Tools for the Spiritual Journey

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Table of Contents

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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 (bwhatley@outreach.ca), carries a deep concern for this dimension of spiritual encouragement, including the ongoing spiritual formation of Christian leaders. It is hard for them to influence their congregation if they are drying up spiritually. Burnout is a big problem among clergy. Regent College Bookstore displays an amazing selection of volumes on spiritual direction, ancient and modern. James Houston has championed the writings of the Western Church Fathers and other notable saints of the contemplative tradition and his recent tome with Jens Zimmermann adds much insight into the history of Christian identity, Sources of the Christian Self (2018). Hans Boersma has picked up Houston’s vision of going deep historically on spiritual resources and practices. David Bentley Hart has championed the Eastern Church Fathers. D. Bruce Hindmarsh’s volume The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism is a gem of scholarship on true religion. Ruth Haley Barton has championed the spiritual formation and health of leaders (Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership). Psychiatrist Curt Thompson offers something unique, brilliant really, in his interdisciplinary approach (Psychiatry, Neuroscience, Spirituality), The Anatomy of the Soul.

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

 

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 http://www.biblicaltraining.org/. 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:

http://www.lausanne.org/content/statement/creation-care-call-to-actionand

http://www.lausanne.org/content/ctc/ctcommitment, (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  https://www.firstbc.org/series/following-jesus-into-his-sermon-on-the-mount

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. If it doesn’t make us cynical, resentful and nihilistic, the crucible of life’s suffering brings people sharply in touch with 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.”

 

 

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