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. The Christian Mind and Scholarship
  21. Global Intercession
  22. Spiritual Gifts and Giftedness
  23. The Eschatology of Discipleship
  24. Cultivating Wholeness through Healthy Aging and Exploring the Mentoring Potential of Seniors
  25. Digital Discipleship: God, Social Networks and Media Consumption
  26. Faith and Political Power: Church, Government and Civic Discourse
  27. Spiritual Formation for Millennials
  28. Discipleship that Addresses the Honor-Shame Cultures
  29. Martyrdom and the Persecuted Church
  30. The Spirituality of Servant Leadership


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. It will be great to observe the church in the twenty-first century come into its full heritage and capacity as a robust witness for our Lord.


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. Agape love is a core theme that can be brought to the minds and hearts of both young and seasoned disciples. 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 (, 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). Eugene Peterson also assists  well on this file with his Take & Read, Spiritual Reading: An Annotated List. 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)

3. Biblical Literacy and Theology

This item includes the larger story or metanarrative, helping Christians develop an understanding of the overall architecture and content of Scripture (Old and New Testaments). Covenant theology stresses the continuity of the covenants in a unified salvation story. It contends that God’s promises continue to unfold over the breadth of historical time. Believers need to learn basic biblical hermeneutics (Gordon Fee, Reading the Bible for All its Worth; Walter C. Kaiser Jr.  The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments; Iain Provan, Seriously Dangerous Religion; Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth; Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology). Biblical knowledge is crucially important in an age of technology, social media, and superficial identities. How can we help believers indwell the biblical narratives and realize their power? There are excellent resources online: for example, world-class educational resources can be found at Christians do well to build deeper roots into the rich soil of Scripture.

University of Toronto’s clinical psychologist Jordan B. Peterson has developed a genius approach to reviving interest in the biblical narrative among disenchanted Millennials. He offers a YouTube series that is very effective in reaching angry, young, nihilistic men especially, as he shows how the Bible connects with the human condition and the psychological problems of our day. Former UK Bishop, the late Lesslie Newbigin encouraged believers to indwell the biblical story (The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society), to be so familiar with the Bible that its precepts flow through their veins just as the Psalmist articulates so powerfully in Psalm 119. John B. MacDonald, a Bible teacher in New Westminster, British Columbia, has developed a robust course on Matthew’s Gospel, a paradigm for discipleship. John rightly sees discipleship and humble obedience as the deep structure of Scripture, a fulfilment of God’s calling and promises to establish his kingdom among us. Christ is the central actor in this grand theodramaof redemption. Ultimately, Scripture is our grounding for the struggles of life.

4. Moral Vision and the Quest for the Good

Christians should not sell themselves short on their moral and ethical influence and witness. This arena involves the politics of love, poetics of community, learning how to leverage agape love: good sources include D. Stephen Long,The Goodness of God; Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together. Academics, the church community, as well as the political and business communities, realize that our culture needs a recovery of ethics. This is one key response to the current problem of cultural nihilism. Radical left or alt-right views have taken the spotlight in the media, constantly pushing the envelope (autonomy, freedom and necessity of individual choice, rights, entitlements and opinion)—it leads to tribalism. In late modernity, this often exists with little to no emphasis on responsibility for the other or for the common good, caring for the common wealth or health. Margaret Somerville, distinguished Law Professor at McGill University, is a key healthy conservative voice in Canada on such public moral issues. Dennis Hollinger does a great overview of the Christian moral worldview in Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics in a Complex World.

There are also issues to reckon with inside the church and with its own leadership. One of the big concerns is moral motivation or why we should be goodif we can get away with narcissism, entitlement, pride, cheating and lying (Henry Cloud, Integrity: the courage to meet the demands of reality). Gordon Carkner’s doctoral dissertation covers this topic as he critically examined a French poststructuralist writer on ethics, Michel Foucault. The revelation of the research was enhanced by a critical dialogue with eminent Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor of McGill University on the recovery of the good (Sources of the Self). Dr. Carkner’s 2016 publication The Great Escape from Nihilism makes this material on moral recovery more accessible. It includes a strong case for the recovery of meaning through the recovery of ethics within community, one that is rooted in the incarnation. David Gill has a practical guide to moral growth in his Becoming Good: building moral character. American activist Jim Wallis makes a positive, practical, pastoral contribution on the recovery of the common good: The (Un)Common Good: how the gospel brings hope to a divided world. Oxford’s Oliver O’Donovan (Resurrection and Moral Order) is another key intellectual resource. David Brooks also offers The Road to Character. There is more information in Section 16. “Recovery of the Virtues.”

5. Creation Care and Stewardship

What does our carbon footprint have to do with the Lordship of Jesus? Why is environmental responsibility and stewardship or creation care important to spiritual faithfulness, within a virtue-oriented lifestyle? How do we encourage a broader ownership of the current intense problems of global warming and champion fruitful solutions? This is a key area of integrity for the church and a key concern in reaching a younger generation, highly sensitive to this justice/survival of the planet—their future survival. They often leave churches which are insensitive to such critical environmental concerns. This is a strategic mission opportunity for people with expertise in environmental science in China and Mongolia, say experts from Overseas Missionary Fellowship. As in many other places around the globe, there is a genuine crisis in Southeast Asia. But we in the global north are facing significant challenges as well. A gospel that includes practical insights on environmental stewardship would be welcomed news—fulfilling contemporary conditions of plausibility. This entails a life and death concern for the developing world, especially the poorest people whose homes and livelihood are most at risk from radical global warming. A recent visit to the Columbia Icefields in the Canadian Rockies evidenced the speed of melting in our great glaciers.

Steven Bouma-Prediger (For the Beauty of the Earth) reminds us that it is a spiritual concern to love the biosphere and love our neighbor, as well as our grandchildren. In this book, he also articulates powerful, creation-friendly virtues. Creation is God’s first speech to us, and so attentiveness is due. Katharine Hayhoe, a top atmospheric scientist in Texas Tech University, is a public spokesperson for this cause among evangelical Christians. See Jonathan R. Wilson, God’s Good World; Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus Climate; the Iwan Russell-Jones film Making Peace with Creation. A Rocha is a worldwide Christian educational agency which features this concern. See also University of Ottawa professor Paul Heintzman’s Leisure and Spirituality: biblical, historical, and contemporary perspectives. The world is very near a tipping point, a viewpoint backed up by the overwhelming majority of climate scientists. Of course, we have the well-known work of Al Gore in the movie and its sequel called “The Inconvenient Truth”; and also his book The Future: six drivers of global change. The United Nations is saying that we could soon be faced with millions of ecological refugees in the not too distant future. Christians ought to be deeply concerned about this dilemma. The Lausanne Committee Statement on this issue can perhaps help us to motivate Christians towards a more creative and responsible position that can bring reconciliation, healing to the planet and draw people together:, (Part I, Section 7)

6. Christ Consciousness, a Christo-centric Posture

This arena involves focusing our identity in Christ and his Lordship. It encourages sending our roots deep into a robust vision of the full dimensionality of Jesus, versus a more truncated, comfortable, self-centred faith position. This arena confronts the Gnosticism of our day both  dwithin and outside the church. There are good resources in Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection; and N.T. Wright’s superior scholarship in Jesus and the Victory of God. As we live into and in the light of the incarnation, we learn to build our identity in Christ, and live by his inspiration. There are many cultural forces manipulating Christian identity (for example, health and wealth gospel, consumerism, nationalism, culture wars, bigotry, the crisis of self, as well as various forms of escapism). In a day under the cloud of nihilism, we must work hard to build a solid plausibility structure, and lay out clearly the plausibility conditions for belief (Charles Taylor, A Secular Age). This should be seen against the backdrop that every belief is contestable in today’s world (James K.A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular). Christians are joined by many others in being challenged to defend their viewpoint.

Incarnational Christo-centrism is an anchor for the soul, as well as a key credibility factor for Christian faith (Hans Urs von Balthasar). It keeps us from veering off into superficial trends, or the seductions of contemporary Gnosticism. Jens Zimmermann (Incarnational Humanism) and James Davison Hunter (To Change the World) warn us that Christians can have their identity washed out by plurality of options (difference), New Age Gnosticism, extreme emphasis on individual choice and self-invention, and by what Hunter calls dissolution. Jim Wallis (The (Un)Common Good)encourages us to look at what it means to have Jesus as a living teacher, walking with us today to offer shalom, to bring heaven to earth, to discern the kingdom of God here and now. Wallis rejects a passive, overly private, faith posture that is rooted in the Romantic Movement, with too much emphasis on feelings and not enough emphasis on Christian practice and habits of virtue. He offers a very mature pastoral statement about the deeper walk of discipleship at its interface with society and politics. As young Millennials decide to commit themselves to Jesus’ Lordship, this opens new horizons of purpose for their lives. They build their confidence and discover new levels of freedom, a new passion.

