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Some recent posts have thrown out this term/usage "spiritual formation" without a functional definition.


I am posting information on this subject for information and spiritual discussion from primarily Seventh-day Adventist sources. This will help narrow down on the concerns of some and also to present what the position the World-wide Seventh-day Adventist Church has taken on this.


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August 11, 2011]


Few topics in Adventism have aroused more interest—and passion—during the past 12 months than that of “spiritual formation.” Books, seminars, and sermons have warned that the concept and practice of teaching contemplative spirituality can open minds to Eastern religions and non-Christian philosophies; others have urged that learning how to deepen a relationship with Christ is a foundational premise of the Word of God. One point of the discussion has been the courses in personal spirituality that are part of the curriculum of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, the primary institution for training pastors for the North American church and scholars for the worldwide denomination.
Adventist Review editor Bill Knott recently met with the three teaching professors at the seminary—Allan Walshe, Kathy Beagles, and Joseph Kidder—whose courses focus on teaching students to experience and communicate the practices of personal faith and discipleship.
Knott: One phrase above all others has become the lightning rod of this discussion. Do you use the term spiritual formation, and if so, what do you think it means?


Walshe: To answer the first part of your question—“Do you use the term spiritual formation?”—the answer is no longer. The seminary, along with other Adventist colleges and universities, has used that term, with the clear understanding that these were classes about spiritual growth as taught in Scripture. But when it became clear that it had become a contentious issue because proponents of New Age philosophies, Eastern religions, and others had co-opted the terminology to teach practices that are clearly dangerous, the seminary decided to change the terminology for the class. It is now called Foundations of Biblical Spirituality, which clearly indicates what the class is about.
So when you were using the term spiritual formation, what did you perceive it to mean?


Beagles: When I first encountered the term more than 20 years ago, it had a single, straightforward meaning—the process of building a life with God. My education has all been in Adventist schools, and I hadn’t been exposed to what those words could mean to persons from other religious systems. For me, “spiritual formation” has always been largely synonymous with what we are now calling “revival and reformation.” When you consciously form a Christian life spiritually, you are seeking to reform what isn’t faithful, to be transformed from worldly ways, and to conform your mind to the mind of Christ.


Kidder: I’m much the same. I accepted the term—and inherited a class for which the name was Spiritual Formation. I’ve always understood that it’s really about spiritual growth. One of the key verses that I’ve used in the class is Mark 3:13-15, in which Jesus chooses 12 men to be with Him. It says He called them, He wanted them to be with Him, and after they were with Him, He sent them out to preach and to make a difference in the world. He sent them out in the power of the Holy Spirit. Like those 12, I want to be with Jesus. I want to know Him, enjoy Him, and love Him, and, as the result of that, I want to share it with the world. That’s really the essence of what the phrase means to me.
Walshe: I first became acquainted with the term about 14 years ago at an Adventist camp meeting, and I have always understood it as being about spiritual growth in the way Paul describes in Romans 12. It’s about no longer wanting to be “conformed to this world, but being transformed by the renewing of our minds.”
So it’s about spiritual growth; it’s about sanctification; it’s about being transformed into the image of Jesus. One of the things I love about Enoch is that the Bible says  that he walked with God. That’s what I want in my life and in the lives of my students—to walk humbly with our God. I remember in Patriarchs and Prophets, Ellen White says that through communing with God, “Enoch came more and more to reflect the divine image” (p. 87). So the way we’ve understood and taught it is like this: coming more and more to reflect the divine image through an intentional, daily communion and walk with God that is yielded to the Holy Spirit and anchored in the Word of God.
You all understand those terms as meaning the same thing?


Kidder: Absolutely. Spiritual growth, spiritual sanctification, discipleship—that’s what we’re meaning by it when we teach these classes.
Is the core of this controversy, then, an argument about semantics?


Beagles: The use of language is clearly an important part at the moment, but there’s more to it than that. Some well-meaning people simply assume that when we use the term formation, we mean the same thing that some other philosophies or faith traditions mean—which have some distinctly nonbiblical ideas. These individuals arrive at that conclusion to preserve a bigger argument they’re making—that the church today is being influenced by unbiblical ideas and practices. They assume that if we’re using that term, we mean just what others mean—without checking to see if that’s true.
Kidder: We’re Adventist to the core, and proud to be. Dr. Beagles worked at the General Conference for 10 years before coming to the seminary. Dr. Walshe was a conference president and union conference president before coming to the seminary; I have been a pastor and professor for 30 years. So our teaching comes from a solidly Adventist perspective; it is very biblical and also strongly supported by the writings of Ellen G. White. We all use her classic, Steps to Christ, in our classes. We also use The Desire of Ages, The Ministry of Healing, The Sanctified Life,and Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing because we believe these books powerfully contribute to spiritual life.
Walshe: We can all say definitely and categorically that we do not teach or practice “contemplative spirituality,” “contemplative prayer,” “apophatic contemplation or meditation,” which seeks a total emptying of the mind, New Age philosophies, Eastern religious practices, or any other nonbiblical practices that others borrow from Hinduism or Buddhism. We believe everyone should be vigilant not to allow these kinds of philosophies and practices to infiltrate the Adventist Church.
Kidder: Like the apostle Paul, we can say, “This thing was not done in a corner” [Acts 26:26, KJV]. Our work, our teaching, our students, are all in full view.
If what you’re teaching has always been part of the core message of Adventism, how did we get to the place where many Adventists think of learning how to have a deeper life with Jesus as a new direction?

