Following is the introduction to the article:
Practices called “spiritual disciplines” that are deemed necessary for “spiritual formation” have entered evangelicalism. Recent encounters with this teaching narrated to me by friends caused me to investigate these practices. The first experience involved my friend and co-worker Ryan Habbena who went back to seminary to finish his masters degree. Here is his experience in his own words:
I recently took a seminary course on the book of Luke. It was a summer intensive and was one of only two classes being offered at the time. About midway through the week, while the class was steeped in trying to discern the intent and significance of the book of Luke, we began to hear the echoes of mystic chanting coming through the walls. As it turned out, the other class being offered was parked right next to ours. The paper thin walls were carrying the choruses of a class exploring the life and teachings of Catholic mystic Henry Nouwen. We proceeded, trying to concentrate on studying the Scriptures while tuning out the chants that were carrying on next door. Perhaps what was more unsettling though is the class studying Nouwen was chock full, while there were plenty of empty seats next door for anyone wanting to learn about the inspired book of Luke.1
How can this be? A Baptist seminary was favorably studying the teachings of this Catholic mystic whose own biographers describe as having had emotional problems and homosexual inclinations.2 Soon after talking to Ryan, I met a lady who attends a Christian college. As part of her study program she was required to take a course on spiritual formation at her college. Spiritual formation in her class also concerned the study of Roman Catholic mystics and the search for techniques to help those who implement them feel closer to God. This study also explored “spiritual disciplines” which promised to make those who practiced them more Christ-like. After she finished the class she shared her textbooks with me. This article will focus on the claims of one of these text books, The Spirit of the Disciplines, by Dallas Willard.3 In our study we shall see that those promoting spiritual disciplines in courses of study called “spiritual formation” make claims that are unbiblical and dangerous.