Tools for the Spiritual Journey

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Table of Contents

  1. Mere Christianity
  2. Cultivating the Spiritual Disciplines
  3. Biblical Literacy and Theology
  4. Moral Vision and the Quest for the Good
  5. Creation Care and Stewardship
  6. Christ Consciousness, a Christo-centric Posture
  7. Global Awareness
  8. Spiritual Growth through Suffering
  9. Our Historic Heritage
  10. Recovery of Our Precious Heritage in Incarnational Humanism
  11. Apologetics Skill and Giftedness
  12. Knowledge of Other Religions and Worldviews
  13. Theology and Philosophy of Bodies
  14. Science in Perspective: Reconciliation with Theology
  15. Worship as Formation in a Personal, Trinitarian Frame
  16. Recovery of the Virtues
  17. The Nature of the Church
  18. The Myth of the Secular
  19. The Culture of Peace, Stewardship, Compassion, Non-violence, Reconciliation and Justice
  20. Loving Our Muslim Neighbor
  21. The Christian Mind and Scholarship
  22. Global Intercession
  23. Spiritual Gifts and Giftedness
  24. The Eschatology of Discipleship
  25. Cultivating Wholeness through Healthy Aging and Exploring the Mentoring Potential of Seniors
  26. Digital Discipleship: God, Social Networks and Media Consumption
  27. Faith and Political Power: Church, Government and Civic Discourse
  28. Discipleship that Addresses the Honor-Shame Cultures
  29. Martyrdom and the Persecuted Church
  30. The Spirituality of Servant Leadership

Introduction

As we think about the future of discipleship, we the community of players behind this booklet have discerned an urgent need to think critically, creatively and constructively about Christian formation, spiritual growth and kingdom faithfulness. Faith communities around the world do well to put more emphasis on practicing discipleship as a quest, a drive to maturity and depth in Christ and his resurrection life. Eugene Peterson in his commentary on Ephesians, Practice Resurrection, calls us to “grow up into Christ.” The location of our personal identity is of paramount importance to our spiritual health. If we believe in the incarnation (an embodied faith), God come in the flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, then a prime driver should be to follow his example of shaping disciples. This entails our core values, habits and lifestyle, with a view to the flourishing of a robust, relevant and culturally engaging faith.

The following thirty different charts/toolkits of discipleship highlights numerous ways to establish Christian believers in the way, the high road of the spiritual disciplines, the truth, beauty, and goodness of the abundant life, eternal life. We want Christian organizations to enjoy and employ the superabundant gifts from God for the Body of Christ, towards the redemption of the whole cosmos, all things. Thus, a substantial list of resources is included in the text and bibliography. We are very grateful for the hard work and wise reflections of committed saints down the centuries. They are a resource like no other, weaving a tapestry of redemptive history as each sought to be faithful to their Lord. The contemplative life can also be the active life of engaging and blessing the world community in all it diversity, engaging in compassion and justice work, defending human rights and dignity.

The flow of categories in this resource guide runs through a whole spectrum of this noble quest of spiritual formation. Courage, sacrifice and fortitude are valued, the rewards are worth all the effort and energy that we can muster. Discipleship should be marked Urgent. When this project began, we would never have imagined thirty different arenas of discipleship, but that just shows the immense creativity of God through his followers. The collaboration of a lifetime of research and reading, reflection and practice, has contributed to the collation of these ideas. It has been a stretching and awe-inspiring experience. Much reading, wrestling and reflection are represented in this legacy document. Looking back in our Christian history, we find our grounding, our center, our roots. From there, we plot a pro-active, thoughtful trajectory for the church into the future. We can marshal phenomenal resources for productive ministry. Nihilism does not have the last word. Secularism does not have the last word. Jesus Christ is the Word, the first word and the last word, the alpha and the omega, God’s Yes to it all. His disciples get to carry this heritage forward with joy, dignity and honor.

God calls us into I-Thou dialogue and upwards into communion with the Trinity. The Son of God, the Word, the divine Logos, that existed before creation itself, descended to live among us and draw us higher. This is great news for homo sapiens. It makes us more capable of great friendships and noble accomplishments, to alleviate suffering and improve the world—the ministry of reconciliation. It is God’s love and calling of the individual life in community that gives each one unique worth and value within the whole body, each their unique status as an image bearer (Imago Dei) of King Jesus. Each is summoned to a monumental task, a quest for the good, just like Moses. In that sense, each of us stands on holy ground.