We strongly recommend First Baptist Church sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount by Darrell Johnson

7. Global Awareness

This works on a critical area of growth in identity as a global citizen of the kingdom—a robust consciousness. We can develop a broader global vision, grow in awareness of the cultural and ethnic diversity within our neighborhood. The goal here is to develop a missional outlook in the disciple (Ross Hastings, Missional God, Missional Church: hope for re-evangelizing the West). There is now an extensive missional church literature and conversation in North America. We are familiar with the now popular concept of emotional intelligence in leadership discourse (Primal Leadership by Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee). A key concept under this arena of discipleship is cultural intelligence, meaning the development of an acute awareness of the uniqueness of the other together with an appreciation of our common human condition. This is worthy of diligent investment. A former professor of mine (a brilliant mind) wrote a classic resource in this area: David J. Hesselgrave, Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally.

Graduate students in our universities are coming from around the globe, and are training for world citizenship and international leadership. There are 10,000 such students at University of British Columbia alone. Imagine the potential impact of this brain power and giftedness in the hands of a loving, creative God. Imagine what they could teach us about the world. We are properly passionate about their spiritual wellbeing and growth as whole persons. It is well worth taking them seriously in terms of the strategic future of the kingdom and the church, as well as their future leadership calling in society as international ambassadors for Christ. Local discipleship can have much larger impact, especially with PhD students. Some of these students become academic missionaries in unreached countries. Conferences like Missions Fest and Urbana help students capture this global vision with big impact.

Outreach Canada’s Perspectives Course has been quite effective in developing a vision of global Christianity, enhance cross-cultural sensibilities, and raise consciousness of God’s loving embrace of and vision for the whole world. There are several strategic reasons for maturely thinking and acting globally in spiritual formation. Personally, it very lively and stimulating to engage an email think tank in the International Fellowhship of Evangelical Students,  headed up by Vinoth Ramachandra from Sri Lanka. They are on a quest to engage the university worldwide. It is amazing how much we have in common. Each of our Canadian universities is also a little global village, training top people from around the globe.

8. Spiritual Growth through Suffering

This discussion explores the art and meaning of suffering, pursues the quest to redeem suffering. Yes indeed, this is an important aspect of discipleship. We must take advantage of the opportunity to build character through suffering, to learn the art of comfort and compassion (I Peter). Many of the Christian virtues are a response to suffering. Wisdom and suffering are closely linked in the Bible (Job, the Psalms). Suffering is deeply interwoven with discipleship throughout Scripture, and it is assumed that Christians will suffer, are suffering. Tom McLeish (Faith and Wisdom in Science) even sees suffering tied in with the pursuit of scientific knowledge. Love too involves pain and personal sacrifice. Innocent suffering and the problem of evil seem to coalesce to cast serious doubt in both a believer’s and a skeptic’s mind. But understood in proper perspective, suffering can take us much deeper into the heart of God, who has suffered with us in the incarnation and on a cross to reconcile us (the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune). We focus here on grappling with suffering as an independent issue separate from evil, to discern its lessons more clearly.

There is a great benefit to fathoming the biblical notion of suffering. We cannot avoid it, but we can make it mean something, and live well amidst it. It can open a gateway to the economy of grace and the Christian graces. Philip Yancey has produced a powerful book called What’s So Amazing about Grace? People need spiritual guidance to learn how to suffer well, how to set goals, how to keep their dignity, and walk closer to God amidst suffering. It can point the way to a noble spiritual journey. How often do we mentor people in the art of suffering? Isn’t it often glossed over to get onto more positive topics of our human potential or progress? The Apostle Paul had a strong consciousness of participating in Christ’s sufferings (II Corinthians 6), and he knew what it was to suffer in love for the gospel, for his calling as an apostle and for the well-being of believers across the empire. He gained wisdom and drew closer to God through his suffering. He went deeper into his calling. He knew that, as a minority religion, Christians would be persecuted. Jesus predicted this in his prayer for the disciples in John 17.

This is an arena where the Christian story (and the Hebrew story) can stand strong, constructively offering wisdom and compassion to society. It can help us confront a narcissistic culture of entitlement and consumeristic individualism. Deeper discipleship emerges when we suffer for doing the good, speaking the truth—for the sake of the kingdom of God and his righteous values (Psalm 23). This offers a bridge (a common cause) with secular and atheistic people. Everyone must cope with much of the same kinds of suffering—health problems such as cancer, loss of a child, road accidents, broken relationships, disappointments. Good resources along this line include: Cam Taylor’s Detour: a roadmap for when life gets rerouted; poet Scott Cairns,The End of Suffering: finding the purpose of pain; Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer; Philip Yancey, Searching for the Invisible God; Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning. If it doesn’t make us cynical, resentful and nihilistic, the crucible of life’s suffering brings people sharply in touch with their limitations and with spiritual reality and can draw them together in a community of support. If they are willing to fathom its deep redemptive message, suffering can be viewed through a cruciform prism to help redeem us. God does care about our pain and he has suffered along with us in the incarnation and crucifixion. See Section 29. “Martyrdom and the Persecuted Church.”

9. Our Historic Heritage

This includes the needed perspective that today’s believer is standing on the shoulders of past saints, reformers and martyrs. With all the intensity of church planting around the world and super casual coffeeshop churches, there is a strong need for parallel teaching in the history and heritage of the church. It can offer wisdom, rebuke and correction to inadequate historical accounts of Christianity’s influence on Western culture (David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: the Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies; Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity; Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual). Churches should not shy away from tracing their roots and benefitting from the depth offered through a knowledge of the history of both doctrine and practice, and how Christians engaged ancient, medieval and modern culture. We all need heroes to inspire us.

At some stages in history, believers may have been more integrated and whole than we are today. See Bradley P. Holt, Thirsty for God. They can help mirror our shortcomings. Many of the battles we are fighting today were also fought decades, even centuries ago. We have ancient as well as contemporary colleagues from whom we can learn. This great crowd of witnesses can benefit us, given the spiritual roads they have laid down, their theological spade work, their spiritual exercises Like Benedict’s Rule or Ignatius’ Exercises, the mountains of virtue they have climbed, and the streams of living water where they have found refreshment. They have experience in swimming within God’s eternal kingdom current over centuries of time. We can also learn from their mistakes, especially how to avoid theological or discipleship extremes (for example, the Crusades, Religious/Denominational Wars and the Inquisition). The record must be approached with humility.

One could draw on Bruce Hindmarsh at Regent College for inspiration from eighteenth and nineteenth century evangelical spirituality. Classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School under noted church history scholars David Wells and John Woodbridge revealed a gold mine of insights and perspective for this author. See also Donald Dayton’s Discovering an Evangelical Heritage; Mark Noll A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada; David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. American church historian George Marsden is also a major contributor who has helped to shape this author’s views on faith and culture. Hans Boersma, another Regent theologian, develops a serious evangelical appreciation of pre-Reformation history and sacramental spirituality (Scripture as Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church). Too many Christian leaders tragically leave their interest in church history at the gates of the seminary, but appreciated wisely our roots feed and inspire us as we reflect on the courageous lived faith of our spiritual ancestors. It is a heritage worth preserving, foundations worth building upon. They are depriving themselves and their congregation of a storehouse of spiritual gems and empowerment.

10. Recovering Our Precious Heritage in Incarnational Humanism

It is important to recognize the tremendous social, institutional and cultural impact of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension, that is, the fullest picture of the incarnation. The gospel is always embedded in some culture, there’s the rub. Significant formation occurs within a social context, a network of relationships. How do we become a better human being and how do we hold out a vision for social health, humanization of culture, civility and reform? How do we encourage responsibility for the other? What does it mean for cultural leadership that we are the Body of Christ situated in time and space, networks, neighborhoods and community associations?