Beagles: A deeper life with Jesus has always been one of the “givens” of Adventism—we kind of just jumped over it. We assumed in our writing and preaching that people knew how to enrich their prayer life, how to find greater meaning in their Bible study, how to “grow in grace” and enjoy sharing their faith. Maybe there was a time in the early years of this movement when that could safely be assumed, but it’s not a “given” anymore. Surveys show that barely 50 percent of Adventists practice the basics of a spiritual life—prayer and Bible study—and even fewer engage in things such as family worship. The worldly culture around us certainly tries to draw us away from God, and if we don’t intentionally plan to build up our lives in Christ, we shouldn’t be surprised that so many Adventists don’t know much about “abiding in Christ.”
You’ve referred to your extensive use of Ellen White’s books in your classes. Are there other Adventist authors you have been drawing on?


Walshe: Until more recently there haven’t been a lot of Adventist authors writing on this topic. Some have, however, and their contributions have been important—even crucial—to meeting the need for spiritual nurture in the church.
Beagles: But there aren’t many, and while some of them share the importance of a relationship very well, they lack the practical aspect that we need for our classes.


Kidder: Well, I’ve written a book—Majesty: Experiencing Authentic Worship—so I use my book in my classes. It’s an Adventist book!
Why do you think Adventist authors after Ellen White haven’t done more writing about how to grow in a relationship with Jesus?


Kidder: They have been focusing on other topics. Ellen White emphasized the need for renewal and Bible study, especially in the last days, and I’m so happy our world church president is emphasizing that. That’s what we teach. We want a revival of knowing Jesus, enjoying Him, loving Him, that will result in changing the world around us.
I’m one of those people who teach evangelism because I believe it is part of Jesus’ Great Commission. The first church I pastored grew from nine people to 139 people; the last one from 40 to 600. So I used to travel a lot and speak about what is often called “church growth.” But I would actually be speaking to them about personal spirituality; later, I would go on to talk about how churches grow. Often the local pastor where I was presenting would come and say, “Well, tell us the strategy you use.” And I would say, “I just told you!” “No, no, tell us point by point the strategy,” he would urge.
Today I travel even more and say the same thing. Pastors say, “That’s exactly what we need to hear.” Trying to do evangelism without spirituality is a danger. Encouraging spirituality that doesn’t result in ministering and evangelism is another danger. A deeper relationship with Jesus will definitely lead to personal evangelism, and that in turn will lead to effective corporate witness.
Beagles: Jesus said, “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit” [John 15:5, NKJV].*
What do you say to those who complain that a focus on nurture detracts from the work of evangelism?


Walshe: Evangelism must be an important focus for the church. It is absolutely part of what Jesus commissioned His disciples to do in Matthew 28. However, we tend to think that discipleship is evangelism. More accurately, evangelism is the fruit of discipleship (nurture). So nurture (discipleship) should come first. That was Jesus’ model. Evangelism is what happens when your life with God flows over into the lives of those around you.
As Kathy said, we almost jumped over that one. Too often we forget that fruit comes at the end of a process of growing. We want the fruit now, without growing the tree; we want to skip the cycle of growth that precedes it. When our books, sermons, and seminars focus only on the fruit and not on spiritual growth, we find ourselves lamenting shallow spirituality, or meager results, or conflicts in the church, or the difficulties in reaching our communities.
I’m really pleased that church leaders are urging all of us to a time of deeper prayer, of fasting, of revival. Evangelism that is fostered by the nurturing of a deeper spiritual life is a beautiful and sustainable thing.
So evangelism and nurture are actually companions to build new disciples.


Walshe: It usually works like this: people who only have knowledge about God will usually, in turn, only bring other people to have knowledge about God, but people who are nurtured into knowing God, will, in turn, nurture others into knowing God, not just knowing about Him.
You’ve mentioned the significant use of Ellen White in what you do here; and when you create or find other Adventist resources, you’re using those. But you clearly use resources that come from authors in other faiths. How does the biblical imperative “come out of her, my people” [Rev. 18:4] relate to studying the insights and experiences of those from other religious traditions?


Beagles: Adventists believe that there are systems of belief appropriately designated as Babylon. But we also believe—and we’re told by inspiration—that many of God’s people are still in those churches and serving Him to the best of their ability. And many of them are searching. When we study the works of Luther, Wesley, Mueller, or the nineteenth-century missionary Hudson Taylor, we’re learning from persons who deeply loved Jesus but belonged to faiths different from ours.
Kidder: Kathy made an excellent point. Of course we screen these books. We point out what we agree with and what we don’t agree with. And we believe that even the things we don’t agree with challenge us to articulate a distinctly Adventist perspective on the matter.
How do you help some people understand that citing an author isn’t offering a blanket endorsement of everything the author has ever produced?


