Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Word About Spiritual Formation

A Christian engaged in spiritual formation* should be Christ-centered, should operate within a Biblical framework, and should all the while have a zeal for the truth.

Spiritual formation should never be an excuse for more self-absorption in our already ego-saturated culture, for seeking extra-Biblical ways to "get to God," or for theological subjectivism.

*This phrase should be redundant


David Strunk said...

While I agree, I think the division between focusing on self and Christ isn't quite so clear. Let me elaborate.

The spiritual discipline of Examen essentially asks 2 questions: Where did I find life today/week? Where was life taken from me? It's essentially a preparatory discipline. When we can get to a place in our soul that is honest and aware of "how we actually are," it is easier to hear God speak to us.

Even Calvin noted as much in Book 1of his Institutes when he discussed the knowledge of the self and the knowledge of God. Knowing one ultimately leads us to the other, no matter the starting place.

So perhaps knowledge of self isn't so bad, even though self-absorption is. I'm just trying to show that the line isn't always so distinct. I'd just differentiate between egoistic pursuit and self-knowledge.

Sarah Geis said...


This is an important distinction. In our society almost everyone know their personality type, their favorite restaurants, etc., yet many do not have an understanding of who they are in relation to a holy God or where they are spiritually weak (even Christians). A self knowledge of the latter sort is necessary.

However, when in a society that fosters such, it is entirely too easy for us to indulge in deeper "self study" for purely egotistical motivations, especially when this tendency is falsely labeled "Spiritual Formation."

So you are right, we must learn how to root out the sometimes elusive line between necessary knowledge of self and narcissism. May the Lord grant us the humility to see this clearly.

Sarah Geis said...

One more thing: I'm not suggesting that we avoid "I" statements and personally reflective questions. Rather, considering the strong influence of American individualism, we should simply be aware of how we each might abuse turning inward (this will of course vary from person to person, requiring, again, a kind of self knowledge that you were right to point out).


Doug Groothuis said...

Even the secular philosopher, Harry Frankfurt, says that we must know the objective facts of the world outside of the self in order to know the self. Am I good at a particular discipline? Well, then I need to know something about that discipline and its practioners.

The self is meant to live in and through God, to conform to Christ throug the Spirit. "Christ in me, the hope of glory," and so on.

But in our narcissistic day, God is a subset of self: my spiritituality, my God, etc.

David Strunk said...

I agree with your thoughts and further clarifications, Sarah.

I also agree with Dr. Groothuis' general waryness of mindlessness and its influence on centering prayer.

But it's still a difficult distinction. There have been so many mystical saints throughout church history that have showed so much devotion to the Lord despite these sometimes bizarre practices and spiritual disciplines.