How spiritual formation fell off the table
The overshadowing event of the last two centuries of Christian life has been the struggle between Orthodoxy and Modernism. In this struggle the primary issue has, as a matter of fact, not been discipleship to Christ and a transformation of soul that expresses itself in pervasive, routine obedience to his “all that I have commanded you.” Instead, both sides of the controversy have focussed almost entirely upon what is to be explicitly asserted or rejected as essential Christian doctrine. In the process of battles over views of Christ the Savior, Christ the Teacher was lost on all sides. Discipleship as an essential issue disappeared from the Churches, and, with it, there also disappeared realistic plans and programs for the transformation of the inmost self into Christlikeness. One could now be a Christian forever without actually changing in heart and life. Right profession, positive or negative, was all that was required. This has now produced generations of professing Christians which, as a whole, do not differ in character, but only in ritual, from their non-professing neighbors; and, in addition, a massive population has now arisen in America which believes in God, even self-identifies as “spiritual,” but will have nothing to do with Churches–often as a matter of pride. What is new in the current revival of interest in spiritual formation is the widespread recognition that by-passing authentic, pervasive, and thorough transformation of the inner life of the human being is not desirable, not necessary, and may be not permissible. We are seeing that the human soul hungers for transformation, for wholeness and holiness, is sick and dying without it, and that it will seek it where it may–even if it destroys itself in the process. We are seeing that the Church betrays itself and its world if it fails to make clear and accessible the path of thoroughgoing inner transformation through Christ.