Beagles: The majority of church members appreciate what we do and understand the vital importance of it. But those who are intent on being critical will always find something on which to fasten. But we can appeal to fair-minded people to look at what we’re doing, see the integrity of our classes, and trust that we are as committed to Seventh-day Adventism as they are.
Kidder: I’m very happy to talk with anybody who has a problem with something I teach. Don’t go to secondary sources to know what I teach. What we teach is very transparent. It simply isn’t reasonable to say that because I use a phrase that another evangelical scholar uses, I believe everything he or she believes. The fact that I may quote a phrase or a line from a fifth-century Christian doesn’t mean I’m secretly sympathetic to Roman Catholicism. My credibility as an Adventist isn’t undermined because Christians from other denominations may believe some of the same things I do.


Many Adventists have grown wary of what is commonly called contemplative spirituality. Do you use that term, and if you do, what do you mean by it?


Walshe: We don’t use that term, and for good reason. Nor do we in any way teach those practices. But we dare not miss the life of thoughtful, Bible-based meditation that every Christian is encouraged to practice.
Beagles: I agree: if we don’t do what both Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy repeatedly urge us to do, we will absolutely miss the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We will miss the revival and reformation we’re praying for if we don’t spend quiet time thinking about Jesus, pondering His Word, and allowing His Spirit to change us into His likeness.

You sound as though you have a lot in common with some of the seminary’s critics.


Walshe: Absolutely. We also strongly believe that people should be warned about the subtle and not-so-subtle dangers in New Age philosophies and Eastern religion practices. We don’t want these things infiltrating our church. That’s why I have (in the course outline), as one of the clearly stated outcomes of my class, that students will be able to “discern truth from counterfeit as a means of both personal and corporate protection in the light of the growing number of nonbiblical ‘spiritualities.’ ” I spend a whole class pointing out to my students where, from an Adventist perspective, the dangers lie, and showing them how to enjoy the path of a more satisfying walk with Jesus without falling into the ditches on either side.
Kidder: I agree. We actually believe that many of these individuals have good motives. I wish they knew that we are careful about the same things they are careful about. In so many cases we teach the opposite of what they think we do! It’s important to note that our classes aren’t only about teaching. We have five or six components to help build well-rounded spiritual lives. All our students are required to commit themselves to a devotional experience every day—reading the Bible, or praying, or reflecting on God and His goodness. We frequently assign large portions of the Scriptures for reading, to encourage our students to understand and reflect on less-familiar material in God’s Word. Our aim is to help students come to know God in very personal terms through Scripture, through prayer, through reading the Spirit of Prophecy, through small-group experiences.
Beagles: Basically I would say that we’re trying to teach people to abide in Jesus. I know I’m just too simple, but my class is about taking the time to fall in love with Jesus. Everything we do is designed to get us to be quiet, sit down as little children at His feet, even though we have 100 papers to write and our kids are sick. It’s time to be Mary, even though we have to go be Martha in a little while. But let’s be Mary for a while.
Walshe: I have a student who’s been a conference departmental director for some years. He’s one of the most committed Adventists I know. Yet he said to me a week ago, “When I came into your class, I thought, I don’t need this. But your class reestablished my walk with God. You pushed me to form a devotional habit, and I’m still doing it now consistently, six months later.” And that’s what we do, each of us. We help our students re-form their journey with Jesus.


When church members tell you that they are wary of contemplation and meditation and similar spiritual practices, what do you understand they’re afraid of?


Beagles: They’re afraid that people will open themselves up to spirits other than the Holy Spirit—that we’re opening ourselves without realizing it to a connection with the wrong spirit.  They’re concerned that the devil will try to deceive “even the very elect,” and there’s no denying that some Christians have been led away from truth because of the unbiblical practices they adopted.
How would you answer those concerns—those fears?


Beagles: We don’t teach unbiblical practices. We’re teaching people to grow in Christ, and hopefully that growth will spark a revival in their connection with the Holy Spirit.  They will find Christ being formed in them; their joy and effectiveness will increase, and the latter rain will fall. We’re trying to help the church do what the church is really all about.
What makes your classes distinctively Adventist? How do your classes differ from what I might find at Wheaton College or at Hope College or some other Protestant seminary?


