October 25, 2020

iMonk Classic: So Where Does an Evangelical Go For Spiritual Formation?

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
Originally posted Aug 30, 2008

MOD Note: We will be focusing on the subject of spiritual formation in the days to come. In Aug/Sept, 2008, Michael Spencer had several posts on the subject, emphasizing the lack of tradition and practice with regard to spiritual formation in evangelicalism. This is a short “Open Thread” post in which he summarized the issues from his perspective and invited reader comments.

So….imagine that a Baptist (or other evangelical)- like my dear wife used to be, for example- were to decide that he or she wanted to deepen their spiritual life; to grow spiritually and in spiritual disciplines; to seek out spiritual direction and pursue spiritual formation.

Where would they go within their own evangelical, Protestant tradition to find resources, guidance or direction?

OK. I can hear the Catholics and Orthodox giggling already. Cut it out.

Before I leave the open thread to you readers, let me say that this is a REAL PROBLEM.

No one knows how many Protestants and Evangelicals develop a hunger for holiness and spiritual growth, then discover that what awaits them in their own tradition is paltry, often shallow and frequently almost completely unaware of what that hunger needs to be satisfied.

Is it any wonder that it is at the point of seeking out spiritual growth and formation that so many evangelicals are first introduced to the riches of the Catholic tradition, and soon conclude that the greatest resources for the spiritual journey are on the other side of great denominational divide?

Why is it that entire segments of Protestantism have such a comparatively thin understanding of the spiritual disciplines, find contemplation to be suspiciously new age and have almost nothing to say to the spiritually hungry person other than “Get more involved at church?”

Why does evangelicalism produce so few spiritual directors? Why is a pastor like Eugene Peterson- attuned to the importance of the life of reading and prayer- such an anomaly in evangelicalism?

Where are the Protestant and Evangelical places- retreat centers and houses, for example- dedicated to prayer, withdrawal from the world and focus on God?

Why are evangelicals so surprised when they discover that so many of their leaders and celebrities are spiritual empty, stunted or phony?

Once you’ve read “My Utmost” during your quiet time, what then? Where is spiritual growth as a priority in churches and pastoral ministry? Is it inevitable, because of the Protestant spirit, that the person interested in spiritual growth must look to Catholicism for help?

Is this the fruit of the Reformation gospel’s emphasis on forensic justification and imputed righteousness? Is it Protestant to be “weak on sanctification?” Can the wholesale emphasis on evangelism have made us so spiritually shallow that the only thing we know to do is tell someone to “pray more and read the Bible?”

It’s a very important topic, and one I look forward to discussing with you.


  1. Is this the fruit of the Reformation gospel’s emphasis on forensic justification and imputed righteousness? Is it Protestant to be “weak on sanctification?” Can the wholesale emphasis on evangelism have made us so spiritually shallow that the only thing we know to do is tell someone to “pray more and read the Bible?”

    Michael could be very discomforting at times couldn’t he.


    • Riley,

      As one of those with a Reformed perspective who values justification and imputed righteousness, I also prize the spiritual disciplines as a means of grace to believers.

      1 Tim 4:7 continues to regularly challenge me with the call to train myself to be godly. Books on spiritual disciplines by Willard and Foster have been invaluable. So have books from the Evangelical tradition like Piper’s “A Hunger For God” and Donald Whitney’s “Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life.”

      That said, Michael’s original assertion that Evangelicals are lacking in a grasp of the practical means for spiritual growth is probably well founded. I trust that the Lord is stirring a fresh appreciation for this topic.


  2. Wow, this topic hits me at a weird time, I (perhaps foolishly) spent the better (or worse ??) parts of the last week trying to defend the spiritual disciplines , esp. contemplative prayer, at a blog that considers all those things hopelessly and dangerously “NEW AGE” (not capitalized big and bold enough, sorry). My time there was stimulating (for me) but ultimately frustrating.

    I don’t want to overgeneralize, but some attitudes I saw there I think might apply this discussion.

    1. for those who are still continually fighting the Reformation, all this “spiritual formation” talk is hopelessly and ridiculously (to them) catholic. Absolutely, NOTHING to be gained by anything that any catholic likes or recommends. I could not budge anyone to see the absurdity of this. For many Protestants, to hear an idea of thought from Nouwen stops at “Catholic Henri Nouwen….” or even “Quaker Richard Foster…” these are groups (RC and Quaker) that don’t fit into the “right” Reformational mold. They are flatly “not correct in doctrine”. The conversation never gets off the ground, really. In fact, I heard , several times verbatim, “there should be no conversation” or “we should not be talking to THEM..”

    2. At least at this particular blog, ANYTHING mystical: NEW AGE. Period. This was “proved” by the blog site administrator’s experience and testimony. End of story. Again, I got nowhere in suggesting that maybe HER experience (valid as it is/was) might not be everyones. And that those who led HER into the ditch might not be joined at the hip with that devil Dallas Willard. I got nowhere. Oprah=Nel donald Walsch=Merton=Willard= Foster= …..well, there was a VERY long list here…. sad.

    3, If it wasn’t ultra rational, right brain driven study of the bible, then it was Eastern, mystical, garbage. God works thru the bible and our minds. Period. Had I stayed there longer, I would have appealed to the rich tradition of experiences WITHIN the bible: not everything happened at the prophets DESK , while he studied the Torah….. this seems like the most blatant of realities, but for those whose ‘truth” has to wrapped around a particular teacher’s or ministries interpretation of scripture, the drawbridge is taken up, and as HUG has noted: “the trolls are for the trolls, and will not be taken in….” It has to be bible, bible, bible, and anythinb else is suspect (any wonder why a theology of Christian ART has been slow to unfold ??)

    anyway, thanks for hearing my rant… feels good to be back in kinder waters (though I was treated better than Chap Mike @ GTY , so I can’t feel too bad)


    • I think you meant “left brain,” right?

    • I know what you mean about the knee-jerk “new age” reaction, although honestly a lot of stuff out there really is of that ilk. However, the classics that have stood the test of time aren’t even remotely new age. I’ve been Protestant all my life, but almost always felt the emphasis was either on raw Bible knowledge or on exhilarating, quick-fix experiences. When I first read The Practice of the Presence of God and The Imitation of Christ, it was eye-opening and I felt that for the first time I was reading something that was really, genuinely about spiritual development. Other great devotional classics from the Catholic tradition have been helpful as well, but oddly many of those saints are categorized as “mystics.” I read the Dark Night of the Soul expecting some weird, hallucinogenic stuff (“mystical”) to be discussed, but instead found an eminently practical book.

      I can think of Protestant books that have similar themes (some of Tozer’s writings, e.g.) but it always comes down to “read this book.” The idea that there is some official process within the church by which one can progressively be helped along the path of developing good spiritual habits seems absent. Sure, there are small groups, but my experience with small groups is that folks only show up half the time, we exchange a few prayer requests, chit chat and then leave. I wish I could say something more positive, but it just hasn’t been my experience.

    • Greg, I just ran into a helpful quote by W. G. McAdoo yesterday that I made into a mini-poster and is hanging on my wall at this moment: “It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in an argument.”

      This is much more generous than the anonymously attributed, “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

    • Hey Greg,

      What do you mean “that devil Dallas Willard?” Was that the perspective of the person you were interacting with, or yours?

      I’ve really benefited from the his Spirit of the Disciplines.


      • totally tongue in cheek, mimicking THEIR take on Dallas… I’ve got “The Divine Omission” in my car and a few other Willard books on the burner. He’s not the Holy Spirit, but his take on sanctification is very practical and thoughtful. Numbers don’t always tell a story, but their is a reason his popularity is growing: believers want to go further and know the nearness of their GOD. So , yeah, I’m buying what Dallas is “selling”.

        • Mike (the other chaplain) says

          I was surprised that Michael never really interacted much with Willard’s works. Willard, Foster, and others, have been addressing this concern for 30+ years. I’m particularly partial to Willard.

    • David Morris says

      “He who forgets the humming of the bees among the heather, the cooing of the wood-pigeons in the forest, the song of birds in the woods, the rippling of rills among the rushes, and the sighing of the wind among the pines, needs not wonder if his heart forgets to sing and his soul grows heavy.” CH Spurgeon

      Maybe going for a walk and contemplating nature can be spiritually uplifting? If that makes me a mystic, at least I am in good company (hello Bernard of Clairvaux!)


  3. Jonathanblake says

    The story of my life. Maybe that’s why I have such a high view of the more ancient traditions of Christianity over the more recent. When I desperately needed depth and somewhere secure to hold on to in my dark night of the soul the only answers I could find in my local church were to keep doing what you’ve been doing and it will be over soon but since that turned into a couple of years I’m glad that the Spirit didn’t heed denominational lines in leading me to Himself

  4. And it only hurts because it’s so true.

    I will soon be spending 2 months 7,000 miles from home, with my life reduced to job, hotel, and an occasional weekend foray to see the countryside. In preparing for the trip I had already realized that spiritual formation and disciplines were going to be the theme of this little journey, even to the point of picking up a couple books on the subject. So I am very much looking forward to this series of posts – hopefully they will give me some pointers and book recommendations.