Jesus Christ addresses each human being individually: each must decide if he will bear the Name of Christ and accept the unique mission that God has for them, within the mission of His Son. It is only by identifying with this mission that we become persons in the deepest, theological sense. (Raymond Gawronski, 2015, 144)

In our technological age with its globalized economies, things often get reduced to an unspiritual utility or techne. Disenchantment, death of the soul and spirit can result from feeling like just a cog or pawn in the grand economic machinery. With a view to re-enchantment of reality, we articulate some truly awesome possibilities concerning the Christian quest. We want to capture the fullness and beauty of the poetic creator God and the robust flourishing he desires. He wants to shape us into his ambassadors, his reconciliation agents, so that we can live wholesome lives and take responsibility to cultivate, care for, and redeem our world. Above all, spiritual formation is done in the spirit of and in the context of agape love. Missioned by a holy God, we are invited by the Holy Spirit onto the stage of God’s great theodrama. May you find some real treasures for transformation that last a lifetime, treasures that inspire future generations.

1. Mere Christianity

This is a foundational level of concern on what a Christian believes and lives (Eerdmans Handbook on Christian Belief; N.T. Wright, Simply Christian; C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity; Os Guinness, The Call). Many churches do something in this arena, but could clearly do more to establish young believers in their faith journey through some version of a catechism or basic discipleship program.  All Christian should be encouraged to read the basics of Christian faith and doctrine. Regular sermons help a lot, but are not enough to get an overview of the Christian life and its transformative impact. Mike Breen, Building a Discipling Culture, helps us take such a task more seriously. James K.A. Smith has a cutting-edge statement on shaping our loves, desires and habits in You Are What You Love. Many high school grads are sadly not established in basic Christian beliefs or apologetics, and so they are weak in defending their faith on secular college and university campuses. Many give up on the faith by end of first semester, before even knowing what it claims at any depth, or how it addresses a secular/scientific/consumer age. This is truly tragic and campus ministries cannot make up the deficit. All ministries could afford to invest much more in basic Christian education, providing adult mentors to help believers understand what they believe and why, and how it can be lived out at a robust level, how it can contribute to human flourishing, moral grounding and strong relationships. There are creative ways to integrate and reinforce these truths within regular Christian activities. If we begin with lifelong discipleship in mind, it will have a big impact on how our teaching gets rolled out. Conversion is an ongoing process of transformation which means that strong goals and substantial content should be set in play early in the journey.

2. Cultivating the Spiritual Disciplines

This arena includes prayer, fasting, simplicity, meditation, gratitude, confession, study and journalling, service, and practices like Lectio Divina and Examen. We could also add suffering with the other out of compassion. These are intentional disciplines/practices that make space for God in a person’s life, they are effective for putting on the mind of Christ. The goal is ongoing transformation of the believer on the path of righteousness. Excellent resources are found in Richard Foster, Spiritual Disciplines; and Streams of Living Water; Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms; Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy; Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation; Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Invitations from God. Foster very helpfully covers six different spiritual traditions in Streams of Living Water. Barry Whatley, an Outreach Canada staff in Montreal (bwhatley@outreach.ca), carries a deep concern for this dimension of spiritual encouragement, including the ongoing spiritual formation of Christian leaders. It is hard for them to influence their congregation if they are drying up spiritually. Burnout is a big problem among clergy. Regent College Bookstore displays an amazing selection of volumes on spiritual direction, ancient and modern. James Houston has championed the writings of the Western Church Fathers and other notable saints of the contemplative tradition and his recent tome with Jens Zimmermann adds much insight into the history of Christian identity, Sources of the Christian Self (2018). Hans Boersma has picked up Houston’s vision of going deep historically on spiritual resources and practices. David Bentley Hart has championed the Eastern Church Fathers. D. Bruce Hindmarsh’s volume The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism is a gem of scholarship on true religion. Ruth Haley Barton has championed the spiritual formation and health of leaders (Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership). Psychiatrist Curt Thompson offers something unique, brilliant really, in his interdisciplinary approach (Psychiatry, Neuroscience, Spirituality), The Anatomy of the Soul.

What if from his earliest days on the planet, Jesus was deeply aware that God’s fundamental orientation towards his entire creation, humans especially, was one of deep, compassionate affection? What if he sensed that the Father was prone to outlandish behaviour such as taking the risk of persuading and urging, rather than forcing us to love and sacrifice, patiently waiting for us–for millennia–to partner with him in the task of blessing the earth and all of its peoples? (C. Thompson, Anatomy of the Soul, 142)

 

 

 

 

 

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