Walshe: In my class we covered the foundational Adventist passage, ‘Fear God and give glory to Him’ (Rev 14:7), taught by my colleague Dr. Jiri Moskala the last time around. Dr. JoAnn Davidson presented a unit on the ‘Attributes of God’, and Dr. Richard Davidson lectured on ‘Spirituality in the Sanctuary Message’.  In another section of the class, I show how a deep understanding and practice of the Sabbath enhances Biblical spirituality.
Beagles: Let me give just one example: the Biblical truth that Adventists believe is that a human being is a single, unified personality—body, soul and mind are not separate and divisible realities. We usually talk about this in the context of what we call the “state of the dead.” But there’s a powerful message here for the state of Christian living as well. I don’t have a spirit that can connect with God apart from the mind and body He has given me. Spiritual transformation has to do with all of me—not just some invisible part of me I call my spirit. When Jesus tells us that He sends the Holy Spirit to live in us, the condition of our minds and of our bodies suddenly becomes important to our ability to be a temple for the Holy Spirit.  What I feed my body, like what I feed my mind, has a great impact on my relationship with God. This understanding isn’t shared by almost other Protestants. The very premise of our Biblical spirituality classes is different because of our understanding of who we are, how God created us to be, and how we can commune with Him.
Kidder: We’re teaching whole life spirituality. It encompasses all of life. I live in the context of eternity because I have accepted Jesus as my Savior. The Bible teaching about the sanctuary inspires me to live a holy life and to enjoy the presence of God. I have a whole section in my class about Adventist contribution to the area of spirituality. We talk about the Second Coming, the Sabbath, the state of the dead—all the distinctive Adventist truths.
Some people don’t seem to know that you’re doing those things.  Have any of those who have been critical of the seminary’s classes about spirituality asked to sit down with you or have conversations about these issues? 
Kidder: Unfortunately, they haven’t. I think discussion and the sharing of ideas is very, very healthy. I would love for those who have concerns, before they print anything, in fairness to come to those of us involved and ask, “What do you teach? I want to be fair to you.” Better yet, pray with us. As I said before, just like the apostle Paul, we can say, “This thing was not done in a corner.” Our work, our teaching, our students are all in full view. Let them discover the common bond we share as believers committed to following Jesus.
Walshe: I wish those who are concerned could hear what we hear, and interact with the persons whose spiritual lives are changed by what they discover here at the Seminary.  Often our students tell us, “I’ve had a lot of knowledge about Jesus; I’ve preached about Jesus; I’ve told other people about Jesus, but I’ve not known Him myself.”
Kidder: Every year we have several people who come to us and say, “I have been an Adventist all my life. I have been a pastor for years, but for the first time in my life I have come to know Jesus.”  Several years ago I taught a D.Min. seminar about Biblical spirituality, and one of the participants was a teacher at one of our colleges. We had a retreat near the end of the course, and at the end he stood up and started to cry. He said, “I have been teaching theology, but I did not get Jesus.” The knowledge that there are others—perhaps many others like him—in ministry motivates us to do this work.
Beagles: That’s one of the hallmarks of genuine revival and reformation: men and women discover the real Jesus. They fall in love with Him; and their joy is simply contagious."


Who's Afraid of Spiritual Formation?


“Spiritual formation” is a controversial topic in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Adventist Review editor Bill Knott recently interviewed three seminary faculty members about criticism the seminary has received for programs on spiritual formation. The seminary chose to drop this term, opting instead for “Biblical spirituality.”


“Spiritual formation” and “spiritual disciplines” are terms that are new to some, and there can be a tendency to reject something simply because the label is unfamiliar. Others, excited by novelty, have embraced the terms, and sometimes a complete package, uncritically. By whatever name we call it, the subject is important because, as the seminary statement rightly says, it concerns how we live out our relationship with Christ. It is about spiritual growth.


We need to place the Adventist discussion in context, however, so let’s begin with some definitions and a brief history.


First, “formation.” This is a term that is used in Catholic religious education to emphasize that such education involves more that simply imparting information, but includes forming the whole person.


The expression “spiritual formation” originated in Catholic seminaries and religious communities. For religious communities (including monasteries) it is the period of introduction to that community’s life, traditions, and ways of prayer. The person is immersed in a new way of living, taught what it means, and guided by experienced brothers or sisters through the time of transition. It is a period of probation, in which both the community and the individual discern whether this is the right place for him or her to be. In Catholic seminaries, formation covers all that is involved in developing priestly spirituality—developing the whole person, nurturing the spiritual life, honing the intellect, and inculcating a pastoral heart.


But as John Paul II noted when writing about priestly formation (Pastores Dabo Vobis 45), the Catholic tradition understands that “spiritual formation … is applicable to all the faithful.”


Human formation, when it is carried out in the context of an anthropology which is open to the full truth regarding the human person, leads to and finds its completion in spiritual formation. Every human being, as God’s creature who has been redeemed by Christ’s blood, is called to be reborn ‘of water and the Spirit’ (Jn. 3:S) and to become a "son in the Son." In this wonderful plan of God is to be found the basis of the essentially religious dimension of the human person, which moreover can be grasped and recognized by reason itself: The human individual is open to transcendence, to the absolute; he has a heart which is restless until it rests in the Lord.

The educational process of a spiritual life, seen as a relationship and communion with God, derives and develops from this fundamental and irrepressible religious need. In the light of revelation and Christian experience, spiritual formation possesses the unmistakable originality which derives from evangelical "newness." Indeed, it ‘is the work of the Holy Spirit and engages a person in his totality. It introduces him to a deep communion with Jesus Christ, the good shepherd, and leads to the total submission of one’s life to the Spirit, in a filial attitude toward the Father and a trustful attachment to the Church. Spiritual formation has its roots in the experience of the cross, which in deep communion leads to the totality of the paschal mystery.