  5. Kelby Carlson says

    As a high school student more-or-less entrenched in evangelicalism because of family, i have experienced this in spades. nobody around here seems to understand my need for a strucutred way to grow spiritually, and the more I try to do it without help the more spiritually barren and graceless I feel–especially toward myself. Both of my parents have a rare, astoundingly simple faith–they don’t seem to “need” spiritual formation in the same way I do. I don’t begrudge them that–in fact, I envy them. But what is one to do, even with a useful practice like centering prayer, if one doesn’t have some sort of communal support to draw upon for nourishment? Reading theology only gets me so far.

    • Take heart Kelby, EVERYONE struggles with their faith, even your parents. Just because they SEEM to have their faith in order does not mean that they have it ALL together. They simply don’t, they just may have found a “sweet spot” where practice and lifestyle have met, allowing them to live a day to day life with the appearance of simplicity and ease, but it is an illusion.

      As long as you continue to have that hunger and drive for spirituality then you can be assured that you are on the right path. Faith needs to be wrestled with in order to develop properly, so until that time when you can find your way apart from your father’s house and country just continue as you have been…seeking, knocking and asking.

  6. A somewhat random thought on the topic: many Protestants will have to hear from someone, preferably their pastor, perhaps, that spiritual formation does NOT = works righteousness. I think there is a definite hunger for formation, but some fail to get off to a good start for fear of “trying to earn my salvation.” This is an unfounded fear, but founded or not, some will have to face this directly before allowing the wisdom of others to help them.

    My quick answer to Michael’s question, I guess, would be “outside of my local church” because there just isn’t much happening inside (for now). This will mean special events, retreats, speakers, and books. Non-denoms, and churches that behave like non-denoms (many Vineyards) are at the mercy of what the pastor thinks is happenin’…..if pastor Joe doesn’t like it…..well then…


    • Isn’t it ironic and funny that evangelicalism, with its constant drumbeat of activism, is so afraid of “works righteousness” when it comes to the subject of spiritual formation!

      • Ironic but NOT funny that we’re scared to death of works-righteousness, yet beat the cultural war drum. Is that works righteousness or not? And if not, why do we insist that social justice IS works-righteousness?

        Oh, you meant funny as in peculiar. Right.

        I love Ephesians2:8-9 but I read James too.

        • Don’t forget Eph 2:10 when you read 8-9. Same message as James!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          If you do it, it’s Works Righteousness.

          If we do it, it’s Obeying God.

          • I ran into the same thing yesterday at adult Sunday school. Some well-intentioned person mentioned the Catholics and their salvation-by-works; then somebody said the same about the Muslims; then the Jehovah’s Witnesses; then the word “cult” was uttered; then I had to say something about us evangelicals and our own form of works-righteousness in the form of The Culture War.

            But when we do it, it’s Obeying God.

      • Yes, reminds me of the inconsistency of taking verses “literally” or not, how selective THAT process is…..to suit the point we are trying to make.

        If it’s the activity that teacher/pastor Joe likes, then all is well. Otherwise…danger Will Robinson..

      • I think part of it is aversion to works righteousness and part of it is aversion to anything that seems repetitious or regimented. As I understand it, a lot of spiritual formation is about “practicing” certain things (i.e. repeating them) in order to discipline oneself into making these positive things a habit. Part of the regular discipline is to continue doing the right thing even when you don’t feel like it and it’s not exciting. My impression is that doing things repetitively goes completely against the evangelical grain and the idea of doing things where you’re not always 100% joyful and excited does as well. It’s “funny” as you say that we marvel at musicians or athletes who practice their vocations endlessly to become proficient, but we think the spiritual life somehow doesn’t require the same type of often grueling commitment and discipline.

        • Excellent observations, Jeff.

        • wow, I’d never made the connection with the ev. proclivity to grab at newer, higher, stronger, emotional experience. This would explain the relative absence of meaty things to say and teach about vocation as well: unless your job is rock star or reality TV producer….. great insights, JeffB, that’s using your left AND right brains…. 🙂

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            wow, I’d never made the connection with the ev. proclivity to grab at newer, higher, stronger, emotional experience.

            Which can easily turn into a Can You Top This, grabbing for Newer, Higher, Deeper Spiritual Experience like Hellraiser Cenobites constantly grabbing for Newer, Higher, Stronger heights of Sensation.

        • Speaking as a non-giggling Catholic (because looking around at my own denomination, stones and glass houses comes to mind), I don’t have a lot of personal experience of spiritual formation, probably because I’m one of those left-brained people and have made a point of dodging all activity from Sr. Alphonsus in secondary school trying to get me to join the Children of Mary to last year someone asking me would I be interested in becoming a Third Order Carmelite?

          But a very, very good guide to spiritual development (and one which I do not, alas!, avail of nearly as frequently as I need) is the Sacrament of Reconciliation/Penance/Confession. If you can get a good spiritual director to give you a kick up the backside when you need it, you’re extremely fortunate. But even if you can get a regular confessor (and that’s probably harder nowadays than it used to be in the past), one who will know you from hearing your confession every month, then that’s good too.

          Because facing in to confess the same old laundry list of sins every month is better than anything for making you take a look at your habitual vices, and how they got to be habitual, and what are you doing about them, and no, don’t blame your family/boss/neighbours for making you lose your temper, sunshine.

          Even if you get the easy-going modern Spirit of Vatican II type “We’re all human, say three Hail Marys and forget about it” kind of penance, that can be good too. I think the best penance I ever got was “Say three Glory Bes in honour of the Trinity” because it made me think about it and not just rattle it off. It doesn’t have to be fifteen decades of the Rosary and a pilgrimage to Compostella to be effective!

          • Christopher Lake says

            I second these thoughts. Confessing the same sins to the same priest, over a few months, has made me realize how deeply rooted those sins are in my life. It has also led me to ask myself why I am holding on to them. It’s frightening that things which are objectively harmful to our souls can actually function as “security blankets” in our lives. No doubt about it– for me, at least, Confession/Penance is becoming an important, even decisive, part of my spiritual formation.

          • And for the Evangelicals among us who do not wish to swim the Tiber to go to confession to a priest, find yourself an “accountability partner” — all questions of sacramental theology aside, the effects described by Martha and Christopher Lake will be yours, as well, if you confess your sins to that accountability partner.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I think part of it is aversion to works righteousness and part of it is aversion to anything that seems repetitious or regimented.

          Then what about “7-11” Praise & Worship music? Seven words repeated over and over for eleven minutes?

  7. When I started blogging, my Protestant brothers and sisters didn’t speak much of the Holy Spirit . . . but I have noticed, just in two years time, that has changed quite a bit. Not sure why. Might be the work of the Spirit, but something is changing . . . just in reading this post, we can see the longing for ‘more’, maybe it’s the primordial longing for God inside of all us, or maybe it’s just that someone turns on EWTN by mistake, and for a few moments, is caught up in the reverence of a hymn or a prayer?

    Or maybe it’s just time for it now.

    I shared the Orthodox trisagion hymn with my Protestant friends. I did it on a post that was about ‘weekly worship woes’, ’cause I thought it might inspire some to explore the riches of ways of praying found in another faith tradition that might be meaningful to apply to their own need for help with enriching the experience of their worship in community, with intense reverence:


    • Evangelicals will more likely find the Holy Spirit via a Pentecostal/charismatic angle than from Catholics. However, it is true that most garden-variety evangelicals have the Holy Spirit as something of a bit player in the Trinity. I recall a Catholic priest who was a classmate of mine in my Finance doctoral program at Kent State who was surprised that I mentioned the Holy Spirit in conversation.

      The ease of mention of the Holy Spirit is one of the things I find refreshing in Catholic media. I recall listening to the coverage of Pope Benedict’s installation and heard the Holy Spirit mentioned as much as on a Pentecostal televangelalist’s show, but in an earnest way.

  8. Well, there are many workbooks available. One of them is called “Experiencing God.”

    On a more serious note, I suppose the old fundamentalist image of this would be the continual soul-winner and the “prayer warrier” (stereotypically, the mother who prays late into the night on calloused knees). And there is the Kewick Holiness emphasis on the Victorious Life.

    Then there’s Pentecostalism.

    I am not sure that these translate easily into practices. Honestly, I think the refrain I encounted as a young person centered strongly on the family altar and daily devotions (which I was always feeling guilty for failing at performing).

    • Corrections: By Kewick, I meant Keswick. And “practices” should be “disciplines.”

    • Danielle,

      Are you talking about “Experiencing God” by Henry Blackaby? When I did that study with people at my Baptist Church, I didn’t find it anything like spiritual direction.

      • Anna, I was being snarky in that first comment. I actually inserted a tag to that effect, but the website saw it as an html tag and hid it.

        But yes, that’s the one. It’s pretty good as workbooks go. But workbooks, as far as I am concerned, should all be piled up in the front yard and burned. All those annoying little blanks requiring canned answers.

