Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Jonathan Edwards and Dallas Willard on Spiritual Formation

What has an old Puritan in common with a USC Philosophy Professor? They both help me understand how God forms souls, particularly through the spiritual disciplines.

I came across a quote (see the reference here) from one of my old heroes, Jonathan Edwards, that spoke of what we can do as disciples to participate in the work of God. I then did a little more research and found a fuller quote on John Piper’s Desiring God site. Edwards was preaching on Song of Solomon 5:1 and it caused him to reflect on how we bring ourselves before God in order to eat and drink. The text reads,

Eat, friends, drink,
and be drunk with love!

These words from the friends of the Bridegroom caused Edwards to teach that we ought

to be endeavoring by all possible ways to inflame their desires and to obtain more spiritual pleasures. . . . Our hungerings and thirstings after God and Jesus Christ and after holiness can't be too great for the value of these things, for they are things of infinite value. . . . [Therefore] endeavor to promote spiritual appetites by laying yourself in the way of allurement...There is no such thing as excess in our taking of this spiritual food. There is no such virtue as temperance in spiritual feasting.

Vintage Edwards!

It was the phrase “laying yourself in the way of allurement” that caught my eye and reminded me of a strong stream of teaching from Dallas Willard that says something similar. Spiritual disciplines are acts of laying ourselves in the way of allurement, placing ourselves at God’s banqueting table with expectation and confidence that he will indeed feed us with food that satisfies as well as conforms us to Christlikeness from the inside out.

Willard says,

The question then is: How, precisely, I am to go about doing my part in the process of my own transformation? What is my plan? The answer to this question is, in general formulation: By practice of spiritual disciplines, or disciplines for the spiritual life. We may not know or use this terminology, but what it refers to is what we must do.

What is discipline? A discipline is an activity within our power--something we can do--which brings us to a point where we can do what we at present cannot do by direct effort. Discipline is in fact a natural part of the structure of the human soul, and almost nothing of any significance in education, culture or other attainments is achieved without it. Everything from learning a language to weight lifting depends upon it, and its availability in the human makeup is what makes the individual human being responsible for the kind of person they become. (online article, “Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation and the Restoration of the Soul”).

What disciplines have you found helpful recently in laying yourself in the way of allurement?

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