John Paul II goes on to outline some specific components of spiritual formation: it is communion with the Triune God; it is the search for Jesus Christ in the Word of God, in participation in the sacraments and prayer of the church, and in a life of service to those in need. It includes “the prayerful and meditated reading of the word of God, a humble and loving listening of him who speaks.” Such reading of the Bible leads in turn to prayer, and finding silence for it in the midst of the world’s noise. But spiritual formation does not happen in isolation—it involves the community. So individual prayer must lead to a thirst for public worship, especially the Eucharist. It must develop a love for the church and its mission. It must lead one to seek Christ in others.


Clearly, the practices John Paul II describes are not unique to Roman Catholicism. They are basic Christianity. All Christians acknowledge the need to abide in Christ, to pray, to worship, to study the Bible. There have been times in the history of the Christian Church when aberrations (whether overemphasis on doctrine, legalistic behavior, minimalism, or libertinism) have led to a reemphasis on heartfelt Christianity and the devotional life. In the early days of the Reformation, Luther translated the Bible into the common language and wrote hymns and catechisms as essential tools of spiritual revival; when Lutheranism grew stale, the Pietist movement sought to breathe new life into dry bones, encouraging not only individual devotion, but small group fellowship and sharing and prayer. Pietists like Spener and Zinzendorf had an influence in turn on the evangelical revival in the Anglican Church, and the “method” taught by John Wesley. The devotional spirit and practices of Seventh-day Adventism grew out of this strain of pietistic/evangelical Christianity. Adventism continued to be informed and nurtured and inspired by evangelicalism—a case in point being the adoption of the “morning watch” and the idea of volunteer missionaries from John Mott.


In our day, the terms “spiritual formation” and “spiritual disciplines” have largely been brought to evangelicalism (and thence to Adventism) by Richard Foster, the Quaker founder of Renovaré, and his Southern Baptist colleague Dallas Willard. Foster’s writings combine Quaker spirituality (emphasis on the divine “inner light”) with historic Christian (Catholic and evangelical) practices. This is something that should give us pause. Foster is starting with a specific theology of the human “spirit,” and because he believes this divine “spirit” is shared by all, he has no qualms about seeking out whatever he finds nurturing—without regard for the specific historical context or theological underpinnings of the different practices.


Foster’s eclecticism stands in contrast to historic Catholic and Protestant spiritualities, which have been rooted in particular communities and movements. In Catholicism, individuals such as Benedict of Nursia, Francis of Assisi, Dominic of Guzman, Teresa of Avila, etc., had powerful experiences of God and unique insights into how to live the Christian life, and taught these insights to others—thus giving us Benedictine, Franciscan, Dominican, and Carmelite spirituality. The spirituality of Lutheranism is rooted in Luther’s own struggles and the insights he developed from them; the same is true of Methodism. It’s as the Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez writes in his book, We Drink from Our Own Wells– spirituality starts as a personal experience, but it becomes “the subject of later reflection and is proposed to the entire ecclesial community as a way of being disciples of Christ.” In other words, someone says, “This is what’s worked for me—why don’t you try it?”


As Seventh-day Adventists, we share a common heritage and spirituality. We share devotional texts (like Steps to Christ), hymns, practices (especially the Sabbath), values, hopes, and dreams that are distinct. These are the components of Seventh-day Adventist spirituality (which is indebted, as I’ve already noted, to Methodism). But we can take these things for granted. We can grow complacent; the practices we grew up with can grow stale, and this can lead us to seek for new insights, greener pastures, and fresher wells. I would not discourage this; I would simply suggest that any exploration we do remain rooted in our own tradition, and that we retain a critical eye, carefully evaluating both the presuppositions and the practices of others through our understanding of God’s Word.


What I would hope is that Adventists who read Foster (or other popular spiritual writers) would be inspired to go on and learn what our own sources have said about these things–to go back, for example, and reread Ellen White’s books, Steps to Christ, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, Christ’s Object Lessons, Desire of Ages, and Ministry of Healing (and Life Sketches, which relates her spiritual journey). This will keep our spiritual sustenance rooted, not merely in our own personal preferences and curiosities, but in the life of our specific community. We will thus learn, as St. Bernard of Clairvaux said, to “drink from our own wells.”


But a more important lesson we can learn from Catholicism about spiritual formation is that we cannot take it for granted. We cannot just turn it over so that individuals can pursue, pick and choose whatever they happen to like. Spiritual formation is a responsibility of the Christian community–and especially the pastors and teachers–to form believers, to guide them on the path of discipleship, to immerse them in the common tradition, to build a community of prayer and service. And if we do not do this– if we do not give people water from our communal well– then they will search on their own for anything that offers to quench their thirst.


Bill Cork is pastor of the North Houston and Spring Creek Seventh-day Adventist churches in Texas, and is a chaplain in the Texas Army National Guard.