        And the blanks are like this long: _________. What can you really put there, anyway? 🙂

  9. “Is this the fruit of the Reformation gospel’s emphasis on forensic justification and imputed righteousness?”

    In all honestly, I have been wondering this same thing myself for some time now. I’m kinda to scared/busy to follow it through to it’s logical conclusion, whatever that may be. Sometimes it’s not that Protestants do such a bad job handling the relationship of Law to Gospel, it’s just that they simply don’t try. It seems that protestantism has two bad options at times: Fundamentalism that tries to achieve inner transformation by willful conformity to an external code, or antinomianism that essentially says that since Jesus loves you anyways, there is nothing of significance you can really do about your own spiritual maturity. Don’t add to the cross!

    It seems that how one works out the relationship of the Law to the Gospel defines where in the denominational spectrum your beliefs truly lie. I’m not so idealistically naive as to think we could all agree on one approach to it, but for pete’s sake, can’t we still work at it together? My experience is that it’s so hard to find fellow Christians who just want to walk with you in following Jesus, so that you can encourage one another and share the joy of knowing Christ. I know Augustine said the church is a whore but she’s also my mother, but some times I just envy the honesty of the new atheists and wonder no matter how much I feel I can intellectually defeat their arguments, there really isn’t a whole lot of distance between us. I probably sound a little confused and bitter, both of which are probably true, and I don’t expect following Christ to be a bed of roses, but is it really asking too much just for a small community of true friends to share the journey with? Until Protestantism can successfully and consistently provide that for Christians who are looking, we shouldn’t be surprised when more and more of us convert to Rome or Orthodoxy. I’d become a Muslim to find the spiritual companionship and direction I’ve always imagined were somewhere in the Church.

    • I find this question sad, because Martin Luther certainly did not neglect spiritual formation in his pastoral ministry. In fact, one of the most important emphases of his reforming project was to equip the ordinary people in the churches to read the Bible, pray, catechize their children, hold family worship, deal with issues of sin and inner conflict, and practice spiritual integrity in their vocations. Of course, there was also a reaction to Rom Catholic practices and the idea that one had to be a monk or nun and practice extraordinary devotion. But I find Luther’s emphasis on spiritual practices to be sound and warmly pastoral.

      The heirs of Calvin have been more iconoclastic and suspicious of much beyond the Word and prayer.

      • I just know I’m going to end up Lutheran someday.

        And I know I’m going to end up a heretic in somebody’s eyes in order to know the Lord like I really want to. But that’s probably true of us all in some way, no?

        • Yes 🙂

        • Christopher Lake says


          Quite true. As a fervent Reformed Baptist, I never *dreamed* that I would return to the Catholic Church. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing there but (here it comes!) “works-righteousness.”

          However, when I began reading the early Church Fathers, they drove me back to Scriptures that I had read so many times before, and I saw truths there that I had not realized as a Protestant. The Fathers also drove me to look deeper into Church history. Eventually, I had to go where I truly believed that God, through study and prayer, was leading me– back to the Catholic Church. Am I a heretic in many of my old friends’ eyes? Almost undoubtedly. However, obedience to God and my conscience has led me here.

          • Welcome home, Christopher. The call of the Fathers beckoned me so much so, that I too could only be obedient to it. Joy was the result.


          • This is what I think happens when Church history and the Fathers are studied in tandem, particularly the ante-Nicene period, which is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. However, it can lead one to the Tiber or to the Bosphorus, depending on how one comes out on the issue of the Papacy (for the most part).

            Interestingly, there is also a steady trickle of movement between Catholicism and Orthodoxy in both directions, for various reasons.

      • Ain’t that the truth. Shows where enlightenment and reason will get ya. Whenever Wesleyans decide to devote themselves to “Methods”, us reformed folk are ready to burn them alive for their heretical Arminianism. We are so quick to criticize people who do things for the wrong reason that we wind up doing nothing ourselves. It’s frustrating that while reformed theology just makes so much sense to me, it just doesn’t work itself out very practically. I’m sick of hearing preachers tell me what I should be doing. I have a bible. I’ve read it. I know where I fall short. Obedience must be taught, not ordered. Jesus didn’t just give commands: He demonstrated how to live them, and passed the training on to others. Isn’t that what tradition is for? Anyone who gets rid of tradition, thinking they have somehow suddenly become non-traditional, is guilty of chronological snobbery. Let’s admit it: Even faithful purpose-driven trend setters are very religious people. The question we’re not asking is: Are the new traditions as effective as the old ones, and what are they trying to accomplish?
        Wittenberg certainly has my attention now.

        I suppose all this destructive “innovation” is nothing a good old fashioned dose of persecution couldn’t cure. I hear the saints in China are praying for that to come to our country. Lord have mercy!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Of course, there was also a reaction to Rom Catholic practices and the idea that one had to be a monk or nun and practice extraordinary devotion.

        Which form of Clericalism modern Evangelicals have adopted wholesale with a new coat of paint — they call theirs “Full-time Christian Workers” (pastors, missionairies, “soul-winners”, “prayer warriors”) instead of monks & nuns.

    • Miguel, I think the Reformers would encourage you to glean what you can from all of Church history. Calvin confinuously referred to Augustine– yes, to his theological arguments, but he also appreciated Augustine’s other devotional/practical works like the *Confessions.* So… read Anthony, St. Francis, Bernard and the rest. They belong to you. As you read and contemplate you will taste the sweetness of the melon… but that doesn’t mean you won’t have to spit out some seeds! The Church Fathers say some wonderful things that are quite helpful… but they also say some things that should not be embraced. So, if you have a Reformed understanding of the Faith (as I have), you can’t just read Catholic and Eastern Orthodox stuff indescriminately; the doctrinal differences are real, and those differences have spiritual implications. But can you glean from them? Absolutely. Does sola scriptura still apply? Yes… so, we emphasize the reading of God’s Word, and we look to the Bible to judge every work of man, but we are also free to glean from the writings of our brothers and sisters in centuries past to see how their tasting of Christ can enrich our own. If you are truly Reformed, then I don’t have any concerns for you drinking from the streams of Christian devotional history; however, if you are willing to embrace Rome or (Eastern) Orthodoxy and even “become a Muslim to find spiritual companionship and direction (you’ve) always imagined (should exist) in the Church”… then I am very concerned for you, brother. In your search to add a devotional element to your (Reformed) Faith, don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. Don’t throw away salvation by faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone in order to find some kind of emotional/mystical experience. To experience Christ in all of His mystery and through spiritual companionship is wonderful, and this aspect of knowing Christ is right and good. But don’t throw Him away in order to gain religious experience. To go to Rome, the EOC, or to Islam is not going to help you find more of Jesus, but less of Him.

      • Christopher Lake says


        I was a Reformed Baptist for years, so I definitely hear where you are coming from about “Rome” and finding “less of Jesus” there. However, in the last year, after a process of study of the Bible, the Church Fathers (especially the early Fathers), and Church history, I have returned to the Catholic Church. I am finding Jesus there, in the Eucharist, as St. Ignatius of Antioch said that He was in 106 A.D. I’m finding Jesus there in Catholic Biblical exegesis, ancient and present-day. I’m finding Him there in the Christ-centered preaching of my priest.

        To be sure, I didn’t “see” much of Jesus in the Catholic Church, when I was a Reformed Baptist, but then, I was looking with Protestant lenses, using specific categories, based upon my own interpretations of Scripture, which I had assumed to be the “clear reading of Scripture.” In my mind, previously, I couldn’t have been wrong about that “clear reading.”

        My Protestant lenses didn’t allow me to see much of Jesus in the Catholic Church, because I was looking for Him with certain things in my mind (justification by faith alone, for example) that I just *knew* had to be Biblically correct. I couldn’t be misreading Paul, could I? Once I was willing to admit that maybe I *was* misreading him, I began to discover Jesus in the Catholic Church, and that He had always been there, knowing that one day, I would return to Him. (I had left the Catholic Church years ago).

        Not that I had been truly “away from Christ” as a Reformed Baptist, of course– I grew much, as a Christian, from my time as a Protestant. However, allowing the early Church Fathers to challenge my reading of certain Scriptures (which is valid, given that they were able exegetes themselves, and that the early Church helped to *compile* the New Testament) brought me to a point of believing that pre-Reformation, almost all Christians basically were either “Catholic” or “Eastern Orthodox” in their views– and that Jesus Himself was too, in a manner of speaking. With that belief, if I had not returned to the catholic Church, I would have, by definition, gotten “less of Jesus.”

        On a last note, just because the Fathers don’t fit with one’s own interpretation of Scripture, on certain issues, does not *necessarily* mean that the Fathers are wrong. They challenged me on justification, baptism, and the Eucharist, and I came to accept that the Church had understood these issues, Biblically, in certain ways, for a very, very long time– ways that were simply not my “Protestant” ways of seeing them. Eventually, I came to accept that the historic exegesis of the Church was, in fact, better than mine… for many reasons (apostolic succession being one of them!).

        • Is this cheeky of me to ask, but what are Unreformed Baptists like?

