Spiritual Formation: the rise of a tradition
Posted by Kirsten Birkett, 16 Jan 2020
An extract from Kirsten Birkett's article in the latest edition of Churchman
“Spiritual formation” seems to be an innocuous phrase, for Christians; a good thing to do, what we would want for ourselves and others. It is in use in general church circles, and in more formal literature. In particular, if one investigates developments concerning theological education, it is very clear that spiritual formation is what theological education should be about.
Let us consider selected examples from recent literature, tracing key developments. It is notable that the phrase “ministerial formation” has virtually taken over from “ministerial training” or even “theological education” as the correct term to describe the purpose of theological seminaries. The theological curriculum is meant to provide a “genuinely formative experience.” “‘Vocation’ and ‘formation’ are the normative concepts underlying all contemporary ministerial education,” we are told. This “spiritual formation” has something to do with character and emotions, but predominantly it is about developing a sense of spirituality. It is primarily a sensibility. It is contrasted with traditional theological education which is criticised for being too academic, too divorced from the real world and failing to relate to the whole person.
This is something almost taken for granted, stated as a fact; the discussion is generally not so much about whether spiritual formation should be central to theological education, but about ways to do it. To some extent, this is a reflection of the way in which “spiritual formation” has come to be seen as the dominant mode of understanding Christian life in general, but there is a substantial body of literature that has imported this idea as the dominant paradigm in theological education. For example, recent papers discuss how to manage spiritual formation in a theological college over multiple campuses where student life is fractured; how it might happen in a particular national context; how it happens outside traditional residential training or online.
This is a trend which deserves careful scrutiny. “Spiritual formation” seems a reasonable thing for Christians to do, but what exactly does it mean, and why is it seen as the main purpose of theological education? Indeed, there seems to be considerable vagueness in the literature about what it is, even amongst people who agree it is central to theological education. We are told that both the UK and US have “no developed theology of formation and no clear idea about it.” Yet a little investigation reveals that in wider theological circles, this paradigm of pastoral education being spiritual formation has been gradually dominating discussion for decades. Where did this term come from? Why has it become so dominant, and what happened to the historical ways of understanding the spirituality necessary for an Anglican minister?
Gerald Bray Essay Prize Winners
Posted by Ros Clarke, 13 Jan 2020
The winner of the Gerald Bray Essay Prize is announced.
We were pleased to receive a substantial number of entries for the Gerald Bray Essay Prize, demonstrating a high standard of scholarship and engaging with a wide range of subjects. Gerald commented on the shortlisted entries that “Overall the quality is very high. I am impressed and honoured to think that so many people, from very different backgrounds, have taken the trouble to produce such outstanding work.”
The winner of the £300 prize, whose entry is due to be published in the next issue of Churchman, is Paul Young, with his essay, “The Role of Works in Final Judgment Using Calvin’s Aristotelian Framework with Special Reference to Romans 6:19-23” of which Gerald says that, “Young tackles a little known subject with great erudition and thoroughness.”
Paul Young studied at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia and is now a pastor at Providence City Church in Perth, Australia.
He also commended two other entries, whose authors will both receive a copy of Gerald’s book, God is Love: Jonathan D. Torrance’s “‘Experience Alone Makes the Theologian’: A constructive retrieval of Luther’s theology of experience” and Rich Duncan’s critical evaluation of the Socinian movement, with particular reference to the polemical engagement of John Owen.
These essays will also appear in Churchman in due course and we hope to publish a number of the other entries as well. It has been very encouraging to see that the state of evangelical Anglican scholarship is so healthy, with so many new scholars emerging. The next essay prize is scheduled for autumn 2021, but of course, articles may be submitted to Churchman at any time. Please see the guidelines linked on this page.
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Love the Law
Posted by Peter Jensen, 9 Jan 2020
Peter Jensen discusses the problem with laws in this excerpt from his editorial in the latest edition of Churchman
Given its age, it’s odd how powerful the Bible is.
It has a constant capacity to speak the truth about us and to us; it helps us both to understand ourselves and also to long for something better; and then it gives us that better hope in the face of Jesus Christ.The Bible is not a philosophical treatise; it is better than that, more human. It gives its truth through song and proverb and epistle and sermon and apocalypse and story and promises. In some ways it’s like an old and crusty uncle who frightens at first appearance but turns out to be the wisest person you will ever meet, precisely because he minces no words and softens no reality.
Part of the crustiness is the Law. The Bible is, among other things, a legal book containing the Law of Moses, but much else by way of legal demands. And then our Lord himself says, “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:19).
It is a paradox. As the Bible itself testifies, law provokes both respect and dislike. It has that effect on us. Thus, when all is said and done, I find it hard to like the Sermon on the Mount, especially the material in the fifth chapter of Matthew, in which the Lord not only affirms the ongoing veracity of the Law, but also makes sure that we feel its interference into our lives. Banning murder is not enough; now he bans anger. Banning adultery is not enough; now he bans lust as well. And his concluding demand for perfection (5:48) is outrageous because it is totally beyond our ability to fulfil, even if we read it as a call to comprehensive love rather than mere purity.