Spiritual Formation vs. Experience

I've been reading Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart since finishing Nouwen, and the book largely focuses on spiritual formation. Not just actively forming your own spirit, and not just passively "being formed" by the Holy Spirit, (there is really no "just" involved in that experience - "solely" is a more fitting word) but both seeking and being sought, giving and receiving, working and resting - very holistic.

Jen and I went to see The Darjeeling Limited (the new Wes Anderson film). In it, three affluent young brothers travel through India by train. They're actively seeking "spiritual experiences," stopping in at mosques and shrines along the way, doing kitschy little ceremonies with peacock feathers in the desert, etc... but every spiritual attempt ends in failure.

However, in between (and sometimes during) those attempts, life happened.

It is in the challenges and hardships that frustratingly (for them) take them "off course" that they are actually being pushed, stretched, formed and refined.

Dallas Willard writes: "spiritual experiences do not constitute spiritual formation," citing Paul's vision on the road to Damascus as an example of experience. Very sexy. But it was what Paul did and lived after the experience that truly formed him.

I want to stop trying to make things happen - pushing, pulling - yanking - on life, God and the future to happen now. On my schedule. I want to be formed and deepened by the sacred of right now.

George Fox Seminary: A Gushing Plug...

Over the last few days I've been discussing George Fox Evangelical Seminary with a blog reader who is interested in attending. I won't sacrifice his privacy by reprinting his e-mails, but I'm such an enthusiastic supporter of GFS that I thought I would share some of my e-mail comments about the school. Combined below...

* * *
Dxxxxxxxx,
Thanks for e-mailing me!

This morning, I was thinking about my seminary experience so far and how thankful I am for the atmosphere and community there. It was serendipitous to find your e-mail just then. In many ways, GFS has restored my hope in the church.

Of course, I never stopped believing in the power (and victory) of the Body of Christ, but the last seven or eight years have led me to wonder if the Body of Christ is truly being invited into our churches (or are we whitewashed tombs full of Evangelical bones?).

I'm still somewhat disillusioned - and wrestling past bitterness therein - but to my joy, GFS has been a safe place to do just that. To heal and grow at the same time. And I've been blessed to find fellowship with Christians of incredible depth, maturity, and understanding - both professors and classmates.

I've taken classes with Southern Baptists and Episcopals, though the majority of students I've encountered are Quaker, Presbyterian or Foursquare (an interesting mix among those, alone).

GFS is also a very open environment for emerging church conversations. Though there isn't an official position to my knowledge, GFS faculty and administration express a lot of ongoing excitement about current developments with Emergent and other postmodern Christian communities, thinktanks and movements. Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren, Todd Hunter, Dan Kimball and Jim Henderson all have active relationships with the school, its mission, and in most of their cases, teach classes there on occasion. The only other school I am aware of with the same level of future-orientation is Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle (no relation to Mars Hill Church in Seattle). For purely academic focus, I would imagine Fuller Theological Seminary in and Princeton Theological Seminary are more rigorous. But I have nothing but praise and satisfaction with GFS at this point.

I visited another Portland seminary as well, before choosing GFS. The dean there told me that my Emerging Church questions were interesting, but wouldn't be "appropriate" to discuss in the classroom: "Many of our students just wouldn't be comfortable with that." He added that I would be welcome to talk about those things in private, one-on-one with professors.

The discomfort and lack of familiarity with some of the big questions of our day (in my opinion) told me that the school wasn't right for me. Since I'd heard the other (third) seminary in Portland was even more conservative, I didn't bother visiting.

I also want to emphasize that George Fox is still a very "spiritual" atmosphere, in spite of it's more moderate, progressive (some would say "liberal," but I don't think that label is quite fair) leanings.

I grew up in Pentecostal and "Jesus People" non-denom atmosphere. I don't really practice "purist Pentecostalism" at this time, but I do believe strongly in the power of the Holy Spirit.

I'll put it this way: I believe in supernatural gifts, in tongues, prophesy, healing, etc... but I also believe in the sometimes-scary power of emotions and groupthink mentalities.

I worry that a lot of what we see in today's modern churches is just a religious brand of concert-goer enthusiasm. At secular concerts, I watch the audiences close their hands, sing along, sway back and forth, jump up and down, and sometimes quietly meditate on the music... looks shockingly like my old Sunday night worship service.

So maybe I'm just a little cynical.

I also respect your caution about Emergent. You're right to be cautious about anything spiritual, for that matter. But I appreciate that you're "hesitant" without being adversarial - we've got enough of that mentality in the church already. Good for you for exploring and weighing things carefully! I may not call myself overtly "Emergent" [largely because I hate the limitations of titles] but I am emerging, enjoy Emergent, and appreciate being part of that broader discussion about where the church is going and what that will mean at spiritual, corporate and theological levels.

Thanks for asking Dxxxxxxxx, blessings on your journey,
Peter Walker


read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at www.essenceproject.blogspot.com...

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