Recent intense research and creative thought has emerged, especially since 2012, from Trinity Western University’s humanities professor Jens Zimmermann, (Incarnational Humanism: a philosophy of culture for the church in the world; Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christian Humanism). Humanism need not be tied solely to the secular (exclusive/scientific humanism). Christians should reclaim their heritage in the long history of humanism, going all the way back to Augustine and indeed rooted in the Old Testament and the teaching of Jesus, for example in the Sermon on the Mount. Another excellent resources is Oxford scholar of Western history Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual. This is especially important in a day when there is also a strong narrative of dark neo-Nietzschean anti-humanism, along with the utopian post-humanisms. The challenges come from the Nihilists (anti-humanists and post-humanists of Schopenhauer and Nietzschean descent—the philosophers of the extreme). The cross-denominational American journal First Things highlights this arena from a variety of perspectives as does the Canadian organization, Cardus, a discussion on public policy and religious freedom in Canada (Convivium Magazine). History scholars like Notre Dame’s Brad Gregory (The Unintended Reformation) and McGill philosopher Charles Taylor (A Secular Age) have very helpful insights on the historical engagement between faith and culture. They both cover a complex five-hundred-year transition in Western culture, in which there are wins and losses in the Christian engagement of culture.

Is it not the purpose of redemption of our lives in Christ to make us better humans, better neighbors, better citizens, better representatives of God on earth, committed to shalom, offering a blessing, contributing to the vital common good of society? Brilliant sociologist James Davison Hunter (To Change the World; The End of Character) uses the intriguing language of faithful presence as part of the recovery of incarnational humanism. French philosopher Paul Ricoeur (Oneself as Another) is strong on recovery of the narrative aspect of human personhood within the context of community. See also Alan Jacobs, The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis; and Christian Scholarship in the Twenty-first Century (eds. Thomas M. Crisp, Steve L. Porter and Gregg A. Ten Elshof).

We expand this concept later in Section 27. “Faith and Political Power: Church, Government and Civic Discourse”. The recovery of the language of Christian humanism is vital and urgent in our day to confront Gnosticism within and outside the church. This the of thing is exposed by sociologist Christian Smith under the title of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Gordon Carkner is involved in a future writing project, geared to build out on this arena, called Paradigms in Conflict:  Gnosticism versus the Incarnation. We are redeemed out of selfishness and rebellion into good deeds and words (James), transformed lives that fight for the common good (Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good). We should be building out from incarnational theology, anthropology and spirituality today. In the process, there can also be a reform and recovery of the humanities, education and the social sciences.

Perhaps we will also have to add another discipleship category # 31. Culture Care and the Arts, starring such notables as Makoto Fujimura, Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for our Common Life.

11. Apologetics Skill and Giftedness

This includes the skill to give an answer to those who ask why we believe and why we suffer with Christ, or why there is evil in the world if God is good. It zeros in on Christian hope (I Peter 3: 15).  It also helps Christians who, due to cultural buffeting, are going through questions and doubts about their faith–most of us. It sets up a dialogue between faith and reason, conviction and evidence. Apologetics, as a relevant and practical branch of theology, encourages us to lend an ear to the language of contemporary culture, communication, debate, and dialogue. It helps us develop the breadth and depth of our vocabulary, to include the transcendent and the poetic. Some key resources include: Alister McGrath, Intellectuals Don’t Need God?; The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics: surveying the evidence for the truth of Christianity, eds. Ed Hinson & Ergun Carter 2008; Tim Keller, The Reason for God; Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God.

The agency Apologetics Canada in British Columbia, Canada, and the agency Dig and Delve in Ottawa offer conferences specifically geared to develop and equip eighteen to thirty year olds in this skill, the art, philosophy and science of it all. They continue to mature in their breadth and depth. There are equivalent organizations in America and Europe. These conferences have enjoyed a notable success, meeting an important felt need. It is one thing to introduce someone to Christ. It is quite another to establish them and give them the tools to face their detractors, especially if they have converted from another religion or an atheist home. There are also training centres around the world, like Biola University in California or Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, or ACTS Seminary in Langley, British Columbia, for those keen to develop this skill to a high level. See the Apologetics Resources page on Gordon Carkner’s blog for graduate students:

We often find a culture of doubt and cynicism on our campuses of higher education, where the best and brightest are nurtured and shaped philosophically and culturally. Young students need this training to prepare them for the campus debates, and often the attacks from their professors in the humanities and social sciences, and how to write critically from a Christian worldview perspective (II Corinthians 10: 4-5). It is very encouraging when churches set up tough questions series, debates between Christianity and secular humanism, Alpha programs or lectures on tough questions. We cannot stress enough how critical it is to invest in this sector as an essential part of Christian education.

12. Knowledge of Other Religions and Worldviews

This extends our discussion on Apologetics. Our current cultural hyper-pluralism of beliefs is often a bit overwhelming for Christians. Believers need help in religious discernment, and acute skills in dialogue. Charles Taylor calls the multiplication of spiritual paths the Nova Effect—as displayed in Banyon Books or the New Age section of your local bookstore. Notre Dame University sociologist Christian Smith has alerted us to the intense intellectual confusion and needs in the eighteen to twenty-three age group: the most relativistic generation on record. We negotiate this phenomenon in campus ministry every day and the diversity of viewpoints seems to continuously expand.

This dialogue with other beliefs can be a contribution to the intensification and clarification of our knowledge of the Christian faith. Bishop Lesslie Newbigin found this true during his time as an Anglican bishop in India. It can also promote peace-making, appreciation and impact on others, as we patiently allow them to tell us exactly what they hold to be true. The wise negotiation of the relationship between philosophy and theology, reason and faith, is critical to our success in this arena. Brilliant, cutting edge resources on dialogue with other religions is offered by: Miraslov Volf, Flourishing: why we need religion in an age of globalization; Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference; David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: being, consciousness, bliss; and The Eerdmans Handbook on World Religions. They reveal the complexity of genuine dialogue and set a positive example of constructive paths to pursue. If we hold that Jesus is the way to God with integrity, we must also grapple with the nuances of other religious views. It is important to show how Jesus fulfills a variety of human aspirations, every longing and fear (Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society; Raymond Gawronski, Word and Silence). We have learned much on this file from Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, who took seriously other beliefs and their insights into the human condition as he articulated and put forward a strong Christian perspective. This dialogue is a practical application of James Sire’s classic The Universe Next Door: a Worldview Catalogue.

We can engage and love our neighbor of another faith tradition, but we must first seek to listen and understand, with the hope to be understood. Dr. Miriam Adeney, religious studies professor at Seattle Pacific University, is a sound and balanced academic resource in the field of comparative religions and good at public dialogue. Through training, Christians can become much more effective in engaging with their neighbors. For further resources in this arena, see Section 20. “Loving Our Muslim Neighbor.” A basic course on comparative religions can prove vital in the journey, to help us avoid the clash of religious civilizations (Jonathan Sacks, Not in God’s Name).

The Syrian refugee crisis has provided new opportunities to make connections across religious boundaries in a time of desperate need. The interest often begins with that first friendship at college or work with someone from another religion or culture. It then moves us onto a learning curve, breaking down our prejudices and stereotypes, resulting in thoughtful and sensitive dialogue. The prism here is one of opportunity for personal growth and enrichment for Jesus followers.

13. Theology and Philosophy of Bodies

This arena involves sexuality, mindfulness, healing from abuse and trauma, whole personhood. Many people are learning how to cope with and heal from sexual addictions or sexual abuse. They learn how to order their sexual desires, respect boundaries in relationships, cultivate faithfulness to married partners and children. The quest for sexual health and whole relationships is a huge issue currently for both married and single people, as with Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox leadership. Western culture has broken the sound barrier on possible lifestyles, and thus believers are faced with immense challenges. The sexual revolution of the 1960s continues (Sex and the iWorld by David Kuehne). Gender choice and identity is a top boundary condition for debate today. Rape culture on our campuses comes a close second. Same sex attraction faces Christians too and it can be a very lonely space. Gordon Carkner’s PhD work on Michel Foucault’s ethics predicted such a situation of cross-pressured views. There is an aesthetic ideology at work which is rooted in Nietzsche and nominalism (Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic). Many people are re-inventing themselves, sometimes through employing surgeons and hormone therapy.

The forces within society against sexual wholeness are immense, and the issues are complex. There is often the double addiction to technology and pornography. We now have websites that assist people who want to cheat on their spouse. Marital commitment is terrifying to many Millennials, because of what they see in their friends or family. Journey Canada (  is an agency that has offered much help in the arena of sexual addiction, and gender identity ambivalence.

UBC Law Professor Benjamin Perrin continues to fight a good battle on the human sex trafficking issue, helping to shape Canadian government policy. Dr. Donn Welton (The Body: Classical and Contemporary Readings; Body and Flesh: a Philosophical Reader) Continental Philosophy specialist at Stony Brook University in New York, offers some serious academic help here at a sophisticated level of inquiry. Education Professor Allyson Jule at Trinity Western University, British Columbia, is a top Christian gender specialist in Canada and a leading voice on empowering women. Young Millennial disciples of Christ need to know how to dialogue on the questions of identity politics and many leaders would be wise to equip themselves. It will take courage and wisdom going forward as these debates intensify and society fractures into tribal groups.


