Spiritual formation is the process of apparent spiritual development through engaging in a set of behaviors, termed disciplines. Advocates believe these disciplines help shape the character of the practitioner into the likeness of Christ.
Though superficially similar to discipleship, spiritual formation is not merely concerned with biblical exhortation and instruction in orthodox doctrine, but also with the teaching of “many practices that opened [the believer] to the presence and direction of God, and nurtured the character traits of Christ into fruition” 1 (Source)
The Renovar website states:
Spiritual formation is a process, but it is also a journey through which we open our hearts to a deeper connection with God. We are not bystanders in our spiritual lives, we are active participants with God, who is ever inviting us into relationship with him. 2
According to proponents of spiritual formation, various “spiritual disciplines” must be practiced in order to experience true spiritual growth:
Christian spiritual formation is a God-ordained process that shapes our entire
person so that we take on the character and being of Christ himself.
Properly employed these disciplines help us attain increasing levels of spiritual maturity so that we respond to our life circumstances with the mind of Christ. 3
In his book, The Celebration of Discipline, as well as on his Renovar website, Richard Foster lists these disciplines as: 4
+ Meditation Entering into a “listening silence” in order to “hear God’s voice.” Similar to the meditation of Eastern religions.
+ PRAYER An “interactive conversation” with God. Practiced as contemplative prayer.
+ Fasting “The voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity.”
+ Study “The mind taking on an order conforming to the order of whatever we concentrate upon.”
+ Simplicity “The joyful unconcern for possessions we experience as we truly ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ (Matt 6:33).”
+ Solitude A “state of mind” for one to be “found by God and freed from competing loyalties.”
+ Submission Letting “go of the burden of always needing to get our own way.”
+ Service “A pattern of service as a lifestyle. At the center is found a contentment in hiddenness, indiscriminancy.”
+ Confsssion Confession of sin to other professing believers.
+ Worship “Entering into the supra-natural experience of the Shekanyah, or glory, of God.”
+ Guidance Learning to “heed the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Jesus.” “It is the perception that we have heard the Kol Yahweh, the voice of God.”
+ Celebration Celebrating God in all facets of life.
Since the disciplines are not defined in Scripture, no concrete, definitive list is available. Consequently, Willard notes that we should not “assume that our particular list will be right for others. 5 This confirms the subjective nature of these practices.
Despite assertions that the spiritual disciplines are “God-ordained,” 6 they are in fact derived from the practices of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox mystics. 7These practices are contrary to the biblical theology fought for in the Reformation.
Gary Gilley asks: Do we, as believers in Sola Scriptura, take our marching orders from the written Word, or do we look to the ‘white spaces’ in Scripture to determine how we live? 8
In other words, are we to turn to mystical, subjective ascetic practices, or do we rely upon the objective truth of God’s Word?
Bob DeWaay contends: The Bible nowhere describes an inward journey to explore the realm of the spirit. God chose to reveal the truth about spiritual reality through His ordained, Spirit-inspired, biblical writers. 9
Unbiblical view Of Man’s Condition
Spiritual formation teaches that man possesses innate goodness, but that his fallen state of sin is a result of “deprivation” or “spiritual starvation.” Thus, the disciplines help to feed, mature and grow man’s spirituality. In his Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard states:
The evil that we do in our present condition is a reflection of a weakness caused by spiritual starvation. When Jesus prayed on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” he was not just being generous to his killers; he was expressing the facts of the case. They really did not know what they were doing. As St. Augustine so clearly saw, the deranged condition of humankind is not, at bottom, a positive fact, but a deprivation. It is one that results in vast positive evils, of course, yet depravity is no less a horror because it stems from a deficiency, and people are no less responsible for it and its consequences. 10
Rather than having an innate ability for good, Scripture teaches that, due to the Fall, man is innately depraved (Rom. 3:11-18, 23, 5:8; Eph. 2:1) and his heart is wicked (Jer. 17:9).
Possibility of Real Spiritual Experiences Not From God
Richard Foster himself has offered warnings when it comes to practicing some of the disciplines. In regard to the practice of contemplative prayer, which is a type of meditation, Foster, in his book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, writes:
I also want to give a word of precaution. In the silent contemplation of God we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm, and there is such a thing as a supernatural guidance. While the Bible does not give us a lot of information on that, there are various orders of spiritual beings, and some of them are definitely not in cooperation with God and his way!
But for now I want to encourage you to learn and practice prayers of protection. 11