Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: a review (part 2)

Posted: May 24, 2013 in Discipleship, Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Growth
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James C. Wilhoit, Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ Through Community, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008, 240 pages.

Wheaton professor Dr. James Wilhoit focuses on how the church can and should encourage spiritual growth, in community. He points to 4 areas of spiritual growth: receiving, remembering, responding and relating, and address how churches can foster growth in each of these areas. Page numbers refer to pages from 2008 (first) edition

Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: a review (part 1)

Chapters 3-4:  Receiving – Foundations & Fostering   

Receiving refers to a longing for God, and developing such a longing. I couldn’t find a place where Wilhoit states it quite that simply, however. The closest I think he comes is on page 77: “Christian spiritual formation requires that we actively and continually receive from God.” I think the biggest challenge is to foster the humility and brokenness that he refers to on page 81, without becoming maudlin, complaining, and hopeless. To be honest, in the American setting, the difficulty probably lies in fostering humility, whereas in my Polish setting, the difficulty lies in fostering brokenness. In this, I think the American church struggles with real worship – in spite of all the songs written every year by American authors. Meanwhile, the Polish evangelical church reacts allergically to “confession.”

Before our move to Poland, I had mostly relied on church to fulfill a large portion of my need for companionship with Jesus. This included daily companionship as a church staff member, as well as several times a week in small groups or church services. The first year in Poland, then, was a desert time. I didn’t understand enough Polish, and no one spoke English with me, for church to in any way meet those needs. I didn’t understand the songs, the testimonies, the prayers, or the sermon. Small group was an exercise in picking out 20-30 words that I knew in the course of a couple of hours of people talking amongst themselves. I was forced to meet Jesus alone. And I usually chose not to. Of course, we were far busier in our daily lives than we ever had been in America, but it was evident that I had not adequately built habits of discipline. After a while, I discovered a great book, Sacred Pathways, by Gary Thomas, that started me rebuilding some healthy spiritual disciplines. Now, although I love our church, and I enjoy worshipping there, I don’t rely on it to meet those needs. And I think people can tell, actually, that I am better prepared now to help them grow.

Chapters 5-6:  Remembering – Foundations & Fostering

Remembering refers to reminding ourselves of the good things God has done (105). Wilhoit later describes it as “letting the cross grow larger” (106), as we grow in our understanding of it. I think this was the best chapter of the book, by far. Our perception of the cross and need for it should not lessen as we continue in Christ. It should increase. Wilhoit had several good practices, of which I think the best would be his brief explanation of the “spiral curriculum” on pages 119-120, as a means of continually returning to the gospel and the cross to promote saturation of those concepts. As an aside, I didn’t really understand his treatment of “anointed teaching” (124-130) in this chapter. I couldn’t see the connection with the rest of this chapter. After I wrote a review of this part, my professor told me that the section on anointed teaching had actually been a separate article. Looks as if Wilhoit cut and pasted it in. Too bad – because the rest of the chapter really is outstanding.

As far as hindrances, I see the following: 1. The false idea that the Christian life and doctrine are so much more than the cross and that we don’t need to spend that much time focusing on grace. It isn’t, and we do. 2. The great “invitations” of Jesus (131-145) simply get drowned out by much noisier and flashier invitations – and sometimes the church is just as guilty as the world at creating competing invitations. 3. The idea that grace and Jesus’ acceptance of us means that we don’t really need to actively be engaged in the rest of Jesus’ invitations.

In my own personal growth in “remembering,” a key moment was understanding my utter need for God’s grace. This actually occurred many years after I “accepted Christ.” So, I can identify with Paul’s audience in Romans 1. For quite a while, even while I was struggling to have daily quiet time with God, I was studying for sermons, preparing for small groups, teaching Bible lessons, etc. Although I would certainly admit that I was not being honest with my own walk, I saw the power of the Word changing lives, including my own. In other words, I treated it as a “professional tool,” rather than the living water – but it still transformed me and others with whom I shared the Word. I’ve seen the same thing happen in the lives of Catholic friends, who hear the Word for just a few minutes on Sunday, in a few short readings – with no commentary, and yet their lives can be changed.

 

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