14. Science in Perspective: Reconciliation with Theology

How do we understand science as it relates to the Bible, Christian faith and theology? How do we get beyond the conflict model of science and theology? UK Biophysicist Tom McLeish at Durham University (Faith and Wisdom in Science), a clear thinker in this arena, challenges the church and seminaries with the need for developing a theology of science. He means that since Jesus came to redeem the entire world, not just people, science needs to be included under our theological purview. McLeish claims that“Science is the participative, relational, co-creative work within the kingdom of God of healing the fallen relationship of humans with nature.”  That is a striking theological quest. This idea was revolutionary for a retired, spiritually skeptical physics professor with whom we are in dialogue.

Science needs to be understood as an essential part of human culture, a part that we can reflect upon theologically, understand through the redemptive work of the kingdom of God. This connects the doctrines of creation and redemption. Science is not just something to cope with: to be either resisted or tolerated for its practical value. Such a posture works against the reconciliation of all things that is spoken of throughout the entire New Testament. There are many creation/origins texts throughout the Bible: Job 30-40; Proverbs 8; Psalms 19, 33, 104; Isaiah 40, 45; Jeremiah 10; Hosea 2; John 1; Genesis 1-3.The quest of McLeish and others like him is to deliver a more robust understanding of the doctrine of creation, and to show the dynamic connection between suffering, wisdom and science. He has something unique and cutting edge to offer.

The agency Faraday Institute for Dialogue on Science and Religionat St. Edmund’s Hall, Cambridge University is a very lively resource for dialogue between science and religion. See their Test of Faiththree-part video series by top Oxford and Cambridge scientists. TheIan Ramsey Centre on Science & Religionin Oxford, run by Alister McGrath, is also a key think tank, as is the Canadian Science and Christian Affiliation, American Scientific Affiliation, UK Christians in Scienceand BioLogos(evolutionary creation). Many people find Sir John Polkinghorne, Owen Gingrich, Dennis Danielson, Alister McGrath, John Lennox, Colin Russell and Ian Hutchinson well informed and helpful in this quadrant. St. Andrew’s University theologian N.T. Wright is quite invested in this discussion; he sees the worldview of Deism at the heart of much of the problem. David Bentley Hart has one of the best critiques of materialistic naturalism in his The Experience of God. Another important scholarly work is Alvin Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies. Chapter 15 “The Immanent Frame” in Charles Taylor’s tome A Secular Ageis a very insightful resource to capture the big picture of science and the secular.

It is a critical issue for university folks and a key marker of credibility for the church within the overall culture. Christians sound like Gnostics when they dismiss science. The commonly perceived conflict between science and religion (from both Christian and atheist) is a barrier to Christian credibility. Significantly, it is one of the top reasons young, educated people are fleeing the church, claims Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith. We need to avoid extremes, to find a balanced, critical, fair understanding of science and its relation to the Christian faith. History is our friend (Peter Harrison).

Churches should exploit opportunities to bring into their midst credible university science faculty to help cover this concern. But as a word of caution, they should studiously avoid the travelling road show speakers. Gordon Carkner has a substantial unpublished paper Monopolizing Knowledge:Scientism and the Search for an Integrated Reality. The ideology of scientism is at the heart of the alienation. Some of these ideas appear on the Graduate Christian Union blog where a more extensive bibliography can be discovered Gordon also talks about the problem as it relates to our understanding of the secular world in his 2016 publication The Great Escape from Nihilism. This ‘broken’ relationship is by no means irreparable, if we are willing to dig deep into the assumptions involved. Reconciliation between science and theology is a discipleship priority. Academic scientists should not be made to feel guilty by fellow believers about pursuing their passion to the glory of God. Listening is critical.

A good model of the integration of science and theology comes in the realm of positive psychology. I have been introduced, in more depth, to the research field of positive psychology during summer of 2018. I’ve just finished reading an excellent example of how we can integrate the insights of science/positive psychology and Christian faith or theology. It is called The Science of Virtue: Why Positive Psychology Matters to the Church by Mark McMinn (Brazos, 2017). I was really impressed with how he can appreciate the science (positive psychology), and show its compatibility with theology of the virtues. Many top Christians have helped to shape the field of positive psychology through research on wisdom, humility, forgiveness, gratitude, hope and grace. This is an excellent tool for pastoral ministry, and shows a good dialogue between Christian and secular thought–good form of apologetics. I believe it won a book award as well. It also meshes with my current identity research. Some of the research cited in the book was done with churches. It represents a positive, constructive approaches to bridge-building  between the church and the culture.

15. Worship as Formation in a Personal, Trinitarian Frame

Worship is a vital part of spiritual formation, as well as contributing to a strong poetic and aesthetic apologetic. It connects people with the transcendent and to the glory of God. Theological resources on a trinitarian outlook includes scholars like Alan Torrance (St. Andrew’s University) and Jeremy Begbie (Duke University). Hans Urs von Balthasar has championed theological aesthetics in his concept of theodrama.  His focus is on doxa, the beauty and glory of God. Worship should be discussed and debated in churches and denominational meetings, at more advanced levels. The church would do well to proceed towards more depth and inter-traditional breadth in music and style of worship. There is sometimes a tendency, in some groups, to focus too narrowly on only one member of the Trinity.

Musician and theological professor, Jeremy Begbie, combines the arts and theology through worship. His is a very creative and thoughtful contribution among the members of the Gospel and Culture Movement. Malcolm Guite, a poet-chaplain-theologian at Cambridge University, offers powerful poetic imagery to worship and spiritual reflection. He offers Sonnets for the Christian Year. Youth and adults would benefit from teaching and discipleship in worship and the place of the eucharist (Jens Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism). James K.A. Smith has a good statement on how liturgies of various sorts can change our lives gradually in You Are What You Love. Rooted in good theology, worship can reach higher levels of creativity, and those inner, meaningful depths of the person. Recently I found new angle and depths to worship and the poetic through a book by Brian Walsh, Kicking at the Darkness, Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination.

Innovators are a gift to the Body of Christ. Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts) has accelerated our understanding of gratitude as a path to joy, capturing in a very fresh way this aspect of worship as a way of life. With its strong aesthetic and poetic component, worship has great potential to become more prophetic. Bethel Church in Redding, California is a major center for developing Spirit-led talent in worship leadership. There is a genius in the history of worship that involves the potential of combining the classical with contemporary music. Among the innovators, there is David Wesley (Basement Praise) from Waterloo, Ontario, who has pioneered Acapella praise, a new phenomenon that combines the classics with a fresh style and tremendous power. We also recommend Hillsong United’s Zion album, Brian Doerksen’s Holy God, or Kari Jobe’s Majestic for depth of words and creativity of music. Isaac Wimberly’s Spoken Word Poetry is also quite powerful. He is an American rap musician turned pastor. Since it is so impactful, our worship should be one of our most creative arenas of church life.

16. Recovery of the Virtues  

Character formationis key to discipleship as we see in II Peter 1: 3-8; or Philippians 4: 4-9. The C.S. Lewis Summer Institute in Cambridge and Oxford during July 2014 focused on the theme: Recovering the Virtues for Human Flourishing. The conference captured something quite vital as a spiritual arena for personal discovery. We now see a robust recovery of virtue ethics within academia (Josef Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues; David Lyle Jeffrey of Baylor University;Cambridge Companion on Virtue Ethics, edited by Daniel C. Russell). There is a renewed interest in character formation among business, education and government leadership (Henry Cloud, Integrity; David Brooks, The Road to Character and The Second Mountain; David Gill, Becoming Good; James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love; Mark McMinn, The Science of Virtue).

But is virtue being taught at a serious level in our churches? Do we highlight character and the virtues as a strength to be promoted under the overall quest for righteousness and holy living? If not, we are missing a major opportunity of spiritual formation. One can overemphasize the rational, and underplay the importance of directing our loves and establishing good habits. We cannot assume that it is being caught by osmosis. Good resources for further discussion are found in: Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue; and Stephen Bouma-Prediger, For the Beauty of the Earth. Other resources on the intellectual virtues include Brad Gregory, The Unintended Reformation; and Linda Zagzebski, Virtues of the Mind.

