Wesleyan Spiritual Formation
“Spiritual formation” is a contested label these days. In a new book of essays edited by Diane Leclerc and Mark A. Maddix, contributors offer a Wesleyan take on ideas and practices of spiritual formation.
In the opening chapter of Spiritual Formation: A Wesleyan Paradigm, Maddix helpfully defines spiritual formation as the label functions in the book. For him, spiritual formation means transformation of people into “little Christs.” In other words, Christlikeness is central to a Wesleyan notion of spiritual formation.
Maddix offers four aspects of spiritual formation that inform the book. Christian spiritual formation 1) focuses on what it means to form and transform people, 2) focuses on our participation with God, 3) emphasizes a life-long process of forming and transforming in community, and 4) includes nurturing the self in relation to others.
Essays address general domains. George Lyons, Richard Thompson, and Wendell Bowes write about important features of spiritual formation as informed by Scripture. Among other things, they say study of Scripture is itself a spiritual practice that leads to formation and transformation of readers. It seems appropriate for a book on a Wesleyan understanding of spiritual formation to begin with the Bible.
A second section addresses the theology of holiness in relation to spiritual formation. Diane Leclerc offers two essays, each drawing from work in her newly released book, Discovering Christian Holiness. I offer an essay on the vexing topic of perfection. I argue that Christians are perfect when they respond appropriately in any particular moment to God’s call to love.
Chapters eight through seventeen explore a variety of issues central to spiritual formation. Fred Fullerton and Brent Peterson focus on the role of the Church community. Fullerton argues that building the body of Christ is crucial, and Peterson emphasizes communal worship and partaking of the sacraments. Jay Akkerman ponders the role of time in his essay, including the implications of the Lord’s Day and regular routine for Christian practices.
For many, the ideas that come to mind when they hear “spiritual formation” pertain to specific Christian activities. Spiritual Formation: A Wesleyan Paradigm understandably addresses such activities. Gary Waller explores prayer and contemplation. Joe Gorman recommends various activities to care for oneself. Julene Tegerstrand stresses the practice of intentional listening for the Spirit’s voice.
One of the often overlooked or underdeveloped aspects of spiritual formation is the role of the community and the individual’s relation to others. Happily, this book stresses this aspect. Andrew Schwartz argues that dialogue with those who are significantly different is an important spiritual exercise. Rhonda Carrim reminds us that spiritual direction and mentoring play helpful roles in the formation of Christians.
Christians who step outside the familiar open themselves to powerful possibilities for transformation. Continuing the stress on community and relations to others, Randy Bynum’s essay explores what spiritual formation looks like in a Latino milieu. Joseph Bankard stresses compassion for spiritual formation. Christians who choose to “be present” to those who suffer become models of virtue.
The final three chapters explore familial structures and age-specific issues. Mark Maddix argues that family systems and structures are important for forming Christian character. Mike Kipp develops an argument for spiritual formation among adolescents, including the significance of positive environments for adolescent development. Gene Schandorff’s concluding essay addresses the formation of Christlike character among college students.
Mention of Schandorff’s essay on higher education leads naturally to my mentioning an interesting feature of the book. Contributors all have some connection to Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) as former or current faculty members or staff.
The NNU factor doesn’t exclude readers or mean the book is applicable only to one context. But it does remind me how privileged I am to live and work alongside people strongly committed to promoting Christian spiritual formation.
I recommend you get a copy of Spiritual Formation: A Wesleyan Paradigm!