A Response to Teaching Biblical Spirituality at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary of Andrews University

The teaching of courses in spiritual formation in Adventist universities and colleges has become a matter of much debate in the last few years. Recently, the Seventh- day Adventist Theological Seminary and Andrews University have been under scrutiny for offering courses in spiritual formation to their students.

With the dissemination of New Age and Eastern spirituality in popular books, the media, and websites, Christians of all denominations have become aware of the dangers of these “new” approaches to communion with the divine. Seventh-day Adventists are naturally concerned about this new trend because authentic Christian spirituality has been one of our core values since our beginning as a denomination 160 years ago. During her lifetime, Ellen White frequently spoke about the need for reading and meditating on the Word of God, prayer, and fasting. She admonished that we should “cultivate a love for spirituality and true godliness” (2T 315). She also stated, “The revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs” (1SM 121). For over a century we have advocated and promoted through conferences and publications the subjects of personal Bible study, prayer, devotional life, Sabbath keeping, fasting, faith nurture, and many other approaches to spiritual growth and sanctification. And, today, our church is again placing an emphasis on revival and reformation, spirituality and discipleship. The genuine and authentic lives we live will impact the world for Christ.

In 2005, the General Conference session voted to add a new fundamental belief titled “Growing in Christ.” This fundamental belief highlights the needs for spiritual growth. The last part of this statement reads, “In this new freedom in Jesus, we are called to grow into the likeness of His character, communing with Him daily in prayer, feeding on His Word, meditating on it and on His providence, singing His praises, gathering together for worship, and participating in the mission of the Church. As we give ourselves in loving service to those around us and in witnessing to His salvation, His constant presence with us through the Spirit transforms every moment and every task into a spiritual experience.”

Given the world in which we live, the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary believes that the responsible thing to do is to teach its students and pastors about Christian spirituality. Our courses enunciate clear biblical, theological and Adventist principles. We are diligent to select good academic books on this subject and the choice of books we adopt for our classes does not mean we accept all of these authors’ points of view. Yet we believe one goal of graduate education is to impart the skill of discernment and we desire to teach our students to be deep thinkers and not mere reflectors of other people’s thoughts. By God’s grace, we intend to be faithful to our mission as we equip our students to become good mentors and ministers of our faith and heritage and as they assist church members to deepen their journey with God.

There are some who accuse the Seminary of teaching contemplative and emergent types of spirituality because we have called our courses by the name of “Spiritual Formation”. We do not teach such approaches to spiritual development. In academic circles the expression spiritual formation is a synonym for spiritual growth toward godly maturity, or the process of Christian discipleship and sanctification. It is unfair and false to state that spiritual formation is evil because it is associated with the writings of Church Fathers, some strands of more recent Roman Catholic thoughts, and some devotional practices of other religions. The intent of spiritual formation is to teach students what Scripture says about living a genuine life of commitment to God, to be open to the convictions of the Holy Spirit, to be regenerated in Christ. Spiritual formation is an academic term used to describe courses or subjects that deal with spiritual development and faith nurture. By using this term we are saying that we offer biblically-based classes that focus on the spiritual lives of our students. And shouldn’t we do more, not less, of this kind of faith nurture? Yet, to avoid any further confusion, we have decided to change the name of our courses to refer instead to biblical spirituality. We hope this will help alleviate some genuine concerns people have had.

Please join us to pray for the spiritual growth of our students in our Adventist institutions.

Denis Fortin

Spiritual formation is a topic being raised by many pastors and church leaders in a growing number of Christian denominations. It's no longer enough to just know doctrine and facts--in today's hectic society people are searching for something deeper and...

Spiritual formation is a topic being raised by many pastors and church leaders in a growing number of Christian denominations. It's no longer enough to just know doctrine and facts--in today's hectic society people are searching for something deeper and more meaningful, something that makes sense in their whirlwind lives. 

For the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a "wake-up call" was sounded after a 2002 survey showed that though doctrinal understanding was high, there were several "areas of concern," including low involvement in daily prayer and Bible study, active Christian witness to the community, and participation in community service (see ANN October 9, 2002).

These concerns can be linked to how the church rates in the area of spiritual formation, which has been defined by one Adventist Church pastor as "the process of becoming a mature Christian disciple of God." Another person describes it as "whatever you do to specifically nourish your relationship with God."

Today this subject is receiving serious emphasis in Adventist institutions, as well as in local congregations. Though the church doesn't have an accredited educational program dealing with spiritual formation at any of its theological schools, it's seeing this subject become more common in today's modern, seeking world. 

Spiritual formation is not a new idea or concept, and "a lot of Protestants are in the same boat--we are rediscovering it," says Dr. Jon Dybdahl, president of Walla Walla College, an Adventist institution in Washington State. And, he adds, the Adventist Church has some work to do. 

"Traditionally the Adventist Church has emphasized intellectual truth and accepting certain facts and ideas about God," Dybdahl says. "At least in many places it has not talked so much about the importance of directly experiencing God. The difference is between knowing about God and knowing God. Sometimes what we teach people is knowing about God ... That's part of the nature of things. It's much easier to communicate a fact than it is to wield people to experience." 

