reflectingJesus | What is Christian Formation?
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Mark Maddix (“Spiritual Formation and Christian Formation,” in Christian Formation: Integrating Theology and Human Development, ed. Jonathan H Kim and James R Estep. (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 246.) notes that the term “spiritual formation” has different meanings for different traditions and explains that the term has its roots in a post-Vatican II Catholic understanding of spirituality, around which time the term began to be used within Protestant circles. He also notes that this term has many synonyms across the field of religious education, such as spiritual development and spiritual growth, which lie alongside other traditional terms such as piety and the doctrine of the Christian life.

 

Thus, Paul Pettit observes that “while spiritual formation means different things to different groups and definitions are agreeably difficult to arrive at, at the very least we can state the following two principles with conviction. First, spiritual formation is the holistic work of God in a believer’s life whereby systematic change renders the individual continually closer to the image and actions of Jesus Christ. And second, the change or transformation that occurs in a believer’s life happens best in the context of authentic, Christian community and is entirely oriented as service towards God and others.”  (Foundations of spiritual formation: a community approach to becoming like Christ, ed. Paul Pettit (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2008), 19.))

 

While numerous definitions for spiritual formation are being used, a shorter definition that summarizes the key points, and which is referred to in spiritual formation literature, is “a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others” (Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 12). This definition highlights spiritual formation as firstly a process. Secondly, that this process focuses on transforming the individual to reflect the character of Jesus. And thirdly, the purpose of this change process is mission.

 

Here is a list of definitions of Christian or spiritual formation from different Christians organisations and authors. Please note that these definitions relate to a biblical Christian approach, rather than from the perspective of other religions or spiritualities where the methods used may not harmonise with Christian teaching.

 

1. A call to formation 2009.

Christian spiritual formation is the process of being shaped by the Spirit into the likeness of Christ, filled with love for God and the world.

2. Dallas Willard

‘Spiritual formation’ refers to the process of shaping our spirit and giving it a definite character . . . Spiritual formation in Christ is the process whereby the inmost being of the individual (the heart, will, or spirit) take on the quality or character of Jesus Himself. The Great Omission (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), 53.

3. George Fox Seminary

Christian spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others. It is inspired by the Holy Spirit and grounded in Scripture and a faith community.

4. Presbyterian Church of the United States

Spiritual formation is the activity of the Holy Spirit which molds our lives into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

5. Richard E. Averbeck

Spiritual formation is… “the ministry through which we seek to stimulate and support the ongoing spiritually transforming work of the Holy Spirit in and through the personal lives, relationships, and ministries of genuine believers so that we all progressively become more conformed to the image of Christ according to the will of God the Father (Romans 8:26-30).” Richard E. Averbeck, “Spirit, Community, and Mission: A Biblical Theology for Spiritual Formation,” The Journal for Spiritual Formation & Soul Care 1, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 27

6. Tyndale University & Seminary

“Spiritual formation is the continuing response to the reality of God’s grace shaping us into the likeness of Jesus Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, in the community of faith for the sake of the world,” by Jeffrey P. Greenman and Donald Goertz, “Towards a Definition of Spiritual Formation”

7. M. Robert Mulholland, Jr.

“a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others” (Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 12)

8. Paul Petit

“spiritual formation is the holistic work of God in a believer’s life whereby systematic change renders the individual continually closer to the image and actions of Jesus Christ” (Foundations of spiritual formation: a community approach to becoming like Christ, ed. Paul Pettit (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2008), 19.)

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