One of the comments that started me thinking seriously about Reformation piety was penned by our editor-in-chief in his book Putting Amazing Back into Grace: "Suppose we were to make a list of aids to spiritual growth. What might top the list? Prayer, Bible study, fasting, devotions, evangelism…. But how many of us would put the sacraments at the top? Would they even make the list?"
This issue tackles head-on the topic of spirituality, aiming to bring reformation to evangelical thinking about spiritual formation. The theme throughout is how to bring together the work of Christ outside of us and for us, and made visible in the sacraments, with the work of God in us by the Holy Spirit.
The opening interview with spiritual formation guru Dallas Willard demonstrates the way in which evangelicalism never tires of trying "new" ways to draw close to God, such as fasting, silence, solitude, and contemplation. But in the end, the disciplines advocated by Willard and others amount to the same medieval monastic practices that were rightly criticized by the Protestant Reformers. Put succinctly by Michael Horton, these practices have a way of turning us inward rather than outward to Christ. Evangelicalism stumbles with its commitment to human disciplines that bring God's grace, whereas Reformation spirituality thinks in terms of God's means of grace that produce commitment.
There is real spiritual formation in Reformation theology, only it is of a different sort entirely. W. Robert Godfrey, president of Westminster Seminary California, reminds us that the Reformers promoted vital religion. There is always room for the work of God within us. In fact, Rev. Hywel Jones explains that prayer is a place where the ministries of two advocates meet, one external and the other internal—namely, the ministry of Christ before the throne of God, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to bring assurance that we are the children of God. The consequence is the Christian life of prayer, which can be spontaneous but may also be guided by the common wisdom of all the saints. This latter approach in particular is the burden of Anglican author and theologian Lee Gatiss, as he discusses the Book of Common Prayer.
The rub in spiritual formation, of course, is the problem of indwelling sin—a theme evident in the lives of the Old Testament kings as explored by Rev. Zach Keele, and evident in modern art as explored by Dan Siedell, an important critic and art historian. The reality of indwelling sin and the life of putting off the old man and putting on the new man grounds Christian thinking about spirituality—and helps our spiritual lives to flourish—in the biblical truth that "the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).
Editor's Note: As this issue was going to press, Dallas Willard died of cancer at the age of 77. Before retiring in 2012, Willard granted MR an interview, which we are rerunning in this issue. His provocative contribution to the study of Christian spirituality deserves to be a topic of conversation for a modern reformation of our churches.
Ryan Glomsrud (D.Phil., University of Oxford) is Executive Editor for Modern Reformation and a Postdoctoral Fellow in the History Department at Harvard University. He earned his M.A. in Historical Theology from Westminster Seminary California and B.A. from Wheaton College, Illinois.
Issue: "Spiritual (Re)formation" July/August 2013 Vol. 22 No. 4 Page number(s): 4
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