          (They allow mixed bathing or suchlike?)


          • I don’t think that they are allowed to dance or drink (not even wine).

          • Christopher Lake says

            LOL! UnReformed Baptists believe that they have *freely chosen* to subscribe to unwritten rules, despite claiming to hold to Sola Scriptura. Reformed Baptists believe that they were *predestined* to do the exact same thing– but with different rules (courtship, good, dating, bad!). 🙂

        • Dear Christopher,
          Are you suggesting that the Reformation was fought over nothing? It was a mere tempest in a teapot? Do you believe that salvation according to Rome (or the Eastern Orthodox for that matter) is really no different than what the Reformers were willing to lay down their lives for? I can tell you quite truthfully that I would gladly become Catholic or Eastern Orthodox (both of which I have looked into rather extensively), but I can’t go there because there really is a difference. To say that “almost all Christians basically were either ‘Catholic’ or ‘Eastern Orthodox’ is a little strange; they certainly weren’t “Reformed” or “Protestant” I grant you. But Luther, Zwingli and other Reformers were, in fact, all Roman Catholics– priest and/or monks. They had “been there, done that.” They weren’t ignorant about what Roman Catholicism was (and remains to be). And Catholicism was (and is) not ignorant about the real differences they were preaching throughout Europe. As a result Rome pronounced many anathemas on them (which remain in place to this day; nothing has changed fundamentally). The protest levied by the Reformers was substantive and necessary. Those entrusted with the Keys of the Kingdom had dug a hole and hidden those keys in the ground, and in its place they had built a prison for men’s souls. That was (and is) the issue. The Reformers had read the Fathers and gleaned from them; indeed, they would have loved for the Roman Church to have repented from its failure to be a faithful custodian of the Scriptures. If you had truly understood the differences for which they argued and embraced the doctrines of grace (as you say you did at one time as a Reformed Baptist), how do you discount all of that as nonsense and go back to the very system they so vehemently opposed? Where they misinformed? Were the Reformers, in fact, wrong?

          • Christopher Lake says


            I’m not suggesting that the Reformation was fought over nothing. Not at all. I have been on both sides of the Tiber, theologically speaking. For almost all of the years that I was soteriologically Protestant and Reformed, I was *absolutely convinced* that the Catholic Church did not have “the true, Biblical Gospel.”

            Earlier this year, after an extended time of study (of the Bible, the early Fathers, and Church history) and prayer, I reached the conclusion that the Reformers were, in fact, wrong on *their interpretation* of the Bible’s teaching on justification, baptism, the Eucharist, and other issues, and that the Catholic Church was right on these issues.

            I was also persuaded, through study and prayer, that Christ had actually founded one visible Church (the Catholic Church) and that the Reformers were wrong, concerning their idea of “the true church” as an essentially invisible reality of visible believers placed throughout various denominations/churches, but all holding to “the true, Biblical Gospel”– according to the *Reformers’* understanding of the Bible’s teaching of the Gospel.

            Luther was right to be concerned about corruption and abuse in the Church, such as the selling of indulgences and laxity about the teaching of the Faith among the clergy. In past times in the Church, abuses had been dealt with from within, through reformation by the Church, for the Church, and finally, for the good of souls and the glory of God. However, Luther took things further than rightful objections over abuse in *practice*. He challenged the very teaching authority of the Church itself, based upon *his personal interpretation* of Scripture. Thus, Protestantism was born, and fairly soon after, denominations began rapidly springing up, teaching contradictory things on serious matters, yet all claiming to hold to Sola Scriptura, as “illuminated” by the Holy Spirit. The situation has continued to be as such since that time. I do now think that the Reformation was a mistake– and I say that as one who used to view it as a wonderful recovery of “the Gospel,” based upon *my interpretation* of what I thought the Bible taught on justification. I now believe I was wrong.

            If it’s hard for you to understand how someone one who was once convinced of Reformed Protestant teaching on justification/soteriology can reach such conclusions as I have– I understand! A year ago, I never dreamed that I would believe certain things that I now do. The men who run “Called to Communion” might be able to help you understand my thought process better than I can, in this relatively short space. They are all former Reformed Protestants, many of them Reformed seminary graduates, who ultimately became convinced of the claims of the Catholic Church. http://www.calledtocommunion.com/

          • And in resonse to you, Christopher, and your comments below…
            First, at least you admit that there is a real difference between the gospel according to Rome and the gospel as Luther understood it, and you have chosen to hold onto the gospel according to Rome. It’s curious that you reject the arguments levied by the Reformers on the basis of your personal study (of the Bible, Church Fathers, and Church History) and that you “reached the conclusion” that the Reformers were wrong. If you were a true Catholic, why not just base your actions on implicit faith in the Church? 🙂 The point being that you used to be Catholic, after a certain amount of study you became Baptist, and after further study you became Catholic again. You really are acting a bit like a Protestant church hopper, aren’t you?
            Second, why do you say that the “one visible Church” is the Catholic Church. The Eastern Orthodox will disagree with you vehemently. In fact, they view the Pope and the Catholic Church as the first Protestant. Perhaps after a bit more study, you’ll decide to become Eastern Orthodox, since everyone knows that THAT’s REALLY the one, true Church.
            Third, you agree that Luther was right about the corruption of some of the practices of the Roman Church. But, unfortunately, unlike Luther, you fail to understand and agree with him that it was precisely the underlying issues that had caused the visible corruption. You advocate certain surface reforms, I suppose; but Luther knew that the corruption was systemic.
            Fourth, although Luther had only ever hoped to *reform* the Church, the Roman Church would not be reformed. So… what happens then? Yes, ideally, the keys of the Kingdom are entrusted to the Apostles and the trustees (church leaders) that would follow them in future generations. But what do you do when the caring farmer is killed and the hen house is being guarded by the foxes? That’s was the tragic choice left to people all across Europe. The Catholic church brought this upon itself and upon all of us who have lived since then (except for the Eastern Orthodox, of course, who just kept on being the one, true, flawless church all of this time… 🙂
            Fifth, I have no difficulty understanding why some are attracted back to the Roman or Eastern Churches. As I have said, I would love for the Church to be one visibly; indeed I long for it to be so (and that’s why I have explored Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy more than a little). Even despite the Roman Church’s many sins, I believe that much could and should be borrowed from the practices of Christian worship over the centuries to inform our Protestant worship today; I am all for putting the communion of saints on display in Christian worship. I agree with the Reformers, Church history is OUR history. What I am saddened by is that anyone who truly understood the issues at stake in the Reformation, believed the gospel and tasted God’s grace in Christ alone, but then returns to salvation by the Church– baptism, confirmation, cooperation in works, confession, penance, purgation (for thousands of years!) after death, and then… finally… maybe… salvation. That return is quite saddening.
            Lastly… no, I’m not arguing for “my” interpretation of Scripture over the Roman Church’s interpretation. What I am arguing for is that *my* interpretation AND the *Roman Church’s* interpretation is subject to what the Word of God actually says (i.e., God’s interpretation). Ideally, if the Roman Church had been faithful to obey the Scriptures and faithfully teach the Scriptures, we would NOT have had a Reformation. It is only as dozens of dedicated Catholic priests and monks had access to the Scriptures and read them for themselves, that the Church was found out to have hidden the Gospel. The nurturing Mother of God’s children, was found out to be their Molester. Out of that trajedy, the Reformation ignited Europe like a powder keg with a recovery of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God alone. After that, how exactly does one go back?

  10. Steve Newell says

    At the Lutheran Church that I am a member of, the mens bible study have found that going through the Lutheran Confessions has been a great blessing in understanding what we believe and why. Last spring, we studied the Formula of Concord and this fall, we are studying Luther’s Large Catechism.

    We are also planning to study the three confessions of the catholic Church (small c catholic).

    It’s amazing how smart those who came before us were in the Faith.

  11. I’ve been out of organized religion for long enough that I’m not sure what spiritual formation is. The term never came up that I remember from my decades in churches before the late 80’s. I’m guessing it means practices like meditation, contemplation, or even rosaries and chantings, to facilitate meeting God directly. The point being “to meet God directly”? The suggestions I see listed so far in these comments or have read elsewhere all seem more like intellectual study of what other people have decided about God. Such intellectual pursuit is good in its own right but not really what I have been thinking that spiritual formation is all about–knowing God, rather than knowing about God.

    Am I simply mistaken or is this actually the lack that Michael Spencer was talking about?

  12. Should I risk mentioning Gary Thomas’ “Sacred Pathways” again, or will I start WWIII? I do think it’s a good resource in this field, although as several have mentioned, there’s got to be more to spiritual formation than just reading a book.

    • I would mention it. Just make sure the bomb shelter is equipped and ready. Get more canned peas, and maybe one of those cans full of powered milk and covered with Scripture verses from the Y2K scare era. 🙂

    • LOL…..I’ll share my C-rations with ya….bring some of those CD’s you were plugging on the music thread. Those who didn’t care for Gary Thomas hate ANY mention of spiritual formation, so the gauntlet is (sadly) already thrown down. I doubt we’ll see the same visitors, but it’s a free internet, ya never know. The presuppositions of the IMONK crowd (in general) and KenS and friends are so radically different, a very short conversation is just about inevitable.

