Spiritual Formation: A Self-Centered Spiritualism?

Spiritual Formation: A Self-Centered Spiritualism?

I remember that a few years ago, I was going through a checkout line at a grocery store when the few items I purchased rang up to $6.66. The cashier noticed the ominous numbers and gave a small gasp. When I asked her what she thought of that number, she responded, “I don’t know what it means, but I know it’s really bad!”

Christians through the centuries have sometimes confused dangerous doctrines with trivial superstitions. When guarding against doctrinal dangers, we tend to “strain a gnat and swallow a camel.” The devil really doesn’t care which extreme distracts us—just as long as he can get you off the main track of truth.

This is what I’ve seen with the current phenomenon known as spiritual formation. Twenty years ago, many of us would not have raised an eyebrow over this term, but today there is a lot of passionate discussion about how this philosophy and practice is infiltrating our churches and leading many astray. If you asked people to describe it more specifically, many might say, “I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know it’s really bad!”

Let me state right off the bat: I have a problem with several spiritual formation practices, especially those that are rooted in Eastern mysticism and lead people to look within themselves for truth, rather than focusing on the Bible as our source of guidance. Many are being duped into practicing Eastern forms of meditation in which you “empty yourself,” which could ultimately allow the devil to influence the mind. These so-called spiritual practices are unbiblical and dangerous.

The Wiki definition of spiritual formation says, “The growth and development of the whole person by an intentional focus on one’s spiritual and interior life, interactions with others in ordinary life, and spiritual practices (prayer, the study of scripture, fasting, simplicity, solitude, confession, worship, etc.).” 

On the surface, most of this sounds pretty solid. We all should seek to grow spiritually and interact with others. I firmly believe in praying, reading the Bible, and fasting. But there is a growing emphasis among many groups on increasing a focus on the “interior life,” which I believe will ultimately lead you astray. The Bible has nothing good to say about the heart of man. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Some people have said to me, “But the Bible talks about meditation.” That’s true. But when you study all the passages, you discover there is no recommendation to search within your heart for truth. Rather, you see an emphasis on meditating on God’s law (Psalm 1:2), on the works of God (Psalm 77:12), and on things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report (Philippians 4:8). When we seek some kind of emotional or even sensual (meaning a focus on our senses) experience with God in order to “feel” His presence as a way to confirm truth, we are starting down a pathway that eventually lead us away from God. We are even at risk when we allow another human to “guide” our meditation. This is not the example Jesus set for us.

I strongly believe that we need to meditate on God’s Word and on His majestic creative works. I think there are times we should seek godly counsel from another mature Christians. But we should not overreact out of fear and quit praying because we might do it in the wrong way! Let’s take a reasonable approach to biblical practices, concentrating on those that will help us grow in the Lord. Please always compare these activities with the solid Word of God.