A subset of this issue is the retrieval of the concept of a “Virtuous Community”. This calculates as an urgent concern, given the crisis of civility and hate speech, tribalism, political divisions and violence in the West, inspired by populism and nationalism. Churches have an opportunity to lead by example, to build moral capital and enhance the plausibility conditions for faith within society at large. Character stands out in the workplace and that’s why Jesus called us to become salt and lightin our daily lives. Christians can help champion the virtues: such as compassion, peacemaking and dialogue.

The Roman Catholic Church has traditionally carried the strongest flame for the virtuous community, especially in the various monastic movements, but Protestants have reclaimed a stake in the discussion in recent years. For example, American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. regularly heralded the concept of the beloved communityas a key pillar of his vision to subvert hatred and curb racism in America. It is a concept that can be recovered for the good of the whole church, as we see in the new monasticism movementwhere young Christians build community in a poor section of town (Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good, 2014). Wallis gives a rich discussion of such a kingdom heritage—a virtuous society. No community is without flaws but we can work towards the goal of living the virtues and cultivating shalom.

This arena of formation offers a strategic witness to a cynical culture which is struggling with dishonesty, greed, gossip, cheating and incivility. The Apostle Paul gives a counter-cultural witness, adjuring us to pursue the power of virtue, as ordained by the Holy Spirit (Philippians 4: 8) “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable.” Notre Dame Early Modern History Professor Brad Gregory articulated the vital importance of this issue in recent years and showed that human rights discourse could potentially recover its earlier, more holistic context, one when rights were embedded in the virtues and focused on responsibility. When we speak of virtues, we are speaking of those rooted in Trinitarian communion over against a Stoic approach of secular self-management and apathy towards the other. Christians with a deep commitment to discipleship will want to recover their own robust ethics, along with the concept of the virtuous community, a key element in incarnational humanism.

17. The Nature of the Church

Why is this question important to spiritual formation? We seem to have a bit of an identity crisis on this front in recent years. We are often confused about what we mean by church. There is real conflict among believers on the nature of church (traditional versus emerging/emergent), and between generations of pastoral leadership. It is a serious concern because the nature and meaning of church affects the kind of discipleship we can conceive. Many young people are leaving the traditional church out of boredom; they are disengaged. Millennials seem to be giving up on church in large numbers, raising serious alarm bells.

Pro-actively, some astute analysts use terms like Deep Church(Jim Belcher) or Mere Christianas a talking point on a third alternative, wanting to maintain a connection with tradition but avoid becoming traditionalist or dated. Many of us have attended conferences on the subject and found the intergenerational vibes and tensions fascinating. Eugene Peterson has a very mature, fresh statement on church and Christian identity in late modernity (Practice Resurrection: a conversation on growing up in Christ), a profound and prophetic exposition of the book of Ephesians.Gordon T. Smith tries to bridge three traditions in his 2017 work, Evangelical, Sacramental, Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three.

Openness, transparency, wisdom, creativity, dialogue and imagination are needed. The tensions can be used to good advantage if we are circumspect and pay attention to the nuances, the needs and desires of different generations. Included in this issue is how women should be employed in leadership positions, church hierarchy, take part in official eldership or deacon leadership.

American New Testament scholar Scot McKnight has some fresh views on this file. Fuller neuroscientist Warren Brown and pastor Brad Strawn bravely address the problem of Gnosticism in today’s evangelical churches. They suggest the we need a new definition of church which is characterized by wholeness, embodied and embedded life in relational networks: “the formation of a community of persons that is characterized by, and thus makes visible, the reign of God as a means of grace to the world and growth for its members.” (Brown & Strawn, The Physical Nature of Christian Life, 2012, 110). This arena offers such a vital debate and a cause for committed prayer and discernment.

18. The Myth of the Secular

We are working on the recovery or retrieval of our spiritual heritage and life in an age of disenchantment. Charles Taylor (A Secular Age), Jens Zimmermann (Incarnational Humanism), and James K.A. Smith (How (Not) to Be Secular) offer a deep analysis on the critical question of the relationship between religion and the secular. Christian leaders often struggle to understand the culture in which their congregations live, or the language that they use day to day. Wise pastors have lunch with the business colleagues of their parishioners to get to know their world and their language game (finance, mergers, legal, stock markets, immigration, supply chain management, lawsuits, economic challenges). It can be confusing to live as a follower of Jesus when the entire worldview of your larger culture is often opposed to your values. It often champions vices like greed and pride, even deception, as if they were virtues. James Houston calls this phenomenon living the paradox of Joyful Exiles. This is a profound retrospective look, a reflection on his life’s calling and ongoing wrestle with faith and culture, God and personhood.

The key myth of the secularholds that the rise of science has brought an end to religion, or replaced religion in the West. This is known as the subtraction thesis, writes Charles Taylor. He calls it into question and reveals that it is possible to reach out for the transcendent from within the current immanent frame, the dominant social imaginary in the West. Materialistic naturalism is brought under effective critical examination by such scholars as: David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God; and Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies. This analysis of the secular also involves wrestling with versions of Gnosticism or Nihilism and the anti-humanist spirit in recent Western thought.

The Great Escape from Nihilism uses Taylor as a discerning cultural philosopher of late modernity, a critique of scientism and a basis to rebuild the plausibility conditions for belief in Christian communication. Al Gore’s insightful The Future: six drivers of global change is helpful for readers who want some scholarly analysis of where our world is headed, giving the big picture trends on large changes and challenges facing an increasingly globalized world. This is the world that God has called us to understand and love, the world within which we are called to take responsible leadership. Secularization is definitively not the last word and we should not be intimidated by its boosters. Many scholars, including John Milbank, would argue that secular humanism is not self-sustainable. He suggests that it will eventually implode into nihilism—relativism, ambivalence, resentment and will to power by the strong. Are we not witnessing this?

19. The Culture of Peace, Stewardship, Compassion, Non-violence, Reconciliation and Justice

We might call this the politics or social ethics of agape love. Essential to the teaching of the New Covenant is the art, the ministry of reconciliation (II Corinthians 5). Never has there been a greater need for the skill of peacemaking as a key discipleship tool for Christians in a violent world of militant ideologies, dwindling resources, global warming, child soldiers and cruel dictatorships. These negative forces are like tectonic plates grinding against one another, promising to erupt. Such worries are compounded by intense capitalist greed, reckless financial irresponsibility, growing disparity of wealth between the one percent plutocratic and oligarchic rich and the rest (middle class and poor).

We are aware of the problems of sex trafficking, abuse of women and children, millions of refugees and displaced peoples from terrorism, famine or drought. The poor, the immigrant, the least of these, as Jesus speaks about them in Matthew 25, are often the lowest priority for people in power. They clearly are the most vulnerable and they matter. This arena of concern involves teaching Christian believers to cooperate, mobilize prayer and activism across denominations and across the lines of political divisions. Many noble kingdom causes and values have been spawned from the Sermon on the Mount. Heroic models of this prophetic/redemptive vision include: Ron Sider, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Miraslov Volf, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr., Gene Bethke Elshtain, Nicholas Woltersdorf, and Jim Wallis. Notable books are: Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination; Elizabeth Gerhardt, The Cross and Gendercide; and Miraslov Volf, Exclusion and Embrace.

A bracing story can be discovered in the movie I Am by actor Tom Shadyac. It is a testimonial of how he discovered a whole new paradigm of meaning, a virtual rethinking of his life’s purpose. Through a terrible accident, he had significant time to reflect on his narcissistic self-indulgence, on how North Americans badly treat one another and the biosphere. He changed to a whole new trajectory in his life and adopted a new set of values: where a person lives more simply, where walls are broken down and love (not greed) returns to the epicenter of motivation. Wise spiritual direction can move more people into this kind of transformation. Although it is difficult to agree with every ideology represented in the film, it is a story of someone who has radically rethought his paradigm of the ‘good life’. It brings into critique the spirit of entitlement, individualism, racism, tribalism and isolationism. For a biblical exegesis, see Keesmat & Walsh, Romans Disarmed.

Don Klaassen, Chilliwack staff member with Outreach Canada, has had some real success in building bridges and mobilizing concern for reconciliation between churches and Indigenous Canadian elders in Chilliwack, British Columbia. This arena is a special opportunity to be a conduit of God’s grace and shalom in society. Ray Bakke is a well-known American pioneer in such social renewal. The proper context of social justice is the glory of God as depicted in the film Selma by the beautiful theme song called Glory performed by Common, and John Legend

20. The Christian Mind and Scholarship Excellence

Dr. John Patrick at St. Augustine College in Ottawa has done a good job of preparing high school grads for university in a one year intellectual boot camp on Christian historical, theological and philosophical foundations. The program takes seriously the interface between faith and culture. Over eighty percent of the grads of this program do notlose their faith while going through secular universities. Other such programs can be accessed in the Capernwray network, but more preparation is desperately needed for youth entering their various undergraduate programs. The resources are few.