Pastor Martin Feldbush, associate director for Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries whose work brings him in contact with leaders of several other denominations, says that the Adventist Church is not alone in its quest for deeper spiritual formation among members. "A lot of churches out there are struggling with the same issues as we are. We're not in isolation as though there's something wrong with us. I think churches particularly that are conservative in their orientation and take their mission very seriously, and I believe we should do all of that, may have a tendency to stress the 'doing' as opposed to the 'being' and the formation." 

But why is there a need for spiritual formation? If people are part of a religious organization, shouldn't they already be at a certain level of spiritual formation? 

John Jenson, pastor of the 150-member South Bay Adventist Church in Torrance, California, says, "There's a need for spiritual formation with the [Adventist] Church because we have been so doctrinally oriented that people might be able to quote some or all of the 27 fundamental beliefs [of the church], and may have neglected having daily devotions that day or week or month." He explains that there's an overload of knowledge and information, but how to translate that into meaningful instruction and "marching orders" for daily living is key. 

Jenson says that without spiritual formation, a person would be "spiritually uncivilized." It "is the process by which they can go from being a spiritual infant to spiritual maturity ... developing the potential that God's put within you." 

Dybdahl adds that people need to "Begin to recognize that knowledge without life experience can be dead. [They need to] recognize how crucial it is to people's lives [and] how much the younger generation values experience."

Dr. Jane Thayer, assistant professor of Religious Education and coordinator of the Religious Education Program at Andrews University, adds, "We have a big blank when it comes to taking care of people once they have accepted the Lord ... I think what people need to know is 'how do you live the life.' Spiritual formation or discipleship needs to show how you live like Christ."

Nikolaus Satelmajer, from the church's Ministerial Association responsible for continuing education for Adventist clergy, believes there's now a shift from emphasis on doctrine to more emphasis on spiritual formation within the Adventist Church. He also says that, "We're finding a serious lack of knowledge of our people [church founders], our doctrines ... I think we have de-emphasized them." Satelmajer says this is true particularly with the younger generation, and the cause of any spiritual formation growth stunt is not because of a focus on doctrine.

Though it's not a concept that's easy to grasp for an organization as a whole, spiritual formation is something each individual member can work on, Feldbush says. "When you think about it as an individual, we're so used to gearing our spiritual experience on the 'wow' moments--the ones [in which] we can see the great things happening, whether it's personally or organizationally. It's easy to see God's movement in those times. Real spiritual formation is a process of growing more and more in tune to discernment of God's voice as well as more and more tuned to discernment of God's moving in my life, in the ordinary of life, as well as even in the difficult times of life. That's where real spiritual formation, or at least the value of spiritual formation, is seen."

Spiritual formation is not about what one does, but what the motivations behind one's actions are. Dr. Roger Dudley, professor emeritus of Christian Ministry and director of the Institute of Church Ministry at Andrews University Theological Seminary, and the 2002 survey coordinator, says there are stages of moral development. "A person who studies the Bible every day because he'll be lost if he doesn't has a low level of moral development; or a person who pays tithes and offerings because he expects an extra blessing. Higher levels would be a different level of motivation." 

"That overemphasis on doing to the detriment of being and particularly the detriment of being in the spirit and being in Christ as the very formational and foundational experience of the individual member and the church itself, I think that's one of the big challenges," says Feldbush. He adds that the three strategic values of the church--unity, growth and quality of life--adopted in 2002, demonstrate personal spiritual growth.

Spiritual formation takes on several forms: "There are disciplines of devotion, meditation, prayer, listening and so on," Feldbush explains. "It's a discipline which can be heeded through the assistance of a person who is trained in helping people grow in these ways." But, he says, it's mostly "growing more and more tuned to God's movement in my life here and now." And, he says, spiritual formation is not something that happens overnight. 

"We [as a church] think that spiritual formation comes through socialization. But we need to be intentional about it," says Thayer. "The culture we live in is so pervasive that the models there are more persistent and prevalent than the little models we have just in terms of the time we've spent." Thayer refers to a need for showing others how to live like Christ in the real world.

Dudley adds that if more members are encouraged to study and pray more and are able and willing to share their faith, there may be spiritual development for the church as a whole. "Spiritual development is something that happens with individuals." 

Satelmajer adds, "And within congregations as well. Spiritual formation is the implementation of spiritual principles in my life and in my actions," he says. "I think we're missing something. It's not just learning how to 'meditate'--spiritual formation is learning how to implement spiritual things that I know or am learning or experiencing into my life and then into my everyday life..." 

The Adventist world church created the International Board of Ministerial and Theological Education (IBMTE) in September 2001, designed to provide overall guidance and standards to the professional training of pastors, evangelists, theologians, teachers, chaplains and other denominational employees involved in ministerial and religious formation, or spiritual formation, in each of the church's 13 regions around the world.
                                                                                                    --  Silver Spring, Maryland United States, 
                                                                                                         Wendi Rogers/ANN
World Church Survey Sounds "Wake-Up Call"
The results of a worldwide survey of local Seventh-day Adventist churches has provided an unprecedented "snap-shot" of how Adventists are witnessing, worshipping, and relating to their communities. Dubbed "a wake-up call for the church," the results have prompted the church's executive committee to recommend that a task force be established to deal with "areas of concern."