      I found a copy of Thomas’ “Sacred Marriage” gathering dust in my library today…now on my nightstand waiting patiently.


    • How does that old hymn go?
      “My faith is built on nothing less,
      Than Scofield Reference and Moody Press.”

      • Oops. Didn’t mean to post that here. Firefox did something unexpected.
        Anyway, I do think it is worth noting Gary Thomas. If it gets the passive-aggressives foaming at the mouth, well, even better!

    • There you go with that Gary the Guru Thomas guy again.

    • Damaris,

      i”m glad that you mentioned it. This gives me a chance to thank you for the suggestion. I started reading the library copy, but decided to return it. Three copies are on there way to me from Amazon. One for me, one for my best friend in Canada, and I haven’t decided which Baptist friend will be getting the third one.

  13. For those interested in some form to help with their spiritual formation and prayer life, may I suggest a small book called “Shorter Christian Prayer”. It is based on the Liturgy of the Hours used for centuries in monasteries, but has two readings, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer for every day of the week. The readings are Psalms and divided into 4 weekly cycles. If you add in the lectionary with daily readings, available on line and Chaplain Mike mentions them, I think you will find the time very surprising. You have to use them often enough to be very familiar with them, say for about 3 months. Then, the repetition of the readings becomes both surprising and deepening your understanding. You could just do either morning or evening if you wanted. A regular reading of the lectionary also keeps you from concentrating on areas of scripture you already think you know and will broaden your understanding. Prayer is another issue. There are lots of good books, mostly Catholic and Orthodox if you want to do more than petition and thanksgiving. AnneG in NC

    • I have Christian Prayer and the Benedictine Breviary, considering the Monastic Diurnal, but having a hard time finding some information on a good Orthodox prayer book. Do you know a good starting point for some Eastern Christian spirituality?

      • I like The Spiritual Life by Theophanes the Recluse. It is a journal of spiritual direction for a correspondent. I learned a lot from it. But, As someone else said, quiet time, is absolutely essential to get anything out of these various resources. I can pray the Hours daily, but if I’m doing a grocery list or to do list while I’m reading, I find it does not stay with me for the day and I don’t get much from it. Those times that I take in what I’m reading and praying, the lesson comes back again and again all day.
        It does take practice, though. btw this is not works righteousness. I think it’s more like tenderizing meat, pounding breaks down hard fibers and quiet breaks down the hardness in my heart to make me more available to God.

      • Anthony Bloom’s “Beginning to Pray” is a brilliant short book. I’ve quoted it several times, and I really recommend it.

      • Miguel, if you’re still reading,

        Fr Meletios Webber’s “Bread, Water, Wine & Oil” is a good overview of Orthodox spirituality. He is now the abbot of a monastery in California. He also has extensive experience as a psychologist and with 12 Step. Very accessible.


        • Still reading! But I’m looking for something along the lines of a breviary or service book. Like the Orthodox equivalent of the Book of Common Prayer or Liturgy of the Hours. Any recommendations?

  14. Why so little spiritual formation in the way of the contemplatives and mystics? Here are a few reasons.

    1) It’s not event-driven or even event-friendly, and thus it’s hard to promote.
    2) It’s not practical in any immediate sense that you can hook people in to in the hopes of a better life now.
    3) It’s really difficult to measure such a program’s goals and successes; the holy spirit and God’s leading is just too unpredictable for that.
    4) It can all sound rather nebulous, and maybe even dangerously new-agey.
    5) Most protestants don’t have the resources to put spiritual formation of this kind into a manageable (for them) program.

    So it’s at best a shot in the dark with no guarantees, and at worst a liability and drain on many other good things the church may be doing.

    I have a rather different view, of course, and I’m sure many here do too. But I think for the average pastor or lay leader in an evangelical congregation the items above present real hurdles. In time, those hurdles may be removed, but that’s the situation on the ground in a lot of places right now.

    • ‘new-agey’ ?

      in Russia, the land of my god-mother, with almost no money, and until recently, greatly opposed by communist leaders, still a way of being deeply reverent was kept alive for many, many centuries:


    • Believe it or not but there are already inventories being used to “measure” spiritual maturity.

      • Oh, man. You mean like a ‘tick the box’ list of “Have you achieved your spiritual goals for this month?” type thing?

        Nothing would kill your prayer life stone dead faster.

      • *twitch* *twitch*

        I’m having flashbacks to conversations that go like this:

        Person 1: How is your spiritual like going?
        Person 2: I failed to do daily devotions 3 times this week.

        And I think I may have seen such a checklist … But such things are better off forgotten.

        • What’s even worse more edifying is the person who’s started six new novenas (and is keeping them up, moreover!), is going on her third pilgrimage this year (as a volunteer), and is currently hosting the Pilgrim Virgin statue whilst establishing a branch of the Legion of Mary, in between signing up for Holy Hours and all-night prayer vigils 🙂

          • In circumstances such as you describe, Martha, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom recommends sitting still and knitting. He’s a very sane man.

          • Good grief. Sounds like all the elderly ladies at my old church. Minus all the Catholic devotions.

            I still wonder how they do it all…. Maybe a superabundance of grace? 😉

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Don’t us Romish Papists call such a thing “Excessive Scrupulosity”?

  15. I think the question maybe presupposes a few things. It’s like asking why professors and academics tend to be liberal. Turns out it’s not academia that turns people liberal, but that liberals are attracted to academia.

    The same is at least somewhat true for evangelicals, I suspect. Evangelicalism attracts those who are left-brained, practical, and logical, not spiritual meditative touchy-feely types. It’s a very rational, 2+2=4, view of scripture that very much appeals to our Western minds.

    The reason there’s no emphasis on spiritual formation within evanglicalism is that there’s no demand. If there were a demand, a market would fill it.

    • I have an idea that some of the original disciples were “left-brained, practical, and logical, not spiritual meditative touchy-feely types.” Yet Jesus still welcomed them into his presence and walked with them for 3 1/2 years, forming them into disciples. It’s not about a specific stream of tradition, it’s about making all our traditions into Jesus-shaped apprenticeship endeavors.

      • Not to mention us “left brainers” need to have our “right brain” exercised. It does actually exist and is a functional organ. We might discover another facet of learning to live from our weaknesses where the power of Christ may be revealed.

    • I see what you are saying — but I think the issue might not be personality type, but rather culture or philosophy. Evangelicalism doesn’t strike me so much as left-brained as it does pragmatic.

      I think personality types face unique challenges no matter what. I’m ultra-rational — for those who into Myers-Briggs, I’m strongly INTJ. When I was an evangelical youth, my rational orientation sent me straight into the “study the books — apprehend the truths — fight the culture war” mindset. So yes, that side of it really did appeal. Of course the danger (not just for me but for 2 or 3 others I know who are the same type) when we found holes in the paradigm, we pretty much short-circuited. The certainty went away, everyone told us just to feel better about it and turn up the praise music. But the praise music never had much effect on us in the first place … Sometimes it’s hard to know where to go with the intellectual side of things seems thin and the emotional side seems, well, untrustworthy.

      I am not sure what I need now, but I definitely need something like spiritual formation. I need some way of practicing a consistent discipline that will give me a way to be Christian that isn’t strictly dependent on reading Scripture every day and going “ah ha! here’s my answer!” or dependent on managing to feel a certain way most of the time. I am not feeling oriented at all — I’m calm, and when I experience strong emotion (spiritual or otherwise) I tend not to trust what it is telling me. So, I think something that establishes a pattern of action or reflection that is very grounded might really help people who ‘work’ the way I do.

      Not sure, of course. Just musing.

      • I think I still have a book on my shelf that helped me with this very issue at one time, Danielle. It linked Myers-Briggs type to appropriate spiritual practices. At that point in my development, I scored INT as well, and the authors suggested that some people are suited to practice prayer THROUGH reading, not as something in addition to it. It changed the way I approached my devotional life and relieved a lot of guilt. I began to become a more contemplative reader, turning my studies into conversations with him.

    • They don’t know what to do . . . for spiritual ‘formation’ . . . which is sad, because that is a part of their Christian heritage that ‘got lost’ and yet is NOT in ‘opposition’ to their faith.

      If evangelicals don’t ‘understand’, it’s not their fault. With communication opening up on the internet, many are becoming ‘aware’ that there is something ‘more’ in the wealth of Christian heritage that belongs to them, too.

  16. The word forms us, particularly the preaching of gospel as foundational.

    A lot of things are aids, like BCP, prayer beads or devotionals; however, I don’t think these things themselves form us.

    I think a large part of spiritual formation comes through our vocations and daily lives – the ups, downs, victories, defeats, adulations, disappointments. Reading and hearing the Word of God and receiving the sacraments prepare and strengthen us for how we respond when life happens. Prayer, meditation, and contemplation are important, but they need to push us back into our daily lives; they can’t become the sum of our lives.