Other thoughtful individuals have helped in the discipleship of the mind for students in secular universities and colleges.Our friendJames Sire has a solid track record of supporting students, giving them the big picture on the reigning ideologies impacting academia (The Universe Next Door: a worldview catalogue; Discipleship of the Mind). Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton (Transforming Vision; Truth is Stranger than it Used to Be) have also contributed much encouragement in developing a Christian worldview. More recently, Andy Crouch has become a very popular spokesperson for this cause, taking their ideas further (Culture-Making: recovering our creative calling; Playing God: redeeming the gift of power) with sharp sensibility towards key issues in late modernity. Steve Garber has a very helpful guide for students to help them navigate university life called The Fabric of Faithfulness.

This has always been a big part of our work over the years with both undergrads and postgraduate students. help them to engage their studies from a critical Christian outlook. There is also a rich faith and culture section and posts on the UBC graduate student blog written by various faculty, graduate students and Gordon Carkner. See as well IVCF’s Emerging Scholars Network InterVarsity Press (IVP Books and IVP Academic) has taken a strong lead here, employing Christian faculty and other experts in various fields. Of course, many other publishers such as Brazos, Eerdmans, Oxford University Press contribute much to Christian scholarship and thought. There is some excellent help in the OUP series A Very Short Introduction.

The vision for this kind of stimulation and reflection is also carried by the Pascal Lectures at University of Waterloo, Graduate and Faculty Christian Forum at University of British Columbia, Gifford Lectures at University of Edinburgh, Veritas Forums on campuses across North America and Europe. Christian faculty members of secular and Christian universities and colleges are a strategic help in this arena of spiritual formation, encouraging vital Christian scholarship and inspiring both graduate students and undergrads.

This motivates students to think and write more strategically, winsomely and constructively from a faith perspective. Many even dare to disagree with their secular professors and argue their case well. This is vital for establishing followers of Jesus with intellectual depth and solid intellectual foundations. The Christian church has always had a strong interest in higher education, even while it has often felt marginalized by higher education. This is the reason why this ministry among faculty and graduate students attempts also to build bridges between academia and the church, so that grace and truth can flow in both directions. The growth in the Christian mind is good news regarding Christian giftedness for everyone in the Body of Christ. We can all grow in this sector of spiritual life.

21. Global Intercession

This gifting involves the development and nurture of an awareness, aptitude and passion for the big shifts in which prayer can assist. We continue to assure students and church community friends that their intercessory prayer for world affairs matters. It takes seriously the movement of the hearts of kings and governors (Psalm 138, Daniel, Esther), CEOs and other global leaders. We are talking about heading off an evil movement, ending Apartheid, confronting hate, releasing political prisoners, journalists, deconstructing an oppressive regime, supporting the persecuted church in other countries. It takes seriously the concept of principalities and powers (Walter Wink, The Powers That Be; Engaging the Powers; Ephesians 6). It takes more seriously the power and sovereignty of God. Michael Cassidy of African Enterprise offers a good example of the power of prayer in impacting a nation like South Africa.

Such prayer discipleship builds the awareness that God is interested in and cares about Berlin Walls, Russian incursion into Ukraine, ISIS brutality, refugees, North Korean oppression. Murray and Carol Moerman and Ute Carkner, staff members at Outreach Canada, have a strong commitment to the agenda of global prayer with a special focus on Europe. She also spends time in spiritual mentorship of young emerging leaders and graduate students at University of British Columbia. Various groups across Canada, the USA and around the world build diligent and fervent prayer into a rhythm with ministry. They see it as a core concern of discipleship, not just as a response to personal need, crisis or disaster. We should be keen, given our history, to encounter the powers and speak truth to power, just as the saints of past have done. We see some positive developments to nurture new prayer leadership in our churches.

22. Spiritual Gifts and Giftedness

This is a very challenging but important arena of stewardship, one that requires significant wisdom and imagination. It is filled with radical potential as shown by Eugene Peterson in his profound work Practice Resurrection. Using a contemporary phrase, his claim is that we are gift all the way down. How do we help people discover their spiritual gifts, and develop shrewd appreciation of their giftedness? How do we put this into practice in the local church, campus ministry and beyond? These gifts tend to shrivel if not given back to God and used to bless the world. Many believers today are frustrated with the lock down on leadership by professional ministry staff, especially in larger churches, feeling their gifts are not appreciated, developed or nurtured. Church members often feel underemployed concerning their actual gifts. Professionals in their work life, they are happily ushering, greeting, parking cars, making coffee, counting the offering and teaching Sunday School, but they might be sensing God calling them to something more engaging and challenging. Is there a mechanism in place to develop this innate giftedness (for example, internships for new leadership)?

Our experience is that many young, dynamic leaders in student organizations report feeling sadly patronized when it comes to their reception in the local church. This is a tragic abuse of stewardship. We need to make space for the kind of unique leadership Millennials (18-35 year olds) can offer, or we risk losing them forever. Many are yearning to be developed and mentored, thinking that there must be more excitement to Christian service than what they are currently experiencing. Certain kinds of hegemonic church bureaucracies work against kingdom fruitfulness, and good people just leave.

The gifts can be taught, but individuals need an opportunity to explore their full giftedness, in real time, through internships with healthy feedback from a wise community of believers and leaders. This is one reason that short term mission projects are so popular; it appeals to the heroic in young people. As this is taken seriously, it will motivate and mobilize massive amounts of hidden talent within our congregations and assemblies, issuing in the development of vibrant new leadership (Romans 12; I Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4). The Holy Spirit wants to do so much more with our corporate giftedness and release an abundant grace and blessing for the world through fresh, passionate, visionary leadership. Lay people also have a responsibility to courageously present their serious ideas to clergy for their engagement and evaluation. Church planting allows many more to be on the cutting edge of leadership in a solid team of like minded Christian entrepreneurs, where they are more likely to discover new levels of giftedness. The future health of the church depends on us taking this on with sufficient urgency.

23. The Eschatology of Discipleship

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What is the end game of the journey discipleship? C.S. Lewis placed spiritual growth in the context of eternity in the Eternal Weight of Glory. J.R.R. Tolkein (The Hobbit; Lord of the Rings) and Lewis (Narnia Chrinicles) contextualized it in terms of a great battle between good and evil, where evil is finally vanquished, as in the book of Revelation. The Apostle Paul sees the destiny of the quest as the oikodome of righteousness (II Corinthians 5) an eternal dwelling which is more real than our own bodies. Pastor-Teacher-Mentor Darrell Johnson gives perspective on the relationship between time and eternity, the two realms of discipleship operating in tandem, in his commentary on the book of Revelation (Discipleship on the Edge). He reads the great battles of this book as here and now, extremely relevant. Richard Middleton’s thoughtful, scholarly book on this theme is A New Heaven and a New Earth. N.T. Wright as a top New Testament scholar, is very big on the eschatological dimension of discipleship–seeing how the new age is brought into the present in his 2018 Gifford Lectures. See also his series on Romans 8–brilliant grasp of the movement of biblical history.

The key poetic metaphor here is pilgrimage. Can we revive the sense that we are on an important, urgent quest, one which requires heroism, courage, loyalty to higher virtues and sacrifice? Perhaps this could help mitigate the excessive emphasis on playing the victim in late modernity. There are big consequences to our choices and attitudes of obedience, or disobedience. Philosopher of Religion Ingolf Dalferth (Theology and Philosophy) has an intriguing concept of the eschatology as a spiral upwards towards the heavenly. Tom Wright talks about heaven come to earth through the incarnation of Jesus the Son.

Intriguingly, Baylor University English professor Ralph Wood thinks we should be less concerned about how we get to heaven, and could be more productively focused on getting heaven into us. Your kingdom come and your will be done, Lord, in our situation on earth as it is in heaven:  Incarnational theology (Jens Zimmermann) is vitally committed to exploring the connections between the temporal and eternal, the immanent and the transcendent. It is keen on inviting God’s presence and glory into this world. We are committed to offering our lives as living sacrifices today and tomorrow (Romans 12:1-3). The whole argument in the book of Romans follows this trajectory. There is a sense of movement or momentum as we make a covenant with our God and with the future he holds out before us (I John 3: 2). How can we fully align ourselves with God’s vision for our world, with the good, true and beautiful, with his kingdom?

