Brian McLaren, of Emergent, started of his presentation with two clarifications. 1) The term “spiritual formation” is a Catholic, or non-evangelical, way of saying the “Great Commission.” The Great Commission calls us to make disciples, but too often evangelicals make converts without any spiritual depth. So the practices and phases of spiritual formation is a means toward fulfilling this commission. 2) We can’t let the idea of “spiritual formation” turn into pietism, or a cultivation of our own individual soul, neglecting the world we live. We need to balance the inner life of contemplation (viva contempletiva) with the our outer life of action (viva active). So Brian says we must have a spiritual formation for global transformation; or, aim at global transformation through spiritual formation.
From here Brian outlines what he sees as the three phases of spiritual formation (gathering material from both the Western [Catholic/Protestant] and Eastern [Orthodox] traditions of Christianity).
The first is the phase called “viva purgativa” (or “catharsis” in the East). This is the stage of revulsion and expulsion. It is a time of purging our lives from sin, temptation, distraction. The Torah (Old Testament Law) teaches revulsion through its prohibitions. And the act of confession is a type of expulsion where we name our sin, and then separate ourselves from it; “That was me, but not now!!” is what confession says.
The second phase is called “viva illuminative” (or “photosis” in the East). This is the state of light, illumination. In this time we are allowing the light of joy and truth into our hearts and minds. This happens through scripture, prayer, meditation, and creation.
The last phases is called “theosis.” This is conceived as entering into the divine life of God. As an iron in the fire begins to glow brightly, as if the fire were inside it also, so too we can receive the divine life of God such that it lives with in us. Some might call this a mystical experience of God; and others would just call it sanctification.
Brian reminded us that we must keep in mind that these phases are not a linear progression (once we are done the first we will never go back), but better understood as seasons of life which we entering rhythmically (repeating yet with variation).
Then we entered into a time of Q&A with Brian, kicking around these ideas. If I have forgotten something important that Brian talked about, our you have any questions or comments, just post them below and we will continuing our dialogue.