Monday, May 12, 2008

Literature Review on Spiritual Formation

Historically the term “spiritual formation” was used to denote the training of men and women for full time church ministry (Sheldrake 2005, 309). The content of the curriculum was academic training on scripture, theology, philosophy and liturgy. It also involved training in the spiritual disciplines especially in a disciplined prayer life. However, this is not the spiritual formation referred to in contemporary discussion of the subject.

Contemporary spiritual formation is difficult to study. It is a multidisciplinary subject involving psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, education and theology. A review of the literature will show a large variety of definitions and practices associated with the subject. The language used, different philosophies and worldviews are different to different authors. Various authors differ in their approach to theology, anthropology and psychology. Others struggle between practice and theory. The fundamental commonality among the different authors is that concept of spiritual formation is about spiritual growth. However, their different basis of approach has lead to fundamental differences in their definitions and outworking of their concept of spiritual formation.

First, some authors used the word Christian spiritual formation to differentiate it from spiritual formation that occurs in different worldviews and religious traditions. In this review, I shall limit myself to Christian authors. Second, many authors equate spiritual formation to spiritual growth in persons. However, an argument can be made that spiritual formation also occurs to communities. This will be taken into consideration in the review. Third, some authors fail to differentiate spiritual formation from discipleship or use these words interchangeably. Others use words like faith formation, spiritual transformation, Christian formation, and spiritual growth. Finally, there are not many studies done to establish an exegetical foundation for spiritual formation as currently practiced in evangelicalism. The word “spiritual formation” does not appear in the Bible. Most authors just skim around the theological aspects and focus on the practice.

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