    Ultimately, it is God who forms us. Direct contact with God is found in living our lives, not in seeking still small voices, esoteric experiences, or special revelations.

    • The word forms us, particularly the preaching of gospel as foundational.

      But if what is preached week in and week out is an evangelistic message, and the only Word being read is the one or two verses the preacher has hinged his message on, those already converted will soon show signs of malnutrition.

  17. “Is this the fruit of the Reformation gospel’s emphasis on forensic justification and imputed righteousness? Is it Protestant to be ‘weak on sanctification?’ Can the wholesale emphasis on evangelism have made us so spiritually shallow that the only thing we know to do is tell someone to ‘pray more and read the Bible?'”

    Amen to the late Michael Spencer. Our Lord, if you read the four Gospel narratives, made what we call “spiritual formation” (i.e., experiential sanctification) very important in his ministry teachings. So important was it for our Lord that he made it clear what the consequences were for those who did not participate or engage in this endeavor (John 15:1-6). I don’t know why so many professing evangelicals today have this allergic reaction in putting spiritual formation and eternal life in the same basket. Is it perhaps because Jesus taught that those two things cannot be separated and they are just reacting the same way a lot of the unbelieving Jews were feeling during his earthly ministry?

    • Mark,

      Since our brothers, the evangelicals tend not to use any form of lectionary, the pastors are free to use and plan their sermons as they wish. When I was one, Easter and Christmas were the main holidays on the calendar. (I’m not counting the U.S patriotic ones, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day).Consequently, they tend to emphasize Paul’s letters rather than the gospels.

  18. Where does the Protestant/Evangelical go for spiritual formation? I don’t know where the Evangelical goes, but the traditional Protestant goes to…church where he receives Word and Sacrament, pastoral oversight and fellowship, the very things Jesus Christ appointed for the spiritual formation of His people. I know many churches are light on these things, but if disciples left the full-service mall churches, and went to the dinky churches where these things are found, they would be better off. Of course this means they may have to muddle through life without rock bands, praise teams, singles ministries, and ‘something for the kids’.

  19. Spencer was so far out ahead of his time, we ran into this situation. I was dying for some type of spiritual formation, tried a number of different things. But there’s not much substance out there in the Evangelical world, so we finally after a great deal of fretting looked at the RCC path. What I’m finding is that the rich tradition I was dying for is there, I’m still working my way through the issues (shedding my past). And submitting to Rome is going to be a difficult thing, but I’m in love with the tradition, the reverence and the beauty of the Mass and worship. They have a chapel that manned 24 hours a day for prayer, you can come and sit in the presence of Christ and just pray, read your bible or reflect. AWESOME!!!


    • I’m glad you’ve found a good church.

      I’m torn between encouraging you and warning you about the day-to-day reality of life as a Catholic, which is that we’re just as messed up as anyone.

      As someone or other has said, “Welcome aboard the Barque of Peter, now grab a bucket and start bailing!” 🙂

      But God be with you in your journey, wherever it leads you (even if it is to be my brother in Holy Mother Church, in which case, many congratulations! We need everyone we can get!)

      • Christopher Lake says

        Amen, Martha. I have found that when the “honeymoon period” of Catholic conversion (or “reversion,” in my case) hits the wall of sometimes-discouraging reality *in* the Church, the deeper growth starts. It doesn’t feel very good at all, even in my quite limited experience at this point– but then, hitting a wall, by definition, doesn’t feel good, lol!

        Some Catholics may be in local parishes where they are simply incredibly blessed (insulated?), and they do not have to listen to the priest who preaches blithely against (insert historic Church teaching here) or who abuses the liturgy in some terrible, grating way. Even if that is the case though, eventually someone will hurt said blessed Catholics, or will act in some other oafish way, that will simply be hard to endure. If this *never* happens, perhaps one *is currently being* that person in someone else’s life! 🙂

        Either way, the Catholic Church truly is “Here Comes Everybody”– when we like it, and when we don’t! Thank God for the ability to “offer it up!” 🙂 (And Lord, when things are hard to endure, help me not to give in to the mentality of “church-hopping” that exists in both Catholic and Protestant circles… not unless it is *truly* necessary.)

      • I know better than to look for the Saint Peter’s Perfect Parish, I’m finding that many Catholics simply don’t know that much about their theology. But that’s not any different than any other denomination, it’s not just the protestants who are suffering from this lack of knowledge.

        That being said, it’s going to be what I make of it. This is going to be a long and trying road, we’ve already been equated to idiots by family members, and I’ve run into some interesting knee jerk reactions from Protestants (wish they could at least get some of their facts right!!). But when your being called, your being called and right now this is the only door that is open. So I either follow God’s lead or continue to suffer 😉

        Beckwith’s conversion has been interesting to me, what he’s saying is exactly what I’m finding in my research. Are there problems, yep and lots of them. My road on the Ancient-Future path has led to me here, and here for now is where I’ll stay.

        Thanks Martha!!

        • You’re welcome, Paul. Besides, this fits into our Top Secret Ultra-Secure Hidden Ultimate Plans.

          World Domination: One person at a time.


        • Christopher Lake says

          I hear you, Paul; I’ve traveled the same road, and it has led me back to the Catholic Church which I somewhat ignorantly left many years ago. Welcome Home, brother, if you do indeed make the swim across the Tiber! (I didn’t mean to dampen your spirits at all with my previous comment about imperfections in the Church. I wouldn’t be anywhere else for the world!)

    • Christopher’s comment is really true. The Catholic Church is a big, fractious, grumpy family where people love to argue with each other. There are lots and lots of fruit loops, too. Welcome Home, AnneG

      • it’s like Mark Shea says (can’t remember exact quote so paraphrasing here): “The wonderful thing about the Catholic Church? It’s one big family! The awful thing about the Catholic Church? It’s one big family!”

        All of us that come out of families can identify with that one, I think 🙂

        • Martha,

          I love your quote, “Welcome aboard. Now grab a bucket and start bailing.” That’s exactly what I found. But, I never went through a honeymoon period, too much experience to expect ti. GRIN

          • Christopher Lake says


            Actually, my honeymoon period, regarding returning to the Church, lasted about two months– and that’s stretching it! 🙂 Without saying too much, I felt disappointed by someone who had initially seemed to promise a door into deeper involvement with my parish (deeper than just Sunday Mass, that is). In the end though, it has probably been for my best, as it has shown me that I was putting too much hope in my longed-for circumstances, rather than in whatever God’s will would be for me. Not an easy lesson (and I’ve had to learn it before) but an important one.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          “The wonderful thing about the Catholic Church? It’s one big family! The awful thing about the Catholic Church? It’s one big family!”

          Including Poor Relations and Crazy Uncles.

          “You can choose your friends. You can’t choose your relatives.”
          — American President Jimmy Carter, after his brother Billy caused a scandal

  20. While not technically ‘Protestant’ the Lutherans have a rich tradition of spiritual formation that is basically grounded in forensic justification. We are shaped by three books; the Bible, the Hymnal, and the Lutheran Confessions, especially Luther’s Large and Small Catechisms. A recent semi addition to this tool box has been the publication of the Treasury of Daily Prayer. See Michael’s review of it here


    In addition to these resources, we have a solid tradition of catechizing our youth and our pastors also make use of private confession and absolution.

    That being said, exposure to, and participation in the resources and opportunities your tradition provides is crucial.

    If, on the other hand, your particular tradition is really lacking in any substantive resources for ‘spiritual formation,’ it may be time to go church shopping.

    • Patrick,

      Having come out of the Lutheran Church for reasons I won’t mention here, I think it is the closest protestant “answer” if one wants the “spiritual formation” noted here.

      At the same time, my experience in the LCMS is that the “old books” are rarely discussed within the churches.

      The Lutherans appear to be going in two directions: the old ones that will be dead in less than 20 years continue to worship in the old style. Pastors trying to reach the youngsters are turning to worship styles similar to those found in the churches where many who visit this site would be uncomfortable. I know there are exceptions, but this is my experience.

      The focus on “spiritual formation” within many of these churches mirrors the worship style.

      A rare participant is the commenter above (Steve) who mentioned a Bible Study he attends in his Lutheran Church where certain books of tradition are being studied.

      For me, Martha above summed up my feelings on the subject when she wrote:

      “As someone or other has said, “Welcome aboard the Barque of Peter, now grab a bucket and start bailing!”

      Every fellowship has its problems.

      It seems to me that this “spiritual formation,” a new term to me, could be summarized in Matt. 6:33.

      If the search mentioned in this verse leads one to the Lutheran Confessions, that is a good thing.

      I think Fish nailed it when he stated:

      “The reason there’s no emphasis on spiritual formation within evangelicalism is that there’s no demand. If there were a demand, a market would fill it.”

      A majority of today’s Christians have a hard time naming the first five books of the Bible. How many are taking seriously the search for righteousness the Bible speaks of is, IMO, in America, at an all-time low. I think this is true in a traditions.

      I’m looking forward to the following posts on this topic.