24. Cultivating Wholeness through Healthy Aging and Exploring the Mentoring Potential of Seniors

A whole body of research is emerging, sparked by the large population of aging Baby Boomers (Zoomers). See Cultivating Wholeness: A Guide to Care and Counseling in Faith Communities by Margaret Kornfeld (especially the chapter on death and dying); James Houston, A Vision for the Aging Church: renewing ministry for and by seniors; The Mentored Life: from Individualism to Personhood. These authors are concerned about the significant mentorship capacity of people in their senior years, and it is immense. This capacity is marginalized or ignored to our detriment. There is high value in the stewardship and investment of elder giftedness and wisdom. Think of Elijah and Elisha as a model that is still relevant today. Young visionaries want elders to mentor and pass on their moral, spiritual and intellectual legacy. This takes some imagination and thought about how it can be practically implemented. See also the program Aging Matters: Finding Meaning and Purpose in Senior Years at Carey Theological College, Vancouver, British Columbia.

25. Digital Discipleship: God, Social Networks and Media Consumption

We live in the age rife with addiction to cell phones, video games and social media. Kids live for their Instagram and Snapchat dialogue. School psychologists are very concerned about the impact on the lives of the young and the increase in depression, bullying, loneliness, disconnectedness among teenagers Check out the MennoNerds blog site and The Digital Society: Christians Interested in Technology & Culture Facebook Group. Some former tech employees are confessing the sins of their companies to seek to grasp our constant attention—another term for addiction. See Tristan Harris’ revealing TED talk

Broadcast media and film are increasingly profane and graphic in portraying gratuitous violence, seduction and explicit sexuality, within a ratings system that doesn’t reveal the exact language and depictions that might make a difference to impressionable teenagers in the younger age group who feel that they’ve outgrown PG (parental guidance). Web sites like are trying to add that information which secular reviewers may not see the need to mention.

Social networks can enable ongoing connections between people with whom we would not otherwise phone or write—those Facebook high school reunions. But it can lead to isolation when they replace human contact and face to face, physical interaction—for example, excessive video gaming online. Some people are obsessed with checking their cell phone, even while meeting with a group of friends. Ubiquitous, fast, and nearly anonymous data connections, in conjunction with the frictionless sharing and promotion of illicit and sensational content, has created many a moral hazard and addiction to pornography. It matters how we use the Internet. Everything from hate speech to pirated games, music and movies are easier to find and use without appreciating the impact. Such consumption is spreading intolerance, warping sexual norms, and depriving artists of royalties.

Christian disciples would do well to keep in mind the advice in 1 Corinthians 10: 23 “All things are lawful … but all things do not edify.” and Philippians 4:8 “Focus on whatever is true, noble, praiseworthy.” Professors Albert Borgmann at University of Montana, Quentin Schultze at Calvin College (Habits of the High Tech Heart), Craig Gay at Regent College (Modern Technology and the Human Future) are thinking and writing about such topics as technology and faith. Borgmann is truly brilliant in showing us how technology shapes us psychologically and culturally and can destroy valuable Christian rituals and traditions such as the family meal and Sabbath.

The positive side of this discussion is that the blog, Internet, and other social media can be employed towards good discipleship, apologetics dialogue and attracting people to the Christian faith, letting people know about excellent scholarship and ministry opportunities. There is a great amount of free, constructive material in commentaries, courses, bibliography, lectures on YouTube, online courses for handicapped people, if we know where to look. Blogging can indeed increase the frequency and quality of a pastor’s writing and presence in the public space. We are in the middle of a revolution that is wide-ranging. With quantum computing, thinking machines and the Blockchain revolution coming to the fore, we will need much wisdom going forward.

26. Faith and Political Power: Church, Government and Civic Discourse 

It is time for good people to step up, organize and speak the truth in love to power, to resist evil and promote the good. Christians have always had to take a stance with respect to political authority, to grapple with citizenship, even under hostile regimes like the Soviet Union or the Roman Empire. We do not have to be political atheists or political non-participants to be faithful believers. But we do need wisdom as to how to proceed, as some unnerving extremes are presently emerging. Here are some of the key authors on the subject: John Redekop, Politics Under God; Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square; and Public Catholicism; Jim Wallis God’s Politics; and The (Un)Common Good; John Stackhouse Jr., Making the Best of It; Andy Crouch, Playing God: redeeming the gift of power; James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: the irony, tragedy and possibility of Christianity in the late modern world.

Furthermore, we have David Lyon & Van Die, Rethinking Church, State and Modernity: Canada Between Europe and America; Rowan Williams, The Truce of God, plus Faith in the Public Square; Ron Dart, The North American High Tory Tradition; First Things Journal, and Cardus. Oliver O’Donovan (The Desire of Nations) and Joan Lockwood O’Donovan (Theology of Law and Authority in the English Reformation) have done substantial work on the history of political engagement by the church. James K.A. Smith is also thinking a lot about political theology.

Overall, this speaks to the issues at the interface of discipleship and citizenship, discipleship and public service. Christian must take society seriously, but not in an idolatrous way. In many respects, democracy needs the undergirding of Christian faith and values to survive and flourish, to keep perspective on human rights and the common good, on public virtue and principled leadership. Enlightenment liberal values alone are not so self-sufficient. Perhaps it is now the time for more Christians to think harder in this arena and take to heart their public discipleship responsibilities. Gnosticism is highly destructive as we see in the writings of Eric Voegelin (Science, Politics and Gnosticism). Naïveté in political and social ethics is the enemy of spiritual integrity, and can harm the church and its witness.

27. Spiritual Formation for Millennials

Millennials, those roughly between 18 and 35 years old, often claim that they are spiritual, but not religious. According to the fine work of University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby et al in The Millennial Mosaic:

  • 70% believe in God or a higher power.
  • 50% believe he cares about them.
  • 50% have experienced God’s presence.

However, they are more cautious with respect to organized religious activity. This should make us think hard about how we are integrating Millennials into church life and discipleship. What are their existential needs and interests, their unique apologetic questions?

Pluralism meets diversity: In Canada, there is an accelerated diversity due to immigration, education, technology, globalization, changes in outlook. Greater diversity, associated with unprecedented choices and rise of individualism, fuelled by the Internet, has had a significant societal effect. Millennials have a will to use diversity to contribute to positive collective life and social change—pluralism offers a large impetus to understand and accept differences, to interact and learn from other cultures, religions, ways of viewing the world. This is partly the legacy of Pierre Eliot Trudeau’s multiculturalism initiative. The mosaic intergroup ideal is the key metaphor that defines this generation. We can work with this reality.

Our belief is that the recovery of virtue/character (the good) is one path to reaching and mentoring this cohort (Mark McMinn, The Science of Virtue). Another approach to recovery of the soul of Millennials is the work of Charles Taylor in Chapters 6-8 of The Language Animal.

28. Discipleship that Addresses the Honor-Shame Cultures

Shame is used in many societies to produce social order and harmony. It is the primary device for creating good behavior in children, and sadly it entails conditional love. If a child does something wrong or embarrassing, the family will submit them to public shame, sometimes painful shunning. The shame is also owned and carried by the parents. The honor of the family is seen to have been violated by bad behavior. The child grows up with a great fear of expulsion from the family or group. In some worlds, shame even leads to suicide to recover honor.

Thereby, what arises is a strong tendency to repress personal problems, negative emotions or actions, to “save face”. This produces secrecy, not honesty with self, because admitting wrong behavior or addictions implies a total personal failure, and a disruption of honor within the social fabric. It creates a tremendous double bind for individuals. Honor and shame are the yin and yang of Asian cultures, but we find it in the West and elsewhere as well. Who doesn’t want their parents to be proud of them?

Preaching and discipleship in the West is often insensitive to this problem, as it is mostly focused on a guilt society where the conscience is internal. There are some serious spiritual formation consequences. See the insights of Jayson Georges’ The 3D Gospel: ministry in guilt, shame, and fear cultures; Roland Muller, Honor and Shame: unlocking the door. Brené Brown wrote a couple important books on the topic: Men and Women and Worthiness: the experience of shame and the power of being enough; Daring Greatly: How the Courage To Be Vulnerable Transforms The Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Her talks on YouTube on vulnerability and shame have been well received. A Psychology Today article by Seattle therapist Sam Louie speaks to the issue directly. There is much to grapple with in terms of healthy repentance and faith rhythms. In the gospel, there is hope for forgiveness and reconciliation. Brown argues that guilt is much simpler to deal with than shame: the feeling that I am not good enough. Her research is vital to our mental and spiritual health.

