longing in modern times, especially in the West. When this rest is accompanied with time alone with God, it provides the refreshment and strength that we need to face the pressures of everyday living in a fast paced age. For these reasons, when spiritual leaders start talking about silence and solitude, our ears perk up and we yearn to adopt the teachings and techniques they recommend.  For most of my lifetime I have heard people refer to their habit of…

Sacred Reading (Lectio Divina)

(June/July 2012 – Volume 18, Issue 3) As we have seen in the last two Think on These Things articles, “Spiritual formation is viewed by a growing number of evangelicals as an ancient ministry of the church, concerned with the ‘forming’ or ‘shaping’ of a believer’s character and actions into the likeness of Christ.” [1]   Spiritual formation is distinguished from biblical discipleship primarily by its source of authority and its methodology.  On the one hand, discipleship as defined by the Bible turns to the Word of God as the final and ultimate authority over all matters of life and godliness.  This means that if one truly desires to be a follower of Jesus Christ, he will turn to the inspired Scriptures to determine both truth and how to “observe all that I [Christ] commanded you” (Matt 28:20).  Spiritual formation pays lip-service to Scripture but the true source behind the…

Contemplative Prayer

(April/May 2012 – Volume 18, Issue 2) Of all the spiritual disciplines the Spiritual Formation Movement promotes, none is more important than prayer and the intake of God’s Word. On the surface we would expect little resistance to these two disciplines since they have been recognized as essential to spiritual growth by virtually all Christians from all traditions. Sadly, upon closer examination we discover that what is meant by most evangelical Christians when they reference prayer and Bible intake is not always what the leaders within spiritual formation mean. We begin with Donald Whitney, Associate Professor of Biblical Spirituality at Southern Seminary, who agrees with Carl Lundquist, The New Testament church built two other disciplines upon prayer and Bible study, the Lord’s Supper and small cell groups. John Wesley emphasized five works of piety by adding fasting. The medieval mystics wrote about nine disciplines clustered around three experiences: purgation of…

Spiritual Formation

(February/March 2012 – Volume 18, Issue 1) Almost everyone on the cutting edge of Christianity is talking about spiritual formation.  From books to magazine articles to sermons to seminary courses, spiritual formation is a hot topic.  What is spiritual formation?  What does it teach?  Is it something to embrace, ignore or fight?  With this edition of Think on These Things I want to begin an examination of these questions and more.  Lord willing, all of the TOTTs articles in 2012 will be devoted to detailing and evaluating some aspect of what some have called the “Spiritual Formation Movement.”  In this lead article I intend to offer a definition of spiritual formation, trace its origins, mention a few of its practices, illustrate its recent popularity, and briefly identify its strengths and dangers. In Search of a Definition When the average person speaks of spiritual formation they assume that it is a…