The results of the Adventist World Survey were revealed October 8 to those attending Annual Council, which is currently underway at the world church headquarters. The survey was designed to provide data for the church's strategic planning process, and covers a broad range of issues including church members' devotional lives, their understanding of salvation, belief in church doctrines, understanding of church unity, community involvement, and Christian witness. 

Those surveyed scored strongest in the area of doctrinal understanding, where more than 90 percent of respondents indicated they are firmly committed to Adventist teachings. The majority of respondents also testified that they lived joyful lives, had assurance of salvation, and agreed with the church's organizational structure. 

"[But] there is room for improvement on nearly all of the objectives," said survey coordinator Dr. Roger Dudley, who is based at the Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan. "Areas of concern" include low involvement in daily prayer and Bible study (less than 50 percent), active Christian witness to the community (less than 40 percent), and participation in community service (less than 30 percent).

The task force recommended by the executive committee will be charged with developing a plan to increase the number of church members involved in Bible study and prayer, witnessing, and community service projects. This task force will also be asked to prepare a plan of action to be presented to Spring Meeting in 2003.

Michael Ryan, special assistant to the world church president for strategic planning, says the results are useful, but "do not fully reflect all that the church should consider." Speaking to members of Annual Council, he identified three further areas that require attention--the effectiveness of the church's communication system in reaching the "grass-roots"; the ability of church members and leaders to work toward common goals; and the organization's capacity to institute change. 

The Adventist World Survey results were based on 3,646 responses from pastors and lay leaders in randomly selected congregations in all regions of the world church.  
                                                                                                                      --Silver Spring, Maryland USA, 
                                                                                                                         ANN Staff/ANN
Adventist News Network

Spiritual Formation


 First of all, or those of you have not yet listened to Ted Wilson's sermon, its text is available here; video of the complete sermon is available on Youtube. Secondly, some of you are asking about "spiritual formation." I'd like to call your attention to excellent pieces on Bill Cork's blog, in response to some of Wilson's concerns:
Thoughts on "Spiritual Formation"
Contemplative Prayer

Naturally, Adventism must follow the principle "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21). Bill reminds us that there is tremendous good in the spiritual experience of other denominations (particularly classical Catholicism and Protestantism). Adventism can appreciate those experiences that are Christocentric, rooted in the biblical tradition, and even find parallels in the writings of Ellen White. However, some sectors of Christianity have imported spiritual exercises from systems of greater theological concern. Caution is necessary, as Elder Wilson himself stressed. All in all, a very balanced treatment.

My thoughts on Wilson's words? Wilson is wise to invite Adventists to "be vigilant to test all things according to the supreme authority of God’s Word and the counsel with which we have been blessed in the writings of Ellen G. White." But immediately after this invitation, he continues: "stay away from non-biblical spiritual disciplines or methods of spiritual formation that are rooted in mysticism such as contemplative prayer, centering prayer, and the emerging church movement in which they are promoted." Encouraging Adventists to flatly "stay away from. . . contemplative prayer. . . and the emerging church movement" fails to appreciate the complexity of both. I believe there are biblically-appropriate modes of contemplative prayer. I also believe there is much good in the emerging church movement. Moreover, the term "mysticism" is ambiguous; I doubt Wilson has the typical academic definition in mind (which would readily apply to Mrs. White's experience).

Simply put: Wilson's appeal is unnuanced, and by consequence, sounds quite reactionary. One receives the impression that after testing "contemplative prayer" and "the emerging church movement" by the Word of God, one will find nothing positive in them. Some thoughtful Adventist pastors, theologians, and church leaders would rightfully disagree. I hope they are able to make their point to a wider Adventist audience before their opposition grows. 



Most heresies have a major component of truth in them.  In fact, some may in fact be 99% true.  I do not know of any, but it is possible.  However, it is that 1% or 10% or 30% of error that is what leads a person astray.  This is the pattern of NLP (Neruo Linquistic Programing).  It seeks ground for agreement, then starts to introduce small amounts of error.  Each statement leads the listener just a little bit further from truth until there is no longer 90% truth, but 100% error.  Unless a teaching is 100% correct, we need to be very careful of having anything to do with it. 


We do not test it by how we feel, how our pastor feels, or our conference feels.  We must study God's word and know for ourselves what the tests are for truth.  Unless we know those tests, we will be deceived. 


Maranatha :)

I have not given any personal perspective yet, but am posting other published Seventh-day Adventist sources on this issue, as people have been using the term in threads on this site without explanation. That is "dangerous" and causes confusion.


It "appears" that there is more than one definition of this and how it is being used:  One involves middle eastern meditation and mysticism.  Another seems to center around simply developing a personal relationship with Jesus.  Two completely different things.  





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