      God’s blessings…

      • I think this is true in “all” traditions.

      • Chris,

        What you say about Lutherans is true, however there is a strong resurgence of Confessional Lutheranism and a return to our roots in many quarters is under way.

        It can be seen in things like the Higher Things youth organization, the Wittenberg Trail, Issues Etc, Pirate Christian Radio, and in the blogosphere with things like The God Whisperers and other blogs and podcasts. Many of the new Pastors coming out of our Seminaries in the last ten years are very confessional, and with the recent election of a deeply confessional man to the Highest office in the LCMS, our church body is changing for the better.

        I’m sorry your experience with the Lutheran church has been less than it could have been. Some Lutherans are unworthy heirs of their heritage, and I suspect you may have suffered under them.

        • Patrick,

          I have been “away” from the LCMS for a few years, so I’m unaware of the new developments. Thanks for the update.

          I have many Christian friends who are in LCMS churches: pastors, teachers, and my own parents included. The one friend I’ve kept in touch with since high school helped me lead a Lutheran youth group. That was more than a few years ago. My conversations with these folks in recent years have been mostly social in nature.

          I always felt that the strong stands that the LCMS church took on essential issues made it unique. In our day and age, for any church to place God’s Word is such esteem is always refreshing. I have great respect for the denomination for that reason.

          Making a strong stand on paper and doing it in the real world are something different, and that’s why I left.

          Admittedly, I have been in areas in the U.S. that are somewhat “detached” from the larger concentrations of LCMS Lutherans (California, Oregon, and Arkansas). I realize this may have had something to do with my experiences.

          After being away from the LCMS, I’ve come to realize that every protestant group is having similar problems.

          I think it’s a sign of the times.

          Wishing you the best…

  21. From the archives, Michael talks about the Lutheran resources for spiritual formation:


  22. Buford Hollis says

    I dunno about evangelicals, but if other kinds of Protestants would be okay, there do exist Episcopal monasteries. Probably other Protestant denominations too…

    Do evangelicals go on pilgrimage? You might try that (to someplace like Israel, I mean, not to the Crystal Cathedral). Or consider getting involved in some sort of charity or relief group. Probably a majority of them are faith-based. I’m thinking that you’re likely to meet people with congruent spiritual beliefs through activities like these.

  23. There are some resources for spiritual formation, one author is Ruth Haley Barton. She writes a very good manageable introduction called: Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives For Spiritual Transformation It is easy to understand, my wife has been working through it with small groups.

    I have not read it entirely. That is because I am learning to live some of the disciplines, that takes longer. You don’t just read for information. You try to let it change you.

    In one of the first chapters she starts out with the need to learn to take times of solitude, where you withdraw and allow God to speak to your heart. I think the reason many evans can’t do the disciplines is because they won’t take the time for solitude. It was only in this last month that I realised if you don’t learn this first, you don’t tend to get very far.

    As someone else pointed out, really a lot of these need to be learned in community, it helps if you can have a spiritual director.

  24. The most helpful thing for me was Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines which helped me build a framework for what the disciplines are about and how to proceed with spiritual formation. My background as a wrestler in high school had tuned me in to the need for seemingly pointless drills on things that seemed unrelated to wrestling, but when the coach put everything together, it made sense. Fasting in and of itself has no value and Jesus will give no gold stars to those who were the best at fasting. Yet fasting is necessary to build self-discipline, a godly virtue worth possessing. And so forth through all the disciplines. A good book I’d highly recommend.

  25. Prodigal Daughter says

    Interesting. I just happened to pick up Henri Nouwen’s “Spiritual Formation” at the library the other day. I’m a protestant, but like Nouwen. Will be interested to read forthcoming posts. And I wholeheartedly agree with Protestantism’s shallow view of the topic.

  26. On Sunday morning hearing:
    1) Hearing that I am a sinner (law) and that Christ is the justifier (gospel) every Sunday. The gospel message is not just for entry into the life but it sustains the life of the Christian. It baffles me why it is confused as what a Christian must then do. As my father, an elder in a large free evangelical church said, “I don’t want to listen to another podcast sermon because I have hard enough time doing what our pastor says on Sunday”.
    2) That my baptism (is a one-way gift to me, not a work) is a tangible affirmation of my position in Christ.
    3) That in receiving the gift of communion, I realize that my sins are forgiven in Christ.
    4) That after hearing the good new pronouncement, I am absolved of my sins in because of what Christ has done.
    5) Love my neighbor in mercy and grace coming back to Sunday morning for these gifts again knowing that in word, thought, deed I have not done it perfectly during the week.

    For me that is the spiritual formation.

    • And if that path is drawing you into a closer walk with our Lord then you are truly blessed. But one of the things I have learned from recent discussions is that there are something like 9 different “paths” to spiritual formation, And just as different people have different learning styles, so we also have different paths of spiritual formation.

      So while I am glad you have found a path that works for you, in the past I have found myself starving on that path, and am very much looking forward to the discussions of the next week.

    • That’s great. Personally I don’t find Sunday morning church to be very spiritually formative, but a lot of people do. I don’t have to do anything but sit there and listen, and sing if I want. I need something to struggle against, to be challenged by, to work on, to discipline myself with.

      • Fish, If you want to practice discipline on Sunday morning, go to an Orthodox or Byzantine or Maronite Catholic Divine Liturgy sometime. About 2 hours of worship, chanting of psalms and songs, readings, prayers and the only time you sit down is in the homily.

        • True dat, AneeG. I’ve only been to 3 Divine Liturgies; they’re all hardcore. Not only what you said, but also all the prostrations/bowing, the somewhat confusing hymnody (like chanting half the hymn 3 times, waiting 5 minutes for the priest’s prayer to be over, than chanting the whole hymn three time), etc.

          It is a spiritual workout, but worth it!

        • But the time ‘disappears’ sometimes, as was at an Orthodox service for over two hours and thought I had been there only a short time.

          What happened? I don’t know.
          Very strange to see time go by like that.

  27. I was just reading from Tozer where he states, “One should suppose that proper instruction in the doctrines of man’s depravity and the necessity for justification through the righteousness of Christ alone would deliver us from the power of self-sins, but it does not work that way.” Elseware he states, “We are overrun today with [protestant] orthodox scribes, but the prophets, where are they? The hard voice of the scribe sounds over evangelicalism, but the church waits for the tender voice of the saint who has penetrated the veil and has gazed with inward eye upon the wonder that is God.”

    I truly have a love-hate relationship with Tozer. At one moment I find him saying something quite brilliant and timelessly prophetic, and at others he makes me so frustrated that I want to throw the book through window. These quotes illicit a mix of the two. I agree that if all we have is orthodoxy and no orthopraxy, then we have missed the point of spiritual formation altogether. As Richard Neihbur pointed out, justification and sanctification are the two foci of the same ellipse; it is not a question of either-or, but of both-and. The protestant reformation did regress into a sophism, where faith became mental ascent to a particular dogma. But the pietism which followed was no successful correction; it separated faith completely from orthodoxy and focused it internally on the inner-light: personal experience, dedication, and feelings. I don’t see Tozer as a return to pietism, but I see much influence by him on current spirituality, of the “chasing God” nature. There is something permanently illusive about seeking a personal experience with God. It becomes a frantic chase with no end in sight, rather than a spirituality which directs its energies toward ones vocation and love for ones neighbor.

    • Tozer rocks.

    • The “orthodox scribe” quote reminds me of something else Tozer wrote:

      Hearts that are “fit to break” with love for the Godhead are those who have been in the Presence and have looked with opened eye upon the majesty of Deity. Men of the breaking hearts had a quality about them not known to or understood by common men. They habitually spoke with spiritual authority. They had been in the Presence of God and they reported what they saw there. They were prophets, not scribes: for the scribe tells us what he has read, and the prophet tells us what he has seen.The Pursuit of God, emphasis added

  28. I don’t know if anybody mentioned examination of conscience. It is a good practice and necessary if you want to really love your neighbor, not just think you are.

  29. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

    I’ve only skimmed the above answers, but I didn’t see this among them, so I feel a bit obligated to toss the Book of Common Prayer into the mix.

    When the early English Reformers published the earliest BCP editions it was for the purpose of making the spiritual formation of monastic life available to everyone. And while I know some Anglicans don’t dig the TEC 1979 edition, it’s very user-friendly and has everything from 5-minute devotionals, to full-fledged daily prayer services, complete with both a daily and weekly lectionary that are in bite-sized chunks o’ Scripture to be used with the services.

    While it may be liturgical, the BCP is definitely Protestant, especially in its earlier, more traditional forms. I seriously thing that the BCP is Anglicanism’s greatest contribution to Christianity.

    • Kelby Carlson says

      You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve picked up the electronic edion of the BCP to attempt liturgical practice. But, honestly, I’m confused by the thing and can’t figure out how to use it. I’d love a basic explanation of how I can use it for individual prayer/devotion, if anyone would care to offer one.

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says


        I find that a physical version is MUCH easier to use than any electronic one. Unfortunately, in my part of Texas, that means ordering it, ‘cuz none of the local bookstores carry it.