29. Martyrdom and the Persecuted Church

Suffering for righteousness is not your average Sunday sermon topic in most Western churches. But there is no question that it has been critical to discipleship from the time of Christ onwards. Today, we hear stories of martyrdom from countries where Christianity or Enlightenment influence does not set the tone of the social ethos. In many lands, campus workers are experiencing great pressure on their religious freedom. The old classic is Foxe’s Book of the Martyrs. Glenn Penner, CEO of Voice of the Martyrs, did his PhD on biblical persecution, offering us the rich fruits of his research: In the Shadow of the Cross: a biblical theology of persecution and discipleship. He writes, “The Bible (especially the New Testament) was written by persecuted believers to persecuted believers. This context cannot be ignored without it having profoundly negative implications for how we read and apply the Bible and how we follow Christ individually and corporately.”

Many around the world have been inspired by the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who stood tall amidst the cost of faithful discipleship under Nazi German political leadership, and paid the ultimate price. His writings have a substantial audience and scholarly following. Roberts Liardon chronicles the stories of several Christian martyrs in God’s Generals: the Martyrs. On the current situation of persecution around the world, see the work by Dr. Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute’s Centre for Religious Freedom, Persecuted: the Global Assault on Christianity. An impressive and courageous advocate in this area is Baroness Caroline Cox from the British House of Lords.

Thinking and reflection in this arena can help fill in emotional, intellectual and spiritual gaps in the Christian life. It can help us grapple with and appreciate our faith at a deeper level and build solidarity with those who suffer from being faithful. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 5: 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Agencies and books such as Voice of the Martyrs, Captive in Iran, and Face to Face with Jesus feature many such stories that we can teach to our children.

30. Spirituality of Servant Leadership

There is a respectable literature on this topic. It is vital as a counter-cultural thrust to self-assertiveness, greed and command-control hubris that we see all around us. The default leadership style in business seems to be largely fear-based: meet the goal, get the promotion; miss the goal, get fired. Robert K. Greenleaf (Servant Leadership) was one of the late twentieth century pioneers of this philosophy. But we believe that Don Page (Servant Empowered Leadership) has taken this area of spirituality to a whole new level and made it very accessible and attractive to church, business and government people. His establishment of the Masters of Leadership program at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia has helped many to transform their outlook and their organizations. Don’s teaching and resources have reached people in many countries including China and the continent of Africa.

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Jesus as the incarnate Word is the ultimate model of a servant (Philippians 2). It is all about taking a committed stance towards mentorship and empowerment of others, treating people with genuine respect for their creativity and contribution. Servant leadership is a serious and solid call to maturity for today’s Christian leadership. Ruth Haley Barton also has impressive resources for spiritual leaders in Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership, a very thoughtful and creative exposition of the life and leadership of Moses. Dr. Henry Cloud has an important message for business and church leaders in Integrity: the courage to meet the demands of reality. Page claims that companies that practice this kind of leadership style are more successful and keep their employees longer. Churches and other Christian organizations that practice it, employ the giftedness of their followers much more fruitfully and constructively.

31. Syriac Christian Spirituality: More to the Mountain of Faith

There has been a tendency, in the west, when focusing on Christianity, to ponder the Roman Catholic Tradition, the break from the Roman Catholic ethos in the 16thcentury, then the emergence of the multiple strands and schisms within Protestant Christianity. Such has been the western indulgence and reality. We discuss, live and reflect on what we know, the part of the mountain we see and have trekked in, built cornered plots of ground on to call home. Needless to say, our understanding of the faith journey is shaped and formed from what we can see from our vantage point on the mountain (regardless of how high or low we are on the part of the mountain we are on).

There has been a turn, in the last few decades, for various reasons, to the Orthodox and Oriental form of Christianity. There are those, more in a reactionary mode than anything else, who make such a turn, to idealize the Oriental and Orthodox brand of Christianity and either dismiss or subordinate Western or Occidental types of Christianity. Those committed to such an approach merely inhabit simply another part of the mountain of faith, the faith mountain, of course, much larger than either Western or Eastern Christianity can fully embody.

The tensions and clashes both within and between Western and Eastern types of Christianity in the areas of Biblical exegesis, theology, ecclesiology, sacramentalism, liturgy, icons, cognitive-meditative ways of knowing, leadership styles, philosophy, public responsibility, monastic-lay life, creeds, councils, confessions, soteriology and anthropology collide in many places, hence faith tribes and clans live on their plots of land on different parts and places of the mountain, each thinking or assuming, their portion of the mountain is the wisest and best, truest and more comprehensive.

Is there more to the mountain, though, than the replay of West and East, Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism-Protestantism? Are there parts of the faith mountain that have been inhabited for centuries, largely ignored but rediscovered in the last few decades? This is where the rediscovery of Syriac Christianity comes to the fore. The yeoman’s labour of Professor Sebastion Brock, more than most, has done much to restore and point to communities on the mountain that are part of the larger but often forgotten faith family. The publication of The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life (1987) opened up for many a mother lode, a gold mine of faith. Brock did both the introduction and translation. It is significant that The Syriac Fathers was published by Cistercian Publications (Roman Catholic)  Some of the publications by Brock on Syriac Christianity have been also published by the Sisters of the Love of God and Fairacres Press (Anglican Publishing). The interest by Roman Catholics and Anglicans, at a higher and more irenical level, has done much to chart routes and pathways to the Syriac tradition and its oft-forgotten heritage. The growing interest and turn to the classical tradition of faith (Patristic era) is now rounding the mountain to sections on it, for centuries hidden from western and eastern forms of Christianity. Many are those more than keen to visit and learn from their fuller family.

I have been fortunate to be in contact with Sebastion Brock and, I am equally grateful to be teaching four courses on Syriac Christianity in 2020-2021. Indeed, there is more to the mountain. As we hold the way-finder in our hands and hearts, minds and imaginations, this rich tradition cannot help but enrich, deepen and mature our faith journeys.

amor vincit omnia

Ron Dart, Religious Studies, University of the Fraser Valley      


No one doubts that we are in challenging and uncertain times. This pro-active research, involving several important players in the art of discipleship, has revealed a wealth of resources. It contains a powerful vision to spark the spiritual imagination for Christian formation well into the twenty-first century. The named resources are at the top of their game, but represent only the tip of the iceberg. Please see the bibliography for more details. This is great news about the phenomenal giftedness, expertise and wisdom of the Body of Christ worldwide. Apologies if I have missed your favourite spiritual mentor.

There is much to explore in the journey ahead. We have articulated a narrative of momentum amidst the complexities. This document has covered, ever so briefly, some thirty hot topics for spiritual formation. All could be expanded greatly. Much research, writing and praxis is continuing in each arena, but this overview shows the large map of our potential and our corporate calling.  Reif Larson writes, “A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected.” Let’s pray that this material helps to accomplish this task and encourages bold and thoughtful faith. One could imagine students producing great research papers and graduate school dissertations on any of these issues for the good of the whole church. Quality research should continue in tandem with church planting, mentorship of young leaders and spiritual guidance. “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” spoke Woodrow Wilson at a crisis point in twentieth century history. That sentiment applies to spiritual formation. We must proceed with fullsome investment for the future of Christ’s witness on our planet.

The Christian God is all about abundance and creativity, and we get to joyfully and shrewdly map the future together in the grace of his goodness. For this job, we need the energy of youthful entrepreneurs and the wisdom of elder spokespersons of the faith. All of us are exploring his eternal ways, treading the ancient paths to life and freedom in Christ, within the context of culture and the culture wars of our day. We should not be stifled by secular or Gnostic ideas or philosophies that keep reaching for the extremes of egoism, unrestraint and distractions, or excessive control and dictatorship. God has called us to step up and invest in his kingdom of righteousness by taking disciples deep into divine communion, within the Trinity and out into society where they can live it and love loudly. Thereby, they will be healed and transformed into new creations with a whole new vision for life purpose. That is a big deal.

As we combine our collective genius and join our hearts, reaching across denominational bounds, Christian leaders and laity can work creatively and circumspectly for healing and unity, for the good of the church and society at large. This direction is the path to maturity, growing up in Christ, living in the light of the incarnation and the resurrection. This vision is shared in good faith with a view to releasing much joy, blessing and hope, encouraging much passion and perseverance in living fruitfully and courageously into the whole gospel, for the whole person, in the context of the global theatre. We must proceed with humility, godly realism and love. Please pass this resource on to others who may benefit and let the author know if you have further excellent ideas to add to a later edition. May God spark the spiritual imagination of your pastor, professor, friends, family and colleagues as they think and live outside any narrow perspectives that may restrict them from their full, rich, eschatological hope of the resurrection, the new heavens and new earth. 


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