Barton is a well-known contemplative church leader who has served on the staff at Willow Creek Community Church and is now president of her own organization, The Transforming Center. The Transforming Center attempts to “shape and care for the souls of clergy” mainly through teaching them spiritual disciplines (p. 229). This particular book is published by InterVarsity Press’s formatio division which is dedicated to spiritual formation through following the “rich tradition” of the spiritual disciplines as formulated and propagated by Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox monks, nuns and the “desert fathers.”
With this background, it is not difficult to imagine where Strengthening the Soul is headed, even before opening the book. Barton states the thesis as, “To guide you into encounters with God in the places where you need it most in the context of your leadership” (p. 17). While this is a rather benign thesis, and while Barton offers some helpful advice for Christian leaders along the way, the overall approach to the Christian life is problematic at best.
Drawing from a pool of “Christian” mystics such as Henri Nouwen (pp. 87, 151, 171), Teresa of Avila (p. 41), Theophane (p. 55), Ignatius of Loyola (p. 67), St. Benedict (pp. 127-128), Thomas Merton (p. 144), Julian of Norwich (p. 147), Mother Teresa (p. 158), as well as Carl Jung (pp. 41, 83) it is no surprise to discover that it is from the mystics that Barton has formed her understanding of the Christian life. While the book is loosely based on the life of Moses, it is not Moses and Scriptures which shape her theology but Roman Catholic contemplatives. Barton claims that the spiritual disciplines (drawn from these same mystics) are the only way to face challenges of leadership (p. 28). In particular, Barton turns repeatedly to the discipline of solitude and silence (modeled best by monks and the desert fathers) (pp. 28, 31, 39-47, 51-53, 62, 99). She appreciates these disciplines because they aid, she claims, in hearing the voice of God (pp. 37, 62, 64-65, 146, 152, 182-183). It is this subjective inner voice (and occasional audible voice) which actually guide her in her leadership role. It is these things, mysticism, spiritual disciplines, and inner words from God, which Barton wants to teach to Christian leaders rather than the inspired Word of God.