Spiritual formation is not discipleship

Spiritual formation is not discipleship

There’s an interesting interview just put out by my employer, Christianity Today International, that I think is worth reading. It’s an interview with Dallas Willard and Richard J. Foster conducted by Christianity Today associate editor Agnieszka Tennant: “The Making of the Christian: Richard J. Foster and Dallas Willard on the difference between discipleship and spiritual formation.”

I love this analyses by Dallas Willard regarding the current emptiness of the word “discipleship:”

“Discipleship as a term has lost its content, and this is one reason why it has been moved aside. … There are really three gospels that are heard in our society. One is forgiveness of sins. Another is being faithful to your church: If you take care of your church, it will take care of you. Sometimes it’s called discipleship, but it’s really churchmanship. And another gospel is the social one—Jesus is in favor of liberation, and we should be devoted to that. All of those contain important elements of truth. You can’t dismiss any of them. But to make them central and say that’s what discipleship is just robs discipleship of its connection with transformation of character.”

And I also enjoy this parting statement by Willard at the end of the interview, when Agnieszka (pronounced “Ag-neesh-ka”) asked whether Renovaré and spiritual formation were just the latest passing fad. He said:

“You can’t hope to accomplish in 40 days what it takes 40 years to do.”

Though both Willard and Foster come from non “spirit-filled” traditions (Southern Baptist and Quaker), they both speak with a strong charismatic voice and with clear openness to the practice of the spiritual gifts. I like the Renovaré covenant:

The RENOVARÉ Covenant

In utter dependence upon Jesus Christ as my everliving Savior, Teacher, Lord, and Friend, I will seek continual renewal through:

  • Spiritual exercises,
  • Spiritual gifts, and
  • Acts of service

I agree with Willard. Discipleship has been distilled down to “mental transformation” with “study” as it’s main practical outcome. Spiritual transformation, however, includes study of the Word, but doesn’t stop there. Spiritual transformation begins with the mind but it ends with knowing and doing the perfect will of God (See Romans 12:1-8 and following).

This is what I desire in my life. I’ve had enough discipleship. I must enter into transformation.

[tags]BlogRodent, Dallas-Willard, Richard-J-Foster, Richard-Foster, discipleship, spiritual-transformation, renewal, spiritual-disciplines, religion, faith, christianity, evangelical[/tags]

3 thoughts on “Spiritual formation is not discipleship

  1. Nancy

    Rich, I rather enjoyed reading 2 of Richard Foster’s books, Celebration of Discipline and Devotional Classics (edited by him). Foster takes the practicality of Christianity and breaks it down into simple Christian disciplines that will challenge the seasoned Christian and minister. Reading Foster in Seminary opened my eyes! Attending a Renovare conference further opened my spirit.

    Rich, Foster is the Quaker.

  2. Rich Post author

    Thanks for the comment, and edit, Nancy! You were right, I knew that Foster came from the Quaker church, I just had my parallel structures mixed up in my writing!

    Thanks again,


  3. Bruce

    I came to this entry because of the title, “Spiritual formation is not discipleship.” I thought that it was saying that discipleship is the real thing, and spiritual formation doesn’t make the grade.

    Obviously (to me), you’re using ‘discipleship’ in a strange, ingrown, contorted, and/or eccentric sense. As in “discipleship=bad, spiritual formation=good.” What a relief. For a minute there I thought I had to help make disciples of all nations! (Note my clever irony, wink wink nod nod.)

    Honestly, I’m a little outside the loop of doing anything but keeping my nose mostly clean and trying to not hide my lamp under a bushel. I.e., live my faith confidently where other people don’t really understand it, in the world, and keeping unstained by that world. Still need to do something about those widows and orphans.

    If any sisters are real good at reaching out to unmarried women who like sex, without being judgmental to them, I’d like to hear how that all has gone. Does anyone have positive responses? (OK, this isn’t my blog–but waddya think, Rich?)

    Thanks Rich.

Leave a Reply

This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.
%d bloggers like this: