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Spiritual Formation is a movement within Christianity that encourages the development of Christian spirituality in disciples. This concept is not a new one for the Catholic church, as the monastic orders (especially the Benedictine monks) have been practicing many of the disciplines for centuries. The movement is extending that quest for spirituality into many Protestant believers.

The concept of Christian spirituality was largely rejected during the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther, who was a monk in the Order of St. Augustine, made the remark, "If anyone could have gained heaven as a monk, then I would indeed have been among them." So, since the ascetic practices of the monastic orders was insufficient to earn salvation, they were believed to have little value for Christian disciples.

The modern spiritual formation movement is currently championed by Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, who met in the 1970s at a Quaker church in Woodland Hills, California. After developing the concept and practice of spiritual formation in this church, Foster founded the organization Renovaré (which means "to renew" in Latin) to encourage believers in all walks of life to commit themselves to following spiritual disciplines, exercise spiritual gifts, and perform acts of service.

Many Protestants object to the spiritual formation movement. Some see it as a return to monastic asceticism. Others see it as encouraging Pentecostal/charismatic attitudes and actions, or promoting the practices of Eastern religions. Then, there are some that like the ideas put forth by the movement, but object to its name. Bill Hull writes,

You might wonder why I have used 'discipleship' instead of the currently popular term 'spiritual formation.' I cast my lot with John Stott on this matter. 'I've never liked very much the phrase spiritual formation,' Stott said to an American interviewer, 'any more than I like the word spirituality. They seem to perpetuate the disastrous division between spiritual and secular...The second reason I don't like it is because it's not really a biblical phrase. The biblical phrase for spirituality and spiritual formation is discipleship.'

Despite opposition, spiritual formation is becoming very popular, especially in America. Many seminaries are teaching classes in spiritual formation and in encouraging and leading spiritual formation. Many churches (especially larger ones) are creating spiritual formation ministries, often devoting a full time pastor to develop that ministry.

References:
Renovaré website - http://www.renovare.org
Christianity Today - Three Temptations of Spiritual Formation - http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/013/4.46.html
Choose the Life, Bill Hull

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