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The Table Video

James Houston, Bruce Hindmarsh& Steve L. Porter

The History of Spiritual Formation - James Houston and Bruce Hindmarsh

Emeritus Professor of Spiritual Theology, Regent College
James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology, Regent College
CCT Scholar-in-Residence and Executive Board Member / Professor of Theology, Spiritual Formation, and Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University
November 25, 2013

James Houston and Bruce Hindmarsh, both professors of spiritual theology at Regent College, explain the history of the spiritual formation movement. Moderated by Stever Porter (CCT Associate Director).


Bruce and Jim you both have been involved with the spiritual formation movement for some time, what do you make of where we’ve come from within particularly the Evangelical Church when it comes to spiritual formation what ground has been covered? And where do you see us needing to go for the future?

I think there’s a way we’re in this second generation aren’t we? We had the pioneering ministry of people like Jim and Dallas Willard and so on, and I think there has been a prophetic ministry in the Church of the recognition about the whole person formation in Christ and especially pushing back against the idea that somehow the Christian life is primarily just about cognitive content and maybe behavioral exercitation. But that a recovery of spiritual vision a recovery of a sense of being whole persons in Christ.

I think one of my concerns right now is just the sense of fragmentation and that there’s a way that certain kind of messages that are the right message when heard in a certain kind of context become different, you know, and we still seem to be operating in a world that is so freelance, ad hoc, and programmatic that I worry sometimes that it may blunt the force of the prophetic call to keep united what is easily pulled asunder into fragments, you know, it’s not that spiritual formation is meant to be something different from theology. You know, it’s the basic Christian life and the idea that it becomes its own movement or its own thing has its own dangers I think.

Yes, and I think In response there’s both a long history and a short history and the long history is that since the classic of Gregory the Great on his Pastoralia which had a huge influence on the whole of Christiandom and the Carolingian and then in the later medieval expressions of Christiandom the focus was on the pastor, on the priest so it really was on priestly formation and even after the reformation we find that in the Protestant world people like George Herbert the poet and as a pastor has a wonderful homily on the whole subject of the Country Parson.

on his character and likewise we find Richard Baxter in the reform pastor giving us another example, so the profiling of the ideal priest or pastor I think is the origin of the concept, but I think the short history is that after Vatican two there was a real concern on the part of the reformers within the Roman Church that their priests should have a priestly formation that was appropriate to Vatican two and it was I think from that background that, certainly in America the ATS the Association of Theological Schools then adopted it for spiritual formation in the Seminary but because they were still viewing it for seminarians the whole purpose was still that Gregorian tradition.

So I think it’s more innovative what has happened since then is that we now think of spiritual formation for the priesthood of all believers that all Christians should have some form of spiritual formation. So I think that’s the root of the movement. [relaxed guitar music]