        At any rate, for a good walkthrough, in the links section on this site (right hand of the home page), you’ll find one for St. Peter’s Anglican. On that site, on the yellow left hand menu (which is a little cluttered), you’ll find at the very bottom a link for Forms and Multimedia. When you hover over that link, you’ll see another menu pop up to your right. The bottom link on that menu is for Videos. When you click that link, it takes you to the video page. Scroll down a bit and there’s a teaching by Rev. Martha Giltian on using the prayer book at home. It’s about an hour or so long and will give you a REALLY good tutorial. It helps best if you have a copy in front of you. However, there are links just below the video that reference what she’s talking about if you don’t have your BCP.

  30. This thing called ‘spiritual formation’ i something we journey in together, as we are drawn into the loving arms of our God, Savior, and Creator.

    I have a masters degree (from an Evangelical Seminary), and I can tell you for sure, that the spiritual disciplines done by devote Christians through the last 2,000 can be a vital way to prepare one’s heart for the work of grace. It is a heart, not actions based, variety of ways to center on God and his work of grace through our Lord Jesus Christ.

    I focus my website on this, and I’d so appreciate your thoughts, and participation, when you visit.

    If anyone is interested in group or personal spiritual “direction” …contact me.

  31. If it’s hard for you to understand how someone one who was once convinced of Reformed Protestant teaching on justification/soteriology can reach such conclusions as I have– I understand! A year ago, I never dreamed that I would believe certain things that I now do. The men who run “Called to Communion” might be able to help you understand my thought process better than I can, in this relatively short space. They are all former Reformed Protestants, many of them Reformed seminary graduates, who ultimately became convinced of the claims of the Catholic Church.

    Well said, Christopher.

    I am not a Roman Catholic (I grew up as one, and now am Eastern Orthodox), but your long post sums this particular pathway up quite well I think.

    To me, the Reformation was a great tragedy for Western Chrtistianity as a whole, and for the Church, East and West together, as well. The medieval abuses of the Roman Church almost inevitably led to it, and Luther was quite right to critique them. The Romans, for their part, folded their arms as seems to be the persona when they feel threatened or challenged (we see that even today) — it’s an understandable if not necessarily helpful response.

    But then, things went hog-wild. A revolution took hold, and not only were clear abuses (like peddling indulgences) rejected, but well-settled 15 centuries long practices, liturgical and otherwise, were jettisoned, novel soteriologies were penned and so on. And when things moved to Switzerland, the radicalization intensified, as happens in any revolution as it runs its course.

    The point is not to point fingers at this or that side for blame, because there is much more than enough to go around among both the Catholics and Protestants of that age as well as the Orthodox and Catholics of 5 centuries beforehand (because I firmly believe had there been no Great Schism there would have been no “need” for a Reformation in the West), but to realize that what started as a modest reform movement focused on clear abuses became a radicalized revolutionary movement that threw out many, many babies with the bathwater of the revolutionary zeal — settled traditions and practices and so on that had no connection at all to the initial abuses identified by Luther. Luther himself was not pleased with the radicals, but it was a crazy time in the Western Church.

    Five Hundred Years later, I do think it would be a good idea for Protestant Christians to really examine what happened throughout Church history with an open, clean-slate mind, including what happened during the reformation period. You may reach the same conclusions that you have today, but you may not. The history, to my eyes, appears very messy, to say the least.

    When I read posts like this and some of the other ones here, it strikes me that the answer to what you seek, for many of you, is staring you in the face. You may not like that answer, and I can understand that, given where you are sitting and the convictions you have acquired. I do think, though, that a study of history and patristics with an *open* mind (not with a Reformation lens), will lead you to find more answers about precisely why Protestant churches seem to lack some of the things that are discussed here. I know that the answer may not be comfortable, and it may not be wanted. And I also know that the other options are far from perfect. But I have the strong sense that you all will keep spinning around and around and around these kinds of issues ad infinitum without some real grounding in understanding the true root of the issues, and *why* they exist in Protestantism. I do not mean this in a disrespectful way at all, and if it comes across that way, I’d ask for your forgiveness on that point — I sincerely do not mean any disrespect.

  32. Christopher Lake said,

    “However, Luther took things further than rightful objections over abuse in *practice*. He challenged the very teaching authority of the Church itself, based upon *his personal interpretation* of Scripture. ”

    “I do now think that the Reformation was a mistake– and I say that as one who used to view it as a wonderful recovery of “the Gospel,” based upon *my interpretation* of what I thought the Bible taught on justification. I now believe I was wrong.”


    Luther fully proved that the doctrine he held to was taught by both the Church Fathers and the Magisterium in times past and that he was not an ‘innovator’ introducing a ‘new teaching’ to the Church. The Apology for the Augsburg Confession and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope deal with this subject.

    • Also, one does well to remember that Luther did not leave the RCC but was thrown out when he refused to recant his teachings in the face of the Magisterium’s refusal to answer his teaching from the Scriptures or the Church Fathers. He long held hope that the breach would be healed or at least be temporary in nature.

      The Reformation was a mistake only in that the RCC did not embrace and enfold it, but instead with the Council of Trent made the split irreparable.

      • Christopher Lake says


        I’ve come to my views honestly after study and intense struggle as a Protestant. Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church, because he held to his own private interpretation of Scripture over against what the Church had taught from apostolic times. None of the early Fathers, in any of their writings that I have read, held to forensic justification and imputed righteousness. They did not understand these teachings to be Scriptural.

        • Christopher Lake says

          “Forensic justification” by faith alone and imputed righteousness were, at least from my readings of the early Fathers, unknown teachings in the early Church. Now, one can say, “That doesn’t matter. Those teachings are found in the Bible.”

          However, such a conclusion is based upon one’s own interpretation of the Bible, and very crucially, it goes against the Scriptural exegesis of the very early Christians who had ties to the apostles themselves– some of whom actually *knew and/or were discipled by* apostles.

          • ‘None of the early Fathers, in any of their writings that I have read, held to forensic justification and imputed righteousness. They did not understand these teachings to be Scriptural.’

            ‘“Forensic justification” by faith alone and imputed righteousness were, at least from my readings of the early Fathers, unknown teachings in the early Church. ‘

            For your consideration from Clement, a disciple of Peter and later a Bishop in Rome.

            1 Clement 14:20 – 21 “And we also being called by the same will in Christ Jesus are not justified by ourselves, neither by our own wisdom, or knowledge, or piety, or the works which we have done in holiness of our hearts: But by that faith which God Almighty has justified all men from the beginning; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen

          • Christopher Lake says


            I’m aware of Clement of Rome and his writings. One of my favorite books on the early Church Fathers , “Four Witnesses,” has an entire section devoted to the life and writings of Clement. In official lists of Popes from the Catholic Church, he is the fourth or fifth one.

            In the short excerpt which you provided from one of Clement’s writings, there is nothing which is incompatible with historic Catholic theology. Catholics, indeed, *do not* believe that we are justified by own works or wisdom. We do, indeed, believe that we justified through faith in Christ. However, we do not believe that we are justified either faith alone *or* by works alone.

            In that excerpt from Clement, he states that we are not justified by our works. Catholics agree. He also states that we are justified by faith. Catholics agree. What he does not say, and what I have not seen any early Church Father say, is that Christians are justified by faith *alone*, in the way in which Luther understood. Luther’s ideas of forensic justification and imputed righteousness are simply not affirmed by any Church Father in any writing that I have read.

            What I have read from the early Fathers, and what the Catholic Church teaches today, and yes, what I believe Jesus teaches in the Scriptures, is that we are first justified through the water of baptism as infants (which is the “water” part of “born of water and the Spirit”) and then, that justification is continued through conversion of mind and heart, and through the works which flow from such conversion. The whole process, from infancy to adulthood, is of God’s grace. Saved by grace, justified by faith and works. St. James clearly states, is his letter, that man is *not* justified by faith alone. Neither is man justified by works alone. We must have faith in order to be justified. Faith alone, however, does not justify.

            I know that to Protestants, this is heresy. They must deal with St. James’ words– and I know, very well, that there is Protestant exegesis to “explain” that James is referring to a “different type” or a “different side” of justification than Paul writes of in his epistles.

            However, in the face of the text of James itself, that exegesis no longer rings true to me– especially after reading very thoughtful Catholic exegesis of St. Paul, which shows that he writes of being justified by faith apart from works, he is referring to ritualistic works of the Mosaic law, such as circumcision, and refuting Jewish Christians who were attempting to make circumcision mandatory for Gentile converts. The idea of good works *in general* having absolutely nothing to do with our justification is not at issue in Paul’s epistles. When I came to understand this, James’ statements on faith, works, and justification suddenly made much more sense.

          • Christopher Lake says

            Sorry for the typos in that last long reply, Patrick. It’s late– I mean, early! 🙂

        • @Damaris: well, it’s been three days, and still no WW III. Maybe somebody has been reading John 17:21 when they’re not hip deep in Romans. I look forward to your next book review.